SCVNGR Lets You Build Awesome Scavenger Hunts For Any Mobile Phone

For many people, the term “Scavenger Hunt” conjures childhood memories of running around the neighborhood on a quest for knickknacks like thimbles and socks — an experience that loses its luster beyond the age of ten or so. But as it turns out, they’re big businesses: major corporations and universities have successfully used more elaborate scavenger hunts as team building exercises, and a well-designed course can be extremely fun. SCVNGR is one young startup that’s managed to tap into this niche market very successfully, and today it’s launching a new consumer platform that will allow anyone to build their own scavenger hunts, which will work with any mobile phone. The new platform, called XPLR, is now in private beta, and the first 100 TechCrunch readers to go here and enter the code ‘TECHCRUNCH’ will be able to sign up and build their own missions.

In conjunction with the news, the company is also announcing that it has closed a $750,000 funding round from Highland Capital.

SCVNGR is still a very new company, making its debut last fall as part of the DreamIt Ventures incubator program. But it’s already seen use by over 300 universities, including Harvard and Princeton, as well as corporations, who have used the company’s enterprise-grade game builder for things like employee team building excercises and orientation events. It’s a fantastic idea for a number of reasons: games are easily deployable with little to no cost outside of licensing the platform, it works on any cell phone, and games can be tweaked with a minimal amount of effort.

XPLR (pronounced ‘explorer’) is meant to serve as a more accessible framework to build these games. And, unlike the more robust SCVNGR builder, XPLR is free. It comes with a number of restictions: you’re limited by how many people can play the game simultaneously, you can’t tell which users have been playing (as you might want to in a commercial app), and the platform is only for non-commercial, non-institutional use. But if you wanted to set up a tour of your hometown, or perhaps a barcrawl for your friends to follow, this is exactly what you’d want to use. You can see a screenshot of the editor below.

So how do the games actually work? If you’d like to try one out for yourself, there’s a free application for the iPhone that includes a training game, but here’s the gist of it: the service sends questions to the phone, oftentimes alongside a text, audio, or video clue to help figure out the answer. Once you think you’ve solved it, you type in your solution and if you’re right, you proceed to the next question. The system works fine as a basic puzzle game, but it’s far more engaging when it’s used for scavenger hunts, with questions that require you to actually walk to a certain landmark. For example, there are a number of SCVNGR missions set up for the city of Boston, which guide users through some of the city’s most well known landmarks. Here’s an example series of questions, taken from a Philadelphia tour:

Clue: Which is greater? This stairs in this famous staircase in Philadelphia or the sequels in this never-ending saga?
Answer: Rocky Steps
Challenge: Great! Now run there and tell me, on the statue of Rocky at the top, what size shoes is he wearing?
Answer (obtained by looking very carefully at Rocky’s shoes): 9.5
An alternate challenge could have been: Now take a photo of your and your team doing the Rocky Pose at the top! Send in the photo to move on!

SCVNGR offers apps for iPhone and Android, but they’re also playable on more basic phones too using SMS (just sent a special keyword to the company’s shortcode and the game will start sending you clues). That said, the smartphone experience is definitely better: some games include multimedia clues, and there are also special photo missions that ask users to submit pictures of themselves doing various tasks. These photos get uploaded to the site’s server, and whoever is running the mission can then distribute them as mementos later on.

SCVNGR is really doing a great job with its service, and its impressive roster of customers is a testament to that. We’ll be keeping an eye on them in the future.