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by Michael Shapiro | October 5, 2012

Forage, a new mobile photo scavenger-hunt app from marketing-services agency Fight, is one of a growing number of apps designed to up the level of fun and engagement among event attendees. The photo-based challenges are customized according to event objectives — to increase attendee interaction with vendors, for example, by requiring them to photograph booth or display items. A leader board inspires competition, and prizes can be awarded to further up the ante.

Sound familiar? Sure, apps such as SCVNGR and GooseChase have been getting more event exposure, and they serve similar purposes. But Forage doesn't offer quite the same do-it-yourself, out-of-the-box experience as those apps. Each of those previous apps, for example, provides a free way to experiment: GooseChase will cover the cost of two teams for a game -- so one could run a game free of charge for a small group -- and SCVNGR allows you to build a trek of up to five challenges before you have to pay. Forage offers a more customized development process from the outset, which runs about $5,000 for a two-day event ($3,000 setup fee + $1,000/day).

Now, once you get into specialized setups for larger groups, Forage wouldn't necessarily exceed the price of the competition. GooseChase, for instance, charges $99 per team per game but often ends up doing custom pricing for meetings and conventions. Depending on a number of factors, such as length of the game and the involvement required from GooseChase to build it, games for more than 2,000 people typically end up being $1 to $2 per participant. Pricing for SCVNGR varies widely, from $1,000 for a relatively small, do-it-yourself game to $15,000 for a turn-key arrangement at large expos.

But for any group, the marketing company behind Forage is very hands-on, working with the client to understand the brand and the event objectives. In one case, Fight worked with an online retailer to create an online game that spanned a couple of months, but most of the Forage clients -- which number about 10 thus far -- are putting on live events. The app is designed using the brand identity of the organization or event, giving it a more customized appearance, too. And then, once the event begins, Forage developers are available to provide service and keep the game running smoothly. They also have worked with clients to create a physical presence for the games on-site.

"We advise on how and when to promote the game during the event," explains Fight's "director of experience," Mickey Slater, "such as by showing submitted images onstage. And we provide attractive game data screens that organizers can display on monitors throughout their event to draw in new players and keep the excitement going for people already playing." It isn't unusual, says Slater, for crowds to gather around the monitors toward the end of an event, watching the final submissions come in to determine the final results.

Forage is a mobile web app, as opposed to a native app, which means it doesn't have to be downloaded to a phone, just accessed via the Internet. That opens it up for potentially far more attendee participation than a native app, Slater notes. In fact, Forage was accessed by more than 125 different kinds of mobile devices during a recent event. Thus far, about 20 percent of the attendees at each event have participated in the game, a pretty impressive figure. After each event, Fight provides feedback and analytics to the client.

Is $5,000 a fair price to pay for that level of attendee participation? It's hard to say; the return probably has as much to do with the amount of time and marketing an event organizer is willing to put into game design and promotion as it does with a hard-dollar amount. I'm reminded of what one event-community startup founder told me last year -- that he began charging clients for the platform that had initially been free only because planners took it much more seriously when they had to pay for it. How many half-hearted experiments with free apps have you seen at conferences? When you pay several thousand dollars for a way to build engagement, chances are you will follow through to make it pay off, especially if you have the support and expertise of others to help.

I'd love to hear from you if you've used a photo-challenge game app at your event. How much was your investment and how great the participation? How much of the game design was do-it-yourself? Feel free to comment here or send me an e-mail.