It’s the first few months of the year, and that means a whole swath of grocery stores—over here in New Jersey, ours is Acme—are once again in the middle of a Monopoly-themed promotion. This time, however, has been much improved over past years, thanks to an intelligent use of technology.
This is, indeed, not a piece about video games. However, I think there is nonetheless at least something worthwhile to be gleaned from some talk about board game/sweepstakes game design, silly though the topic may be on its face. However, this happens to also delve a bit into the issue of supplementary smartphone apps—something that video game makers have been trying to make a thing for a few years now, often with middling results—so maybe that makes such a topic appropriate.
Also, this should not be considered to be some proclamation of grand innovation for the entire space of games; the less of that I flirt with, the better off we’ll all evidently be. The Monopoly sweepstakes definitely cannot be the first example of an app being used in this way. Rather, I write this instead as an individual case study on smartphone technology being introduced, and the positive impact that has had here.
To start off, we should go over the whole deal with this sweepstakes. Each year, the armada of Albertsons-owned grocery stores runs a sweepstakes promotion presenting the chance for shoppers to win prizes ranging from gift cards to something as lucrative as a vacation home. It all starts by getting the year’s game board at the checkout line. Here, for example, is the one that my girlfriend and me have been working on.
Winning one of the prizes involves collecting all of the tickets, i.e. the black-and-white tabs taped onto the game board, corresponding to said prize. The tickets, in kind, come from Monopoly game pieces.
Shoppers get these pieces by buying groceries—maybe a certain brand of yogurt here, or a certain brand of dishwasher soap there—that are participating in the promotion. On a personal level...yes, I will sheepishly cop to recently having my buying decisions at Acme partially dictated by whether they’d contribute to the game piece count.
On a sidenote, while I was traveling for work over the last three weeks, I happened to be shopping at other participating stores like Safeway in the San Francisco area and Tom Thumb in the Dallas/Irving area, so I made sure to bring all those game pieces back home for my girlfriend and I to sort through later. Fortifying our game board is even better when done on the company dime, as it turns out. National grocery store synergy at work!!!
Each game piece, when opened up, contains four tickets that can potentially fill out the game board.
You would then compare the tickets with whatever is already on your game board. Discard the duplicates, add the new tickets to your collection, check if you’ve won any prizes (chance that the answer is “no”: approx. 100%), do the same thing with the rest of the game pieces accrued.
It’s a simple, straightforward enough concept, but also one with some significant flaws in terms of being a satisfactory game experience. Or, rather, a single all-encompassing fundamental flaw that affects multiple avenues of enjoyment: This game is tedious and time-consuming as hell.
Take a single game piece. This piece has four tickets. Adding them to the game board means that we are identifying which prize a ticket corresponds to, then seeing whether or not we already have that ticket, four times. Doing everything by hand, with a game board that has a whole lot of prizes to keep track of, is bound to take a bit of time.
The time and tedium one literally buys themselves into scales up rapidly from there. During my last time shopping, for example, I got 12 game pieces. Seeing how they add to the game board would thus mean doing stare-and-compares for 48 tickets.
At the beginning, with an empty game board, this largely gets offset by the fact that almost every ticket is virtually guaranteed to be a new ticket. The early game thus builds in the sense of constant satisfaction to look forward to as more and more of the board gets filled up.
When most of the pieces are acquired, however, duplicates are magnitudes more likely to be encountered, which means far more discouragement in place of a sense of accomplishment. In combination with the constant repetition and considerable time sink from sorting through a stack of tickets, that means a sharp nosedive in enjoyment.
That was, more or less, the state of affairs in the earlier two years when my girlfriend and I were participating in the Monopoly sweepstakes. We’d get our game pieces, and then sort through all of the tickets by hand; thank goodness there was two of us working on this together to cut down on the time somewhat. Everything would be fun at first, but after a while it inevitably evolved into a total slog.
The sweepstakes this year, however, has been a whole lot smoother, thanks to a new feature in the existing official smartphone app that cuts out almost all of the stare-and-compare work. All of those comparisons that had to be done by hand in years past? Well, the app now does all of that instead, and it does so in the span of a couple of seconds, a minuscule fraction of the time that it would take.
On the back of each game piece’s four-ticket set is a QR code that represents what those four tickets are. One would then use the scanner in the app’s ticket tracker feature to process them.
Upon the scanning of the code, the ticket tracker then identifies which tickets are new to the collection, which ones are duplicates, and even which prizes the pieces correspond to. One quick visual check to see that the physical pieces match what the app claims they are, and a verification that the allegedly new pieces really are new later, and that’s all the effort the player needs to contribute.
It is everything that a solution for a sweepstakes such as this ought to be. It’s simple enough to use, with not too many hoops required to get to the ticket scanner and tracker technology. It does require signing up for an account via email, but that is not anything unusual in the grand scheme of smartphone apps, and it both supports the game ticket tracking and ties into collecting the coupons that come with the game pieces’ tickets.
The app is also sufficiently thorough, presenting all of the information needed to easily verify that the physical tickets match what the app says, as well as identify precisely where the tickets go on the Monopoly game board. In fact, I think it actually shows the location information better than the tickets themselves.
In practice, the ticket tracker does an excellent job at fulfilling its goals. We have been spending significantly less time going through tickets than we were required to do in the past. After I got back with a fat stack of tickets from multiple shopping trips accrued during my business travels, for example it took us maybe a half hour at most to go through them all. Given the sheer volume of tickets dealt with, in fact, the app even solves other problems inherent to going through everything by hand which lie outside of time and tedium, chief among them reducing the possibility of human error from a manual stare-and-compare.
And it’s absolutely made this sweepstakes a more enjoyable experience. We’re now at the point where we encounter infinitely more duplicates than new pieces, but with how quickly and easily the app sorts through the game pieces for us, the dread built off the seeming inevitability of all the manual effort being expended just to determine that everything is duplicates, is no longer there. That has meant a far weaker sting from disappointment than we would be feeling in past years, despite our material chances of actually winning something not really improving.
Before closing this thing out, there’s one last thing I’d like to point out. It’s not like all of this was the result of an ambitious undertaking. Quite frankly, I’m pretty sure this was all due to a small-stakes approach: Taking a significant long-existing issue, and making a genuine attempt to concretely address the particulars of said issue with an appropriate solution (a simple one in a smartphone app, in this case), no strings attached.
Yet it turns out that such modesty can pay dividends on making the overall experience better. Go figure! Businesses of all stripes—especially the ones dealing in video games—could afford to take heed.