The Case – Summary

The city of Utrecht is a popular location to hold business meetings. Hundreds of men and women come to the city, hold their meeting and then leave again. The municipality started a program where they would finance small pilot projects to capitalize on this group. Within this program we made the game U-SPY with them. Players could sign-up for the game at one of the many meeting places. The game itself was a real-life espionage game, where players had to run around the city while solving riddles and completing missions. U-SPY gathered information from the players on how they experienced the city, this was used by the municipality for their future marketing campaigns.

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The Case – Full Story

Games and the City
Utrecht is one of the four major cities in The Netherlands. Thanks to its geographic location (it’s right in the middle of the country) the city functions as a popular meeting place. Many business appointments from people of different cities are held in Utrecht. Mostly in the city centre where there are many meeting facilities for business meetings. This phenomenon is called Business Tourism and although the city of Utrecht benefits from it, the municipality calculated that there are more costs to sustain all the infrastructure and facilities than that there are income from this group. That’s why they started the Pilot SEA (Smart Experience Actuator) project. With this arrangement they could finance multiple pilot projects that would help with addressing aforementioned problem. There were different pitching rounds organised, we entered in the second round and won the pitch. This meant we could start working on a game that should tempt business tourists to either stay longer in the city or to come back in the weekends with their partner and/or children.

The HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht hold a survey amongst several meeting places for business people. We used those outcomes for the first concept of our game. An important conclusion was that it would almost be impossible to pursue our target audience to play a game, while they were in the city for a business meeting. Together with our client we organized a few brainstorm meetings with these business-meeting places. They were very enthusiastic about our idea for a game and they offered to actively help us.

After several brainstorms we came with the idea to make a spy-game. Players would take on the role of a secret agent and they had to walk across the city to gather clues, solve puzzles and complete missions. The meeting places would function as starting point of the game. Also we had the cooperation of several local businesses, which played a key-role in the different missions. This all made it a real local Utrecht game. One of the benefits of working directly for the municipality is that it can quickly open doors that otherwise would stay shut.

As said, players would start at one of joined meeting places. When they asked for U-SPY at the counter, they would receive a special card (size of a normal credit card) and be directed to a white arcade machine. There they could play a simple shooter game, but when they entered there card in a special slot, the game would disappear and the U-SPY program would start. A video of an old man and his young assistant would play. It turned out that he wants to employ the player as a spy, but the player first has to prove if he’s worth it. After giving his personal contact information, the player was sent out to a specific location in the city. Halfway, the player would get a text message on his mobile, giving the player a riddle that could only be solved with information at the designated location. From there he would be send to several other locations. After an hour of solving puzzles and walking through the city, the player would find a final answer, when he enters that on the special U-Spy website, the old man congratulates him. He is worthy to be a spy. Now its time for the next mission. In total we made four of these missions, all with side mission and extra things to explore.

The Launch
The game was playable in the summer of 2012. Because this project was only meant to be a pilot, there was a modest budget and marketing tools. But we managed to gain a fair amount of players. They were asked to fill out another survey once they completed the game, this provided the municipality with a lot of valuable insights. Partly due to the outcomes of our project, the city marketing campaigns could target these people even better.

The Team

We worked together with the following professionals:
City of Utrecht – Client
Monobanda Play – Gameplay and interaction design
Eva Marsalkova – Project Management
Rajiv Krijnen – Lead programmer
Jorrit Thijn – Story and script writer
Friso de Hartog – Graphic Designer
Edo Douma – Actor
Didem Keles – Actress

HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht – Support
Tourist Information Agency Utrecht – Support and partner
Seats 2 Meet – Support and partner
Regardz La Vie – Support and partner
Café Olivier – Support and partner
Whoops Comics – Support and partner
Hotel Karel V – Support and partner
Restaurant ‘De Rechtbank’ – Support and partner
Music bar ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – Support and partner


Article in Dutch newspaper
Article on Dutch website