x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

An app Dubai treasure hunt

The Life: Urban Hunt Dubai is a first for the Middle East – the inventors believe it is a genuinely new idea rather than an 'Arabised' or 'Emiratised' version of an existing game.

Asim Bashir and Sherleen Ali hope their Urban Hunt Dubai app will get residents out and about. Antonie Robertson / The National
Asim Bashir and Sherleen Ali hope their Urban Hunt Dubai app will get residents out and about. Antonie Robertson / The National

It was while sitting on the couch last July watching The Da Vinci Code that Asim Bashir turned to his business partner, Sherleen Ali, and said: "Wouldn't it be cool to do something like that?"

Ms Ali agreed. "We are both geeks like that - we love the Dan Brown books and the problem solving," she says.

And that is how the idea of launching a weekly treasure hunt around Dubai was born. The pair already ran a business called Memotech, which makes mobile phone applications, so it seemed natural to make Urban Hunt Dubai a mobile game. Wanting a local flavour, they invented Azeem the Great Genie as the guide and created a Facebook page for him. Through social media the Genie attracted a following, which was all set for the first hunt when it launched on November 18.

To participate, players must first download the app, which is free. Every Friday a cryptic message is sent out providing a clue to a location in Dubai. Players figure out the clue and head to the site. GPS tracking verifies whether treasure hunters are at the correct location. The first people to arrive win a prize. (The number of prize winners changes weekly as does the booty.) Everyone who makes it to the site gets a virtual Urban Coin, which they can accumulate over a season of games. Already the app has been downloaded 2,000 times and the Facebook page has 5,500 followers.

Prizes typically are tickets for a concert or show such as Cirque du Soleil. The February 15 clue read: "Come watch the ball being served back and forth, As they try to win on their 2nd, 3rd or 4th!"

The answer was, of course, the tennis stadium. And the prize was tickets to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

"That was a very easy one - we practically told people where to go," Ms Ali says.

It's clear the pair are having great fun rediscovering Dubai. Both grew up in Abu Dhabi and went abroad for university: Ms Ali to McGill University in the Canadian city of Montreal, and Mr Bashir to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in the United States. They returned to the UAE for work.

"We would just park our cars and walk around Dubai," Ms Ali says. "We didn't just want distinctive landmarks but a mixed bag."

They now have a large database filled with locations, some quite obscure, that they draw from every week.

The prizes are there to give people incentives but the main goal is to get them out and about and appreciate what's going on.

Urban Hunt Dubai is a first for the Middle East - the inventors believe it is a genuinely new idea rather than an 'Arabised' or 'Emiratised' version of an existing game.

"We thought hard about this," in the early stages, Mr Bashir says. "And we did lots of research and [we realised] no one has done this before."

Now, of course, the aim is to make money from the game. One way is to get companies to sponsor the game each week. They have also had enquiries from large multinationals about using Urban Hunt as part of a product launch. And now they have developed the technology, they can easily tailor the app. So, for example, they could organise a treasure hunt on Sir Bani Yas island for corporate team-building day.

There is also the possibility of taking the app to other cities around the world - where it can be played year-round. Once the weather heats up in Dubai, players are unlikely to traipse around in the searing heat.

But, as Mr Bashir says, Urban Hunt is just getting started. They are, for example, thinking about introducing multiple clues for each game so there is more of a trail to follow.

"It's going to get a lot more fun," he says. "There will be a lot more surprises. I am on edge waiting for the next version to come out. There will be more ways to play the game, more interaction and cool new features."

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae