There’s a lot to explore at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, whether it’s the towering art installations, the 160 artists set to perform or the huge list of food options, but this year’s festival may have visitors diving deeper into their smartphones than ever, and not just to live tweet about the musical acts or post a bunch of Instagram selfies.

The festival for the first time is unveiling an interactive game on its smartphone app called Coachella Coin. The game, a kind of in-depth scavenger hunt, will have festival goers complete various challenges to earn coins and badges. They can use their virtual currency in order to reap “prizes, access, and upgrades” according to Goldenvoice officials.

Each challenge ends with festival guests scanning a code in order to earn coins. Some of the challenges involve scanning the QR code on a friend’s Coachella Coin game for two coins, stopping by certain festival tents and scanning codes there for five coins and bringing 50 bottles to Coachella’s Recycling store for 20 coins.

Some of the prizes that people can exchange points for included a ride on the signature Coachella Ferris wheel, blankets, scarfs, pins and drink cozies.

People were just getting into the game on Friday, April 12.

Friends Kenya Davis, 27, and Mellissa Oliver, 29, both from Charlotte, North Carolina, had done one of the challenges, scanning QR codes on each other’s phones, but in general Oliver said that the challenges were too time-intensive for too little reward. She said that she didn’t have time for the recycling challenge, for example.

Oliver said she might consider some of the other challenges though, but not right away.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Oliver said. “Today we’re still trying to soak up everything.”

Friends Ryan Ong, 22, and Martin Kim, 23, of Los Angeles and Tiffany Nguyen, 22, of San Jose, felt the same way. They were thinking about testing the game out, but not before checking out the art installations and other scenery.

“It’s my first time here, so that’s why we’re taking our time,” Nguyen said.

A new way to interface 

Derek Burrill, an associate professor of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside, said games such as Coachella Coin or Pokemon Go are not only the wave of the future, but it’s smart business for festival companies such as Goldenvoice to embrace them.

“I think it’s certainly generational and I think what Coachella is doing is being smart and offering things to millennials and Gen Z,” Burrill said. “Offering them another way to interface with the event, because they are so used to having their phones in their hands constantly.”

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Why phone app games are popular 

Burrill said there are a variety of reasons that phone app games, things such as Pokemon Go, the Jurassic World game and now Coachella Coin are popular.

First of all, he said, there’s a uniquely social aspect to the games.

“More people are likely to do it in groups and, as you can imagine, trying anything with a friend is always easier even if it’s something new,” he said.

Timothy J. Seppala, a Michigan-based freelance writer who writes about tech, shared a similar sentiment.

“It brings the real world in,” he said. “It doesn’t feel isolating.”

Seppala noted that research has indicated that “Pokemon Go” — its own kind of scavenger hunt game that has people traverse different areas — persuaded people who might not usually go outside to venture out more often and that it led to a better sense of well-being.

“There are benefits to getting outside and walking around and talking to people,” he said. “It makes you feel good, right? So it’ll be interesting to see how that kind of plays into Coachella.”

But for as social as the games can be, they can also be a way of avoiding uncomfortable social interaction.

Burrill used his wife as an example, saying she feels uncomfortable in large crowds.  He said that for people who have similar difficulties it’s nice to be able to look into a phone app and avoid outside stimulus.

“I think for younger generations it’s a way to sort of comfort them in the face of all of these live bodies. It’s almost a bulwark or a filter.”

The games are also easier to learn than standard video games, Burrill said.

“You have to learn, and really effectively learn, and become sort of virtuosic at the controller in order to play the game, but everyone knows how to use a cell phone and it’s part of their everyday lives and it’s so ubiquitous from just basic things — social media, calling, but also interacting with the web, that that sort of hurdle to playing the game is erased,” he said.

Expanding a company’s reach 

Phone app games are not just popular, prevalent and easy to use, they’re going to be something that lots of companies will adopt as a way to expand their marketing and advertising.

Andrew Baker, a professor of marketing at San Diego State University, said that marketers recognize very little distinction between the on-screen world and the real one.

“The smartphone, is integrated fully, completely and thoroughly into their lives, right?,” Baker said. “So to the extent that these augmented reality apps can deliver on that experience in unique ways that we couldn’t otherwise, it’s going to be central to any sort of major branding strategy or strategic objective I would imagine.”

Challenges to success? 

“The question that’s going to come into play with the Coachella stuff is if the mobile network can handle it,” Seppala said. “Because already the mobile network is kind of fraught there so if you get a bunch of people roaming around with their phones it’s going to be interesting to see how it works out and if they have the infrastructure in place to make it a good experience for everybody.”

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