Screenshot_2013-12-13-03-32-36Here’s an example of a game company doing something pretty clever with mobile technology to increase engagement on its PC game. Gearbox, the wildly creative company behind Borderlands 2, has released a free mobile app for iOS and Android that scans UPC or QR bar codes and associates them with a randomly-generated loot item from that game.

The first time a code is scanned, it randomly generates a loot item; thenceforth, that code is associated specifically with that item so people can tell their friends what to look for. It’s completely agnostic with regard to the price of the item—every bar code is completely random the first time it’s scanned. So scan everything. It also gives each individual their own unique QR code that they can share with their friends to find out what kind of loot item “they” are. In order to move items to the game, players have to use “stamps” that can be found through bar codes Gearbox provides via its social network accounts.

Needless to say, this is going to get a lot of smartphone users wandering around scanning everything in sight like crazy loot-seeking rats who keep hitting that random “reward” button. It adds another layer of “stickiness” to the game, increasing user engagement—and the game is pretty cunningly sticky already. I’ve just been scanning every bottle of shampoo and shaving cream in my bathroom to see if I found anything good. (I didn’t. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop, though!)

Screenshot_2013-12-13-03-33-05And it provides a lot of great opportunities for cross-promotion. If, say, an energy drink company cuts a deal with Gearbox, maybe their UPCs suddenly start providing excellent loot. Or they could print a QR code good for excellent loot under the bottle cap. (Though the boost they get from this would probably be limited, given that wikis have already started sharing photos of the best codes.)

I’m not sure what value there might be in the bar code database Gearbox will build up out of this, but there might be some. The permissions for installing the app don’t ask for anything but the camera and network access, so it’s apparently not doing anything with your location or other data. Still, they might be able to get some good out of knowing what particular bar codes get scanned the most.