Museum-lover Nathalie Half had made a habit of bringing her children along on visits to so that they too could enjoy the displays of art. That was possible when her kids were young, when they happily tagged along and listened. But it became a problem once the children hit their teens. Then, it became mission almost impossible: they lost interest and refused to join her on her visits.
That’s when she got the idea of founding Museloop, a Tel Aviv-based startup that aims to make museums a fun, interactive and learning experience for all ages. Together with co-founder Keren Berler, she developed a gaming app for cellphones that, once downloaded, allows users to walk through a museum, find the artwork and start playing.
Users of Museloop’s app are asked, for example, to find the difference between the image on the phone and the real artwork in front of them. Once they tap the correct answer on their screen, they get an interesting factoid about the artist or the artwork, and then they can move on to the next exhibit. Another game is I Spy, which asks users to find specific items in the painting, or to reconstruct a broken up puzzle depicting the painting. Users of the app can also play a game of trivia or look for hidden clues in the artwork. Each right answer provides a piece of information about the artwork.
“The games get visitors to really look at the art and focus on its details, and on the way they learn something about the artist and the painting,” said Berler in an interview. “We have had extremely positive reactions from the museums and end users.”
Augmented reality games were pushed into the spotlight last month as Google and Nintendo launched their smash hit Pokemon Go, in which players, old and young, took to the streets to hunt the cartoon pocket monsters overlaid on real world settings. And while some museums turned away players from spaces dedicated to remembering the Holocaust, others embraced the game and encouraged visitors to also use their phones to share and engage with the other museum content.
“People sometimes ask me how open-minded are museums to introducing an app of games as a tool to deliver content to visitors,” said Berler. “My answer is ‘very.’ The fact that some museums actually embraced Pokemon Go is very good news for Museloop and our future users. Some museums used the viral app to their advantage by summoning Pokemon to their premises and offering discounts to Pokemon hunters.
“This shows that museums understand the importance of attracting young audiences and that in order to do that, they need to think outside the realm of traditional methods.”
Venture funding of augmented reality and virtual reality companies in 2016 is on track for a record year, with $1.3 billion invested in 76 deals, surpassing last-year’s funding total by 85 percent, according to CB Insights, a New York-based data company. Tech giants like Google and Apple have also been snapping up companies that are working in the sector.
Using the Museloop app, the whole interaction with the phone is through text, not voice, so not to disturb other visitors. The challenge, said Berler, will be to let people know about the app and download it. The Israel Museum, for example, gave visitors a postcard with their tickets, and Half and Berler are working together with the museum to find incentives to get visitors to download the app.
“We are still figuring out how to get people to know about the app and download it,” Berler said. “Israel Museum is giving the highest scorer of the day two free tickets to the museum for the next time. Another idea we’re working on is a screen with a live scoreboard of all the visitors currently playing.”
Copyright issues don’t worry them, she added. Art that’s more than 70 years old is not protected by copyright, and contemporary art is covered by “fair use” protection. In some cases the museum asks the artist or their family for permission to use the art for the app, Berler said.
The two founders have worked closely with the Israeli museums on the content of the games, and in September they will be presenting their company to museum administrators and art collectors at an “Art-up” nation show organized by the Start-up Nation Central and the Paul E.Singer Foundation at Sotheby’s. In July, Museloop also completed the accelerator program set up by the alumni of Israel’s elite 8200 intelligence unit, the EISP 8200 Accelerator program.
The Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art are already using the app for their visitors. the apps can be downloaded in the App Store, and on Google Play (search for Museloop or the name of the museum). Bet Hatfutsot, the Jewish Diaspora Museum, is the company’s newest customer.