|TimePlay's splash as seen on a 7" tablet.|
I have never seen a game run so badly.
Cineplex have had TimePlay at their Toronto-area cinemas for a while now. You install an app, go to a movie, sign on to a wifi hotspot set up just for this game, connect to the theatre you're in, and play some games following the big screen for prizes.
My brother is an avid moviegoer, and an even more avid gamer. The last few times he went to a movie, he asked me and my phone to come along. He is so determined to have me there he even pays for my movie tickets - even though those are mostly covered by his SCENE points, but that's besides the point. He "borrowed" my tablet, put the TimePlay app there, then he'd even "steal" my phone, and put it on mine too.
This app irks me. It looks bad and runs bad. It looks to be designed for a smaller screen and looks blown up on my phone's 4.7" screen. I thought I could turn a blind eye to this lack of beauty that's probably just skin deep, until I discovered the hard way that it also lacks inner beauty. Remember when I said my brother is an avid gamer? He plays this game well enough he keeps placing himself in the top 10 and winning prizes. All seems well until you accumulated six prizes to be redeemed. Then whenever he tries to see his rewards, the app dies and he could no longer get at his prizes, even from before, nor can he collect any more. Titanium Backup to the rescue! Oh did I also mention that the app would kill itself once you switch out of it and you have to start all over, including connecting to the theatre you're in?
All these doesn't seem too bad, back when the prizes for playing all these cheesy little games are free popcorns and soft drinks easily claimed at the cinemas. Then it all went downhill when they teamed up with Pizza Pizza, offering free pizzas for winning the game. The top player now gets a $10 ten-inch medium pizza and the next 9 gets a $3 slice. Seems like a bigger prize than pop and popcorn right? Only if you can redeem them. The catch is you now have to go to Pizza Pizza locations outside the cinemas to redeem.
In an ideal world, you would find the prize in your prize menu, tap "Redeem", show it to the friendly staff at your pizza outlet, who keys in a code to validate the prize, and gives you the pizza. No fuss, right? Unfortunately reality is nowhere near ideal.
How are prizes validated? Over the web of course. Put "over the web" together with "mobile devices" means data on the go. Not all PZA locations have wifi, nor do everyone have a data plan on their phone. My brother doesn't, and that's why he wanted me there, so he can tether off mine.
When it all began, it appears not all locations know how to play their part in this game, some aren't even aware there is such a thing. Claiming the slice prize isn't too bad - their POS terminals have a way to enter these prizes as given away under free slice coupon.
No such thing for the ten-inch pizza. And with the locations still not completely clear on what to do, when I finally won a full pizza prize and went ahead to redeem it, my pizza dude cheerfully validated the prize - which took it off my prize list - and gladly tried to charge me. Hey dude, this is my PRIZE, and what kind of prize do I have to pay money to get? 419s aren't supposed to have anything to do with this!
So the dude didn't know how to enter it in their terminal, his boss doesn't know either. They have me call the main hotline, where the lady who took the call also have no idea, only saying that it has to have a coupon code. Problem is there isn't one! It only said the prize has been successfully redeemed. 30 minutes later I walked away with nothing but the experience of being wronged. As I draft my complaint to both PZA and TimePlay that night I took a casual trek over their Twitter feed. Turns out I am not alone. I chuckled at these failure reports.
Fast forward two weeks. May first. We went to a couple more movies since (The Host is reasonably good, even if you don't dig the Twilight enterprise) and won a few more slices. The prizes' deadline have since seen an extension to May 24, but as I tried to redeem my most recent win at a third location, guess what - they turned me down saying corporate told them the game ended April 30. OK, why are different people told different things?
Now what about the complaint I wrote? PZA sent me a $12 gift card to cover the cost of that pizza, plus taxes. TimePlay also sent a replacement coupon. But is the running of the game improved? Not that I can see. PZA still probably didn't fully brief all its franchisees, GTA franchisees at least, on how to handle people redeeming these prizes.
So there you have it, a game played on a sucky app, with prizes that is a PITA to redeem, run by front-line staff who don't know about it, is not how a game should be run.
What happened on May First was the last straw. I am not playing this game anymore. Not even at my brother's urging. He has my old Galaxy Nexus. He has a Metropass. He can play on on his own. He just needs to bite the bullet and get his own data plan.