What if you could play with landmarks instead of just touring them? Nexto is turning audio guides into games to make sightseeing more interactive. Launching today as part of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin‘s Battlefield competition, Nexto is partnering with tourist destinations to help them attract more visitors and earn more money to fund culture.
“We wanted to make heritage more exciting and accessible to the younger generation” says Nexto co-founder and chief product officer Tadej Strok. “Instead of Pokemon, people would collect virtual heritage artifacts and compete in exploring historic stories and learn something meaningful along the way.”
Nexto serves as an alternative for the traditional audio guide, with its clunky hardware and uncomfortable headphones you have to rent. Instead, you use your own phone and its tiny loudspeaker or headphones, and download Nexto’s iOS or Android app. The multimedia tours and games can be downloaded for offline use to avoid burning your roaming data as you wander through cities, castles, archeological sites, and temples.
The experiences themselves combine traditional audio guide content with mini games like puzzles, riddles, and hunting down virtual items at real-world locations you scan with your phone. Since people are using modern smartphones instead of what are essentially old-school Walkmans, Nexto tours can include augmented reality elements where historical characters pop out of the landscape. Through AR, ruins can be reconstructed to their old glory, and different layers of famous paintings can be revealed.
Cultural venues can create these experiences with Nexto’s own content management system, and the startup provides assistance for creating more immersive content. Venues can then decide whether to make content free to users, or a charge a fee for visitors to unlock the experiences. Venues pay Nexto a cut of sales, a monthly subscription to the platform based on active users, and/or a creative agency fee for content creation assistance.
After three years of work, Nexto is launching an experience in Berlin today beyond its existing offerings in Slovenia, though it also has programs in four other countries in the works. It initially raised a government grant to get started, and now is in the seed round fundraising process.
Nexto could turn lackluster villages, small-name museums, or less popular monuments into more popular destinations by spotlighting what’s special about them. “We know that every historic town has a cool and exciting local legend or folklore, but it is often communicated in a boring way, if at all” says Strok.
The idea was inspired by role-playing games which often weave the player into a rich fictional history of a fantasy realm. But after 10 years in digital advertising and storytelling and doing a master’s thesis on gamification, Strok wanted to turn tourists into adventurers. “We feel that in today’s society people are losing interest in culture and history, because they’re constantly bombarded with entertainment industry spectacle and fluff” Strok tells me. Nexto could make education into something exciting enough to compete.
The startup will have to compete with both traditional audio guide companies like Antenna International and Orpheo, which have expensive set-up costs since venues have to buy hardware to rent out, and must be centralized. Nexto’s cloud availability and lack of dedicated hardware makes it more applicable to neighborhood tours that don’t have a defined starting point. But at the same time, families who don’t have a device for each member might prefer renting hardware.
Meanwhile, startups like Detour, izi.travel, and Cloudguide are also piggybacking on visitors’ own devices. They’re more focused on translating traditional audio-only guides to mobile that could appeal to older demographics while Nexto concentrates on multimedia that could excite younger travelers.
The biggest risk for Nexto is that building these interactive guides could be too confusing and laborious for some tourism boards and venues. It will have to figure out how to simplify this process or affordably do the content creation itself.
Nexto hopes to soon be available in cities like Paris, Prague, Rome and Barcelona, turning tales of their past into games of today. The bring-your-own-device revolution isn’t just changing enterprise business and the on-demand workforce. Now that nearly everyone has a smartphone, startups like Nexto can turn anywhere into a place to learn and play.