Toilet humour: Interview with digital urinal games maker Captive Media

By Chris Lee

In November 2011, headlines emerged of the UK’s first “urinal games”, helping guys in pubs have more fun passing water. The games were the brainchild of UK innovator Captive Media and I spoke with the company’s director, Gordon MacSween, to learn more about how the games worked and where the brand goes from here.

Describe the urinal games to us, please

Our system consists of a hi-definition screen which is fitted at eye level above the urinal, running a programmable mixture of entertaining content and promotions. The content comes from one of our 12 "PTV" channels* while the promotions are prepared by Captive Media, based on the venue’s own material.

When a user approaches, a proximity sensor flips the unit into gaming mode and shows a welcome screen for the game. While there are instructions on the screen, blokes generally don’t read these and the games are designed to be instantly intuitive anyway! The game begins as soon as the player starts to pee, triggered by Captive Media’s patented sensors.

These also detect the direction of the stream, allowing the player to navigate left and right, chasing penguins in On The Piste or answering true/false questions in Clever Dick [see demos here]. So, the player never needs to touch a thing and there’s also nothing but some sticker targets in the bowl**.

When the game ends, the unit’s network connection picks up the current hi-score table for the venue (or chain of venues) and shows this alongside the player’s score and a secret code. By entering this code into, players can post their names on the leaderboard and compete with the best in the bar, the office or around the world. We hope to put this to good effect with our venues in France, Spain, Ireland and the UK during the Olympics with the new game 100ml Dash.

And in a game scheduled for release later in the summer, ArtSplash will allow players to create, download and share their own Masterpiece [see demo here]

What was the inspiration for the urinal games?

The original idea came from a story about an image of a fly in urinals at Schiphol airport (Amsterdam), which is said to have reduced cleaning bills because guys naturally aimed for it, something that was recently confirmed on Sky1’s Geek Show with an interactive game. I thought it would be a whole lot funnier if the fly moved around and you could shoot it down – and then spent a good few years discussing the idea, to great acclaim, but failing to think of a way that might be practical.

I then put some thoughts to a Cambridge technology company, 42T, who tested every possible method from ultrasound, through lasers to cameras and even fluorescing vitamin B. We finally settled on infra-red, the use of which we’ve patented for this application.

Our subsequent inspirations came from the reactions of people who were showed the concept, and even more so from the first field trials. Here’s how players and venue owners now describe the whole experience.

Where can guys find them?

The units are installed in all of these venues. They include a five-star wedding venue (Lainston House), the offices of one of the world’s largest technology companies (which can’t be named), retail outlets and bars in the UK, France and Spain.

Where does Captive Media from here?

Over the summer, we will be installing at one of the UK’s largest airports, a London exhibition centre and a Naples designer outlet centre. Each of these is a paid pilot which will identify the locations where Captive Media’s units deliver the most benefit to venues and advertisers combined. Our airport customer is a great example, where the operator wants to put a smile onto passengers’ faces at just the times when their journey through the airport is most stressful. That is generally after security and passport control – which happen also to be times when passengers are about to make purchase decisions, either what to buy in the departure lounge or where to go next on arrival.

We also have a backlog of enquiries from overseas, where the press coverage following our launch has generated lots of interest. We are developing a more versatile version of the product suitable for most of the models made by the world’s 77 different manufacturers of urinals.

And finally, games like ArtSplash will bridge the gap from washroom gaming to the online world, by offering players something to download and share, whether via Facebook, Twitter or a printed Mother’s Day card! There are a 100 million urinals in the world and we don’t pretend to be about to convert them all – but there’s plenty of potential to keep us busy entertaining and advertising (in that order).

*Sample PTV Channels

**Note: the absence of anything but stickers in the bowl means the screens can be fitted to the wall above standard, UK urinals and will play without any change to the plumbing or bowl. That makes them retro-fitable – which is one of the key benefits of Captive Media’s patented sensing technology. And while the units are sleek and complement the bowl designs, they are also rugged in design – waterproof and vandal-proof. They are also robust to Internet outages, as they download scheduled content overnight and cache it locally.

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