Munzee-made donation

Munzee President Rob Vardeman, center, on June 26 presented a $25,000 donation to the Ronald McDonald House in Spokane, Wash., where the Reed family has stayed as their son, David, front right, gets treated for leukemia. 

A new-generation scavenger hunt with a global reach has its foundation in McKinney.

Munzee, a smart phone app that connects to real-life and virtual “pins,” has more than 165,000 players worldwide. They find, scan and place QR-code destinations on every continent.

Since Munzee moved its operations to the downtown McKinney square in January, players from around the U.S. have visited, said Rob Vardeman, Munzee president.

“It’s the Mecca of Munzee; people feel the need to make a trip to the world headquarters – where it all began,” Vardeman said. “They’re coming from everywhere.”

Small, otherwise unnoticeable QR-code stickers dot signs, buildings and statues downtown. Players use the app’s navigation – on iPhones, Android and Windows phones – to locate the pins for “captures” that result in points or prizes. There are more than 20 million captures and counting, according to Munzee’s website.

Players can pay for premium memberships, which offer special access to pins and Munzee merchandise, but the app is free. Leader boards, gift periods and the thrill of the search are key incentives. Munzee has held mini-competitions within the game where real prizes like an XBOX or McDonald’s gift certificate rewarded certain point totals or captures.

But many play for the app’s ability to get them out of the house and explore, Vardeman said. Munzee connects technology to travel – app to adventure.

“The important part is the community that’s been built around it,” said Dylan Derryberry, Munzee marketing director. “Their Munzee group is their family, the people they spend their time with.”

The game’s personal connection became tangible June 26 in Spokane, Wash., to the tune of $25,000. Munzee made the donation to the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in honor of the Reed family, who’d stayed there for several months while their son, David, received treatment for leukemia.

David was diagnosed in October 2012, and his father, Derik, a loyal Munzee player, soon publicized his family’s fight through online blogs and Munzee forums. The game fostered a special father-son bond, and soon Munzee players rallied around them by donating specifically to the Ronald McDonald House, where families reside as loved ones are treated at a local hospital.

Munzee itself then created virtual pins players could purchase as direct donations toward the Spokane RMH. They raised the $25,000 in 10 days, with nearly half raised in the first 24 hours. One Munzee player in Missouri bought $1,000 worth of pins.

“Munzee users are over-the-top generous; we’re so thankful for this donation,” said Mike Forness, RMH Spokane executive director, in a released statement. “Munzee and the Ronald McDonald House families share many of the same values, the value of family, of helping others and of helping each other.”

Vardeman presented the proceeds and other essential items last Thursday ahead of a special barbecue for RMH families, volunteers and Munzee players who’d come in support. Though Munzee-incited, the celebration was for the Reeds and all RMH does for others.

“It’s going to grow our game and continue to grow the Ronald McDonald House community,” Vardeman said. “The next time we give back, I can’t imagine we’re going to give only $25,000 – we’ll exceed that.”

Keeping its community focus, Munzee looks to also further branch out in McKinney, specifically downtown. It’s holding a special event during Oktoberfest and has gotten commits from players as far away as Germany and Lithuania.

Downtowners may also notice a Munzee tease on the old Garrett Art Gallery building. Munzee will soon announce its related expansion, but for now, just expects the game’s impact to expand.

“Things are moving full speed ahead,” Derryberry said. “We’re not known, yet we’re 165,000-strong worldwide and our headquarters is here. It’s an exciting time for people to join in and see what’s going on.”

For local news updates, follow Chris Beattie on Twitter

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