At Gen Con this weekend, I saw some interesting-looking gizmos at a game shop’s stall in the dealer room, and plunked down $20 to purchase them. They were “Codigo Cubes”—dice with QR codes printed on each side. They were part of some trivia game you played with your smartphone. The idea amused me, and I like dice, so I figured, why not?
If I’d been smart, I would have actually tried the game out before I bought them.
On further research, the way the game works is that you scan the QR code with any ordinary QR code reader. The QR reader resolves the code into a URL—for example, http://q10.us/1. The URL leads you to a mobile web site with a trivia game on it. Or at least, that’s the idea, as nearly as I can make out. It’s funny how simple the idea is, when you get right down to it. It’s just a physical implementation of a bookmark list.
The problem is, these cubes are actually about four years old (at least, the oldest reviews that pop up on Google date back to late 2011) and they don’t work anymore. The domain names have expired. When you scan a cube, it gives you a “name not resolved” error. If you go to the URL of the free QR reader from the back of the package, http://www.codigocube.com/reader/, you get to a domain name reseller with a “this domain name is for sale for $2,195” sign.
I can’t find any information pertaining to why the Codigo Cube site is down. Codigo Cube does have a Twitter account, but the last post on it is over a year old. There’s a link from the Twitter account to a Facebook account, but it’s defunct. There is a web site for a digital signage business called Codigo, but I don’t know whether it is related to “Codigo Cube.” Given that “codigo” is just Spanish for “code,” the odds are against it. The dice are also listed as being sold by a game and toy company called “4 Clowns” but I can’t find any web sites or information for them either. It seems likely that Codigo Cube wasn’t able to make enough money to stay in business and had to close down.
Suffice it to say, the Codigo Cube web sites are defunct, which means these dice are curiously devoid of meaning. They’re plastic cubes with URLs on them that don’t go anywhere or do anything. Without the web site behind them, they have no point or purpose whatsoever—they’re completely useless.
And yet they’re still offered for sale to entrap the unwary—both by the game shop stall at Gen Con (and on the game shop’s web site) and at other places, such as Amazon. Apparently nobody ever bothered to scan any of the codes to verify that they still worked.
I’ve left the game store unnamed because it really wasn’t their fault the game stopped working. After all, who randomly checks a web game that you’re selling as a physical artifact? It’s not the sort of thing you think of if you’re in the business of selling physical artifacts. I’ve emailed them to ask about a refund, and will see what they say.
I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to end up getting a lot of complaints. After all, by the time I went back at the end of the convention, the Codigo Cubes had been selling pretty well.
It’s kind of a pity, because the idea does seem to have a lot of potential. I could see using something like this in an role-playing game, for instance—one of the new generation with web-based digital helpers. But any QR-code-based dice are going to depend on the longevity of the company that operates the web sites the QR codes point to—a curiously low-technology weakness to a high-technology gizmo.