I came across an interesting article at ReadWriteWeb today: 25% of American Adults Use Location-Based Services. I found it particularly interesting because earlier today I deleted my last three location-based gaming apps.
Now the article about ReadWriteWeb was talking about location-based services in general, but it made me think about my own experiences with location-based gaming. At the 2010 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston, I heard a lot of people talking about location-based services and their possibilities for libraries. In particular, they talked about three location-based games: Foursquare, Gowalla, and MyTown. I downloaded the apps and tried them all while I was at ALA. I’ve played with all of them off and on over the past year and a half. I deleted them today. Earlier this year I also downloaded, played, and deleted another location-based game called Shadow Cities.
In thinking back over why I deleted these games, there were a variety of reasons. The Shadow Cities gameplay just didn’t appeal to me. For the other three, there just wasn’t any compelling incentive. Gathering mayorships, unlocking badges, and collecting rent are fine for the first week. After that, what’s left? Not much – for me anyway.
The incentive issue actually splits into several issues. First, although I know several people with smartphones , this type of gaming just doesn’t appeal to them. Since I couldn’t compete with my friends, that ruled out any possible “social” incentive for these games. Then there is the lack of mayoral awards in my area. They just aren’t there. When I’m in other cities, I occasionally see special incentives for checking in or being the mayor of a location. Where I live though, Foursquare just isn’t that big with businesses, so there are no incentives for checking in or becoming mayor. MyTown had its own problems. Basically you reach a level cap where you can’t buy any more properties, you can’t upgrade your properties any more, and the game is essentially over. Oh sure, you can keep buying and selling your business and collecting rent if you want to, but once you’re a gazillionaire, it doesn’t really matter any more does it? Interestingly, I see that Booyah just released MyTown 2. I think I’ll give that one a pass. I used Gowalla the least, but it was actually the most interesting of the three. Still, it failed to keep my interest.
There was one particularly noticeable disincentive to using these apps. All of them depend on using location services on my phone, and using location services burns battery life. I was surprised at how much a few check-ins would eat away at the battery when I traveled, but it did, and sometimes battery life is too precious a commodity to spend with a service that you don’t enjoy that much anyway.
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, these location-based apps actually took away from the enjoyment of the places I visited. I found myself frequently checking in on all three apps. I wasn’t compulsively checking in, but the very act of checking in meant that I was spending a little more time on my phone and little less on enjoying my location.
So . . . I’m finished with location-based gaming for now. It was an interesting experiment. I’ll still use other location-based apps, but I’ve retired the games. I might still feel a little twinge each time I lose a mayorship, but I don’t think that will be enough to pul e out of retirement.