Foursquare, the popular location based social network, released version 5.0 of the app last week. A core tenet of the redesign is a de-emphasis on check-ins and the other gaming features of the app. In a story profiling the ‘Connected Apps’ feature released with version 5.0, Sarah Perez at TechCrunch was in support of the changes, opining that they “give the user a new reason to check in”, one that is “more engaging than the now-tiresome mayorship quests, points and badges.”
After reading this, I paused to reflect on some of the classic arcade games I enjoyed as a kid. One of the best known games from this era is ‘Galaga’, released by Namco in 1981. Thirty years later, Galaga remains relevant due in large part to the genius of its scoring conventions.
For example, letting your ship get captured by the ‘Boss Galaga,’ allows you to rescue the ship and have double firepower. There is also a scoring benefit to rescuing your ship from two red escorts (1600 points) vs. without any escorts (400 points). Or the many different ‘Challenging Stages,’ with the ‘Perfect Score’ bonus for hitting all the aliens (tip: it helps to have double firepower). The game evolves naturally, keeping the same basic elements but always adding a few surprises. As a result, 30 plus years after its release, Galaga is still fun to play.
So how did the gaming aspect of Foursquare, released in 2009, grow tired in three short years? The fact is, the developers at Foursquare did little to evolve the game mechanics to create continued engagement.
For example, the first check in to a venue can net you as many as 14 points. Are you the first of your friends to check in? Is it your first Sushi bar? Etc. Upon your second check in you get 1 measly point. As a result, I mostly check in now only when I am traveling. Partly for the increased points, and partly to keep a trip log.
Back at home, if you decide to keep checking in anyway to pursue a ‘mayorship’, good luck. Most the coveted mayorships are out of reach – meaning you don’t get a pop up telling you how many days you are away from becoming mayor. (Answer: plan to get a job here). I have had a few ‘surprise and delight’ moments: stealing the mayorship at a popular venue, etc., but the mayorship is generally stolen back within a few days. Despite my competitive nature, I’m unlikely to check in to a venue just to recapture the mayorship. I also try to play by the rules, which means I have to actually be at the location in question before checking in. I imagine most people operate in this manner, but there are few safeguards against those that decide to go rogue.
Finally, the badges. This is perhaps my favorite part of the game. And in fairness, Foursquare has done a pretty good job here. Until they seemingly ran out of ideas.
For example, I drink a lot of coffee. I’ve now unlocked the Fresh Brew badge, Level 5. When I unlocked the new level, I received the following message:
“Look at you, Juan Valdez! That’s a lot of coffee. Now that you’ve had your caffeine fix, get out there and conquer the day – one twitchy step at a time.”
Which looks awfully similar to the message I received when unlocking the Fresh Brew badge at Level 4:
“Look at you, Juan Valdez! That’s a lot of coffee. Now that you’ve had your caffeine fix, get out there and conquer the day – one twitchy step at a time. ”
Really Foursquare? You couldn’t come up with any new copy? If there is nothing new to add, why even have multiple levels of the same badge?
To use the analogy of Galaga, this would be like the Challenging Stage at Level 3 being identical to Level 7. Which it most certainly is not.
And it’s one of the reasons why people continue to play Galaga, even as they’ve stopped playing Foursquare…..