How to steal from Foursquare

gamification pix How to steal from Foursquare

Picasso once said “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.

There are surely a lot of entrepreneurs copying Foursquare, but I don’t see many people stealing from them.

Foursquare kicked off a movement that is now known as the gamification movement.  Seduced by the promise that giving people badges and mayorships will motivate your users to become loyal fans of your service.

It has spawned an entire industry dedicated to this.

Nearly every consumer startup that is launching these days comes with some sort of gamification in them.  Most of them are completely clueless.   From Dehood‘s dukes, to the badges of huffpost, to the points and levelling of Stickybits.   There is no shortgage of consumer startups trying to capture the foursquare magic by gamifying their apps.

The common wisdom of why foursquare works is because it give its users rewards for  achievement.  The natural conclusion becomes, you should reward your users with lots of points and badges for doing the things you want them to do.

But as Jakob Skjerning parodied, if it was all about achievement, then this would the most fun game in the world.

gamification progresswarsicon How to steal from Foursquare

Super Mario Brothers would look like this.

gamification 2994650900 fce462c60a How to steal from Foursquare

Sebastian Deterding’s writings are among the most insightful critics of this add points and stir approach.

So what is it about foursquare that is worth stealing? if not the badges and the mayorships.

Dig deeper into WHY foursquare is fun…

The answer is right under our noses, foursquare before the word became associated with check-in mania is a common children’s playground game, the previous version of foursquare was named dodgeball, another common children’s playground game.    It’s not a co-incidence that the choice of names points to the original spark behind foursquare,  A violent children’s game called King of the Hill.

King of the Hill involves a group of children competing in a zero sum pushing game to occupy one bit of territory(namely the “hill”).  As with all children’s games, it is fun(allows controlled violence but with purpose), quick to understand, and provides plenty of learning opportunities.

Foursquare is essentially a digital version of this game, stripped of the violence.

Ease of use is a natural hereditary advantage of it’s King of the Hill ancestry, children’s games are by design “user friendly”.  The fun has seen the physical roughhousing replaced with a digital “pwned” moment where you take someone’s mayorship or vault to the top of a leaderboard, maybe it’s less fun but at least it’s more socially acceptable…amongst adults.

The core attraction of this game and any children’s game lies in the learnings that you get while playing.  As anyone who has witnessed a child “figuring out” the game of tic tac toe, a game ceases to be fun when learning stops.   Foursquare is based on embracing a pecking order, ordering people within a social hierachy, but with now the emphasis based on lifestyle/going places, rather than the strategic use of force.

This digital twist to an old game has so many people addicted, and predictably has many outsiders befuddled, many people cannot see the “utility” of such a game.

Stealing from foursquare therefore means you have to chunk down to the level of  behavioural psychology, and then chunk all the way back up to what sort of game suits what you are expecting your users to do.

At lobangclub we will be releasing our game soon,  it is quite unlike foursquare but that is a post for another time.