It’s not all fun and games

ImageSome Foursquare badges. [1]

In the early days of Foursquare before a critical mass of users had been established, there needed to be a motivation for a user to use their service. After all, the main reason the first incarnation failed was due to it not gaining this critical mass. The creators realised from their past failure that a new user would not easily take on their product if it wasn’t already being used by their friends. Their solution to this at the time was pioneering and the concept has now become known as gamification.

The term ‘Gamification’ was originally coined in 2002 by a British computer programmer called Nick Pelling. However it wasn’t until around 2010 that the word started to be used for a new concept which sought to implement game mechanics into web and mobile applications. [2] This sought to incorporate the social and reward aspects of games to help solve non-gaming related problems.

The creators of Foursquare were quick to understand the potential of the concept in helping launch their service. This new implementation of game mechanics allowed Foursquare’s early adopters to not depend on another user for intrinsic reinforcement. An idea that was not very intuitive for what was essentially a social media app. Despite this it would be the primary driver of Foursquare’s early success. This is witnessed by Foursquare achieving a phenomenal growth of 3,400% in 2010. [3] Foursquare had proved without any doubt that gamification can affect behaviour and can engage millions of new customers.

Foursquare gamification involves users competing for badges, mayorships and points. To earn a badge a user must check-in to a specific venue or complete certain tasks. The first badge a user gets is called the ‘newbie badge’ and is earned after their first check-in. It is unknown how many badges there is but it is assumed to be in the hundreds. For example, the ‘Hangover badge’ can be earned if the user checks into a venue categorised as a bar after 2am and then checks into a venue categorised as an office or college before 8am the same day. In 2010 an astronaut called Douglas Wheelock earned the ‘NASA explorer badge’ after doing a check-in on the International Space Station. [4]

If a user has managed to check-in to a venue more times than any other user in the last 60 days, then they are awarded mayorship of that venue. This is in condition that the user has uploaded a profile photo. If a business or venue has a foursquare page then the mayor will be displayed on their front page. Many businesses now provide rewards to users who achieve mayorship at their venue.

Foursquare users can earn points each time they do a check-in. Bonus points are awarded for different things such as introducing a new friend to Foursquare, posting a recommendation or checking in to a new place. Foursquare encourages users to compete against their friends for points and to check their position on the points leaderboard.

Recently co-founder Denis Crowley has expressed his disappointment about the perception that Foursquare is just about points and badges. For this reason they are intending to move the game aspects of Foursquare progressively more into the background while emphasising the apps primary functions. [5] In fact the creators of Foursquare have always been upfront about their reasons for using gamification. The function of the games was always to get new users interested, to keep them checking in and to ultimately provide more data for their recommendation engine. [6]

– Keith Walsh

[1] Posttuit. “Coleccionista de medallas”. Available at: http://www.posttuit.es/coleccionista-de-medallas (Accessed 06/03/2014)
[2] Gabe Zichermann. 2011. “Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps”. 1
Edition. O’Reilly Media.
[3] Kuo, I. 2013. “Foursquare’s Removal of Gamification: Not a Mistake but a Mature Design Decision”.
Gamification Corp. Available at: http://www.gamification.co/2013/03/15/the-removal-of-foursquare-
gamification/ (Accessed: 06/03/2014)
[4] Kincaid, J. 2010. “Houston, We’ve Had A Check-In: NASA Astronaut Just Used Foursquare From Space”.
Techcrunch.com. Available at: http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/22/foursquare-space-astronaut/ (Accessed:
06/03/2014)
[5] Crowley, D. 2013. “The Future of Location”. SXSW. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rw-SGWieEo (Accessed: 06/03/2014)
[6] Foursquare. “Foursquare 101”. About Foursquare. Available at: http://aboutfoursquare.com/foursquare-101/ (Accessed: 06/03/2014)

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