Summary:

Launched Wednesday, Tip or Skip is a mobile shopping game designed to help users find new products and share recommendations, while earning points that identify them as a top tastemaker. The game is available for the iPhone and on the Web.

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Angry Birds. Fruit Ninja. Tip or Skip?

A game about shopping may not attract the hardest core mobile gamers, but the founders of Tip or Skip are convinced that they can lure users with a new game that blends social discovery, gamification and mobile commerce.

Launched today, and available for the iPhone and on the Web, Tip or Skip is designed to help users find new products and share recommendations, while earning points that identify them as top tastemakers.

“What mobile users want to do is play games and use online social networks,” said Michael Weiksner, CEO of Tip or Skip. “But there’s nothing for shopping in those categories.”

Founded by Weiksner, a Stanford Ph.D. who has focused on persuasive technology, and his childhood friend Nathaniel McNamara, who has worked in mobile commerce for several years, the company has raised $2 million from investors including 500 Startups, John Ason, Corinthian Group and other angels.

Upping the engagement factor

Between apps from social commerce startups Fab, Fancy, Snapette and others, mobile shoppers are hardly without options for on-the-go browsing. But Tip or Skip thinks it can get more engagement — and information about product preferences — from users by using game mechanics.

When a user signs into Tip or Skip with a Facebook account, she sees a gallery of products seeded by other users and brands. As she flips through the images of items (which range from gourmet cookies and quirky coffee mugs to hipster sneakers and vintage-looking dresses), she has the option to “tip” or “skip.” Each time she skips, she earns a certain amount of “sway” (the game’s currency) and each time she tips, she uses up a little bit of her sway. As other players like her tips, she earns more sway and standing in the game. Players can also earn sway for doing certain activities, like logging into the game or checking emails from the game.

To prevent people from gaming the system, they can only earn a limited amount of sway from skipping each day. And, the founders said that the reason players lose sway when they tip is that they want to incentivize people for being selective.

From the app, players can share the various items through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and they can click on to a site that sells the app. Down the line, the founders said they see potential revenue opportunities in partnering with brands who can promote deals and offers to consumers through the platform, while learning about the kinds of products consumers like. Even further down the road, McNamara said, the company could use the information it’s learned about consumers’ preferences for offline discovery. As consumers walk down the street, for example, the app could alert them to relevant deals in their area that are related to items that they’ve tipped.

“This is the inverse of showrooming,” he said.

Traction in a crowded market may be tough

I think the company’s big picture vision and roadmap are compelling, but with all the other social commerce platforms available (on mobile and desktop), gaining traction could be a challenge. Also, while the gaming elements bring a level of engagement to the app, I wonder if they’ll be able to sustain consumers’ attention over time. For example, to add sway once you’ve depleted it, you need to take social actions (such as sharing with friends or linking your Twitter account), which take you away from the “game.”

Beyond that, for the app to really fulfill its discovery promise, it needs to surface products that people think are really valuable and they wouldn’t find elsewhere. So far, items currently in the app run the gamut from mushroom dumplings to iTunes downloads for the TV show Breaking Bad. But it would be helpful if, right off the bat, users felt like it was easier to see more products that are interesting to them. Still, the idea is that over time, the items deemed most popular by the community will rise to the top and, as more people join the site, top tastemakers will emerge who can recommend items more relevant to different users’ tastes.

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