Booyah, which is available as a free iPhone app, is a new social MMORPG from a well-funded startup of the same name. But here’s the twist: Unlike all other online role-playing games (GigaOM Pro, sub required) , you don’t improve your character by performing fantastic otherworldly tasks, like looting dungeons or slaying hobgoblins — what gamers call “leveling up.” With Booyah, instead, you level up yourself, through real-world activities.
Get regular exercise and attain Booyah’s “God of the Gym” status, for example; jetset around the world enough, and Booyah dubs you a “Wondrous Wanderer.” These achievements are registered as badges in the Booyah virtual “room” on your iPhone, where your comically bulbous-headed avatar resides.
The idea for Booyah originated when CEO Keith Lee and his two co-founders were developers at Blizzard Entertainment, creator of World of Warcraft, which now boasts nearly 12 million worldwide subscribers. That’s largely thanks to the addictiveness of WoW’s character-building and quests, which encourage people to obsessively play for years, just to earn virtual achievements for their Warcraft avatars. As he explained to me in a recent demo, Lee and his partners wondered if they could take the same design principles, which make Blizzard games so popular, and apply them to real life.
So in Booyah, you self-report everyday activities in a variety of categories (work, shopping, etc.) just as you would on any other microblogging service; here, however, those updates are registered as progress points to your next achievement, and displayed in the “Booyah Society” social network (which can also be integrated with your Facebook or Twitter profiles.) This public aspect, the developers believe, will help keep your self-reporting honest. (If your Booyah friends notice that you’re exaggerating your accomplishments, they may call you on it.) Lee told me the company plans to eventually use iPhone functionality, like the GPS and accelerometer, to track player stats with more objective metrics.
At launch, Booyah is not without its shortcomings: The social functions could be more robust, and the emphasis on achievements over socialization may limit its appeal with women. Lee told me the company plans to add virtual currency, avatar-to-avatar interaction and other features, but without them, the growth rate may sputter. Still, it’s an appealing attempt to leverage MMORPG play aspects for benefits beyond games — a goal long-desired by developers and researchers alike. Booyah even has accomplishment ladders for cultural activities and social activism, so if players make a genuine effort to earn the game’s wide range of awards, they may also find themselves becoming more enriched, better-rounded human beings. Call it World of Lifecraft.