Why MyTown Is Bigger Than Foursquare & Gowalla

Location-based social networking services like Foursquare and Gowalla may eat up a lot of techie mindshare, but they still have very few users — roughly 150,000 and 50,000, respectively. However, by virtue of product design and social norms, users are discouraged from cheating when it comes to the services’ social gaming elements, so the value of their information is high.

On the other hand, an iPhone app called MyTown, which also features a location-based check-in system game, acquired 250,000 users within just two weeks of launching earlier this month. The app already gets 650,000 daily check-ins from nearly 1 million locations. The difference? MyTown is much more of a game. In the span of 20 minutes or so, I “checked in” at tens of locations in my neighborhood, acquired points and virtual cash and bonuses, “bought” (à la Monopoly) nearby restaurants and collected rent on them, and got up to level six of 20 — all from the comfort of my couch. The game is really, really easy. In fact, Booyah, the company that makes the app, says 15 percent of users hit level 20 within 24 hours of first using MyTown.

Booyah CEO Keith Lee said all this activity came as a surprise. His team was just trying to make the game fun at launch, so they were lenient about the check-in radius and offered tons of prizes and rewards. The next version of the game, he said, will ratchet down on fidelity to reward users for checking in within 50 meters of an actual location and will include local commerce and advertising. It will also have a ton more content and levels so that people don’t get bored. “We’d rather build a super-fun game, then build on friend lists to make it more viral, as opposed to focusing on social utility but not making it fun.”

Lee and his team came from Blizzard Entertainment, so they really do know how to design games. When he talks about improving MyTown, it’s on a higher level. For example: “We can decouple the check-in compulsion loop to another loop, but we don’t want to break it.”

But 250,000 MyTown users isn’t going to be enough for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Booyah (though it’s more successful than the company’s first iPhone game, Booyah Society, which tried to validate users’ real-life achievements and had 150,000 downloads). Booyah has raised $9.5 million from Kleiner Perkins, including a Series B round closed in September.

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