I’ve never “played” Foursquare, but I have used it. To me, most location based check-in apps (like Foursquare & Gowalla) are more of a novelty than anything. You don’t have to look too hard to find a debate on whether or not this type of geocaching should be considered a “game” in the standard definition. And recently, the debate has extended to a new location-based realm – Facebook. The social network’s newest feature, Facebook Places may not be revolutionary, and it’s release brings about all new privacy concerns and polar opinions to the great technological debate.
One thing is clear – Facebook Places is the next logical step, from geo-tagging on Twitter and a barrage of check-in apps, to Starbucks coupons, flash-mob events, and a 24-7 location-fueled generation that demands increased connectivity at every turn.
Like it or not, here are five more-than-valid reasons why Facebook Places matters for social games (and the tech space in general). I’ve also scratched the surface below, with a few ideas on how social game developers might put use the new location feature.
1) Connected to the competition
One can easily see why foursquare would be worried, spreading naysayer thoughts and downplaying the importance of Facebook’s fancy new location feature. If your company just got a new competitor that boasts an astounding 500 million active users (to be fair, 150 million on mobile devices), you’d be quick to shut them up too.
But Facebook Places’ competitors aren’t dead yet (Foursquare just surpassed 3 million users, which would seem huge if I hadn’t just quote the Facebook stats). And its competitors seem to be playing nice so far, partnering with Facebook in third-party relationship style. But you can read plenty about that elsewhere.
2) Already widespread (by default)
To me, this widespreadedness is why Facebook Places is such a win. I always liked the *idea* of foursquare, but not living in a coastal city means most of the folks I know (nearby anyway) have never even heard of it. (Mention Foursquare and people still think of the elementary school ball game.) That kind of takes the fun out of checking in around town – leaving the occasional chuckle of finding places like “Old Drunky’s, aka Grandma’s House,” as my only real draw. I’m sure it won’t be long before those little gems pop up on Facebook Places too.
Regardless, I’ve been wanting to play along, but Foursquare simply offers limited resources in a widespread, mainstream, national sense. And that doesn’t even cover international users. I may be alone here, but at least I’m honest.
3) Easy to use, free, mainstream
Now, with Facebook Places, my friends don’t have to “play along”, or even download an extra app for me to get the social “juice” I seek from checking in. By default, friends see my location-based updates like any regular Facebook news item. That just makes sense. Before, I’d check in somewhere on Foursquare, and immediately click over to my Twitter iPhone app to reiterate the notion to the majority of my less tech-savvy social network. Of course, you can link Foursquare to Twitter or Facebook to update automatically, but so far I haven’t been compelled to do so. With Facebook Places, I don’t have to.
There are a variety of tweet types (status updates) in any typical user’s feed, but no doubt location updates are a big part of them (whether or not you have or utilize geotagging). For example, “just landed in Boston” or “come to the field party!” Facebook Places puts all that noise back where it belongs – in your feed instead of spread across multiple applications. It makes the check-in “game” easier to use, more social, and more mainstream friendly.
I’m not going to rip into the privacy concerns of checking your friends in, or revealing your exact location for the world to see on Facebook Places. Don’t be a douche about it and you’ll be fine.
4) Another link in the social gaming chain
There is no short way to sum up the new options the Facebook Places presents to game and app developers, not to mention everyone from advertisers and marketers to flash-mob organizers. Some developers have already started using the location-based API to their advantage, and plenty of tie-in ideas come to mind.
What if you could earn special prizes in FarmVille, YoVille or Mafia Wars by checking in at 7-Eleven? Country Story or Social City players could take part in real world scavenger hunts, geo-cache style. Or perhaps Bejeweled Blitzers could find buried treasure (aka coins) in pre-determined locations. Oh there are endless possibilities for a more connected, real-time future of social games…
Mobile-social game, SCVNGR is the fifth third-party app to integrate the Facebook Places API. SCVNGR lets users check-in and complete challenges at real-world locations to earn rewards, Now those check-ins can be associated with a Place, and activity on the Places page of a location you’re visiting can be pulled back into SCVNGR’s venue pages. (Inside Facebook)
5) New business opportunities
Beyond new fun features for Facebook games and apps, Places also offers a wealth of new advertising opportunities for any sort of company. It won’t be long before we see Facebook Places breathe new life into location-based promotions – movie tie-ins, retailer coupons, car dealership discounts, and viral marketing efforts of all shapes and sizes.
One early-adopter example is Topguest, which has worked Facebook Places into its travel/hospitality loyalty points offering, now counting Facebook Places among the check-in services that it aggregates, like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and Yelp. (CNET)
How deep does it go? Is Facebook Places another link in the chain towards global social game domination? Or is it another novelty app, destined for ruin via privacy control naysayers and eventually dwindling interest? Does Facebook Places spell certain doom for its competitors? Partnerships with other leading location check-in apps say probably not, but even using a third-party app like Foursqaure or Gowalla will still be better with Facebook support, in my humble opinion. How will social game developers put themselves on the map with Facebook Places? I can’t wait to find out. However you feel -
It’s here, it matters, get used to it.