Playing Games With Customers: Is Foursquare The Future Of Local Search?

Congratulations! You are now the Mayor of Search Engine Land!

If that sounds familiar you are one of the growing number of people using/playing Foursquare, a mobile app that uses the location of your mobile device to encourage users to “check in” wherever they might be in exchange for points and recognition like becoming the Mayor of McDonald’s, or wherever else you might happen to be. Yelp recently launched a similar feature and GoWalla provides its own spin on this conceit. So more people are checking out checking in. You might wonder, what does all this have to do with local search?

There’s this thing called Second Life. It’s been around for a while and every year hundreds of thousands of people sign up to create virtual selves that interact in virtual worlds with other virtual people and use virtual money to buy virtual goods. That virtual money is of course paid for with non-virtual (aka real) money. So what if instead of experiencing Second Life on your computer, you could experience it in the real world? That’s the promise of these new location-based gaming applications—overlaying a virtual world upon the real, physical 3D world.

Besides amassing points and badges, the benefit of using these check-in services is that they can present relevant nearby offers and promotions to users. If you are at a mall and you check in to a Gap store you might get an offer for a discount on a shirt. If it’s around lunch time you might get pinged about a discount meal offer at a nearby California Pizza Kitchen along with a review of the pizza by a friend who is using the same app. The relevance of location, time, social recommendations and perhaps demographic information combine to make powerful media targeting.

We are now in what I call the 2D version of location-based gaming. There’s not a lot more to it than what’s described above. But in the not-too-distant future I believe we will see a James Cameron of local search emerge and create the 3D version that will rock the world.

Imagine a game that happens via a mobile device but incorporates real world location. Now imagine that instead of merely checking in and getting relevant coupons, you are actually playing a game that requires you to interact with the location and the people there. Maybe the game requires you to go to a McDonald’s (Burger King underbid for the QSR sponsorship) and order a specific item to unlock some secret. The guy at the counter pings your mobile device once the sale is made and then you are given a message to sit at the table near the ketchup counter to await your next instruction—and enjoy the Filet O’ Fish while you wait. Then another player sits down, gives you the secret handshake and provides you with your next mission, to find another clue to the game while trying on a new Wonderbra at Victoria’s Secret (warning: gender targeting can sometimes be off. We’re still in beta after all).

What if the world basically becomes a walking version of the Wii?

The implication for brands is pretty clear. There will be opportunities to interact with potential customers by integrating with the game. This is no different than what is going on in virtual worlds like Second Life. The difference is that the interaction will be happening both online and offline simultaneously and it will likely be accessible to a lot more people.

So what does this mean for the service providers who are not location-based (e.g. plumbers) and those who are not ideal hosts for fake shoot outs (e.g. banks, gynecologists, etc.)?

In the 24/7 always on world of reality-based virtual gaming, there will always be an excess of inventory. As these types of experiences become the new time suck, most likely for a younger demographic, creative local businesses will find a way to get their message out. At first this will be the realm of two-for-one shots at the local bar type deals. But just like ATMs found their way into casinos, clever banks, chiropractors and others will find ways to participate if the customers are there. Don’t be surprised if the next time you are named the Mayor of the local dive bar you get a friend connection request from a virtual DUI attorney.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Local Search Column | Search Ads: Mobile Search


About The Author: is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too.

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  • Greg_Gerber

    You got it. We call it Real World Gaming at SplitP.

  • MarketingJamie

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I will definitely talk about this on my blog. (

  • dennisyu


    This is hilarious! Instead of FarmVille, I’d call this BlitzVille, where users can earn real points in the real world. Question is– who will have the best local game that is the most addictive and monetizes best?

  • matterhornpat

    Opening the door for Foursquare optimization? Jokes aside I think we will see some very interesting stories emerge as some brands innovate and some brands (inevitably) will create horror stories for themselves.


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