You might say that the Go Game, an iPhone game launching this week at SXSW, is the best-researched project in the history of location games. Founders Ian Fraser and Finnegan Kelly have spent the last 10 years running a hacked-together version of the game at corporate team-building events for Google, Apple, EA Games, Zynga, Facebook, Microsoft, and Intuit.
“The managers at Intuit, the guys that do TurboTax–they love it too,” says Fraser. And apparently so does every other company in the Valley. In fact, the Go Game is already pulling down $3 million per annum in revenue without any apps at all.
Until this week, the game worked like this: Your business would hire Fraser and Kelly to come out to your company’s home city for a party or event, where they’d build a game for anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand employees. They spent time before game-day traversing the neighborhood you select for the game and setting up what the founders call a “textured scavenger hunt.” (Depending on the complexity of the game, your company pays $50 to $100 per player.)
What’s a “Textured” Scavenger Hunt?
“We hire people as actors to participate in some of the missions,” says Fraser, “and everyone gets a phone” which transmits clues. To each event, Fraser and Kelly bring a fleet of hacked dumbphones that transmit clues for each subsequent mission; a few team members are outfitted with cameras that are used to upload videos from the game to an online scrapbook that employees can laugh at later.
“Before the iPhone 4, the lack of video made an app a non-starter,” says Kelly. But once Apple’s latest device dropped, the pair realized they could ditch their hacked phones. (Their first ever devices: 2001 Nextel i50 phones running on a just-built 2G network.)
Of course, the need for fleets of phones and video cameras meant that Fraser and Kelly used to have to be there to orchestrate every single Go Game played. But with an iPhone app, they can sell their services as software and let people run their own games for about a quarter of the price: $50 per team of four people.
Since the pair has been been running these games for a decade and personally foot-mapping every one, they’ve opened up 500 games in the app, playable in public places in San Francisco, New York, Austin, Orlando, and Toronto.
A Dream Comes True
“I had this dream that was the Go Game,” says Fraser.
A literal dream?
“Yeah, a literal dream where I was running around with an alien gizmo on my head,” he says. In the dream, a voice from his alien helmet told him (in another language) that it was called the Go Game. “So we already had the name,” says Fraser.
He and Kelly decided to build the game, which would eventually come to claim the Guinness World Record for largest location game with 2,500 advertising employees in Dallas. Their in-house iOS app hit the iTunes App Store late last week.
What About Scvngr?
In theory, the Go Game seems like this year’s SXSW darling, Scvngr. But the two differ in their chronologies. Scvngr is a casual game meant to be played frequently; the Go Game’s founders say it is a framework for throwing one huge event and ensuring that no matter how many people come, the fun scales.
In practice, the app works like a multiplayer online game set in real life. One person “hosts” or begins the game and gets to set the parameters; they can adjust the scandalousness of their challenges and clues by movie rating (G, PG, PG-13 and so on) or enter their own personal trivia questions as clues. If you were running a game for your company, for example, you might put in pop-quiz-style questions about your company culture. “The next clue is with the person who was the drunkest at the company party,” for example.
Since the games are largely pre-built, they already have motifs; game admins get access to scripts which you can give to actors you choose, and background songs to score the videos of the day.
“We’re trying to create a particular kind of world, where every place is a nuanced, competitive space,” says Fraser.