Location Games: Fad or Trend?

Posted: July 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s impossible to deny the tug of something new and hot. A few will resist simply because they don’t want to be lemmings; but usually folks like discovering something new and, particularly when it’s truly fun, news and adoption spread quickly. New is fun.

When I was raising money for Petroglyph Ceramic Lounge – kicking off the “paint your own ceramics” craze in the early ‘90s – we had a handful of profitable studios and we were looking for capital to expand. The venture community couldn’t argue with the obvious popularity and rapid growth of our retail locations, but they wanted to be convinced that painting ceramics wasn’t a FAD. In 1992 there were perhaps 2 places in the nation you could do this kind of activity; by 1995 there were a dozen and 1996 a hundred… but there was nothing I could say to convince them that in five years anyone would care. I couldn’t know.

Well, hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and today it’s clear that Petroglyph wasn’t just a fad, but was kicking off a TREND. There are thousands of PYOP (paint your own pottery) studios in the world, and sales today – almost 20 years later — are steady.

Games are very faddish activities. Remember Trivial Pursuit in Time Magazine in 1983? – a hot new import from Canada. Within a year it exploded. Years later, we see that the game was a fad, but it still was a game changer – and it not only galvanized a new industry of board games (in general) and trivia games (in particular), but it still sells today, even if not the “hot thing.” Same story for other gaming “game changers” – Myst (a global phenom, and catalyzing CD ROM games), You Don’t Know Jack, and so on and on. With little exception, games –like rock stars — are faddish. Do they ever have staying power? Sure–D&D, WoW… or they spawn great franchises like SimCity… but these are unusual exceptions in the game kingdom, no?

Which brings me to GPS-enabled location games. What can I say?  They’re games. They’re fun. They woke us up to the power of pervasive GPS and I’m certain they herald a new era, a new TREND, in consumer location-powered tools. But the games themselves? Foursquare? Gowalla? MyTown? and the new ones? I hate to be a wet blanket but I would tend to be cautious to claim victory here. Games get big fast. Frequent reports of their viral growth are important, but also the wrong hook to hang your hat on. These games might never break out of certain demographic sectors (people who are game players) and sooner or later the fans will almost certainly begin looking for the next fun thing. They simply may not have staying power any more than any great game. The leader in the pack may find ways to move the millions of players to their next fun game – but for most players in the field, I believe audiences will be fickle. Is there money to be made? Probably. Not that anyone is asking me, but if I were Booyah and the others, I would be trying to evolve a slate of location-based games and toys, and not put all my eggs in one game-basket as if users will play it indefinitely.

And as for PlaceBook, all I can say is that we’ll be launching soon, and frankly I’d be thrilled to have Foursquare’s 2 million users…

But I’ve watched fads and trends for decades… from the trends of nonlinear editing,  ceramic painting, mobile computing; to the wonderful fads of PacMan, Miatas and Lady Gaga.  I am aiming PlaceBook to anticipate the TREND and not chase the FAD. I can’t wait to see what happens…

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