Google-Backed SCVNGR Takes On Foursquare


SCVNGR wants to build a game layer on top of the world. The company's Chief Executive Officer Seth Priebatsch -- who founded the concept 18 months ago while a freshman at Princeton -- recently got one step closer after securing deals with Tesla, the Patriots, the Celtics, Warner Bros., and The New York Times.

Pronounced "scavenger," but spelled without the vowels, the location- and mobile-based social gaming platform goes beyond the check-in process like Foursquare to provide challenges that put the mobile phone owner in the game. It's about participating in challenges, going places, earning points and unlocking badges. People who play the games scan QR codes, take photos, and solve riddles.

The business model had been for enterprises, but now Priebatsch has unleashed it to consumers. About 600 clients so far, from universities to cities, have built games with challenges to destinations through SCVNGR Builder. They paid up to thousands per year to initiate up to 25 challenges that people can access on the SCVNGR network.

Now the tool is being offered to retail stores, small businesses and consumers. SCVNGR Builder lets those who build the challenges find their favorite locations and create fun games from the Web. The platform comes with a guide and analytics to monitor the chase and the game. Buying credits gives people game design support to make fun challenges around the 20 million locations loaded in the application. The games, similar to the one from Tesla, are tied to QR codes.

The 45-employee company, funded by Google Ventures and Highland Capital Partners, has been cash-flow-positive for six months. Priebatsch attributes the positive revenue stream to giving brands an open game platform that sits on top of the world and integrates with the Web to engage consumers with their brand. The mobile games aim to pull in foot traffic to physical locations. "We call it scriptable location-based media," he says.

Similar to Android and other Google products, SCVNGR's product roadmap will take it down a path to open the game layer, allowing more people to build on the platform. Today, the company supports 20 million places and 80 million challenges in North America, but the company wants to double that within the next few months and expand into the "big wide world." Today, people can play primarily from iPhone and Android running mobile devices, so the plan will also move the platform to the BlackBerry within months.

As the company adds locations, the biggest technical challenge becomes geospatial search. Scaling data as the number of locations grow becomes very difficult, but engineers at Google have been generous, investing their time to help build-out the system.

"I asked Rich who cofounded Android if I could borrow the guy who designed Gmail to help us with some UI improvements, and I thought I was being really funny," Priebatsch says. "I figured he would say 'not a chance,' but instead he took someone from the Google Ventures team who had been involved in the architecture and flew him out to Boston to help us design it."

The brand benefits as more people sign on to play because the community becomes larger and the ability to reach more people grows. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, the scriptable platform brings together multiple types of audiences from social platforms and the brand's site.

1 comment about "Google-Backed SCVNGR Takes On Foursquare".
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  1. Mark Simmons from marCis interactive, May 26, 2010 at 8:07 a.m.

    This was only a matter of time. FourSquare is not huge in terms of members, but it's growing and it's innovating. With the ubiquitous nature of Mobile, everyone is going to want a piece of this location-based niche consumer/user market. As usual, Google will try to out-do, but it's always fun to watch the story play out.

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