MyTown, the hit social game for the iPhone from Booyah, now has over 2 million users. But it’s no threat to Foursquare, the red-hot mobile startup.
In case you’re not familiar with “MyTown,” the game keeps tabs on your location using your phone’s GPS, and lets you “check-in” to nearby businesses to gain experience points and game currency. This cash can be used to “buy” the businesses around you, which in turn generate more cash in the form of rent.
Because of the “check-in” feature, the game is often mentioned in the same breath as mobile social networks like Foursquare, Loopt, and Gowalla. This is a great comparison for MyTown: the red hot Foursquare has about half as many users, and if MyTown’s explosive growth continues, it will no doubt soon pass Loopt as well.
These comparisons have been the focus of much of the media coverage of MyTown. Booyah is “Stealing Foursquare’s Thunder” according to TechCrunch. Foursquare and Gowalla “eat up a lot of techie mind share”, GigaOm wrote in December, but Booyah has the users. We’ve even been guilty of this ourselves.
The problem with these analyses is that MyTown isn’t anything like Loopt and Foursquare, and isn’t really in competition with them at all. MyTown is a game, not all that different from Facebook games like FarmVille. “Checking in” to businesses is merely the primary way to make progress in the game. MyTown users don’t just check in to their current location; they check in to as many places as they can, as quickly as they can. We just timed ourselves checking in to eight businesses in the past minute.
Meanwhile, Foursquare is being built as a much more serious social utility. Sure, there’s a fun gaming aspect as well — collecting points and badges for checking in. And, of course, the famous “mayor” title for being the person who’s checked in to a place the most. But it’s really a different animal — a social utility to help you hang out with your friends and explore cities. Not a goofy game.
Regarding check-in frequency… Of course, people can fake check-ins on Foursquare, too. But the two situations aren’t all that similar. When someone “cheats” on Foursquare, to get ahead in the gaming aspects of the service (gaining points and badges), they are also missing out on the main appeal of Foursquare: a social network that tells you where your friends are and what they’re up to.
When you check-in to a business you aren’t in on MyTown, on the other hand, you aren’t cheating at all — that’s just how you play MyTown. Since there is no expectation that check-ins reflect your real world location, there is no social value to knowing where your friends have checked in, if you even have friends through the service.
Booyah has cut down on the number of places nowhere near your current location you can check in to per day, but it would never try to stop users from doing this altogether, because that is what keeps people playing. Leveraging your location is a great idea — it allows Booyah to serve local ads as an extra revenue stream on top of the virtual goods sales that generally power social gaming companies. But MyTown will never be the way people share a log of their movements.
Don’t get us wrong — Booyah is a great startup. Unlike the mobile networks, it has been generating revenue from day one using a proven business model. But it doesn’t have a fraction of the users that Zynga, EA, and Playdom do. Making comparisons to Foursquare and Gowalla makes Booyah look better, but it doesn’t make any sense.