FourSquare Encourages Cheaters
I read an article yesterday on TechCrunch entitled Foursquare Starts To Enforce The Rules, Cracks Down On Fake Check-Ins. It really bothered me. So much so, that after about 45 mins of my ranting about it (and location aware mobile apps in general) to friends, someone suggested I blog about it.
Oh yeah, I have a blog!
I could go on and on about this, so I’m going to try really hard to keep this focused on my main gripe: a well designed game shouldn’t have to “CRACK DOWN” on players.
Background Info (Skip if you know all about FourSquare).
Let me take it back a sec. For those who don’t know, FourSquare is a mobile app (iPhone, Android, etc) that lets users – or “players” – check in via phone when they arrive at a location (bars, museums, restaurants, etc.). Players are rewarded with badges when they hit certain check in goals – like the Local Badge for checking in at the same place three times in one week. There’s a social element on top of this that means your friends who are also playing can see where you check in, which creates the potential for ad hoc meetups if you both realize you’re downtown, etc.
Sounds kind of fun right? To increase the fun (and create a revenue stream) FourSquare awards the title of “Mayor” to the player who checks in the most at a given location. This title sometimes comes with perks like free beer or half off pizza, so it’s worth competing for, and its in the venue’s best interest to create cool deals so that players vie for the coveted mayorship. The app does a pretty good job of locating players via GPS, but it’s kind of loose, allowowing players to check in at places when they’re not actually there. The system is so loose in fact, that if I really wanted to I could check in anywhere in New York City as I sit in my apartment in San Francisco. You see the potential for cheating?
The problem is that as FourSquare continues to become a vehicle for sponsorship (Starbucks now sponsors a Barista Badge) they become increasingly accountable to these venues and corporations to ensure the accuracy of check ins. No one wants to reward a cheater with free Venti Lattes, right?
FourSquare continues to make changes to its “cheater code” to improve the system’s accuracy but it makes me wonder if it’s not the technical exploits of the game that are at fault. Could the problem be conceptual? Maybe even psychological? The game rewards players for checking in as much as possible – but then penalizes this same behavior if it’s done in excess or beyond “the rules”. That’s like sending Monopoly players to jail for buying all the best properties too quickly.
If the current system rewards quantity of check ins, and this is encouraging cheating, maybe it’s time to move to a system that rewards quality of check ins. Instead of rewarding mayorships to players for the number of times they check in, they should reward players for the amount of time spent checked in at a venue.
Of course this comes with it’s own opportunity for exploitation, but at least the system would encourage quality check ins and limit users from claiming mayorships all over town by cheating.
Players will take whatever action is incentivized to the extreme. Understand this, and instead of imposing restrictions, make sure players are encouraged to perform the correct kind of behavior.
What do you think? Flaws in the proposed system? Ever fallen victim to the “cheater code” when you weren’t cheating (I have)? Let me know what you think.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized