SCVNGR Relaunches Apps As Location Wars Heat Up

SCVNGR, a location-based gaming service, has tried to differentiate itself from competitors like Foursquare, Booyah and Gowolla by emphasizing real-world challenges that players can do and create when they’re out and about. Now SCVNGR, which is funded by Google Ventures (s goog) and Highland Capital Partners, is relaunching its iPhone and Android apps, with improvements aimed at heightening the game play and social aspects of its service. The update, codenamed Project Vulcan, includes a new dashboard, more real-world rewards for challenges, a new commenting and +1 point service for encouraging others, a refined social stream and a social mapping tool to see where your friends are.

SCVNGR’s founder Seth Priebatsch said the company is following through on its promise to add a game layer to the world. He said check-ins will eventually be something that we primarily do on Facebook, but challenges and game play will keep location-based services interesting and will keep people motivated.

“We’re not trying to be the decade of social; social networking with location is not interesting, it’s not super new,” Priebatsch said. “The next step is the decade of games. We’re thinking in terms of what can we do to engage and motivate you and make things more fun.”

SCVNGR’s approach seems to be working. The service has tallied 500,000 users since rolling out consumer apps in May, putting it on a faster initial pace than Foursquare, which took a year to hit that milestone.

A number of different services, including Foursquare, employ some type of game mechanics like points and badges. But SCVNGR believes that by “open sourcing” game mechanics and allowing players to create, not just participate, it can be more interesting for both individuals and businesses. A key component of the update is real-world rewards, which is expanding to some 12,000 locations. Players can fulfill challenges at different locations and apply their reward points toward things like a free ice cream or discounts on a Zipcar rental.

The other improvements include a streamlined dashboard for faster navigation and a new commenting system, which allows you to comment on what friends are doing in real-time and award them points for interesting accomplishments. The points don’t count toward rewards but they’re another form of feedback to encourage more game play. The activity stream has also been reorganized so a player’s activities at one location are all grouped together.

It wouldn’t be too hard for other services to employ this enhanced game layer mechanic and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of it from competitors. Foursquare has already started awarding badges for real-world accomplishments, another take on adding a game layer to the world, and Booyah’s MyTown applies a Monopoly-style approach to buying and selling real-world locations. Location-based companies like SCVNGR are going to have keep pushing the envelope to find ways to bridge the real and virtual worlds and exploit game mechanics to the fullest to keep people interested.

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