Bridging the Real and Virtual Worlds in Gaming

Interesting article on an effort to bridge the frontier between the real and virtual worlds of gaming and entertainment, an area that interests me a lot.

Booyah Wants You to Level Up, Online and Off

By Jenna Wortham

Tricking out your video-game character with the biggest weaponry, the brightest enchantments and the rarest pieces of armor can be half the fun of playing the game. Keith Lee, the chief executive of Booyah, a start-up based in Palo Alto, Calif., is hoping to tap into that gear lust as a way to get players hooked on the company’s new iPhone game. But to succeed in the game, players will have to put their phones down once in a while.


Booyah Society, available free in iTunes, is both a social network and a game. Players customize an avatar and record their real-life activities, like going to a music festival, taking a cooking class or eating at a new restaurant. Each moment or activity logged earns points towards achievements, which are similar to quests performed in video games “but designed for the real world,” Mr. Lee said.

“It’s the first achievement system for life,” Mr. Lee said. He likens the points that players earn for noting their achievements to “being Boy Scouts and earning badges for learning to fish and camp.”

Mr. Lee and his co-founders, Brian Morrisroe and Sam Christiansen, know a thing or two about developing addictive games. The trio are all alumni of Blizzard Entertainment, which created World of Warcraft and the Diablo series.

In total, there are 180 achievements in the game and fulfilling each one unlocks a new feature for a user’s avatar. For example, logging a trip to Japan might reward the player with a custom ninja outfit for their digital character. The application will keep track of what activities players are most interested in doing — dining out, traveling, going to concerts — and make location-based recommendations.

Mr. Lee says the company does not plan to run advertisements on the application. Instead, he says, it will pursue pairing achievements with sponsors.

For example, buying a pair of Nikes in the real world — which could be verified via a location-based component of the game — would result in an increase in points and a spiffy pair of sneakers for a player’s in-game avatar. In addition, Mr. Lee said the company was exploring opportunities like sponsored restaurant recommendations and debuting an in-game currency that would allow players to purchase accessories for their avatars.

“There’s no shortage of business models here,” he said

Mr. Lee and his partners plan to roll out features to generate revenue in a later version of the application. For now, the company is funded by a $4.5 million round of financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers as part of their $100 million fund geared toward backing iPhone applications.

Booyah Society joins other mobile applications like Foursquare that are trying to bring online social networks into the real world. But Booyah will also foster a thriving virtual community, Mr. Lee said. Eventually, players will be able to take advantage of the peer-to-peer connectivity available in the latest version of the iPhone software, allowing avatars on separate iPhones to interact with one another. In addition, Booyah Society has a world map where players can see all the activities being recorded and achievements being awarded in real time.

These features will help contribute to and reinforce the overall goal of the application, Mr. Lee said, which is to help people achieve larger goals, like living greener, and reward them in a productive way.

“You’re not just getting a sword in a video game for completing a task,” Mr. Lee said. “You’re creating a better version of yourself in real life.”

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