3 Design Lessons From Building A Location Based Game…followed by 2 more lessons


  • Make (Meaningful) Locations Meaningful


We came into development knowing that having players feel like their location mattered was important to us. It wasn’t until we surveyed students on campus that we realized a piece was missing. When asked what buildings they would want to destroy 45% indicated that wrecking campus buildings that had “wronged” them was foremost on their minds. Beyond that buildings that represented parts of their worldview, often negative associations, were mentioned; notable among them were local Banks and Trump Tower.



  • Ask the impossible


One of the great things about this world of ours is how BIG it is! It stretches our imaginations when we try to conceive of it all at once. We can leverage this size simply by asking players to complete actions on a global scale. While most players won’t travel to the corners of the world, their imagination is a more than eager passenger.

These grand tasks can also serve as long term player goals. Give them a way to subvert the need for travel while maintaining the notion of exclusivity that these tasks carry with them.

In “Kaiju” we give the player specific locations to go to for unique rewards (new monsters to fight with) and the quest is given in the form of an egg that must be taken to this location. Some of these goals are remote locations in far away countries. We had no expectation of players to bounce around the planet to hatch these eggs, while that is one way to go about it we also allow players to check in eggs for one another. So if you have family or friends elsewhere they can take a photo with you egg instead of you traveling there.

Evidence for the effectiveness of this was seen in an early low fidelity playtest in which players could check in eggs by submitting a photo of a drawing of the egg. They did not have to be the one to draw the egg or take the photo but it had to be done at specific locations. Within 5 days players located in Pennsylvania checked in eggs in India, Taiwan, TIme Square, and the Alps. What was even more surprising was the fact that many of these locations were presented alongside eggs that had to be taken to a Subway, a Library, or out for Sushi yet the more challenging and exotic locations were pursued and submitted first.

Players mobilized their social networks in a way that had them asking for help and calling on individuals who were valuable because of where they were or what they were doing in life. It gives them an excuse to reach out to those they might not have talked to in a while and these can create powerful moments and emotions for players.

Asking for the impossible is a great way to capture the imagination of players, communicate the scale of the experience, generate long term player goals, control social growth, and do so in a way that cultivates meaningful moments.


  • The Identifiable Action


In looking at research on existing location based experiences we came across the notion that having a physical action associated with your game that is discernible from a distance. This facilitates anonymous in-person social interactions by allowing players to recognize one another non-verbally. Pokemon go being one of the most obvious examples with it’s flicking action. In “Kaiju” we have players shake their phone at the end of building destruction.



  • A Particular Axis for Demographics


Oftentimes player bases are delineated based on age, gender, financial situation, and cultural background. However when creating location based games there is an opportunity to describe players based on their relationship to the space in which they are playing. Are they at home, visiting friends/family, on vacation, at work/school? Much of this information is available via facebook and using it to craft the experience of interacting with digital representations of those same spaces can be incredibly powerful. Take for example the difference between a third year student at a university and someone who works next to campus. The locations that are of greater significance to the lives of each of these players will differ greatly. The student might want to level the cafeteria for the terrible food they had to taste twice, while the employee would take aim at the parking garage. By simply making these locations more valuable for these players in game we acknowledge and support their relationship to their surroundings. User information will only give a partial imprint and decent guesses at some of this, supplementing these evaluations with analysis of which locations the players frequently interact with can grant specificity to these assumptions



  • Create Cartographers


It’s important for games to have champions, players who will become pillars of online, real world, and in-game communities. They will bring the game to their social circles and catalyze its use. Location based entertainment has the opportunity for recording the actions of these players within the game world in a way that feels personal and can deliver the fantasy of an explorer or creator with relative ease compared to traditional games. By limiting the game world to the places it has been played, simply by opening the app in a new area the player has created or “mapped” a new section of the world. Currently, our game “Kaiju” creates new markers when you travel to a new area. Expanding this to include acknowledgement of the action of spreading could range from simply recording the square miles the players has added to the game world, to giving them options on what the content in that region should be like.