Are mobile social games and Foursquare meant to be?

FarmVille iPhone
We hate to sound like a broken record, but social games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars are becoming increasingly prevalent on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Developers like Zynga have repeatedly stated their interest in mobile and believe that it's the next logical step for social gaming. But what if I told you that across the Pacific Ocean folks are already five years ahead of us? Papaya Mobile CEO Si Shen claims that Japanese and Chinese social game developers have been toying with location-based services in their mobile social games since 2005. And you know what, it's time the US catches up.

Turf WarsLocation-based social networking has become somewhat of a phenomenon in the US, but it's far from new. It's commonly referred to as "gamification," or creating a game-like layer to everyday activities through services like Foursquare, Gowalla and recently Facebook Places. Arguably, these services can be seen as games in and of themselves, but game creators like COLOPL have applied this "game layer" to, well, games.

One of the first location-based mobile social games (LBS) in Asia, Colonial Living PLUS, was released by the company in 2005 and enjoyed about 1 million registered users in its hay day, according to Shen. That may sound like a drop in the bucket when sized up to CityVille, but far more players have a computer than they do a smartphone.

The game allowed players to essentially colonize their surroundings. Now, think about the social games you play right now and then think about how they could be enhanced if your current location was a concern. Imagine being able to unlock certain weapons in Mafia Wars if you, say, go to the movies. Or you could gain the ability to build a Bank in CityVille after visiting a literal bank. Jumping back to Mafia Wars for a moment, players could duke it out with nearby players in Fights.

Adding this location layer to mobile social games could add a whole new level of depth to social gaming without increasing complexity ... in theory. This is because it's not that hard to figure out who is near you within an app on a mobile device. In fact, Finnish developers such as Grey Area are already attempting to master the technology with games like Shadow Cities, a fantasy MMO that's driven by your location. There are a few US games that are similar like My Kingdom and Turf Wars (pictured), but platforms like Foursquare and Facebook Places could help this subgenre reach millions.

And when you think about it, companies like Nintendo are already ahead of the curve with the location-centric features included in its upcoming Nintendo 3DS. Location-based gaming is the only way to go when thinking about the evolution of social games. It's about time social game creators and companies like Foursquare get to talking.

[Image Credits: Shopping Blog & Flip the Media]

Have you played a location-based mobile game before? Do you think this is the next step for mobile social gaming? Speak up in the comments. Add Comment.
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