Location-based games just wanna have fun

In McElroy Flavelle’s mind, his location-based game is the only one in town, literally.

That’s because he doesn’t see any location-based “games” at all. To him, the game aspects of mobile apps like Foursquare (collecting badges, becoming mayor), aren’t much fun at all. Checking in should be fun, not tedious.

That’s why Flavelle and his company Compass Engine developed Bounty Island, a game for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch that uses real-world locations to generate island puzzles that are full of treasure for players to dig up. Players need to take their devices to new locations in the real world to find new maps, and thus continue the game.

Bounty Island is the first offering from Compass Engine, which is led by CEO Flavelle and CTO Ben Hesketh, both veterans of the console game industry. Feeling that console games were becoming a dying breed (Flavelle dismissed the old industry as all “sequels and licensed products”), Flavelle and Hesketh created Compass Engine to cash in on location-based games; after starting their company a year and a half ago, they found that there was a viable niche to be filled.

“After figuring out the location space really well we realized that there was no devastatingly good app yet, no one was saying, ‘Oh, I love this location-based game,’” Flavelle told Techvibes. “Bounty Island, to us, was the answer to this problem, which is when people say to you, ‘Come check in to my store, you say, ‘Why? Where’s the value in the check-in?’”

Flavelle says that too many app developers thought that location-based services were a product in and of themselves when the technology first got hot. He and Hasketh thought they had to offer consumers more than that, and thus came up with Bounty Island.

“We know you could get badges using some apps and that certainly is rewarding for some people and maybe having the mayorship and the free coffee that comes with that is worth something to some people, but broadly speaking checking in wasn’t something that we were doing because it was motivating in and of itself something that we did when we were exploring places,” he said. “What would make the check in cool is if there was a game attached to that. Let’s just make a three-minute play experience so that when you do check in, it’s actually fun.”

The key for Flavelle and Hasketh was remembering what they were producing: a location-based game. For Flavelle, when an app becomes more about giving things out or promoting partner businesses, it’s not a game anymore: it becomes an advertisement platform or a coupon distribution tool. This game is for fun.

The production of Bounty Island was made possible by funding from Bootup Labs, a Vancouver startup accelerator and seed fund. They went through their incubator process last year, and that funding, in addition to some small angel investments allowed the development of the game. Also, the guys are looking to attract a second round of funding now that the product has been released and they’ve seen some revenue.

And where is that revenue coming from? While Bounty Island is a free game, it has some limitations on play time. The player’s character can only explore and dig for treasure for so long before he runs out of energy, and then the game ends for a while. However, players can buy gems in the game with real-world dollars, which buy gems in-game; these gems can be exchanged for fruit, which give the player energy, and thus more game time.

Flavelle says that players have been purchasing gems and generating revenue for Compass Engine since day one. This has allowed him and Hasketh to completely avoid getting tied up in the usual advertising and promotion-heavy aspects that seem to accompany all location-based apps. For Compass Engine, the game is everything — no coupons, no promotions, no partner businesses — the game makes money, and that’s the means and the end in itself.

“For the foreseeable future we are just going to keep building a better, richer, more fulfilling game, and we will allow that to monetize itself. If new opportunities arise, we’re always looking for them but [promotions and advertising] is definitely not on our current radar,” Flavelle said.

Compass Engine is focusing their efforts on the iOS versions of Bounty Island, and wants to get that product up to a high standard before making their next moves. First off will be a dedicated iPad version of the game (currently all iOS devices use the same version) and then an Android version. Flavelle estimates Compass Engine will be busy for the next six to 12 months solely with Bounty Island and improving that product.

“I think a lot of people have trouble saying, ‘This location-based game is what I play when I want to have fun.’ People can’t fill in that blank. And what we want to do is fill in that space. Give them fun with location; I don’t want it to be useful or interesting, but I want it to be fun.”

You can get more info about Compass Engine and Bounty Island here.

Bounty Island is available at the App Store now.