Why FourSquare’s Decision of Phasing Out Gamification is a Great Mistake

Several days ago I read an article on Gamification.co about FourSquare’s decision of phasing out gamification. In this article, Ivan Kuo said that he thought this decision was a mature design decision and not a mistake. But I can’t stop thinking that this is probably the greatest mistake FourSquare could make.


Let’s stat thinking from the user perspective. Why on earth would anyone check-in on places to share their location. There exist 3 main motives for users to check-in in places:

  • They are forced to do so by their employers in order to track their work away from the office
  • They get something (offer, coupons, etc.) when checking-in
  • You make a game from geolocation sharing

FourSquare is focused on end users, so most of its user base are not checking-in because they are forced to do so, so in order to make users to continue checking-in in FourSquare, they should continue to being a game, or rewarding users check-ins with offers and/or coupons (which they are actually offering for mayorships and other mechanics). If you remove gamification from the equation, you get only direct rewards (check-in in one place and get a discount), which maybe interesting for customers, but not so for business, because you get customers used to check-in in any place in order to pay less for what they want to buy.

I don’t think that FourSquare could be able to continue growing and engaging their user base and business base removing gamification. But I’m absolutely sure that actual FourSquare’s mechanics are too simple and focused on engaging first time users and not heavy or long term users. So, as in any good online game that heavily relies on gamification (such as World of Warcraft), what FourSquare should do is to analyze what their users expect from them and adjust and create new game mechanics that allow them to re-engage users that are tired of actual mechanics.

I was a FourSquare heavy user and now I hardly use FourSquare. For me, the problem is that when you become the mayor of your preferred places, and get several badges, there exist no mechanic in FourSquare that engages you. If I were Dennis Crowley, I would focus on helping users to discover new challenges in their platform. Instead of giving me badges after I have performed several actions, they should recommend me badges I could earn by completing a challenge, such as discover a new restaurant on my city because I haven’t gone to a new restaurant since 6 months ago. So, if we combine gamification with new discovery (and gamified) features, I’m sure that FourSquare would become something pretty interesting for newcomers to FourSquare but also for registered users that haven’t used FourSquare in months.

  • alfredo romeo

    After an investment of +$110 million, 4SQ has been able to attract 30 million users in 5 years just to generate revenues of 2 million of dollars in 2012 (there are thousands of companies in Spain making that). Those numbers are the explanation of why 4SQ, no matter what you do with users, is a fail from an investor point of view.

    I agree that 4SQ could attract more users and have them engaged applying gaming techniques, but even though 4SQ would do it, it would still lack a proven business model where people need to check-in.

    I would rely on contextual and frictional check-ins and big data that 4SQ could sell to economic agents in a local way.

  • jccortizo

    Alfredo, so damn right about their need of a real business model, and the last news about foursquare seems that they are just going to where you point out: less frictional check-ins and better advertisement tools: http://techcrunch.com/2013/08/29/no-check-in-required-foursquare-starts-rolling-out-proactive-push-recommendations-on-android/