SCVNGR (scavenger), a location-centric social game that initially gained traction in the enterprise and at universities, is coming to the public by way of mobile apps for iPhone and Android. Backed by Google Ventures and Highland Capital, SCVNGR is already being used by the U.S. Navy, MIT, Princeton, Harvard and the City of Boston and now its coming everywhere (well, everywhere in the U.S.).
Geolocation applications and services are nothing new —Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and BrightKite are just some of the players in the space. So what makes SCVNGR different? We spoke with 21-year-old CEO and “Chief Ninja” Seth Priebatsch to find out what SCVNGR is all about and what makes it unique.
Gaming Engine First, Social Platform Second
Most location-based apps have a gaming element to them — badges and mayorships on Foursquare, the idea of points and so on — but the game isn’t at the center of the service. Rather, the service is usually tied with social interactions.
SCVNGR operates in reverse. While there is a very social aspect of the game and content can be pushed out to Facebook and Twitter, the core of SCVNGR is the gaming engine. Like other location-based apps, you can earn points and badges for checking in at locations.
However, where SCVNGR starts to distinguish itself is in its listing of challenges. Each place within SCVNGR is preset with a list of options and associated points: check in, snap a photo and leave a comment. However, owners of a location or users who frequent the locale (like a burrito shop, a coffee house or a retailer) can also create their own challenges and associated points.
This means that you can find more innovative and fun user-created challenges for places such as restaurants, clothing stores and amusement parks. Challenges can be created by users from a tool on SCVNGR’s website, though the creation tool won’t be deployed for the consumer version of the product for a few weeks. SCVNGR wants people to get the opportunity to interact with the app as it is before adding more content.
Going From Enterprise to Real World
As Priebatsch told us, SCVNGR took the reverse approach of most web companies. It started at the more specialized level with universities and museums and is expanding into the rest of the world.
This gives SCVNGR a few potential advantages in this space. First, the company has had 18 months to test features and see what works with real users in a more confined environment. Likewise, the challenge aspect of the game is really a good fit for the enterprise space, which, again, means that this is an aspect of the service that has a lot of end-user testing.
What’s also interesting is that SCVNGR has already created some high-level partnerships that other services are just now starting to create. Not all of these partnerships will translate or trickle down to the consumer realm, but it’s a good sign that the company is at least experienced in working with larger organizations.
SCVNGR is available for download for the iPhone and Android 2.1 devices today. Google Ventures helped work on the interface, and while Google doesn’t provide the mapping data, Priebatsch didn’t rule out some tighter integration for the future.
Priebatsch also told me that SCVNGR is exploring ways to potentially integrate or at least interoperate with other location-based services. We think that’s going to be more and more important as more location-based applications hit the market. Ultimately, we believe that those that are most extensible, both at pulling in and pushing out data, will be those that are the best value to end users.