Geocade Puts the Local Back into Mobile Gaming

Back in the days when you could play video games only at arcades or on home consoles, the game leader boards—showing the top scores—were, by definition, local. You had a finite group of competitors, and if you had enough time and enough quarters, you had a shot at getting on the board. But with the advent of network-based gaming, the leader board has lost much of its meaning. Your best score might rank 103,542nd out of a million players around the world—but what does that get you?

There’s a small startup in Cambridge, MA, Geocade, that wants to put the local element back in the leader board—and to do it, they’re taking advantage of the location-finding capabilities of the latest mobile platforms. By signing up for Geocade’s free location-based leader board service, game developers can give people who play their games on the Apple iPhone and other mobile devices the ability to see how they rank compared to other players from the same country, state, city, or even the same block.

Geocade Leader Board on the Apple iPhoneGeocade launched its service yesterday, and already there are two games available in the iTunes App Store—Lemonade Stand and Soft Landing—that feature Geocade-powered local leader boards. In Soft Landing—a game that challenges you to bring the plummeting U.S. economy to a “soft landing” by tilting the phone in various directions to adjust interest rates and hand out government bailouts to homeowners and corporations—I was briefly ranked 24th among all players in Cambridge.

CEO James Caralis says the kernel of the idea for Geocade came to him a couple of years ago during a plane trip. “I was on a flight on Song [the now-defunct budget carrier run by Delta] and they had this trivia game on the plane where the passengers competed against each other. I thought that was a lot of fun. So when the iPhone came out—and especially the 3G, with its GPS capabilities—I thought, wouldn’t it be great to bring back the concept of getting the high score in the arcade and bring that into the mobile gaming era.”

The system Caralis and his three programmer-consultants have built grabs a phone’s latitude and longitude (as determined through GPS, WiFi-based positioning, or cell tower triangulation) and sends that information—along with a player’s ID and their game score—to Geocade’s servers over the wireless data network. There, the scores are ranked alongside those from other players in the selected geographical area, and the rankings are transmitted back to the device.

Tapping into the location-based leader boards involves adding only a few lines of code to an existing mobile game, Caralis says. “We’ve been actively working with game companies for the last couple of weeks, and we’ve already got Lemonade Stand [an economic simulation based on a vintage Apple II game] signed up and 10 more … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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