McElroy Flavelle says location-based games typically aren’t much fun. According to the Vancouver resident, his startup is bucking the trend with Bounty Island, the free iPhone game that it released in February.
Flavelle is the Calgary-born, 30-year-old cofounder and chief executive officer of Gastown-based Compass Engine. On March 8, Compass Engine put out an Easter edition of Bounty Island, which Flavelle says “finally makes checking in fun because we create exploratory gameplay in the world that you travel normally”. The company’s first iPhone game, the no-longer-available Catch the Canary, was released in the summer of 2010 and served as a “technology experiment”.
Compass Engine, which has a staff of four people, was established in 2009. Flavelle previously worked for Electronic Arts as an assistant producer and is a graduate of the game-design program at Vancouver Film School. He’s organizing a local event called Consoles are Dinosaurs that will take place in early May and feature speakers from the social, casual, and mobile game development scenes.
The Georgia Straight reached Flavelle by phone at Victory Square.
What is Compass Engine working on right now?
We make location-based games. At this point, we are only making location-based games for the iOS devices. The reason that we love mobile distribution and online distribution is you never have a finished product. You can constantly iterate and improve what you’ve put out there, so that’s exactly what we’re doing. Now that we’ve got Bounty Island out the door, we’re really excited about what we’ve done there, but we’re even more excited about the stuff that we’re going to be able to add as the months roll out.
How is Bounty Island different than other location-based games?
Fundamentally, the problem with location-based games is that they aren’t fun. Nobody says, “I’ve just played this location-based game, and I had a great time. That was a really satisfying experience.” They say, “That was neat,” or, “That was interesting,” but they don’t say it was fun. So, our whole thing is literally to put the fun, good, old-fashioned gameplay into location-based games, and we think we’re doing a pretty good job of pioneering in that space.
What is the key to a fun location-based game?
We were inspired by some of the mechanics that we saw work really well on Facebook. The idea is that location should be part of what you’re doing, but it doesn’t need to be in your face and shouting down the consumer’s face. In two years, nobody’s going to talk about location-based games. People are only going to talk about games, and they will all have location functionality.
So, it’s really just about making great games and then making the world around you more interesting. With Bounty Island, what we do is every venue that you check in at, we create a tropical island specifically for that venue, and then you have to run around, digging and exploring that tropical island.
What is one location-based game—other than yours—that you think rules?
I think MyTown’s blazed a lot of trails, and it’s really exciting to see what they’ve done.
What will you guys be adding to Bounty Island over the next few months?
We want to get things like mini games in there. What we’ve done is appeal to players who really have a sense of exploration, or people who want to complete things. Those are two driving mechanics in games. But we don’t have a lot of stuff in there for people who want to compete.
So, we’re looking at adding a lot of skill-based-challenge-type stuff and competitive stuff, because we’ve actually kind of nailed it for certain player archetypes already, but we haven’t got our bases covered with everybody. So, making sure that we have something in there that appeals to all types of gamers is the next step.
Do you consider Foursquare a game?
No. I don’t consider Foursquare a game, and I get a lot of heat for this opinion. I think Foursquare’s done some amazing stuff. I think they’ve blazed some really great trails. We were in fact built on top of the Foursquare API for a while. But I don’t think Foursquare’s a game.
The reason that I don’t think Foursquare’s a game is because I think a game has to involve a choice, with either punishment or reward for the choice. But in Foursquare there’s no choice. Either you check in or you don’t—and once you check in, the process is the same for everybody.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.