Well now comes word, from a much more reliable source, that Finnish games company Grey Area has actually released a location-based MMORPG for iPhone called Shadow Cities (see trailer below) in that country's App Store. Not only is this game real, but in its first day of release the freemium title (monetized via virtual goods) actually unseated powerhouse Angry Birds, from cross-town rival Rovio, as the Top Grossing game & also grabbed the Top Free App crown. Apparently rapid viral adoption, far exceeding the publisher's expectations, was driven by a slick integration of Facebook Connect... with impressive results!
Ten years after the Swedish games company It's Alive! first tried this (way too early!) with BotFighters, I think these guys have a real chance to create a meaningful consumer event with this game across multiple territories. As services like Foursquare & Gowalla have seeped into the popular consciousness, and with Facebook now encouraging check-ins with benefits, I think the masses might just be comfortable enough with location aware services to embrace this type of gameplay. As Grey Area CEO Ville Vesterinen explains it, their game actually benefits from evolving consumer behavior even beyond the current location based models, enabling them to use real neighborhoods as the context and, almost, as characters within Shadow Cities. "While much of the recent wave of location based games and services has relied on a check-in model we at Grey Area strongly believe that to achieve a lasting engaging experience neighborhoods and their inherent social setting offer much more potential than single venues. By only focusing on venues it is hard, if not impossible, to let the true character of a city shine through. Playing Shadow Cities has showed us a new side of Helsinki and opened a window to see how others navigate the locations beyond single venues," says Vesterinen.
As most of you know I'm a big fan of this stuff, because to my mind this type of product represents a critical evolution in mobile gameplay, as it fundamentally relies on the unique capabilities of a connected, context aware mobile device... much more so than the myriad casual games that really could be enjoyed on any device with a touchscreen & a processor. Therefore, I'm rooting that these guys can maintain their current success, and that it can be replicated in other markets... which we should see in mid-December when they launch in the US & UK App Stores, if all goes as planned. I'll keep a close eye on this one and keep you posted.