SCVNGR turns Boston's virtual check-ins into real rewards

If you’ve got a smartphone, Facebook friends, and a pulse, you’ve probably been subjected to friends checking in on Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, and now Facebook Places. So you’re already sick of Foursquare’s mayors – and the last thing you want to hear about is Yet Another One of Those Things. But SCVNGR, a Cambridge-based startup that has Google’s backing and a mandate to build “the game layer on top of the world,” has been quietly outpacing its larger rivals in location gaming, and this week it begins a hometown blitz that could change that game for good. Instead of pretend badges and fake mayorships, SCVNGR is rolling out actual rewards programs at 50 Boston businesses including the Middle East, Toscaninni’s, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

In the past SCVNGR has allowed its national corporate clients to create on-the-fly “Rewards,” whereby users could earn, say, 10 percent off a store purchase by completing a set of challenges. But today’s rollout of 50 venues in Boston is the beginning of a city-by-city takeover for which businesses can create and manage their own rewards programs on the fly – a big part of what advertisers have considered the holy grail of location-based marketing. Media outlets including the New York Times, the Globe, and, yes, the Phoenix are lining up to create “treks,” or guided tours of challenges, to engage their readers. (For our first foray, check out our annual Student Guide, on stands this Thursday.) Similar rollouts are planned in San Francisco, Philly, New York, and Los Angeles.

“What we say to businesses is ‘Hey, SCVNGR is a really awesome mobile social game. And that means absolutely nothing to you,’” says Priebatsch. “But here’s four things that you should care about: it’s great at driving traffic, at increasing engagement, at activating buzz, and driving sales in measurable and reproducible ways. Yes, it’s a high-tech game, but it’s going to do awesome things for you.”

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