Topping the list of hot topics in digital media these days (besides iTablet rumors) is social gaming (i.e. Zynga), mobile social apps (i.e. foursquare), and mobile gaming. Mobile startup Booyah is combining all of them in an iPhone app called MyTown whose growth can only be described as explosive.
After launching its version 2.0 last week, the site has now reached about 625,000 users, according to founder Keith Lee, and it should reach a million by March. This compares to about 300,00 for the decidedly more exposed Foursquare.
Lee and fellow founders have backgrounds in game development at Blizzard Entertainment, which they’ve integrated into the gaming-heavy aspects of the app. This includes local gaming elements seen in Foursquare and Gowalla to “check in” to businesses and get rewarded in various ways for doing so.
But instead of mayorships or badges like Foursquare, checking into businesses gives you the ability to virtually “own” them and then collect rent from other players who check in. There is also an entire in-game economy based on virtual goods. Think of it like Monopoly for mobile, but partly played out in the real world.
Like others in this space, the company is very much thinking of how to tie these interactions into monetization opportunities. It’s a natural fit, says Lee, to include promotions for real world establishments when users are highly engaged in a game for which those venues are central components.
Currently it works with some national advertisers that have localized assetts, like Quiznos. It shows ads and promotions when there are geographically and contextually relevant check ins on the network. Other opportunities will involve branded virtual goods and coupons.
No money is exchange currently, says Lee, but Quiznos will be a proof point to other advertisers, especially when usage reaches more attractive levels. Lee is also very much interested in reaching into the elusive SMB segment in a self service way — a road that Foursqare is going down and many battered and bruised online and mobile pure plays have attempted.
MyTown’s opportunities in the nearer term could come from channel partners such as Citysearch (also works with MoVoxx as we wrote about last week). Currently Lee is seeking out partnerships to get better listings content in the U.S. and some international markets.
In the meantime, the name of the game is to continue to boost usage and engagement levels. Besides user numbers, an attractive proof point so far for MyTown2.0 is session lengths — a good indicator of engagement.
“We’ve seen more time spent with the app,” says Lee. “The average in version 1.0 was 30 minutes per day, but in 2.0 that’s gone up to 50.”