If you’ve spent much time on foursquare at all, you’ve no doubt noticed that some users play the game a little, well, differently than everyone else. You’ve probably also noticed the vast majority of those users are from Indonesia.
Judging by their foursquare histories, they appear to trot all over the globe, unlocking a badge in Los Angeles one minute and another in London the next. Without some sort of teleportation device, it would be impossible to travel as quickly as they do. Yet, with some digital trickery, they’re able to unlock new badges within minutes of them first becoming active.
This has provoked the ire of many an honest foursquare user, inspiring rants about their cheating ways, a short-lived Posterous blog, and even two Twitter accounts dedicated to stopping them. None of those have slowed them down, and, to our knowledge, foursquare has never sanctioned any of them for their questionable activities.
And why should they? So what if a user has unlocked almost every badge without leaving their couch in Indonesia? Someone who looks at the game a different way doesn’t affect the way I play the game at all. For me, the badges all tell a special story about what I was doing and when I was doing it. My goal is not to collect them all, but to try to earn the ones that mean something to me.
Every user plays the game differently, of course, and there are those honest users who try to unlock as many badges as possible. But even then, is it really a competition? What do you win if you collect more than anyone else?
For businesses who sponsor the badges, there’s no harm in having more users unlock them, if anything the branding value increases as those badges get posted to Twitter and Facebook, whether they were unlocked honestly or not. For contests that are tied to badges, like MTV’s Moonman badge, the rules clearly state that only US residents are eligible for the drawing, so there’s no worry about awarding something like a trip to the VMAs to an Indonesian. Cheating may inflate the checkin statistics slightly for some businesses who monitor their foursquare analytics, but, statistically, the millions of honest players easily trump the several hundred Indonesians intent on checking in just to unlock badges.
In conversations with some of these “cheaters,” (who will not be named) it’s become clear to me that they simply view foursquare differently than most Americans. To them, the badges are a puzzle to solve, similar to a crossword or jigsaw puzzle. In many ways the cryptic clues given by foursquare do make badges difficult to solve.
They tell me their fascination began because mayorships soon became boring and there were few badges that were naturally unlockable in Indonesia, so they thought it would be fun to try unlocking some of the badges that were tied to US venues. The practice has become popular and there are now groups dedicated to helping each other find and unlock the newest badges. They’re even courteous enough to try not to oust people from mayorships in the course of their unlocking, so as not to knock anyone out of earning a mayor special.
In my view, there’s enough room on foursquare for people to play the game many different ways. It’s an individual game without a defined goal, so the way one person plays it makes no difference to the way I play it.
What do you think? Can honest players and “cheaters” co-exist or should foursquare ban them for good?