Saying Ben Dodson was a huge fan of Gowalla is kind of an understatement – he created some 13 apps/tools to expand the features of Gowalla’s platform. My fellow Gowalla geeks and I owe thanks to Ben’s ‘Gowalla Tools‘ web app for helping us track down those rare and missing items we coveted so. The check-ins, photos, comments and item collecting continued for a few blissful years. That is, until Gowalla decided to shift from fifth gear to first and release version 4.0 of their app. While the faithful tried to hold on and give the new reworked platform a fair shot, most jumped ship after a few weeks. Of course we all know about Facebook hiring most of the Gowalla team back in December of 2011. Another startup gets assimilated. However, the story few have heard is that of the developers who tried to use Gowalla’s (squarely) API to expand features. Even before 4.0, Ben had finally had enough.
So in the months following the end of Gowalla, users began using Path and Foursquare [begrudgingly] for their check-in compulsion. But we noticed that we still missed the game aspect that made us so loyal to Gowalla. Luckily Ben Dodson miss it too and decided to do something about it. The five person team at WallaBee was “determined to not only create a great user experience but also a great developer experience.” They not only want to create an addictive game for users, but also a scalable platform for other apps to be built on. They even give a few ides to get you developers thinking.
Boys and girls may I present – WallaBee. A iPhone exclusive game that focuses on the game aspect of collecting digital items. While checking into locations is how you earn points and items, that is where the focus on check-ins end. When you check-in at a spot you earn honeycombs. “Honeycombs are the currency in WallaBee and can be used to buy rare items in the store. You can gain honeycombs by foraging [check-in] at places, completing a set, or purchasing in bundles.”
The rest of the app is about items. Collecting, mixing, trading and buying items. You collect items from near by spots or you buy them with honeycombs. Combining two or more related items is called mixing. This process unlocks new rare items. Currently you can drop off or swap out items at spots you check-in at. A nice touch from the Gowalla Tools days is being able to see what items are at a spot before you check-in. WallaBee is already teasing v1.1 features such as item trading and auctions. Yeah, I got a little giddy about that idea. It was a feature every Gowalla geek had wished for on the old platform.
An interesting part of the WallaBee game is with in app purchases. From launch they are making money two ways:
Through pro account subscriptions were a
user player can pay real money for 30 and 90 day subscriptions to carry more items (30 spaces instead of 12), earn more honeycombs for the actions listed above and forage faster. For those times when you want to beat your friends to a rare item.
The other income generator is in app purchases of honeycombs so you can then buy more digital items to complete sets faster. FYI – Pro accounts get free bonus honeycombs when they purchase a bundle, about a 20% bump.
My initial reaction to the in app purchases was to be a cheapskate and play the game for free. Which you can easily do with frequent check-ins around town. So I started playing last night and quickly ran out of honeycombs buying up circus items. Now I was already home and the nearest spot to check-in at was 250+ yards away. Side note: The spot check-in radiuses seem a little small. Using not always precise mobile GPS plagues most location-based apps. I sure hope that radius is widened. So the only way I could keep playing was to purchase credits. And if I was going to go down this road and make an in app purchase I might as well bet the 30 day pro account so I earn bonus honeycombs, right? … Ah crap! They got me.
Let’s recap my first hour playing WallaBee. Before my first spot check-in, WallaBee earned $17 off me. An uncommonly high single app purchase made easier by leftover iTunes gift card credits. I can see this getting out of hand quickly. Which brings me to my concerns about the app and game. Will players continue to pay out relatively high in app prices over the longterm? I am thinking no. In my mind the money I spent was more of a starter pack to play the game at its full potential. Could I justify paying $15-20 on a monthly basis – no way. I am not sure I would even be comfortable maintaining the pro level account for $5 a month. That is almost what I pay for my unlimited Rdio subscription. So I have a feeling that most people will either spend some coin to start playing and taper down to the free level or just stick to the free play level throughout. Now my guess is based on the current price points. Maintaining a pro level account for say $0.99 a month is much more reasonable. But if that price comes down the cost of honeycomb bundles would need to also.
WallaBee is well designed geo game that can easily become addictive. While a fun fit for any iPhone owner, this app is like catnip for (ex)Gowalla users. It is free in the iTunes app store and completely free to play. So you can at least try it out. Be sure to tweet your thoughts on the game to @WallaBeeApp. They are very appreciative of user feedback.
UPDATE: GUIDE TO ITEM MIXING
Click screen shots for larger view.
Thanks to the WallaBee team for providing a media kit containing artwork, screenshots and app info. Logo, app icon and nerd glasses images are copyright – WallaBee 2012.
Disclaimer: This post/review was done independently of WallaBee. They did not supply me with promo codes or any compensation for writing this post.