If you follow the cool kids of New York tech on Twitter, you might have noticed a proliferation of tweets about an app called Turf. Today, it’s finally available to the rest of us. Turf, aka Turf Geography Club, is a mobile location-based game for exploration and, unsurprisingly, turf wars.
Think iPhone Monopoly that is more hardcore than, say, Farmville, but less intense than, for example, World of Warcraft. And the cool kids love it because it’s got an old school 8-bit design and a Wes Anderson-y attitude. (Just watch the company’s two charmingly twee Moonrise Kingdom-meets-Life Aquatic videos.)
The project started as a drunken rant from founder Michael Tseng. As a video game obsessive, he was annoyed that all his hard-fought badges and mayorships on Foursquare didn’t really amount to any rewards within the game.
He translated his annoyance into an idea, but as an ad agency freelancer, he had no network within the New York tech scene. So he threw the idea out there in the form of a Kickstarter campaign. The project topped its $15,000 goal–what Tseng would need to hire an iOS developer–by more than $2000. Even better, the campaign caught the eyes of some investors: Turf went on to raise a $600,000 seed round from RRE Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Vaizra Seed Fund and a long list of prominent New York angels including Eric Stein, David Perez, Josh Spear, Spencer Adler, Anthony Casalena, David Tisch’s Box Group, Jon Steinberg and Micah Spear.
My initial World of Warcraft mention doesn’t seem quite right for Turf but it’s intentional: Turf was built by a bunch of World of Warcraft nuts who know that, in a really good game, you don’t just beat the boss, congratulate yourself, and move onto a new game. You keep playing, which in the case of Turf means exploring.
It’s like Foursquare, if Foursquare was all about really elaborate Mayorships, earning coins, and buying properties. When Foursquare users got check-in fatigue, it was because they were asking themselves “ok, I checked in, now what?” So Foursquare decided to make itself into more of a service, with recommendations and tips, rather than a game. (The services don’t cannibalize each other–you can use Foursquare check-ins with Turf.) It’s also a bit like MyTown, a casual sort of Sim City game, but with real locations in real cities that you explore, not your avatar.
Turf’s target player is somewhere in the middle between a hardcore WoW player and a casual Farmville player. “I don’t see casual gamers using it because there are elements that are kindof unforgiving in the game,” Tseng says. It’s designed to be incredibly engaging: When you lose a property, it hurts. Eventually Turf will monetize with by putting a real value on the coins in the game, he says.
And about the 8-bit: Tseng became fascinated by 8-bit graphics after a Startup Weekend Project and decided to build the app in it to inspire nostalgia. And out of sheer quirk. He might be the Steve Zissou of mobile games.