What to Make of MyTown's $20 Million

There was considerable coverage of yesterday's announcement of $20 million in new VC funding for Booyah's "geo social game" MyTown. The money brings MyTown to nearly $30 million in venture funding to date. The round was led by Accel Partners. Previous investors Kleiner Perkins and DAG Ventures also participated. 

MyTown is the most "game-like" of the three competitors typically mentioned in the same breath, which include Foursquare and Gowalla. But in the larger context of LBS mobile apps and/or local search tools they are merely the "flavor of the month" among many other providers of the same or similar information. (Twitter and Facebook have yet to get deeply involved here.)

Beyond the silly "location wars" meme, the central question is whether these geo-social games are going to become "mainstream"? Or if they're not going to become "mainstream" are they going to draw sufficiently large audiences to make them effective advertising vehicles and revenue generators?

I would argue that whether or not these particular LBS apps succeed they're helping create a new culture of local and mobile behavior. I've discussed this in some detail in a client-only report: How Geo-Social Gaming is Changing Local Mobile Search. 

According to an interview with Business Insider Booyah CEO Keith Lee says that the $20 million will be used to further enhance the gaming elements of MyTown or create new LBS games: 

Because as Lee explains, the "check-in" is going to be a commodity in a matter of months -- everyone will have a "check-in" feature, ranging from the likes of Foursquare to Facebook and Google. It's what happens after the check-in that is going to be valuable, Lee says, and he and Booyah plan to use location data specifically to make games.

Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown are interesting because they're hybrids: part social network, part cityguide and, to varying degrees, part game. Accordingly you might be inclined to dismiss MyTown as merely a "game," but if you think about it as a viable alternative to Citysearch, Yelp, yellow pages or Google it makes the stakes higher and the discussion more serious. 

MyTown gets data and ads from CityGrid/Citysearch; it also shows Google display ads and could easily implement branded sponsorships and/or a Farmville-style program of credits or currency. That would mean people would buy credits to accelerate progress or toward the purchase of locations. MyTown is similar to Monopoly in many respects.  

MyTown claims more than two million users. Foursquare has more than a million. By comparison, Google says Latitude has more than three million users. Google is taking the LBS phenomenon very seriously and recently invested in another location-based social game called SCVNGR. And if Google Buzz is ultimately going to gain usage it's going to be in mobile, where it offers some of the same "tips" and annotations about places offered on Foursquare and Gowalla. 

 Picture 191

Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown are all obvious, near-term takeover targets. Foursquare has reportedly been in discussions with Yahoo! and others and is trying to decide whether to remain independent. It probably will for the immediate future. MyTown is probably the least likely of the three to be bought by a traditional local search or portal player. I could imagine a gaming company such as a Zynga ultimately acquiring Booyah. 

As the major features of these LBS game sites are emulated and absorbed by others (check-ins, coupons/deals, tips and local annotations) the question becomes: does their novelty whither and die in a year or two or can they develop sufficient momentum and critical mass to be self-sustaining? 

Related: Foursquare Growing Like Crazy: Up To 600,000 Check-Ins Per Day