Gbanga Famiglia Looks for a Hit in the European Location-Based Market

The next generation of location-based services is moving beyond check-ins and badges to parallel worlds with game mechanics. One iPhone title we’ve been watching is Gbanga Famiglia, a mafia-themed game by a Swiss developer called Gbanga.

Famiglia is just the latest iteration in the parent company’s journey to figure out what works, both with location games and the European audience. Gbanga started out two years ago, when some Zurich residents received a newspaper article referring to a conspiracy theory, with a link to a webpage.

The mailer was an intro to Gbanga’s experimental first game; a second try, which had users chasing virtual tigers around the city in an environmentalist-themed game, drew 700 users. Those initial attempts, which lasted just a few weeks, convinced the company that it had a good enough idea for the mass market.

The idea behind Famiglia is closer to Booyah’s MyTown. Users explore a cell-based map of their own locale, with each cell containing specific locations. Groups of players — mafia families — fight to take over and own these locations. Some, like restaurants, will also offer real-life deals.

Gbanga’s cells make it a bit different from some services. Think of them as a bit like neighborhoods; as long as you’re in a cell, you can make actions involving any location it contains. Users can thus potentially play from a fixed location.

For now, according to cofounder Matthias Sala, “simpler games have a higher chance of keeping users.” While users are quickly learning that location-based games exist, the cell setup and familiar concept help bring in players.

The next step for Gbanga is to add on-map virtual goods that can be purchased to give an edge in the game, as well as an option to spend in order to move around even less in the physical world.

And Sala is hoping that partners will pick up the Gbanga platform to build their own stories and alternate realities for other locales, in Europe or elsewhere. “Of course we want to port it to other platforms, as many as we can,” says Sala. “It’s not enough just to have global critical mass, where the whole world is trying to solve a riddle happening inside one space. Here it’s one riddle in Zurich, and another elsewhere.”

Asked how the European market is different, Sala points to German-speaking populations.

“[They] are very sensitive with privacy, and these innovations are struggling because of that. If you compare the States to Europe, the big players like Gowalla and Foursquare are pretty weak in Germany,” says Sala. “So we don’t want to be a location-based information system but a game. The game market for strategy games is huge in Europe, so I think there’s a chance that this browser-games market becomes location-based.”