Pokémon Go didn’t come out of a vacuum. Developer Niantic (founded in 2010 as a Google subsidy) released Ingress in 2012, which was — until now — the biggest location-based mobile game.
Players are divided into two competing factions of “agents” that struggle for control over “portals,” which correspond to real world points of interest much like the Pokémon Go‘s Pokéstops and gyms. Triangulating three portals gives control over the bounded area to that faction, earning them points for as long as the area is held.
The narrative frame for Ingress is a sci-fi scenario wherein a newly discovered form of Exotic Matter (XM) sparks a heated division about how it should be used for humanity. Because of their direct relationship, Ingress shares a lot in common with Pokémon Go, but the former features more robust game and social elements, along with a passionate community that’s already invested years.
Edward Snowden blew open what a lot of tech insiders have been saying for years — that we live in an unprecedented surveillance state, with our increasingly digital lives leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for marketers, government agencies, and nefarious hackers to follow and abuse. It follows, then, that espionage, hacking, and surveillance make a perfect theme for a location-based game.
CodeRunners casts you as a government agent, and sends you on missions that use real locations for you to hack and spy on (fictional) enemy agents. The game also has you create and find dead drops for other players. Having more players in your area fleshes out the experience further, but anyone can use CodeRunners to live out their personal spy fantasy anywhere in the world.
Ingress and Pokémon Go boast exercise as a secondary benefit of gameplay, but don’t quite provide the same direct motivation as a horde of zombies nipping at your heels. As the name implies, Zombies, Run! is an “exergame” that provides a mission and reward structure as motivation for jogging. With more than one million players, its website boasts that the title is the most popular fitness game ever for smartphones.
While zombies, as a whole, may be a bit played out in popular culture at this point, it’s hard to argue that the theme doesn’t fit the game’s activity perfectly. The game has more than 200 missions and a base building metagame, too, which should help even the most reluctant runners stay committed.
Do you want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?
Landlord is basically IRL Monopoly. Players start with a generous loan of in-game currency that they invest in order to become real estate moguls. You buy a percentage of local buildings, landmarks, and businesses. and then collect rent based on how many people actually check in at the location via Facebook and Foursquare. Players can also trade and upgrade their properties to increase their value, competing with one another to be the biggest tycoon around.
Unlike other games on this list, geocaching isn’t a discrete product from a particular developer, but rather a huge, community-driven activity. In many ways, it’s the ancestor of all of these other location-based games, since it started in 2000 when the GPS standard was first opened to the wider public.
Participants hide GPS-enabled containers all over the world and then other people use the coordinates to find them and see what they contain. At minimum, they contain a logbook that players sign, but some contain more exciting secrets.
Community standards dictate that if players find something in a cache, they replace it with something of equal or greater value. We’ve included the link to two free geocaching apps below, but there are more feature-rich, premium options available as well. While it may not have the elaborate metagame of something like Ingress, geocaching has a vibrant, global community that’s far more established than any other game on our list.