The other day, I was thinking about the magic that was the original Foursquare launch at SXSW in 2009. The city of Austin was abuzz with everyone using the app — even though no one was sure what it really was yet. Or how, if ever, it would be useful. It was really just a fun game at the time. And this year, Austin is going to have that game again: EightBit.
If you’ve been on the Internet in the past few months, by now you’ve seen the EightBit avatars popping up all over the place. It got so bad on Twitter at one point that we had to poke fun at the phenomenon even though the startup wasn’t official talking about what they were doing just yet. But now they are ready to talk about what they’re doing. And it’s sublime.
You know how every service out there asks you to choose an icon/avatar? Well, EightBit wants to be the service that populates all of those spaces. That by itself would get really old, really quick — but that is literally just the surface. Underneath, there’s an entire game being played. Cross-platform, cross-device, connected to all types of services.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. With their initial roll-out, coming tomorrow (Wednesday, 3/9), EightBit is initially going to take the HTML5 space by storm. Specifically, the mobile HTML5 space, is what they’re targeting for phase one of the game for the iPhone (full Android HTML5 support is coming shortly).
“At launch we wanted to show the power of HTML5 and mobile devices. The entire application looks/feels native but is entirely rendered in the browser,” co-founder Courtney Guertin says. I’ve had the chance to play around with it a bit, and sure enough, it is solid so far.
So what do you do? Right now, it’s a location-based check-in environment. This means you check-in to various venues and can syndicate those out to both Twitter and Foursquare (Facebook is coming shortly). Doing a combination of these things earns you coins in the game. Your first check-in at a venue earns you 3 coins, second one earns you 2, etc. You get extra coins for social blasts. But you don’t earn coins for trying to game the system (I won’t go into all those details, just play fair).
Right now, these coins are just a way of keeping score (like points in the early days of Foursquare). But eventually you’ll be able to use them to buy virtual goods in the game. You’ll also be able to buy more coins with micro-payments, and play mini-games against friends for more coins.
Again, what you’ll see tomorrow is just phase one. What the team has envisioned for this underlying social game is pretty amazing. And while it’s all being handled with HTML5 for now, “in the coming weeks we will have native applications that will allow us to give a richer experience for the user,” Guertin says.
EightBit also has a fun virtual scavenger hunt planned for SXSW. They’ve hidden 5 old-school NES-style video game cartridges (get it, 8-bit?) around Austin (well, virtual Austin in the game). You’ll have to create a character and travel around, checking-in to find them. And if you do, you’ll get an actual one (which is a 250 GB hard drive). The one rule is that you have to follow EightBit on Twitter so they can DM you if you win.
While you wait for the launch tomorrow, if you visit this link made for TechCrunch readers today, you’ll be able to create your initial EightBit avatar. If you’re going to SXSW this year, you’ll want to — trust me.