Swarm 2.3 Feels Like The Old Foursquare, Looks Way Better

Foursquare has today released an update for Swarm, the company’s social check-in app, that brings far more of the delightful gamification of the old Foursquare back to the service.

But today’s update is just a preamble to version 3.0, which will be released in the coming weeks, and will include mayorships within the entire Swarm community, as well as a leaderboard between friends and a one-player game within the world of stickers.

Today’s release starts that transition with the launch of around 70 stickers (there were originally a couple dozen), and eventually the company plans to have a collection of 100 stickers.

“The overall theme of our work on Swarm is about how we can make it more fun,” said Dennis Crowley, Foursquare co-founder and CEO. “When we split off Swarm we focused on the core utility of finding friends nearby, and then we built messaging into it, but there was a minimal amount of game mechanics. We wanted to revisit Foursquare game mechanics, which had become stale, and reinvent them with this new release.”

When a user first updates the app, they’ll see something that will bring quite a bit of delight to old Foursquare lovers: their badges. But these aren’t the same old badges from years ago. In fact, through a little machine Swarm is calling the Transmuter, users’ old Foursquare badges will be ‘transmuted’ into Swarm stickers, which are all stored in their own Swarm sticker drawer.

The new stickers are bigger, brighter, and meant to be seen as collectibles, with some stickers being more difficult to unlock than others.

[gallery ids="1153090,1153091,1153092,1153093,1153094"]

“One of the dirty secrets of early Foursquare game mechanics was that it was meant to be interesting for about four weeks, and ended up being interesting for four years, but we never really put a ton of thought into it,” said Crowley. “Now that we have Swarm the way we want it, we can put a lot of thought and love into the experience so that it’s fun for millions of people and fun for a really long time.”

I asked Crowley if he thought of Swarm more as a game or a social network, and he responded that the goal isn’t to build a great game. Instead, he said, the team was focused on building playful social experiences that have some utility baked into them.

“The old foursquare was full of fun and playfulness, and when we split the apps, Swarm lost a lot of that,” said Crowley. “Now we’re putting that fun back into Swarm in a big way.”

The old foursquare (before the split) had a dedicated user base that were addicted to and obsessed with badges and mayorships. With the split, that addictive fun was stripped away, and many of the most loyal users of the original app were highly disappointed. Foursquare says it’s been listening to that feedback, and the update actually achieves a lot of the same surprise and delight as old Foursquare. Still, flip-flopping between utility and ‘fun game’ raises questions over whether or not Swarm knows what it wants to be.

Though there will eventually be 100 stickers to collect, there will also be fun temporary stickers that are unlockable at certain events or venues. What’s more, the stickers actually have a utility of their own. Crowley explained that one of his biggest gripes about badges was that you couldn’t do anything with them. With stickers in Swarm, users can post them to their check-ins, stamp them over a photo, or send them in a message.

In fact, Swarm product manager J Crowley envisions a time when using a sticker at a certain check-in would unlock yet another sticker.

But the stickers are just the beginning of the new game mechanics in Swarm.

When the company launches Swarm 3.0, it will bring back public mayorships. In other words, out of the entire Swarm community, the person who has the most check-ins at a single location will become mayor, just as it was in the old Foursquare.

Swarm is also introducing Coins, which take into account the value of your check-ins, stickers, etc. The Coins will feed into a leaderboard where users compete only with their friend network as opposed to the whole Swarm community.

The new Swarm is also packed full of fun easter eggs, like a dusty trophy case for all your old Foursquare badges, that can be found by scrolling all the way down in the Sticker book tab. Plus, the company is using the opportunity to launch a very simplified version of Swarm for the Apple Watch, letting users check-in and see nearby friends.

If you want to check out the new Swarm, head over to the App Store to download the update.