We got totally fooled on April Fool’s by our pal Lawrence Coburn, who (among other things) is the Location Editor for The Next Web. I recently re-met him based on a really good piece of writing of his that I found via Gabe Smedresman. Imagine my excitement when he told us that he’s blogged about the entertaining and relatively unknown history of The Go Game.
Like all good April Fool’s pranks, he entices you with enough truth to have you fall for it. I’ll let you decide what is truth or fiction.
And of course, turns out my dear “partner” Finn was totally in on it. I have had it coming, I’ll admit it.
Have a read:
The Godfathers of Geo: The Go Game
The year was 2001. A small group of young people had gathered on the hillside of Dolores Park in San Francisco’s Mission District. Ian Fraser, a lanky twenty something, and Finn Kelly, a burly New Yorker, were passing out cell phones. Not smartphones mind you – clunky, Nokia 5150s.
A few minutes later, the group had dispersed. Running willy nilly in all directions, clutching their phones, and to the outside eye, running with no clear destination.
But there was a destination.
On that hill, in that park, was the first interactive street game using mobile phones.
This was The Go Game.
By 2003, a fresh faced intern had joined Kelly and Fraser, obsessed with the potential that games had for making the world a better place. That intern was Jane McGonigal, who is now the preeminent thought leader of the gamification movement.
In 2005, Fraser and Kelly were approached by Dennis Crowley and Kevin Slavin to team up on a mobile powered “everywhere” game. While this project never materialized, Crowley would of course go on to found Dodgeball, and later Foursquare, and Slavin would make a name for himself in the geo world with Area/Code.
The Go Game’s legend and reach was growing.
In 2009, an excitable Seth Priebatsch stopped by The Go Game’s quirky Mission office to get their blessing on SCVNGR, a new mobile game which attempted to place a gaming layer on the world.
While it’s unclear if the crotchety Kelly and Fraser did in fact offer their blessing to the jumpy Priebatsch, SCVNGR has gone on to become a force on the geosocial landscape.
By 2011, The Go Game had revenues north of $3M and a scrappy team of 17. Their client list is a who’s who list of Silicon Valley. And all this accomplished without a single dollar of venture capital.
How has this unlikely partnership evolved? It started on the basketball court.
Ian “Skinny Legs” Fraser had been making a name for himself on the pickup basketball courts of San Francisco as a high flying street baller, despite his curiously skinny legs (which led to the nickname). One day, he ran into Finn Kelly, whose superior strength and girth neutralized Fraser’s athleticism (this one sided rivalry soon extended to the Ping Pong table, where again, Fraser was no match for Kelly).
Distraught by the mounting losses on the basketball court, Fraser soon turned to drugs and other substances to numb the pain. It was one such drug-fueled binge that the idea for The Go Game came to Fraser. Fraser now claims this was a “dream,” though bewildered onlookers swear Fraser was awake.
During the episode, Fraser found himself in a basement of a North Beach restaurant, with an ancient Chinese woman screaming nonsense at him. This nonsense roughly translated to “The Go Game.”
It is still unclear to many whether Fraser was actually in a North Beach restaurant, or asleep at home. Or really, if the Chinese woman was shouting “Go Game” or “Go Home” to Fraser.
Once he “awoke” from this “dream,” Fraser contacted his longtime nemesis Kelly and asked him to team up to make sense of this curious episode and turn it into a business.
With Kelly’s own prospects bleak, and friends starting to question his sanity (he had begun referring to himself in the third person as “The Shaman”), Kelly decided to take a chance and team up with the man known as Skinny Legs.
Things weren’t all peaches and cream for the duo however. Following the cratering of the Internet economy, in an ill-advised attempt to reduce expenses, Kelly and Fraser concocted a harebrained scheme for a Same Sex Domestic Partnership. Soon discovered by the authorities, The Go Game had to pay a hefty fine that nearly bankrupted the budding partnership.
But somehow, through it all, The Go Game has persevered.
What’s next for this unusual company? I posed this very question to Skinny Legs and The Shaman as they sat sipping lemonade and gently rocking on wooden chairs on an Austin balcony. “What’s next?” whispered Skinny Legs Fraser in a creaky aged voice that belied his 40 years. “I don’t know, but it’s going to be huge.”
Think you can top Coburn’s interpretation of TGG? Let us know your best April Fool’s Prank, we’re all ears.