Digital Finds

joseph dot reeves at thehumanjourney dot net

OpenStreetMap, the game

May 18, 2010 by Joseph Reeves

Introduction: Location Aware Games

Since recently getting my new HTC Desire I've been quite impressed with a little location aware game called The Great Land Grab and by the looks of it I'm not the only person. The game is pretty simple; you load it up and you're presented with a Google Maps view with your location displayed, also shown is an overlain grid of parcels that are each individually priced. Moving to a parcel gives you the opportunity to buy it, this costs money, but also earns you rent. The more often a parcel is bought, the higher the price of it and the higher the return. There's a bit more to it than that, but essentially you move around buying parcels, some more often bough than others.

I started thinking about the data collected by this. Apart from some simple user stats, there's not much we as users can look at; presumably, however, the game developers query for the most expensive parcels to see where most game users are. Plotting the price of parcels for a large region, the UK for example, would produce an interesting map of gamers' locations. Animate this into some depiction of a period of time and you might have something really interesting.

That's great for the people behind the game, but I wondered if we could produce a game that would get people contributing to OpenStreetMap whilst ostensibly doing nothing more than playing a fun game. I came up with a quick specification of what an OpenStreetMap game must be:

  • Fun as a game in its own right
  • At first glance nothing to do with open spatial data
  • A means of contributing new data, or preferably, validating existing OSM data

Such a game could (and should) take a number of forms. In effect all we're doing is taking the same location aware ideas that lie behind The Great Land Grab and providing the data to a non-gaming community for the purpose of improving OSM. We'll need to include a disclaimer explaining that, but the game should be enjoyable without thinking about the improvements you're making to the map. In a perfect world you'd play not even knowing OpenStreetMap existed.

My game proposal: Droidenteering

This game presents no map display to the player but sets a number of challenges to be completed. Challenges are comprised of finding a number of things within the real world; 10 pubs, for example, or 5 supermarkets.

Players could have running a number of challenges at a time, up to 5 or 10 perhaps, and would progress through each challenge when completed. A first challenge may be to find a single pub, or supermarket or bike shop; completing this challenge then moves you to the next level, upon which you have to find more examples. Players are judged on the speed at which they can find the required level of features and also how much information they can provide about it. This would all go into an online scoring system.

I picture it working something like this:

Player starts the game and is told they need to find 10 pubs, 3 of which they may have already found. "Finding" a pub means getting as close to it as possible and clicking the "feature found" button; a lookup is performed to see if this is already in the OSM database, if it is the pub's name is returned and you are asked to confirm that you are outside it. If the feature is not found, you are asked to enter the name of it. Either action would be enough to qualify it as found, leaving the user free to find the next pub. Extra points would be awarded, however, for adding details such as house number, road name, telephone number, food details, etc. Each type of feature being searched for would have their own possible fields for entry.

You could cheat this by going to the middle of nowhere, saying you've found a pub, and moving on, but the game would include a validity score to check that other players were finding the same thing. Players would check online to see their progress against others and would aim to find features the quickest, or to earn the most points through the level of information provided. Weekly challenges may be presented to see who could find the most topically relevant features of the moment. Special awards could also be given for a whole range of arbitrary achievements.

Feeding this into OSM, and back to the game

Whilst players are running around collecting features to earn points, the data would be collected and entered into OSM on a regular basis. The same validity score that is used to check the correctness of data; if you see 10 dots on the map for a new pub found by 10 unique users you could be fairly confident in adding that POI to OSM. Hopefully one or two of the players would have entered as much metadata as possible to make the POI as rich as possible. Once entered into OSM, this would give feedback to future players, possibly with the option of reporting spurious features from within the game.

Last December I worked out that about 39% of UK pubs were on OSM. Such a game as suggested above could help rapidly improve this figure. Whilst I've been typing about pubs, the same could be said of any feature. At any one point a player would have in mind a number of POIs that need to be found to move onto the next particular challenge. Whilst they do that, a group of volunteers could check the submitted data and add it straight to OSM.

Beyond The Map

Apart from The Map, there are precious few ways of interacting with OpenStreetMap data. The proposal above gives the data a value to people who are interested in being outside, rather than those interested in Free spatial data. By implicitly appealing to a wider audience, gamers in this instance, we can collect user data that can directly feedback into the project. This is just one example, but I suggest that we need many such initiatives to get a broad spectrum of people and their data into the World's finest data source.


I find this a great idea, Maybe there could be another option: only allowing bike as a way of transport (this could be verified by the max speed which isn't so high on a bike)

This way the game could be promoted as an outdoor sports game.

I would like to learn how to program an android app. At this time I can only program in object oriented languages, so no graphical things. But if you would like to start the project (or someone else) I would be happy to participate.

Posted by Sander on May 18, 2010 at 10:03 PM BST #

Hi, I've been experimenting with the android SDK and I think we could build the game. The SDK is well documented.

But before we can start making it, we have to think about the interface. I've also contacted the programmer of open-gpstracker. I hoped he could help us but he doesn't have time. As a start, we could use the code of open-gpstracker because that way, we have the gps tracking features we need and we only need to strip the interface.

What do you think? should we start a Google project "Droidenteering"?

Posted by Sander on May 27, 2010 at 07:31 AM BST #

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