If you like games and you like people, you will get along with Frank Yu. Yu is the creator of a website called Kwestr, which pushes the envelope of augmented reality through gaming. Yu describes it as a“game layer, social level collaboration of tasks.” Basically, he wants to turn real-life into a role-playing game that you can share with your friends—sort of like World of Warcraft meets Facebook, minus the monsters and magic. Jordan Thomas Mitchell met up with Yu to learn more, and to exchange nerd bona fides.
What is Kwestr?
Kwestr is a game layer, social level collaboration of tasks. In simpler terms, we can make anything into a role-playing game experience, whether it’s going to a party with your friends, going to a museum, or going on a trip. We can make any kind of event into an RPG experience. You can bring your friends into it by challenging them to be part of your kwest. Once you’ve completed your kwest you receive a badge. The kwest can be anything from “Lose Weight,” “Be a Vegetarian for a Day,” “Learn Chinese,” or it can be fun stuff like “Have a Beer on Fridays.” We have kwests already built into the site, but you can also create your own.
Are you trying to create a social network like Facebook or Weibuo?
Kwestr feeds into Ren Ren, Weibuo, Facebook, and Twitter. You can actually use Weibuo to log into the site. We’re not trying to create our own network, but layer onto already existing ones.
What does it mean to “Gamify Your Life?”
Gamefication is using game mechanics on non-game projects. So when I do “X, Y, and Z” I can get the “Literature Master Badge” and I can also challenge my friends to get that badge, as well.
“It’s about adding elements of a game onto your life so that it has the potential to be more engaging and exciting.”
Kwestr does that but also allows the gaming aspect to be social. I like the culture of games more than I like the games themselves.
Why would we want to do that?
Getting more badges is kind of like social network status, as well as the ability to challenge friends. It can also be a way to meet people who are interested in the same things. For instance, if I make a “Walk My Dog” Kwest, I can see all of the people who have similar Kwests.
What is the profit-making model?
It’s through our partnerships with brands. So if a large company is doing a big ad campaign, there will be an online portion with videos and ads. Then there will be an on-location portion in the mall, on billboards, and so on. We tie it all together into one big adventure and then when a person completes the Kwest and get’s a badge, we give them a discount on the product being advertised.
Have you always been into gaming?
Nope. My background is actually financial. I worked in banking and also in business for Microsoft. But I’ve always loved games and eventually switched into game production.
Can you define the word “geek?”
The literal definition for the word geek is a person that bites the heads off of chickens, but in the more modern sense of the word a geek is someone who is technically savvy and loves computers. Although, I think a geek is just someone who’s really passionate about something. You have art geeks, music geeks…
Do you think that living life with a digital overlay on top of it can actually disassociate us from our friends, activities, and society, instead of helping us connect to them?
No, I think it augments them. I think a pure game, like World of Warcraft, could potentially disconnect you. But we’re trying to connect your online life with your actual life. We want people to do real things with real friends, not grow make-believe vegetables with make-believe friends.
Why do you think social media and social games are becoming so popular?
People want to meet other people and have an authentic experience. I grew up watching TV and playing video games, but I think this generation wants to do real stuff—they want to really travel, not just watch a movie about it. But they also like games and enjoy sharing their lives with their friends. We allow them to do that and help them tie it all together.
How long do you think China will continue to squash one of its biggest markets, the Internet?
Technology is morally neutral and can be used for good or bad. There is always going to be technology and the counter-technology to fight it off. China is becoming more mature and the Chinese netizens are becoming more enlightened. At a point they might have needed the censors on the Internet, but now they don’t. It’s referred to as the “nanny gate,” like your overbearing mom telling you what you can and cannot read. It’s a reflection of the generation that is in power, but China is maturing and it will change.
What inspired your passion for technology?
My god-kids. We tried skateboarding, but I suck at it. I can’t even do an ollie. So I was like, “How am I gonna connect with these guys?” I found out that they like playing Star Craft. And still, I kinda suck at Star Craft, but I love playing games with them.
What’s your favorite Star Craft race?
I like being a Zerg. Very organic. And cheap.
Can you describe to us a vision of technology in the world over the next decade?
They’re starting to call the next decade the entertainment decade. Basically, if it’s not fun, it’s not going to happen. User interface has to be better, design has to be better, graphics have to be better, so people actually want to use the technology. Apple has done a great job with this. The experience is seamless between hardware and software. The entire web will go in this direction, becoming much more personalized, generating an interface based on your preferences. The Internet you log into may look different than the Internet I log into.
Also, I know a lot of people doing the “internet of things.” We are heading towards “tagging” or putting sensors on everything so that we can track it spatially. For instance, we will be able to know how many salt bottles are out on these tables and how many are back in the kitchen as well as the salt levels in each bottle. We’re not at that level, but we’re heading towards tracking everything possible.
What are your personal goals in being part of that story?
I want to help people accomplish their goals and their dreams. I want to help people break down their goals into steps, stay motivated, and help them follow up. For instance, buying a house is hard. How do you do it? We can help people break it down into steps and stay motivated along the way. Also, allowing these kinds of journeys to be shared with other people opens up potential for others to help support you.
We give up a lot to be doing a start-up. We don’t make a lot of money. We have to constantly push the idea.
“It’s not that we won’t make money, but we could get much higher paying jobs in some big tech company. You really have to believe in yourself and be really passionate about what you do.”
What’s your favorite technology app, website, piece of hardware at the moment?
That’s easy… the iPhone 4. It does everything I need—aggregating everything together in a small package. It is the next level of technology.