Hey guys,

Despite all the different mobile games and AR stuff that’s been released in the past few years, I couldn’t believe that nobody had seriously tried to make a game based on travel and exploring the world. The last attempt was probably Foursquare, back in 2009.

So I created Zonder as an exploration game where players can visit and collect real-life locations like restaurants, parks, shops and museums. Traveling is great, but I believe it can be a lot more exciting by turning it into a game or quest where you can keep track of the total progress you’ve made and things you’ve seen, instead of starting to forget your trips as soon as you get home.

I decided to ignore most of the startup rules around pitching, selling and getting quick revenue. I just wanted to make a great quality game, and it’s really paid off so far. With a small team, we’ve managed to make an app that raises the bar for the travel genre (with 4.9 stars on both App Stores!)

And finally, Zonder is completely free because I believe that everyone deserves to have a chance to collect their travel experiences. And we’ll never sell user data.

You can learn more about Zonder and find the download links on my website: zonderapp.com

AMA about problems with startup practices, what it takes to make a great mobile app with no prior experience and how we’re turning travel into a game! I'll try my best to address everything.

The first proof I've done since high school math class?

Edit: I'm still live so if you have any questions I'll keep on answering them until this thread is 24 hours old! Thanks for the questions so far!

Edit 2: I'll be sleeping for a bit, but feel free to leave your questions. I'll answer whatever's left over tomorrow morning. You guys have been awesome!

Comments: 68 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

ForcefulClutches23 karma

Your app looks really nice! How hard was it to design and develop the app? What was harder, making the app or making the startup?

ZonderHarry12 karma

Thanks for the question and compliment!

The overall design process was really hard. I didn't have any app design experience at all when I started - only a dream of making a fun travel game. I made a lot of design variations that failed - but each one taught me something, and got slightly better.

By the 3rd revision 2 years in, I managed to get something resembling a usable mobile app. But I kept going because I wanted Zonder to be a great experience for players. What you see today is the 5th major revision of Zonder, and I believe it's as good as any other travel app on the App Store.

Overall, I would estimate that it took about 7000 hours of design alone to get to its current state. I have a big graphic showing all 5 of our design revisions in my Kickstarter, so you can check it out through my website.

Making the startup was also pretty hard, especially the hiring process and getting users, but overall I think I worked about twice as many hours on the design as everything else.

I didn't code the app personally, so I'll see if I can get my lead developer to answer that part.

ForcefulClutches3 karma

Thanks for the really in-depth answer. I guess app making is out for me but I’ll def give Zonder a go the next time I go out!

ZonderHarry2 karma

Yeah, no problem! That's why I'm doing an AMA - to really share some good information with you guys.

If I had known how much time and money Zonder would end up costing me back in 2017, I would have noped out and bought a house or something. But what's done is done, and I'm super proud of what my team has managed to make!

Enjoy collecting your travels!

ZonderAndre5 karma

Hello, my name is Andre and I'm the lead developer here at Zonder Studios. Thanks for asking about the development process, it's always a pleasure to talk about that!

Developing an app is a difficult journey, now, developing Zonder was something else. We always tried making things look and feel good, that takes a lot of time and effort, as well as lots of reviews. I am working here for 3 years now and I went through 3 different revisions, including a "whole app" revision where we changed pretty much every screen in the app as well as upgraded some of our features.

Besides the app, we also have the website and the admin website and those are also maintained internally by our development team. I would say coding alone for an app like Zonder would take about 5000 hours, but we are probably at around 15000 hours. The team is not content with simple designs and more of the same features, we are always try to make something different, something better, something that stands out.

This is an ongoing process, I am sure we are not at the perfect solution but we are always a step closer to it. Overall it's quite an exciting journey, you get to see your ideas and sketches turn into reality, solve lots of different problems and see your product grow into something special.

painterandauthor1 karma

Hi there thanks for making this beautiful app! Is there any way to sync one’s past travels, say with google maps? I did a lot of traveling before the pandemic and would love to be able to record it

Keep up the great work! It’s absolutely charming

ZonderHarry3 karma

Thanks for the support!

This is going to be a fairly difficult challenge, but it's something that we might try at some point in the future. It depends if you can export a list of the coordinates Google Maps has detected you at, and we can cross-reference those coordinates with the known locations of various attractions.

This is something that's in our second stretch goal on Kickstarter and might be a 2023-type of feature if we get around to it. This implementation is probably a unique situation and not very well researched.

We may also let people manually search and input their previous locations without verification, but not let that count for rankings points, etc. As far as rankings and levels are concerned, most players will be starting around the same time in 2021/22/23.

FatallyDense18 karma

I read some more about Zonder on your Kickstarter page…very well written btw. Why are you against spending on online ads in general? Just asking.

ZonderHarry18 karma

Thanks! I spent a lot of time writing it because I wanted to tell my entire story and let people know how important this mission was to me.

Regarding online ads, companies and startups are stuck in a situation where it's much better to use less resources to make a poor product, while dumping most of your money on Facebook and Google ads. If you instead choose to spend most of your money to create a great product, with little leftover for ads, you'll likely fail no matter how great your product is, because nobody ends up seeing it.

And also, we've done some tests and Facebook lies about how many clicks/conversions you get in their dashboard. During a trial, 1% of people who "clicked" on our FB ad (and we paid the click cost for) downloaded the app (according to our backend), while every other source was between 30-40% conversion. So that sucks.

Anyways, I'd like to see companies spending more on creating better things, instead of spending most of their money trying feverishly to outbid each other for a slice of the same pie.

FatallyDense8 karma

It would be good to have better quality products and less ads, can’t argue with that. Too bad there’s really no alternative tho

ZonderHarry6 karma

Yeah it's too bad. My approach is to see if just creating a really good game would allow it to spread by word of mouth itself, maybe creating a bit of awareness here and there.

BenjaminHamnett2 karma

Could add some fake prestige to it like how Facebook did. Or in game points for signing up other users. Maybe make a social aspect so people are following/friending each other

ZonderHarry4 karma

That's actually something that other companies do sometimes. Foursquare actually gave people more points for sharing check-ins on Facebook and other social media.

However, I don't want to do that with Zonder because I want it to be a "pure" travel game. As in, if someone else has more XP than you, you know it's because they've explored more of the world. I'm reluctant to add in sharing bonuses or other bonuses for things that help me (the developer) because that breaks the sanctity of the game.

In other words, if you see someone with a higher level in Zonder, you know they traveled more than you. Once you start wondering if they might have purchased more, or shared more on social media, while traveling less than you, then there's no more "travel" game - it's just an arbitrary game that I made up at that point.

Hope that helps.

BenjaminHamnett2 karma

Could be for side perks. Again, could be you get some extra discounts or samples for pyramiding your friends. Also makes those perks seem more valuable

ZonderHarry1 karma

Yep, we're always trying to find some creative perks or progressions would be cool without affecting rankings.

punchitimes11 karma

I used to play Foursquare quite a bit years ago. How would you say your app improves on it?

ZonderHarry9 karma

I used to be a big fan of Foursquare as well! Collecting places was very fun.

The problem was the Foursquare was more of a concept, and never really fleshed out as a proper game. It had a very basic game system where you just collect places and complete on a single leaderboard that reset weekly, with some simple stickers to earn. In gaming terms, it was like the equivalent of an FPS game that had 1 gun and 1 map, which is more like a demo than anything.

We're adding a LOT of different ways to play by traveling. You can collect normal places just like in 4SQ, you can race to visit world landmarks, you can compete to support local businesses in your hometown and track your total distance traveled. Just to name a few. You can play single player and just focus on your own achievements, or play competitively in many different challenges.

But the biggest innovation is that players can earn locations in the background, meaning they don't even need to take their phone out of their pocket. This is a game-changer IMO and makes it much easier for people to play without interrupting their vacation.

A few years ago I was pretty sad when it became clear that 4SQ wasn't going to keep improving their game features and pivoted to selling location data to businesses. That's one of the reasons I made Zonder - because I believe the travel game concept can really go far if we give it a real chance.

Global-Election-6 karma

I hate to be a cynic but I've seen these types of apps go the exact way as Foursquare. If someone offers you enough money, that'll be that and it'll be the same. Tell me I'm wrong?

If you TRULY care, make it opensource. Otherwise, I don't believe you and I'm sure I'll see a post how the app has been sold for X amount of dollars at some point, with all of the location data sold in the process - no thanks.

ZonderHarry11 karma

Honestly, that's fair and I understand why you, and other people believe that. And it's because statistically, you are correct. Most mobile games will sell out (and some sell out from the very beginning) - that's been the theme of the industry and the problem.

Even if you don't believe what I'm saying (and that's completely fine), you can believe the money. I'll just preface this by saying that data-selling is overblown because any app can gather and sell user data. There's no reason to make an app of Zonder's caliber just to sell user info, I could make a simple travel journal in 2-3 months and spend the rest of my money buying Facebook ads to sell user info.

Hypothetically speaking, if I wanted to make a lot of money in the future, I could just add pay-to-win features (buy XP boosters or bonus landmarks to earn!). The returns on those FAR outweigh data selling, you can look at any of the large mobile apps to see the revenue potential.

But I haven't added any pay2win features so far. If you check out the app, you'll see that I haven't even added any features to keep players addicted and spending money. So if I were trying to make tons of profit, I'm doing a pretty bad job of it right now.

Hope that helps you understand a bit without having to trust only my word for it!

fatedtelephony51510 karma

What do you think are some of the issues with pitching? Seems like everybody does it in the startup industry

ZonderHarry4 karma

Okay, I waited to answer this a little bit because it's a very different type of question. A lot of this is my opinion so please take it with a grain of salt.

There are two types of founders: those who think startups are a good chance to make a great product or service the world hasn't had yet, and those who think startups are a good chance to make money. I'm definitely in the former camp because I think the world would be way cooler if we kept on innovating better products to use and enjoy. But I'd guess that 80-90% of founders want to make money, and they aren't particularly choosy about what industry they do it in.

The obsession with pitching is a problem because it selects for people who can talk up a storm over people who can create. In fact, it causes the opposite issue - people who spend a lot of time talking and practicing how to sell will generally be worse at creating, which requires a lot of solo grind time. So the industry is basically selecting for failure.

Long story short, it's far, far easier to be able to confidently and charismatically SAY you can create something awesome than actually sitting down and getting your hands dirty for 4-5 years to create it.

FreePlantain99627 karma

Hi Harry, interesting idea! What do you get when you collect points in the game?

ZonderHarry8 karma

So I just wanted to make this a game for now, so that players can play purely for fun. I believe that once you put financial considerations and real-life rewards into a game, people start "playing" it for different reasons, so I opted not to do that.

Basically, your levels and achievements in Zonder show your friends and other players how much of the world you've explored, which is pretty cool to see.

In the future, we might connect with some towns to provide rewards for completing tours and challenges in those places. They'll be providing those rewards, while Zonder is just the place where small towns can list them.

willostree3 karma

That's a great idea! I love the "fun for fun's sake" philosophy.

Please, please, please, don't go the crypto route.

ZonderHarry4 karma

Don't worry, I agree! Crypto is great for many different applications, but I don't really think it fits into gaming.

I know this is probably somewhat unusual, but I didn't get into this to make the maximum amount of money possible. If I had to be honest, my dream would be to go around traveling and see a lot of random people playing my game and talking about how fun it is.

BenjaminHamnett1 karma

I like this idea. I’m stating the obvious but Maybe give businesses a chance to advertise discounts and free samples for people who completed whatever nearby excursions

To monetize this without taking too much away form users, you could have businesses pay to have their perks more visible or some useless in game “points” be awarded for visiting their establishment fort even just the excursions near them

ZonderHarry2 karma

Yeah, that's a good option. I think that's a pretty low impact change that we may be able to make in the future. Whether it's businesses or tourism bureaus, they'll be able to showcase their services on our app in the future as one of our potential (not confirmed) revenue models.

The key is to balance it well and make the sponsored content a side-quest of sorts, while allowing players to ignore it entirely if they wish to. And we also have to make sure all the sponsored content is fairly high value, so that players aren't going into strange places and having a poor experience.

FreePlantain9962-7 karma

With crypto being so hot right now it would be interesting to see Zondercoin. You could have a public ledger as a leaderboard, and the coins could all live on chain within the blockchain.

ZonderHarry3 karma

As mentioned below, I'm not entirely sure how adding in crypto would make it a more fun game to play. I think having just a normal leaderboard would be no different from a ledger-based leaderboard for players.

I'm also reluctant to put in coin-based stuff for profit, because I'm aiming for long-term success, which can only be achieved by making the game really good and fair for everyone.

dcux7 karma

While I think the idea is great, what part would you qualify as the first of its kind considering, for example, Niantic's offerings, including the now-retired Field Trip, Ingress, Pokemon Go? Given, their goals and games aren't about the locations exactly, but the locations can play a big part of the AR game experience.

ZonderHarry5 karma

That's a good question!

We're basically a similar concept to Pokemon GO, but the focus is around collecting actual interesting real-world places instead of just going to different locations and finding virtual items.

Of course the locations can play a role in the Pokemon GO experience, but the game isn't about the locations themselves. Zonder allows you to share with friends the cities, landmarks and restaurants you've seen, making it a game themed around "travel & exploration", not just a fantasy game that happens to be played outdoors.

But it's a similar concept, and Niantic games were among my inspirations!

Mx_Cal5 karma

Would it be possible to implement a system of adding locations retroactively? Maybe with geotagged photos as proof? Looks cool though!

ZonderHarry6 karma

That's an idea that we've been thinking about. I think geotagging could work, but we'll have to investigate that further and see how accurate it is.

For our second stretch goal on Kickstarter, we're likely to allow people to add retroactive locations to their Timeline and Travel Profile so that friends can see them, but it won't count towards rankings placements - unless we can find a way to make it very easily verifiable.

It's a tough developmental situation.

pargeterw5 karma

Worth mentioning that geocaching fits your description of turning exploration into a game, and drawing people to interesting landmarks, so careful making the claim that you're the very first! I already use the geocaching app for the purpose you're describing, even if I don't actually find containers, I know that areas where there are some will be interesting. Perhaps you could consider sourcing points of interest particularly in more remote locations using highly favourited cache sites as a starting point?

ZonderHarry2 karma

Thanks for bringing that up!

I really love geocaching and that was also one of the inspirations behind Zonder. I consider it a little bit different from a "travel & exploration game" because you're not actually engaging in the pure activity of travel while playing it - you're doing a secondary activity that you wouldn't normally do while traveling.

I realized that people would still like to play a true "travel game", where you can play just by...actually traveling and doing travel stuff - not extra activities during your vacations. So that's the difference.

I really like the idea behind geocaching though and I hope I can integrate it with Zonder in some way. I'm making plans for a treasure hunt type of feature as part of my Kickstarter goals. You'll be pointed towards places that will give you some type of clue to help you try and figure out the next place to receive a new clue - until you finish and unlock something cool (maybe a real-life reward!)

hotmessexpress444 karma

Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

ZonderHarry3 karma

I would rather fight the horse-sized duck probably. I don't know if ducks have strong limbs that can be used as weapons, so they should be a lot weaker than a horse of the same size, which has very strong legs.

Also I get tunnel vision.

efp_203 karma

I love that you don't sell user data... but how do you make profit?

ZonderHarry9 karma

I think it's kind of a misconception that selling user data is a great way to make profit. It's actually pretty low value per user.

Selling data is the best way to make profits....if you're bad at actually building anything of value. Like if you only have enough skill to make a newsletter or to copycat someone else's app, then sure it's the best option you have.

Great games generally don't resort to selling players' data to make money because happy players are willing to spend a lot more on the game itself than the data is worth. That's what we're aiming for.

For Zonder, there's two main ways we're planning to make profits. The first is premium customizations, features and perks in the app. For instance, in the future you'll be able to purchase decorations for your profile, a place to show off more of your earned achievements, or possibly bonus premium tours for your favorite cities.

The second way is we're going to connect with tourism and city organizations to see if they want to promote their city with any special tours. They can pay us some money, and we'll put a tour they created into the app, which features some cool downtown locations they might want to draw traffic to. Players also benefit because they get to learn about some interesting attractions they might never have known were there. So it's a win-win.

gotogarrett3 karma

Omfg. Please tell me your game lights up the map? So by that I mean in typical rpgs the map is dark until you explore and then when you do the map lights up.

ZonderHarry3 karma

Oh you mean like the fog of war? We uh, don't really have that because our "game map" is actually just the real world map. And like, everyone can access it on Google Maps or something.

In the future (maybe like 2023 or so) we might be adding an Area Exploration feature, where you can "earn" the places you walk through. It's designed to see who can see the most AREA on Earth, not attractions. That might be what you're looking for?

gotogarrett3 karma

That would work! I like exploring the world around me. Sometimes just going down a street I’ve never been before. Google maps gives me a great idea of where I’d been but I’d love to see how much more I need to see.

ZonderHarry7 karma

Yep, that sounds pretty fun. I really shouldn't be promoting my competitors here, but there's another app called Fog of World that does what you're describing.

It's really really expensive though ($25 for an app!), which is why I'm going to attempt to make a free version that has improved features next year. So we can all play this type of game for free.

ChemicalAttraction13 karma

The app looks really nice - love the minimalist style. If the app itself is free and there are no IAPs, where are you getting your revenue from?

ZonderHarry1 karma

Yep, the app is free and I think will always be free.

There are no IAPs now, but we plan on adding some in the future (probably 2023 or later). I'll copy my detailed answer from above:

For Zonder, there's two main ways we're planning to make profits. The first is premium customizations, features and perks in the app. For instance, in the future you'll be able to purchase decorations for your profile, a place to show off more of your earned achievements, or possibly bonus premium tours for your favorite cities.

The second way is we're going to connect with tourism and city organizations to see if they want to promote their city with any special tours. They can pay us some money, and we'll put a tour they created into the app, which features some cool downtown locations they might want to draw traffic to. Players also benefit because they get to learn about some interesting attractions they might never have known were there. So it's a win-win.

Jadziyah1 karma

Hi! I don't know if you're still answering questions, but I hope so! This sounds like a really neat idea and I wish it had been around for the 27ish countries I've visited so far haha. A few questions:

1- With previous (and current) location based mobile games such as Parallel Kingdoms and Pokemon Go some players would use GPS spoofing apps to trick the apps. Do you have any plans to prevent that?

2- GoogleMaps and the like already have people leaving reviews for places they have visited. What will encourage players to do this on your app instead?

3- What are your plans for "gamification"? What will keep players engaged and interested?

4- What are your long term plans for the app?

ZonderHarry2 karma

Yep, I am!

  1. Yep, we have thought about this a little bit and set up measures to prevent spoofing. As a gamer, I am familiar with how people find some ways to cheat - but not all, so I will be looking more into this.

  2. Right now, people don't leave reviews for places on Zonder. You're right, there's no purpose making another review app when lots exist. Zonder is likely to become more themed towards the "learn from locals and experts" rather than "learn from mass reviews". We do have a unique review system in the works however that will deliver different results than the standard 5-star review.

  3. We still have to work on this, but designing a proper progression system is the next step. It means making the game more fun to play with more features as players level up. It's a hard creative process to find those extra features though. We're also working on adding rotating events, especially cooperative community events. Or Team events.

  4. I'm planning to make Zonder a total travel companion that offers a lot of great benefits to players. We'll have to increase the content dramatically and offer more ways to play. We're also planning some side forays into perhaps helping arrange impromptu tour groups and meets at a later date, as well as offering historical tours - where you can see how a city looked like in ancient times and learn about its history as you walk through the same areas in the modern city.

enderjaca1 karma

What do you think makes this a "game" compared to just a list of places you've been to and an arbitrary XP system?

Is there a high-score list of people who have explored a city more than other people you can compare yourself against?

ZonderHarry1 karma

I love this question. What, exactly, is a game?

In very basic terms, many people can consider a points/badges/leaderboard system to be a game, or gamified activity. That's what Foursquare was, essentially. And that's not entirely wrong, although it would be a very barebones type of game.

I believe a game is an experience that generates excitement for players through either accomplishment or competition. You don't really even need software to have a "game" that you can play with friends.

With Zonder, we're aiming to provide an exciting experience for travelers. So that they can feel more accomplished and fulfilled when they can see their real-life efforts logged and see by others. We're giving people a TON of new ways to play, many of which aren't even based on anything arbitrary. For instance, you can compete to travel more distance, in miles (or km). See how many revolutions of the Earth you've traveled and how you compare with your friends. You can see how many cities you've explored and oceans you've touched. The quality of a game goes up a lot when there's depth, and content, and not all games of the same type are created equal.

We're much better than basic points/badges/leaderboards games that came before us, but there's still a long way to go. We're continuing to add more content, and need to design a rewarding progression system so that players feel great about completing tours and exploring a lot.

For your second question, we're adding a rankings for how throughly people have explored 1 city, and who has the most experience in that city. Probably coming out later this year.

TryingSquirrel1 karma

Is there a way for places to opt out? If your app gets popular (and I wish you all the best!) It seems like high value but formerly less popular places might see a big spike in visitors. Some might want this, but other locals might be less excited to have things routed into their area (a bit of a combination of something blowing up due to Yelp and people wandering into your back yard playing Pokemon Go). Is there any way to address this?

ZonderHarry0 karma

So we don't anticipate this being a problem in most places because there are usually many different locations to collect. In our XP system, there is also a fairly low spread in XP awarded, so no one place is going to be HUGE in terms of Zonder progress. The lowest point values are 10XP and the highest ones are 50XP, but those are generally bigger attractions like national parks and large sports stadiums. World Landmarks are 150XP but those shouldn't be a problem.

No individual store is going to be deluged with Zonder visitors because it's no more valuable than the store across the street - which is the perk of having over 100 million collectible locations.

If things do get really bad somehow in rare instances, we do have the ability to disable collection of places in a specific area if we need to. I believe we can just designate a range of global coordinates that don't activate the awarding system.

Thanks for the interesting question!

MechaNickzilla1 karma

This looks very cool. My question is, the paralegal place down the street from me shows up on the map but the BBQ place doesn’t. I’d much rather get points for eating bbq. Is there a way to add locations?

In general I hope to be able to use it to track restaurants. I’d hope you get some sort of foodie badge for hitting a certain number. Or you have to maintain a certain frequency.

ZonderHarry2 karma

Yeah, this is kind of a core limitation of our app - we can't actually input 100 million locations ourselves! We're using a location API called Radar.io and getting info on places from them. Most location databases have gotten a LOT less accurate over the past 2 years as COVID shut down a lot of businesses and many more opened up in their place, and these services are struggling to catch up.

We can theoretically add locations manually on the backend, but it wouldn't be worth it because there might be millions of incorrect locations (potentially) and take up a lot of dev time. Having players add locations themselves causes accuracy concerns too.

The badges are a big part of the game! You can earn badges for visiting different types of restaurants, like Mexican restaurants, pizza places or breakfast restaurants. Feel free to leave us some feedback for future content in the app, or in our Discord (you can see the link on our website). We also hope to introduce hundreds more challenges this year if everything works out. Maybe even one for going to 5 restaurants in a single day (lol).

MechaNickzilla1 karma

That all makes sense. Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. Great AMA.

ZonderHarry2 karma

No problem! I'm glad that I could give Redditors more insight into what goes into making & designing a mobile app like this with this AMA.

kaiyotic1 karma

Why is your app called without? And what is it without? For real zonder means without in dutch

ZonderHarry2 karma

Yep, I realized that a few years ago actually.

There are a lot of languages in the world, each with a lot of words. When coming up with a single-word brand, it's very difficult to guarantee that your word doesn't overlap with any word in another language, and has never been used by another company. It's actually particularly common for words ending in -er to overlap with some verbs in Romance languages, but the -er suffix indicates more dynamism and action as opposed to most nouns.

So yeah, this was completely unintentional.

CptBlinky-1 karma

How much would you say on average you make per person selling their travel history data?

ZonderHarry5 karma

Well, zero dollars because we will never sell any user data (as stated).

First of all, I don't believe that just because a user gives a company access to info, that the info automatically belongs to the company. What's legal is not necessarily morally correct.

Second, travel data is scraped by tech giants like Google/Facebook everywhere on a mass scale, it's practically worthless on a per user basis. Making a great game that people love and want to support, on the other hand, will give much more long-term success even if we don't monetize it very much.

If you're wondering about how we're generating our revenue, the only thing we're doing right now is launching a Kickstarter campaign, and in the future we are planning to sell some customizations and perks in the app for real money (nothing that affects your ranking or level however.)