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Zipcar and SCVNGR, East Cambridge neighbors, partner on new rewards program

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 26, 2010 09:02 AM

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Cambridge-based mobile game developer SCVNGR is announcing a new partnership today that'll let players earn real-world prizes from Zipcar, the car-sharing company based just a few blocks from SCVNGR's headquarters.

The deal is part of a recent trend toward integrating incentives and freebies into cell phone apps, as they become important marketing channels. Heavy users of the Foursquare app, for instance, can get discounts at Starbucks, and Shopkick users who hang out in Best Buy stores can rack up points that reduce the cost of their next purchase.

Starting today, Zipcar will be rolling out "challenges" in Boston using SCVNGR's mobile gaming app that'll enable players to earn goodies like a Zipcar t-shirt or $25 in driving credits. If you drive your Zipcar to IKEA and take a picture of yourself in front of the special parking spot reserved for Zipcars, for instance, you can earn five points. Share the nickname you've bestowed upon the Zipcar you're driving, and that's another three points.

"The idea here is that you don't just give away coupons, but you have people unlock rewards," says SCVNGR founder Seth Priebatsch. "You make them work for it."

And while SCVNGR users are working toward their rewards, they're also helping to generate buzz for Zipcar, since photos and updates on their game activity are shared through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. "This is a way for Zipcar to take their existing community and make it louder," says Priebatsch.

The rewards program will initially be available only in Boston, but Priebatsch hopes it might soon expand to other Zipcar cities.

Earlier this week, SCVNGR announced another rewards partnership with AT&T stores in the midwest, enabling users to rack up points that can be used for discounts on accessories or a new Samsung phone.

SCVNGR hasn't yet announced how many people are using its mobile phone app, available for iPhone and Android. The company has raised almost $5 million in funding from backers including Google Ventures and Highland Capital Partners in Lexington.

Last month, Priebatsch was a speaker at the TedXBoston conference, talking about building a "game layer" atop the real world. Here's the video from that event:

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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