San Franciscans Play to Win in Yahoo! Bus Stop Derby

San Franciscans Play to Win in Yahoo! Bus Stop Derby


Why waste time waiting for the bus when you can be scoring points for  your ‘hood instead?

January 28th marked the end of Yahoo! Bus Stop Derby in San Francisco. 20 Muni bus stop shelters were outfitted giant, 72 inch touch-screens where travelers-in-waiting can play one of 4 games.  All the games were less than 60 seconds so no one would risk missing the bus when it did arrive. Players vied for the top score in order to bring an awesome block party to the neighborhood they represented, with a performance from the band OK Go!

The official site kept the excitement going with a leaderboard, Twitter feed and Flickr stream right on the front page. The contest got a huge response from the players in San Francisco and press all around the country. In the 2 month run of the campaign, over 100,000 games were played and over 2,500,000 points scored. It’s a fair amount of participation considering about 600,000 riders go through the Muni system daily.

There were a lot of positive elements happening simultaneously with this campaign. On the one hand you have a game added to a regular, boring and often frustrating chore of waiting for the bus. The player is able to interact with their surroundings & create fun rather than passively waiting around. The games were simple, so absolutely anyone can start playing without a lengthy tutorial and they were short in length so there’s no chance of someone becoming frustrated or bored. As you can see from the photos, even though solo gameplay was an option, the player always drew a crowd thus creating a direct social element. The social factor is also present in the broader concept of the derby – your entire community is part of your team.

The derby was a cooperative competition where the entire neighborhood worked towards a common goal. And sure, the grand prize is really cool – but it’s much more likely that the status associated with being a part of the winning neighborhood (or better yet, being the one to put them over the top) is the real prize. Too bad there wasn’t a leaderboard for individual participants as well.

Congratulations to North Beach who ultimately claimed victory with 363,650 points! Clearly getting people to work together and make the everyday a little less ordinary has a huge appeal and makes something as dull as waiting for the bus an opportunity for engagement and a thing to look forward to!

As gamification spreads and becomes better understood we can expect to see more chances for play like this popping up all over the place. Penny Baldwin, Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Brand Management at Yahoo! told Ariel Scwartz at Fast Company that the Bus Derby was just the beginning:

We’re going to evaluate [the Derby] based on backend data–how many mobile apps were downloaded in the area, participation, and enthusiasm…We’ll march it out across the nation if it’s proven effective for our business impact.

Spreading the stations out across different neighborhoods and tracking participation with points will likely help Yahoo! discover their target demographic for gamified marketing once they determine what time the most playing occurred, and what groups make up the majority in top scoring neighborhoods. Competitors in the Bus Derby were actually a test audience for what will likely be a larger campaign by Yahoo in the future. After the attention that the Bus Derby has garnered, people will surely be eager to participate in Yahoo’s next venture into gamification.


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  1. Love the concept. The one thing that I’m not clear on is what were the business objectives for Yahoo? Awareness? Traffic to Yahoo’s photo site, Flickr? Thoughts?