The team developing Travel Game,Â as the company is appropriately called, includes present or former employees of Orbitz, Realtime World Games (Grand Theft Auto), American Airlines and Electronic Arts (Battlefield 3) and they’ve labored at the complex task of creating a technology overlay for the ever-changing Google Earth, says Shannon Eis, a spokeswoman for Travel Game.
Katz has plenty of airline connections so you can expect more to come on board. Orbitz was founded by major U.S. airlines, and before that he served as CEO of Swissair, president of American Airlines, and president of Sabre.
Travel Game, which is said to be the first online game powered by Google Earth, so far has two game titles, Touristo and Skydiver, and future games will target people with different kinds of interests.
In Touristo, a player can undertake a mission to Oahu, for example. The player follows clues and navigates to the next site to earn Moola. To find the next destination, you have to figure out clues such as: Which city is modeled after a 13th Century Italian palace?
If you steer your helicopter to all of the correct sites, you get a shot at a bonus round. Eventually, you can play a so-called Pro location, such as Paris, and compete for a Caribbean cruise for two.
Pro games require Travel Game Cash, which you can currently purchase in U.S. dollars, euros and Great Britain pounds. So the Pro games are another potential revenue stream.
So unlike many other online games, which may provide virtual awards, Travel Game participants can compete for real travel rewards, which Travel Game will purchase from travel suppliers.
Katz calls Travel Game the best thing he’s done in travel, which is no small boast for the founding CEO of Orbitz.
But, he concedes there are a few tech challenges in play even before you consider the commercial challenges of an unproven concept.
Katz says Google Earth was built more for urban planners than to accommodate a dynamic gaming environment, but when he started gathering a team last year to work on the project he knew Google Earth would make for a “kick-ass gameboard” — and a global one, at that.
Another issue is that a download of a Google Earth plug-in is required to play the game and some consumers have had difficulties doing so because browsers have to be upgraded and software has to be compatible with the plug-in.
While Touristo is for gamers with an exploratory bent, Skydiver should attract the more action-oriented as you can skydive into Times Square or hotels on the Las Vegas strip.
And, we all know that Vegas is about adventure.
So hotel advertisements or painting the name of an airline on a runway should be appealing to advertisers who want to get in on the marketing opportuntiies in gaming and social media, Katz says.
One of the social aspects of the game is that virtual and real rewards can be synched to Facebook accounts. For now, likenesses of your Facebook friends — not the actual friends — pose questions or provide hints in the games, and a deeper integration of Facebook and a pared down mobile app are on the drawing board, Katz says.
Travel Game is privately funded and independent of Nextag.
Katz is an investor in and the founder of Travel Game, which is run by general manager Doug Carlucci, previously vice president of licensing and content acquisitions at LeapFrog.
Travel Game is aiming for a full launch in the Fall.