For all its trappings of aliens and global conspiracies, Google's augmented reality game Ingress is at its heart a Foursquare-style check-in service. The game already incorporates deals with Zipcar and Jamba Juice, and now ubiquitous New York pharmacy chain Duane Reade has become the first retail partner. In the coming days, each Duane Reade store will place some kind of game asset inside the premises, as well as a participation sticker outside. Players will then come in, find the asset, and scan its code (which can only be used once but can be shared with others) to unlock one of several in-game tools or weapons.
Ingress project lead John Hanke has positioned sponsorships like this as an alternative to banner ads or in-game items, which he's called a "dead end" for mobile gaming. It's a logical progression from both the Bungie-style promotional alternate reality games and the check-in deal apps that Ingress draws on, and though Google's game is Android-only, other platforms have similar systems. A Nokia-exclusive Foursquare Windows Phone app, for example, lets players fight for either Bane or Batman by checking into specific locations.