Exclusive: Interview with City Guesser creator Paul McBurney Jr.

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City Guesser is the perfect way to escape quarantine boredom.

The monotony of quarantine and social distancing due to COVID-19 has left everyone looking for ways to escape boredom. Unfortunately, travel is off the table and likely will be into 2021. Although there’s nothing quite like strolling the streets of a new city, the pandemic has given rise to creative new ways of escaping.

One of them is a free game called City Guesser. It was developed by Paul McBurney Jr., an independent developer who wanted to “help people experience the wonders of the world while in lockdown.

Much like the popular game GeoGuessr, City Guesser is a browser-based game that presents users with a full-screen video of a random city somewhere in the world. The video, usually filmed by someone walking, takes you on a tour of the city as you try to gather clues about where you’ve landed. Currently, City Guesser features more than 50 countries and is still expanding. The game has even drawn attention from noteworthy Twitch streamers like Jericho and Drew Durnil.

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It is a great way to temporarily escape the boredom of home while also challenging your knowledge of the world.

I had the chance to speak with McBurney about the game, why he created it, and how it works. Check out the full interview below then be sure to try City Guesser for yourself.

Interview with City Guesser Creator Paul McBurney Jr.

The Burn-In (TBI): You mentioned that City Guesser was built to help people escape the boredom of COVID-19 quarantine and virtually travel the world. What is your favorite location to travel to in the game? 

Paul McBurney Jr. (PM): You are right, City Guesser is meant to help people escape COVID-19 boredom… the thing is, in City Guesser you can’t really choose your location because it’s a guessing game. One major goal in the creation of City Guesser was to help others see places they’ve never been before. Once you play a few rounds, you’ll notice that all humans are the same wherever you go. I think that’s one of the deeper meanings of City Guesser.

TBI: How were you able to pull in so much content for the site? Did you automate this task somehow or was it a manual process?

PM: One of the most challenging feats in development was acquiring footage for the game. City Guesser utilizes the embedded player feature on YouTube to display content. People will post footage of themselves walking around different cities. After posting, the original creators will decide whether not they want to allow their video to be embedded by people.

Most of the footage is acquired from YouTube, however as the site grew more and more people contacted me wanting to submit their own content. I’ve received over 100 submissions from people. However, I’ve only added around 70 percent of them because they need to adhere to certain requirements—like shakiness and video quality.

I was inspired to utilize the YouTube Embeddable Player after using the Drive & Listen web app. They utilize a very similar concept to display videos of different cities. I also made sure to acknowledge the ethicality of using content I did not “create.” Before adding any video to the website, I made sure to review the descriptions and requests of each content creator. If the premise still remained unclear, I emailed the creator.

If I knew that any creator frowned upon my use of their content, I would happily remove it. To answer your question, it was a long tedious and manual process.

So far, I’ve received a few emails from different people saying that they loved seeing their content featured in the game.

TBI: A lot of people are already familiar with the game GeoGuessr. Did this serve as inspiration for you in any way? How does City Guesser relate to GeoGuessr?

PM: In the past, I played a decent amount of GeoGuessr. After the game became pay-to-play, many began to stray away… I was first inspired to create City Guesser after realizing GeoGuessr’s limitations (the ability to hear noise and sound). One of the biggest aspects of City Guesser is the ability to hear the soundscape of different cities. The sounds you might hear in bustling Mumbai are completely different to the ones you might hear in a rural town in the middle of Wyoming.

When given the ability to hear, one can notice the languages being spoken. That can be a huge giveaway.

For me, GeoGuessr didn’t feel like real life. Bringing in video makes everything come alive. However, I loved GeoGuessr’s base concept and wanted to elaborate more on it. Something similar, but completely different.

TBI: Are you willing to share how many people are playing City Guesser? Has that number exceeded your expectations?

PM: To date, The City Guesser game has received over 300,000 visits. I expect that the site will hit 400,000 visits within the next week. When I launched City Guesser, I intended it to be a little project that I would show to my friends and family. After posting the site to a development subreddit on Reddit, the post went viral and City Guesser received 15,000 visits in a single day.

After realizing that people were actually playing my game, I knew that I had to add new content. City Guesser has received its ups and downs in daily viewership, but now the site’s traffic is growing consistently.

TBI: Obviously, there is a lot that goes into a game like City Guesser. Is there anything players can do to help improve and/or support the game?

PM: You are right. I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours on City Guesser over the course of three months. I’ve balanced development between school, hanging out with friends, homework, etc. Even though it’s kept me busy, it’s probably one of the most fun things I’ve done. Creating things for others to enjoy makes me really happy.

The site receives enough traffic for me to monetize with advertisements, however I don’t plan on doing that any time soon. Even though I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the game, I don’t want to be a sellout. Opportunities to make money will come later. Also, ads would ruin the UI and experience of the website.

However, I have allowed users of the website to “Buy me a Coffee” to help offset development costs and help me pay for different things regarding City Guesser. I use a service called Ko-fi to accept donations.

~End Interview~

If you enjoy City Guesser, you can support the game and McBurney with a donation through his Ko-fi account here. If donating isn’t an option, you can still support the game by playing and sharing the word with friends and family.

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