Have You Played… GeoGuessr?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Google Street View is a modern marvel, letting you tour around unvisited cities or lonely roads in the middle of nowhere. GeoGuessr [official site] makes a game of this desktop tourism: it drops you in a random location somewhere in the world and challenges you to work out where you are.

This initially seems impossible, because how the heck are you supposed to discern one tree-lined road from another? Is this Canada, or is it France?

Although, it does feel more like Canada. You can’t put your finger on why. Somewhere in the back of your mind all the television shows and movies you’ve ever seen are telling you that the texture of the trees and grass feels more Canadian than French.

Or maybe you notice a road sign, a number plate, the architectural style of a distant building. You zoom in on the map and pick a point, a rough guess, and find that you got it right to within a few hundred kilometers. There was luck involved, to be sure, but also a kind of unconscious deduction. You go again. This time you’re dropped in a city, with far more for the eye to pour over. This will be easy!

You get it wrong by about four thousand miles. You can do better, you’re sure. You go again.

And again, and again, and again, until your day has disappeared. GeoGuessr takes a modern marvel and turns it into a game. It is itself a marvel.

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30 Comments

  1. Jams O'Donnell says:

    In the very first round of GeoGuessr I played the camera was dropped right outside St Magnus’ Cathedral in Orkney where I’d been just the previous week. I aced that one.

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    Zorgulon says:

    I’ve spent a lot of fun time with this game. I sometimes can’t decide whether to allow myself to take a few steps from the starting point in order to maybe uncover a sign or number plate or something or just hard mode it based on my original position.

    I also sseem to end up mot of the time in the rural US, Brazil, or Australia, but I guess the odds will always say that’s the case!

    • richard says:

      I suspect the starting points (hard mode: swivel points) are cherry picked to some extent, rather than being random.

      I haven’t done the survey + stats to back this up, but I think a random selection from all the km of roads that have been street viewed will be far more likely to produce “generic section of RHS-drive sealed road through nondescript rural area” than we actually see. Usually get a town or two in each set. Even so, rural north or south America are good spots to pick when guessing.

      I wonder if there is a dev blog on this, or someone has done the analysis?

      • squirrelrampage says:

        “Generic section of RHS-drive sealed road through nondescript rural area” has been exactly the right description for most of my starting points.

        • wisnoskij says:

          There is quite a bit of rural areas shown. But I got as much city and even inside shops and tourist locals, as in the countless billions of miles of empty rural roads that the world contains. I doubt it is cherry picked, but it might be algorithmic-ally picked, to give preference to the cities and buildings ahead of the empty countryside. Otherwise 30% of every game would be empty roads in Russia.

          • froz says:

            I think you are way underestimating the total length of roads inside cities. For example, I’m certain that the town I live in (and it’s a small one) definitely have orders of magnitude longer streets then all roads from it to other cities combined.

            I found some numbers for capital city in my country, it has almost 3000 km roads. To compare that – it’s more or less the same length as all (top level) highways in my country combined and it’s just one city.

          • Canadave says:

            Honestly, 30% doesn’t sound far off of the percentage of rural Russian roads that I seem to get. If I’m very, very lucky, there’ll be a street sign near by with a Cyrillic name that I can recognize.

        • richard says:

          Having gone back to GeoGuessr after a 2 year hiatus — yes, it does now seem to be 90% rural roads, where previously it was a nice mix of towns and middle-of-nowhere. I guess the street view car has been busy doing long road trips in the intervening time. Still a great game, but the balance is not as entertaining as it once was.

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    magnificent octopus says:

    My favourite round dropped me right in a Japanese tourist site, with signs in English explaining where I was.

    • April March says:

      In one of the first times I played I was dropped in a town square that not only proeminently displayed the town’s name but also, quite helpfully, identified it as “The Southernmost Town in Alaska”. It was long ago – I think there was some sort of curation back then.

  4. gunny1993 says:

    I love this game, after you play it for a while you notice subtle signs that can really help, like the different types of road markings and signs posts that can really narrow it down

    And don’t forget if you in the middle of a completely flat farm land you’re probably in nebrasca

  5. avtrspirit says:

    Played it with a group and our collective guesses were far more accurate than individual ones. The beans-in-a-jar experiment was meaningful, apparently.

  6. FLoJ says:

    A coffee truck with a brazilian web address printed on the canvas saved me more than a few points in a completely nondescript, perfectly straight roadway.

    Great game :)

  7. Spuzzell says:

    I played this for two days with burning passion, and then I was dropped into the middle of a huge stone courtyard with high walls all around, and NO WAY OUT.

    Genuinely, I covered it inch by inch.

    It was a nightmare. I still feel unsettled by it now.

    • Sian says:

      I was in a similar situation last time I played, only it was a clothing store. There was no way out, and I just didn’t remember what language the writing on the windows belonged to. Turned out to have been Hindi. Had I recognised the script, I wouldn’t have been far off, either, because I tend to go for the middle of large countries in such cases, which is more or less where that shop was.

  8. wisnoskij says:

    Got a really interesting one; With India style moped taxicabs on a street lined with American businesses with English signs.

    Apparently, that is what it looks like in the Philippines.

    I wonder if the score is only based on distance to target? Because, I thought I did pretty good picking Russia correctly, but I was still like 800 km off.

  9. Llewyn says:

    I’ve resisted for ages, but you’ve made me have another go. The first round has dumped me inside what appears to be a farming supply shop in a German-speaking country. These Google cars sure get about.

    • Llewyn says:

      And the third round was, by the sounds of it, exactly the same clothes shop in India that Sian got above. I guessed the country but picked a large(r) city.

      I think I preferred it when Google maps was just the great outdoors!

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Being dumped inside a store very much feels like an adventure game, especially since you sometimes cannot get out.

      “It won’t budge!”

  10. ikehaiku says:

    There’s one thing that has always prevented me from playing much – and I just checked, it’s still present –
    That is the fact that you can move on the map. Meaning whoever is “best” at the game is whoever has the more time and is able to travel until they see a location sign, and then , well, you are one google map away to find the location with a 3 meters precision.

    • ruzvelt says:

      Of course, there is nothing to prevent you from playing along your set of rules.

      I actually prefer to wander around, trying to find clues about where in the world might I be. I totally get the folks who say it’s better for them to just make a guess based on where you land, I just like adventuring a bit.

      • Canadave says:

        Yeah, that’s how I play too. I like hunting for clues and trying to narrow down my location as accurately as possible. Nailing your location in an unfamiliar part of the world is really satisfying.

        Plus, when else am I going to find myself poking around in the suburbs of Riga?

    • April March says:

      I don’t know if you need to sign up to access it, but there’s an option to limit the time you have to make each guess. You can still move, but on a 30-second time limit you’re not going to be able to even open Google Maps on a new tab.

  11. Zankman says:

    Very fun, challenging and interesting game. Had some awesome guesses.

    Being dropped into the middle of nowhere – a desert – and deducing from the rare foliage that it might be in Australia as opposed to Africa is one thing…

    Like, sure, I guessed the right continent…

    … But being some ~200 meters accurate was just astonishing!

  12. Louis Mayall says:

    Any game that makes you ask ‘does this fence look American?’ is alright by me.

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    phuzz says:

    Occasionally Tim Stone runs something similar in the Flare Path Foxer. I’m still immensely proud of myself for working out where J was in this one*.

    Personally I do allow myself a bit of wandering around, but even that doesn’t help when you end up on a bit of road in the middle of nowhere (like the Australian Outback).

    *(It was the Falkirk Wheel)

    • Shiloh says:

      He does indeed, and I remember once staying up far too late before finally identifying the Spanish fortress at Badajoz (famous for being stormed in extremely bloody fashion by the British in 1812).

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    Dorga says:

    This game thaught me that Brazil has all the landscapes.

  15. phelix says:

    This is kind of embarrassing, but once I decided to change my guess from northern Mexico to New Mexico, USA, based on the skin colour of an individual in an expensive car.

    • April March says:

      And where was it, in the end? Don’t leave us hanging…