Tap Tap Revenge, a free game that challenges players to keep up with catchy tunes by tapping in the right spots on the phone’s screen, was available in Apple’s iPhone application store when it opened in July.
It quickly climbed the store’s charts, and more than three million downloads later, Apple declared it the most popular free iPhone game of the year.
“We went to No. 1 in three days,” said Bart Decrem, co-founder and chief executive of Tapulous. “Within a week, artists reached out to have their music featured in the game.”
Many software companies have jumped on the iPhone bandwagon, seeing promise in the popularity of the phone and the demand for programs for sale or free download through the App Store. They include Smule, a start-up that created a program that turns iPhones into flutes; and giant game publishers like Electronic Arts, which recently released a version of its classic SimCity game for the iPhone.
Tapulous, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was founded in January after Mr. Decrem, a Belgian software executive, and his business partner, Andrew Lacy, came across an iPhone game called Tap Tap Revolution. They sought out its creator, Nate True, and brought him on board as a developer. (A third co-founder, Mike Lee, was forced out in August after the men disagreed over the company’s direction.)
For Mr. Decrem, who earlier helped create a social Web browser called Flock, the low cost and fast pace of making software for the iPhone made it feasible to create a company that focused exclusively on the device.
“It took two years and north of $5 million to bring Flock to market,” he said. “In this case, the longest you spend building an iPhone application is three months, and it takes four or five people. There’s less risk in terms of betting millions and years on something that might not work.”
To keep its game fresh the company created Tap Tap Thursdays, when it releases new music from artists like Michael Franti and the pop singer Katy Perry. Mr. Decrem said those songs regularly inspire a million game plays — and occasionally a lot of music sales, because players can click to buy the song through Apple. In October, Tap Tap Revenge players bought 50,000 copies of the featured track “Hot N Cold” by Ms. Perry.
The popularity of the game led Tapulous to begin introducing paid versions for $4.99 each, aimed at fans of specific artists or genres of music. In late October it released a Nine Inch Nails edition, followed by a holiday version called Christmas With Weezer, for which that band recorded some carols. Tapulous plans to release one of these each month, including a special edition featuring the Dave Matthews Band.
Tap Tap Revenge is patterned after games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which test players’ abilities to keep rhythm with popular songs. Those games have been hits on consoles like the Xbox 360, and strong sales of music through the games have given some hope to a beleaguered music industry. Harmonix, the creator of Rock Band, said last week that the game’s players had bought 30 million songs.
“The gravy train of the old days of having CD sales buffer you as an artist are gone,” said James L. McQuivey, a principal analyst specializing in media technology at Forrester Research. “Artists recognize that and are trying to be in more places at once.”
The British music label EMI, seeking a new source of revenue, collaborated with Tapulous on a version called Tap Tap Dance that includes tracks by Moby and Daft Punk.
“We absolutely feel these games could be the next big Rock Band or Guitar Hero,” said Cynthia Sexton, a vice president at EMI Music worldwide.
Ms. Sexton said she viewed the expansion into games and other outlets as a natural evolution of the music industry, though that revelation was not necessarily an easy one. “For a moment, we hid our heads in the sand and thought this was the end,” she said. “But it’s not. It’s really the beginning.” [FINALLY!!!]