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Record labels eye mobile music games

As CD sales falls, bands find new market among gamers.

By Matthew ShaerStaff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / February 5, 2009

Anberlin: The popular alternative rock band has launched songs through mobile music games and received enthusiastic feedback from fans.

Courtesy of James Minchin


New York

Three neon bars, a cascade of fast-moving dots, and a bumptious pop soundtrack, piped through an undersized speaker or a pair of headphones. That’s the spare formula behind Tap Tap Revenge, a video game for the iPhone and iPod touch, which has become in recent months one of the most popular applications ever distributed through Apple’s online iTunes store.

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According to figures provided to the Monitor by Tapulous, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based creator of Tap Tap Revenge, the game has been downloaded by more than 6 million unique users. (Approximately 100,000 “paid” versions of “Tap Tap Revenge” have been sold, the company says.) It’s a stunning number for a relatively simple rhythm game – the gameplay is similar to that of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises – and bodes well for the burgeoning mobile game market.

But more important, say many analysts, music games such as Tap Tap Revenge are a bow-tied, brightly colored gift to the ailing record industry, which has struggled in recent years to adapt to the realities of the digital landscape. Even as CD sales slump – the 2008 holiday season was the worst in recent memory – users have flocked to cheap or free downloadable mobile content.

For the savvy label executives, it’s a no-brainer: the relatively low cost of licensing music for a mobile platform is offset by the promise of tremendous media exposure. Tapulous, for instance, runs a weekly showcase, where gamers can download tracks free of charge from a new or established artist. If they like the material, they can click a link and buy the song from iTunes.

Tim O’Brien, head of business development at Tapulous pointed to a recent track by Katy Perry, the chart-topping American pop singer. More than 250,000 users loaded “Hot N Cold,” Mr. O’Brien says, and of that number, 56,000 ended up purchasing the song from iTunes.

Even if gamers don’t make a purchase, the reasoning goes, some modicum of brand recognition has already been achieved. Thus far, dozens of marquee acts have signed up, from the Kaiser Chiefs to geek-rock gods Weezer.