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TUAW Interview: Andrew Lacy of Tapulous on Tap Tap Revenge 3

By the time you read this, Tap Tap Revenge 3 should have made its way to the App Store. The latest version of the rhythm game/music platform for the iPhone and iPod touch is a huge release for Tapulous -- from the series' humble beginnings as a pre-App Store bit of code to the more recent incarnations of artist-specific music collections, Tapulous has taken Tap Tap a long way in the still short history of this gaming platform. And now they're trying to go even farther: they've introduced in-app purchases to the game (you can find a full list of songs available now as in-app purchases inside the interview below), and they've added in social features, from customizable avatars to in-game chat and score sharing.

Tapulous COO Andrew Lacy sat down to talk with us just before the release of the software, both about how he thinks consumers will react to the new business model, and what's next for Tapulous and this series that has come so far already. Tap Tap Revenge 3 should be in the App Store very soon -- it's available for 99 cents, with extra music packs at six songs for $2.99, or two songs for 99 cents.



TUAW: So tell us about Tap Tap 3 and what you guys have planned for the game.

Andrew Lacy: Sure. So Tap Tap 3 is a pretty big release for us. It's definitely the biggest and most complicated rewrite of the game, it's definitely a real third generation of the game. Basically, there's a couple of really key things that are big parts of these release. The first is that this will be the first Tap Tap Revenge that takes advantage of in-app commerce. So when Tap Tap Revenge 3 launches, we're going to launch it with close to 50 paid bundles of music inside the game. Each music bundle, there'll be sort of two-packs and six-packs, and the two-packs will be 99 cents, and the six-packs will be $2.99. And the artists that we have music from are really top-notch, a lot of artists that users have requested, including AFI, All-American Rejects, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Fall-Out Boy, we have everything from rock to alternative to dance to pop. I think we even have a couple of country songs. So we're covering sort of the entire spectrum of musical genres. And each of these content packs that the user can purchase will come with its own custom theme. Each of them is different, they're all very beautiful, and they're all designed to capture the spirit and essence of the artist and the artists' music.

[Note: Since this interview, Tapulous has released news of all the music available both in the game on release and in content packs to purchase right away. Here they are:

Full list of downloadable premium 6-track bundles available at launch ($2.99 per bundle):

BLINK 182 - "Adam's Song" / "All the Small Things" / "Dammit" / "First Date" / "The Rock Show" / "What's My Age Again"

FALL OUT BOY - "Thanks for the Memories" / "Sugar, We're Goin Down" / "Dance, Dance" / "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" / "I Don't Care" / "American Suitehearts"

FOO FIGHTERS - "The Pretender" / "Wheel" / "My Hero" / "Best of You" / "Monkey Wrench" / "All My Life"

THE KILLERS - "Mr. Brightside" / "Sweet Talk" / "Human" / "When We Were Young" / "All These Things That I've Done" / "Read My Mind"

NO DOUBT - "Ex-Girlfriend" / "Don't Speak" / "Hella Good" / "Just A Girl" / "Spiderwebs" / "Hey Baby"

SMASHING PUMPKINS - "Tonight" / "Cherub Rock" / "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" / "Today" / "Tarantulla" / "1979"

TIËSTO - "Fresh Fruit" / "Ten Seconds to Sunrise" / "Driving To Heaven" / "Knock You Out"(feat. Emily Haines) / "Lethal Industry" / "Carpe Noctum"

Full list of downloadable premium 2-track bundles available at launch ($0.99 per bundle):

A PERFECT CIRCLE - "Judith" / "Weak and Powerless"

AFI - "Miss Murder" / "Girls Not Grey"

AIRBORNE TOXIC EVENT - "Sometime Around Midnight" / "Wishing Well"

THE ALL AMERICAN REJECTS - "Gives You Hell" / "Move Along"

ANGELS AND AIRWAVES - "The Adventure" / "Everything's Magic"

ASHER ROTH - "I Love College" / "Lark on My Go-Kart"

BUSH - "Machinehead" / "Glycerine"

COLDPLAY - "Lovers in Japan" / "Viva La Vida"

THE CRYSTAL METHOD - "Busy Child" / "Keep Hope Alive"

GODSMACK - "I Stand Alone" / "Whatever"

GWEN STEFANI - "Hollaback Girl" / "Sweet Escape"

BEN HARPER - "Steal My Kisses" / "Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)"

HINDER - "Better Than Me" / "Lips of an Angel"

JANE'S ADDICTION - "Superhero" / "Just Because"

JET - "She's a Genius" / "K.I.A."

JET - "Blackhearts (On Fire)" / "Start the Show"

KAISER CHIEFS - "Ruby" / "Never Miss A Beat"(remix)

KORN - "Coming Undone" / "Twisted Transistor"

LADY GAGA - "Love Game" / "Poker Face"

LMFAO - "I'm in Miami Trick" / "Bounce"

LYNYRD SKYNYRD - "Sweet Home Alabama" / "Freebird"

MARILYN MANSON - "Beautiful People" / "The Dope Show"

MAROON 5 - "This Love" / "Makes Me Wonder"

MEGADEATH - "Peace Sells" / "Wake Up Dead"

MICHAEL FRANTI / SPEARHEAD - "Say Hey I Love You" / "Bomb The World"

MORGAN PAGE - "The Longest Road"(Deadmau5 Remix- Radio Edit) / "Fight for You"

NINE INCH NAILS - "Closer" / "Hurt"

NINE INCH NAILS - "The Hand That Feeds" / "Only"

ONE REPUBLIC - "Apologize" / "Stop and Stare"

PHOENIX - "1901" / "Lisztomania"

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - "No One Knows" / "Little Sister"

RISE AGAINST - "Audience of One" / "Ready to Fall"

SNOW PATROL - "Chasing Cars" / "Shut Your Eyes"

SOCIAL DISTORTION - "Far Behind" / "Story of My Life"

SUM 41 - "In Too Deep" / "Fat Lip"

KEITH URBAN - "Kiss a Girl" / "Sweet Thing"

WEEZER - "Hash Pipe" / "Beverly Hills"

WEEZER - "Buddy Holly" / "Troublemaker"

ROBBIE WILLIAMS - "Let Me Entertain You" / "Angels" ]

The app itself is going to be 99 cents, and I read that Apple required you to do that because it had to be a paid app to do in-app purchases, is that right?

That's correct.

So for the 99 cent app, is there music that comes with that, or does all the music have to be purchased?

The 99 cent app comes with well over 100 songs included, and the music is what I would call kind of a strong sort of indie music. The artists whose music is included are signed with indie labels. It's not unsigned music or unheard-of music -- of the 100, if you're a music afficionado, you might already recognize half of them.

So how many songs will you have available to buy?

To purchase, they'll be close to 50 content packs, and they'll each come with a couple of levels and a custom theme. In the past we sold these premium apps -- you probably recall that we launched a Nine Inch Nails Revenge app, we did Coldplay, we did Lady Gaga most recently, we've done Dave Matthews Band. So in the past we created these custom themes as part of standalone premium applications, and now we're bringing that content into the app. And those scenes, and the custom look and feel.

If I remember correctly, you had an option where you could download songs for free. Do you think it'll be a tough sell to come from the previous model, and what people have gotten used to, including the band games, to pay for the app and pay for the songs and transition to this new model?

For the most part, people are going to get what they did in the past and then more. We'll continue to offer well over 100 free tracks, we'll continue to feature hit music every week for free for the user to download, just as we have in TTR2. We've upgraded the default playing environment so it's much more stable, the performance is much higher, and we've added a whole bunch of social features, which is the other big part of this release.

Yeah, I want to talk about that as well. But what do you think the transition will be like between the previous model and then going to the in-app purchase model, do you think it'll start out slow, or what do you expect?

Interesting question. We're just so proud of the release. When we look at it and we look at sort of the quality of applications that are available at the 99 cent price point, we think that, feature for feature, this just has so much more punch than the 99 cent app, so we feel pretty confident that this is going to be a hit. It's one of those releases -- I don't know if you've worked on software development, but frequently as a developer, there are many titles you put out and then after you've submitted it, you kind of don't really want to play it yourself any more, because you've QA'd it to death and you're a little sick of it. In the case of Tap Tap Revenge 3, we love it so much we keep playing it in the office ever since we've submitted it for review, and I think that's a good sign that it's a really solid release for the company.

Cool. Tell us about the social features, then -- I know you have the ability to create characters in the app now, right?

Right. So the first big change was more music, and the next big change is that we believe that we have a really great ingame experience, and we've improved on that in the singleplayer, in particular in the online play, we've added a whole bunch of arcade features, which include the ability to throw bombs at your opponent, or sort of unseat them in various ways, we have six or seven different weapons that are included. So the game itself, the online gameplay has become much more addictive and much more social.

Interesting. How do the characters fit into that?

So that's the gameplay piece -- the other social piece is that we've really worked hard to put a social context around the game. We have a great ingame experience, and we want to make the social aspect of the game much more compelling, and so we've learned as much as we can from the social gaming world, which over the last few years has figured a lot of this out. So we've introduced content like experience points and levels that give you status in the game and unlock special online rooms. We've given the user the ability to earn coins in the game that they can trade in for special items in our avatar store. And we've introduced a new avatar system, where you can really deck out your character in the way that you are in real life or in the way that you'd like to be represented in real life.

Do those characters get used in the gameplay, then, or just in these social features?

They're used in online gameplay, and they're also used in these social features. We've introduced chat into lots of parts of the game, so you can now chat while you're waiting for a game to start, and if you're enjoying the chat more than the game, you can even skip the online game and keep chatting. We've also introduced enhanced profiles where you can talk about what music you like, so the avatars have become a pretty essential part of the user's profile.

And does the online require wifi or 3G, or what are the requirements for playing the game online?

Any Internet connection should be fine.

Cool. Those were the new features that I'd heard about, was there anything else you guys wanted to bring up before release?

I think, as you reflect over the last few months since Apple launched in-app commerce, there hasn't really been a successful implementation of the in-app commerce functionality. And here, what we've done in Tap Tap Revenge 3 is to build our own in-app store essentially, so this will be the first big test of in-app commerce at a much grander scale.

You said you wanted to do new releases weekly?

Yes, we'll be introducing new content as quickly as we can create the content bundles for the game, and so what's likely to happen is that we'll be releasing, every week, an additional three or four bundles of music.

The obvious parallel there is like the Guitar Hero or the Rock Band model -- is that kind of an inspiration as you've put this all together?

There is a slight difference, and I would say that in the console world, certainly Rock Band and Guitar Hero are moving towards this model, but the interesting thing about Tap Tap Revenge is that we see it as much less of a game and more of a music platform. And the cool thing about music is that it's such a central part of your personality, and it's something that you want to, particularly if you're young, you want to know what the new music is, and you're interested in experiencing new bands, and the experience itself is very sort of self-renewing in a way that a game isn't. And I think that Rock Band and Guitar Hero are increasingly moving away from a game that's just necessarily focused on technical skill, how well you play the guitar, and thinking about these other aspects as well. But it is a very different approach to thinking about a game, and it's not clear that they'll be able to sort of cross that divide.

The other thing I was thinking about, too, is that Tap Tap is kind of, if there is a grandfather on the App Store, it's kind of one of the grandfathers -- the original Tap Tap was one of the first games out of the gate, and whenever new features drop, you all are on top of this stuff. Are there other features that you're interested in putting in there? You guys had local multiplayer before it was even officially released, are there other things like that?

Well, we're doing some really cool experiments with Bluetooth, and users are going to see that in a future release.

Cool. What's next for Tapulous, then? Are there other games you're working on for the future?

Sure, if I can answer that question a little more broadly, we've been focusing on turning what was a sort of standout hit in the first year into a sustainable franchise going forward in Tap Tap Revenge. I think, as I look forward in the next 12 months, our aspirations are to put out more titles on the iPhone, and potentially move to other platforms, either mobile platforms or the web. I can't tell you more about it than that, but expect to see more things in the future.

Great. Thanks very much, I appreciate it.

Thank you very much.

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