iPhone Platform: What We Can Learn From Tap Tap Revenge

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If you have an iPhone and have downloaded apps and games to it, there’s a good chance you’ve got Tap Tap Revenge on your phone because its the most popular app right now, free or paid. If you don’t have it, here’s a link to it at the iTunes store so you can download it and try it out.

Tap Tap Revenge is like Dance Dance Revolution meets Guitar Hero for the iPhone. You hear music and you tap along. And best of all, you can play your friends in two player mode. Here are a couple reviews of the game if you want to read more about it.

This post is not about the game, it’s about what we can learn from its success. I posted a bunch of questions about the iPhone platform a week ago and this is my first follow up post. I hope and expect there will be more.

One of the questions I asked about iPhone platform is whether there would be a "first mover" advantage like the one Slide, RockYou, and iLike got on the Facebook platform. At least initially, it appears that is not the case.

Tap Tap Revenge was not available the first two days that the iPhone app store was open because of some technical problems and so we saw the rise of Super Monkey Ball, Remote, Pandora, etc.

But once Tapulous, the developer of Tap Tap Revenge, was able to work through the technical issues with Apple and get the app released in the store, it started its rise to the top. It was unavailable on Thursday and Friday, it was released on Saturday, and it was the most popular game by Sunday night, and became the most popular app by the middle of the week. At this time, it appears that Tap Tap Revenge has the most heat of any iPhone app out there.

So being first out of the box was not as important as I thought it might be. That said, Tap Tap Revenge did get into the app store in the first week and that may be all one needs to get the "first mover advantage."

But I think there is something even more important to notice about Tap Tap’s success. When Seth Godin released his first marketing book, Permission Marketing, he gave away the first four chapters for free via pdf to over 150,000 people. It generated a lot of buzz about the book and was a big factor in the book’s success when it eventually became available in hardback. So when he followed up with Unleashing The Ideavirus, he went one step further. He gave away the entire book for free in pdf (it still is available free). Seth says that over 2mm copies were given away. And yet when the book was published in hardback it went to #5 on Amazon. It was a demonstration of the very tactics Seth was evangelizing in the Ideavirus book. Seth asserted that by giving away your product early to your greatest fans who will do more work and put up with a less than optimal experience, you prime the pump for the mass market. That’s because your early fans will spread the ideavirus and market the book for you.

Tapulous did the same thing with Tap Tap Revenge. The game was first made available for the iPhone at the start of this year. But the only people who could play it were people with phones that were jailbroken. So it’s audience was small, but fanatical. These were the early iPhone app adopters, the ones who would work harder and put up with a less than optimal experience. But now that everyone can play Tap Tap, the early adopters are telling everyone else how great it is.

There’s another advantage to the developers who released apps for the jailbreak market. They got to iterate the app for six months to make it better and better. The currrent version is not beta, not even version 1.0. It’s version 1.1. It’s gotten better already.

I have not taken the time to do a study of how all the jailbreak era apps are doing now. I am sure that not all of them have had the same success that Tap Tap has had. Of course game play and game quality matters a lot too. Tap Tap is drafting on the success of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance before it and that’s a big deal.

Over time, it’s likely that the best apps will rise to the top on the iPhone platform like they have on the Facebook platform. And games will be very popular. And free apps will be more popular than paid apps. That much is clear already.

But we need to watch closely and learn about what’s working and what’s not working. Right now Tap Tap Revenge is working big time and their ability to seed the market early is one big reason why.