iPhone Platform: What We Can Learn From Tap Tap Revenge

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.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Boris

    I’m tracking the iPhone apps + platform closely, and I’m glad to see games + “silly apps” rise to the top when many tech pundits consistently bashed games + “silly apps” on Facebook that have no “utility”I also found it interesting that 2 of the top 6 free apps are Music Apps. Both have content discovery pieces with Pandora streaming new content and Shazam helping you identify music you may not otherwise recognize. Music is beautiful and universal. I think we’ll see a few more solid music applications.I also decided to start talking to my buddies at school who are in Philly for the summer about the iPhone. For location based applications, here’s the 2 reactions: “don’t get the iPhone or your girlfriend will be able to track you at all times.” or “wow, so you can see the profiles of people at any bar or club. Then you can find all the attractive people”This is anecdotal/empirical, as my college friends aren’t really into tech, but it’s interesting to see the mixed enthusiasm for location based social networks. Privacy and brand trust seem like they’ll be really important in those types of apps.

    1. Eric Rice

      Boris, thanks for pointing out that very important point about ‘silly’ things have a place. One of the most tiresome vibes emitted by our tech world is that everything must be Very Useful Indeed.And LOL @ girlfriend tracking you.

    2. Guest

      A lot of things that those same people, who bash “silly” games, support are just as stupid, but yet they praise them as being so revolutionary. Kinda weird.

  2. sfmitch

    You compare Tap Tap Revenge to how Seth Godin marketed his book – I am not sure I see the connection. Seth gave away part or all of his book in electronic form before selling hard copies. He credits giving away the book in e-form with leading to higher sales of the book once it was for sale.Meanwhile, Tapulous released a version of Tap Tap Revoluion for Jailbroken iPhones for free and is now giving away (free) the version in the App store. The two don’t seem to be connected at all considering that all of the Jailbroken apps (OK 99%) were free, Tapulous didn’t do anything unique and it didn’t lead to higher sales (and by sales I mean selling something for $$).I also think you miss the mark by calling iPhone jailbreakers ‘fanatical’. Are you saying that they were fanatical about Tap Tap Revenge or fanatical about something else. The only way I see the term fanatical fitting is if people jailbroke their iPhones just so they could play Tap Tap Revolution. I don’t think that is the case.

  3. bartd

    Thanks Fred.We are seeing a similar effect with our second app, Twinkle. In January, when we started the company, we decided that we wanted a “people app”. For a variety of reasons, we chose to build an app that was a “Twitter client plus” (Twinkle lets you connect with friends on Twitter and people nearby). We realized that there would be any number of Twitter clients at the AppStore launch, so we got to work early and released a Jailbreak edition of the app in March. That version was the first polished, native iPhone Twitter client, and it was immediately adopted by a group of influencers such as Kevin Rose.The iPhone version of Twitterrific, a popular OS X Twitter client, received an Apple Design Award in June and has been heavily featured on the AppStore, and Twinkle launched a full week later (this Thursday night). But because it had a loyal and influential following in the Jailbreak community, there has been a lot of anticipation for the all-new version of Twinkle, and that app is quickly moving up the charts and getting rave reviews. As a result, we are confident that Twinkle will rise above the noise and become one of the most popular social networking apps on iPhone.@sfmitch: We are giving the app away for free right now, but plan to also sell a premium edition before long. Because of the apps popularity, we are in a strong position to do so. Agreed re “fanatical” – but I would concur that the users in the Jailbreak community are, almost by definition, influential early adopters.

  4. Joe Lazarus

    Is there some report that shows what the most popular apps are now? I know there’s a leaderboard for free and another for paid in the app store, but how did you know that Tap Tap is #1 overall? I’m curious how paid apps are performing as a category vs. free.

    1. bartd

      Joe, on the first day, Apple accidentally released the number of sales for each app, and that initial data confirmed that, as is to be expected, far fewer people purchase apps then download free copies. For example, you can compare the popularity of the free vs the premium edition of Twitterrific.

      1. Joe Lazarus

        Bart, that makes sense that free is more popular than paid. I was hoping there was an overall app leader board that combines free and paid.

  5. Chris Rechtsteiner

    What makes TTR so interesting is that there is a built-in revenue model eagerly awaiting the developer should they choose to explore it.By offering numerous additional songs for a nominal price (say $.25), a quick revenue stream could be established. After time these songs could become ‘free’ once they have peaked and the revenue opportunity has passed.Your point about drafting DDR, GH and Rock Band is critical b/c the game extends a known (and very positive) experience to a new platform. Any time you have little to break down to gain adoption, you are golden.

  6. Tim F.

    The theory of a first mover advantage was flawed from the get-go: with social networks, an application’s value increases with the number of its users. While some iPhone apps will derive some value from a social component, for the most part it will not be a huge factor. Thus, an iPhone app merely needs to be good to get a lot of users; whereas many social network applications need to get a lot of users to be good.

    1. AmirG

      +1 for this comment. FaceBook had (and still has to some extent) built-in viral growth tools like the news feed, invites, and “send to friend” features in the app that forced the recipient to install the app.Also, keep in mind an install means very little. What matters most is usage. We have no idea how many of these “silly” apps are being used more than once. I doubt very many. I’ve personally installed a few dozen apps to kick the tires and have subsequently deleted them.

  7. ry

    Is it fair to extrapolate from the segment of people who created the popularity of the app among jailbroken iPhones and now those who rushed out to buy the latest iPhone? The ceiling for this app and those of similar ilk could be the portion of the population of tech-savvy early adopters.

  8. Sunny Daye

    Take a look at the number of tweets referring to Twinkle on Summize then compare that to Twitterific mentions. Its about 3 to 1. Wouldn’t surprise me if Twinkle became the most popular Twitter client on the iPhone within a few days.

  9. TK

    Tapulous is one of the hottest companies in the valley. All of their Apps were huge hits on the iPhone/Pod jailbreak world. They’re all clean fun applications that people of all ages loved. An all star development team and backed by some of the smartest people in the valley. Bechtolsheim, Theis, Motwani, Clavier have amazing noses for building great companies.Its amazing the KISS principle still works well in the 21st century. KISS + Social + Music + Fun = Great Applications

  10. TK

    Tapulous is one of the hottest companies in the valley. All of their Apps were huge hits on the iPhone/Pod jailbreak world. They’re all clean fun applications that people of all ages loved. An all star development team and backed by some of the smartest people in the valley. Bechtolsheim, Theis, Motwani, Clavier have amazing noses for building great companies.Its a amazing the KISS principle works well in the 21st Century. KISS + Social + Music = Fun Applications

  11. -Will

    I think the method of giving away free items to hardcore fans does lead to higher sales if done correctly. Look at both Coldplay and Little Wayne as examples in the music industry. In both cases, the groups gave either free performances (coldplay) or free mixtapes (wayne), and were both rewarded by industry leading sales. I feel as though consumers as a whole believe in supporting artist, but not the corporate heads. In giving something away for free, it makes them want to support the artist even more. Look at google, they give away all of their product away for free, and in exchange they have come to dominate the tech landscape.