Commentary

Mobile Game Apps Not Mickey Mouse

taptap2

Silly games can turn into serious business on the iPhone. That's the lesson of Disney's acquisition of Tapulous, maker of the hit line of Tap Tap music games for the Apple device that kicked off with the flagship Tap Tap Revenge.

Financial details of the deal weren't disclosed, but it's safe to say founder Bart Decrem, who will be general manager and senior vice president of mobile for Disney Interactive's gaming group, enjoyed a nice payday. Not that he was cash-strapped to begin with. Started in 2008, Tapulous was said to be taking in more than $1 million per month by late last year.

One secret of the company's success is its razor and blades business model that offers the basic game for free but requires players to pay for new songs to tap their fingers in rhythm to gain points. It now also sells specialized versions of the game featuring the songs of bands and artists including Coldplay, Nirvana, Justin Bieber and The Black Eyed Peas.

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The success of Tap Tap also highlights the popularity of casual games on the iPhone and elsewhere. The latest craze is Doodle Jump, which recently surpassed 5 million downloads. Another simple but wildly popular iPhone game is Angry Birds. In the wake of the Tapulous acquisition, developers with hot titles will be wondering if they'll be the next to get snapped up by a media giant.

They'll probably have to be more than a one-hit wonder. Decrem said in a blog post Tapulous would create new games faster as part of Disney, and push into new areas like mobile social entertainment. Across its different properties including ESPN and Marvel, Disney already has about 40 iPhone apps. Besides coming up with new titles, Tapulous could also help to upgrade existing Disney gaming apps.

After stumbling with mobile phone ventures like Mobile ESPN and Disney Mobile, Disney is now focusing more on the mobile and social games space. Through its Steamboat Ventures investment arm, Disney participated in the $33 million round raised last month by social games developer Playdom. It also has a stake in mobile ad network Greystripe. Don't be surprised to see more dollars flowing into mobile entertainment from Disney and other big media players in the coming months with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other connected devices.

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