With Loudcrowd, Nabeel Hyatt Sees Mult-Billion-Dollar Opportunity in Music Gaming: “This Thing Is Ours to Screw Up”
I don’t care whether I’m good enough at Dance, one of the online games that’s part of the new music site Loudcrowd, to impress other users. What I want to know is whether I dance better than Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
As part of his January 30 tour of the Cambridge Innovation Center, the Govinnovator stopped by the offices of Conduit Labs, the software startup behind Loudcrowd. Co-founder and CEO Nabeel Hyatt sat Patrick down at a computer and invited him to try Dance, a simple video game where you try to click on directional arrows at the exact moment that a rotating marker passes over a symbol. Your performance determines whether your avatar dances more like Fred Astaire or Jerry Lewis in a little video that’s shown to your game partner.
I was in Patrick’s press entourage during the visit, but I couldn’t see how well he danced. Given that the tour was a bit rushed, he couldn’t have been too fleet-footed—nothing close to his impressive performance in a table-tennis match against Google’s Steve Vinter during a visit to the search giant’s Cambridge office last May.
I’ll probably never be a good dancer, but after playing about six games of Spin, another game on Loudcrowd, I can report that I’m the proud owner of one virtual goodie—the track “Underwater” by Mock & Toof. (Never heard of them before.) Alas, I haven’t earned enough decibels—i.e. credits—to play my track for other Loudcrowd users.
As you may have guessed by this point—or as you may have read, if you’ve been following the news from the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, which just wrapped up in Austin, TX—Loudcrowd is a music-driven casual gaming community, finally launched this week after about 18 months of behind-the-scenes labor at Conduit Labs. In technical terms, Loudcrowd is a Flash-based website with a continuous shared soundtrack, where registered users create social networking profiles and customized avatars and then play music-related games. Playing the games wins users points that they can eventually use to become DJs and choose the music other users hear.
At least, I think that’s the goal. But it may be that the competition is beside the point. In the language of Web marketing, Loudcrowd is designed to keep users entertained, engaged, and on-site, the better to sell them Loudcrowd points (the site’s virtual currency), iTunes and Amazon tracks, and other products that Conduit may have up its sleeve. In fact, the company boasts in a press release distributed yesterday that “user engagement on the site has…been over twice the average session length of leading online music sites such as Last.fm, Project Playlist, and Pandora.”
Back in August 2007, when Conduit announced that it had collected $5.5 million in venture funding from Prism VentureWorks and Charles River Ventures, Susan Wu, then a partner at CRV, told me she liked the market Conduit was entering, because “it marries the design philosophies of creating lightweight, zero barrier applications that are geared towards mass market audiences with very emotionally engaging, immersive environments.”
Wu wasn’t able to describe Conduit’s plans in greater detail at the time, but she did say the startup hoped to build on the growth of social networking sites like Facebook by making online socializing more shared and synchronous. “Like the Wii and Guitar Hero reinterpreted what it meant to experience social entertainment in a living room environment, there’s a new type of entertainment waiting to be invented using a Web-based form factor,” Wu said. (She has since left CRV to start her own company, a stealth-mode massively multiplayer online game company called Ohai.)
Now that Loudcrowd is out, it’s finally becoming clear what Wu was talking about. The site is obviously aimed at teenage and twenty-something music fans—a slightly more MySpacey crowd than a Facebooky one, from what I can see—and makes use of cartoonish avatars and line-drawn graphical settings reminiscent of the cover art for the Grand Theft Auto video game series. The artists Conduit has signed up to supply songs for the site’s music stream are on the indy side, meaning … Next Page »