The Tap Lab, Backed by Harmonix Trio, Pushes Mobile Gaming Into Real World

4/3/12Follow @gthuang

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Tap City, players are restricted to their immediate surroundings. Indeed, that’s usually the point. The downside is at any given time there might not be many properties, other players, or things to do around you. “Once you were done [playing], you were done, unless you got in your car and went down the street,” says Bisceglia. “We had to solve that issue.” Hence the virtual travel—which could help the game pick up more players and boost their activity more quickly.

“We’ve taken the concept of the check-in and thrown it out the window,” says Bisceglia. “The check-in is no longer your ball and chain.”

What’s more, players’ higher levels of interaction with their properties should help The Tap Lab “really integrate with brands,” Bisceglia says. The company is in conversations with some major brands, he says, but it’s too early to talk about any specifics—presumably things like local offers and marketing built around virtual stores. “The game is built to be fun with or without brand integration,” he says. “We’re focused on building a game that’s inherently viral.”

And that is really the key to the game’s success—being fun and spreading fast. Egozy, the investor from Harmonix, said at a TechStars event that The Tap Lab founders reminded him of himself and his co-founder in the early days of Harmonix, in terms of the respect and trust between them. (As an outside observer, I would add being modest and understated to their list of commonalities.) The question is whether The Tap Lab will take many years to have a breakout hit, as Harmonix did with Guitar Hero, or whether the whole mobile-social thing might drastically shorten that cycle. In any case, the startup seems to be onto something with its curious blend of the real and virtual worlds.

The Tap Lab, which started in 2009, has five employees and is looking to hire two more developers. Its first game has “thousands of players around the world,” says Bisceglia, with the highest density in Boston and Austin, TX. Active users play for an average of more than 25 minutes a day, he says, and the new game aims to beat that.

This is a big week for game companies around New England: The PAX East expo takes place this weekend at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Many local companies, including The Tap Lab, Fire Hose Games, Demiurge Studios, Turbine (Warner Bros.), and Harmonix, will be demonstrating their games at the convention. We’ll be watching to see what the buzz is all about.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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