“There is a huge problem in our scene,” begins John D'Esposito, founder of the New Jersey-based Skate And Surf Festival. “There's a connection that's almost broken.” D’Esposito (his friends and fans call him John D) is referring to the ever-widening void between bands and their fans. Upon pining for the good old days, when music was solely a tangible entity, MTV ran more music videos than reality shows and kids didn’t have smartphones surgically attached to their limbs, D’Esposito formed a plan for fixing this “broken experience.”
The industry vet—whose music fest helped put acts like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance on the map long before they became scene mainstays—is turning to the video game industry for help. Using what he calls an “artist-to-fan platform,” dubbed GameChanger World, he’s bringing back Skate And Surf after an eight-year hiatus, with the hopes of re-engaging fans with their favorite bands. D’Esposito’s idea is to reach the music-loving masses through the same smartphones they enthusiastically illuminate and raise in tribute during live shows. iOS and Android device owners (in other words, everyone and their Angry Birds-addicted grandmother) will be able to download free-to-play apps inspired by and starring acts such as Mayday Parade, Circa Survive and T. Mills.
The GameChanger philosophy goes far beyond blistering thumbs and ratcheting high scores, however. Players will earn in-game currency, appropriately called “Game Change” that can be redeemed for band merchandise. So, in addition to killing time while waiting in line at the fest, fans will work their way toward cool swag like T-shirts, posters, guitar pick sets and autographed merchandise. D’Esposito claims the most skilled gamers can even rack up enough credits to buy themselves backstage meet-and-greets with the bands.
While GameChanger might sound like another marketing-spun strategy conceived around a boardroom table, it's anything but. “None of the ideas are ours. The bands are 100 percent involved,” says D’Esposito. This doesn’t mean T. Mills coded his own game (titled Trailin' Travis) but its concept—which sees the rapper hauling hide from a trio of female fans—spilled entirely from his brain. In fact, rather than collecting cash in the Temple Run-styled experience, D’Esposito reports that Travis originally wanted his character to gather marijuana plants. Because Apple wouldn't approve a weed-farming sim, he had to compromise; on top of pocketing score-rocketing coins, Travis can now occasionally collect brownies (wink, wink), allowing him to temporarily fly high like a superhero.
Other bands had their own ideas based on personal gaming preferences. Mayday Parade wanted to star in a supernatural hack 'n’ slasher, while Circa Survive requested their in-game avatars body-surf across fans in much the same way Frogger's amphibious hero navigates rush hour traffic. In addition to the bands' likenesses and ideas making it into the games, fans can also expect their music to complement the on-screen action. D’Esposito promises both original tracks as well as remixed versions of familiar tunes will be featured in the final games.
On top of high scores and calloused fingers, D’Esposito hopes GameChanger will produce some revenue for the bands involved. While the games are technically free, players can purchase premium content for $1.99. These in-game investments aren’t required, but they will allow fans to reach their high-score goals that much faster. Those who pony-up two bones in Trailin' Travis, for example, can outfit the artist in boxer shorts which, of course, allow him to run faster. Reducing T. Mills to his skivvies will also put more money in his pockets, a benefit D’Esposito believes will offset some of the financial damage done by piracy and the downtime when bands record rather than tour.
GameChanger and Skate And Surf collide in an app called Boardwalk, where the apps can be accessed, scores tracked and festival information found. This hub-like destination will also allow bands to connect with fans through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. D’Esposito expects band members will check in regularly to see where their fans are ranked on the leaderboards. So beating T. Mills at his own game could potentially lead to the rapper calling you out in 140 characters or less.
GameChanger World is expected to launch its Boardwalk app on iOS and Android today, May 13, while Skate And Surf kicks off at Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey May 18. The games are expected to launch later this year. For the full information on both, check out gamechangerworld.com and skateandsurffest.com.