Curious Sense is a music game startup that garnered recent press for the release of a Grateful Dead game. Rather than licensing music as a backdrop element, Curious Sense seeks to work with rights holders in creating a game environment built around back catalog music and related media. As is evident with The Epic Tour, which features Grateful Dead content, the experience is focused on the band's subculture and overall brand in an integrated manner.
I recently spoke with Curious Sense Cofounder and CEO Adam Blumenthal about both The Epic Tour and the story of Curious Sense. The company was founded in 2008 in Durham, NC but relocated to Asheville for a more congenial environment. Blumenthal's background is in the advertising biz in New York and he developed numerous music industry connections over the years that helped with the development of Curious Sense.
The early stage of their work focused on games and related web experiences as marketing tools for such brands as Hasbro, Mattel and National Geographic. Curious Sense also helped with marketing a series of virtual concerts for tweens on Planet Cazmo featuring such artists as Soulja Boy, Ween and Shakira.
Epic Tour Game Poster by Josh Levy
Their recognition that as music sales were dipping the audience for games was growing inspired them to shift to developing original game properties featuring music-related content that would create alternate revenue streams for rights holders. Such revenue streams can include advertising, premium memberships, the sale of virtual goods and experiences and even the sale of physical goods from within the game environment. They began this new phase with the creation of a game featuring music by REO Speedwagon. The Grateful Dead game, The Epic Tour, is their current focus.
The Epic Tour is in some respects a unique case in that the Dead never licensed their music for advertising so that aspect is off-limits. However, they can sell bundles of virtual currency for in-game purchases including virtual items and access to special content. They can also sell such physical items as backstage-style laminated passes and limited edition prints (shown above) by Asheville's Josh Levy, who designed the graphics for The Epic Tour.
Blumenthal is himself a fan of The Grateful Dead and, though they no longer tour under that name, he said the fanbase continues to grow with young people discovering the band. So his work on the game is inspired, in part, by his own involvement in the subculture and the game's development involved the community of fans:
"Curious Sense developed the online experience through crowdsourcing -- creating a website in which Grateful Dead fans browsed a catalog of more than 2,500 Grateful Dead concerts, voting for shows they deemed 'epic.' After collecting more than 30,000 votes over a period of two months, the fans' top ten Grateful Dead shows were announced, and those ten concerts will make up the destinations in 'The Epic Tour.'"
Though a fan of The Dead, Blumenthal is looking forward to working with other forms of music in future projects. He couldn't reveal any details but the Grateful Dead game established a relationship with Rhino Records who handle an extensive array of rich back catalogs.
Curious Sense has worked with different development teams on each project though they are beginning to establish consistent relationships. Strategy, project management and customer support are handled in Asheville with outside teams doing development work based on the home team's design and vision.
A mobile version of The Epic Tour is in the works and their plan is to develop games for multiple platforms. This approach is in keeping with Blumenthal's conceptions of a "360 deal for consumers" that takes the 360-degree or multichannel concept from advertising and applies it to the music industry:
"The idea is to start a conversation with the consumer in any one channel and continue it across all the channels where the consumer encounters your product. Then move from having a conversation with a consumer to building a relationship."
Given that The Grateful Dead are exemplars of developing not only a conversational relationship with fans but of building community, The Epic Tour seems a fitting place to start this journey.
Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith blogs about business at Flux Research: Business & Revenue Models and maintains an audio blog at snd1.mobi. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.