Skate And Surf Festival and The Bamboozle founder John D’Esposito describes his GameChanger World creation and why it will change the way we attend concerts.
A bundle of raw energy intent on revolutionizing the concert experience, D’Esposito, or “John D” as he’s known to New Jersey’s live music fans, believes he has a better idea for giving his customers more bang for the buck while keeping them entertained at the same time. Having seen fans constantly using smart phones for games, tweets, Facebook posts and FourSquare updates, D’Esposito sees that down time when roadies are setting up the stage for the next act as an opportunity to keep fans engaged as well as make a few bucks while doing it.
Having established Skate And Surf Festival in Asbury Park, N.J., in 2002, D’Esposito saw his creation evolve into The Bamboozle, a weekend festival that grew large enough to play stadiums. Now he’s reviving Skate And Surf, holding the festival’s return at the Plaza Green at iPlay America in Freehold, N.J., May 18-19. with a lineup including Fall Out Boy, A Day To Remember, Timeflies, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Lights, Glassjaw, Streetlight Manifesto, RX Bandits, Of Mice And Men, Andrew W.K., and others.
The return of Skate And Surf also marks the festival debut of D’Esposito’s newest and most intensive passion – GameChanger World – a mobile gaming platform designed to engage fans not only before and during shows, but also 365 days a year.
While talking with Pollstar, D’Esposito described his GameChanger World approach to concerts and how he thinks smart phones will revolutionize the concert experience.
In building a new festival pretty much from scratch, do you feel like a kid again or does it sometimes feel as if it’s making you old before your time?
There was so much credibility when this first one came out – 12 years ago or whatever it is – [so] for me it was like, “How do you turn back the clock and book it with the thoughts and traditions it was created with, but yet encompassing what the future is going to be?” You know as well as I do that it’s a finicky market out there. How many bands were there that could play from the original bill and still be relevant moving forward? Half of the first lineup [had broken] up.
It’s been a challenge because you’re exploring your roots but yet you have this great big sea called “the unknown future” that you have to dive into to move the event forward.
What do you tell people who ask “What is GameChanger?”
If I have to explain it to an artist, I [tell them], “GameChanger is a virtual boardwalk filled with amusement rides made up of artist-driven mobile games.”
The phrase “artist-driven” is used a lot in describing GameChanger World. Exactly what are you talking about?
I’m taking the artists and transforming them into a comic book character based on the theme of what they want to do. We put the artist in touch with the development team who make a mobile game tailored to the band’s interests, likes, fantasies or alter egos. In our opinion, GameChanger will enhance the relationship and [provide] a 365 ability for an artist to engage a fan. It will be more impactful than a Facebook post. It’s going to be longer-lasting than a social tweet. More importantly, it’s going to be a new revenue stream in an industry that’s main component has been cut off for the past six years, which is downloading.
It’s the same thing as playing a festival. That’s how I look at it. I put Skate And Surf together and I have to get two headliners and they sell some of the tickets. But it’s the festival and all of those smaller bands that make up the nucleus. The smaller bands want to play because Fall Out Boy is there, and yet Fall Out Boy wants to play because all the smaller bands are bringing younger fans.
This is where it gets tricky. If I were to tell Fall Out Boy that I was bringing on another big band, Fall Out Boy, or any band in general, would want to know their place. There’s competition in a festival for seniority, popularity, merchandise. … You know what I’m saying?
In GameChanger it’s different. All these bands are hosting their mobile games on iTunes but are also located on this boardwalk.
If I say, “I have so-and-so band and I’m bringing in a band that’s much bigger than them,” they’re going to be excited. It’s a community in this situation where everyone wants the kids to come on to the boardwalk with their iTunes cards to share in the potential money. At a festival you want to position yourself so that you’re getting the biggest crowd at the best time. I think what this is going to do is open up a much-needed revenue stream on the verge of extinction because of their inability to support themselves in an age when downloads and pirating is at a premium.
Can you give us an example of one game?
T. Mills (Travis Tatum Mills) wanted a game where he ran around Riverside, Calif., trying to gather as much marijuana as possible. If you didn’t gather it in time the police would come and arrest you and take your [medical] marijuana card away. And we were all like, “Hey, Whoa. … How about if we run around Riverside, Calif., gathering money and every once in a while, if you have enough money, you can get a brownie and the brownie makes you fly?” That way it’s more proper because the label … Nobody would want the marijuana thing.
So you’re taking the artist and putting him in his own town, having him run around his favorite parts of town gathering coins. And it’s built off of the “Temple Run” model.
The top 20 gamers [arel] going to be ranked on the GameChanger leader boards on that game. So every morning Travis Mills is going to wake up and see how good they’re doing.
This isn’t taking the artist’s name and slapping it on a game. This is an artist created, influenced and executed mobile gaming app.
How do you monetize that?
There are in-app purchases. You can play for free and it might take you 25 hours to get to the next level. But you can do an in-app purchase, say, for example, change coins to gold stacks.
Travis is running through his hometown with a hoodie on. Because we feel Travis [has] a female-leaning audience and because the developer was creative enough to suggest that Travis would run faster, and the girls would rather him run faster, if a power-up was to put him in his skivvies. If you were running in your boxers in a middle of street, would you run faster if you were in your boxers? Hell, yes.
And there’s girls chasing him. The object is to outrun three lunatic, rabid female fans. You gather coins along your journey that will allow you to buy magic brownies.
“I’m taking the artists and transforming them into a comic book character based on the theme of what they want to do.”
Where can fans download the games?
IOS App Store which is Apple and Android which will go to any type of smart phone. Also Kindle and all of Amazon’s networks. It’s across the board on mobile devices.
Are you also going to use the game to message fans about Skate And Surf?
It’s not going to be out before the festival. It debuted here in Freehold in early February in beta form. There will be a gold version of the game at Skate And Surf. And Travis will be here both days to play over 500 fans on his game.
It sounds like a single-user type game. How does he play against others?
We have two screens next to each other and it’s who can run farther than he can in his own game. So there will be timed objectives. The [fans] will watch on TV screens and there will be 12 artists with 12 mobile games.
You wrote on your blog that there will be artists appearing but not necessarily performing. Is this the capacity they will be appearing in, in conjunction with their games?
Yes. So we have We Came As Romans and Forever The Sickest Kids at the festival to promote their gaming apps that will be released later that month … while they’re on the Warped Tour.
Getting back to your original question, we’re launching the boardwalk in the next three weeks and the boardwalk app will contain the schedule and map that kids can download and have on their phones.
Is there a standard percentage cut between artists and the company itself?
It varies with the developer and the game itself. Some of them are free downloadable and some are purchased. One of the games is an augmented reality purchase app.
Augmented reality? Which artist is involved with that?
This is a really good one. You know how I explained, “Come to the boardwalk and put your game here? The boardwalk is where the rides are and the mobile gaming company is the electricity that powers these rides on our boardwalk.”
So the artist turns to me and says, “I don’t want to be a ride on the boardwalk. I want to be the funhouse.” He came straight out with his ideas of what he wanted and it was within the terms of an augmented reality app. It basically allows a user to take a photo from the phone and overlay images on it.
So Andrew W.K. is this artist. That was probably one of the better stories.
You get these artists who have 45 ideas going through their heads at once, [but] there were one or two that knew exactly what they wanted to do. And Andrew W.K. was one of them.
Planning a festival means booking artists way in advance, and game development also takes a long time. What did you start on first, software development or booking artists?
Developing the games. About a week after I left Live Nation – February 2012 – I decided that I wanted to focus the remainder of my career in a mobile reward system. At that point that’s when GameChanger World came into life.
We were doing this program called BoozleTwist … where we rewarded the fans for the time they spent on our website. What happened was everybody was telling me that it would take my fans a month to win these prizes, that it was going to take my fans X amount of hours and hours. And we released prizes maybe three days after launch, meaning that we were a month ahead of what it would take. It showed there was such a world for rewarding your fans. Like air miles. Why does it work so well? Everybody wants air miles.
I needed a system or platform that would allow me to take it further. I talked about doing those RFID wristbands but there was limited ability in that. We explored the BoozleTwist backend system and that was met with limitations. For every struggling band there’s a struggling developer with an app. So I was like, “Wait. You guys have all these games that have these abilities to make money and you’re telling me your problem is you can’t market it?”
I go to the bands and say, “You’re telling me you’re losing all your money because kids are downloading and you can’t protect your music online. So you’re putting it on YouTube and everything for free and you can’t make money.” And they say, “Yeah, that’s the problem.”
And I said, “Why don’t you two get together in my office and we’ll call it ‘GameChanger.’ And you’ll [the developer] make a game for this band that’s going to bring you 700,000 followers.” Out of 700,000 kids, the average developer is lucky he gets 10,000. So the odds are that were going to have success. It’s the merging of two industries in dire need of new revenue streams.
(early beta version)
But isn’t that what a promoter does? That is, bring various groups together that might have different agendas but all rely on each other in order to profit? Such as a club booking a band in order to sell the bar? Or a band breaking even on a gig because it will help sell CDs?
That’s what we do. It’s called artist development. That’s always what I’ve been. Last year, I knew my path was going the wrong way and I needed to change. That’s when the Bon Jovi situation escalated into a long overdue confrontation with Live Nation.
Speaking of Bon Jovi’s headlining last year’s Bamboozle – Did you see the booking of a huge legacy band as kind of an antithesis regarding the festival’s rep for presenting new acts?
No. I had Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, and I was overruled by [Live Nation] and told to withdraw my offers because they wanted to pursue Bon Jovi.
And I said, “OK, that’s great. But if we’re going to do this we can’t change the way we do it. We got to have our pop stuff to support this. Right now we don’t have our pop act. We have credibility with Skrillex and Foo Fighters but we don’t have our Top 40, our Lil Wayne, our Drake, our Bruno Mars, we don’t have them and it’s not going to sustain itself. And little by little as negotiations grew on, more and more power over the lineup was given to Bon Jovi. At that point I was told by House Of Blues to withdraw our offer which was basically confirmed for Katy Perry in favor of Bon Jovi. Then I was told to rescind my offer to Nicki Minage in an effort to get Daughtry. Right then and there I knew it was done. I resigned January 27, 2012. I’m legally forced out of the partnership.
You’re taking the Break Contest from The Bamboozle to Skate And Surf. Are there any Bamboozle elements that you couldn’t take with you?
No. We still own Bamboozle. We still retain 49 percent ownership.
How do you juggle it all – family and putting Skate And Surf and GameChanger World together?
My family has been the most supported team I’ve ever had in this. To have that support when leaving a high-profile job and walking away from something you’ve spent 10 years of your life building [is amazing]. There are a lot of people with expectations and I didn’t know how I was going to be treated. It is at home where I felt best. Honestly, for some reason, I got “me” back.
So it’s good to be John D these days.
I wouldn’t say it’s good to be John D these days. It might be good to be John D in a year. Right now it’s the diary of John D.
I spent the first four months researching a business, an industry I knew nothing about. I studied and studied and read everything I could. … I’m kind of getting in the groove of mobile game development and the more I get into that I really don’t know how much more interest the concert business is going to motivate me because I feel it’s in bad shape.
It’s no secret that you haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows regarding the future of the concert industry. What do you see as some of its biggest problems?
Fan engagement. VIP experiences are selling better now than they ever have. At the same time, raves have come out of nowhere and tripled and quadrupled what the average norm a band show would do. I asked, “Why? How can this be? Is the DJ better than the five guys on stage?” No. The experience is better. Six Flags Amusement Parks, Disneyland – they’ve spent a lot of time and money improving fan experience and engagement.
The concert industry, in my mind, has done everything it can not to do that.
But you see VIP experiences as engaging the fan experience.
Yes. And the people will pay more. But there’s a limited amount of that. You have 100 VIPs out of 1,000 or 10,000 – what’s happening to the other 95 percent of the crowd?
What are you seeing as missed opportunities?
They’re all using their mobile phones to film and record the show. The goal should be how should we use those tools to make money? If every fan is using their phone during their show, what’s the problem? The phone. So instead of banning cell phones, let’s encourage them. Let’s turn them into money.
Right now, if we have a GameChanger artist and we provide a better experience, live, we’re going to be able to position the artist better. Here’s what I mean. An artist is only allowed to play New York once or twice a year because of over-saturation. And when they come into the market their idea is to keep ticket prices low and as affordable as possible so they can make their capacity.
My opinion is why don’t we use these mobile games and enhance the experience? Instead of going on tour to play New York in a 1,000 seat capacity in your strong market. Underplay the market in a smaller capacity charging a higher ticket and engaging the fans through the mobile phone. Come and play our game with us for two hours before the show. We’re going to do a meet-and-greet and we’re going to be able to play a special set for 400 fans at $50 as opposed to 1,000 fans at $10 or $15.
The grosses will be higher, the bands will be increasing their relationship with fans. And they’re going to be hooking the fans onto their game or app.
72 percent of money in mobile gaming comes from free downloads. Meaning that people don’t want to pay for the game anymore, they want to pay as they go along in the game.
You’ve attributed raves and EDM as providing better experiences but you’ve also publicly indicated that you feel the electronic music genre is also contributing to the death of the concert industry. Care to go a little deeper into that?
It contributes to the death of the industry because it’s pushing a system that the music industry doesn’t recognize. A better experience, a better engagement is what it’s [EDM] doing. The raves are going to get stronger and our shows are going to get weaker unless we can fix that and find ways to fill that gaps.
I’m not saying raves are going to destroy our business. When Napster came out there were two choices. The record industry could come together, rally around Napster and find ways to make money on it.
Or, they could push it off and call it “bad” and encourage kids to root for it because it’s giving them free music.
Kids are saying, “I want to party my face off nonstop from start to finish and have a great night. I don’t want to go on a roller coaster and watch bands in dark clubs.”
You have fans who want so much more from the band but can’t get it.. That’s what I’m talking about, a broken engagement. They can’t get to this band 365. We’re hoping we fill that gap. It’s going to take a lot of plumbers to fix this broken pipeline. I just hope that we’re one of the potential opportunities for bands to use.
But with GameChanger World, aren’t you traveling somewhat the same path as fan clubs in engaging fans when the act isn’t releasing records or touring?
I don’t think a fan club services the fans on a 365/24 basis. We do. They can open the app anytime they want, at any hour of the night. These fans earn points called “Game Change.” Once they have enough Game Change they can cash in for real prizes from the platform. Each band commits X amount of awards to their prize platform. They [fans] can use their points in a virtual store that rewards them with real prizes – an autographed guitar pick, a meet-and-greet, an autographed CD. That’s 24/7.
Being the founder of Skate And Surf, do you skate?
At 40 I’m not a skateboarder anymore. My body can’t handle that.
But you just said “anymore” so at one time you were. So, when you were a teen, would you personally have been the primary target for Skate And Surf?
Yes I was. That’s what motivated me. I skate and I game.
What’s your favorite game?
I [don’t want to] admit it, but it’s 2004 NBA Inside Drive on the original Xbox. I’m still playing that. I have three original Xbox consoles still wrapped. That way, when my other one breaks, I don’t run out.
“I decided that I wanted to focus the remainder of my career in a mobile reward system. At that point that’s when GameChanger World came into life.”
For more information, please visit SkateAndSurfFest.com and GameChangerWorld.com.