POZ Perspective: GameChanger World - John D’s Experiment To Shakeup Our Musical Experience

by Zack Zarrillo - Mar 25, 2013

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GameChanger World is a new creation from John D, better known as the man behind Bamboozle and Skate & Surf, and he’s beginning to take the wraps off of his multi-year quest, which will launch in May. PropertyOfZack is excited to be posting a new Perspective from Erik van Rheenen today that takes us behind the scenes on GCW, the thought process going into it, where John D hopes to take it, and so much more. Check out the Perspective below!

The best classic video games boast timeless heroes, ones we remember without having to dust off the ole’ consoles. The Legend of Zelda has Link. Super Mario features Super Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog has, well, you get the point. If GameChanger World went 8-bit, it would feature a spritely pixelated John D’Esposito.

D’Esposito has the makings of a bona-fide video game protagonist. The concert promoter is outspoken (even while battling a bout of laryngitis), crazy (by his own admittance) and isn’t on his first go-round in the questing business. First came The Birth of Bamboozle. Then, The Resurrection of Skate & Surf. Now, D’Esposito is drawing his proverbial sword once again, this time crashing the mobile game industry to slay a new dragon’s ass. 

Because just like every video game worth its playtime flaunts a memorable hero, that hero is pretty much worthless if he doesn’t have a rival to match wits with. And D’Esposito’s archrival is a hulking behemoth that won’t go down without a fight: the concert business, D’Esposito’s kingdom, is getting trampled by electronic dance music.

“Why does a concert promoter get into video games?” D’Esposito asks before answering his own question. “When the concert business gets destroyed by EDM.”

DJs are killing live music, and John D’Esposito knows why. “They’re beating us with visual,” he says heatedly. “EDM shows funnel energy like a roller coaster. The only way to fix our roller coaster is to match it — higher highs and no drops.” GameChanger World is D’Esposito’s blueprint for building a roller coaster that only goes up. 

DJ sets, D’Esposito notes, have that down to a science. Raves build and build before partygoers leave the dance floor a sopping wet pool of sweat. Live music though, in the current scene, waxes and wanes. Go to your typical tour billing, and you’re stuck waiting ten, twenty minutes between sets waiting for bands to shuffle equipment onstage for soundcheck. So what do you do? You pull out your phone and start playing games.

“It’s an epidemic,” D’Esposito warns prophetically, “And it’s going to be an epidemic. Eventually there’s going to be no more computer games or consoles because everything’s going to be mobile. And I’m not going to sit there and watch my job die. I’m going to join the party. I’m going to throw the party.”

Skate and Surf’s homecoming after eight years off brings it back to the boardwalks of Freehold, New Jersey, the sort of boardwalk D’Esposito uses to explain his artist-powered mobile gaming platform. The artists, who tag-team with game developers, are the rides. They draw the crowds. GameChanger is the power company. It keeps the rides open. The same mobility that D’Esposito saw ruining live music doubles as his plan to save it. The D’Esposito Plan — bad pun drumroll, please — is to change the game, in more ways than one.

But D’Esposito’s a man of many metaphors, and the one he uses to explain how he persuaded game developers to step onboard is definitely more seasonal. For every starving artist, there’s a starving developer. After all, there’s only one Angry Birds in a scattering of thousands and thousands of apps. So, like a Claymation Santa Claus, D’Esposito flew his proverbial sleigh over to the Island of Misfit Game Developers to 
recruit them. “I’m the crazy idiot calling them, explaining why the music industry needs this.”

When he talks about the games that are in development already — he says ten should be ready for Skate and Surf (“It isn’t the biggest exposure, but the right exposure,” D’Esposito said about the festival), and hopes to release six to eight games and updates a month — his voice brims over with eager energy.

Fans get to flip 360s with Buddy Nielsen on a skateboard, punch out baddies with Miss May I’s Levi Benton, run around and scarf down brownies as T. Mills, and in one of D’Esposito’s favorite twists of fate, play Frogger as Anthony Green. “I thought he’d want to do some really spacey adventure game,” he laughs, “But I sit down with Anthony and he tells me he wants to use the Frogger engine.”

The science behind bands and developers as teammates is a relatively simple one. The band gets a sheet of game engines to pick from. The rest of the designing process is a perfect storm of compromise and collaboration. Bands get wholeheartedly invested in their games, and some games got delayed because of what D’Esposito refers to as “some of the greatest conversations ever.” From haircuts to tattoos, bands want to make damn sure everything is exactly right about their avatar selves. 

“Three tattoos have held up four games,” D’Esposito jokes. “Developers are artists too.”

When D’Esposito first chased the GameChanger dream he set out to look for twenty artists. Now, he’s sorting through at least sixty. His goal is to release thirty games by October 1 and 60 by the end of the year. D’Esposito launched GameChanger World at the beginning of February, and proudly boasts that fans went bonkers. “Everyone that was there,” he says, “They got it.”

Mobile gaming might be an epidemic, but it’s at least an epidemic D’Esposito understands. He knows the value of a six-minute experience. If a kid sits with his head down playing a game for a few minutes, his friends are going to ask what he’s playing. It’s not rocket science: just simple teenage politics. In the few minutes when a casual gamer flips on his iPhone, there’s money to be made. 

It’s a brand new revenue column for young bands. The best band for D’Esposito is the middle band on a big tour lineup; those are the soldiers he tries to enlist in the war to save a floundering concert business, one app at a time. The list so far is impressive — Senses Fail, Bayside, Forever the Sickest Kids, Andrew W.K. And it just keeps growing.

GameChanger World games are free, and prizes aren’t digital bullshit. “On Foursquare, you’ll be mayor and that means absolutely nothing,” he laughs. “With GameChanger, you can win an autographed poster.” The games will be downloadable from the bands’ iTunes pages and in-game ads will feature their own music. D’Esposito said he’s asking bands to trust him with their career, but there’s really nothing to lose.

“If it doesn’t work out, at least they’ll have a cool game to show kids,” D’Esposito says.

GameChanger isn’t going to solve the problem of kids playing on their phones during concerts by, well, giving kids more games to play during concerts. So D’Esposito wants GameChanger to craft both a community and an experience. Instead of expanding the rift between fans and bands, GameChanger aims to narrow the gap. “Do you think a band will look at a leaderboard and want some kid to be better than them at their own game?”

There’s one more thing that rings true about the pantheon of video game heroes: they’re all pretty much crazy. Super Mario chucks fireballs and wolfs down mushrooms. Link suffers from time travel neurosis. Sonic the Hedgehog is a blue hedgehog. And John D’Esposito is a music industry maverick. “I can’t drink the Kool Aid anymore,” he says. “It tastes fucking terrible.”

But it takes a special kind of crazy to tackle the big problems. Would a perfectly sane Mario duke it out with Bowser? No, he’d stay home and clean pipes. (Fitting imagery, since D’Esposito quipped that it’s “gonna take a hundred plumbers to fix this shithole.”) Would Link square off with Ganondorf without a few loose screws? He’d let some other poor sap try to do the impossible. D’Esposito thinks he’s the only one crazy enough for the GameChanger undertaking, and he just might be. 

GameChanger built a virtual boardwalk, and John D’Esposito is almost ready to turn on the carnival lights and calliope music. He goes back to give the straight answer to the question that started it all: Why does a concert promoter get into video games?

Because he has to.

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