Those following Helsinki’s startup scene have likely had Ovelin‘s Guitar Bots up on their radar for some time now. Following their success of the guitar chord teaching app, WildChords, the company changed direction slightly to target an older guitar-playing audience, rather than sticking with the target demographic of the cute and cuddly animals in WildChords.
Since WildChords was only availible on the iPad, many might have assumed that GuitarBots was also just a mobile game, but that wasn’t the case; Guitar Bots was a web-based game that picked up the sound of your real guitar through your computer’s microphone, and offered Guitar Hero-style gameplay and deeper lessons to users. But two weekends ago, the game launched on iOS and got a good bit of love from Apple:
— App Store (@AppStore) February 9, 2014
“The browser based version enables a lot of users, but it’s a different user experience than mobile – the iteration cycle is much easier on Web. On iOS you always have that two weeks, and then if you get bad ratings that kills you really fast,” says Chris Thür, CEO of Ovelin.
With GuitarBots users get 300 exercises for free, but as you get deeper into guitar concepts the game charges $4.99 a month, with discounts for longer-term subscriptions. Their fast iteration cycle has been part of the reason Ovelin says their users have stuck with them – GuitarBots is constantly adding new levels, features, and sets of exercises. By always seeing new content, users understand that with their subscription that every week they’re getting new content to learn guitar on, and so on.
GuitarBot’s lessons are similar to what a guitar teacher might teach you. The app is somewhere between Guitar Hero’s scrolling notes and an old TV sing along, where a bouncing ball gives you some concept of timing.
If you miss some chord consistanlty, the app will notice that chord or transition is difficult for you, and will tell you at the end of the lesson. Additionally the app shows you timing information, which is some instant feedback a guitar instructor can’t really give you.
Change is good
They say quick iteration paired with their forum, have made Guitar Bots an app that their users sincerely appreciate. Users are constantly suggesting new features, and their developers are also posting in the forum about new features, and asking how people like them. “People really care, it’s not just ‘one of those apps’. It’s more ‘I use this and I want this to get better,'” says Thur.
“It’s also nice when people are backing your pricing strategy,” says co-founder Mikko Kaipainen. “For every post where someone says ‘I’m not going to pay…’ then there are three answers from our community backing our story.”
What’s important to the company is that they anchor the price in the right place. Compared to a $0.99 Angry Birds app, $4.99 is expensive. But compared to the price of a guitar learning CD, or an hour of guitar lessons, the app is relatively cheap.
The app has also plugged into Helsinki-based Everyplay, the video sharing platform that allows users to share screen and video recordings of apps while users play games. They say this was a natural step, because users have already taken screen recordings of the browser-based version to share with friends. Additionally they see this as a tool real-life guitar teachers can use by giving their students homework.
Other bands in the same genre
Rocksmith, the Guitar Hero-for-real-guitars game on Xbox, is another big player in the same space, and it’s safe to say that Ovelin’s products went from one-of-a-kind to now not the only band in the genre.
Rather than looking at them as competitors, Thür says that it’s good that a large player like Ubisoft sees potential in this genre, but there are some big differences between the games, so they’re not standing in the same garden. Rocksmith requires you to have an electric guitar, a console, the game somewhat requires you to kinda know how to play, and there is a bit of a time lag through the electronics. Guitar Bots is more instantaneous, and since it uses the guitar’s microphones, it doesn’t require plugging in an electric guitar.