The two-year-old start-up began life buying a popular game from the underworld of then-illicit apps.
Start-up Tapulous, one of the leading game app makers for the iPhone and iPad, announced Thursday it had been acquired by The Walt Disney Co.
The deal – first reported by TechCrunch – is the first of its kind for Disney, signaling its plans to expand in mobile games. The company already has acquired two development studios: one in China and one in the Czech Republic.
"It definitely is a strategic move and it highlights the importance we put on mobile," said Steve Wadsworth, president of Disney Interactive Media Group, said in a statement.
Tapulous CEO Bart Decrem told Reuters: "Disney sees this as the future and so do we." He wrote in a company blog post announcing the news: "The last two years we've been on an amazing ride. We started Tapulous because we love the iPhone. We believed it would change everything, and we wanted to build fun, beautiful apps that tapped into its incredible entertainment power. And we did."
The Palo Alto company's 2008 start was inauspicious. Founders Decrem and Andrew Lacy bought the rights to a game called Tap Tap Revolution that was popular in the world of then-illicit apps. They spruced up the game, named it Tap Tap Revenge, and then – when Apple opened up its iPhone to developers – legally launched it when the App Store opened.
Since then, Tapulous's games have been downloaded 35 million times, making them among the iPhone's most popular. An estimated one-third of all iPhone users have downloaded the company's music games, which feature hundreds of songs from artists including Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. A new game called Riddim Ribbon features The Black Eyed Peas.
Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the company says it is profitable and that sales hit $1 million a month in December 2009.
As part of the deal, Decrem, the company's Belgian-born CEO, and Lacy, the Australian COO, will take on mobile business development responsibilities at Disney. They and Tapulous's staff of 20 will still work at the company's Palo Alto headquarters.
The original Tap Tap Revenge game – which challenges players to keep up with tunes by tapping in the right spots on the phone's screen – sells for $1.99 in Apple's iTunes store. The most recent version, Tap Tap Revenge 3, is free and comes with 100 songs, but additional song packs cost 99 cents to $2.99.
Tapulous' investors include Salesforce.com's chief executive Marc Benioff, Sun Microsystems co-founder Andreas von Bechtolsheim, and venture capital firm Khosla Ventures.
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.