Analysis

Taylor Swift’s new app will sell virtual ‘picks’ for real cash


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Taylor Swift caused a bit of a stir with her recent gamification of Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan scheme, sparking complaints about whether fans would feel forced to buy merchandise and physical albums to boost their chances of getting concert tickets.

We wonder if Swift’s new mobile app could fall prey to similar sentiments. The app, created by games firm Glu Mobile, has gone live in New Zealand on Apple’s App Store, with its listing giving us more details of how it’ll work.

It’s not a game: more an artist-branded social network, with news, photos and videos from Swift surrounded by lots of user-generated content and sharing features. And in-app purchases: fans will be able to pay for virtual ‘picks’ (as in guitar picks).

In New Zealand a small pack will cost $2.99, a medium pack $7.49 and a large pack $29.99. What will those picks be spent on within the app? ‘Taymoji’ and other virtual items.

The listing also has this: “Connect with Taylor: See what she’s liked, and use SwiftSends™ on posts for a better chance of Taylor liking them too!”

There’s a warning that “this app is not intended for children” – although the age-rating is only 12+ – and to “please buy carefully”. It’s also possible that, like in mobile games, fans will be able to earn picks through their actions in Swift’s app, rather than just by paying for them.

Until we’ve used it, we won’t know exactly how the SwiftSends system works. The nightmare scenario would be lots of Taylor Swift fans – even if they are older than 12 years old – blowing $29.99 on picks but not getting any of their posts noticed by their idol.

Update: a number of fans have tweeted me to suggest that you can’t buy SwiftSends, and that the virtual picks are used instead to buy ‘Taymojis’ and other virtual items – so the two systems of virtual currency are separate. One also suggested that they can’t be used for your own posts.

https://twitter.com/swiftreputation/status/941662718712430592

Glu Mobile’s support page explains it thus:

SwiftSends are special Taymoji. You put a SwiftSend on a post to increase the chances that Taylor will see it. SwiftSends are very valuable and rare. The easiest way to get them is by reaching each new level. When you level-up some SwiftSends pop out for you to collect.”

So, SwiftSends *are* Taymoji, but the ‘easiest’ way to get them is by reaching new levels in the app and earning them for free. It’s unclear whether they can also be bought like other Taymoji using ‘picks’ – when the app goes live here in the UK, I’ll update this post with that information. Taymoji can also be earned through activity in the app.

The bigger picture here, is that a key feature of online fandom in 2017 is the ‘notice me, notice me, NOTICE ME!’ dynamic: just look at the stream of replies whenever a big star (or, especially, a big social star) tweets or posts on Instagram.

We talk about an ‘attention economy’ in terms of our attention on stars, but it’s also about us craving attention from them in terms of retweets, likes, comments and suchlike. If that gets turned into an economy where we’re paying for a chance at attention from our idol, it’s not a great road to go down.

If Glu and Taylor Swift have completely separated The Swift Life’s in-app purchases (the ‘picks’) and its ‘SwiftSends’ system by which fans can boost posts’ chances of being seen by the star, that’s an admirable line to have drawn.

Once the app goes live here in the UK, we’ll follow up with a proper look at how the monetisation works, and what that means for fans and other artists alike.

Stuart Dredge