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Rose Amongst Thorns

We R Interactive's CEO and co-founder on advergames, gamification and why they shouldn't be dirty words.

Gamification, like many a buzzword, has suffered its fair share of backlash. Core gamers see it as a bastardisation of their hobby, whilst many brands remain unconvinced of its selling power. Most people can't even agree on a standard definition. David Rose's company, We R Interactive, takes what some might see as gamification and turns it on its head - producing a game first and fitting suitable sponsors into it to monetise afterwards.

It's a refreshingly quality-lead approach, and the company's lead title, I Am Playr, has attracted big budget clients in the form of Nike and Ginsters. Here, ahead of his appearance on a panel at Nordic Game next week, Rose discusses We R Interactive's approach to the world of advergames and brand promotion, and explains why they shouldn't be dirty words.

GamesIndustry.bizLet's start with talking about your panel session at Nordic Game.
David Rose

Well, it's less about We R Interactive and what we're doing and more about some of the TV and game crossovers which have happened in the past. From my perspective it's about lessons learned from early forays like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - why we thought that worked as a great quiz and TV format to take across to console - I think there were four million units sold on that first release - but also why some of the other quiz formats perhaps weren't as successful.

I think the conclusion is that properties have to have great game mechanics at their core. For all the talk of gamification and properties existing across different media, for something to be considered a game, the game mechanics should be cracking. That rule hasn't really changed through all these years.

So we'll be retrospectively going back through some of those successes and failures, to what we're doing here at We R in looking at that serialisation of content. Why sequel is a frowned upon word in the games industry but is embraced in TV. Why some of those patterns which have yet to be proven in games seem to work so well in broadcast.

GamesIndustry.bizYour business model is an interesting one in that you seem to reverse the traditional advergame process by creating the game first and then attracting sponsors afterwards. Is that a fair summary?
David Rose

Yeah I think it is. It's certainly done that way round. We've been lucky with the likes of Nike, who've been working with us for almost a year now, and helped shape that product, but what I think people are realising now is that blatant advertising is just that - it's not a great experience for the user. Fundamentally what we do is set out to make a great game first and foremost then, if a brand is truly additive to the user experience then great, everyone wins.

The player gets a better game - and in the case of Nike and I Am Playr, we're telling the story of a footballer from first person, but we're really telling the story of a brand ambassador from the first person. Anything that befalls them players can have an emotional response to it. So when you're handed that Nike sponsorship, it suddenly means something. It might be a relatively small amount of content, compared to banner ads or pre-rolls, but it also might be something which, for once, you actually go and share with your friends.

It might be a relatively small amount of content, compared to banner ads or pre-rolls, but it also might be something which, for once, you actually go and share with your friends.

GamesIndustry.bizIs that brand sponsorship a pre-requisite to shipping a game? Would you create a standalone product if you felt it was strong enough?
David Rose

Well we have the benefit of being independently financed, so we're not reliant on brand revenue to finance the production of our product. That's a great position to be in because it means that we're not forced into making compromise. So I guess with that as our starting point you could say that if we felt that a game was strong enough to stand on its own and be monetised through normal microtransaction or freemium models, then absolutely we'd do that. It's not a prerequisite that our games must have opportunities for brand involvement.

The I Am series of games, telling that first person narrative, we believe are are creating a channel in which we can get brands across very successfully. So of course it's a big part of it. So when we're building concepts for new games, we are conceiving them with points of integration in mind. I guess from a business perspective, the nice thing is that the big risk when founding a company is putting all of your eggs in one basket and hoping that users love the game. If they do and play it for a few months, they might pay us some pennies for content. Our eggs aren't all in that basket, so we somewhat de-risk that business by having that advertising in place.

I should probably add that it's been borne out in our original investment, with the likes of Peter Mead, Fru Hazlitt, they recognised that we were offering something different to what was currently happening in that world of brand advertising. Because everyone's looking at social media, at ways of getting people getting involved in their brands, games are a great opportunity.