Playing a Unique Role as a Woman in the Gaming Industry; Interview with Ann Hand, CEO of Super League.

Playing a Unique Role as a Woman in the Gaming Industry

Ann Hand is very unique in her role at Super League as a woman in the gaming industry. From immersive experiences to rewarding marketing solutions, Super League is partnering with brands and creators to accelerate their success in the gaming metaverse. Headed by CEO Ann Hand, who in this interview with TechBullion will be giving us a walkthrough of the Super League ecosystem and her unique role at this innovative metaverse gaming company.

Please tell us more about yourself and what inspired your journey in the gaming industry?

I spent about close to 20 years in large cap companies working with a lot of different consumer facing brands globally. And was intrigued at the notion of coming and leading an earlier stage company and after a stint on Sand Hill Road, kind of learning my startup venture capital chops, I met some of the early investors in Super League. What intrigued me the most specifically about the gaming industry and Super League at the time, was that gaming has changed a lot since I was a teenager. It’s now really a lifestyle interest. It’s not something you grow out of. And equally it’s the type of thing where it’s much more sticky, there’s much more interactivity and entertainment. In fact, it is the largest form of entertainment larger than TV larger than the film box office. And so I was intrigued by that notion of it becoming the dominant form of entertainment. 

Inside a lot of these open world 2d gaming platforms, the ones that we focus on like Roblox and Minecraft, there’s the underpinnings of STEM. And so I looked at it as an opportunity, with the mainstreaming of gaming to celebrate the game or lifestyle and show and demonstrate that it can be good for you, positive, inclusive and highly immersive and experiential when done in the right context. That’s what really kind of drove me to the company. 

What is Super League, could you give us an overview of this gaming project and your mission in the gaming industry?

Super League is a leading strategically integrated publisher and creator of games and experiences across some of the world’s largest immersive digital platforms. So you know, when we talk about open world platforms, you know, gaming, we’re talking really about game engines, like Roblox and Minecraft now fortnight, but also ones that aren’t even really gaming platforms, things like Decentral and Sounds sandbox, what are these about? Well, they’re really these 2d environments that feel like big open landscapes or white canvases. And the reason that so many kids hang out there is because it’s not about points and winners and losers. It’s about community and co-creation. It’s really more of a digital cul de sac or hangout and I often say to brands and investors it’s a next gen social media channel because it has so much more interactivity, it’s highly customized, and personalized. 

Super League creates immersive experiences inside the landscapes of these games. We also have immersive media products we can deploy in the landscapes of these games. These are not games where kids need a VR headset. There are hundreds of millions of kids already in these 2d worlds hanging out and we’re able to help marketers reach this very elusive Gen Z / Gen Alpha audience in a way that’s native. It’s enhancing the game experience and really delivers off the charts engagement. 

The technology behind the company. It’s really, first and foremost, we’ve built a technology or backbone, so to speak a spine. That insight has a few dimensions to it. It has these immersive kinds of ad products that I’ve mentioned. It has a suite of analytics for the advertiser, but equally it has creator tools and creator analytics. And why that matters is when you look at Super League, the way that we’ve been able to amass over 100 million unique players a month, and that’s massive scale. We’ve been able to do that because the creators, those people who make those mini game worlds inside these virtual world platforms, have an incentive to plug their mini game into our backbone. And so by extension, all those mini games have become a part of our solar system or universe. That’s how we’re able to bring brands to the right types of audiences they’re trying to target inside this much wider ecosystem. 

That creator hook that has a creator economy to it as well, is at the core and if you look at these virtual world platforms, they’re all about democratization of content, everybody can make a game. We live with that ethos strongly and we build tech and tools that enable developers as well as creating great experiences for players. 

Could you give us more insight into how you work with creators and brands  at Super League?

We partner with the everyday kind of small world creators, mini game world creators, but then at the end of the day, really everybody’s a creator in these open world platforms. Super League is a creator but so is Mattel when we brought Barbie’s Dreamhouse to life, last October, and delivered 60 million visits over the course of the month to her Dreamhouse. We were all creators in that space. Mattel had a vision to celebrate the Dreamhouse’s 60th anniversary, and we were able to recreate the kind of heart and soul of Barbie’s Dreamhouse you could swim on the ground floor of the pool. You could DJ on the roof deck. You could talk to different types of Barbie characters and learn more about their backstories; we were able to really create a virtual twin of what makes Barbie’s Dreamhouse in real life such a great fun toy and way to engage around the Barbies that you know and love. And so often the term creator is used very broadly here because that’s the beauty of these open world platforms – that everybody can create. 

Now brands as well are really core to the company we’ve delivered. We supported over 85 brands last year. I mean that is a massive amount of some of the biggest global brands that we all know and love. And it’s because these brands recognize that this is where their audience has shifted. There are stats right now that show that the average under 18 user inside in the US is spending about 7.5 hours a week on these virtual world 2d platforms versus about 5.5 hours on traditional social media. This is just a next gen social channel and this is where they are and brands can see that that audience has moved and they now need to discover and understand this new channel no differently than they needed to understand social media 15 years ago, no differently than they needed to understand the Internet and what that meant for their brand 20 to 25 years ago.

The Super Studios creates engaging content for gaming, could you give us a walkthrough of your Super Studios, the creative services you provide and what makes you the best?

When we talk about the elements of the company, we have the publishing capability, we can make immersive experiences like Barbie stream house, we have those immersive media products as well that helped drive traffic into our experiences. That’s how we deliver that kind of off the charts engagement. I talked about, you know, 60 million visits to Barbie’s Dreamhouse in just one month. But also if you think about it, there’s all the audience that in this case, Mattel wanted to reach inside Roblox or maybe Minecraft or other game platforms. But then there’s all the Barbie fans that exist outside of those platforms, and they want that content too. We’re really a one stop shop or an end to end solution for brands but we’re often hired for that extra piece – and the extra piece is our in-house studio capability. That Studio team can capture very compelling end game content that then can be live streamed, or clipped and customized to be posted on social channels. And that’s important because that’s the amplification that brands are trying to reach and broadcast as widely as possible out into the universe and drive more traffic back into the Dreamhouse experience. 

The Studio team becomes really critical when you think about what we did for Samsung last year. In the case of Samsung we helped them produce a pop concert inside one of our Roblox game worlds. It was a Charli XCX pop concert. Well, not every fan of Charli XCX plays Roblox right. And so that was really important because this was a really exciting virtual concert. And we wanted that live stream feed to be able to stream that on Samsung’s live stream channels as broadly as possible so that everybody could enjoy and watch that concert, even if they weren’t necessarily a Roblox account holder. That was a great example too of how compelling this content can be. Because in that instance, we got nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for the Best Metaverse performance, which was fun. 

As a female leader in the gaming industry, your role is unique and impressive. From your wealth of experience, share with us what it takes to be successful in the gaming industry.

As far as being a female leader in the gaming industry, I know that at times you’ll see that all industries have their own diversity challenges. Certainly the gaming industry was taking a lot of heat when I first joined seven or eight years ago. That being said, I found an extremely warm, collegial welcome. And I think it really has to do with the fact that at that time already, gaming was bigger than all other forms of entertainment. And so instead of gaming being this kind of afterthought or on the periphery of the entertainment industry, it was now pushing into being at the core and when you start to realize the heft of the industry you’re in that it’s time to really scale and open doors to people from the outside, I came in at the right moment when I think the industry was seeing that explosive growth and realizing it’s going to take more than just their incumbent folks to take it to this next chapter that we’re in. 

Your journey so far could not have been all rosy, would you like to share some of the challenges you faced before you got where you are today and any success stories you would like to share with us?

I’m not an avid gamer today and of course marketing 101 is “you need to know your customer, not be your customer” but it was a new space for me. And what I needed to reinforce for myself is that all the versatility and experience that I had gained in retail and sustainability and real estate, in all these other industries I’d worked in, that a lot of those same toolkits apply. I leaned into that versatility and leveraged that to complement the team that we were building. 

I would certainly say the first few years of the company were hard. It’s hard when you’re trying to scale something from scratch. I was just laughing the other day with a board member about the fact that the business we’re in right now didn’t even really exist when we started Super League. There’s no way that we could have known that immersive experiences and media would become the next new modern marketing and ad channel for brands. 

We spent the first few years focused a lot on youth and video gaming much more narrowly on competitive leagues and tournaments. Which really as we were learning more about these open world platforms was talking to a small segment. Because really kids are there much more for the community and the creation than the competition. But at the time, we were learning a lot and that’s where we learned that we needed to cast that wider net. And so we ran hundreds of tournaments and competitions, that took a lot of operational lift and had its challenges. It was not easy, but I look back and think it was our market research period. It’s where we realized that we were seeing this thing that was just about to explode, which is the shift in the nature of the types of games people want to play. They really don’t look like gaming, at least not the traditional way that we’ve all tended to think about them and we certainly weren’t thinking about gaming when we first launched the company. 

For creators and brands looking to get involved in the Super League gaming launchpad, tell us what to expect and how to get started, any use cases to share with us?

I often say this to creators and brands, the nice thing here is that I’ve sat in their shoes. I ran brands globally for BP before I left the company and we had all kinds of brands, food brands, even and a wide variety of consumer and B2B brands. I remember how daunting some of the steps into digital marketing felt at the time. What I say now to people is I’ve actually stood in your shoes. I’ve done your job before and so I get how this looks daunting. If you hear a lot of speak about Metaverse, it sounds super abstract and somehow you have to be a gamer to get it. So the first thing I do is I just break it down to them. I’m not talking about VR headsets and living in fully immersive worlds. These open world platforms, these game platforms have been around for a decade – it’s nothing new. Hundreds of millions of kids are already there. 

The nice thing for brands is that they don’t have to build a world for their brand out of the gate. They don’t have to put a ton of money to work. There are really easy ways with our experiences and media products to dip a toe in. We do this a lot when movie studios are launching new titles. You know it’s one thing for us to put some Minions or SpongeBob in some of our worlds and see how kids react to them. That’s very identifiable IP. For DreamWorks last year we actually dropped some animated characters for a new film into some of our game worlds. We were able to show them in a very affordable way – we said, let’s see how kids respond. Let’s see which of these characters they want to engage with the most. 

There are really easy ways for you to use this as a way to just test and get comfortable with a variety of products and start to explore ways to make this a persistent channel for you – it’s an extension of social media, or next gen kind of social media channel. If you think about it, you don’t turn Barbie’s Instagram account on and off throughout the year. 

What I often say to brands is let’s start with one campaign. Once you see and understand the content and how it performs then that’s the right next conversation to say, shouldn’t we just have a permanent virtual billboard for you here and then we can rotate your campaigns and your marketing objectives through it. It’s much more efficient, but it’s also much higher performing. If you can have that persistent presence in front of this very elusive audience.

What are you currently working on at Super League, do you have more opportunities for partnerships, collaborations or investment at Super League?

I’ve never been more excited about the vision for the company. When we started this market category or space we’re in didn’t even really exist. So we are on the leading edge of this new marketing channel, this virtual, very interactive marketing channel for brands. 

What’s happening is really twofold. First, as I mentioned, we’re able to start engaging with brands and talk about how they should be using our tech and capability to make this a persistent marketing channel forum. We already have several partners last year alone, who spent north of $1 to $2 million with us throughout the year. If you start to add up all of the different ways that they ran campaigns through our platform, it really begs the question: why not make this a persistent virtual billboard for your brand. That’s exciting because then we don’t look like an ad advertising business in a lot of ways. We look more like an enterprise solution because right now we have the typical heavy seasonality. A lot of our revenues are in Q4 because that’s when the holiday spend hits; advertisers are you spending those holiday dollars? If we can start to become a persistent channel, then it means that those revenues are spread out throughout the year. And go a little bit more for forecastable and recurring in nature, which we like and then what happens is the next layer of partnerships which is brands like Abu Dhabi’s Eldar hiring us to recreate the virtual twins of Yas Island – a physical man made tourism location with a SeaWorld and a Formula One racetrack. We’re creating virtual persistent twins of it, it’s really just their tourism brochure. It’s just that instead of looking at a flat digital brochure about a cool place to visit, why not go visit it virtually and get to interact with it that way. 

Tourism is becoming a really exciting vertical in general for us when we’re being hired to run a more progressive .com strategy, that’s not something we’re just doing for a month. That’s an annual program. Investors are going to like this because it smoothes out revenue, it provides more forecasting capability, It takes away the seasonal lumpiness as well. We don’t anymore look like we are purely an ad-based business. 

We’re excited about the transition and we think that investors are going to like that direction that our business model is taking. 

The other thing I’d say on collaborations and partnerships, the market got really excited with the announcement we made about a partnership with a company called Land Vault. Land Vault is based in Dubai. They are very progressive in the 2d and 3d web space like we are. They call themselves a digital construction company, and they were doing a lot in the Dubai area. We’re doing a lot in Abu Dhabi. That partnership is exciting, we have very complementary products, and we believe that when you look at the amount of money that’s been spent in the GCC alone, on Web2 and 3, that there is a ton of business that together in partnership, we can go out and grab and leaning heavily into the virtual tourism vertical as well.

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