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SuperVillain Studios on the delicate collision of brands, skaters and gaming in Transworld Endless Skater

Standing on the shoulders of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
SuperVillain Studios on the delicate collision of brands, skaters and gaming in Transworld Endless Skater

The intersection between real world branding and video games hasn't always been a happy marriage of equals.

But given the growing important of social presence for brands and mobile as the natural consumption platform for such interactions, mobile gaming has inherent advantages when it comes to enabling a more holistic interplay between brands and games.

Sport games provide a great example of how this sort of process can be integrated.

So with that in mind, we hooked up with Chris Rausch, the chief creative officer of US outfit SuperVillain Studios, which is currently working on Transworld Endless Skater, a mobile F2P skater game.

Pocket Gamer: Why did you decide to include five real skaters in the game and how did you pick those particular individuals?

Chris Rausch: With our background as developers from the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, we saw the added draw that bringing in real professional skaters creates.

It's similar to wanting to play a sports game with licensed athletes and leagues, so players can put themselves in the athletes shoes and imagine performing at a professional level. Getting the real skaters involved is also somewhat of an endorsement from them that lets their audience know that it is a good game.

As far as how we picked them, it was a process of deciding who we wanted to target as an audience, as much as anything.

Danny Way is huge name in skateboarding and is one of the pioneers in the creation of the Mega Ramp. These ramps have become their own event at the X-Games and beyond, and Danny is really the face of the "pushing the limits" side of skateboarding.

The five playable characters in game style
The five playable characters in game style

Christian Hosoi is one of skateboarding's all-time icons, all the way back to his 'rivalry' with Tony Hawk throughout skateboarding's boom in the 80s, when the two of them were placing first in practically every single contest. He has dominated halfpipes and pools for decades and is even and responsible for one of the most iconic skateboards of all time, called the Hammerhead due to its unique shape, which is a feature in the game.

With those two onboard, we wanted to make sure that we also represented more of what skateboarding has to offer, as the sport continues to grow and encompass everyone from kids, to adults, male and female alike.

We started with Lyn-z Adams Hawkins (now Pastrana) because we really wanted to recognize the fast-growing female side of the sport. Lyn-z is a heavily decorated women's champion in the X-Games and other big contests and events, so we wanted to bring in an accomplished and recognizable athlete like her to help represent the game to a side of our potential audience that is possibly the fastest growing.

The final part of that audience, as far as the skateboarding scene is concerned, are the current and avid skaters themselves, and the pros that they are following. The list is really long here, as there is so much talent and expansion happening. We reached out to two guys that we really admired from both a talent perspective, and as great ambassadors of the sport's growth to new audiences, and we signed on with Sean Malto and Ryan Decenzo.

Sean Malto has a huge following and is involved with some of the most respected skaters in history, as a part of the Girl Skateboarding company's team, and one of the first champions of the rapidly growing Street League Skateboarding tour. SLS features the best of the best in skateboarding's current pro ranks and brings a points-driven sports-like season angle to the contests and events that they present to a huge televised audience.

Finally, Ryan Decenzo is a member of the Darkstar skateboarding team, one of skateboarding's most dedicated and hardcore companies. Earning the approval of a group and a skater like that was really awesome. Ryan is the type to attack whatever obstacle gets in his way, at ridiculous speeds.

He also qualified for this year's Street League tour, so you'll be hearing plenty of his name throughout the year.

Do you expect to add additional skaters as the game is updated?

Given success with this initial version, we would love to add not only more skaters, but more of everything including levels, tricks, skaters, music, and whatever else we can squeeze into updates. As long as we have a strong audience supporting the game and having fun, we will keep giving them more.

It's a really fun project to work on and brings back a lot of good memories for a few of the people on the development team, myself included.

Real world brands can be a powerful hook in games so what's your approach to in terms of handling what could be seen a rival brands in a manner that each company is happy with?

We worked closely with Lisa Hudson at Black Sun Productions to help integrate the brands, focusing on the sponsors that each of our pro skaters carries.

She basically worked up agreements that coincide with the presence of the brands, big and small, as you'd see them in real life. As long as we're fair about placements and involvement, the brands are actually very easy to work with in this space.

A screenshot from Transworld Endless Skater
A screenshot from Transworld Endless Skater

They want to make sure that their athlete is being represented well and that their place in the scene is accurate and familiar, the way it would be if you saw their presence in an actual store, or at an event. There really has not been any rival-esque standoffs with any of the companies involved. They all just want to be involved to push the entire sport, and the awareness around their pros, forward.

How much flexibility do you have in terms of mixing brands and skaters?

All of the skaters involved have exclusive deals with their various sponsors. Widely-known brands like Red Bull, Nike, and Nixon, mix seamlessly with more core skate brands like Darkstar and Plan B.

Companies big and small in this space really do want nothing more than to expand skateboarding's audience in a thoughtful way. You won't see them putting their skaters on products that don't make any sense, but when a game like ours comes along that can draw skaters, gamers, and anyone with an iPhone, Android, or Kindle in their pocket, and do so in a non-exploitative way, they are all in.

We've made something that is really fun, and which shows that a lot of its heart is set in our being longtime fans of skateboarding, and that makes them want to be involved.

Are you combining power-ups and brands?

The power-ups currently are not branded, but there is certainly room to cleanly integrate real brands into them. As an example, we have a power-up that adds time to the player's time limit/clock when collected. It's a generic stopwatch currently, which has great visibility in the game's menus before every play, and is an item that is picked up during gameplay.

If a timepiece sponsor came in and wanted to integrate into the game, that art and the object collected in the levels could easily be an actual real-world-branded timepiece.

How do you avoid the situation - perhaps in terms of IAPs - where some brands are more expensive or harder to unlock than others?

The game is actually designed such that all brands are equally represented according to their sponsorship contributions and involvement.

“We're not going to have the skater burst through a huge Jeep banner with fireworks.”
Chris Rausch

There really are no brands that are harder to unlock, as we've focused most of the game's design on non-brand-specific things like skater stats, additional tricks to perform, strengthening of power-ups, and an additional Rooftops level to play in.

While brands are important for fans, they can also be off-putting for a more casual audience that wants to play a skating game but might not know much about the real world experience?

This points back to thoughtful integration and not pushing sponsored items in the player's face in less meaningful ways.

If you see a car in the parking lot of the campus level, it could be a Jeep, or a Fiat, if they were involved. But we're not going to have the skater burst through a huge Jeep banner with fireworks every time you start skating in the game.

Well... probably not!

The press release says "Transworld Skateboarding's sales team will be offering sponsorship opportunities within the game to its brand partners" which suggests you're employing certain amount of competitive leverage to get the brands to cooperate?

They're already cooperating for sure, but one of the many things that Transworld brings to the table is their ability to get current and future potential branding partners to actually create deals to expand or support the game itself.

For example, Transworld has the tools and connections to reach out to brands who can actually help finance development of new content for the game, be that new levels that are themed like real-world events, or various other sponsored segments of the game.

The key thing is making the integration of any future partners as thoughtful as possible, giving them the exposure that they're looking for without affecting the integrity of the game, which is when audiences start getting turned off.

More generally, how does the link up with Transworld impact the way you present and promote the game?

Transworld is critical in helping us promote the game. We're a small independent developer with a very limited budget when it comes to promotion. The majority of our budget has to be focused on the actual development of our games.

When we have an opportunity to partner with someone like Transworld, which makes so much sense, we jump at it. Transworld was just as excited as well, when they saw the game and realized that we had come from a long line of really fun skateboarding games and more.

They are promotional experts, and we know how to make a game that they can proudly show off to their audience and partners. Their network includes numerous top magazines, websites, and events that should help us reach a very sizable crowd.

Thanks to Chris for his time.