For this issue, I had the chance to sit down with one of our clients, Versus Systems’ chief, Matthew Pierce, to discuss a range of topics, from the gamification of media to the future of mobile games to L.A.’s booming tech-media scene. Versus is an L.A.-based company with an innovative platform that connects brands to games to reward players and viewers with prizes, and Matthew is that rare breed of founder who combines high intellect with an energy and drive that are contagious. I am excited to share this interview with you.
1) Tell us about yourself and your background.
I graduated from Stanford in the late ’90s (around the time of the first tech bubble), and started a company because that’s what most people in Northern California did around that time (although we didn’t think at the time that there was a tech bubble). I cofounded Rosum, where we developed a chip that goes into your cell phone and used digital television signals to show your location when you dial 911. We did some really great work and built a great team, and ultimately sold the company to True Position. Afterward, I moved to Los Angeles and started working for major content companies (Sony and Disney) and other early-stage, short-form companies in the pre-YouTube era. Later, I went to business school (at UCLA) and then spent time at the Boston Consulting Group doing media and tech consulting, and at Warner Bros. working on digital distribution and streaming. I then went to work for Originate and ran the early-stage investment group there before joining O-Labs, which is a joint venture between Originate, ICM and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. O-Labs was unique in that it helped create and operate new companies that had high-end software solutions and could navigate the tough legal environments. Versus came out of O-Labs. Once we got it to a point where we could raise funds, I left the incubator to do Versus full time. We were happy to bring on Manatt to continue to advise Versus because of the tools, skill set and expertise their legal and consulting practices had that make it possible to do prizing in game at scale.
2) Why did you launch Versus Systems?
The growth of interactive media was very clear to us. O-Labs saw mobile gaming, esports and downloadable content as a massive opportunity. Knowing that users spend 50 million hours a day in video games highlighted this huge wellspring of attention that was being paid to gaming and that it was becoming an increasingly important sector of media. So we asked ourselves, “How can we give more contextual and personal value to gaming? How can we make games more fun and more personalized?” This became the thesis for how we went about developing Versus. Also, knowing that people love to win prizes, we saw a real opportunity to succeed if we could leverage this as a way to incorporate advertising brands in an innovative way that did not disrupt game play. Gamers are becoming more discerning, and brands are constantly looking for ways to reach their target market. With Versus, it becomes more fun for the player to play the game, and brands get the opportunity to directly reach potential users.
3) How is the Versus model different from other in-game adverting platforms?
The main difference is the fact that we can offer brands exposure at scale and across any platform (mobile, console, PC, streaming media). There are ways we can incorporate gaming behavior into anything. We also pride ourselves on rewarding gamers for doing what they are passionate about, which in turn makes the gamer a better advocate for the advertising brand and the content. Versus provides a better overall experience for the brands as well. Leveraging the Versus platform does not require them to engage in long negotiations and deal memos. We can introduce a brand’s product to an audience quickly and easily.
4) There is so much competition in mobile games today. Where will innovation come from in mobile games?
I think you’re going to see more interesting games developed for audiences that have not historically been addressed: more games for women and people older than 18. I also think we’ll see more interesting multiplayer gaming. Mobile gaming has historically been predominately a one-player experience, but I think we’ll see more games that incorporate social interactions. I think we’ll definitely see more AR/VR and ad tech improvements in this space. We will also see game play being used to tell stories, and these stories will be developed by and for more diverse demographics and communities.
5) This is such an exciting time for L.A. as creativity and innovation converge. As CEO of an L.A.-based company, what excites you about being part of the L.A. tech-media ecosystem?
Everything. I cut my teeth in Silicon Valley and saw firsthand how the Valley has benefited from a 50-year history of combining universities like Stanford and Cal, with tech and creative elements and product design. This has been going on for decades there and has yielded this rich culture of collaboration between different disciplines and funding sources (government, VC and angels). We see this happening in L.A. now with the marriage of tech, media, great universities and great service companies like Manatt. All of this is a draw to entrepreneurs. When L.A.-based companies like Beats, Oculus, Snap, AdColony and Scopely do well, the entire startup tech-media environment is better off. Success breeds success.
Thank you to Skip Garrett, Senior Analyst, Manatt Digital, for his help with the interview.