Tracy Brown, CEO and founder of Evil Genius Designs, doesn't profile as the standard entrepreneur type. After working at Anderson Consulting and as Director of Technology at American Eagle Outfitters building their ecommerce and running information security, the next step isn't usually a startup. But I found out the real story at South By SouthWest (SXSW) when I met Tracy by her video game at the PepsiCo Stage.
Tracy was a semi-professional gamer on the side. When she helped a student who wanted to be a game designer, she ended up finding her dream Master's Degree program at Carnegie Mellon, applying, and cashing out her career. During her years at school she worked both on an alternate reality game and on the Activision 'Quantum of Solace' project. While finishing the program, she came up with the idea for 'Get In Line Games,' which is the concept of entertainment while you're waiting for a concert, event or movie to start. Her goal was to make the waiting experience 'worth waiting for' and to harness attention during those times. Throw in brand connections and you get the Evil Genius part of the story.
Evil Genius' 5 employees and extended team have created a platform that enables people with mobile devices to play a shared game around a common screen. If you have a phone, wifi-based iPod or Nintendo, it can be your game controller. Their first experiment, at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) conference had 7,000 people playing while waiting in line for two hours to get in, being exposed to brands and products, and thanking them afterwards for a fun game.
Skip forward to last summer and Evil Genius Designs applied with over 500 other companies to be part of the PepsiCo10 Competition. According to Pepsico, the company is partnering with up to 10 emerging technology start-ups, helping them execute pilot programs with PepsiCo brands. 'We were looking for shovel-ready tech that we could partner with in four strategic areas: motion video, social media, mobile, and digital in-store,' said Bonin Bough, Global Head of Digital and Social Media for PepsiCo. 'We wanted to find companies that changed the way we connect with our consumers.'
The 500 submissions were distilled down to 20, who all presented across the PepsiCo organization to brands including Pepsi-Cola, Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker Oats and Gatorade, and to every area from package design to legal and marketing, letting the entire organization see all the tech possibilities. 'As a way to add value to the companies participating, we brought in venture capitalists, mentors, and guides for these 10 companies and we exposed them to our agency partners as well,' said Bough.
The top 10 finalists were given a pilot to run with a brand. For Evil Genius, their task was to help people spend their waiting time while providing utility and monetizing that time with brand exposures – in other words – to entertain people around a brand experience. They created the Super Shopper video game experience, which I tried at SXSW. It is a very Microsoft Xbox 360 kinect-like game that takes place as a shopper 'runs' down an aisle. By moving my body right and left – with full hand motion and leaning – I picked up products in the aisle by rolling my 'cart' past them, avoiding spills and abandoned carts that slowed me down. (You can see my picture – but note the camera seems to have added a few pounds. Really. I came home from SXSW down 5.) I got extra points for grabbing SunChips, which was the featured product in this demo.
Then there was a challenge round – me versus the computer disgused as an evil shopper – and I almost won. I also found out by collecting items that there were a few products I didn't know came from PepsiCo (Stacy's Pita Chips, for example). So the game increases customer awareness, exposes customers to brands, and provides a fun experience. There were free SunChips for me to taste in the booth after my 'workout.'
Brown said 'For my company, participation in this PepsiCo 10 has raised awareness that large brand company sees value in our platform. In addition we think it is valuable to talk to brand managers in the company, and to Pepsi's agency partners. I get to refine our offering with people in the industry and it puts more credibility behind our small startup. It also gives us a case study when we talk to other companies and investors.'
She hopes to take the company to the next level using this demo to get some new contracts and attract investment. Bough informed me that the PepsiCo 10 is launching in Europe soon. Are major consumer packaged goods companies like PepsiCo the next filters for digital innovation? Let us know what you think about sharing your product with a company in the comments below.