Enter the Hive: Where Branded Social Media Games are Made

Inside Hive Media, San Carlos

Above a restaurant on the bustling El Camino, in a cluster of small offices, employees of a San Carlos start-up are busy developing interactive social media games that don’t just entertain, but connect players to brands.

Brian Laing, married father of three daughters at Brittan Acres, is CEO of Hive Media. He says his company – which employs 15, including six in Indonesia- doesn’t just license entertainment products and turn them into games.

“We’ve built the company, the technology, the business model around working directly with brands,” said Laing. “We work closely with clients to build a marketing ecosystem” that cross-promotes its products.

Hive produced the 3D game The Deadliest Catch for The Discovery Channel’s reality show about five Alaska king crab boats. “We tied into the marketing for Shark Week so we have a portion of the game where we had a shark swimming across pulling a Shark Week banner,” Laing explained.

Hive Media is busy these days. After closing its $1.5m Series A funding this summer, it’s exploring the possibility of starting its quest for Series B in December. The target amount depends on whether strategic partners invest and how much.

The Hive team is working on an iPad version of The Deadliest Catch and is close to releasing Fantasy Football in 2D.

Then there’s Hive Media’s Hollywood connection. Brian Laing, a former computer security executive with a background in art, is “transmedia producer” for L.A. based entertainment company The Institute, headed by film and commercial producer Scott Gardenhour and Michael Bay, the director of movies that-go-kaboom-on-the-screen like Transformers. (The Institute’s tagline: Where brand science meets great storytelling. )

“The one I’m working on right now is Hansel and Gretel for release at Christmas next year,” Laing said, adding he’s also working on The Institute’s Viking Vampires, as well as other projects for TV, music and retail partners.

Laing said entertainment companies can use branded social media games to test story lines.

When developing The Deadliest Catch, Laing says his team knew the story-line from the start and began integrating content from the show into the game. Later, Laing said, the show used information metrics from the game to identify the most popular captains to help them “decide who they want to spend more or less time with in next season’s episodes.”

The web-delivered games – played on Facebook – take an average three to five months to produce. They’re continuously updated, some on a daily basis while bigger updates are made every week or two.

While the games are free to play, the start-up earns cash from real money game players pay for premium items, like salmon bait that helps “captains” catch more crab in The Deadliest Catch game.

Unlike social media game maker Zynga, which charges more, Laing said his company, “went with a ‘pack of gum’ approach. We monetize smaller amounts aiming for larger numbers of people,”

The Hive plans to open a small office in L.A., sharing space at The Institute.

Brian Laing, CEO of Hive Media

Brian Laing says he loves living and working in San Carlos, although he recently had a bad experience while accompanying his younger daughter to school at Brittan Acres: he was struck and injured by a car while pushing off on his bike in the cross-walk at the corner of Brittan Avenue and Cordilleras. But that’s another story for another time.

Inside Hive Media

A game designer's desk. Yeah, he's into Transformers.

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