I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Erb who is the CEO of Tripleclix. Chris led many campaigns for EA for many years before starting his own company. He has been connecting some of the biggest brands into the world of gaming to include Hollister, Kelloggs, TacoBell, Jones Soda, General Mills and more. He believes a game launch should be promoted like a new movie. In addition, Chris also has a really popular podcast.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! We are honored to have you with us. Can you share an interesting story about how you ended up where you are in your career?
Thanks for having me! I’ve enjoyed working in the gaming and entertainment industry most of my career. I started by spending five years at Wizards of the Coast running brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pokemon. Then I was recruited to Electronic Arts and spent almost a decade there running the Madden franchise and then the EA SPORTS brand. Looking for new challenges I left EA and went to Legendary Pictures and started working on films. While there I noticed the large amount of marketing agencies supporting the movie industry and realized there weren’t really any agencies focused on gaming. So,I took a giant leap and left an amazing film industry job to start a marketing agency focused on the gaming industry, Tripleclix.
Can you share with our readers what is Tripleclix and some of your expertise?
I started Tripleclix to fill what I thought was a big void in the marketing world: the lack of agencies solely focused on gaming. There were a couple great agencies that developed creative and a few really big marketing agencies that worked in gaming but there was no true marketing agency that understood the space or the consumer. Most gaming opportunities for brands were pre-packaged esports sponsorships or media buys on Twitch. I created Tripleclix to connect game publishers to brand partners for the betterment of gamers. Through these partnerships we support the development of marketing activations that drive awareness, increase purchase intent, and, most importantly, create programs that resonate with consumers. Conversely, we want to help brands navigate the gaming space, complicated by platform/game contractual obligations, a ravenous gamer fanbase, shorter launch windows, and more. We assist brands in creating programs that build direct relationships with gamers instead of just marketing to them. We think of Tripleclix as the connective tissue between game publishers, brands, and consumers.
Can you share a story about what you learned when you first started? What lesson did you take out of that?
I gave up a cushy movie industry job with a corner office to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. At the time some people thought I was crazy, but I really believed there was a void to fill and I had the experience to fill it. The first year was very challenging. It was less about landing the first client and more about learning how to start a new business in an established market. I came from executive jobs with tons of support teams that allowed me to just focus on the work. Now,I had to learn how to hire people, how to manage payroll, how to navigate business licenses and file taxes, and all the other intricacies of creating an agency. Not everyone wanted to work out of a spare bedroom in my house with twin babies running around, so I had to find and open an office that worked for my employees. The first couple years were less about the work you love and more about figuring out everything else, but when you survive and the business has success it becomes extremely rewarding.
What differentiates the world of esports vs traditional gaming?
Great question! Esports is a very small segment of gaming, but definitely gets a lot of the attention from mainstream people outside the industry. To break it down, traditional gaming is a $120B industry, with over 1.6B gamers with an average age of 27 years-old that play videos games an average of 7 hours a week. This is the biggest segment of the entire entertainment industry. The North American gaming industry by itself is bigger than the entire global film industry. Esports, which is projected to post $1.1B in revenue in 2019, makes up less than 10% of the audience that watches video game streaming with roughly 12% of those viewers in North America. Don’t get me wrong, esports has a very bright future, but is still very much in its infancy. One significant thing to keep in mind when we talk about this space is the difference between esports athletes and content creators. Esports athletes tend to be salaried and play for professional esports teams. They tend to focus on a single game that they are constantly practicing for competitions. Content creators, like Ninja and Dr DisRespect, are entertainers and are focused on making entertaining content around the games they play. About 90% of the online streaming views come from people watching content creators.
With gaming becoming increasingly popular amongst all age groups, where do you see the future of gaming going in the next 5, 10 years and beyond?
The next five years will be all about gamers playing what they want, when they want, on whatever device they want. Digital streaming, through Microsoft’s xCloud or Google’s Stadia, will be a solution to this desire, but it will take some time before it’s fully ready for mainstream. The launch of 5G networks are going to help, but building out the tech that solves gamers concerns, like input lag or disconnection, will still take a lot of time, work, and testing. As people wait for that tech to arrive and mature, great things will be coming in 2020 like Xbox’s new console (codenamed Scarlett) and highly anticipated games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
We have a ton of things going on that are starting to land in market now as we also plan for the future. Our most recent project is our work with promotional partners for the launch of Gears 5. Gears of War, shortened to Gears for this iteration, is one of my favorite franchises and we did great things on the last game with our Run the Jewels and Rockstar Energy collaborations. For the upcoming game, launching in September, we’ve partnered again with Rockstar Energy and added new programs with Chips Ahoy!, Cheez-its, and Pringles. We also worked on the Gears partnership with the new Terminator: Dark Fatemovie which will allow Gears fans to play as Sarah Connor and the Terminator T-800 Endoskeleton. Looking to the future, we are very focused on Holiday 2020. We are helping Xbox find partners for the launch of their new consoleand Halo Infinite.
What brands are doing it “right” in gaming? Is there anyone you want to call out and why?
Tough to answer as it’s relatively early in the age of brands getting involved with gaming. 10years ago brands thought gaming was still something that happened in a parent’s basement. Now brands really want to get into this ‘gaming thing,’ but don’t really understand the most authentic way to connect with gamers. Their traditional agencies show them the esports viewers and package up opportunities (similar to traditional sports packages) that feel safe and familiar to the ad teams, but brands end up with a lot of questions on what KPIs were delivered and how to explain ROIs.
As I am a little biased, I should talk about the programs Tripleclix worked on. For us, the brands that do it best are the ones that give value or access to their customers. Again, it’s about building an authentic conversation with gamers instead of marketing to them. Taco Bell giving customers a chance to win an exclusive Xbox (a unique colorway that makes the Taco Bell ‘Bong’ sound when you turn it on) that you can only win in their stores is huge. Customers could win a console every 10 minutes and Xbox delivered it in 48 hours! Another good example is Kellogg’s commitment to gaming. They have been working consistently in the gaming space for years with some of the biggest gaming brands, including Call of Duty, Destiny, Xbox, and Gears of War to name a few. They allow gamers to buy Pringles or Cheez-its to earn free content instead of having to buy that content online, which provides significant value for consumers.
Why do you think gaming has become so popular? What are your favorite things working in the space?
There are so many reasons why gaming is now bigger than ever, but I think it boils down to two big reasons: evolution and technology. The generation of children who grew up playing games, my generation, now have their own kids and are sharing their passion with them. It’s no longer taboo to play video games. No one asks, “Do you play games,” they now ask, “What games are you playing?” It’s also about the improvements in technology. With the growth of high-definition screens in the home and the constant need for content, gaming is the perfect fit. Television and movies deliver a short-term lean back experience where gaming provides a long-term lean forward experience. If you love the new Mission Impossible movie you may watch it two or three times. People who love the new Gears game will spend 400 to 500 hours playing it. Not to mention the fidelity of the visuals, connectivity with friends, always evolving content, and gameplay … you get it. There’s so much to appreciate in the space.
My favorite thing about working in the gaming industry is the people. It’s a really small community and we have all been in the space for some time. People may move around, but everyone stays in the industry. We all share the same goals, which is to make the industry as big as possible. It’s a very inviting and inclusive community and it makes me very proud to be a small part. And it’s fun. Seriously. We aren’t selling lawnmowers.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Follow your passion. I am in this space because I love it. Find what you love, chase it down, and force yourself into it. There isn’t a ‘right way’ to get the job of your dreams. Just hack the system, figure it out, and do the work. Enjoy the journey. The most fun I had in this industry were the early years when I was getting my hands dirty on everything I could touch. I made so many friends and had such a good time.
Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
There isn’t one particular person that made a profound difference, but there were people at every chapter of my career that either inspired me or that I learned from. My parents, who were both in business, subconsciously inspired me to enter the same world. My first real boss was a guy named Pat Barth at GameWorks who taught me that every detail mattered. He never missed a thing when we worked together. At Wizards of the Coast I worked for some amazing people like Joe Hauck who taught me true business analytics and the strategy of marketing. At EA Sportsit was Todd Sitrin that gave me the push to lead others and he always had my back. The way Peter Moore could remember the name of every person he met and the kind of candy your kid loved was aspirational. It isn’t about a single person you learn from, it’s about what you can learn from every person.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Don’t count the days; make the days count.” — Muhammad Ali
I’ve lost some friends. I have other friends fighting for their lives. I truly believe in making every day count because we never know how many we get.
What are your “5 things you’ve learned and can share and why. (Please share a story or example for each)
1. Enjoy the journey. It’s not about getting to where you want to go, it’s more about the ride with the people on the bus.
2. Follow your passion. We spend a third of our lives working, so make sure you enjoy it!
3. Take a risk.I wouldn’t be where I am professionally without the chances I took.
4. The world is about relationships. Treat people how you want to be treated. It may sound cliché, but it’s true.
5. Give more than you get.You don’t always have to get the most in a negotiation. If you get less you are actually winning more because it’s a long game. You will get yours later. People will love working with you and may even feel less pressure.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s pretty simple, be a good person. Humility and humanity. We are all on this journey together and there’s so much bad in the world. It doesn’t take much to be a little kind.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Virgil Abloh and Tom Cruise. Virgil is an inspiration with his passion and vision for creative and business. I also think Louis Vuitton and Off-White are late to the gaming space. I can help.
Tom Cruise because no one puts more effort into their work than he does. I am always floored when you watch the BTS videos of how he executed his stunts. Tom Brady has got nothing on Tom Cruise. My friends at Paramount always say he’s an amazing person. Having a piece of that ‘Tom Cruise Cake’ he gifts people is on my bucket list.
How can our readers follow you on social media?