Media technology holding company 4D Factory has acquired a majority stake in early-stage game and transmedia startup Neon Media.
Seattle-based Neon Media, headed by CEO Mark Long, spun out earlier this year from the interactive division at HBO. And now it will be part of a number of projects under the umbrella of 4D, run by CEO Cort Javarone.
In an interview with GamesBeat, Long said that Neon Media is working on a couple of transmedia projects that are associated with well-known brands and TV shows. He said he isn’t able to disclose what those shows are yet, nor was he able to say exactly how much 4D paid for the majority stake. But Long said the amount was in the seven-figure range.
Long spoke on how to run great writers’ rooms at our GamesBeat Summit event in April, when the spinout was announced. Before that, the Neon Media team at HBO won an Emmy award for the Westworld virtual reality experience. He said the team is chasing its dream of creating transmedia, or narrative-driven experiences that span different media such as games, comics, movies, and TV series. HBO itself no longer owns any interest in Neon.
Long said the deal with 4D will enable the company to focus on its two major projects without having to worry about the financing part of the equation. 4D will supply the necessary capital and accelerate the current productions and start new joint venture projects.
“As an independent studio, you’re always chasing money,” Long said. “It’s always feast or famine. We have a unique partnership with 4D that can give us access to capital.”
While transmedia has been talked about for a while, it hasn’t been executed well, as we’ve seen plenty of bad games created based on TV shows and movies. Long is aware of that, but he is approaching transmedia with the ambition of creating triple-A games.
“We’re looking at opportunities in games with people like Mark, who is using cutting-edge technology,” Javarone said in an interview with GamesBeat. “He’s been talking about transmedia for years, and now we can do it. Before, the games were ancillary. And now the games are primary.”
Javarone said that is what attracted 4D to Neon. 4D’s president is Kevin Conroy, who has held senior operating roles at MGM Studios, Bertlesmann, and Univision.
Neon’s team includes Naomi Lackaff, Colin Foran, Mark Yeend, Aaron Nonis, Don Norbury, and Gianna Sulyma. All told, eight people are at the company.
Epic Games recently gave Neon an Epic MegaGrant. Under the grant, Neon is using the Unreal Engine to create scenes for both the game and a TV show. The Unreal Engine has been expanding beyond the borders of games into a multipurpose tool used to make TV commercials and films. It was used to create the special effects of The Mandalorian TV show on the Disney+ streaming service.
Long said that just like The Mandalorian, Neon Media is also pushing state-of-the-art virtual production.
“We’re going to demonstrate two scenes from the TV series, and then a scene from the game together,” Long said. “We’re working with Epic to prove this transmedia concept.”
While Neon Media is small, it will work with seasoned developers that Long has known for a long time to execute on the projects.
“What we’re trying to do is work find creative partners that really will fundamentally engage with us,” Long said. “We don’t want to just license an entertainment property and make a game. We want to extend the property and tell stories that fill in the gaps in the fiction and tie them together.”
4d, meanwhile, plans on acquiring teams that have luminaries across multiple fields such as entertainment, media, technology, games, and investments. Besides Javarone and Conroy, the Los Angeles firm includes both Long and Jamil Moledina as advisers. Jonathan Miller, the former CEO of America Online, is also part of 4D.
Javarone said he met Long back in 2013. He has been interested in transmedia for a while, and he was impressed with the Sonic the Hedgehog film based on Sega’s mascot game character.
“We want to grow the company by acquisition,” Javarone said. “We are investing in technology, content, and distribution.”