Characters, additive value essential to engaging apps

Discussion at the closing panels of the Variety Entertainment App Conference on Thursday turned to the role of storytelling in the digital space and how entertainment franchises can be extended in the digital realm.

At the afternoon “App Franchise” panel, Chris Hewish, head of global interactive at DreamWorks Animation, reflected on the partnership that yielded a version of mobile-device game “Fruit Ninja” starring Puss in Boots, from the “Shrek” toon universe. He said the challenge was to integrate the two universes in a way that was meaningful to the audiences for both properties.

“We wouldn’t just do something that would cheapen both brands,” Hewish said. “We really want to make sure that they could create something that was an incremental improvement and additive to their game.”

The final panel of the day, “The Creators,” explored the role of storytelling in the digital space.

Matt Kozlov, CEO of mobile entertainment publisher Moonshark, focused on the need to create engaging characters, which he cited as “the reason your kids all have (the) ‘Talking Tom Cat’ (app) and the ‘Virtual Pet’ series. It’s the same thing that made us want to play with action figures in the ’80s.”

Alex Barkaloff, executive producer of digital media at Lionsgate, discussed how characters from the studio’s properties, such as AMC’s “Mad Men,” might be integrated into different platforms.

“Where would Don Draper buy a steak or find an Old Fashioned?” Barkaloff suggested as a concept for an app tied to the series. “It’s a merge of Foursquare and the backstory of our characters.”

While panelists lauded existing models for storytelling and character development in the field of mobile applications, some said there’s plenty of room for growth and that the best work is still to come.

“Has anybody nailed it with interactive filming on the iPad? Not at all, not yet,” said Dustin Callif, founder of the production company Tool. “There’s a major opportunity to do a new type of story.”

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