Most gamers would say nothing beats the multiplayer experience—especially for a first-person shooter saga like Call of Duty, which just released its tenth installment, Ghosts, to millions of devoted fans.
Some of these devotees make a living playing for the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and major league soccer when they're not trying for headshots amongst their friends. This ubiquitous audience is at the core of a partnership between COD parent Activision and startup OverDog, which developed a mobile app to allow fans to play COD online with professional athletes.
“Adrian Peterson is going to play Call of Duty this week anyway,” noted Steve Berneman, CEO and co-founder of startup OverDog. Other athletes among the 300 participating are starting pitcher David Price, former NHL player Jeremy Roenick, the NBA's Patrick Beverly and soccer’s Kei Kamara. Berneman admits that not all on the roster are as well-known as these players; it's a mix of rookies and all-stars.
“Athletes are very competitive, and they see it as another way to compete with each other and the people around them,” added Dario Raciti, director of Zero Code, OMD’s gaming specialty shop, which led planning for the campaign.
When an athlete wants to play a game, he sends out a challenge via the app, which comes through as push notifications to those who’ve downloaded it. Fans can accept the challenge and the app randomly selects a winner, who is then thrust into live gameplay with their sports heroes.
And yes, through the multiplayer platforms of Xbox and PlayStation, the fan can ask the athlete absolutely anything.
“We listen in on these, and the first 30 seconds of the conversation are about the game, then the next couple minutes are stuff you’d ask a pro athlete,” Berneman said. “Once we get through that, it’s like a couple of 25-year-olds playing Call of Duty.”
Peterson is a team player in more than one sense of the word. Not only is he participating on the gameplay front, but also joins four other NFL running backs—Marshawn Lynch, Willis McGahee, Jamaal Charles and Mark Ingram—in a new promotional video for the app, launching today. That video shows the football stars playing Ghosts with an actual fan, named Drew, who was organically contacted through the app.
The athletes involved have also been promoting the effort on Twitter, which itself plays a huge marketing role in its longstanding popularity with athletes and their fans.
So how did a startup like OverDog, which at first struggled to get its beta funding through Kickstarter (the resulting press helped it get some VC backing), manage to get such famous and expensive faces in its promo?
Berneman wouldn’t disclose the campaign’s budget, but said OverDog got the athletes at a "significantly less expensive" rate than your typical endorsement arrangement.
It’s for the same reason, he said, that the core idea was so appealing in the first place: the pro athletes are already playing the game. “Rather than sign a large promotional deal, what we organize is a game these guys play at their house,” he said. “We work really hard to make sure it’s not hard work.”
Here's a look at the first spot, released today: