Watch ads, earn V-Bucks: A MoviePass founder has a wild new gaming startup

Stacy Spikes's new startup PreShow Interactive is a bet on gamers trading eyeball time for in-game currency.

Watch ads, earn V-Bucks: A MoviePass founder has a wild new gaming startup

Stacy Spikes's PreShow Interactive enters the gaming arena.

Photo: J. Countess/Getty Images

MoviePass founder Stacy Spikes has a new venture, hoping to lure gamers with a simple premise: watch ads, earn money.

PreShow Interactive, a new mobile ad platform currently in beta, allows gamers to earn in-game currency of their choosing for one of the many popular multiplayer games that offer in-app purchasing, such as Fortnite and Call of Duty. It's not unlike existing reward platforms that offer direct payouts for watching ads or filling out surveys, like InboxDollars and Swagbucks, but with a gaming twist.

The platform could provide an attractive option for gamers eager to earn a few extra bucks for a Fortnite emote or weapon cosmetic, while giving advertisers a more direct and transparent way to reach younger consumers that doesn't involve interrupting their Twitch streams or YouTube videos. PreShow on Thursday announced a $3 million funding round led by Harlem Capital, with plans to formally launch the service this summer.

"We wanted to do away with the middleman and allow brands and consumers to communicate directly in not only a brand-safe environment, but where the consumer is opting in and their data is something they control," Spikes told Protocol. "We pick the ad rate and make [players] the beneficiary so they can use that currency inside the game." Spikes said PreShow will support around 20,000 games at launch.

Spikes initially intended to launch PreShow for the theater industry, as his next major company after he was pushed out from MoviePass in early 2018 over his objection to the company's severe price drop that eventually bankrupted the firm. PreShow had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2019 promising a service that let people earn movie tickets in exchange for watching "PreShows," Spike's term for longform video ads running around 10 to 15 minutes that dole out rewards only if you watch the whole thing. But when COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020, he said, PreShow had to rethink the approach.

"We saw gaming not only was a growth area but also for all the advertisers we were talking to, gaming was a sector they wanted to get in front of," Spikes said. Though the product had to be retooled, the core idea remains the same: watch ads, earn money. In traditional online advertising, "Your data is being sold, and you're also not the direct beneficiary of that cash," Spikes said. In the PreShow model, the user is being directly compensated for their time: "It's not whatever activity they're doing is being interrupted, which is how it is today."

There are some barriers in place to prevent cheating the system, which Spikes first revealed in press interviews during the Kickstarter campaign. Those include facial tracking technology to ensure you're actually watching the screen, with a system that pauses the ad if you look away, something the company tells me is a "akin to a motion detector" that does not save any information.

Spikes also said in 2019 you would have to authenticate the app with a biometric identifier, like Apple's Face ID, to ensure you're not enlisting someone else — a relative, or a friend — to log your ad viewing and earn currency. MoviePass, too, had restrictions in place to try and avoid account sharing, though they were not always successful. But a PR representative for the company has clarified that "PreShow does not use Face ID or any third party software to determine a persons identity in any way."

As for the rewards, PreShow deposits them onto a virtual debit card that will be restricted to purchasing in-game currency, similar in a way to the MoviePass debit card that let you purchase ticket stubs but not, say, a product on Amazon. Spikes said game makers can also choose to integrate directly with PreShow's mobile apps to let players log into their accounts and purchase currency right from the app.

But it's not required for a developer to participate with PreShow, as the debit card can be the payment method on file for any account on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch or PC. Spikes says PreShow won't be supporting Android and iOS games, despite the platform itself being available only on mobile, because Apple and Google control payment processing on their respective platforms.

There are still some kinks Spikes says PreShow is working out, such as what the rates will be standardized at across the platform per minute of ad watched, though he says all advertisers will pay out the same rate of rewards and no one company will get preferential treatment in that regard. The company is also looking into virtual reality advertisements that take advantage of the medium — think sitting behind the wheel of a new car using an Oculus Quest 2.

But Spikes is eyeing a full launch for around E3, the video game industry's major expo, this year slated for an all-virtual showing in June. By then, he hopes to have a concrete product roadmap for the year and clearly defined reward rates so users know exactly what they're getting into by signing up.

Update April 29th, 11:46AM ET: Confirmed that PreShow does not require a biometric identifier, like Face ID, for identify verification to use the app.

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