Former IGN Game Guru to Orchestrate Hollywood Game Deals

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LOS ANGELES -- As a growing number of advertisers consider integrating their brands into video games, United Talent Agency has hired marketing maven and former IGN Entertainment executive Jonathan Epstein
Jonathan Epstein is joining United Talent Agency after his run at IGN Entertainment.

to expand the Hollywood agency's efforts in the video-game arena.

Brands in games

In the new position, Mr. Epstein will focus his efforts primarily on helping corporate clients navigate the video-game space and integrate their products or brands into games and open doors for them to the major publishers or developers who produce them. In doing so, he'll also work on expanding UTA's corporate client roster, which currently includes Amazon.com.

"Right now, we're helping companies scope out the opportunities in the gaming space," Mr. Epstein said. "We know the desire is there. We just need to find out who should be partnered with whom."

Mr. Epstein is also developing a nationwide location-based entertainment concept that would include gaming elements and provide opportunities for sponsors.

He will work alongside Brent Weinstein, who has already begun building UTA's gaming and interactive business. Mr. Weinstein will continue to focus on pairing the agency's clientele of writers, directors and actors with software publishers and developers, as well as help those clients license games to turn into films or TV shows. For one deal, director John Singleton (Universal's 2 Fast 2 Furious) will create "John Singleton's Fear and Respect" for Midway Games.

Hollywood star list

UTA represents, among others, actors Johnny Depp, Jim Carrey, Harrison Ford; filmmakers M. Night Shyamalan, the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson; and TV producers Dick Wolf (Law & Order) and David Chase (The Sopranos).

"The gaming industry and the entertainment industry have amazing synergies which seem obvious but have yet to be fully realized," said UTA board member Jeremy Zimmer. "Our strategy in adding Jon to the agency and establishing UTA in the geographic heart of the gaming industry is to build a deeper, more effective relationship between the games industry, Hollywood and brands who are seeking innovative marketing solutions."

As part of the hire, Mr. Epstein will open UTA's first office in San Francisco, in order to be closer to major video-game publishers and developers, as well as other interactive companies.

Heart of the interactive business

"We don't come at this business assuming that we know it all," Mr. Epstein said. "We wanted to put an office at the heart of the interactive business so that we could work more closely with everyone."

Landing Mr. Epstein is considered a coup for UTA.

Other major talent agencies in Hollywood, including Creative Artists Agency, the William Morris Agency, International Creative Management and Endeavor, have created their own in-house video-game divisions, but in most cases, those groups have focused primarily on brokering deals that will deliver their actors, directors and writers into the games space. Few, if any, have agents dedicated solely to creating opportunities for advertisers in games.

"The games industry is a large and sometimes bewildering industry," Mr. Epstein said. "There are 2,000 different companies one could partner with. If you're not from the gaming space, it's pretty hard to figure out the best way to integrate a brand with a game."

Getting in early

Getting in early in a game's development process is also key.

"The earlier you are in the development process, the more opportunities you have to shape, within reason, the manifestation of your brand," Mr. Epstein said. "As you get in at the end of the process, you're talking about billboards and signage."

Since announcing that he would be leaving IGN Entertainment last year, Mr. Epstein has been approached by talent agencies in Hollywood and ad shops on Madison Avenue. He also considered offers by venture capital firms.

In the end, he chose UTA, because "when I sat back and looked at where I can do more impactful work, have more fun and learn more, this seemed liked a pretty clear choice," Mr. Epstein said. "UTA offered the best platform, in terms of people and the culture. They have a solid existing practice that I didn't feel like I had to start from scratch."

IGN Entertainment

Mr. Epstein most recently served as executive vice president and general manager of IGN Entertainment, where he oversaw all aspects of the company's online media businesses, which include game-based Web sites IGN.com, FilePlanet.com, Direct2Drive.com, GameSpy.com, Rotten Tomatoes and TeamXbox, among others -- and all lure advertising and sponsorship dollars from major advertisers.

As president of GameSpy, Mr. Epstein transformed the company into the largest subscription-based gaming Web site, and later merged the company with IGN Entertainment. More than 50 million gamers each month log on to GameSpy.com.

Before that, he served as founding president and CEO of video-game Web site GameSpot.com, which has built a strong business from advertisers looking to connect with gamers.
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