Sunday, June 4, 2023

Hasbro: Fun and games

Hasbro dramatically expands its LBE portfolio

by Becci Knowles

From theme park attractions to branded hotels and restaurants, interactive life-sized games and more, Hasbro is opening several new experiences for families across an extensive, international portfolio of projects. In this InPark exclusive, Matt Proulx, Hasbro’s vice president of Location Based Entertainment explains why 2023 will be the company’s biggest year for LBE ever.

With nearly 60 open fixed-location experiences and 500+ annual events globally, Hasbro’s immersive environments leverage the company’s wide portfolio of brands and characters, from Transformers to NERF, Monopoly, Play-Doh, Peppa Pig, My Little Pony and many more.

Matt Proulx

Matt Proulx has held various positions in his 15+ years at Hasbro, including managing the Transformers brand through the first three movies and overseeing the marketing and business development functions for Hasbro Studios. He then moved into the licensed consumer products division, where he helped initiate the company’s strategic move into location-based entertainment (LBE). Hasbro’s earlier, existing projects with Universal Studios parks in Hollywood, Singapore and Orlando revealed the opportunity to further expand Hasbro’s LBE offerings. “We asked, ‘Hey, is there a bigger role that we can play in this space?’” says Proulx.

The secret to Hasbro’s success is pushing the boundaries of experiences to allow guests and fans to experience all the brands in the portfolio in lots of different ways. “There are so many amazing things coming down the pipe,” says Proulx. “It’s been a matter of continuing to adapt and expand. We have been fortunate to have great partners since the very beginning and are super excited about what’s coming up in 2023.”

Hospitality and Hasbro

Opening summer 2023, Playlodge in Shanghai is the first-ever hotel complex spotlighting Transformers and My Little Pony, two major international Hasbro IPs. It will include an indoor entertainment center, themed hotel and retail outlets, along with catering options.

As heritage brands, the My Little Pony and Transformers combo appeals to all genders and generations. Proulx says: “We’re not blending the worlds together, but from an experience and from a demographic standpoint, it makes sense. We’re focused on creating the best, world-class experiences that also can withstand the test of time and have as wide of a reach as possible.”

Playlodge speaks to the rich opportunities for brands and hospitality. Proulx explains, “I think about brand experiences like a knob on a stereo. You turn it way up where you need to turn it up, because you really want to amplify the immersiveness and interactivity of the brand delivering once-in-a-lifetime type moments. But there are also times when you can tone things down; the level of immersiveness can still be appreciated while providing those more subtle moments. There are so many touchpoints. What we’re trying to do is create enough engagement within these hotel experiences that guests don’t feel the need to leave the campus. We’re working to deliver the four- quadrant family experience in which memories are made over time.”

Furthering its hospitality offerings, Hasbro is opening the world’s first Transformers restaurant in May 2023 in Hong Kong, in partnership with the Food & Beverage division of iFREE GROUP, A La Carte (HK) Limited. The restaurant will give guests unprecedented opportunities to experience Transformers story components such as the Ark (in context of the Transformers storyline, the Ark is the ship on which the Autobots left Cybertron). “We looked for a journey that our fans haven’t been on before,” says Proulx. “Show elements will immerse people further into the Transformers lore and storytelling, from the food they eat to digital touchpoints and experiences along the way.” This is the first of a planned rollout of Transformers-themed restaurants by A La Carte through the region and will include exclusive retail merchandising.

Bringing board games to life

Also opening in 2023 will be MONOPOLY DREAMS, which at 1,700 square meters will constitute the brand’s largest immersive experience in the world. Visitors will plunge into the MONOPOLY universe on the ground level of Melbourne Central shopping center in Australia. This will be twice the size of the original, highly acclaimed MONOPOLY experience in Hong Kong. “With a little more space to play with, we’re working through that design and the elements of what our guests expect – and by the way, over-delivering on that, which is what guests really expect,” says Proulx.

Location-based entertainment experiences should always be inherently true to a brand’s DNA, and this requires much more than a “brand-slap.” “We are in the world of selling emotion, and the more emotional connectivity you have, the deeper the affinity is between your brand and that consumer, and so when you’re just slapping brands onto a ride or an experience you’re not fully delivering upon that emotional connectivity,” says Proulx.

NERF keeps on bouncing

Summer 2023 will also see the iconic NERF brand gain its first themed land in its 50+ years of history, with NERF Mania at Brazil’s Beto Carrero World. “We are taking the brand and essence of the brand to a whole new level,” says Proulx. Guests can expect “a little bit of the unexpected,” he says, adding, “I think that’s going to be the great part as guests start to have experiences we have created around the brand’s heritage, but also leaning into some of the places where the brand is going into the future.” The two should resonate, rather than duplicate the experience, he explains.

The second NERF Action Xperience (NAX) will open at The Trafford Shopping Centre in Manchester in early Q3. Hasbro is taking expertise gained from the success it has in Singapore and modeling it into what fans in the UK want and expect.

Such is the popularity of the brand that more NERF projects will open in 2023, starting with the second NERF Action Xperience (NAX) at The Trafford Shopping Centre in Manchester in early Q3. “We’re taking a bunch of learnings from the great experience we have in Singapore and modeling it into what fans in the UK want and expect,” says Proulx. Later in 2023 a third NAX is set to open in the US, at Garden State Plaza in New Jersey. Sitting alongside it at Garden State Plaza will be Hasbro’s Planet Playskool experience, which will open later this year and will be operated by Kingsman.

City Life

Hasbro also has openings anchored by not just one or two, but a variety of its iconic, multi-generational brands. The Gameroom powered by Hasbro, at the American Dream retailtainment complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey will feature Hasbro content for a reimagined arcade platform with curated midway games, and interactive activities like Roller Games, paired with food and beverage offerings. Proulx says: “For our LBE team, we are about creating immersive environments in which people can consume our brands the way they want to and enjoy unique shopping experiences that amplify those shared moments.”

HASBRO CITY in Mexico City will also open its gates in 2023, designed for families and guests of all ages with rides, active play spaces, an arcade, midway games, interactive and VR attractions, food and beverage offerings and the first Hasbro Retail Store in the region. “Working with our partners, the aim again is to deliver a four-quadrant experience that incorporates a wide range of Hasbro brands,” says Proulx. In that vein, HASBRO CITY’s 100,000 square foot FEC is a multi-brand, immersive experience going anywhere from Play-Doh and MONOPOLY to Transformers and My Little Pony – and Mr. Potato Head – designed to engage families and guests of all ages.

Hasbro Blueprint 2.0

Hasbro recently unveiled its new Blueprint 2.0 strategy with a more consumer-centric approach that focuses on fewer, bigger brands, expanded licensing, branded entertainment, and driving growth in games, digital and direct. Blueprint 2.0 is intended to bring Hasbro brands to life in exciting ways that drive long- term, sustainable, and profitable growth – and LBE is key to its activation, according to Proulx. “At the heart of our Blueprint 2.0 is the customer and the consumer,” he says. “There is no other business, no better business that exemplifies having that deep emotional connection and that one-to-one contact with our consumers and customers than location-based entertainment. When you think about it, it is the manifestation of your brands coming to life from people’s imaginations – a magical step into another universe.”

Creativity, consistency, quality – and repeatability

There are many different facets to achieving the ultimate, brand- centric guest experience, but at the heart, says Proulx, “you must fuse the brand and the entertainment environment together and couple it with great operations. According to Proulx, the creative team must be allowed a “blank canvas” approach while being true to the essence of the brand. “Understand the journey you want to have them explore, and make sure you’ve not only met their expectations, but defied and exceeded them,” he says.

Great operations, explains Proulx, encompasses all aspects of how staff interact with guests in the course of the experience. “It’s a magical moment when people are transported from their reality into this other environment. You must make sure that all those things are in a good balance together, so you’re not only true to the brand, but also pushing the boundaries of a brand to where the guest never expected it to be.”

Staying true to brand while incorporating new elements designed to draw repeat visits was a forefront issue in conceiving MONOPOLY Lifesized, the London incarnation of which was recognized for excellence in the industry with the 2022 Licensing International award for Best LBE. “This kind of experience needed to be unique, highly repeatable and easily understood by guests,” says Proulx. The challenge was about how you moved past the traditional mechanics of the game yet stayed true to the essence of the brand and game. “This is where introducing the ‘challenge’ concept into the game play created a whole new dynamic that allowed guests to play as teams against one another in their quest to ‘own it all,’” says Proulx. “So, we’re still delivering the essence of the brand and the essence of the game – but in a new form and fashion.”

Hasbro’s LBE experiences are about telling a story. As Proulx says, “It’s a theatrical performance – guests want to be swept away from their reality, have a break, laugh, and smile.” And, of course, the experience must surpass expectations. “Our team,” says Proulx, “is driven by the belief that if all we’re doing is delivering the expected moments, we have failed as a team. For us it really is about saying, ‘OK, first, let’s push the boundaries of what people expect from an experience.’ And to help remain competitive, we’re always keeping an eye on up-and-coming technologies. Part of this is having a great project management and production process from beginning to end. This is the look, this is the feel, this is everything from a standard of operations that we can all agree existed, and then it’s using that as a measuring stick over months and years of its operation to build the brand and the experience. It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that you have the highest quality standards always operating.”

Working with Hasbro

Describing the qualities he looks for in his team members, Proulx says, “Extremely versatile and multi-skilled people who understand the business and its inherent complexity, and who have the ability to adapt and evolve partnerships for long- term success across the board.” What about partnerships and collaborations? “We are open to everything, to be frank,” says Proulx. “I have been known to say, ‘the crazier the idea, the better.’ But we are open to everything.

“I’m just lucky to be able to do what I get to do every day,” Proulx concludes. “We’re really excited about the future of LBE at Hasbro.”

So are we. • • •

Becci Knowles
Becci Knowles
Becci Knowles is a U.K.-based writer and editor with 20 years’ experience in trade and consumer press. Becci’s first taste of the themed attractions industry came in 2015 with a visit to Gothenberg, Sweden, for IAAPA to support the Park World and GlobalAmusements & Play team. She went on to edit Park World from 2018-2022 before deciding to go freelance, making the move into travel and lifestyle before returning to the visitor attractions industry for InPark.

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