Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Alex Hoban, UK Creative Innovation Director, Momentum Worldwide

Experiential advertising agency Momentum Worldwide appointed creative director, writer and cultural experience creator Alex Hoban as its first UK Creative Innovation Director. Prior to joining Momentum Worldwide, Hoban founded Aeon Industries and held positions at agencies such as the Brooklyn Brothers, 72&sunny and R/GA, where he worked with clients such as Jaguar, Uber and Nike.

We asked who his digital hero is.

Who is your digital hero?

I’m going to dedicate this to the software developer known as Near, who was most famous for reverse-engineering the Super Nintendo and creating the emulator bsnes. They lost their life earlier this year, but to me their work represented one of the most important spaces in the digital world. These are the grassroots, open source, unsung heroes that work behind avatars in their smaller digital communities to build the kind of software foundations on which great organisations, movements and digital innovations go on to thrive.

What did he do to win hero status in your eyes?

Today we take it for granted that the history of gaming is available on-demand through services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now.

Near helped pave the way for this by establishing a need to preserve older games through highly accurate emulation on non-original hardware, elevating gaming’s overall status in the years before the current boom. They also paved the way for a value that Gen Z now holds central: if you want to get something done, you figure out how to do it yourself. Near’s obsession with chip-level emulation of SNES hardware was, like all the other emulator fanatics out there, a personal project that ended up moving the entire gaming world forward.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

The fact that today publishers like Nintendo and Sega themselves use emulators when they re-release old games is a practical outcome of the emulation scene that Near was a part of.  However, at a grassroots level, it also broke down the walls and pulled back the curtain on software creativity. It allowed an earlier generation of gaming fans to develop an interest in what it takes to make games in the first place. The spirit of modding, remixing, adapting and enhancing that is capable through emulation was an early echo of the kind of hybridity across digital culture that we now take for granted.

What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

The big issues now are data surveillance and platform inter-operability in the metaverse. We sleep-walked into a huge data surveillance trap when we optimistically signed up to Facebook over a decade ago, which has caused rifts in the stability of societies around the world as states try to retroactively impose safety measures for individuals interacting online. We need to be mindful of the same pitfalls as we lean into the metaverse.

It cannot be two or three competing walled gardens as we have in the real world right now (Apple, Facebook or Google—take your pick!). From the start, we must focus on inter-operability and accessibility for anyone looking to set up shop in this realm. This also goes for blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. The ability for different blockchain ledgers to communicate with one another (like a ForEx for crypto) is another step toward making a functional, harmonious metaverse where innovations have practical, sustainable impacts rather than being speculative, risky next steps.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

Prior to joining Momentum Worldwide, I was running the immersive R&D studio at Aeon Industries. Under the Aeon banner, we were able to work with emerging tech to develop new forms of storytelling for audiences of the future. This included a mind-controlled immersive rave, an attention-seeking digital avatar with generative self-esteem and an interactive contemporary dance show where audience emotions informed the way the drama on stage unfolds.

Being able to learn from these experiences, and then share that knowledge when working with larger brands and institutions like the Venice Biennale, Twitch, Jägermeister or Puma, have all been huge achievements. Now I look forward to bringing this same approach to Momentum Worldwide as experiential trends accelerate post-pandemic and genuine innovation will be key.