Stan Lee’s NHL Guardian Project failure cost tech firm millions

After a rocky reboot following the lockout — remember the metro-sexual samurai? — the NHL has had few outright misfires in its marketing over the last few seasons. But next month will mark the one-year anniversary for the debut of the Guardian Project, one of the League's most misguided, derided and ridiculed duds.

A collaboration between comics legend Stan Lee and Guardian Media Entertainment, the Guardian Project developed 30 superheroes based on NHL teams and a convoluted backstory with the intention of making characters like the sap-bomb tossing The Maple Leaf synonymous with the Toronto Maple Leafs (for example). The plan was for the characters to appear inside arenas and on several multimedia platforms.

Fans met the project with cynicism, apathy and criticism for the way it clearly used previously established superhero designs as inspiration. And then this happened at the NHL All-Star Game in January 2011:

Let's just say this debut hit the Guardian Project's momentum like a sap bomb.

Shop NHL has only a scant number of items featuring the heroes. The project's official site has been under construction for months. And grand plans to have the heroes appear on arena Jumbotrons to pump up the crowd … well, if you've been to the rink this season, have you seen them?

Based on the evidence, the Guardian Project was an epic failure. But a British tech firm called Oxford Metrics Group, a.k.a. OMG, recently tried to quantify that failure: Blaming the Stan Lee Guardian Project for its profits dropping by 80 percent in the past year.

Vicon is a subsidiary of OMG, and its House of Moves studio has provided motion capture performances and 3-D graphics to clients like Rockstar Games and Electronic Arts, for games like Call of Duty. It also created the characters and short film that were seen during the NHL All-Star Game, when the Guardians saved Raleigh from Darth Vader. Or something like that.

Said Brian Rausch, vice president of production for HOM, back in January:

"On a project like this, you have to think down the road of potentially extrapolating characters and environments into game assets, a television series—and flowing the CG creative elements between mediums. By building scenes in a game engine out of the gates, our options are much broader—the need to down res files from broadcast to game for example will be mitigated."

But in the year since that debut, Guardians-related projects haven't become a reality. On Dec. 2, OMG revealed its profits had tumbled by 80 percent for 2011. From The Independent (via Russian Machine Never Breaks)

The Oxford-based company, which provides three-dimensional mapping software used in special effects for films and games, said its full-year pre-tax profits fell to £700,000 from £3.7m a year earlier.

The group's technology has been used in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as well as Assassin's Creed games and films including Black Swan. It had enjoyed strong growth, smashing analysts' expectations a year ago, yet the failure of the Guardian Project dragged on its results in the 12 months to the end of September.

Nick Bolton, the chief executive of OMG, said: "A significant amount of good work and a number of important, positive developments have taken place this year which are, to a degree, masked by the financial results announced today."

The company said the economic conditions facing the entertainment industry had affected its profits but the single largest factor was the failure of the Guardian Project.

Ouch. It must be the work of that dastardly Deven Dark ...

Here's the thing: For all this talk about "failure," the NHL Guardian Project still had a strong heartbeat as of last summer.

NBCUniversal acquired an equity stake in the Project, vowing to use the Guardians to engage "young fans in new, unique ways through the magic of Stan Lee." Speculation was that the partnership could produce the kinds of television programs and films that were promised when the project debuted. The NHL, NBC and the characters' creators sounded anything but defeated.

We may yet see Wolverine on an NHL broadcast. Oh, sorry … *cough*we meant "The Coyote."