Ubisoft Going Big For ‘Assassin’s Creed II’

Ubisoft is feeling warm and fuzzy about the prospects for Assassin’s Creed II, and it plans to turn up the heat in the coming weeks with a big marketing spend.  Talking to Gamesindustry.biz, Ubisoft UK head of marketing Murray Pannel says enormously positive feedback for the game has the publisher feeling as if it’s sitting on the franchise’s second blockbuster.  He says while PR and marketing for the title began in the spring, the fruits of big spends such as TV ads and launch events will bear out in the early weeks of November.  The title is slated for release on November 20.

Read more at Gamesindustry.biz.

iPhone Open Platform Promotes Piracy, Says Developer

Smells Like Donkey, developer of the game app Tap-Fu, has raised an alarm over piracy on iPhone.  As reported in Industry Gamers, the developer found its game pirated within 40 minutes of being released in Apple’s App Store.  It then traced approximately 85 percent of high scores submitted for the game in the first week of release back to pirated copies.  The developer is looking at ways to continue serving and drawing revenue from paying customers, such as releasing downloadable content, but doesn’t have a surefire solution to fight piracy.

Read more at Industry Gamers {link no longer active}.

ABC Cancels Skywriting Stunt For ‘V’

ABC has canceled plans to promote the upcoming sci-fi TV show V with a skywriting campaign over major U.S. landmarks, reports The Hollywood Reporter.  The network had planned to cover the skies over 26 landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Boston s Fenway Park.

While the network has released a statement that it is putting marketing money elsewhere, Hollywood Reporter speculates otherwise.  After they broke the story, a Washington Post article exposed the amount of air pollutants ABC’s plan would have released into the air.  The Post also pointed out how ABC parent Disney has vowed to cut its emissions by half by 2012.

For anyone wondering what the stunt might have looked like, the Reporter offers a glimpse with a shopped photo.

Read more at The Hollywood Reporter {link no longer active}.

Of Top 25 U.S. Newspapers, 24 Shrink In 2009

The Audit Bureau of Circulations report for 2009 shows that among top 25 US newspapers only the Wall Street Journal gained subscriptions, reports Ad Age.  ABC found paid circulations dropped at an average weekly rate of nearly 11 percent in the year.  In year-over-year comparisons, double digit drops were recorded at 15 of the top 25 newspapers.  Meanwhile the Journal managed a gain of about 14 percent, benefiting from an increase in paid online subscriptions.

The Journal has more than 400,000 paying online subscribers.  Without its online subscriptions, the paper would’ve been among the losers with a slight two percent decrease in paid print subscriptions in 2009.  Ad Age sees the Journal’s success online as daring other papers to seek out a paid digital model.

Ad Age has a table with ABC s figures for paid circulations in 2008 and 2009 for the top 25 U.S. papers. Read more at Ad Age {link no longer active}.

U.S. Holiday Shopping Forecast

MarketingProfs is featuring survey data for the U.S. holiday shopping season released by the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch.  The research shows that overall holiday sales are expected to decline by one percent year-over-year to about $438 billion in 2009.  This decline is the second in as many years, with 2008 and 2009 representing the only down forecasts by NRF since it began tracking retail sales in 1992.

Surveys of spending habits found consumers plan to spend less but shop early and look for discounts.  About 84 percent said they will curtail their budgets for the holidays this year, with nearly two-thirds citing the state of the economy as the underlying factor.  More than 43 percent cited sales and discounts as the most important factor in their purchase decisions.  A strong majority, more than 70 percent, said they plan on shopping at discounters.

For product categories, the survey found declines in almost every category except gift cards.  Gift cards are among the most popular items tracked annually by NRF, followed by entertainment media (books, DVDs, videogames), clothing and electronics.  The report also says that retailers are preparing for a bumpy holidays by scaling back inventories.  NRF predicts lower inventories could mean shortages on popular items, as retailers sell out but can’ restock in time for holiday shoppers.

Read more at MarketingProfs.

China Online Game Makers Turn Westward

Chinese online game companies are looking to leverage their success at home to expand into the U.S. market, reports Reuters.  Successful companies such as Changyou and Shanda Games are preparing to roll out games in the U.S. using their expertise in running micro-transaction driven free-to-play online games.  With more than 50 million online gamers in China, the companies have the know-how.  They also have the cash.  Changyou recently raised $120 million in an IPO on NASDAQ.  The company could be the first to enter the U.S. with their multiplayer martial arts game, Dragon Oath.   The game is in final testing and expected for release in late 2009 or early 2010.

ThinkEquity analyst Atul Bagga tells Reuters challenges still remain for Chinese game companies.  They will need to spend a lot more than they do at home to market their products in the U.S.  They also have to overcome negative sentiments in the West about games with heavy Asian themes to build an audience.

Read more from Reuters.

Putting The ‘Public’ Back In PR

Writing for Ad Age, Michael Bush looks at a growing trend among major companies bypassing traditional PR and press outreach to communicate directly with their consumers.  The trend is seen as a strategy shift coming as mass media outlets shrink while social media facilitates another kind of corporate communication.  Bush cites a figure by web site Paper Cuts that shows 30,000 journalists have left the media profession since 2008.  With fewer outlets and reporters to pitch, companies have turned to YouTube and Twitter to broadcast their messaging, and they’ve found success.

Bush covers notable efforts by major brands such as Best Buy, Procter & Gamble and Mastercard.  The most drastic about-face might be Mastercard’s strategy.  Where once the company would’ve have reached out to reporters to present expert commentary, it now creates YouTube videos of executives commenting on issues.  Only after the videos are posted does it Tweet the media with links to notify them that the company has made public statements.  Brave new world, indeed.

Read more at Ad Age {link no longer active}.

Microsoft Defenestrates ‘Family Guy’ Promo

Microsoft pulled out of a deal to sponsor a comedy special by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane after previewing the content of the show, reports Variety.  The move comes after much hoopla about the partnership between Microsoft, MacFarlane, and his Family Guy network Fox.  The deal had Microsoft sponsoring a commercial free comedy variety show produced and hosted by MacFarlane to promote the launch of Windows 7.

According to Variety, Microsoft executives left a preview of MacFarlane’s Almost Live Comedy Show with reservations about content including jokes about the Holocaust and incest.  After submitting notes to the producers, Microsoft decided to opt out entirely.  The company released a statement that it s exploring other areas with Fox and MacFarlane.

Read more at Variety.

‘Video Games Live’ Makes It In New York

The videogame music concert Video Games Live sold out the historic Beacon Theatre on New York’s Broadway.  Writing for NY Times, Seth Schiesel observes the cultural ramifications of the show and how it represents an ever growing, and ever maturing gamer culture.

Schiesel notes that in his attendance at dozens of sold-out rock concerts at the theatre, he has never seen crowds show up early to mingle with strangers.  With a scant activities such as “Guitar Hero” stations, he observed how hundreds showed up an hour before the concert, some in cosplay.  He calls the sense of community in the audience as impressive as anything on stage.  He also notes that besides a small crowd of parents with young children, the majority of the audience that turned out to hear the concert s treatment of game music was made up of young men and women.

Schiesel draws a line between his experience at “Video Games Live” not just to changing gamers, but also the changing role of music in games.  Game music has come full circle, evolving from programmer-produced primitive sounds to licensed popular music.  The medium now has a dedicated music game genre.  In an interesting side note, Schiesel mentions comments from Harmonix’s Alex Rigopulos at a recent DJ Hero event.  Rigopulos predicts an open platform for future music games, one that allows artists to independently publish their music for use in games such as Guitar Hero.

Read more at NY Times.

Stop-Motion Eye Candy

AdFreak is featuring a stop-motion animation video project that’s a feast for the eyes.  The video is the brainchild of advertiser Isaac Bell, a designer and photographer at DDB London.  Bell seems to understand that after light and colors, movement is the next biggest stimulant for the retina.  As AdFreak suggests, there is enough going on to warrant watching it more than once to catch all the nifty moving parts filling the frame.

Watch it at AdFreak.