‘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.

How ODST Has Evolved Halo Marketing

How ODST has Evolved Halo Marketing

By John Artest

Halo 3: ODST is an interesting experiment in how a brand can translate from character-specific to brand-specific, akin to how Perfect Strangers begat Family Matters in late-80s sitcom history. (Have I dated myself?)

Anyhow, Halo 3: ODST doesn’t star the “Mario” of Microsoft, Master Chief, but instead a ragtag group of soldiers who are in the very same war. They just don’t have the same wonderful toys as the Chief.

An experiment from the very start, Halo 3: ODST was a big risk for Microsoft as they do very little to communicate Master Chief to the audience, instead relying on the Halo brand itself to carry the torch for them moving forward.

This experiment is even more important when given the future products Microsoft has in mind for the Halo franchise, so the news from USA Today that Halo 3: ODST has sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide is sure to bring a sigh to relief to the folks at Redmond.

That plan includes movies, anime series, comic books, and yes, Master Chief will return.

“We do have a plan that goes out at least six years,” said Frank O’Connor, creative director for 343 Industries told USA Today. “Eventually, it will become very apparent that there is a plan for the way the canon all ties together and the way the comic books and the novels all tie together.”

Halo 3: ODST kicked off its campaign in early September with a stunning live-action short film that we’ve embedded below for your viewing pleasure:

Not one instance of Master Chief, but Microsoft does make strides in developing characters around the bigger war itself, alluding to a lot of important small stories around the grander battles.

This also gives us another opportunity to look at what those products are, which we’ve outlined below.

Halo Legends (Anime)

Halo Legends is a series of seven anime shorts done with careful care to pay heed to the Japanese art form. Microsoft’s first foray with 343 Industries will be these films, and it is going to be a key experiment to see how successful Halo can be outside of its games.

The films are expected to launch this fall with a preview on Xbox Live through a new Xbox 360 feature allowing friends to watch videos with each other at the same time (Xbox Parties). The films will them hit on other mediums, including DVD, digital distribution and, funnily enough, Blu-Ray, a key system feature of the PlayStation 3.

The important key Microsoft is pushing is the fact it’s taking the anime art form very seriously, enlisting people like Shinji Aramaki to gain that all-important street cred, Aramaki is the director of anime classics Appleseed and Ghost In The Machine, and his attachment has the anime community buzzing in anticipation.

Microsoft’s holding of preview events on Xbox Live is a masterstroke, allowing a feature that may be underused (simultaneous movie watching) to take the spotlight, getting users acclimated to using their console in other ways than in just playing games. It should also be a relief to 343 Industries that Microsoft is releasing these films in other mediums, most notably Blu-Ray.

Halo Legends is taking a very open approach to pushing the Halo brand, regardless of the medium or delivery, and its success should grease the wheels of other publishers when faced with any exclusivity arrangement for a game or DLC. More potential users equals more paying users, period.

Halo (Movie)

A live action movie for Halo seemed like a natural fit given the blockbuster success of the game series. Microsoft went so far as to commission a short-film by Neill Blomkamp, director of the newly-minted hit film District 9. We’ve embedded the video below.

{video link marked “private”}

Pretty cool, huh? Blomkamp was tapped to direct a full motion picture, and a script was written and picked up by 20th Century Fox. Peter Jackson was set to be executive producer, but the movie was held up after five months in production. Jackson and Blomkamp went on to create District 9, and the Halo movie was on indefinite hold.

Earlier this week, more news came out of Hollywood regarding Halo, with Steven Spielberg taking up the executive producer reigns to take a new script to fruition, although Microsoft is denying the movie has resumed production.

Ultimately, it’s to everyone’s benefit to get Halo onto the big screen, and it will happen. It’ll just be a matter of time. And with names like Jackson’s and Spielberg’s being attached to the project, our money is it’ll be a quality production (unlike video game movies like Doom or Super Mario Bros.).

Halo as a motion picture represents the ultimate test of how well Halo has marketed itself, not only to a hardcore consumer, but to the general audience who make films like Iron Man and Star Trek huge hits of the past couple of years. If the Halo movie gets made and receives a warm reception, both critically and at the box office, the floodgates will open, and if you’ve got a cool IP, it could soon be ready for a big screen debut.

Halo Evolutions (Books)

This week, 343 Industries continues its multimedia push with a new book series announced taking place in the Halo universe. Books based on the Halo series have been well received, and the latest book is rumored to be the basis of the Spielberg-helmed Halo movie.

The new book series continues work on expanding on the Halo universe, similar to how Star Wars used novels to expand that universe and maintain a hold on its fanbase for decades between the two movie trilogies.

“The chance to explore corners of the Halo universe, whether obscure or popular, is something we are always excited to do, but the chance to shine light on these dark corners with the talents of these wonderful luminaries, is a pleasure indeed,” says Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director, 343 Industries. “The combination of fresh eyes and old hands guarantees a brilliant continuation of a Halo tradition.”

You may think gamers don’t read, and you could be right. But Halo is making its push into non-traditional (for gamers) mediums to make sure that the hardcore user can satisfy their appetite for as much Halo as possible. Those are the users that are the hardest to please, but once you’ve won them over, they’ll never be able to get enough (again, look at Star Wars).

Halo Waypoint (Games)

Speaking of the hardcore, Microsoft will be launching Halo Waypoint on Xbox 360 later this year. The vision of Halo Waypoint is to have videos (everything from classic ads of the first Halo to the latest Halo Legends anime shorts), mini-games and more to appeal to Xbox 360 owners regardless of how much they like (or loathe) Halo.

This will be an interesting experiment, and one Sony has been trying with the different spaces in PlayStation Home. The idea is to engage users right on their console with a variety of multimedia and games, continuing to push that series as games, movies and books come out.

Halo Waypoint will segue into the anticipated launch of Halo 3: ODST later this year, which will in and of itself be a test of whether the Halo name or the Master Chief character is what resonates with gamers. The game, a prequel to Halo 3, deals with members of the human army, fighting the alien army on Earth.

Not only that, but next year has the launch of Halo Reach, a game that has very little details behind it, and this one is expected to be the last in the Halo franchise developed by creator Bungie Studios before they move onto a new, unnamed IP.

Microsoft and 343 Industries have a bunch of hurdles in front of the Halo series, but they look to engage the right people in the right ways and mediums to make this an unequivocal success. The marketing of Halo will be extremely important as Microsoft looks in the medium-term to continue a Halo push, both with and without Bungie, both with and without Master Chief. The pieces are in the right place, it’s just up to Master Chief and his cohorts to take aim and pull the trigger.

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.

Large Nintendo DSi Chasing Older Japanese

Japan media is reporting that Nintendo is planning to release a new version of its handheld DSi with a larger screen aimed at older gamers.  Picked up by Kotaku, the news reports say the new Nintendo DSi will bump up its screen by three quarters of an inch to four inches.  The price is expected to remain the same as the regular DSi.

Read more at Kotaku.

Rumor: Nintendo DSi Getting Talk Functionality

Internet sleuths have dug up evidence that Nintendo is preparing to roll out talk functionality for the Nintendo DSi, reports Industry Gamers.  The speculation is that Nintendo is enabling DSi owners to communicate with each other using the handheld system’s microphone and camera.  The evidence is mainly instructions that appeared on a customer service page on Nintendo’s web site referring to a DSi Speak Channel.  The text has since been removed.

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

Developers Should Own Up To Marketing Their Games, Says Infinity Ward

Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward is calling on other game studios to get directly involved in the marketing of their products.  Talking to MCV, Infinity Ward community manager Robert Bowling says developers should cut out the middleman and consider that they know their products and consumers better than anyone.  The studio has been directly involved in Activision’s marketing and PR for the upcoming sequel Modern Warfare 2.   Bowling has been behind revealing game information through social media channels such as YouTube and Twitter.

Read more at MCV.

Adweek Digital Hotlist 2009

AdweekMedia digital editors Mike Shields and Brian Morrissey rank the year’s ten hottest digital companies.  With this year s list topped by Facebook, the writers see the social media site as overcoming negative sentiments about its ad targeting and privacy practices.  The site continues to exhibit exponential growth in users as it draws in more marketers and bigger ad dollars.

Following Facebook, the top eight in the list are, respectively, Hulu, Twitter, Google, iPhone, Huffington Post, Bing and Wall Street Journal.  Among these digital giants, two less recognizable digital companies round out the top ten.  At number nine is digital media publisher Federated Media. Adweek describes the firm as one that s trailblazing in digital marketing, with campaigns focused on engagement and niche targeting.  The company has created notable social campaigns for companies such as Microsoft and Toyota.  Number ten is Addicting Games, the Viacom-owned casual game site that beats out the company’s entertainment properties such as MTV and Nickelodeon in audience.  Addicting Games has grown its audience by 47 percent this year to 15 million unique users, becoming the third largest casual game site behind Yahoo Games and EA’s Pogo.

Check out the full list at Adweek {link no longer active}.

Volkswagen’s Launch Strategy Gor GTI: An iPhone App

Volkswagen is launching the new GTI model with a singularly focused marketing strategy: an iPhone racing game app.  The carmaker says the move is as much a consideration of reaching its target audience as it is rooted in cost-efficiency.  Writing for Ad Age, Kunur Patel and Jean Halliday point out how the carmaker spent $60 million on the launch for GTI’s 2006 model, a far cry from the budget for an iPhone app.  Cost was such a factor in the new launch that VW even licensed the racing game engine from an iPhone developer.

The Ad Age writers consider VW’s decision from a quantifiable standpoint.  The more than 50 million iPhone and iPod Touch users represent a bigger potential audience than the biggest network TV shows, and a potentially better targeted one for who VW is trying to reach.  Yet a viral and PR only campaign to get one app noticed among the estimated 65,000 in Apple’s App Store might pose a challenge.  Patel and Halliday break down the carmaker s campaign and talk to analysts about the opportunity cost of VW’s approach.

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

NBA Star Power, Multiplied

Adidas new campaign for basketball shoes makes the most of its NBA star power.  The Brotherhood ads aim to deliver the message that individual style and personal drive are as much a part of basketball as being a team player.  It s a great hook for a shoe company that s runner-up to Nike and Reebok when it comes to basketball.

To get the message across, the ads combine multiple takes of the same players -stars such as Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Chicago’s Derrick Rose – performing moves on the court.  The smooth presentation and clean background make it a visual treat.  It also helps Adidas squeeze a lot of highlights from their all-star lineup into one ad.  Whether it lays the groundwork for a multi-ball variation of the sport, maybe for an All-Star Weekend gimmick, is another story.

Watch it at YouTube {video link marked “private”}.