Microsoft Explores Live-Enabled Lifelines For Stuck Gamers

Microsoft has filed a patent for a game guide system delivering game play hints and other information to people as they play a game, reports Siliconera. The system is described as running through the Xbox Live service and comprising user-generated content. Siliconera says it s similar to what Nintendo has introduced in the Super Guide system built into The New Super Mario Brothers game. Microsoft’s filing calls for a robust system giving users the ability to capture media and annotate their entries with notes and audio commentary.  Read more at Siliconera.

RedOctane Spins On Music Games

Writing for Seattle Times, Brier Dudley has an interview with RedOctane founder Kai Huang about the future outlook for the music game genre. Huang and his company are the enterprising group who took the music rhythm game phenomenon started by Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution and put a distinctly Western spin on it with Guitar Hero. Recently RedOctane and parent publisher Activision expanded the genre into club culture with DJ Hero, a title Huang says could become the number one new game IP for the year. In his Q&A, Huang touches whether an online model is feasible for licensing-burdened music games, and what it ll take to grow the genre overall.

 

Read more at Seattle Times.

‘Assassin’s Creed II’ Stands To Make A Killing

Ubisoft says Assassin’s Creed II has sold 1.6 million units in the first week and is bettering sales of its predecessor by 32 percent, reports Industry Gamers. The first title that launched the series for Ubisoft in 2007 became the fastest selling new IP in the US.  It ultimately went on to sell eight million units worldwide. According to Broadpoint AmTech analyst Ben Schachter, Ubisoft has forecast that it will sell about 7.5 million units of the seque in its current fiscal year. He calls the target doable. Read more at Industry Gamers.

Baiting ‘Em With Heaven

EA is running a viral campaign for Dante’s Inferno revolving around a spoof prayer simulation game and an app to hand down divine judgment on Facebook friends.

The spoof game is Mass We Pray, with a video and micro-site designed to look like it s selling a church-themed game for Nintendo Wii. The Wii references come from cross-shaped motion-sensing remotes and a Wii Balance Board-like accessory for kneeling to pray. The video is fittingly campy, trying to channel the usual production value and tone viewers would expect from religious inspired content. Yet its obvious satire aside, it never exposes itself as pitching a fake game, nor does it link itself directly to Dante s Inferno.  It’s only once viewers try to query other information off of the Mass We Pray site, such as browsing screen shots, that a new trailer for Dante s Inferno launches to expose the gig.

The Mass We Pray video has by all accounts gone successfully viral, drawing more than 486,000 views on YouTube at the time of this post. EA is now trying to further engage that traffic with a Facebook campaign.  Once the Dante’s Inferno video is launched on the Mass We Pray site, viewers are encouraged to download a Facebook app that lets them banish friends or foes to hell.  EA is also getting ready to launch an iPhone version of the app.

You can check it all out starting at the campaign gateway at Mass We Pray.

Atari Looks Back In Stepping Forward

Atari has launched what it is calling phase one of growing its online business, reports Industry Gamers.  The publisher is putting classic arcade and Atari 2600 titles on its web site. Visitors will be able to play free versions of classics such Asteroids and Yars Revenge, and they can also purchase copies of the games to own. Part of the effort seems to include reinvigorating the venerable game brand, with Atari also saying new branded apparel is being sold through its revamped site. Atari president and CEO Jim Wilson says it s the first step in redefining how people connect with Atari.

Another Marketing Comedy Short

Yahoo has released a comedy short they re no-doubt hoping goes viral, and it may for all the wrong reasons. It’s another Greek tragedy built around colliding corporate marketing teams and ad agency creatives. That well runs deep, so it s not so much that Yahoo has been caught with a late variation on a tired idea. It’s the execution that kills this piece, with canned writing, half-hearted acting, and generally a lot of ideas that come across as so borrowed they might as well have been Googled. (Sorry, Yahoo.)

 

Watch it at AdFreak.

Australian Agencies At Odds Over ‘Modern Warfare 2’ Rating

A regional Attorney-General in Australia is appealing the country s ratings board decision to grant Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 a 15+ rating, reports Gamesindustry.biz. Michael Atkinson, the South Australia Attorney-General, filed the appeal. He has made comments that the Classification Board who grants ratings to the country’s films and games often tries to get product in under the radar. In justifying his appeal, Atkinson makes specific references to the controversial terrorist mission in the game. He calls it a glorification of terrorism and says it s proof that game creators can t be counted on to be responsible.

A successful appeal by Atkinson could block the release of Modern Warfare 2 in its current iteration in Australia, forcing Activision to consider censoring content to re-submit for rating. EA’s Left 4 Dead 2 experienced a similar outcome in Australia when it was denied a 15+ rating and was forced to make extensive content changes. Initially, EA had joined a growing lobby to introduce an 18+ rating in the country. GI.biz says Atkinson has become a highly vocal critic against games and is central to blocking the effort to introduce a mature-equivalent rating in Australia. Read more at Gamesindustry.biz.

EXCLUSIVE: With Broadcast PR, It’s VNR Or DNR

By Meelad Sadat

Recently the[a]listdaily had a chance to talk to longtime TV producer Olly Quinn on what it takes to get broadcast coverage for games.  Olly is US West Coast producer for Playr, a videogame news program that airs in the UK and is syndicated globally. What makes Olly a great resource for broadcast PR insight is that his background includes covering traditional entertainment. As he puts it, having worked on programming that wasn’t just focused on games made him familiar with how other media provide access and material to use.

The topic of conversation with Olly quickly moved from the current template for broadcast game PR placing trailers or convincing that game outlet to send a video crew to an event to what it takes to reach out to a mainstream media-minded producer. It turns out that while the game industry has become greatly adept at orchestrating events and devising clever ways to control information dissemination, game marketing and PR teams might be missing a couple easy components. Olly points to Hollywood, saying while they don t have a broadcast PR model that can port directly over to games they do provide some proven best practices to follow. The essentials in his mind are how Hollywood organizes junkets and pre-packages usable assets as video news releases. When it comes to taking an entertainment product and packaging it for promotion far and wide, no one has honed a more precise template than Hollywood. And just like we’d expect from Hollywood, it’s structured, it’s formulaic, and it works.

Olly also talked about what it takes to get coverage for game ad campaigns and TV creative.  It s an area that he and Playr do consider if the material is compelling enough, and of-course if the assets are packaged properly.

 

First off, what do you have to say to game marketing and PR people about pitching a more mainstream minded producer or a TV magazine oriented show?

About games PR s attitude towards mainstream media. I think it s either scared because it’s scared of the rejection. Or it just has a feeling of being defeatist. Why engage them because most of the time they ll tell us they re not interested.

Of-course IGN, of-course Gamespot, of-course GameTrailers will come to your event with a crew. That’s their MO. What about the other media that don’t come to game events that need to be persuaded? If they get told come to our game event and we’ve got a crew that will film the interview for you, they’ll say great because they only have to send a presenter, a producer and that is it. We don’t have to send a crew of maybe six, seven people. They’ll react positively to it.  They ll say alright, this company’s on board. This company is acting the same way a TV company would to promote a series.  Or a movie company would.

Should these games PR people be looking to how the film industry orchestrates their junkets and broadcast campaigns in other words, is Hollywood the model?

It’s not a model. But it s surprising how often their techniques and their approaches for publicity don t get brought on board. It’s seen as like, games are so new, why should we take stuff on board from film media.  The standard thing that films do is, when they have a junket, they run that brilliantly. They also organize their own crews, so that nobody is having to come there with kits, set it up and then take it down afterwards. They’ve paid for their video crews to be there are there and thus exercise a military like degree of time management. You come into the room, you meet the star, and you’ll get your five or six minutes with this person, and soon as you re done they’ll politely push you out of the room, give you the tapes of you doing the interview and you re off to the next one. It’s so rare that I’ve ever seen that done by publishers of videogames to actually allow that to happen.

Since you are back in the thick of things in terms of focusing on game coverage again, what sort of content gets on Playr?

The show is distinct from stuff that s focused on a presenter being the conduit in that all of the show is voiceover led. It’s very easy to make a show for an international market when you don t have to localize a presenter and can just do new VO. It is magazine format, which means essentially every item is a segment itself. In addition to doing preview coverage of games, interviewing developers and doing reviews, there s a lot of feature coverage in there as well.

Standard stuff then. So the pitch obviously has to have a hook, but from an asset perspective what helps the package?

The criteria is that if people come to us with stuff that they’ve already shot, and it s at a competent and technical level, and it s something that we can easily put together a segment from essentially a video news release or VNR we will do that. So if you’ve already gone out and shot the behind-the-scenes of a commercial, and I mean raw B-roll, we can do something with that. If you send us a featurette, most people have already seen it, and by the time we put it on our show it s already old hat. It loses its currency because it s on the internet and people have seen it, as opposed to something that needs to be produced. By giving us a true VNR we actually get the ability to do our own unique cut. I do believe that most marketing and PR people in the industry don’t have an understanding of what a proper video news reel is. It’s crucial to understand their value, and it’s also crucial to appreciate how they can be used by media outlets. This is exactly how the other more traditional media gets the coverage which it does, which is quite frankly, by comparison to the game industry, colossal.

What do you think is sometimes lacking in broadcast asset packages that game publishers put together?

Certainly in the past, and a particularly huge problem at E3, is when videogame companies would just provide a trailer as opposed to B-roll, which you can actually work with. Some people expect you to cut an interview only using a trailer as illustrative purposes, which his just a nightmare because a trailer is precut and audio mixed. B-roll is key. Give people variety variety and depth. Movie companies can sometimes do a VNR on a movie that s over 60 minutes long in material. That s not seen as overkill, that s seen as covering all the bases.

Do not feel that less is more when it comes to giving video media the materials to work with.  Cutting a piece to a certain length is a decision for an editorial person at an outlet. For a VNR you should not be making that call.

The problem with B-roll is that it’s supposed to be continuous segments of the game. That can actually prove to be a more time-consuming piece of content to collect, evaluate and approve than cutting bits and pieces. What have you seen as good practices by publishers with how they provide B-roll?

With the more progressive publishers, sometimes the stipulation is that when we re supplied with B-roll is that we cannot post it as a straight compile of gameplay clips. They say you must take some effort to cut this into the segment you just shot [it] prevents sites to use up all the content by just throwing it up and making it instantly old.  That s always useful.

You said Playr does consider covering ad-marketing efforts for games.  What would make a compelling segment in that regard?

We’re still making a show for the gamer as opposed to the industry person so we wouldn’t be that interested in talking to someone discussing a campaign, from a trade perspective. We would be interested to talk to the director, stunt performers, specialists in the commercial and also the people involved in the creative process of putting together a TV spot. A TV commercial is at least something that s tele -visual, so purely on those grounds is the reasons we d want to cover it. Obviously there are a lot of TV commercials that we wouldn’t want to cover. Over the year s a lot of TV commercials about games have kind of ignored the game. Or they’ve done something that s somebody s crazy idea, created at great expensive in live action but they only get around to showing actual game graphics in the last five or so seconds. But if you’ve got something that’s really well done and actually tied into the universe of the game, then absolutely we’d want to do something on it.

Can you give examples of marketing campaigns that you would consider for coverage?

KillZone 2 is most certainly a good example. They had an advert which was basically a bullet flying through the battlefield in slo-mo. They did non TV-spot versions with commentaries. Not just the just team members from the Sony studio in Holland, they also included members of the visual FX house Zoic Studios, who collaborated in the creative of the TV spot. What they did off the back of that advert was put out a series videos that explained and went into detail on different aspect, but ALSO made available an interactive version for people with PlayStation 3s.  One where they could actually in real-time, examine the scene. I felt that was a really progressive move on their part.

Did they approach you to get coverage?

You know they didn’t. In terms of approaching broadcast media, what they didn’t do was shoot interviews as raw material about those people involved in the spot and supply that with the videos or the demo. That’s like going so far, but in terms of the crucial aspect of getting coverage by the traditional, mainstream, non-gaming TV media, they didn’t address that.

What would have been the perfect package from them, or really from anyone trying to build a PR pitch around a creative campaign like that?

For a commercial the perfect VNR would include a [split] audio version of the commercial itself, which means you can extract the VO, you can extract the music, you can extract the sound FX. It would include a bunch of B-roll of the commercial being shot at least 10 minutes of B-roll, just of on-set stuff. A bit of time lapse is always nice. It would also include something like 15 minutes of interviews of people involved in the process and I understand that would also need to include some people from the marketing department of that particular publisher, plus the dev team ideally. It would include some creatives on the ad agency side, and maybe some people who worked on the special FX if that was the particular focus. It would also include a bunch of raw shots to show you if a certain shot was achieved how that was done. It might also include the animatic of how the commercial was pre-vis ed. It might include a rostrum of storyboards. It’s fine to include a featurette of how the commercial was made because sometimes that s a good shorthand for letting people understand how the commercial was put together. But don t make that the only thing.   And don’t just include the game’s trailer on that reel. Please try to include at least six or eight really strong raw game play clips of that game in action.

There s the VNR plug from you again. Assuming publishers already have their scheduled video content such as trailers lined up, and they know they’ll have to provide content on demand such as B-roll along the way, give the final argument on why they should tack on the effort in putting together an evergreen VNR as part of the package.

I don’t wish to make it sound like the television media is lazy.cBroadcast media can be very creative if we’re given a VNR to work with. Of-course we can expand on that material. We can go back and additional use some archive material or shoot some supplemental interviews, but a good VNR will gives us some meat to work with. We’re a chef and basically you’ve given us some core ingredients, and we can work with that and make our own thing. Whereas a featurette is a pre-made meal, and that’s honestly no good to us.

You never know how a VNR is going to be used. You might actually get someone who wants to do an entire show around it, as crazy as that sounds. People have space to fill. People are always looking for a more convenient option of how to create content, particularly in the TV realm. It could massively help extend your segment. Less is more is a choice to be made by the people creating the editorial at the outlet. And please remember to always give people a log sheet to let them know how much material they’re going to get ahead of time. Plus if you’re sending or having them download a huge high res file, send them either just the audio of the interviews or a very low res version for them to look over; while the larger transfer is occurring. The time sensitive mainstream outlets will love you for it.

 

Uncanny Peaks And Valleys

Fast Company has created a completely subjective if not entirely off-base list of the twelve best and worst CG film characters of all time. To add anything here would need a spoiler warning.

SPOILER WARNING: As someone who greatly advanced the art, George Lucas deserves better .maybe.

 

Check it out at Fast Company.

Modern Warfare Lifts GameStop’s Boat

GameStop says it sold 2.5 million copies of Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 in the first three days, setting a new game launch sales record for its stores. Media outlet GameSpot reports that the US game retailer stated the figure as part of its third quarter earnings, where it also said it expects continuing brisk sales over the holidays on other big titles including Ubisoft’s Assassin s Creed II and Nintendo’s The New Super Mario Brothers.

GameSpot also lists the games provided by the retailer as meeting or beating sales expectations during its third quarter. They are EA’s Madden NFL 10, Microsoft’s Halo 3: ODST, Warner Brothers Batman: Arkham Asylum, 2K Sports’ NBA 2K10, and Nintendo’s Wii Sports Resort. Read more at GameSpot.