It’s Good To Be Michael Bay

Blockbuster director Michael Bay has helmed a TV spot to promote Victoria s Secret’s Christmas lingerie catalogue.  The long-form ad has everything one would expect from the explosive, and some would argue chronically over-budgeted, film director.

Explosion at 1:14.

Watch it at AdFreak. {link no longer active}

Expanding On ‘Halo3: ODST’

Writing for G4TV, Andrew Pfister interviews lead developers at Bungie who worked on Microsoft’s Halo3: ODST.   While the Xbox 360 title sold more than 2 million copies at launch and ultimately managed a respectable review score, currently rated 83 percent at Metacritic, the game has had its share of hurdles to overcome.  A central challenge was how the game was positioned openly as being completely developed on the game engine used for the 2007 title Halo3.  Consequently game consumers perceived it as nothing more than an expansion, and eventually grumbled that it got premium pricing.

Pfister talks with Halo3: ODST writer and creative director Joseph Staten, design lead Lars Bakken, executive producer Curtis Creamer, and community director Brian Jarrard.  In the extensive interview, he manages to draw frank assessments of challenges in both developing the title and seeing some of the stumbles in how it was marketed by Microsoft.

Read Andrew Pfister s interview with Bungie at G4TV.

Time Picks The Top Ten Games Of 2009

Time Magazine’s Lev Grossman and Peter Ha have compiled their list of top ten videogames of 2009.  It s one component of an extensive and nifty online series featuring The Top Ten of Everything 2009 for news, arts and entertainment, business, technology, sports and pop culture.

Grossman and Ha come across as having done their homework.  There are plenty of references to game play being a factor with the games that made the list, rather than defferring to sales, critical reviews or strength of IP as one would expect from a mainstream mag.  That might explain the order in which the games appear, which bucks any usual industry measurements like sales, critical reviews and strength of IP.  Check out the list at Time.

Nintendo Reaches Out To Seniors

Nintendo is running a campaign to bridge the generation gap for gaming by giving away free Wii packages to more than fifty retirement communities.  As reported in Shack News, representatives from the company visited ten senior centers across the U.S. on December 4 to personally deliver and Wii consoles and games, and demonstrate The New Super Mario Brothers.   Nintendo also shipped Wii gift packages containing consoles, games such as Wii Fit, and peripherals such as MotionPlus and Wii Balance Boards to 42 retirement communities.  The effort is meant to highlight how videogames are fun for people of all ages.

Shack News says that Nintendo has conducted similar campaigns in the past, pointing to a 2007 drive donating more than 100 Wii packages to YMCA sports centers to promote children’s fitness.

Read more at Shack News.

EA Dominates Top-Selling iPhone Games

Apple has released lists for the top-selling and top-rated iPhone game apps for 2009, reports Gamasutra.  The apps are ranked based on sales and user reviews at the iPhone App Store at iTunes.  EA dominates the top five highest grossing game apps for the year, taking four of the slots with apps based on franchises The Sims, Need for Speed, Madden and Tiger Woods PGA.  The number two highest grossing game app was Gameloft’s classic remake The Oregon Trail.

Other traditional game publishers making the top ten best-selling games list are Taito with Cooking Mama at number eight, and 2K Games with Civilization Revolution at number nine.  With the exception of id’s Doom, the top ten user-rated iPhone game apps for the year were dominated by non-traditional game IP.  Gameloft had two titles on the quality-ranked list.

Check out the full lists at Gamasutra.

California Film Organizatin Says Redbox Threatens Movie Industry

The organization that oversees Southern California’s lucrative film economy has released research pinpointing cheap DVD kiosk operator Redbox as a threat to the industry.  As reported in Mashable, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation estimates that discounted movie prices from Redbox s dollar-a-day DVD rentals will ultimately cost the film industry $1 billion in annual revenue and threaten more than 9,000 jobs.  LAEDC says the revenue loss is based on customers steered away from DVD purchases and full-price rentals.  It estimates that the billion dollar loss translates to $520 million loss in profits to motion picture companies, which it then breaks down based on full re-investment into film production as effecting 9,280 jobs with annual earnings of about $395 annually.  The potential effect of that loss of earnings on California would be about $30 million lost in tax revenues.

Mashable points to possible bias in LAEDC’s findings, a corporation that benefits from entertainment industry money spent in California.  The organization has also targeted Redbox by highlighting the very sensitive area of potential tax revenue loss for severely cash-strapped California.  For its part, LAEDC admits that factors other than Redbox’s popularity, such as digital downloads, are draws on the entertainment industry’s profits.  Major studios have targeted Redbox, as well as Netflix, as immediate threats and asked that the companies refrain from stocking new DVD releases for 30 days.  Netflix is considering the request, but Redbox has filed a countersuit against several major studios.  The company claims lack of support by film companies has forced it to purchase new releases at Walmart to stock its rental kiosks.

Read more at Mashable.

GameTrailers PlayStation Gift Guide

GameTrailers is featuring an interactive gift guide for Sony PSP and PS3.  The guide is searchable for each platform by game genre and ESRB rating.  It’s perfect for parents wondering how to sidestep junior’s request for Modern Warfare 2 and find the perfect E-rated party game for the wrong platform to ruin Christmas morning.

Check it out, and make sure you re listed, at GameTrailers {link no longer active}.

EXCLUSIVE: Making History With ‘Modern Warfare 2’ – Part 1

This exclusive two-part editorial from the[a]listdaily looks at Activision and Infinity Ward’s run-up to making “Modern Warfare 2″ the biggest entertainment launch in history.

In Part 1, it’s “Targets Acquired.”

By Meelad Sadat

Targets acquired

Targets acquired

In the stream of numbers highlighting units sold, dollars made, and records broken from people clamoring after “Modern Warfare 2,” one publicized figure released by Activision stands out.  About a month after the game hit shelves, and perhaps sensing the dust settling from the nuclear bomb of a launch it had executed for the game, the publisher put out a press release announcing that the game had eight million active players in the first week.  The figure was exactly the number of units it had already announced that it sold about a week prior, bringing the game’s take to more than $550 million.  It was also after Activision had roundly publicized that the game had shattered every entertainment launch record known to man.  Yet apparently the company wanted a new metric for what set the game apart, and the way it decided to frame the figure said volumes about its giddy state of mind.  In a press release announcing the eight million players, the publisher said it represented more people playing “Modern Warfare 2″ than there are soldiers enlisted in the world’s top five armies.  Activision PR even provided estimates for each of those forces for press to have handy.  Some among the press pointed out the announcement as tongue-in-cheek, and no-doubt many recognized it as re-reported news wrapped in whimsy, but they covered it.  It is perhaps one of the oddest cases of corporate chest-thumping in any industry.  It’s certainly a stretch, equating a customer base of people plopping on a couch for entertainment to active military personnel, many of them involuntary soldiers serving in contentious parts of the world.  But for Activision, marking the culmination of a plan it mobilized about a year prior and one it brought to fruition to top everyone’s expectations, perhaps even its own, it showed that the company wanted to keep screaming its victors’ battle cries.

From the public’s standpoint, Activision had put the gears in motion to execute the biggest entertainment launch in history in May 2009.  It was then, in front of millions of Americans watching televised games of the NBA playoffs, that the publisher launched a TV teaser campaign leading up to the first glimpse of “Modern Warfare 2.”  It was decidedly flamboyant for a first look for a videogame.  Interstitials and announcer plugs during basketball games on cable network TNT planted the campaign for two weeks.  They paved the way to a May 24 payoff, when the game was shown during a conference championship late in the tournament.  The spot may have underwhelmed given its buildup, amounting to a story trailer with quick clips of in-game, but not necessarily game play footage.  Despite the mainstream placement and execution, it came across as no more than the type of trailer a hardcore gamer would seek out on an online game site.  And for some viewers it was an awkward first impression when the ad was prematurely cut by the network, and then had to be re-aired in full.  Yet the reveal and the campaign leading up to it was of great significant to one core audience: game marketers.  Right then and there, Activision elevated its title by breaking a template.  Instead of orchestrating a PR campaign, and perhaps tying a TV exclusive into a hobbyist network such as MTV or G4, Activision went for the biggest chunk of an audience it could find.  In doing so, the publisher spent millions of ad dollars for a first look at a videogame six months before launch.

Within days of the big reveal, the game industry gathered at the revamped, re-glorified E3 tradeshow in Los Angeles.  Activision bucked expectations for “Modern Warfare 2″ at the expo, giving the game a quieter than expected presence by leaving any access to a playable version of it off of the show floor.  The only hands-on sessions would be by appointment behind closed doors.  That subduction, usually a sign of trouble for a game, didn’t faze the press, many of whom turned their privileged exposure into positive coverage.  The game also had a significant push from Microsoft, getting high-billing at the company’s always high-profile E3 press conference.  Heads of development from Modern Warfare maker Infinity Ward ran an on-stage demo that drew vigorous applause from the audience.  Many of those in attendance were press who would later be able to usher that excitement into their private demo sessions.  Within a week, the E3 showing and buzz had at least one analyst reeling, when Janco Partners’ Mike Hickey provided a moon-shot forecast that the game would sell more than 11 million units in its first two months.  He followed that with a relatively modest prediction that it would become the biggest title of 2009.  Hickey’s forecast was among the first in a string of bullish analyst predictions for the game.  In an industry whose press corps clamors for news, and as a result often weaves financial coverage into consumer press, analysts would become another buzz building force for Activision’s title.

In early June, advertising trade Ad Age publicized Activision’s true intention for the game, one where making it game of the year would be the gravy.  The magazine got the scoop when Activision finished their agency review and announced that it had enlisted one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, Omnicom’s TBWA/Chiat/Day.  The headline for the story summed up the objective TBWA had taken on by winning the account: to execute the “biggest entertainment launch ever.”  Activision chief creative officer Brad Jakeman, a former marketing executive for Macy’s department stores, readily spelled out the plan for Ad Age readers.  It was targets acquired for the publisher.  The game was going to beat entertainment debut records, and in its sights were the biggest game launch ever in the $310 million first day bow by “Grand Theft Auto IV,” and the biggest film opening ever with the $158 million take for “The Dark Knight.”  Then Jakeman dropped a bomb, one that managed to evade game industry coverage until after the title had been released.  “Modern Warfare 2” represented a $200 million marketing spend account for TBWA, along with media buying agency WPP Mediaedge:cia.

By summer “Modern Warfare 2” was ready to settle into a steady PR campaign, filling the five or so months between the big May reveals and the final launch push.  But then the game hit a PR snag.  Infinity Ward had quietly dropped the original Call of Duty moniker from this second Modern Warfare title.  The Call of Duty name had launched the war game series and become a powerful videogame brand for Activision, as a multibillion dollar franchise spanning five titles.  As the excitement of seeing the game began to settle, press started to inquire about the name change.  That prompted Infinity Ward’s community manager Robert Bowling to step in.  He issued statements on behalf of the developer that the intention was to set Modern Warfare apart as its own franchise.  As Bowling told MTV News, Infinity Ward wanted to establish it as a direct sequel to the first Modern Warfare game and “not just another one in the Call of Duty franchise.”  Clearly implied in the statements was the developer’s desire to create some distance between its war game series and the recent World War II Call of Duty games that were being developed at a second Activision studio, Treyarch.  Within weeks of the statements, consumer research came out to contradict the strategy.  Analyst firm OTX released a study showing that brand awareness more than doubled when people were shown mock game boxes adding a “Call of Duty” marquee to the title “Modern Warfare 2.”  As the PR push continued, and appropriately without any fanfare, the Call of Duty label snuck back into official logos, images and press materials.

Making history with “Modern Warfare 2” continues next week with Part 2, “Fire & Movement.”

Wii Lead Is Too Big To Overcome, Says Analyst

Jesse Divnich of analyst firm EEDAR has shared a forecast on game console performance through 2013 with Industry Gamers.  Divnich predicts that even with a worst case scenario for Nintendo, the Wii will ultimately benefit from its current lead to ride out this console generation as the best-selling box.  Divnich starts his argument using forecasted 2009 sell-through for consoles in the U.S., where Wii is expected to reach more than 26 million units compared to about 18.4 million units for Xbox 360 and 11.1 million units for PS3.  The figures are derived from existing NPD install base data combined with EEDAR s forecast for console sales in November and December.

In his worst case scenario for Wii, Divnich assumes a 25 percent decline in sales in 2010, followed by two years of 30 percent declines and a 50 percent drop in 2013.  For Xbox 360, he predicts 10 percent annual bumps capped by a 30 percent decline in 2013.  For PS3, he predicts a 25 percent boost in 2010, followed by two 10 percent annual bumps, then a 30 percent decline in 2013.  The scenario has Wii as the winner come 2014 with 41.7 million units sold compared to 39.2 million units of Xbox 360 and 33.4 million units of PS3.  Divnich says that marks the end of this console cycle.  However he predicts that Sony will pursue a strategy similar to PS2 leveraging PS3 s movie-playing capability, in this case Blu-ray, to support it into the next generation.  Read more at Industry Gamers {link no longer active}.

UK Game Retailer Reports Double-Digit Decline

Game retail giant Game Group has said that sales of videogame hardware and software declined by 14.3 percent across its stores in the UK and Ireland, reports Edge-Online.  Game Group is the largest specialist retailer in the UK, operating more than 1,400 stores.  The retailer said it saw overall sales fall despite a bump in demand for consoles from recent price cuts and record-breaking software sales by Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 and EA’s FIFA 10.   It pointed to weaker than expected sales of other recently released titles, which it didn’t name.  Game Group added that it is investing in digital distribution for games.  It claims to be the only UK game retailer currently operating a down service for PC games.

Read more at Edge-Online {link no longer active}.