Feature: 2K Sports Steps Up To The Plate

The sports category in the video game industry is a great genre to be in, if you can be successful at it. It’s highly competitive and the pressure to put out annual SKUs in the same franchises can be tough on publisher and developer alike. With spring fever hitting everyone right about now, the[a]listdaily decided to chat with 2K Sports’ VP of Marketing Jason Argent about the publisher’s venerable baseball franchise. It’s a franchise that’s taken a hit in recent years with Sony’s MLB The Show series grabbing a bigger spotlight, but 2K’s marketing has really done a phenomenal job this season – you’ll especially notice this if you tune in regularly to the MLB Network on TV.

General consensus over the years has positioned the MLB 2K franchise as the underdog to Sony’s MLB The Show series. From the marketing perspective does it make it more difficult to form a campaign for a title that is battling a tough competitor in the space?

Jason Argent: I’m a strong believer that competition makes you better, and nowhere does that hold more true than with our MLB 2K franchise. From both the marketing and game development standpoints we upped our game this year in every way, and we believe the fans see and appreciate that.

In many ways developing this year’s campaign was easier because the objective was simple: Convince people to play our game because we believe that once they do, they’ll love it and see how good it really is. The mandate was to make some noise.

How are you pushing the fact that you’re the only licensed MLB product on certain consoles? Has this been an advantage?

We don’t want people to buy our game because we’re exclusive on certain consoles, we want them to buy the game because it’s good and because it’s a fantastic simulation baseball experience. So we focus our efforts squarely on ways to illustrate that to our fans and fans-to-be.

The TV spots for MLB 2K10 have been fantastic. What went into creating them, and was it difficult to secure so many MLB players to star in the ad spots?

Thanks. We probably look at athletes a little different than other companies. The athletes we choose to work with are the ones that want to work with us, that love 2K, and love playing our games. And we’re extremely fortunate to have a growing stable of athletes that we look at more as family than as endorsers of the product. And while this may seem like a small thing, it’s very important to us and we believe it comes through in the advertising and in the game itself because the athletes are vested in it. So shooting the MLB 2K10 videos had the typical logistics hurdles to overcome like working around schedules and travel, but working with the athletes themselves was easy. We just aimed the camera at them and let them go!

Spring fever’s in effect right now, so marketing the game at the moment is a good idea, but how far can you push the campaign? Should we expect to see marketing continue throughout the baseball season up until the World Series?

One of the great aspects of this particular campaign is that it has some staying power. Our perfect game contest ends on May 2nd and at that time we’re hoping we have a $1,000,000 winner we can announce and celebrate with the world. And don’t forget the whole reason for this promotion was to help highlight MLB 2K10’s superior pitching and hitting mechanics, so that will certainly be continually communicated on an ongoing basis.

The pitcher/hitter interface has been improved and the marketing focuses on it

Where did you get the idea for a $1 million perfect game bounty? That’s quite a lot to give away. Was this in part a response to the changes you’ve made to the pitching system, and do you feel the bounty was effective in generating lots of interest in the title?

The game had improved so much from last year that we knew once people played it they’d love it. We just needed a way to convince them to play. The possibility of winning $1,000,000 has a way of doing that.

The more important question was, how do we achieve this while staying true to the key selling point of the game itself . . . the superior pitching mechanic. What communicates great pitching better than throwing a Perfect Game? And the cherry on top was that it allowed us to give something back to one our loyal fans.

What were some of the other key elements of the MLB 2K10 campaign that we may have overlooked?

We love the Pitcher/Hitter videos. You mentioned them earlier so you didn’t overlook them, but some people may have because we didn’t push them out there like we did the $1M Perfect Game communication. The cornerstone of the game of baseball is this pitcher/hitter duel, and we really wanted to capture and embrace that in the creative. And no one can do this better than the players themselves. These videos were an amazing and consistent complement to what we wanted to communicate about the MLB 2K10 game itself. You can check them out on the MLB 2K10 Facebook page or on www.2ksports.com.

Sports video games are a unique breed unto themselves. What goes into the marketing strategy for a 2K Sports title compared to a more traditional action or shooter title?

Sports culture. Sports move people differently than videogames alone, and sports encompass a larger audience than do videogames alone. We’re not just talking with gamers, we’re talking with everyone that has every played or watched sports. The passion that people feel for certain sports, teams, and athletes is something we can appreciate and always tap into because everyone here actually lives it. Also we get the privilege to speak to our audience every year, whereas shooters and strategy games may go two to three years between releases.

With new motion controllers coming later this year, are there plans to possibly include functionality for future MLB 2K games or other 2K Sports titles?

Yes . . .stay tuned!


Linkin Park Stages Rebellion On IPhone

In an interesting convergence of rock-and-roll culture, video games, and iPhone mainstream penetration, award-winning rock band Linkin Park has actually partnered with developer Artificial Life to create its own game for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. LINKIN PARK 8-BIT REBELLION! is not a simple rhythm game but is actually an action-adventure title in which “players must free Linkin Park’s idyllic 8-bit world from the clutches of the evil PixxelKorp, whose corrupt agents have stolen the band’s music.”

The band was “intimately involved” in all aspects of the game’s design, including story, gameplay, characters and music. The game also features 8-bit old-school video game interpretations of some of Linkin Park’s greatest hits, including New Divide, One Step Closer, In The End, Crawling, QWERTY, Hands Held High, Faint, and No More Sorrow.


“It was a unique experience to work with Linkin Park to create one of the most innovative mobile gaming experiences to date,” says Artificial Life CEO, Eberhard Schoneburg. “Our close co-operation with the band has led to a cool and fun game play, a great design and a groundbreaking app that pushes the limits of the iPhone gaming experience and sets new standards for music based games. Throughout production the band worked closely with our designers intimately contributing to the creative process for character designs, in-game artwork, mission structure and, of course, the music in the game! 8-Bit Rebellion helps fans get closer to the band by drawing them into the virtual world that they have helped to create as well as providing their global fan base with an exciting community experience. It’s a must for all Linkin Park fans.”The collaborative process with Artificial Life was exceptional,” says Linkin Park vocalist Mike Shinoda, who worked with the game company to design the characters and score the game. “They were able to turn my sketches and our creative ideas into a living, breathing world that we think gamers will thoroughly enjoy. This game is not just made for Linkin Park fans–anyone will be able to play and enjoy 8-Bit Rebellion. My bandmates and I grew up playing games like Metroid, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Space Invaders, Mega Man and Rygar. We wanted this game to have the feel of a vintage game, and a big part of it was the music.”

Tecmo Plays With Nostalgia For Tecmo Bowl: Throwback

Baseball season is about to get into full swing, but football fans craving some more action on the gridiron will have an old favorite to satisfy their hunger for pigskin. The classic Tecmo Bowl game is getting overhauled for release this spring on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Many adult gamers today have very fond memories of Tecmo Bowl from their youth, and the nostalgia will no doubt be leveraged in the marketing from publisher Tecmo. Here’s the debut trailer for Tecmo Bowl: Throwback, courtesy of GameTrailers.

H&M Unleashes Flash Mob In San Francisco

As we mentioned recently on [a]list, low-budget, old-school marketing can actually work. There’s nothing more old-school than simply getting some people to organize and promote your product in real-life venues, and that’s exactly what clothing store H&M has been doing with its flash mobs. Here’s an interesting dance routine in San Francisco’s Union Square put together by H&M to promote its children’s fashion line.


Square Enix Scores PS3 Advertising In Europe

IndustryGamers reports that Square Enix in Europe has landed a deal with Future plc to help market Final Fantasy XIII and Just Cause 2. The games will be promoted on FirstPlay, an interactive show coming to PS3 on April 8. The PS3 show will offer fans reviews, previews and DLC. FirstPlay kicks off initially in the U.K., with other European territories to follow.

FirstPlay offers an innovative way of communicating directly with committed PS3 gamers, and we are excited to be a launch partner, said Jon Brooke, U.K. Marketing Director of Square Enix Europe. FirstPlay allows us to showcase our new releases in their natural environment in high definition and it s really easy for gamers to download a playable demo of Just Cause 2, or find out more about Final Fantasy XIII. We look forward to seeing the service develop.

Future added that its “new on-console service offers advertisers the impact of TV along with the transparency of the web. FirstPlay delivers total user views and other key data, including click throughs and number of links back to the PlayStation Network Store.”

IPad Getting Flash Ads From Greystripe

While the iPad will not support Flash, Greystripe (which has a variety of free, ad-supported iPhone games) is developing a workaround so that Flash ads can still be served on the device. Using their iFlash Ad Units product, advertisers can deliver Flash content to Apple’s wunderdevice.

Greystripe claims that the ads can be better sized for the iPad’s native resolution of 1024×768. Partnering with Adobe, they’re helping developers adapt their content for the iPhone and iPad and monetizing it using the Greystripe platform, potentially saving time and money.

Find out more at Mashable.com.

Verizon IPhones Could Be Manufactured This September

The iPhone market is booming, but it could potentially be even greater if the folks at AT&T didn’t have the exclusive rights to the popular mobile phone. Making the iPhone available through additional carriers would widen the market and would (hopefully) lower pricing on plans thanks to competition. There’s been a rumor going around for a long time now that Verizon will be getting the iPhone in the near future, and now a Wall Street Journal report suggests that a new model with CDMA capability, the cellular technology used by Verizon, is slated to be manufactured this September.

It’s not clear, however, when Apple might actually launch the CDMA version. AT&T naturally played down the speculation. “There has been lots of incorrect speculation on CDMA iPhones for a long time. We haven’t seen one yet and only Apple knows when that might occur,” said an AT&T spokesman.

The report also indicated that the next iteration of the standard AT&T iPhone is being prepared for launch this July. In the meantime, analysts remain skeptical about Verizon seeing any iPhone product this year. “A launch of a CDMA-based phone with Verizon this year is unlikely,” UBS analyst Maynard Um wrote in a research note, according to TheStreet.com. Um added that he believes “a CDMA phone could be launched with other operators later in the year.” Those other telcos include China Telecom and Japan’s KDDI.

RBC analyst Mike Abramsky added that Verizon and Apple will also first need to address potential hurdles before they strike a deal. “The two parties may still need to resolve contentious issues such as subsidies, branding, revenue share, data plans, etc.,” he said. “And Verizon just launched its own App store last week, which it may require some or all smartphones to offer.”

Social Network Ads Examined

Social networks are sucking up huge amounts of time from users, so the ad content on there is pretty key. As it turns out, a study by Psychster showed that sponsored content pages were among the most engaging but least produced sort of ad content.

The study showed that social-networking sites where users could fan or add a logo to their own page produced greater purchase intent, while “give and get” widgets were more engaging than banner ads but no more effective in driving up purchase intent.

“From banner ads, to widgets and branded profiles, ad types differ in the cognitive, social, and motivational foundations that make them a success, as well as the time and cost to bring them to market,” said David Evans Ph.D., CEO of Psychster to MediaPost.

The study distinguished itself by looking at consumer attitudes towards ads and the brands they promoted, rather than performance metrics. “No ad type was so engaging that it overcame the advantage found by matching the brand to the Web site,” added Evans. “It is widely believed that ads are at an advantage when the brand relates to the site on which it appears . . . Our findings replicated this effect, such that the soup brand performed better on Allrecipes than it did on Facebook.”

The study also found that consumers properly identified all the ads as marketing sponsored pages were seen as less direct marketing than banners and newsletters, but the latter two were better at purchase intent.

Hulu Mulling Paid Content

Hulu is one of the most popular video sites on the Internet, second only to YouTube. Still, the site has difficultly maintaining itself and generating money for its important TV network partners, so the debate rages right now whether to charge for some of its content.

“[Hulu] does have to move to a premium model,” said one network exec to Ad Age. “If you look at the business, it’s just not economically feasible to give away programming at low rates.”

Currently, Hulu has banners in the $40 CPM range, of which half are sold out and 70 percent is paid back to networks, giving Hulu just enough money to serve videos. Of course, they also receive 30 percent of inventory sold directly by networks, along with other deals with individual networks.

“There’s room for an ad-supported model for TV online,” said Curt Hecht, president of Publicis innovations unit Vivaki. “Hulu is a great environment with great programming; the onus is on us to help figure out the business model.”

With networks fighting for compensation from cable networks, Hulu is by itself in the purely ad supported TV category. Still, the company could run more ads-per-hour and get active feedback on what consumers want for their ads. “It definitely gets you closer to the answer than just throwing up more ads with no targeting involved,” said Tracey Sheppach, innovations director at Vivaki.

Google Goes Mobile For AdWords

With modern business required to be fast and convenient enough to happen everywhere, more and more applications are going mobile. As such, AdWeek reports that Google is adding mobile support for their AdWords program. Supporting phones like iPhone and Android, users will have access to key functions like changing bid prices, ending campaigns and deleting keywords.

“It’s simply the real-time nature of the channel,” said Matt Strain, principal at search shop Trademark Interactive, who has tested the mobile version. “It allows us to see and adjust any fluctuations outside of the norm.”

Currently, Microsoft does not offer a mobile version of its ad system. “Microsoft, as a software company, needs to embrace, or flat out create, the kinds of tools and technology to empower the search marketer,” he said. “If they want to have any stake in this game, they need to focus as much on the process of search marketing as they do indexing results for the engine. If they build great tools, more advertisers will be attracted to what the combined Yahoo/Bing can provide.”