John Riccitiello On Game Marketing

In his first interview since leaving Electronic Arts, John Riccitiello sat down with the [a]list daily for this exclusive article. Riccitiello’s background was in product marketing, working as brand manager for Clorox, then group marketing director for PepsiCo, before executive roles at Haagen Dasz, Wilson Sporting Goods and Sara Lee. Riccitiello joined EA in 1997 as president and COO, leaving in 2004 to join venture firm Elevation Partners, then returning to EA in 2007 as CEO.

Riccitiello left EA in March of this year after a series of disappointing quarters. EA’s executive chairman Larry Probst is serving as interim CEO while the company searches for a new person for that role. Meanwhile, Riccitiello has been engaged in the industry, advising and investing, and now offering his thoughts on where marketing has been in the game industry and where it needs to go.

“I think marketing has been through all sorts of stages relative to gaming,” Riccitiello said. “I would say that when I joined EA in 1997 for the most part we only put games on television, and the first PC game that ever went on television was The Sims. It was just like we don’t put PC games on television because there’s not a big enough audience for them. Console was getting the TV, but only relatively rarely, the top five properties.”

“What we started to do in the mid-nineties was to bring more and richer consumer insight into the way we brought our products to market. We embedded more deeply product marketing inside the products so there was a feedback loop between the research we were doing, the games we were developing and the marketing that supported their launch. It stopped being so much kind of throw it over the wall and give it to the promotion department and deeply integrated product marketing system that separated EA from the rest, we had 36 per cent compound growth between 1997 and 2003, really the lion’s share of the entire growth of the industry. That was a pretty cool time.”

The game marketing of today is a different situation, Riccitiello believes. “Now fast forward and marketing is very different today,” Riccitiello said. “I think there’s been some tendencies in marketing that I don’t think have been all that good and others which have been pretty much really great.” The difference is in the data. “There was a time in marketing that you could sort of be like Mad Men, you know, the big idea. And it still needs the big idea, but what’s been introduced into marketing in an increasing way has been the science of marketing. How to use the ad marketplaces that are representative of mobile, how to use acquisition marketing around what you pay for an install, understanding the lifetime revenue of your user. It’s sifting through and incorporating massive amounts of data, and so the days of the marketer coming out and just being a big idea guy, those days are largely gone.”

Riccitiello continued, “What we’ve now gotten to as a very, very important part of marketing is the quantitative skills, sitting at your computer monitor and working with sometimes two or three or four dozen different players around the world. Figuring out how you’re going to allocate your resources to drive installs, and then what you’re going to do with the consumers that are playing your product on a day to day, minute to minute basis to optimize lifetime revenue by optimizing a great experience for them.”

The dark side of modern-day game marketing appears when the balance between data and creativity is wrong, Riccitiello believes. “Where I think it gets lost — and I think famously Zynga was sort of in this space and I think hiring Don Mattrick is going to counter this — some people think more about the data than the game. There’s always one of those pendulum swings when you’re in the game business because you think you’re in the data business and the game is sort of secondary. I tend to think that loses heart pretty quick. It certainly loses the allegiance of the people building it but I think it also pretty quickly loses its sense of soul relative to the player. And they see through that.”

Riccitiello believes the creativity of a game’s design, not data, should be central. “While there was a huge need for an injection of quantitative skills, I believe in the craft,” Riccitiello said. “I’m looking for a big idea, that never went away. And now what we’ve got is sort of a left brain, right brain marketing, I think for the longest time we had no-brain marketing, sort of like pitch it over the top and it’s a promotion job, really. Then it became a sort of big idea business, and I’d say that characterizes the mid-nineties and a lot of companies caught up to where EA was. Ubisoft and Activision, Take Two, all got great at those big, gigantic launches but none of them were as informed by as deep an understanding of the customer base as we are today.”

The key to success with games is ultimately the game itself, not the marketing, Riccitiello believes. “Most of the data is not understood well and I think the pendulum for some has swung too far to where they think that what they’re marketing is a commodity,” Riccitiello said. “As far as I’m concerned it’s not a happenstance that products like Candy Crush are doing well or Clash Of Clans are doing well. They’re doing really well executed products. They have integrity in their design and it works. And those are radically different games. They’re very different things but what they share in common is a deep respect for the craft. They respect their user. And their products get better every day.”

Read more of what John Riccitiello had to say on GamesIndustry International

Linux To Get Native Game Engine

Leadwerks Software founder Josh Klint forgoes the hype in laying out the goal for his Kickstarter campaign to develop a native Linux-based game engine. There’s no customary intro montage set to music to kick off his Kickstarter video. There could have been, since he has prototype game footage. The video starts with Klint posed awkwardly against a simple blue backdrop with a Leadwerks logo mounted to the wall with thumbtacks. He spells it out with little fanfare immediately as the video starts to roll.

“Linux is a solid and secure operating system that’s perfect for games,” Klint says in the video. “It’s not enough to export games to Linux, we want to put the game development process on Linux so you can build and play games without ever leaving the Linux operating system.”

Leadwerks has more than doubled its Kickstarter goal with just hours to go, raising more than $40,000 at the time of this writing to develop Leadwerks for Linux, a game engine that Klint says can be used to create all types of games from platformers to 3D shooters. The developer says it will integrate the engine with Steam Workshop, Valve’s PC game development tool and asset library. In fact, Leadwerks’ Kickstarter points to Valve’s own progress with Linux development, where it launched an internal Linux for Steam team last year, calling it a sign that the operating system is destined to become bigger part of PC gaming. If their campaign can reach its first stretch goal and raise $46,000 before it ends later today, Leadwerks will add Android and OUYA support.

“The Linux community is pretty intelligent, and they have a lot of good programmers. We think by putting the appropriate tools in their hands, it will enable them to make great Linux games,” says Klint.

Leadwerks had the usual goodie packages as rewards for lower tier backers but offered engine licenses and tech support for pledges of $50 or more. Their backers are split almost right down the middle between those who pledged to get the license and those who just supported the campaign. That means they managed to mobilize a fair number of people who are only interested to see what a Linux game engine and a mob of developers who get to have at it can produce.

Leadwerks has been around since 2006 and is the creator of 3D World Studio, a popular game engine among indie developers. If Leadwerks’ ultimate goal with their Linux engine is now world domination, they’re hiding it well. They say they want to help developers build a portfolio of games for Linux including plenty of exclusive titles. They do seem keen on the exclusive part. Their Kickstarter page points out that you, the developer, can decide to make your Leadwerks for Linux game code compatible for Windows and Mac gamers only “if you feel like sharing.”

3DS XL Going Black

The Nintendo 3DS XL handheld system is great for on-the-go trips and, let’s be honest, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the next big addiction as we visit each other’s towns to break our friend’s fishing records. But let’s say you’re not crazy about owning a red, pink or blue system, and you just can’t see yourself buying the limited edition Animal Crossing polka-dot colored handheld. Not to worry, another option is coming soon.

Nintendo has announced that it will release the long-awaited black Nintendo 3DS XL system starting this month. It will sell for $199.99 and be available on August 11, the same day that Mario and Luigi: Dream Team arrives in stores and on the Nintendo eShop for download.

If you haven’t bought your system yet, here’s your chance!

‘Battlefield 4’: Yes It Has Single Player

In this interview with GamerHub, EA’s Jayme Figueroa talks about why players should get excited about single player mode in Battlefield 4. Figueroa says one of the goals with the game was to bring over popular multiplayer mechanics to single player, for instance the ability to spot enemies and give squad mates commands. Other things to get excited about are naval combat vehicles and gaming at 60 fps on Xbox One.

‘Call Of Duty: Ghosts’ Multiplayer Reveal Coming

We’ve seen Call of Duty: Ghosts in action over the last few months, with two new stages – No Man’s Land and Into the Deep revealed last month at E3. This August, we’ll get yet another piece of the puzzle – a first look at multiplayer, and Xbox Live has the exclusive reveal.

Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb announced on his blog today that Activision will be hosting a multiplayer reveal event for Call of Duty: Ghosts, exclusively on Xbox Live. The event will take place in Los Angeles, with the broadcast happening August 14 at 1:30 PM EDT. Players will be able to tune in and get a first look at the new maps and weapons being introduced in this mode – and maybe a few other surprises.

After a less-than-stellar rollout of the Xbox One, Microsoft seems to be pulling out all the stops to get back into the good graces of gamers everywhere, and there are few games that can do that quicker than the Call of Duty series.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is set to arrive on November 5 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC/Steam, and later in the year for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

‘Bioshock’ Returning To Rapture

It’s time to take a trip back to Columbia with a stop in Rapture for good measure. 2K Games has released the first of three downloadable content packs for the first-person action/adventure game Bioshock Infinite. The first pack, Clash In the Clouds, includes four new battle maps with 15 waves of enemies. It also comes with an interactive museum where players can get a good look at character models, behind-the-scenes videos and other Bioshock-related goodies.

That’s just the start of 2K Games’ DLC plans.  A new story-based arc will be introduced later this year with Burial At Sea, which takes place in Rapture, the underwater city first introduced in the original Bioshock. Here, players will once again control an alternate version of Infinite hero Booker DeWitt as he seeks out Elizabeth, his cohort from the original game.  At one point in the game, you’ll also be able to play as Elizabeth, though she’ll control differently than Booker does and more in a “survival horror” sense.

Clash In the Clouds can be downloaded now for Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam/PC for $4.99.

This Week’s [a]list Jobs – July 31

When you think back to your last job offer, were you happy with the result Here are tips to properly negotiate your salary.

Here are this week’s [a]list jobs:

  • SCEA, Marketing and Brand Alliance Spec (San Francisco Bay Area)
  • Kabam, Marketing Art Director (San Francisco Bay Area)
  • Disney ABC Television Group, Digital Strategy and Social Media Manager (Greater Los Angeles Area)
  • Ayzenberg Group, Business Development for Broadcast (Greater Los Angeles Area)
  • Yahoo! Games, Marketing Manager (Greater Los Angeles Area)

[a]list daily is now your source for the hottest job openings for senior management and marketing in games, entertainment and social media. Check here every Wednesday for the latest openings. To see last week’s [a]list jobs click here.

Facebook Is Officially A Game Publisher

It looks like Facebook will be taking social game action further beyond its webpage. The company has launched a new program called Mobile Games Publishing, which is aimed to “help small and medium-sized developers take their mobile games global.”

Through the testing of the pilot program, Facebook is looking to draw in “high-potential” mobile developers, utilizing its services on its website, as well as promotional support. Its outreach is massive with the program, with 800 million mobile users and 260 million game players, making it one of the largest – if not the largest – in the world.

The deal follows the division of a partnership with Zynga last year, giving the company free reign in creating a mobile game division. It’s set to launch worldwide later this year, with games that include Outplay Entertainment’s Monster Legacy, Gameloft’s Kingdoms & Lords and Certain Affinity’s Age of Booty: Tactics.

Source: Facebook

Gamers Embrace Facebook-TV Tie-In

Facebook gamers are plenty busy these days between such games as Angry Birds Star Wars, Candy Crush Saga and Marvel’s Avengers Alliance. However, that isn’t stopping them from indulging in a little television-based fun.

USA Network is reporting that it has received over one million views from a two-week campaign on Facebook, giving social gamers virtual rewards across 30 different games for simply watching a video that ties in with its new crime drama, Graceland. Following a commercial for the show, viewers could take a tour of the undercover officers’ house, where they’re stationed during the show, as well as learn more about the cast and see select scenes from the show. In return, extra game time and better status updates were provided for their favorite games.

“People who consume social games represent a massive but diverse and highly engaged audience,” said Alexandra Shapiro, EVP, marketing and digital at USA Network. “The ability to laser-target these authenticated users and enable sampling of our content is critical to driving interest and intent in an increasingly disaggregated media landscape.”

Graceland currently airs Thursday nights on the USA Network.

Wireless Carriers Look To Boost iPhone Sales

U.S. wireless carriers are coming up with easier ways to upgrade your mobile phone devices to the newest available models.

Following AT&T and T-Mobile revealing an option to replace devices in as little as a six-month time frame, Verizon Wireless is offering a similar plan. Users will be able to pay for a phone in monthly installments, rather than an upfront fee with purchase. This plan is likely to boost mobile phone sales by 10 to 15 percent a year, if all goes according to plan.

Said Roger Entner, an analyst art Recon Analytics, with these new terms, “you’ll have people who go from upgrading every 24 months to 12 months, and people who used to upgrade every 12 months changing to six months.”

Doing the math, it’s not a very economical model for the consumer, but could be just the thing for consumers looking for a quick upgrade to the latest gadget.  We’ll see how this plan works in the months ahead.