Expedia Throws It Back With #TBT

Between now and the end of August, Expedia is broadening the concept of travel with it’s new ambitious promotion that focuses on people’s Throwback Thursday photos. For the next five weeks the travel agency is asking Instagram and Twitter users to tag their #tbt, or #ThrowbackThursday photo with @Expedia and the hashtag #ThrowMeBack. The campaign is a clever way to piggyback off a well-worn and popular hashtag and encourage user-generated content as well.

Each week the company will pick one lucky winner and give them a travel voucher so they can return to the place where the photo was taken and recreate it.

However, if you don’t wish to reminisce on the past, Expedia will also grant the option of traveling somewhere different and making a new memory. In addition, the company has also asked the winners to send in the recreated photos with the goal at the end of the campaign of telling a photo story with all the side-by-sides.

Expedia has promoted the contest with the video posted below—”Back to Ocean Beach,” which documents one family’s journey from Washington State to their old beach spot in San Diego to recreate a photo of theirs from the ’80s.

Using popular hashtags like #TBT could be a great way for marketers to engage with a brand’s fans in a way that feels native to Instagram while tapping into the nostalgia inherent to the platform.


‘Super Zero’ Takes On Stereotypes

“As a fan of sci-fi/comic-book/gaming culture there has always been something that I never thought was accurately represented,” said Super Zero creator Mitch Cohen to [a]listdaily. “Characters seem to be either larger than life, stereotypical caricatures, or gifted with powers that make them utterly unrelatable.”

Set in Los Angeles, this ‘super hero’ takes on a zombie apocalypse with nothing left to lose. Watch the film below because you won’t want to miss Cohen’s celebration of regular Joe gamer.

For updates, check out Super Zero on Facebook.

Today’s Video: ‘League of Legends’ Cinematic

The latest video from Riot Games is a League of Legends cinematic entitled A New Dawn. The video shows the immense level of care put into its creation, with a level of quality comparable to the best animated features. It’s a brief tale of an encounter between two groups of five champions, the usual groupings that do battle in League of Legends. Here, though, we get a closeup look at some of the most popular champions, and some insight into their personalities as they battle.

“The goal of this particular piece was we wanted to dive into the League of Legends universe with a bigger, more diverse cast,” proclaims the Behind the Scenes video that accompanies this piece. It’s an engaging glimpse into the thinking behind this cinematic, and shows some of the elaborate foley work and the orchestral accompaniment that was created for it.

Aside from being an impressive piece of entertainment for its own sake, the video served a useful marketing purpose as well. “A cinematic of this depth leads to champion discovery,” said Riot CEO Brandon Beck. “It forces us to go deeper in understanding the characters we are trying to portray.” That leads to a richer backstory and a more attractive world that can engage players to an even greater extent.

Will Riot do something more with all of this effort put into character development, backstory and animations Certainly fans would love to see an animated feature, but so far Riot has shown little interest in anything but League of Legends itself. President Marc Merrill did remark last year, though that “We do intend to make the ‘s’ in Riot Games mean something.” That’s about as much of Riot’s future plans as we are likely to know . . . for now. One thing seems certain, though – we’re going to see more high-quality animation from Riot. This video already has over 10 million views in less than a week.

The VR Battle Gets Real

The Virtual Reality market is anything but real yet, though that hasn’t stopped companies from spending billions of dollars to compete in it. Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR closed recently, and that’s a good moment to take a look at this business where we still don’t have products on the market. There’s no lack of excitement among various companies, though, and the maneuvering is already beginning to be in position to grab the biggest part of the VR market — however big the overall market will be.

Google’s entry is a low-tech one so far, with the Cardboard VR device announced at Google I O in June. Sure, it’s more than a little tongue-in-cheek, but it actually does provide some of the elements of a VR experience — for a very small price, and to pretty good reviews. We already know Google is experimenting with computing devices on your face with Google Glass — it’s not too much of a leap to think the company is considering a step into VR, where there’s so much excitement. Google’s Project Tango has obvious applications to VR. Maybe we’ll see something more come from this in the VR space.

Meanwhile, Samsung is reportedly working with Oculus VR to get help with Samsung’s “Gear VR” headset, which uses a mobile device as the screen instead of a dedicated headset. Engadget says they’ve heard “very positive things” about the Samsung device. “Though our sources only experienced a few demos, they repeatedly described them as ‘impressive,’ specifically with the caveat ‘for a phone,'” noted Engadget.

Sony’s Project Morpheus ha sattracted a lot of attention from its slick design and use of PlayStation Move controllers, as well as the fact that it’s powered by a PlayStation 4. Still, even Sony admits that it’s ultimately about the experiences the hardware can deliver (in their case, they’re looking at games), and the company is working to develop some games to see just how compelling an experience this can deliver.

The target that Oculus VR is shooting for is on a different level, though — similar to what Michael Abrash discussed for Valve, before he left to join Oculus as chief scientist (see above). The headset would need to be connected to a PC, because the amount of computing required is substantial for the graphics specifications that Oculus is looking to hit. It’s going to make the headset something that’s not self-contained, at least not for a while. However, the Oculus is looking more substantial now that Facebook is throwing its weight behind it. Oculus now has a publishing effort, led by veteran Jason Rubin, and that should result in some excellent content for the device.

For now, though, we still have no idea of the pricing for VR hardware or software, or even when the devices will begin to hit the market. It’s something to watch, but it’s not going to have an effect this year. 2015 may be a different story.

Source: Engadget

China Telecom To Sell Xbox One

Microsoft is getting very serious about selling Xbox One consoles in China, as the company has cut a deal with China’s leading fixed-line broadband operator, China Telecom, to sell the Xbox One console beginning in September. This is a major breakthrough for Microsoft, locking up the leading broadband provider in China while Sony is still in the early stage s of bringing the PlayStation 4 to China.

The Xbox 360 has sold reasonably well on the black market in Chna and in other Asian countires, but the recent lifting of the official ban on consoles in China brings a chance for Microsoft to come out of the shadows. According to the Wall Street Journal, “China Telecom will be the exclusive carrier partner of the Xbox One in China and consumers will be able ‘to enjoy the games and entertainment experience at home’ by signing up for the company’s broadband subscription contract, the carrier said in a statement Thursday.”

China Telecom has been buys expanding its service offerings beyond it basic voice plans for phones to a wide range of higher value services, like e-commerce, online learning and medical services, via its broadband connections. China Telecom does have over 100 million broadband subscribers, so there’s a solid market base for Microsoft to go after.

The price of the console in China hasn’t been announced. Microsoft will be producing the consoles in Shanghai, under an agreement with Best TV announced earlier this year. Clearly price will be a major hurdle for Microsoft to overcome in China, but there’s now a substantial middle class in China with a fair amount of disposable income. What sort of games will be available on the Xbox One in China> How well will these games be localized. Will Microsoft try to bring some of the biggest hits on PC in China to the Xbox One? So far, Microsoft isn’t saying, but perhaps we’ll hear more as the launch date approaches.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Movie Games Show Progress At Comic-Con

The 130,000 people (or more!! that attended the San Diego Comic-Con had plenty to occupy their attention, between all of the costumes, comics, games, movies and television shows that were buys pouring out hype. The convention was the perfect place to promote the intersection between gaming and movies, though, and the studios did not miss their chance. The three biggest movie projects based on games all had updates for the fans.

Sony Pictures announced that the upcoming movie based on Uncharted will be arriving in theaters on June 10, 2016. This slot had originally been reserved for The Amazing Spider-Man 3, but that film has been pushed back to 2018. A different film featuring some of Spider-Man’s top adversaries, The Sinister Six, will release later in 2016. Filming for Uncharted will begin next year, said director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief). No one has been cast yet in the title role.

Another Sony picture, The Last of Us, also had news to excite the fans. The movie, based on the hit game of the same name, will be led by veteran director Sam Raimi (of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Evil Dead fame). Sony revealed that Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams (who plays Arya Stark) is in talks to play the role of Ellie. So one has been named for the lead role of Joel, but Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann has said he’d like to see Bruce Campbell in the role).

Warcraft props

Moving away from Sony, we have the Warcraft movie, based on Blizzard’s World of Warcraft MMORPG. Legendary Pictures and Universal Studios unveiled the Warcraft movie logo, as well as decorating their booth with exclusive props from the film, which included the Doomhammer, Dragon Sword, and Lion Shield. Director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) is helming the Warcraft project and also wrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond). Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand), and Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) are set to star in the movie.

Microsoft Tries A New Direction For Gaming: HTML 5

Classic board games are seeing a resurgence in recent years, and part of that is due to the increasing availability of electronic versions of popular board games. One of the most popular board games is Settlers of Catan, which is an enormous bestseller in its native Germany as well as in North America. While there are excellent iOS and Android versions of the game, it’s not available on Windows Phone. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team decided to rectify that with Catan Anytime, and HTML 5 app that you can play on any modern browser.

You’ll need to find at least two friends to play, though, since the game has no AI players handy. Also, it’s not yet equipped to match you up with random online players, hence the need to find some friends before you start. It’s asynchronous, so you take a turn and wait for your opponent’s turns to arrive via email.

The game does have some advantages over the board game version, in addition to the portability and near-universal ability to run on most devices. Automatic trading is built in, so you don’t have to get repetitive queries from other players about trade items. The dice rolls and numbers have been simplified for this version, although Microsoft plans to add full Official Catan rules in August. Currently, you can chat in-game by using Skype.

Why is Microsoft doing this, aside from a desire to see a great board game played on Windows Phone It’s a nice marketing tool to attract attention to the once-mighty Internet Explorer, which continues to lose market share. Plus, this showcases the capabilities of HTML 5 for cross-platform use and rapid development. It’s an interesting experiment for Microsoft, and potentially a useful way to increase support for Windows Phone. Will we see more such experiments, this will be an interesting space to watch.

Source: GigaOm

Big Brands Gravitating Towards eSports

Anyone who still has doubts about the validity of eSports, or electronic sports, needs only to look at videos out of the sold-out KeyArena in Seattle from Valve’s DOTA 2: The International tournament. Over 10,000 people watched team Newbee defeat Vici Gaming three games to one in a best-of-five format to take home just over $5 million of the over $10 million in cash handed out on July 21. Vici Gaming went home with nearly $1.5 million and the third and fourth place teams, Evil Geniuses and DK, also went home winners with over $1 million and over $819,000, respectively.

While the majority of the millions of global fans watched the action via livestreams on their PCs and connected devices, ESPN3 covered the action just like it would an NFL or college football game. In fact, eSports has thrived thanks to livestreaming companies like Twitch, which back in May Google was rumored to be acquiring for $1 billion. But TV networks like ESPN certainly help put professional video gaming into the mainstream spotlight. And advertisers and sponsors are more accustomed to televised exposure for traditional sports.

One trend that’s clear with eSports is the crossover into holding major events in traditional sports venues. Last fall, Riot Games sold out the Staples Center for its League of Legends Championship Series Finals. While 12,000 people watched live in the home of the Lakers and Kings, over 32 million tuned in to the livestream. This year, European Sports League (ESL) hosted a DOTA 2 tournament at former World Cup soccer stadium Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt, Germany. And Riot will host its 2014 World Championship in October at former South Korean Olympic venue Sangam Stadium, which seats 66,000 people.

“Selling out stadiums shows how passionate players are about eSports,” said Dustin Beck, VP of eSports at Riot Games. “Fans from all over the globe will be tuning in to watch the best of the best LOL eSports team battle it out for the World Championship the same way soccer fans from across the globe came out to support their favorite teams during the World Cup. That level of passion and engagement translates to an opportunity for brands who are looking to communicate with this audience by bringing added value to their eSports experience.”

Russell Schwartz, president of theatrical marketing at Relativity said eSports is the new appointment TV, only it’s online.

“Outside of sports on TV, which is the only thing people watch live any more, eSports is the best way to reach Millennials,” said Schwartz. “It’s a live experience that people can interact with online. It’s not that it’s a huge business yet, but it’s getting there. Television is so elusive these days, but with eSports we know it’s where male gamers 14 to 35 are watching.”

Major League Gaming and Relativity formed a strategic content and marketing partnership across sports management, television, film and digital media in 2013. The goal of the collaboration was to accelerate MLG’s growth as a mainstream media property, drive appointment viewing to MLG.tv and further strengthen Relativity’s presence in the gaming space.

Relativity used MLG.tv to promote this year’s theatrical releases of Kevin Costner’s 3 Days to Kill and Paul Walker’s Brick Mansions. HBO TWX reached out to Riot Games and used the League of Legends online audience to promote the launch of the fourth season of Game of Thrones.

Earlier this year, Coke Zero KO kicked off its partnership with Riot Games with the development of the Challenger Series, a series for amateur League of Legend gamers to compete for a spot in the professional league. In essence, it’s a minor league system for players to show their eSports prowess and potentially graduate to the Big Leagues and compete for big money, sponsorship deals and free travel around the globe to compete in tournaments.

“We have worked very closely and collaboratively with Riot Games to create a league that delivers true value to the fans and players of the sport, and that begins to build an infrastructure for eSports that mirrors that of the more traditional sports,” said Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s global head of gaming. “To help promote the partnership, we recently launched @cokeesports on Twitter as a place for the brand to engage with fans through our activation with League of Legends. Moving through the end of the year, we will have a presence in South Korea for the World Finals in October.”

League of Legends is currently the most popular eSports game in the world with over 85 million players across the globe. As a result, those playing the game professionally are working with some big brands. Erich Marx, director of Interactive and Social Media Marketing at Nissan North America, partnered with League of Legends Team Curse because he and many people on his team are gamers, technologists and fans of eSports and they believe in its potential.

“Our job is to find audiences that are apt to engage with us and who will appreciate our content and hopefully share it with friends and beyond,” said Marx. “ESports are very innovative, and that fits perfectly not only with Nissan products, but our marketing strategy. ” Nissan is using the huge social networking reach of Team Curse pro gamers to raise awareness of some of its online campaigns.

Red Bull has embraced eSports over the past three years, focusing first on Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft 2 and adding DOTA 2 to the mix. The energy drink hosts its own eSports events around the country with top players and invites fans to watch live and online. The company also sponsors pro gamers and treats them the same way they treat real athletes, complete with health and nutrition tips to enable peak performance when training and playing in virtual competitions.

“A huge organization like Red Bull getting involved in eSports makes other big organizations pay attention and attract other big organizations,” said Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho, a DOTA 2 pro gamer on Team Liquid. “McDonald’s recently sponsored an event.”

Also blurring the line between sports and eSports is the fact that traditional Red Bull extreme athletes were competing at X-Games Austin in June for the exact same medals that Call of Duty: Ghosts teams were playing for. ESPN covered the first-ever video game competition, which was hosted through MLG, along with the skateboarding and other extreme sports.

“This is another example of the maturity of eSports,” said Ehtisham Rabbani, general manager of Logitech’s gaming business. “We believe that eSports helps keep the X-Games relevant. ESports already has greater viewership online via streaming than many sports today, including the X-Games and many NBA and NHL games. It is not if, but when will eSports become the most popular sport in the world.”

Even the NFL has taken notice of eSports. St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold is an avid gamer who attended his first MLG competition in Anaheim in 2013. He liked eSports so much he bought Call of Duty: Ghosts team Rise Nation Gaming, which was one of the teams that competed at X-Games Austin a few months after the Activision and Xbox $1 Million Call of Duty Championship in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t even know about eSports until last year, but I just enjoyed playing Call of Duty so much, and I was always online,” said Saffold, who recently signed a five-year, $31.7 million contract extension with the Rams. “I love the bragging rights. And now here I am. I finally see everything for the first time from a first-person view instead of on a computer screen. It’s all good for these kids. It shows that video games can bring you some money now. It’s not always a waste of time.”

ESports is definitely not a waste of time for big sponsors. Intel INTC has been sponsoring eSports for over 10 years now. George Woo, who heads up the Intel Extreme Masters global eSports tournament, said the company entered the space to establish a marketing platform to promote its gaming processor online and offline to make it the preferred and recommended processor brand by enthusiasts and to drive purchase intent for all of its gaming products.

“Attendance to Intel Extreme Masters events has grown 10X with us filling up sport stadiums, where we have visitors lining up to get a seat to watch the competition,” said Woo. “Online it has grown 100X, where we now get more viewers watching livestreams for a single event than we’d have tune in for an entire season in the past.”
The article originally appeared in Fortune on July 24th, 2014 and has been reprinted with permission from the author.

Casual Connect 2014: Sage Advice For Mobile Games

The mobile game business is growing and changing rapidly, and it’s often difficult for those living inside this rapid pace to get perspective. Video games as an industry have been around for more than 30 years, and there’s a lot of valuable experience from that time that’s highly relevant today. Unlocking those vaults of knowledge and sharing some of the priceless pearls of wisdom at Casual Connect 2014 were two industry veterans, Gordon Walton and Eric Goldberg, in separate talks that addressed some important issues.

Gordon Walton

Gordon Walton is perhaps best known for his immense labors at BioWare in bringing Star Wars: The Old Republic to life, shepherding that project through most of its lengthy development. Walton has been producing games for decades, though, and has worked with teams of a handful to teams of hundreds and back down to teams of just a few. Along the way, he’s gathered some observations about the process of moving from AAA games to mobile, and he shared those insights with the audience.

“When you’ve made big games with an army of people, can you really make games with a handful of people ” Walton asked rhetorically. “Yes, it’s like riding a bicycle.” He noted that the focus changes between small games where you’re focused on what you do today, while on big projects if you focus on daily tasks only you’ll never reach the end goal. In any case, though, you still have to make a great game regardless of the size of the project. “Quality is still #1, you can’t make games that don’t rock,” Walton said. “Every once in a while you’ll see something that breaks the rules, but usually not. You have to do less, better, rather than more, half-assed.”

“You really need to understand your market. You need to understand your customers, you need to understand how marketing is done, you need to have an idea of how you’re going to acquire those people. Developers in my experience like to ignore marketing. They like to think ‘No, no, we’ll just make a great game, all that other stuff is fluff, it’s not all that helpful.’ The truth is it’s just as important, it’s just as big a pillar as the great game. A mediocre game with great marketing doesn’t do any better than a great game with poor marketing. Both of them suffer, typically. A development leader who hasn’t studied marketing is handicapping themselves, they’re going to have to have a really great partner on that side that they trust.

Walton also discussed the importance of hiring the right people, and that on a small team everyone needs to be excellent work. As projects get bigger, you’ll need people devoted solely to management and project management, rather than everyone being hands-on. Overall, Walton noted, the drive to quality continues, and even games that are relatively simple will have a high degree of polish that goes into the graphics and game design.

Eric Goldberg

Next up was Eric Goldberg, a long-time game designer and executive who’s been consulting with game companies for decades. Goldberg spoke on the topic of Publishing as a Service, and how games have transformed from one-time packaged products into ongoing services. That change means re-thinking much of what goes into the design and development of games. Properly done, games-as-a-service can be terrific cash cows, propelling numerous companies into the billion-dollar annual revenue class.

Goldberg noted that there are six essential skills, which also denote areas where there are problems as we make the transition from product to service. The six essential skills: Programming (in the sense of scheduling content, not coding), deployment, direct marketing, monetization, analytics, operations. This applies to anyone who is in the service business, such as Rovio and Supercell. “They both had similar genesis stories,” Goldberg noted. “They both did 40 or 50 mobile titles that failed before they delivered their great hits. If you look at how Rovio developed Angry Birds, they did not fully get the service lessons, and Supercell — and I had the privilege of working with that team when they did their previous work at Digital Chocolate — did. In fairness to Rovio, Supercell came along two or three years later, so they had a chance to learn from their lessons.”

“There are several things that people who started in the product industry have to unlearn,” Goldberg pointed out. “One is that developers can be publishers. They could not be in the product environment, they needed the intermediaries called publishers.” The second key unlearning needed is the timing of your development effort. “Post-launch is much more important. It used to be that all of our effort went to delivering the game that shipped on that fixed date. The idea of operations, that you have to deal with an existing audience, is a key feature of services. The last is that you cannot avoid the business of games. If you are not thinking about marketing as part of your game design, you will do less well in games as a service, and in some cases, significantly less well.”

Goldberg went on to discuss the six essential skills in some detail, noting that how you schedule content and even what you call it changes significantly — while ‘sequels’ per se are rare in games as a service, there are content releases regularly that often aren’t even given a title. Deployment is the art of choosing the right platforms, territories, and partners for your game, as well as where you’re going to soft-launch it for best effect.

Direct marketing is a key discipline for games as a service, and fortunately, Goldberg points out, “There is a 150 year old discipline called direct marketing that people know how to do very well.” He recommends looking at the extensive materials on direct marketing and all the techniques that were developed for mail, because there’s great wisdom there. “The reason to do this is that most of your competitors are not doing it,” Goldberg advises.

Goldberg advises that you make monetization part and parcel of your game design — it shouldn’t be something tacked on at the end after you created the game.”We have now had several tens of thousands of games that have proved that if you do not figure out the monetization, you will fail. In fact, there’s been a whole series of well-loved games that were built for the old monetization model and failed when redone,” Goldberg said. The poster child for this, most recently, is Dungeon Keeper.

The best practice is to think about each of these six areas, and Goldberg provided his key takeaways in one slide. It’s important, too, to realize how things change as your game service scales up, and the increasing number of people you will need to devote to customer serivce.

GrowthBeat — August 5-6, 2014

VentureBeat’s inaugural event on the future of marketing tech — is gathering the industry’s biggest names to uncover new case studies, insights, and strategies designed to help companies more effectively acquire and retain customers and grow revenue.

There’s science in knowing your prospect or customer, learning what he or she does with or around your offering, understanding how your users interact with your product, and endlessly optimizing what you’re doing, how your product works, what messages engage, and how you can be more relevant to your customers’ needs.

GrowthBeat is bringing in some of the best and brightest in modern digital marketing to unclutter the landscape, simplify the functions, clarify the goals, and point the way to success.

Our friends at VentureBeat are offering our network a 15 percent discount on tickets. Register now and save using code alist15.


Featured Speakers include:

  • Gordon Evans, VP Product Marketing, Salesforce
  • Jeanette Gibson, VP Customer Experience & Community, HootSuite
  • Alex Schultz, VP of Growth, Facebook
  • Amanda O’Brien, Head of Digital/e-Marketing & Advertising, Jiffy Lube
  • Loren Simon, Sr. Director of Online Marketing, Walmart
  • Lisa Archambault, Head of Demand Generation, Zappos
  • Lee Hammond, VP Digital, Interscope
  • Elisa Haidt, Director of Marketing, TripIt
  • Kevin Akeroyd, GM & SVP, Oracle Marketing Cloud
  • Scott Brinker, Co-Founder, President & CTO, Ion Interactive
  • Kim Matlock, Sr. Director, Digital Marketing & CRM, Hard Rock Cafe
  • John Mellor, VP of Strategy, Adobe


For more on the vision of this year’s GrowthBeat, including in-depth program themes, check out the event site.