JuiceBox Games Founder Explains Mid-Core Opportunity In Mobile

A trio of former Zynga veterans have had success out of the gate with mobile game developer start-up JuiceBox Games. Jason McGuirk, Chief Technology Officer, and Zak Pytlak, creative director and CEO Michael Martinez have assembled a team of 20 engineers, artists and game designers to create original mid-core games for the growing mobile games industry.

The company has raised $2.5 million from Initial Capital, General Catalyst, Index Ventures and Maveron, as well as individual investors Scott Dale, a member of the Zynga founding team, and John Riccitiello, former Electronic Arts CEO. The JuiceBox Games board includes Kristian Segerstrale, founder and CEO of Playfish and former Supercell board member.

The studio’s first mobile game, HonorBound, was downloaded over 3 million times across Android, Amazon and Apple platforms. The free-to-play game combines the collectability of Pokemon with the RPG battles of Game of Thrones (Bobby Tahouri, whose music can be heard in the HBO TV series, scored the game’s soundtrack). The developer created more than 500 character art pieces in its in-house studio, focusing on a simple look and feel that appeals to the booming mid-core gaming market that companies like Kixeye have banked on for years.

Martinez, who worked on games like Zynga Poker and Farmville, explains the opportunities that these mid-core gamers have opened up in the mobile space in this exclusive interview.

What are the challenges of creating a game that will emerge through the crowd in today’s environment?

With so many options for players, it’s incredibly challenging to even be noticed, let alone hold players’ attention. We take it very seriously when a player chooses to spend their time with HonorBound and our goal is to reward that time with an immensely entertaining experience.

We create games that we’re passionate about and think that passion comes across for our players. We built HonorBound because it was a game we actually wanted to play that didn’t exist yet.

How have you seen the business model of free-to-play evolve?

The freemium business model is always evolving. Both the game makers and the players are becoming more sophisticated. Game makers deliver higher quality content and players demand that higher quality. Mechanics that were everywhere three years ago seem very 1.0 today. One of JuiceBox Games’ core values is to Respect the Player. It seems obvious, and it is, but we really take it to heart. Our goal is to always provide great entertainment and value to our players. And our job is to really focus on the fun first, rather than focusing on monetization.

What opportunities has mobile opened up for a start-up like yours?

It means everything to our business. We’re able to build a deep and engaging world that is literally an arm’s reach away.

What has the increase in processing power on smartphones and tablets opened up for the games you can create?

Bigger and more immersive worlds.

What did you learn from Zynga (good or bad) that you’re applying to your studio?

It was a tremendous education. Prioritization is extremely important to us. On any given day, there are hundreds of things we could be working on, and we need to make sure we focus on a few goals and that they’re the right projects.

One of the things I love about JuiceBox Games is how everybody works to make the game better and that’s what our conversations are centered around. That common goal unites us.

Can you talk about your first new IP?

The HonorBound universe is really exciting for us. We were inspired by games like Pokemon and Skylanders with a recognizable cast of characters. We’re tremendously proud of the art style of HonorBound and that’s kudos to our great art team who developed everything in-house. The comic-book feel stands out in the App Stores and our players have responded really positively.

How were you able to achieve 3 million downloads while in stealth mode?

We intentionally kept our heads down and focused on the players and their experience. Players don’t know (or care) if you’re in stealth mode or not. They find a game and care about whether it’s fun.

How do you develop games for the new casual and mainstream gaming audience?

As a studio, it’s important to know your target audience. We’re focused on midcore (more competitive with deep investment). We definitely want to make our games accessible and draw in a wide audience, but you have to strike the right balance. If the tone isn’t clear you can end up disappointing both camps.

What role do you feel transmedia plays today in games when you look at Rovio’s success with videos and merchandising?

It’s something we’re interested in and excited about, but we’re focusing on our core competency first. We’ve had offers to make HonorBound toys and at this point it’s a distraction. There’s still so much to build and get right with the game.

Having raised $2.5 million, what are investors looking for in game studios today?

I think they’re looking for teams with passion to build great games and the proven ability to execute. One of the things I was able to say very honestly was, “We’re building this game no matter what. Your support would be helpful and we’d love it, but this game is shipping either way.” I clearly think we’re the team worth betting on.


Millennials Watch TV (Everywhere But TV)

One surmises from the latest report from comScore {link no longer active} today that millennials are really proving to be not just cordcutters, but are shifting screen preference elsewhere. And why not? Traditional TV sets are usually more costly, unweildy and not nearly as interactive as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

There has been some slight concern over the demise of certain TV viewing audiences, mainly due to the availability of streaming services and the quality shows they’re providing. However, despite such concerns, it appears that comScore is calming a few nerves, as it has managed to come up with some numbers that indicate that there’s still plenty of viewing to go around, according to a story from Recode.net.

Of the smaller screens, tablets are unsurpsingly the favorite of millennial viewers. Desktop/laptops still have a stronghold over smartphones, probably due to screen size, making the case for phablets a strong one.

According to the report, “About one out of six Millenials said they did not watch any original TV series from traditional TV sets within the past 30 days, a significant trend highlighting the potential for linear TV viewing to erode over time.”

For the 35+ set, screen preference mirrors those of younger viewers, although the adoption rate is much less. While TV sets are still the most popular screens for all ages surveyed, it is clear that the format– not just cable– is in trouble too.

When it comes to spending habits on pay television, however, not everyone is on board. The report shows that 24 percent of millennials don’t invest in such services as HBO or Showtime, and half of that group — 13 percent of the overall polled group — don’t watch TV at all. In a startling revelation, 11 percent don’t even use a TV at all, instead relying on other means for viewing.

So what does this mean TV viewing continues to be on a steady level when it comes to attracting key audiences, even though some pay channels don’t quite have the outreach that certain companies were hoping for. That said, viewing programming on mobile devices and computers is also on the rise, and while that may not be a heavy concern now, a few years may prove all the difference, especially with more exclusives heading to the likes of Netflix and Hulu.

CREATIVE: Meet Spotify’s ‘PartyDrone’

Spotify and BASE collaborated to create a drone that uses Spotify’s playlists and music library by outfitting a little drone with speakers and an LED lightshow. Festival attendees were asked to add their favorite song to a playlist beforehand and once they reached ticket check-in, the song would automatically play for them.

The end result is a great way to get across the customization and mobility of the music platform.


StarMaker Launches Music Network For YouTube Musicians

by Jessica Klein

StarMaker Interactive is getting into the YouTube MCN business. The company, known for developing music video/singing apps like the StarMaker and The Voice: On Stage {links no longer active}, has launched a music network for emerging digital artists.

With cover songs being an incredibly important format for emerging online musicians who are trying to grow and entertain their audience, a major element of StarMaker’s offering is a catalog of songs licensed from major labels, including Atlantic, Columbia, Island Def Jam, and RCA.

Creators can join StarMaker’s network through the company’s website, after which they’ll have the ability to upload videos using the legally licensed songs on their own channels, and generate revenue from those clips.

With a clear intention of being a leading network on YouTube for emerging musicians, the company is boasting that it’s launching ”with more talent accounts than any MCN.”

StarMaker is based in San Francisco but is opening up an office in Los Angeles in anticipation of the StarMaker Network’s growth.

This article was originally posted on VideoInk and is reposted on [a]listdaily via a partnership with the news publication, which is the online video industry’s go-to source for breaking news, features, and industry analysis. Follow VideoInk on Twitter @VideoInkNews, or subscribe via thevideoink.com for the latest news and stories, delivered right to your inbox.

Why Influencer Marketing Isn’t A ‘Shadow’-y Alley Of Negotiations

The business of creators has recently come under fire. In a recent video picked up by Kotaku, an influencer accuses Warner Bros. and their influencer agency of heavy-handed techniques to sway opinions of their upcoming game Shadow of Mordor. A lot of attention is being paid to influencer marketing as a result, but there’s a right way to go about this: being transparent.

ION‘s business is tied directly to this world. As Executive Director of ION, I am in the business of connecting advertisers to these influencers. It is apparent to me that influencer marketing falls somewhere between paid media, or advertising and public relations. ION focuses on that middle ground between paid media and PR.

We give advertisers a level of control that PR can’t offer. This means we guarantee video views; and those views are sold based on organic viewership of the content, not paid placement. This also means we limit our work to influencers who are genuinely interested in the marketer. We seek out a level of alignment with the brand during our curation process. Influencers hurt their own channels and marketers don’t achieve engagement if the content doesn’t work for the audience.

ION produces hundred of content pieces that get viewed by interested parties, whereas paid media uses many different formats to get in front of users who are not seeking out that message.

Nothing about having a YouTube channel requires an unbiased point of view. In fact, the personality and unique points of view are part of what makes YouTube a rich social environment.

ShayCarl alistsummitShayCarl speaking about influencer marketing at [a]list summit in July.

{link no longer active}

The creators who are key to this environment are also businesses. They work to aggregate and then sell a valuable commodity that other parties covet. Just like TV networks, radio stations, magazines, websites, mobile apps and any other media, creators sell the hearts, minds and attentions of their viewers to marketers.

The Federal Communications Commission mandates certain disclosures be made when creators work with advertisers and ION has always abided by that, and to our benefit. This comes from a long tradition of oversight that results in censorship of certain words, phrases and visual images on primetime TV, cable stations, radio shows and other media. Just like it is a viable business model for product placement to exist on TV and in movies it is viable for creators to integrate marketing messages into their unique content.

Inevitably our process leads us to people who would have played the game or have used the product. The opportunity for the marketer is to control timing of the message and suggest messaging. Rather than your player showing game play footage seven months from launch, the marketer uses influencer marketing to organize a larger campaign around people playing in the next three weeks. There is no control about what they say, or how they say it. There are suggestions, but ultimately the final product is delivered by the creator in their own authentic voice.

For marketers the opportunity is to reach people in the channels they are familiar with, with endorsers who they recognize. One generation likes Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.  Others like ShayCarl and PewDiePie. To see these people talking about brands, products and services acts as a motivator to buy, or at least consider them.  Like with any marketing the message, the medium and the talent have to be lined up.

Like ShayCarl said at [a]list summit this past July: “Don’t lie.”



Asia Gaming Booms

The global market for games is growing, and Asia is already in the lead — and growing faster than other regions. So it should not come as a surprise that games market research firm Newzoo is opening a new office in Shanghai, and presenting some new data about the Asian games market to highlight that effort. This office marks the first step in its international expansion strategy and signals Newzoo’s desire to be closer to its Asian clients and partners. If the current growth in China continues, it will surpass the U.S. as the biggest games market in the world at the end of 2015. China houses numerous games and digital media companies with global ambitions encompassing both the West and Asia itself. Newzoo already serves a number of Chinese companies including Perfect World, R2 Games, Tencent and Baidu.

Wybe Schutte

Newzoo’s upcoming research effort in Southeast Asia (SEA) is an example of how it aims to foresee the needs of global companies in general and those in China specifically. “We are very excited to start our first international office in Shanghai,” said Newzoo’s VP of Business Development, Wybe Schutte. “In recent years, Newzoo has become a well-known brand in Asia. At the same time, we realize that a local presence is required to optimize our service towards our Asian clients and take away every threshold for companies seeking to work with us. Of course, it will also help us to expand our network of media and data partners in the region.” Schutte will be leading Newzoo’s Shanghai offices for the time being, according to Newzoo CEO Peter Warman.

Newzoo also announced its biggest research effort to date, focused completely on Southeast Asia. The project was kick-started earlier this year by several launch clients including Facebook, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Chinese internet giant Baidu.

The effort involves local primary consumer research in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines in combination with financial analysis and transactional partner data. To understand the growth drivers and potential, the report will also give insight into the cultural and digital media landscape of each country. The six countries represent 550 million consumers, an online population of almost 180 million and close to 110 million connected gamers. This year, these consumers will generate $1 billion in game revenues. The average annual growth rate of 22.9 percent (CAGR) towards 2017 for the six countries combined makes it the largest growth region in the world. More information on the SEA project can be found here.

“Over recent years, Southeast Asia has steadily risen in priority for our clients,” said Schutte. “We have waited to research this very diverse region in full depth until growth started to accelerate and that moment is now. Our clients all have a global outlook and want to be able to benchmark markets in Southeast Asia with growth opportunities in other continents. Adding six Southeast Asian countries to our existing primary research portfolio of nineteen countries allows them to do exactly that.”

To celebrate the opening of the office, and to meet with friends and partners in China, Newzoo VP Business Development, Wybe Schutte, will attend GDC China in Shanghai from October 19 to 21. He will be available for meetings both at the show and the Newzoo office. For the fourth year in a row, Newzoo will also be an exhibitor at G-Star in Busan, Korea from November 20 to 23. More information on the opening of the Shanghai office can be found here.

Providing additional insights into the growth of the Asian gaming market, Dr. Serkan Toto, a Japan-based game industry consultant, gave a presentation recently in Malaysia. While his data showed that all segments of the game industry are showing growth except for retail packaged games, the growth of mobile games is the highest. Dr. Toto showed numbers from the International Development Group with estimates of some $8.9 billion in mobile content for Asia this year out of some $20 billion total worldwide, rising to $11.4 billion in 2017.

Dr. Toto noted some other important trends in the Asian gaming market. While smartphones and tablets are growing rapidly, this is still one of the regions of the world where feature phones are a major part of the market. The spread of smart devices will grow as lower price points become prevalent, with sub-$100 smartphones and tablets poised to make big inroads into markets like India.

Similarly to North America and Europe, the easy availability of app stores is contributing to a rise in indie developers all over Asia. Again, similar to their Western counterparts, these Asian developers can have a difficult time finding an audience for their games.

One key thing about the Asian mobile game market (and, for that matter, the PC game market): It’s almost entirely free-to-play. While the app stores on iOS and Google are important, messaging platforms like WeChat, Line, and Kakao are extremely important as places to distribute games in Asia.

Courtesy of Games In Asia, they’ve lined up some data from Newzoo in convenient charts to show the leading countries for overall games revenue. China, as you would expect, leads Asia not only in population but in game revenue with $17.8 billion, with Japan trailing behind at $12.2 billion.and South Korea in a distant third place with $3.3 billion.

The data gets even more interesting, though, when you consider the Internet penetration in each country. China’s population on the Internet is still only half of the total population, and India is a mere 17 percent of the total population. There’s plenty of growth left ahead as devices and Internet access spread to the general population.

Mobile Advertising Growing Fast

With more and more smart mobile devices being purchased worldwide (and more expected to sell through the holiday season), it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that advertising on those devices is picking up as well.

The market for mobile advertising has shown a much greater growth than other digital advertising formats across the United States, estimated around $50 billion dollars – nearly $10 billion over what was spent last year.

Mobile advertising is effective mainly due to the growth of the “mobile first” audience, where a variety of business and casual folks prefer to use their smartphones and/or tablets to surf the web, check messages and other information.

However, BI Intelligence, in a recent report, indicated that the gap between the amount of time these users spend on their devices and the amount of money spent on advertisements will narrow over the next few years, with more ad formats being introduced and more advertisers finding ways to attract to an audience. That, and, of course, the sales of more devices from the likes of Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers.

The report also points out that US mobile ad spending will increase substantially by 2018, based on a growth of a five-year compound annual growth rate of 43 percent from 2013, according to Business Insider. This includes formats across the board, including display ads, video, social embedding and search through Google and other engines.

Revenues are likely to increase as well, as the report shows that both mobile display and video ads will lead the charge with 96 and 73 percent, respectively, over the next few years. That doesn’t mean you should count out social and search, though, as they will still retain enough of a share in the market to remain profitable.

In addition, in-app mobile ads are likely to perform better than general web ads, with an increase expected in both usage and performance. Medialets reported that in-all click-through rates have seen an increase to .56 percent globally, compared to .23 percent for mobile web ads. This number is likely to go on the rise as well.



Image source

Top Gaming And Entertainment Brands 2014

Interbrand has released the list of the top 100 global brands for 2014, and, to no one’s surprise, Apple and Google have managed to slot themselves into the number one and two positions, worth $118 billion and $107 billion, respectively. The full list can be found here, but the top gaming, tech, and entertainment companies are as follows:

1: Apple, $118 billion, continues to lead the charge with new products such as the forthcoming Apple Watch and the new iPhone 6 models

2: Google, $107 billion, leads the charge with both its reliable search website and YouTube video service

5: Microsoft, $61 billion, continues to be a leader in the electronics market, and also leaves its mark with its Xbox One gaming console

15: Amazon, $29 billion, still making money thanks to its popular site, as well as devices like the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Phone

28: eBay, $14 billion, leads the charge when it comes to online auction services

29: Facebook, $14 billion, has a huge audience of social media users and game players, even with certain changes to its design

52: Sony Japan Electronics, $8 billion, even with some lost momentum over the past few months, Sony continues to leave its mark with its PlayStation line-up

92: Fed-Ex, $4.4 billion, even with stiff competition from UPS, FedEx continues to be the most profitable of shipping companies worldwide, with only DHL, with $5 billion, ahead of it

100: Nintendo Japan Electronics, $4 billion, although it’s not dominating the industry anymore, Nintendo continue to hold decent earnings with its 3DS and Wii U systems

These are some interesting numbers, but they can always change come this time next year, especially if the holiday season has any say in terms of what brands are bought, or what usage of social media comes about. No doubt we’ll see plenty of these power players make a return next year.

Digital Talent Going To Disney Channels

In an effort to cross-promote both channels involved, Maker Studios has announced that it is working alongside cable channels Disney XD and Disney Channel to produce a number of TV specials that will feature many of its talent. Considering that all of these equities are owned by Disney, it’s a move that will certainly pay off for all parties involved.

Both Disney Channel and XD will feature a special Maker-branded half-hour special, which will feature yet unnamed talent. Other opportunities for these folks to be featured on programs through Disney Channel Worldwide are likely to happen as well, according to Variety.

This should prove profitable for Disney, after the company invested nearly half a billion dollars in Maker Studios last year, as the deal will be worth nearly twice that.

The first part of this programming will revolve around Disney Channel’s “Monstober” programming, with two 11-minute episodes highlighting the best Halloween content from Maker’s YouTube programmers, including original specials and sketches. The show will feature hosts from both Disney Channel and Maker, including the likes of Mortem3r, AJ Rafael, Mikey Murphy and Lana.

As part of the deal, the programming will air on the YouTube channels first, and then make their way to Disney.

Ever since its acquiring by Disney, Maker Studios has been doing quite well, as its network continues to be highly popular with more than 5.5 billion page views each month. Chief executive Ynon Kreiz recently spoke out about the success during a digital entertainment conference in Cannes, France, happy with the results.

As far as why Disney picked up Maker Studios to begin with, he simply stated, “They had to do something to remain relevant in that space, in the short-form medium,” according to VentureBeat.

And now it’s a deal that’s changing for the better, with even more programming likely to happen in the future.

‘Bayonetta 2’ Throwing Off Review Cycles

Video game reviews can be a helpful way for the general public to get an idea of what they’re in for with a new product before they spend $60+ on a purchase – but, sometimes, according to Forbes, they can be a burden as well.

Contributor Paul Tassi recently wrote an article explaining a peculiar situation surrounding Nintendo, who previously provided review codes for its upcoming action sequel Bayonetta 2 to several outlets. The embargo for the review lifted this week, and reviews have posted on a number of sites, including IGN and Joystiq, providing positive responses across the board, with scores around the 9 to 10 range.

This is good for Nintendo, as it provides even more excitement for the Wii U-exclusive sequel. But, on the other hand, it also presents a peculiar problem, as the game won’t actually release in stores and digitally through the eShop until next Friday, October 26. Some might be misled to believe that it could be picked up sooner than that, like this week’s releases of The Evil Within and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which will be out tomorrow.

As a video game journalist who reviews products quite often, here’s my personal take on the matter: it’s better to be too early than too late. In a number of circumstances, review product doesn’t generally arrive until a day before the game’s release, or sometimes even after. This can pose an interesting problem for outlets that want to post a review as quickly as possible, especially considering how long it takes to complete a game and give it fair judgment.

In Nintendo’s case, too early seems to work the best. The company has provided press with early digital copies of Hyrule Warriors and Super Smash Bros. on the 3DS in an effort to get positive word out early. It’s a confident move, especially if a game isn’t quite up to snuff, but one that’s paid off, as both of those products – along with Bayonetta 2­ – have gotten positive marks. And heading into the holiday season, it never hurts to have more positivity on your side, especially in the case of Nintendo, a company that wants to sell more Wii U units.

So, no, I personally don’t see anything wrong with providing review code earlier than expected. It helps build up buzz for a product, even if it leaves some people yearning a bit more for the finished game. Hey, better that than seeing a negative review show up days later for a product you already purchased, right