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.

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

‘Resident Evil’ Heading To TV

Over the past few years, Constantin Film has proven quite effective at the box office, producing a number of movies based on such popular licenses as The Mortal Instruments and Resident Evil. Now, it’s giving television a try with these franchises, according to Variety.

The German production studio has confirmed that both Mortal and Resident will be getting TV series spin-offs. Executive board chairman Martin Moszkowicz confirmed the news this weekend in Cannes, during the launch of the company’s newest TV show, Shades of Guilt.

The company dabbles quite a bit with television development, but this is the first time that major franchises will be utilized, offering a new goal for it to reach. “We are increasing our TV activities substantially both in Germany and internationally,” said Moszkowicz, also emphasizing that fictional products will retain a huge focus.

When it comes to the development of such series, “we are moving rapidly,” he said. “Constantin has a lot of feature film brands and we are moving them into television. For instance, we own the rights to the book series The Mortal Instruments and we just hired a showrunner in Los Angeles, and our offices in Los Angeles and Canada are starting production next year on at least two or three international shows.”

That showrunner is none other than Ed Decter, who worked on such previous shows as Unforgettable, The Client List and In Plain Sight.

This is a new move for Mortal Instruments, especially following the news that the second film in the series, City of Ashes, was shelved due to the lackluster box office performance of last year’s release City of Bones.

Meanwhile, Resident Evil will continue to invade theaters, as a “final” chapter of the series is in the works for next year, with lead star Milla Jovovich returning. There’s no word yet if she’ll be involved with the show.

How Are Teens Listening To Music?

If you believe the recent Piper Jaffray report that shows that MP3’s in all their early-aught glory are still the preferred method for kids to listen to music, you may not have gotten the full picture. While the survey includes streaming sites like Pandora, lumping other streaming sites like Spotify into “other,” it leaving out glaring omissions. Where’s SoundCloud Where’s YouTube.

Graph from Piper Jaffray

A Nielsen report from two years ago showed that YouTube was teen’s go-to place for listening to music for 64 percent of respondents, although that report excluded streaming altogether.

Due to ommisions from of these prominent reports, what we actually know about teen’s music listening preferences are murky and unreliable. So what do we believe

Based on what we know from Nielsen’s most recent report on the matter, we know that digital music sales have come down by 6 percent and streaming has increased by 32 percent, in direct conflict with Piper Jaffray’s purported 13 percent increase in MP3 listeners. We would be less inclined to believe that the MP3 business is somehow booming and more inclined to believe that music is going in the direction of the cloud, through streaming.

The proclivity of these surveys to exclude streaming or lump types of streaming into an innocuous pile called “other” doesn’t reflect reality. For a more accurate picture, we need to break out streaming as a category and pay attention to where the shift in music is actually taking place.


Hulu Considering New Ad Model While Netflix Says No To Ad Deal

When it comes to online paid TV, viewers are clearly voting with their dollars and the dollars are going (mostly) to Netflix and Amazon. It’s increasingly hard for Hulu with only 6 million subscribers to Netflix’s 50 million and with Amazon’s ever-increasing content library.

The key difference between Hulu’s service and Netflix and Amazon’s is, of course, the ads. Hulu took cues from traditional TV in alternating viewing content with metered ads, but now viewers have had a taste of the alternative, the paid subscription with no ads model, it’s evident that in order to retain its position with the big leagues, Hulu will have to find a new way to integrate ads.

Netflix is continuing to show a hardline position on video ad integration, recently saying no to a deal with Ritz Crackers. Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings spoke strongly at the last earnings call: “It’s fundamental to that control orientation that we don’t cram advertisements down people’s throats.”

The paid subscription model continues to be wildly successful for Netflix, so we likely won’t be seeing ads on the platform any time soon. Hulu, however, is apparently not moving to shifting away from ads entirely as it is beholden to traditional TV networks Fox, NBC, ABC and more. Word is they are considering a pay-for-no-ads model similar to music platform Spotify.

How advertising will fit into the picture in the future of online video remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: viewers will decide.


Tweens On Gender Roles And The Rise Of Femvertising

SheKnows‘ new project Hatch has purpose: “helping girls find a voice of their own.” After surveying 600 women, an enormous number (81 percent) felt that it was important for younger generations to see ads that postively portrayed women.

While changes are certainly happening and the term “femvertising” has been coined, it is evident that it’s not happening fast enough. Enter these intelligent and aware tweens whose opinion of current marketing tactics, gendered products and ideas of social media show that they see right through the noise.

You’re in for some great advice and insights and a peek of what’s coming from Gen Z: