Amazon Adds Appstore To Android App

In the past, purchasing Android games through Amazon’s Appstore required you to download a special app in order to do so – a problem considering it isn’t readily available through the Google Play services. However, this past month, the company has made things a little bit easier, with the ability to activate a fully-functional Appstore on Android devices, which can be accessed directly through Amazon’s official application.

Users can find the store through the company’s “Shop by Department” section, and select “Apps & Games” from there. Following that, users will gain complete access to all of the applications available, which is a nice change of pace from how they had to get games before.

“Our customers want to go to one place to find all selection, whether it’s physical or digital, so we now offer the ability for customers to purchase videos, songs, audiobooks, apps and games from within the Amazon app,” said a spokesperson, speaking with TechCrunch. The goal of the company’s press release was to talk more about the convenience of using the Amazon app, rather than the addition of the Android-based services themselves.

Part of that move comes from the expansion of video services with Amazon Prime – even if that still requires having to download a separate Video Player to activate said services on mobile devices. A small price to pay, though, especially considering how much Amazon has expanded said services with most of its products.

On the Fire TV specifically, the company has managed to triple its selection of programs, from such studios as A & E, NFL Now, DailyMotion, PBS, PBS Kids and others, according to Business Wire. “We continue to hear from customers how much they love the selection available to them on their Amazon Fire TV. In just over six months we’ve tripled the catalog and we’re adding new customer favorites on a weekly basis,” said Steve Rabuchin, Vice President of the Amazon Appstore. “We also hear from customers how much they love playing games on their TV — 9 of the top 10 grossing apps on Fire TV are games — so we continue to work with game developers and add the most popular game content. Dungeon Quest, Spoiler Alert, Leo’s Fortune and Ninja Hero Cats, are some of the new games recently launched on Fire TV, and, coming soon, NBA 2K15.”

Others chimed in on the success of Fire TV as well, between such media apps as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, as well as games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Despicable Me: Minion Rush. “As a small development team, we have had the largest return on our invested capital with Fire TV,” said Todd Daniel, Managing Partner at Shiny Box Games, makers of Dungeon Quest. “We are seeing world class performance metrics only a month in to the game being available on Amazon Fire TV. User retention and attachment rates are higher than any of our other platforms.”

“For us it was really important to be on Fire TV, because of our beyond-mobile strategy,” said Chris Kassulke, CEO and co-founder of HandyGames, creators of Ninja Hero Cats and Save the Puppies. “The end-consumer should have access to their games, whether they are on the go or at home in the living room, and this is the reason why we optimized all our games for Fire TV. As a next step, we will be optimizing all our future games for Fire TV, so the end-consumer can look forward to lots of exciting new content from us.”

“Video content owners have been able to transform their video catalogs into TV apps with the Opera TV Snap technology, and we are excited to publish this video content on Amazon Fire TV – yet another platform to massively increase their audiences,” said Aneesh Rajaram, Senior Vice President for TV & Devices, Opera Software.

No doubt Amazon is attempting to open up its video services on all venues – and the expansion is likely to continue into 2015 and beyond.

Hollywood Studios Cashing In On Syndication

Think there isn’t big bucks in syndicated video-on-demand (SVOD) Think again, as Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime will definitely be cashing in to get a hold of major programming, according to Variety.

An analysis from David Bank indicates that SVOD services will be spending mega-bucks to secure programming for the next year, to the tune of $6.8 billion. That’s huge news for Hollywood studios, since this year’s numbers are just a bit smaller at $5.2 billion.

This is mainly due to expansion and the need to secure programming that will lure in viewers, both with original productions (like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards) and popular shows that will run via syndication (like Netflix’s deal to air the first season of Gotham after its network run).

Bank believes that the increase in spending for video-on-demand services will actually go into double digits year over year, meaning even more programming available to viewers across the “big three”, particularly the ever-popular Netflix.

In fact, the amount spent for off-network domestic syndication will see an even bigger number, going into $18.4 billion projected for 2015. However, those will probably lean more towards digital services, as expansion of the current cable channel line-up isn’t expected over the next few years.

Bank believes that video-on-demand spending has already gone beyond general syndication spending by broadcast stations, and should double the $3.3 billion projected for next year very soon. In all, between broadcast, video and cable, studios are expected to be given $29.5 billion by next year.

Spending seems to come the most from Netflix, with an estimated $3.3 billion in spending, with Amazon coming in second with $1.7 billion and Hulu Plus in third with $1.5 billion.

A lot of studios are making big money from the deal, including CBS Studios, leading the charge with $179 million expected for 2015. Warner Bros. is in second place with $106 million, and Lionsgate in third with $61 million.

Even those lower on the list, like Universal TV with its $22 million, are still cleaning up, as the majority of that payoff is coming from one series alone, The Blacklist.

Newcomers are definitely making moves, though, according to Bank. “Yahoo’s purchase of exclusive rights to prior seasons of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and its order for a sixth original season of ‘Community’ could be a harbinger of things to come,” he said.

Exclusive deals could be a huge boon for these companies, but they also come with risk. “This model, on some level, has enabled the major studios to make more of the ‘hit risk’ out of producing premium broadcast content,” Bank explained.

“While much has been made of the potential for original programming to lower demand for acquired off- network programming, we think such concerns are overstated,” wrote Bank. “The average linear cable channel or SVOD platform alike has to program 24 hours per day of viewer demand. This demand cannot be satisfied by a slate of six or so original shows.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the slate looks with exclusive programming over the next year.

Designing For Marketing

The past few years have seen massive changes in the game industry, and the changes are still under way. We’ve seen free-to-play games go from an obscure business model in Korea to a a business model that can bring in over $1 billion in revenue for a single PC game in a year. Mobile games have gone from a small fraction of the games business to being poised to take over as the single largest revenue segment of games next year. Digital distribution has overturned the classic publisher model, empowering small developers and leading to an explosion of new games on multiple platforms. Marketing games has gone from a rather dull, standardized process of placing ads in key game magazines to an increasingly complex and creative endeavor with no clear winning strategy.

These changes are only gradually being reflected in the process of how games are being designed, though. It’s past time that game designers, marketers, and business people got together in discussing game designs before the development process begins, and stay in the process throughout development and beyond the initial launch for the (hopefully) years the product will be in the marketplace. Creating a large-scale successful game is really a team endeavor that requires creative input from all parts of the business.

Here are some key things to keep in mind as you start with a blank screen to design the Next Great Game. Remember, bring in marketing when you start having these design discussions, and it would also be helpful to have someone with community management experience, as well as someone who understands monetization, analytics, and statistics. You want all-around expertise contributing to the beginning stages, if you can.

Design for the audience first, not the platform
The days of working relentlessly to just to be able to put images on the screen are long gone. The tools of the trade have developed enormous power, and the hardware has become amazing as well. Yes, you still want to create games that take advantage of the platform capabilities, and work well with the interface the platform has available. In the past far too many games started with getting a graphics engine created, and then once that immense task was accomplished, you’d throw in some thin rationale for running around and shooting people and call it a game.

That’s just not good enough these days, with thousands of games coming out every month competing for attention — and many of them doing a very competent job of displaying pretty pictures rapidly, thank you very much. Think about who’s going to play your game, and why will they play this game instead of a dozen others like it (or a million others unlike it).

Don’t depend on graphics
If there’s any lesson the indsutry should draw from the stunning success of Minecraft, it’s this: Graphics aren’t everything. Or, if you’d like another example of this principle, Destiny is pretty, but the gameplay is still lacking. Bungie would have been better off spending more effort on gameplay and less on polygons and textures. Yes, of course you want your game’s graphics to be excellent. Excellent, though, doesn’t have to mean “photorealistic.” Pick an art style that you can execute well in your time frame and within your budget. The artwork is important in so far as it advances the experience you want players to have with the game. Remember, it should be about the audience first and what kind of gameplay they experience. The technology and the artwork are there to help deliver that — don’t make those things an end in themselves.

Once you have a hit game, bring it everywhere
Don’t invert that, thinking that the way to make a game a hit is to have it on every possible platform at once. That’s a great strategy when you already have a hit like FIFA, but if you’re creating a new game you’re probably spreading your resources too thinly unless you’re a very big company. Pick your platform carefully and build an audience. When you’ve got a hit, and you have the resources, start finding ways to get your game out to as many people as possible. That means geographically as well as technologically. Look for partners who can help bring your game to the fast-growing global market. It’s more than just localization, it’s understanding the culture, the payment processing, and how to market games in that country.

Relentlessly remove barriers to play
Why is free-to-play such a popular business model Because it’s about enlarging the audience for your game by removing barriers to play. Yes, it’s not a magic wand, and doing it right requires careful design and knowledge of your audience. You have to make the game compelling, keep people playing for a long time, and give them ways to spend money that don’t piss them off. None of that is easy, and you may need to test different things to get it right.

Removing barriers to play doesn’t stop at lowering the price, though. You’ve got to make the game easy to get into. The days of half-hour intro videos and lengthy tutorials are long gone, especially when a game is F2P. Figure out how to get people into the game swiftly, and how they can tap into the game’s central magic that makes it fun. Don’t let your potential players get bored and wander off.

Build virality into the design
In other words, make it easy and natural for your players to become your sales force. Players love to share their designs for farms, or their lavishly customized race cars, or the gameplay video of their triumphant slaughter of the enemy hordes. Don’t try pasting in a Twitter button after the design is done. Figure out what’s cool about the game and why players would want to share it with someone else. At the simplest level, leaderboards are a cool way to compare yourself to others. Give people a reason to evangelize your game to their friends. That’s the best way for people to find new games these days — hearing a friend talk about how much fun it is.

Summary
It should be said that there are exceptions to all of these rules, and genius lies in knowing the rules thoroughly and breaking them in creative ways. Some games will find a way to greatness by odd and interesting paths, or because they have done something amazing no one has ever done before. Sometimes jawdropping graphics can be a strong sales incentive, especially if it shows off the prowess of new hardware.

Remember when you create a game you are competing against all other things people can do with their time. Smartphones make this readily apparent, since every other activity (music, video, web, texting, social) is just a touch away. In this world of ever-shortening attention spans, getting some of that mind share for your game is tougher than ever. Make your game compelling in any way that you can, and bring in expertise in all disciplines at the earliest stages. There’s no guarantee of success no matter what you do, but at least you can improve your chances.

Mapping The MMO Market

Online multi-player games have been popular for a long time. But in only a few short years, the market for MMOs has changed dramatically in terms of revenue, player preferences and addressable audience. Overall, the total category is on track to generate $11 billion in annual revenues by the end of this year, representing roughly 21 percent of the worldwide digital games market. By 2017, this number is forecast to grow to $13 billion. And so it is hardly a surprise that both small and large publishers alike are trying to claim their share of this thriving market.

Building The Dream
There’s plenty of random information on free-to-play MMOs floating around. And it is fascinating how many companies make million dollar decisions based on anecdotal evidence and things they’ve overheard at a conference. What’s been missing has been a consistent, reliable source of market data that goes beyond traffic estimates and, instead, provides insight into three key components: the monthly active user base, the percentage of players that convert to spending and, finally, the average spend per paying player.

For example, if you compare a title like League of Legends with World of Tanks, you immediately notice that the former has a much, much larger audience. However, the latter monetizes as higher rate and has a higher overall lifetime value. (This was the topic of an article we published earlier this year.) Each in their own way, these titles evolve and develop based on the unique characteristics of their user base and content strategy.

By building a data partner network consisting of developers, publishers and payment providers, we’ve managed to accumulate a dataset that contains the actual spending of over 37 million digital gamers, going back well over a decade. Consider for a moment that in the digital games market only a few percent of players actually converts to spending. This allows us to map out historical performance, read early signs of market saturation, build detailed life cycle curves, and establish title-level performance. Combined with in-depth qualitative consumer insight, we know exactly what drives the market, and it puts our publisher clients in a position to assess marketing budgets, identify major inflection points and benchmark overall performance.

Comparing Top MMOs
Looking at the current top ten MMOs we notice that League of Legends is now the number one MMO with $946 million in revenues so far in 2014. Riot Games’ emphasis on providing a unique player experience, rather than focusing on revenues, has paid off. Remarkably, incumbent titles like Crossfire ($897 million) and Dungeon Fighter ($891 million) managed to maintain their leadership positions, providing evidence to the notion that free-to-play gamers are much more loyal than is generally assumed. What’s really exciting is DOTA 2’s rise in the charts, reaching $136 million in revenues, now claiming the number nine spot, up from number 20 previously. And, finally, ahead of its earnings call Activision is brimming with good news: after announcing an increase in its subscriber base for World of Warcraft earlier, its new title Hearthstone managed to come in at number ten, ahead of titles like Elder Scrolls Online ($111 million) and Star Wars: The Old Republic ($106 million). Of course, there is no way of knowing whether Valve intends to announce Half-Life 3 now that Team Fortress 2 is losing its position and dropping from 11 to 14 with $92 million in year-to-date revenues, but one can dream.

Changing Consumer Preferences
The success of MOBA titles indicates a subtle but important shift in the way people like to play online. Offering the same fast paced action as first-person shooter games, MOBAs have quickly become one of the most popular game genres worldwide, growing their share of the overall MMO category from 16 percent to 24 percent in just the last year. On a title-level, we observe the ascendance of League of Legends and DOTA 2. Certainly, both companies’ eSports strategy played a major role in popularizing the MOBA genre, and it is paying them dividends.

But the popularity of the free-to-play model among consumers does not mean that traditional ways of publishing are on a decline. In fact, whenever there’s a major release on console, either via traditional retail or digital channels, we observe a dip in free-to-play spending. Gamers, the data tells us, play on multiple platforms at once and regularly shift their focus between them, expressed in both time played and money spent. Innovative game mechanics and monetization strategies, it suggests, do not exist in a vacuum, but rather expand and add to the gaming ecosystem. How publishers differentiate themselves in such a volatile market has become a key strategic component.

Changing Revenue Models
The recent news that World of Warcraft saw a 600,000 increase in its subscriber base in the lead-up to its new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, silenced critics of the subscription-based MMO revenue model. Generating well over one billion in annual revenues, the game is on track to tally 8.2 million subscribers by the end of the year. Its underlying mechanics have changed, however, as World of Warcraft now also features microtransactions and a partial free-to-play component. It is a sign that things are changing, especially for the major publishers, when a company like Activision retires Titan and, instead, doubles down on Heroes of the Storm.

A key reason why free-to-play is so popular among publishers is its ability to distribute and monetize new markets. In the absence of an installed console base and in countries where people generally play at Internet cafés rather than at home, free-to-play games offer high-quality game play that is also accessible. Consequently, we’ve seen a spectacular adoption by gamer audiences in markets like Brazil, Russia and Turkey. But Asia remains the biggest market for free-to-play MMOs: with $4.2 billion in revenues, it looms over North America ($3.1 billion) and Europe ($2.1 billion), two markets traditionally central to any successful publishing strategy. The popularity of this model, combined with the protectionist policies of a country like China, has allowed a company like Tencent to quickly become a dominating force in the industry. It has also, however, raised the bar for future growth, as big Asian publishers now ask themselves how to replicate their success in Western markets. Tencent’s answer so far has been to acquire and invest in companies that offer high quality game play that is also culturally relevant, like Riot Games and Epic. We expect to see more of this in the years to come.

So that’s where we are on the MMO market today. We still have a way to go, but by working together as an industry, we have managed to establish a necessary degree of market transparency. Because, let’s face it, game development and publishing isn’t getting any cheaper.

Mobile Ad Revenues Rise, Search Drops

When it comes to advertising, sometimes it’s just about putting it in the right place. That’s certainly the case for companies that have chosen to go with mobile advertising, as it’s on the move towards higher profits, according to a report from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

Initially posted by Clickz, the report indicates that Internet ad revenues have seen a great first half of this year, up to $23.1 billion, which is a 15 percent increase from the first part of 2013. In addition, mobile revenues have also seen a boost, going up 76 percent to $5.3 billion, compared to the $3 billion from the year before.

The study also broke down ad revenues into different categories, including search and display. With that, Joe Laszlo, senior director of the mobile marketing center for the group, said that some numbers could overlap when it comes to mobile and desktop ad buying.

“If you do a search ad buy in Google, almost by default it’ll include desktop and mobile,” says Laszlo. “There’s a combination factor that’s going on there that’s very interesting.” He also believes there are blurred lines on the display side as well. “Technologies like responsive design make it easier to build an ad that changes size and shape to fit the devices audiences have. I think this line between the desktop world and the mobile world is going to get more blurry.”

Search revenues continued to be steady for this year, around $4.5 billion, but didn’t see as big a growth as mobile ads, as that was only a slight increase over last year’s $4.4 billion reported. “The underlying numbers are beginning to get very big,” explained Laszlo. “and as revenue numbers get big, growth percentages inevitably start to slow down. Attribute the deceleration of search more to the market beginning to mature than marketers losing confidence in it.”

Classifieds and directories are getting the low end of the stick in the report, with a number still holding at $1.3 billion, the same as what was reported last year. Said Laszlo about the decline, “Outside of very specific niche categories where directories have a lot of value to add, we are seeing the end of an era or a transition away from directories as a major ad opportunity. Directories as a way to navigate information are on their way out. Directory services need to reposition how people sort through, find, and access their content to stay relevant.”

Finally, social media is showing an increase in spending, with $2.9 billion for this year, compared to $2.6 from the year before. “This is the first time we’ve given the industry and the marketplace a sense of specifically how big social media revenues are. I think everybody’s very interested in social,” said Laszlo.

 

YouTube Stars Land In Rovio’s Latest

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Or, in this case, Retry.

An agreement between Google’s YouTube site and game developer Rovio Entertainment (the team behind the popular Angry Birds games) have brought two of the video site’s more popular streamers to the gaming front, allowing them to star in the developer’s latest release, Retry.

In the mobile game, players control a plane, flying through side-scrolling territory akin to classic 8-bit games from the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game features The Slow Mo Guys appearing throughout the game.

The Slow Mo Guys make videos that feature activities that are happening in slow-motion, including the explosion of a water balloon and other impressive effects, all while delivering their own style of charm.

In addition to promotion in-game, a media campaign will promote these stars in various markets worldwide, including Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Considering their outreach of 4.5 million subscribers and more than 438 million views, these slow-motion masters should have no problem drawing a crowd.

“The fun, retro tone of the game and the target audience are a perfect fit to engage with fans of The Slow Mo Guys,” said Richard Waterworth, YouTube’s head of YouTube consumer marketing for EMEA, speaking with Variety.

The partnership should pay off greatly for Rovio, who are keeping busy this year with original Angry Birds properties, including the more original effort Angry Birds Stella, and the just-released Angry Birds Transformers, featuring a team-up with the wildly popular Hasbro brand.

This is in spite of some behind-the-scenes changes with the company, as it had to lay off 130 employees earlier this month, an estimated 16 percent of its overall workforce.

Still, this partnership, along with the game itself, should help the company see profits again, along with the forthcoming Angry Birds film, which will release in 2016.

 

Ello Expands, Raising $5.5 Million

Most social networks out there, such as Facebook, tend to use the data of its users for advertising purposes. However, with Ello, that’s not the case, as the up-and-coming site has promised never to get to that point. In fact, it got to the point where it turned away from making money via a general revenue source, in favor of getting funds another way.

The website has managed to secure approximately $5.5 million in financing through the Foundry Group, Bullet Time Ventures and Freshtracks Capital, according to Fast Company. This will certainly go a long way in keeping most of it ad-free, even though it will still charge for certain services on the app, such as add-ons and other modifications. Ello already has a million people signed up, ath several million more on the waiting list.

“Would people like a less intrusive social network than Facebook Of course they would,” said Harvey Business School professor John Deighton. “Do they want it enough to pay for it Probably not, as long as there is a giant global community (Facebook) with a billion monthly active members, including that high school exchange student who they lost touch with when they went back to Bolivia. And that one’s free.”

With the funding, Ello hopes to utilize better product development, including a back-end infrastructure capable of carrying a stronger user base, which the site is clearly getting. The site has managed to gain 40,000 to 50,000 new invites per hour, according to Re/Code, and the servers are getting a little tougher to maintain.

One thing it will maintain, though, is that it won’t use data for its own selling purposes. “This company will never have ads and will never sell user data,” said CEO Paul Budnitz. “We’ve basically enshrined, in the most powerful legal way possible, our mission into the company.”

Those interested in learning more about Ello, as well as what it has to offer its users, can visit the site here.

Complex Media Unwraps Vertical-Focused YouTube MCN

by Sahil Patel

As YouTube creators and networks continue to search for opportunities beyond the world’s biggest video site, an interesting thing is happening with traditional media companies and legacy publishers — they’re moving in the opposite direction.

In most cases, these companies are simply partnering with YouTube talent on content or promotional campaigns in the hopes of attracting their large, young, and engaged audiences.

Some companies — Conde Nast and Hearst, to name a few — have gone a step further and made heavy investments in the YouTube ecosystem. The latest in this thread, it appears, is male lifestyle publisher Complex Media, which is launching a new vertical-focused multi-channel network on YouTube.

Complex already boasts of a strong online video business. The company says its video network aggregates more than 120 million unique viewers each month. This includes its owned Complex TV platform, which launched in early 2013, as well as a syndication network that includes YouTube and Dailymotion.

Now the publisher wants to pay greater attention to YouTube, with a new MCN organized around five verticals core to its business: music, men’s fashion, sneaker culture, and sports.

The Complex MCN launches with 40 creators and channels on board, including DJ Vlad (669,000 subscribers), Tony Hawk’s Ride Channel (752,000 subscribers), and Hes Kicks (81,000 subscribers). Complex’s main YouTube channel(124,000 subscribers) as well as channels for its different sites within its larger media network are also part of the offering, which collectively reaches 6 million subscribers on YouTube.

For creators, Complex’s MCN is an opportunity to not only produce content with the company, but also take advantage of its sales force, which will look to coordinate larger vertical-spanning media buys, says Complex.

“Our sales team has proven successful at amplifying campaigns across our publisher network of over 120 media brands on the editorial side,” says Complex’s Video GM Nathan Brown. “We are excited to provide the same opportunity for video creators across YouTube, as well as Complex’s own publishing brands.”

On the content side, Complex will occasionally turn to its network when sourcing talent for new original programming (non-affiliated creators will be considered, too.) As for the slate of original content on Complex TV, including shows like “Magnum Opus,” “Riff Raff Realm,” and “Complex News,” as well they will various one-off pieces, Complex says they will be “funneled” into the appropriate verticals within the network.

CREATIVE: Top Trailers For The Week – 10/23 Edition

Welcome back to the Top Trailers For the Week, where we select the best in movies, TV and video game highlights for the period ending October 23. Today, we’ve got some exciting stuff on tap, so let’s start with an obvious favorite…

 

With the game set to launch in about ten days, the hype for Activision’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare couldn’t be greater. Featuring a new futuristic approach to the popular series, this entry also features the presence of Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey, who promises to deliver an impact as the main financier of one of the nation’s most powerful private armies. Advanced Warfare releases on November 4th for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, although purchasers of the Day Zero pack can access the game 24 hours earlier.

 

Microsoft took a huge leap forward with its original programming for Xbox consoles, with the debut of a teaser trailer for its forthcoming Halo series, Nightfall. Featuring impressive visual effects and strong performances, this live-action spin-off of the popular game series promises to be a hit – especially with executive producer Ridley Scott behind the project. Nightfall will be available for viewing on November 11th, as part of the forthcoming Halo: The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One.

 

Sony announced that it will be holding a PlayStation Experience event on December 6th and 7th in Las Vegas, enabling thousands of fans to come down and play exclusive games, as well as chat with developers and take part in other contests and giveaways. Tickets will be available through the PlayStation site starting tomorrow.

 

Last but not least, Sony also scored big numbers this week with its new live-action “Friendly Competition” ad, featuring a pair of players facing off in a variety of games in real-time, including NBA 2K15, Far Cry 4 and Destiny.