UNICEF’s Powerful Video Game Message

Developed the right way, video games can deliver a powerful message – not always an easy one to watch at times, but powerful nevertheless. That’s the approach UNICEF has recently taken with an interesting pitch, one that tells the story of a 7-year old in South Sudan.

Per a story through PSFK, Joe Sabia presented the idea of the game to the attendees of Video Gamers United at the Washington Convention Center this week. It tells a horror-apocalyptic based story about the girl, first starting with the death of her mother through cholera, then with soldiers breaking into the family’s home, resulting in the death of her brother. The girl, Elika, manages to run away and get to safety, but not before a bullet hits her baby brother in the cheek.

Following her escape, Elika arrives in a camp, where people are overcome with fear and panic based on surrounding events. From here, the character’s survival system is broken down into three different bars: Health, Hydration and Hunger.

It’s a hard theme to take – and many in attendance for the trailer’s presentation were certainly in shock. (Some even walked out.) However, UNICEF made it to raise awareness for what’s happening in the region, with estimates indicating that tens of thousands of casualties take place every year, while millions are internally displaced by such actions. With that, the company chose to tell the story in an attempt to raise public consciousness – even though it is revolving around a young child.

At the conclusion of the presentation, survivors from Sudan came in and explained how real the conditions in the game were in real life. Mari Malek explained, “Elika’s story is true. She is me, and she is so many of the South Sudanese children that are going through this experience at this moment.”

With that, UNICEF posed a vital question: How would people react if fictional violence (like in video games) becomes child’s play when compared to reality

The video in question can be viewed below. Warning: it is not easy to watch, but some will find it quite important.


Twitch’s Remarkable Streaming Year

If any company has managed to go further than expected in 2014, it has to be Twitch. The streaming channel has seen a huge growth in unique broadcasters and viewers, and also managed to get attention from the unlikeliest of programs, such as TwitchPlaysPokemon, which took place earlier this year. Not to mention that little purchase by Amazon earlier in the year for an estimated $970 million.

The team recently took the time to share some big numbers with us for Twitch’s big year, and it’s definitely shown quite a bit of growth since this time last year. Here are some of the numbers Twitch posted:

-60+ million unique viewers

-1.5+ million unique broadcasters per month

-1 million peak concurrent sitewide viewers

-600l: the largest peak concurrent on a single stream or channel

-9000+ members of the Twitch Partner Program, which enables them to monetize channels with ads, subscriptions and merchandise)

-16 billion minutes watched per month

-106 minutes watched per person per day

-Console broadcasters on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 made up roughly 30 percent of the platform’s broadcasting base

-TwitchPlaysPokemon: 1,165,140 unique players inputted chat commands into the game, but 9+ million unique viewers tuned in

-More TwitchPlaysPokemon stats: 36+ million total views overall, with 120,000+ peak concurrents and a total of 1+ billion minutes watched

In addition, Twitch found a number of partners for live broadcasts this year, ranging from special announcements at the PlayStation Experience to teaming up with Coke for a pro gaming tournament. No doubt these features will continue to expand into 2015, as the scope of professional gaming – and forthcoming game shows like E3 and Penny Arcade Expo-based events – open up.

“So much has happened this year, it’s hard to pick just one thing!” said Emmett Shear, CEO for Twitch, in regards to the company’s big year. “Obviously we have some amazing milestones like being acquired by Amazon, or executing our first acquisition ourselves by buying GoodGame. The single accomplishment that I feel most proud of is building a platform for gamers the world over that could enable a cultural phenomenon like TwitchPlaysPokemon. TwitchPlaysPokemon was a broadcast of Pokemon where the chat room actually controlled the action by sending commands directly to the game. When I saw that our community had created an entire new religion around the broadcast, I knew we’d truly changed gaming forever.”

With the support of Amazon – and more TwitchPlays sessions that are likely in the pipeline (like TwitchPlaysZelda, which was also a big hit this year), the streaming service will no doubt get even bigger in 2015.

Image source: Polygon

Christmas A Big Day For Online Devices

It’s the holiday season, and that means gift giving of all sorts, whether you’re providing someone with a fruitcake or going all out with the ugliest of Christmas sweaters. Of course, a lot of gifts this year are beyond that, going on the technical front and offering online accessibility, whether it’s a Wi-Fi connection with a coffee maker or activating a smart watch for the first time.

Fast Company is reporting that this holiday season is set to be the biggest one for Internet of Things-related devices going online. A number of smartphones, tablets, game consoles and other online-enabled devices are being given out, most of them with always-on monitoring services or some access to Wi-Fi/Internet connectivity. Now it’s just a matter of how consumers react to this growing trend.

“These devices always seem to take a leap around this time of year,” said John Fetto, a senior research and marketing analyst for Experian Marketing Services. Their research shows that consumers have been looking heavily at IoT-enabled devices, from DropCams to wearable tech from FitBit to Nike Fuelbands. The company believes that the trend will continue moving forward, with 2020 being the year that 25 billion devices will show some form of connectivity.

However, with that, some consumers are concerned with the security of said devices. “The data that’s being collected on you, it makes you the product,” said Chris Rouland, founder and CEO of security company Bastille Networks.

This year’s gift giving will tell companies what’s popular in the IoT-connecting front, but that isn’t stopping some retailers from giving them a push already. Best Buy already has a department devoted to this technology, and Home Depot, Lowes and Staples have their own products in place as well, complete with Internet support. Small tech startups are also piling up, particularly with the likes of Samsung and Apple, which are set to launch new products over the next year.

Most consumers forget about privacy issues with items like these, mainly due to the theme of the holidays. “A lot of companies are trying to get into this business and consumers need to really pay attention to the companies they’re using,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “Startups may be rushing things to market faster than larger companies or may not be as concerned about security, so consumers need to know it may be a little bit of the Wild West out there.”

Adding to that, Rouland said, “People need to be wary about what they’re giving up. If I’m a consumer who purchased this product, I certainly wouldn’t think Jawbone could publish a report about what time I woke up.” He referred to the company’s products affecting users’ sleep patterns following a small earthquake over the summer in California.

“By and large consumers understand that they’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of information and privacy for convenience, but they need to feel that they’re actually getting the value for that transaction,” said David Chivers, a retail expert and consultant. With that, he pointed out that 69 percent of consumers intended to buy an in-home connected device sometime over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Donna Hoffman, a marketing professor for George Washington University, had this to say. “People are going to take these devices home and they’re not going to work as advertised, and then there’s going to be a lot of dissatisfaction. The challenge for the industry is going to be how to manage consumer expectations, because I think they’re not prepared for the onslaught.

“At Christmas, there may be some enthusiasm and a lot of people buying these products, but come return time in the New Year, we’ll have another data point to see how well this is actually going.”

We’ll just have to see how things unfold over the holidays…

Image source

Logitech’s Craze With Creating The Perfect Gaming Mouse

With the gaming world always changing, a company like Logitech, which offers an ever-evolving line-up of products to meet these shifting needs, seems to stand out.

All of Logitech’s pro-gamer products look and sound like they belong on a spaceship – they’re all designed with angular black plastic and glowing blue lines, and each features the newest optical technology for reliable performance.

With names like Daedelus Prime, Proteus Core and Hyperion Fury it’s no wonder gamers are so eager to blindly dish out their dough and get their hands on these top-of-the-line gaming mice.

But just how much goes into designing these small gaming peripherals According to an article done by Kotaku UK, a whole lot.

First, Logitech considers a mouse’s durability. There’s a room on Logitech’s campus in Lausanne, Switzerland full of contraptions specifically designed to torture PC hardware. For example, one test includes pneumatically-powered metal rods insistently click on mouse buttons faster than any human hand. Other things that Logitech has done to “test” its mice include: driving trucks over them, dropping them from great heights, strapping them to strange turntable devices that spin around and around at crazy speeds to test their pinpoint accuracy on different surfaces, and fixing them to the end of a pneumatic metal arm that swings wildly from side to side.

“The goal is really to torture stuff,” said Maxime Marini (Logitech’s senior director of engineering and gaming development) to Kotaku. “We stress it in every possible way. At the end, the goal is that whatever gets out of here is 100 percent perfect and has no issues.”

In addition, these mice also cost millions to develop. According to its latest financial report, Logitech spent over 16 percent of its gross profit on research and development in the six months from March to September this year: over $63 million. While that figure covers all of Logitech’s business, the company’s high-end mice are likely to be a large piece of that R&D cost.

In addition to the Room of Tortured Hardware, Logitech’s Swiss campus contains this insane room, designed to filter out all signal interference to test wireless mouse response times. This room cost 550,000 Swiss francs ($571,000 USD). The equipment outside, which precisely maps the radiation that the isolated mouse emits, cost a further 250,000 Swiss francs ($259,000 USD).


“It’s millions of dollars, that you invest,” Maxime said to Kotaku. “There are a lot of people who touch a project like this: at one time, it’s maybe 20 or 30 people. You have two or three guys on the software, mechanical engineers, electronics engineers, then the management, the people doing all the materials, the finish, the paint… one guy working on the keys, the chromatics… it adds up. It’s often seven figures. [More so] if you do wireless stuff, you have to pay for all the compliances in all the countries you want to sell it in, which can be tens of thousands of dollars. And then there’s all the money you spend on advertising and marketing.”

All this may make someone wonder, is it all worth it

“The profit margin varies product by product,” said Maxime. “The global profit margin was 38 percent last quarter – some products are higher than that, some are lower. But some of the high-end products, honestly, if you really want to do them well then it’s not that easy to have a good margin. You can’t just keep increasing the price. So on some of the high-end products we do not have a good margin because they are tough to make and there are a lot of very expensive components.

“You can do the best product in the world, but if people don’t know about it… that’s something we’re changing now, we were always an engineering company, quite nerdy, but now we’re trying to explain better to people that we do.”

Logitech is considered an extremely “nerdy” engineering company to most. It has spent 33 years making mice, suggesting the people working there take pride in making the best ones.

“The engineers have pride in the products that they’ve built,” says Ujesh Disai, general manager of Logitech’s gaming division. “I’ve seen other companies think that gaming peripheral means get a regular peripheral, paint it fancy colours, maybe out some lights on it, do some real glitzy, flashy marketing, and that equates to gaming peripheral. That’s not what we try to do here. We’re trying to build a differentiated product line specifically for gamers.”


The scene from League of Legends’ Worlds tournament.

All this being said, some research puts the eSports viewing audience at more than 70 million people. Perhaps spending seven-figure sums on making computer mice for these gamers to use isn’t such an indulgent thing to do.

Spotify’s “Year In Music” Hits All The High Notes

Spotify, the popular online music-streaming service created as a stylish legal solution to peer-to-peer sharing, is celebrating a 2014 that saw it grow into a formidable multi-billion dollar enterprise fifty million users strong with an interactive Year in Music {link no longer active} roundup.

A post on Spotify’s official blog advertises the feature as “a way to answer that age-old question: ‘What kind of music are you into ’” by inviting users to “explore top genres, favorite artist by season, most musical day of the week, and more”.

Despite a highly-publicized back-and-forth with Taylor Swift, Spotify had a banner 2014, ushering in record revenue and user growth in the face of heated competition from rivals like Deezer and Amazon Music. Recently-introduced Spotify Video Ads are expected to secure further revenue growth as brands take advantage of the service’s renowned engagement rates and positive buzz on major social networks.

Virtual Reality To Take Over Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival is usually known for showing high-profile projects before public release, giving critics and fans the opportunity to indulge in new experiences well before their release. Now, though, it appears to be opening a door to a new medium with its forthcoming festival – virtual reality.

According to PSFK, the event, which will take place in Utah next month, will introduce a number of new pieces based around virtual reality. As part of a new category called New Frontier, the virtual reality set-ups will be placed with nine different films, each presenting their own innovative take on VR-based adaptation. The line-up, which includes these and other films, can be found here.

Through a press release Shari Frillot, Sundance Film Festival senior programmer and curator for the New Frontier exhibit, stated, “The content creators in the 2015 edition of New Frontier radically challenge the very notion of storytelling. Working with virtual reality and new gaming technologies, these artists, filmmakers, journalists, media scientists, game designers and creative technologists present a peek at the dawn of a bold new cinematic world, through an unprecedented exploration of the most basic state of being.”

Although last year’s Sundance festival had its share of virtual reality-based showcases based on Oculus’ Rift technology, “(this) is the year that we’re really going to get wired into this hardware in a major way,” said Frillot. She feels that virtual reality is “really relevant” to audiences these days, and “really has the potential to shift the (filmmaking) terrain quite a bit in a very significant and deep way.”

One of the examples of how this tech is being used involves Francois Quevillon’s Derive, which provides an interactive installation based on audience members’ body positions and motions. With it, they can “explore 3-D reconstructions of urban and natural spaces that are transformed according to live environmental data, including meteorological and astronomical phenomena.”

Another example, 1979 Revolution Game by Navid Khonsari and Vassiliki Khonsari, will show first-person perspective as players follow a rebel through the Iranian Revolution.

Another project that’s likely to turn a few heads is Rose Troche’s Perspective: Chapter I: The Party, audience members will “be” at a college party, where they’ll get to experience a young man and a woman as they “meet *and) drink, and misinterpreted signals turn into things that cannot be undone.” Needless to say, it won’t be for everyone, but involvement in VR technology will certainly drive the point home even further.

“Last year people were putting on the DK1 [Oculus Rift headset] and the first thing filmmakers are looking for is image quality, and that’s where filmmakers wondered, ‘This is really cool, but what about what it looks like ‘” Frilot said. “But now the technology has ramped up to a stage where it’ll be wholly embraced by filmmakers.”

Microsoft May Stream Xbox Games

With streaming video games becoming more common these days, especially with OnLive’s services and Sony’s PlayStation Now up and running on consoles, it’s pretty likely we’re going to see more companies jumping on board. And who’s up next? Perhaps Microsoft.

ZDNet has reported that Microsoft is hard at work on a new cloud-based streaming service called “Arcadia,” which would enable users to stream both video games and applications through a number of devices. The system would be based upon the company’s own Azure infrastructure, and is being worked on by a technological team within the company’s Operating Systems Group. The Arcadia codename may refer a United Earth Government colony in the Halo game, which perhaps hints at how this technology might be used.

This would replace the previously announced “Rio” technology, which the company hinted at during a meeting earlier this year. At that time, the company was about to get a demonstration of its Xbox 360 game Halo 4 up and running smoothly on a Windows device, while interacting with an Xbox 360 controller with very little problem.

With the service, Microsoft could effectively introduce the opportunity to provide backwards compatibility with the Xbox One console, similar to what Sony is doing now with its Gaikai-based PlayStation Now technology on the PlayStation 4. However, according to ZDNet, it’s capable of more than that.

Along with games, Arcadia could also make use of applications as well, enabling Windows and Windows Phone consumers to run Android apps and games without needing to download them physically to their devices. This would bring Android compatibility to Windows mobile devices, but it’s not known whether this will move forward even if it’s technically possible.

Microsoft hinted at a full-fledged cloud-based service long ago with a recent job posting in its Microsoft Careers section {link no longer active}, indicating that it was looking for a senior software engineer savvy in “non-MS platform (Android, iOS) experience.” No word yet on if a hire was made, but it appears that Microsoft is making progress. This raises the interesting possibility that game (or app) streaming could occur on iOS or Android devices as well as on Xbox consoles and Windows mobile devices and PCs. This appears to be more of a strategic business decision that Microsoft has to make, rather than one constrained by technology.

More information is likely to come next year sometime – perhaps even at E3, when Microsoft might surprise its growing Xbox One consumer audience with the announcement of the service, aimed primarily at games. We’ll see what the future holds over the next few months…

This Week’s [a]list Jobs – December 17

[a]listdaily is your source for the hottest job openings for senior management and marketing in games, entertainment and social media. Check here every Wednesday for the latest openings.

Procrastination is the bane of productivity. Here’s the easiest way to get back on track.

Here are this week’s [a]list jobs:

For last week’s [a]list jobs, click here. Have a position you’d like to place with us Email us at pr@ayzenberg.com.

Trends In Chinese Game Market Revealed

The Chinese gaming market has certainly seen a huge increase over the past year, between the announcement of console launches for both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the growth in the mobile gaming market and the potential to expand the market even further. That said, there’s still some things that can be learned from the six trends that have emerged from the market, according to Tech In Asia. We’ve broken them down in brief below, including both positives and negatives.

There was a growth in mobile gaming, but not profits

Although it slowed down a bit leading into the second half of the year, the country’s mobile market did show an increasing growth rate, and should expand even further with the introduction of new companies, products and services next year.

That said, the market still has room in terms of trying to increase its revenue. According to the report, a number of China’s most popular mobile games actually saw lower profits (92 percent), and PC games continue to make a higher revenue, despite the smaller audience. That’s not to say the market is in trouble by any means, but some developers may need to find a way to turn around their misfortunes.

Console releases have come, but didn’t make too big an impact

The Xbox One has officially launched in China, and the PlayStation 4 isn’t too far behind, ready to arrive in early next year.

While this does introduce the potential of a new audience, most gamers “don’t care about consoles,” according to the report. This is mainly due to restrictive software (based on Chinese government censors) as well as troublesome region locking, preventing the importing of more popular titles like Grand Theft Auto V. So far, only 100,000 Xbox Ones have been pre-ordered, and the numbers aren’t showing any increase that price point, despite a recent drop of $80. It appears the PC continues to dominate on this front.

eSports growth is here, but without a winning streak

eSports continue to bloom in China, as both viewership and attendance for events were on the rise. In addition, teams are starting to show dominance in certain games, such as winning the Dota 2 International championship in Seattle earlier this year.

However, there is still progress to be made when it comes to winning other games. Chinese tournament players still can’t win at its most popular game League of Legends. As a result, some teams have gone as far as trying to woo better Korean players to their squads, in an effort to try and turn things around.

Streaming picks up, but only for a select few

Game streaming definitely picked up this year, and eCommerce with it, as a number of professional players managed to rake in the cash based on their consistent game sessions. For instance, recently retired League of Legends player Misaya actually managed to make $1.5 million per year based on both his streaming and tie-in shops.

That said, it’s a service that doesn’t quite benefit everyone, but rather those who are savvy in the streaming game and know how to market themselves properly. This could possibly change with 2015, especially with Twitch teaming up with streamers to offer their own specialty shops, but for now, it appears to be restricted to a lucky few.

Virtual Reality taking off, but when is it releasing

Virtual reality made a huge impact this year with the introduction of such gear as Samsung’s VR headset, Oculus’ Rift headset and Sony’s forthcoming Project Morpheus. In addition, a company called ANTVR, among others, are looking to get into the virtual reality game in China as well.

However, there’s a catch – none of them have been released yet. With only a few prototypes available and a handful of impressive tech demos, it hasn’t caught fire like many people thought it would. This, again, could change next year with some mainstream releases, but, for now, it seems more like a “hardcore” interest than a general market.

PC Games are on the rise, but still not quite best-sellers

Finally, with the market pre-determined based upon “freemium” releases or Blizzard titles to make a profit, many titles managed to break the mold this year with their own set-ups. Guild Wars 2 is a shining example of this, using pay-up-front-based monetization, and it managed to sell half a million pre-orders before its release. In addition, Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV made a dent as well, even though it’s based on a subscription service.

That said, China’s mainstream PC hits remained that way, with League of Legends, CrossFire and Dungeon Fighter continuing to dominate in the market, all based on a free-to-play system. This is mainly due to the marketing savvy of Tencent, although their content certainly attracted a huge audience as well.

Could this change in 2015 Perhaps, depending on PC content. For now, though, it’s still business as usual.

CREATIVE: Top Trailers Of The Week: December 17

Grand Theft Auto V – Online Heists Trailer



With reissues and HD Masters being all the rage these days, Devil May Cry becomes the next prior gen title to be given the current gen treatment. Not only will players get DMC in 1080p at 60 frames, but the disc comes chock full of new game modes and all of the DLC ever released for the game. Oh yeah, and it’s only $39.99. If you were a fan of the original or have been looking for an excuse to give it a spin, this is the time.

Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor – Lord of the Hunt DLC


Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor has been widely lauded (it’s already winning Game of the Year awards) for its excellent Nemesis system: an ever-evolving hierarchy of Orc War Chiefs and Officers with unique strengths and weaknesses for you to cut your way through. When you took out the top dog, another would get promoted in his place, and they remember who you are and what you’ve done to them and their fallen comrades.

Warner Bros. is hanging on to the classic rule “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” With their newest DLC instalment; Lord of the Hunt introduces a new set of War Chiefs for you to stalk and take down. Have at you, dirty orcs!