Ello Just Might Say ‘Ello’ To Advertising After All

Ello, the upstart social network founded last year as a minimalist, expressly ad-free alternative to Facebook, might not be holding onto its biggest promise after all.

An email Ello sent to its users today touting support for embedded sound and video from YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, SoundCloud, and Mixcloud includes an interesting loophole that evidently permits those third-party, ad-supported services to bring their ads to Ello’s pages along with them.

If true, the loophole would represent quite a reversal for a social network once so committed to its ad-free mission statement that it signed a ‘Public Benefit Corporation‘ agreement making it virtually impossible for third parties to profit from its users’ data.

Either way, advertisements are an inevitability for any social network looking to become a major player. By their nature, social networks are a dream for brands and marketers thanks to their vast, oft-diverse user bases; couple that with the simple fact that those same users like free stuff, and ads — especially those displayed through a means similar to many a social network’s Promoted Posts — are an obvious choice for social sites seeking profitability and revenue generation.

For Ello’s part, the Colorado-based social network states it will uphold its commitment to an ad-free experience by allowing its users to opt out of select third-party posts. “Ello will never sell ads,” today’s email reads. “Hide posts that may contain 3rd party ads from your settings page,” it continues, with a photo of the relevant settings button included.

Mobile apps are also on the way this year for Ello, as they look to recapture a portion of the whirlwind of media attention they received last year.

Microsoft Adds New Dimensions in Gaming

Microsoft held a press event today that may be its most important event in years, especially for gaming — and that includes the Xbox One introduction. The event was billed as an introduction to Windows 10, but it turned out to be much more than that, and with special importance to gamers, the game industry, and marketers.

So what is Windows 10 and why is it important First of all, it’s the successor to Windows 8.1 . . . which begs the question of what happened to Windows 9, but it’s probably best not to ask. Perhaps that version is living in a cupboard under some stairs somewhere in the vast Microsoft campus . . . or maybe some marketer just wanted to keep up, version-number-wise, with Apple operating systems.

Windows 10 apparently took pretty seriously many of the complaints that greeted Windows 8, and sought to fix them — making the operating system as useful and friendly as possible on both touch screens and keyboard-and-mouse environments, and making it easy to move back and forth between the two if you have a hybrid system. (It’s also very voice-friendly, with Cortana appearing in all Windows 100 devices to help you out.) The operating system will be appearing not just on desktops, but all across the Windows ecosystem: desktops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. Microsoft is also making it as easy as possible to develop a single app that can work across all those platforms, and easily share data and sync up across those platforms, too.

Perhaps even more important than these somewhat technical details is the marketing side of things. Microsoft has had the lion’s share of the desktop market for decades, but the rapid shift to mobile left the company behind. Sure, most of the world still does business on Windows desktops, but the mobile landscape is all Android and iOS with barely a smidgin of Windows Phone, and Microsoft hasn’t been able to change that after several years (and billions of dollars) worth of trying.

Now, though, Microsoft is getting serious about establishing a place on mobile. Finally, Microsoft is leveraging is desktop installed base to try and grab some mobile market share by having one operating system work across all different hardware. Spurring that adoption will be the pricing of Windows 10: Free. Any Windows 8 user can upgrade for free, as can any Windows Phone user — and especially important, any Windows 7 user. That’s right, no more $100 plus upgrade cost and fragmented user base. Microsoft is damn serious about moving all those Windows 7 diehards into its latest OS, and thus attracting more developers.

You can definitely see tablets and smartphones being adopted as extensions of your work computer, especially when Office is included with the OS on mobile platforms, and all data and work is synced via the cloud. Microsoft showed Windows 10 working smoothly on large tablets, small tablets, desktops, and phones. It’s an attractive vision, especially if we can see attractively priced hardware to go along with it. Microsoft promised new “flagship” Windows phones coming soon, too. This is important for gamers and game developers, as we can expected rapid adoption of Windows 10 across hundreds of millions of devices with its power, functionality, and pricing.

Holographic Minecraft

The gaming aspect of Windows was not neglected in this presentation — in fact, it was a significant part of the event, with Xbox head Phil Spencer walking the assembled journalists through some impressive new features. “Games are incredibly personal… gaming has always been inherently personal,” Spencer said. Spencer noted the 50 million Xbox Live users and how this will be leveraged into Windows 10. “We’ve identified several ways to make PC gaming even more incredible than it is today,” Spencer said. “Gaming on Windows 10 will be more social and interactive. All this comes together with the Xbox app on Windows 10.”

Every Windows 10 installation, on all devices, will have an Xbox app. You can use that to connect with your Xbox Live account, your friends list, messages, and activity feed. There’s also voice chat and text chat across platforms with all of your friends on Xbox Live. Spencer also noted how Windows 10 integrates with Steam, and we could see Steam on the taskbar of the demo computer. “Steam runs incredibly well on Windows 10,” Spencer said. More than that, though, you get Game DVR functionality, the ability to record and share gameplay across social platforms. “We think this will create incredible viralness,” Spencer said.

Spencer also noted the improvements of DirectX12, offering more fine control of CPUs and GPUs, and better performance by up to 50 percent for CPU-bound games. Power consumption is also cut in half from DirectX11, an important win for mobile devices. “None of this is possible if we’re not getting the adoption from the studios out there,” Spencer noted, announcing that Unity is adopting DirectX12, and of course Epic is already on board with Unreal Engine.

The big news came during a demo of Fable Legends, which had already been announced for the Xbox One. Now it’s also going to be on Windows 10 PC’s as well as Xbox One. Get this: you’ll be able to play multiplayer real-time action across console and PC. But Spencer took it a step further. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could play those games from anywhere in the house ” he asked. And there it is: Windows 10 will enable streaming of any Xbox One game to any Windows 10 device. Spencer played Forza Horizon 2 on a Surface tablet, streaming from his Xbox One at home. Of course, he was using a controller, and he did not address any of the inevitable questions about control issues. However, the streaming was smooth, and Spencer also noted that he can turn off the Xbox One console at home remotely when he’s done.

Oh, and Windows 10 is also coming to Xbox One, Spencer said. “Wait to hear from us as those features make their way to Xbox One,” he said, with obviously more details to announce at a later time.

If that wasn’t enough to get gamers excited, Microsoft save some new hardware reveals for the end of the event. The Surface Hub is an 84″ 4K screen packed with cameras, sensors and computing power, intended for businesses It looks pretty cool for whiteboarding, collaboration, and general business functions, though no doubt you could play some wicked games on it since it is a regular Windows machine. The price and ship date Not announced yet, but if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it.

The big hardware reveal is Microsoft’s entry into what they deem the next stage of computing, unveiling the Microsoft HoloLens, their take on augmented reality. It’s a fascinating take on VR/AR with a sleek, light headset that Microsoft bills as afully untethered holographic computer, available in “the Windows 10 time frame” (which sounds like 2015). There are see-through holographic hi-definition lenses so you can see holograms added to the real world, yet you’re never cut off from what’s around you like the Oculus Rift experience. No markers, no external cameras, no wires, no connection to a PC needed.

The gaming implications are obvious, and were shown off during the spiffy videos illustrating the things you can do with HoloLens. Holographic Minecraft will have children everywhere begging for this device when it comes out… but we’re not sure when, or more crucially, how much this will be.

With these reveals for Windows 10 and the HoloLens, Microsoft is taking a big step forward in multiple markets. Broadening its user base substantially for both desktops and touch-screen environments, this can lead to a bigger, more unified market for game developers — and ignite new interest in making games for Windows smartphones and tablets. The connection with Xbox One should help move more consoles, and help generate more Xbox Live signups, too. Particularly when people realize they can liberate their Xbox One games onto mobile devices and play them anywhere, using the new game streaming technology. Whither the Steam Machine, under assault from Razer and Nvidia and now Microsoft We’ll have to see what Valve shows at GDC, but this streaming game battle is getting a lot more interesting very quickly.

Then there’s the HoloLens… now we have the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus, Magic Leap’s unknown entry (which from rumors and patent applications may be similar in many ways to Microsoft’s HoloLens) and the Microsoft HoloLens (and who knows, maybe a Google Glass 2.0) all vying to get right in your face and get you into the next level of gaming. Microsoft’s vision and implementation is interesting here, and potentially a winner. But we have yet to hear of a ship date or a retail price from any of these devices, and that’s hugely important. A $200 headset that comes out before everyone else could do very well… and a $500 clunky headset that ships a year later than the competition will probably sink swiftly.

This year promises to be a very interesting battle in the gaming space. Stay tuned!

The Twitter Algorithms Have Begun

Twitter While You Were Away

For those worried about Twitter becoming less of an everything-goes-stream-of-consciousness platform and more like Facebook, with carefully curated posts that you have to boost for anyone to see, don’t despair. That time has not yet come.

What has happened, however, is that Twitter is adopting some Facebook-like tactics in using data about who we most engage with on the platform to highlight tweets we may have missed. While reach isn’t determined on the platform by complex algorithms shrouded in secrecy, time is not on your side on Twitter. With so much content flowing in, posts are buried in lost time, and Twitter knows that.

Currently, the “While you were away…” tweets will only show tweets from accounts you follow and engage with regularly, but we can imagine this feature being used at some point to mix in sponsored tweets as well. For now, the move is a way for Twitter to increase engagement on the platform, a metric which one of its founders recently extoled the virtues of.

Tumblr’s Creatrs Program Matches Campaigns With Artists

When you think of Tumblr, a lot of interesting fandoms and users generating an incredible amount of content comes to mind. For artists to be prominent on the platform, the content they create really has to stand out in the stream.

Tumblr has seen the value of this content for brands and as of today, has launched a program that will make it easier than ever to tap artists on Tumblr to create content for branded campaigns called Creatrs. As of now, the program’s site is just a simple landing page with a prompt to email Tumblr’s internal team which works to make these connections. All the showcasing of art, of course, is readily available as a user of the platform. The Creatrs group will do the footwork of matching the campaigns with the correct artists  for events, advertising campaigns, media partnerships and various causes.

According to VentureBeat, Creatrs had been in development stages for about a year in order to expand Tumblr’s work with brands even outside the platform while leveraging their vibrant communities. Tumblr has apparently already invested a quarter of a million dollars to artists in the testing phase of the program, but will look to open these advertising opportunities to even more of their users.

Head of creative strategy at Tumblr, David Hayes, spoke at [a]list summit in December to talk about the different ways in which Tumblr has been working with brands through their creators. Hayes was adamant about brands reaching out to communities on the platform utilizing one of Tumblr’s 7 different post-types.

“Brands that sit it out, that say ‘we don’t have the infrastructure yet’, if you’re not actually posting inside that stream, you don’t exist.”

Tumblr has long been a home of the Internet’s creative communities, with 100 different books that have been born from Tumblr’s microblogs, like the ever-popular Humans of New York.

CREATIVE: Air France Gets People Playing At The Departure Gates

Going to the airport and the process of boarding a plane, no matter where you’re doing, is a typically boring and sometimes frustrating experience. Air France has found a way to change that it seems with a new promotion that involves a plane’s passengers competing against each other playing the game Cloud Slicer for a chance at an upgrade to a business class seat. There are even scoreboards to track who’s winning!

From the looks of the passengers in this video, Air France just made sitting at a departure gate a whole lot more fun and perhaps even a memorable experience.

Sony Music Entertainment Publishes Mobile Game

If you needed any more evidence that games have become entrenched as a part of mainstream popular culture, look no further than this news item: Sony Music Entertainment today announced the launch of Rockin’ Goat, which is, as the company styles it, “a raucous new mobile adventure game set against the backdrop of Rock and Roll that sends players on an off-the-wall quest blending elements of fantasy, explosive action and music.” Yes, that’s correct – this game is coming from Sony Music Entertainment, not Sony Computer Entertainment or Sony Online Entertainment.

What’s the game all about It’s essentially a 2D platformer, and Sony’s press release provides the details: “Gamers ram and jam through nine levels and three different environments of vast landscapes and raging concert venues, and recruit other band members in challenging mini-games. Full of fun, unpredictable challenges and exciting mini-games, Rockin’ Goat follows the wild exploits of Elwood the goat, a barnyard bandleader who has just escaped the family farm in order to pursue his music dreams. But making it big as a rock star is anything but easy. Players must collect gold records and tear up the stage all the while watching out for dangerous enemies and obstacles, including flocks of seagulls, angry cacti, toxic boxes, and earth-shattering meteors.”

You didn’t think that was all there was to it, did you Not hardly. The game’s marketing mission becomes clear when you find out what else it includes: “The game also features tracks from artists distributed through RED, a division of Sony Music, including Sister Sin (Victory Records), New Device (Four Worlds), Hark, Menace, Wildlights (Season Of Mist), and Adrenaline Mob (Century Media Records).” The Rockin’ Goat is available for free from iTunes and Google Play.

The [a]listdaily spoke exclusively with Brad Spahr, Vice President, Product Development, Global Digital Business at Sony Music Entertainment, about the game.

Why did Sony Music choose to get into the mobile game business?

We view games as a platform to promote artists – that’s core to the strategy. We like the idea of games that are fun that can also be used to find out about new artists.

Using some of Sony Music’s artists to provide the music is a great promotional opportunity. Will there be direct ways for players of the game to acquire the music tracks they play with, and other music from those artists?

Users have the ability to buy the tracks featured in the game through iTunes on iOS or Google Play for Android.

Do you plan to add more music to the game in the future, from the same or different artists?

We’ll expand the soundtrack as we move further out from launch. We want to keep the songs fresh in the game to allow for continued music discovery. We’ve used a similar approach with our Pinball Rocks game, where we rotate featured music in the app to keep it fresh and engaging.

Do you see other opportunities in the future for games based on or in collaboration with Sony Music artists?

We anticipate putting out additional titles over time. We’ll look to do a mix of artist-focused apps and original IP apps that feature music from our artists like Pinball Rocks and Rockin’ Goat.

Can we ever expect to see this game on a PS Vita, PS4 or a PS TV Are there opportunities to work with Sony Computer Entertainment for cross-promotion?

Our focus with Rockin’ Goat is on the mobile platform.

App Annie’s December 2014 Mobile Games Report

December is always an interesting month for the game industry. Traditionally that’s been because of gift-giving, and packaged games quite naturally found their best sales in the fourth quarter of the year. With mobile games, especially free-to-play ones, you’d think seasonality wasn’t as much of an issue. However, the holidays do mean more new hardware purchases, and gift cards, and consequently the biggest download day of the year is typically Christmas Day.

App Annie’s index of games for December 2014 shows some influence, perhaps, of the gift-giving trend. We see a couple of publishers appearing in the Top 10 downloads that weren’t there before, on the strength of new titles released during this time frame. Those titles don’t immediately monetize, of course, so those publishers aren’t shown on the list of the Top Ten by revenue. . .  yet. Notably jumping into the Top Ten by downloads are Outfit 7 and Zynga, and perhaps we may seem them in the top revenue list in a month or two.

App Annie noted some of the top performers, and the reasons for their performance, in the notes accompanying the data.

Trivia Crack Rides the Social Wave

Trivia Crack, developed by independent studio Etermax, soared to the top of the iOS download rankings in December. The app deeply integrates social elements as gameplay relies on challenging friends from connected social networks. Inspired by the popular board game Trivial Pursuit, players begin by spinning a wheel (named Willy) to answer questions in one of six categories (Science, Entertainment, Art, Geography, Sports and History). When a category is won, the associated character is unlocked and the first player to acquire all six characters wins. The combination of social integration and engaging gameplay helped Trivia Crack surge on the iOS App Store in December, particularly in the US. Etermax claims that Trivia Crack saw 700,000 daily downloads in the US across all platforms.

The app’s popularity did not go unnoticed by platform owners as Trivia Crack made an appearance on the “Best of 2014” lists on both the iOS App Store and Google Play. The increased visibility contributed to Trivia Crack‘s exceptionally strong December and helped Etermax reach the milestone of 100 million worldwide users on New Years’ Eve.

My Talking Angela Charms Her Way to the Top

Last year, Outfit7 expanded their popular Talking Tom franchise to the virtual pet genre with My Talking Tom. The game, focused on children, let players adopt Tom as a kitten and care for him as he grew into an adult cat. With the launch of My Talking Angela, Outfit7 seems to be doubling down on the female demographic. This strategy seems to be working as the title immediately shot into Google Play’s top download charts for December.

The app allows players to care for their kitten as she progresses through nine stages of growth, including baby, toddler, tween and adult. A significant portion of app’s gameplay and monetization are focused on dressing Angela in the latest fashions and decorating her room. This synergy between the app’s demographic focus and gameplay has helped My Talking Angela receive strong reviews on Google Play.

Crossy Road’s Characters Drive Its Growth

Crossy Road, an endless arcade hopper with gameplay reminiscent of Frogger, continued to climb the app store charts in December. The goal of the game is to get as far as possible while randomly generated obstacles, such as cars, trains, eagles and rivers, impede your progress. However, the most interesting aspect of Crossy Road is the focus on in-game characters that can be unlocked or purchased. Each character changes the game in subtle ways, which allows for a consistently novel experience. The game also received a boost when PewDiePie, a popular YouTube celebrity, featured it. This has helped Crossy Road reach the top of the app store charts in developed markets like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

Crossy Road’s monetization strategy is also somewhat unique. While it relies on in-app purchases, there are no restrictions on lives, play attempts or time. Instead of catering to these use cases with in-app “consumablesâ€, the app monetizes purely through the sale of in-game characters. Since new characters have an impact on gameplay, this also has the secondary benefit of increased engagement. We are interested to see if this spin on the in-app purchase revenue model finds more takers.

Divnich: ‘Most Opportunistic Times’ For Developers

Jesse Divnich has moved on from his role as an analyst with EEDAR to become the vice president of product strategy at games publisher Tilting Point. His long familiarity with the industry’s metrics have put him a good position to assess where the game industry is at and where it’s headed. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Divnich shared that on a personal level, he quite enjoys those stretches where the industry is too uncertain for any analyst to provide a clean and definitive perspective.

Jesse Divnich

“Those are the most opportunistic times for publishers and developers,” Divnich said. “Those that rely solely on the data will become market laggards always playing catch-up or having to pay high multiples to acquire their way into an emerging market. Those with the skill, foresight, and ability to reach beyond their grasp will see new market opportunities before others and take full advantage of them before the data agrees with them.”

Not surprisingly, as a former analyst Divnich ascribes great importance to data as a tool for companies to use to get ahead in the business. Of course, in times of rapid change, the key data that you’d like to have is often incomplete or unavailable. “When that data is missing, however, that is when the industry separates the strong from the weak,” Divnich said. “It’s how companies like Electronic Arts came to power in the console industry, how the Nintendo Wii became the top selling platform during a time when all the consumer surveys said gamers wanted bigger and faster consoles, and how King and Supercell turned into billion dollar companies in what seemed to be overnight.”

That situation has served as a catalyst for the formation of companies like Tilting Point, which is offering a variety of publishing services to developers in the mobile arena, from funding to PR and marketing. That’s been a growing field, as more an more companies realize they can use their business expertise to help developers with great games but little business savvy succeed in a crowded market.

“The new digital publishers that are popping up have helped turn this environment into a buyer’s market, which is what it should be,” Divnich said. “Developers are now in a stronger position at the negotiation table vis-à-vis publishers. If a developer has something truly unique to offer and it has market potential, they should be in a favorable position to land the best publishing partner. That’s much healthier for our industry, which used to be dominated by a handful of gatekeepers who had a stranglehold on retail distribution.”

While free-to-play games are the most common business model on mobile these days, Titling Point works with each developer on the model that suits them the best. “Most publishers and developers these days are allergic to premium on mobile,” Divnich said. “We are not, and we respect that for some developers, the opportunity to make $300,000 to $3 million in revenue is sometimes a better and less risky proposition then trying to shoot for the stars, potentially making nothing. Leo’s Fortune for example will likely do at least $6 million in gross revenue throughout its lifetime, a figure we are perfectly comfortable with given the budget and total expenditure of the game.”

Consumers have embraced free-to-play games in a big way, Divnich said, but they’re also becoming a lot more savvy about monetization practices, and “less enthused” for hard paywalls or energy systems that require users to pay to keep going.

“Consumers have begun to ask ‘What’s the catch ‘ when downloading a free-to-play game, and they are spotting what the ‘catch is and churning before the game can hook them into the core loop,” Divnich said. “We are seeing this reflected in lower retention rates across the board, especially at Day 2 and Day 7.”

2014 A Record Year for Game M&A

The good news, Digi-Capital reports, is that 2014 saw a record $24 billion in exits for game companies, from IPOs to acquisitions, across the globe. The bad news, as Digi-Capital’s managing director Tim Merel cautions, is that growth in the games business overall is only forecast to show single-digit growth for the next few years, and that will make it tougher for companies in the middle.

Tim Merel

According to a new report from Digi-Capital, $15 billion of that record total for 2014 came through acquisitions, with $8.1 billion from five major deals. The remaining $9 billion was through IPOs, largely from Asian companies. “Asia accounted for over half the games IPOs in 2014, and has dominated games IPOs for the last 5 years,” said Merel. Asia is the number one market for games by revenue. Digi-Capital predicts it will reach US$45 billion in revenue by 2018, out of a total US$100 billion worldwide, with China, Japan, and South Korea leading that growth.

Mobile — which drove more than half of that $24 billion value — is the only sector of the industry showing “strong double-digit growth,” and Virtual Reality is the only other sector that has potential to breakout. As such, Digi-Capital forecasts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for games software and hardware of 8.8 per cent between 2014 and 2018.

“That sounds healthy,” Merel noted. “But it’s single digit growth and that changes things. A lot. In markets with single digit growth, a rising tide no longer lifts all boats. Competition becomes about the difference between the great and the good.

“In this phase of the market, corporates with hit IPs, user scale and cashflow can invest in the high costs of marketing and infrastructure to compete in a stable growth market, although this reduces everybody’s margins. Indies don’t have hit IPs yet or the scale advantages, but they don’t have the costs either. Both can produce hit games, even if they are few and far between. Mid-tier games companies have no hit IPs yet, no scale advantages, but infrastructure and marketing costs. They can produce hit IPs too, but their cost bases increase their risk.”

In other words, mid-sized companies need to grow to a larger size in some fashion in order to avoid stagnation or a downturn. The trick is that companies need to find some advantage that they have and organize around that to best effect. So it may be a large existing audience, or access to a hit IP, or a particularly creative design team, or a great understanding of a particular market segment.

The one thing that any company can’t afford to do in this growing, evolving game industry is to be complacent. Repeating the successes of yesteryear in the same fashion today, and next year, and the year after, is not a recipe for growth. That’s true in every aspect of the business, from design to distribution to marketing.

Everything You Need To Know About Today’s Windows 10 Event

Free To Upgrade To Windows 10 In The First Year

The Windows 10 event began at 9 am this morning with Microsoft’s Terry Myerson giving an overview of what to anticipate from the latest iteration of Windows. Most exciting of all was learning that Windows 10 will be free to upgrade for those using Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. Same goes for phones, too.

Cortana Comes To PC

Cortana will no longer be relegated to mobile as she will bring a “new natural way of interacting with your PC,” says Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group at Microsoft.

Windows PC and Tablet Will Have The Xbox App

Xbox One, meet the PC.

Gaming Shines

Gaming figures hugely in the Microsoft 10 experience. Beyond the Xbox App, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer talks about what these means for the integration of PC and console gaming. “Bringing more power to Windows 10 gaming is incredibly important to us,” he said. It becomes clear that they really mean it with Direct-X 12.

HoloLens “Brings Technology Into Our World”

Undoubtedly the most exciting announcement of the day was of course the HoloLens, a project that Microsoft has been working on for some time now “underneath everyone’s noses.” The device will allow its users to manipulate, create and interact with holograms, a futuristic tech that you’ve likely only imagined about.

Microsoft’s Alex Kipman shows how HoloStudio will do for holographic technology what Microsoft Paint did for the PC. The HoloLens truly allows us to bring technology into our world.