Some Amiibos, New 3DS XL Selling Out

The news is getting better out of Kyoto, as Nintendo continues to make progress in sales after a disappointing couple of years. The company is doing some solid numbers with the new Amiibo line of toys as well as the New 3DS XL handheld console, according to reports. Coupled with a strong software lineup for this year, Nintendo’s got a positive outlook ahead.

Nintendo’s killer game line-up for 2014 (that included Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8) was not enough to boost Nintendo out of third place in the console wars, but at least profitability has been achieved. Nintendo continues its bounce back this year with strong sales of its new releases, namely its Amiibo interactive toys and the new version of its 3DS handheld, according to VentureBeat.

The new model of the 3DS XL, with a smoother 3D interface and secondary functions added, managed to sell out quickly, primarily the limited edition Legend of Zelda model. Nintendo reported that the system managed to sell over 175,000 units in America in its launch week, and just over 160,000 in Europe – a big increase from the 50,000 units that sold in each country for the original 3DS XL.

“At the end of last year, some video game enthusiasts who actively gather information on video games, held off on buying Nintendo 3DS hardware in anticipation of the New Nintendo 3DS launch,” said Satoru Iwata, Nintendo president and chief executive officer. “Thanks to these consumers and some highly anticipated titles being released simultaneously, we had a good launch despite it not being the usual sales season. Our next challenge is to keep this sales momentum.”

As for the Amiibos, a number of them are selling quite well, even to the point that hardcore collectors are paying top-dollar for ones that are sold out or out of print. Nintendo does have plans for second and third runs of certain figures, although others may just be replaced by cards to activate features in Super Smash Bros., amongst other games. (The company recently announced a special limited edition golden Mario Amiibo would be sold exclusively through Wal-Mart – and pre-orders are already long gone.)

As far as items selling out and not providing consumers enough means to buy these items, Iwata doesn’t see it as a problem. “I don’t think Nintendo views it as a bad thing that certain items sell out,” he said. “I’ve sat down with several Nintendo executives over the years who’ve said in passing that this or that is currently sold out, and they say it with a twinkle in their eye rather than with contrition.”

He did state that Amiibo sales were quite impressive. “We had already shipped 5.7 million Amiibo units worldwide by the end of last year,” he said. “Amiibos are performing especially well in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Some figures are sold out and are being sold at online auctions at premium prices — something which none of us had predicted.”

Selling out of items is nothing new for the company, as its original Wii was tough to find when it launched years ago. “In the heyday of the Wii and DS, I think more of the sold-out systems and games were genuinely due to an underestimation of demand coupled with the occasional manufacturing and supply chain hiccups,” said IDC research director Lewis Ward. “In 2014 and 2015, I suspect that Nintendo is simply trying to minimize the slack in its supply chain.”

As far as Nintendo taking its time restocking items, “I don’t think Nintendo purposefully lowballs sales — leaving customers and retailers unhappy and money on the table,” said Ward. “I think they’re doing their best to model demand and it just so happens that there are surprises here and there.

“It’s part of managing the books as carefully as possible in a challenging competitive environment. But I don’t think they mind being sold out at retail every now and then since it does create ‘free’ media buzz.”

Whatever the case, Nintendo is enjoying this turn-around – and sales of the Wii U should pick up between unique titles like Splatoon, The Legend of Zelda and StarFox, among other games.

Where Brands And Fashion Meet Gaming

The expansion of the game market to include every demographic has led to some interesting opportunities. Blockbuster games have been created for action fans— primarily male. Is there an equivalent market for blockbuster games aimed at females That’s quest that’s driving CrowdStar Games, and its Covet Fashion game is well on its way to creating the answer.

CrowdStar was founded in 2008, relates CEO Jeffrey Tseng, and initially made its mark creating games for Facebook like Happy Aquarium and Happy Pets. Those games were focused on the female audience, and along with other Facebook games found success in providing a gaming experience that women enjoyed. CrowdStar has since moved on to creating primarily mobile games, and along with that “We’ve started to focus on females, and really on women as our core audience,” relates Tseng, “and this is where we see an incredible opportunity and blue ocean that other people haven’t captured or realized is there.”

Jeff Tseng

Tseng explains how CrowdStar’s vision to focus on women came about. “If you look at the game space there’s a lot of games focused on the male audience, which have high revenue per user, ” said Tseng. “You also have a pretty big casual market, which is tilting more towards women but with a low revenue per install. But if you look at the giants of the male gaming side, like Call of Duty or Game of War or League of Legends, what are the analogous games for women There really aren’t any.”

Therein lies an opportunity that CrowdStar aims to grasp. Doing that required them to start from the basics, though, and the company’s done this over six years through over thirty games. “I’ve continued to unlearn what I knew in terms of gaming in order create products which really could hit this blue ocean market of women,” said Tseng. “Cutting down the fundamentals what a product is until it was really based on the fundamental differences in needs and wants and desires of women rather than men. For male games a lot of what you’ll see is domination and killing — if you win I lose. What we’re seeing for women is more collaborative and expressive.”, and CEO Jeff Tseng.

What is Covet Fashion, exactly “We call it a game, but many people who play it don’t call it a game,” said Tseng. “Over 150 real fashion brands represented in there, and when they release every season, four times a year, we get their latest releases and put virtual versions of them in the game. You virtually shop and fill out a closet, and every day there are six events that run — they could be a Black & White ball, a first date — there are different restrictions, there are style challenges. You shop, you dress, you submit your look, and other users vote on that look and you get a score back that shows what the other women in the game thought of your look. It’s a competitive styling game with real fashion.”

That integration with real brands is a fascinating angle where game design meets brand placement. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, to be sure. The fashion brands get exposure in a highly engaged way, and of course CrowdStar gets the benefit of using the very latest real goods and brands. For the target audience, the appeal is clear — why not do some shopping and see how things look when you put them together, and how other women respond, before you spend a dime?

The response to the game has been tremendous. “The product has been out for a year and a half, and over that time we’ve continuously increased the engagement, and increased the performance of the product,” Tseng said. “At this point the game is running ten times more revenue per install than our previous titles. I would guess we’re really only 30 percent there in terms of completing this product. We’ve doubled our company’s revenue over year over year from 2013 to 2014, we’re going to do another two to three times that this year, and I would say we’re just now beginning to think about really scaling the product.”

The brands featured in Covet Fashion have been delighted with the product. “Our brands are really pleased,” said Blair Ethington, who’s heading the brands team for Covet Fashion. “For them the amount of work it takes is really minimal. The just send us their notebooks or line sheets a couple of months before every season. We render them, and they get final approval before the app goes live.”

The numbers that CrowdStar is tracking show some solid effects for the brands. “In the app there’s a link to the brand’s e-commerce,” noted Ethington. “For some of our brands we have tracking hooked up so we know how many conversions we’re driving, and we’ll drive anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of their e-commerce. They’re excited because for now it’s a free partnership, we don’t charge them anything to participate. We benefit from having their name in the app and they get an enormous amount of traffic. For some of our brands we’ve increased their e-commerce traffic by 30 percent to 50 percent. They see huge value in it, and they also get a lot of repeat purchases.”

One clear indication of a game’s engagement level with the players is the community. Is the community for Covet Fashion active “That’s an understatement,” said Tseng. “This community is way more engaged than any game that we’ve ever done. They are so passionate, so engaged, very opinionated, and they let us know about it. It speaks to the product and the tie-ins to real life. The style score in the game is very much a valid reflection of their ability to style, and the way that the events run, in being timed consistently, there’s a lot to talk about. It all contributes to an engaged community.”

Tseng noted that there’s plenty of room for growth left, with a long list of features they’d still like to put into the product as well as new geographic locations they’d like to take advantage of. “We already cover jewelry, and we’re definitely looking into makeup and hair,” said Tseng. That effort is already under way. “We’re already talking to some of the makeup companies out there, and they are definitely very interested,” said Ethington.

Why Gamers Flock To eSports Events

Since 2006, Eventbrite has processed over 200 million tickets and registrations worldwide, totaling more than $3 billion in gross ticket sales. The company has watched as eSports live events sell out sports arenas and soccer stadiums around the globe. They reached out to 1,500 gamers who have attended eSports live events around the globe ticketed on Eventbrite from 2013-2014 and used that data for a new report, “The eSports Effect: Gamers and the Influence of Live Events.” Christine Bohle, head of consumer partnerships at Eventbrite, breaks down the new report and explains why gamers are flocking to live eSports events in this exclusive interview.

What are some comparisons to traditional sports that you’ve found with eSports fans through this survey

Regardless of the sport, people enjoy watching players they admire. The things that attract fans to eSports are the same things that attract fans to traditional sports — the excitement, seeing the best of the best in action, and feeling that sense of community and passion. This came through in our findings; 54 percent of eSports fans we surveyed said they also watch traditional sports and 15 percent of those watch traditional sports 10 or more hours a week. One survey respondent even said, “For the same reason someone would attend an NFL game, I love watching the game played at the highest level.”

How is livestreaming impacting people going to events live (when it’s in their country)?

Gamers enjoy participating in the live event atmosphere and 66 percent say that attending an eSports event in person gives them another way to experience games that they are looking for, with many commenting that the big sights, sounds, screens, and stage are all compelling reasons to see it live. What that says is that livestreaming simply can’t replace the unique community experience and excitement of being at an event in-person and in fact fuels even more demand for more events in the future. Gamers who otherwise can’t attend have the opportunity to track what’s happening in real-time and get a taste for what it’s like to be at the actual event. As result, their enthusiasm grows and when they see incredible plays being made by the teams participating and the audience reaction, it makes them want to be part of the action even more. One survey respondent said, “I love watching online, but being there is more exciting.” Another commented, “It’s my ‘Vegas.'”

Christine Bohle

What did you learn about eSports fans when it comes to spending money at or around eSports events?

We found that attending these events live inspires people to purchase more game-related content and gear both at and following the tournament or competition. The study showed that after attending an eSports event 47 percent of attendees purchase new content related to a game; 38 percent buy products or services from a brand used or showcased at the event; 25 percent also said they buy new gear they saw at the event or being used by one of the players to “up” their playing experience.

What are the opportunities for brands and sponsors already involved in eSports?

Fans attend eSports events seeking access to exclusive “you had to be there” experiences and a new level of engagement with their favorite games and players. Anything brands and sponsors can do to offer fans an exclusive experience — special merchandise, access to pros, training sessions, interactive activities, additional competitions, cosplay — will provide attendees with a more memorable, lasting impression with their products and services.

What would you say to brands and companies not active in eSports yet?

ESports provide a unique opportunity for brands and companies to engage with gamers and get more immersed in the community — especially at live events. That can be incredibly compelling and our research certainly points to the fact that this audience pays attention to the companies that get involved. The key is to find ways to integrate in an authentic way and that overall further enhances the fan experience.

Also related is the question around game developers and publishers who have yet to jump into eSports and host their own events. Understandably, there are concerns about the cost of producing an event and whether they will see the ROI. What our data suggests is there are ways to defray costs by bringing in sponsors, and that that investment can pay off for those partnering brands and companies. The report also revealed that 74 percent of gamers who attend an eSports event play the game more frequently afterward, and that one of the reasons why (30 percent selected) is because gamers bought new content related to that game. Now that’s powerful. Ultimately what it comes down to is that eSports events can offer developers and publishers not yet involved a great way to increase fan engagement, build camaraderie around their games and drive up purchasing behavior.

Given that this survey was done before soccer stadiums became the new norm, what impact do you feel these larger venues will play in attracting eSports fans?

This study was done in January 2015. We’ve seen large venues like soccer stadiums fill with eSports fans, but our study also uncovered the desire for more small, local events and LAN parties (local gamer meetups and competitions). In fact, 54 percent of people who attend eSports competitions also attend LAN parties and 40 percent of respondents said they would like to see more live events offered outside major cities. So, while eSports events with giant screens, professional gamers, and cameos by celebrities continues to grow, there is still a great demand for smaller, local events as well.

What opportunities are there for US cities that have yet to host an eSports event?

It was clear from our study that people want more events, more often, and are willing to travel to attend them. Nearly half of eSports attendees (48 percent) are willing to travel to another state or province and opportunity exists for smaller cities as well; 40 percent of respondents said they’d like to see more live events outside major cities. With comic and anime conventions, also popular among eSports fans, we often see new events cropping up within a hundred miles or in adjacent cities to major con event locations, and are seeing tremendous success. Since people are willing to travel, and there is a demand for more events overall, we believe there is tons of room for smaller cities and towns to host an eSports competition locally and get a good following.

Leagues currently tend to stick with the same cities, what did you learn about fans and travel preferences?

Again, the demand for eSports events is high, and people are willing to travel to attend. Thirty-nine percent said they are willing to travel to another country or continent to attend a live eSports events, and nearly half (48 percent) are willing to travel to another state or province. Additionally, 40 percent of respondents said they would like to see events outside of major cities, so there is value in exploring new locations for existing eSports events as well as for new events.

How important is access to pros at these events for fans?

More than half (52 percent) of all respondents said meeting pro players was a reason they attend. Additionally, of the feedback attendees had for eSports event organizers, 35 percent said they want ticketed access to pro-player teams meet and greets. While not everyone attends to make a direct connection with players, seeing the pros play live is a major draw of eSports events.

What opportunities do you see for mini-festivals and multi-game events for major eSports outings?

While the focus of our study was to understand why gamers attend eSports events specifically, we did ask participants what other gaming events they go to and how often. Thirty percent said they attend three or more events in a given year and 10 percent attend five or more. When asked what types of gaming events they like to attend, 48 percent of gamers said they attend festivals. Seventy-two percent also said they attend fan conventions where often there are multiple games being played or showcased at one time. This crossover in consumer interests presents a great opportunity for other types of events to continue to evolve.

YouTube Relaxed On Enforcement Of Branded Content

Last week, YouTube didn’t exactly do video producers any favors when it put new rules in place when it comes to brand-sponsored videos. However, the popular video channel isn’t exactly going on a witch hunt when it comes to seeking offenders of said rules.

Digiday is reporting that while the rules of YouTube’s policy are certainly in place (which bans creators already monetizing their content through YouTube ads from inserting graphic title cards with their sponsors or product logos), they’re not actively seeking out those that are violating these rules – at least, for the time being.

The source who leaked the decision stated, “YouTube is not policing this policy yet unless they receive a complaint about the video, (though) that may change. But basically, using a brand logo as part of a paid placement or paid integration is a no-no unless the brand buys 100 percent share of voice on the video.”

So, until enforcement becomes wider, video overlays with sponsor logos can continue to be used in videos. However, such clips could be taken down once it does eventually kick in. Not to mention that competitors could easily place a complaint that would force YouTube to act.

For the time being, the company had no official comment on the enforcement plan, only that the rules were still in place.

The source also noted that users could still utilize brand-related hashtags in their videos, and those who weren’t being paid by sponsors could still use brand logos in their videos.

“If I were a creator, I would probably err on the side of caution,” said Paul Verna, a senior analyst for eMarketer. “There’s a lot they can still do and play by the rules…the lines have been shifted a little bit but not completely redrawn.”

One of the agents who has several clients on YouTube stated that they haven’t seen any issues with the distribution of branded content, although this could be subject to change.

So, with the policy in place, there’s still question – but it doesn’t look like the company’s charging out with pitchfork in hand. “A rule is only as good as how much it’s being enforced,” explained Verna. “But then again, it could pivot at any point. That’s the risk that all these creators take when they choose to participate in this ecosystem. Ultimate, it’s someone else’s platform, and the platform can do whatever it wants.”

Pinterest Wants To Entice You With A New Ad Unit And App Discovery

If your Pinterest strategy has been on the backburner lately or even non-existent, the platform has been giving marketers more reason than ever to rethink how they are approaching it. On top of their continuous efforts to lure men-folk, Pinterest has exceptionally high user engagement rates and an average referral order from the site is $58.95.

In recent weeks, Pinterest has had some solid annoucements that show they are not only serious about monetization, but they are serious about how they are approaching brand involvement on the platform.

An Ad Unit Carousel

Accoridng to Digiday, Pinterest is now in the process of developing a new ad unit that acts like a multi-image carousel within one promoted pin. While it’s unclear right now as to when this ad unit will officially launch, we’re excited about how brands will be making use of this native interactive unit. So, Pinterest… how about that long-awaited ‘Buy’ button

Pinterest Wants You To Discover Apps, Too

This month, Pinterest has also been making great effort to get in on app marketing dollars by joining forces with Apple. Behold, App Pins, a new product that allows users to pin not just awesome photos of pies and cosplay costumes but apps, too. In a social move from left field, Apple will be creating Pin boards to highlight top apps.

Pinterest App Store Apple

 

 

 

OWSLA Brings The Music With New Twitch Channel

For the past few months, Twitch has been attempting to provide resolutions to broadcasters looking to play music in the background of their gameplay sessions. It hasn’t been an easy hurdle to come, mainly due to copyrights on most of the tunes. However, the channel is eventually finding solutions through partnerships with music companies, including a recent one that brought a bevy of new selections to the service.

This week, a new partner has entered the mix. OWSLA has announced that it has launched its own Twitch channel, which provides 24 hours of daily customized music. The channel features tracks from a number of independent artists, including Jack Beats, Hundred Waters, Seven Lions and others. What’s more, the songs are fully cleared for use by Twitch broadcasters, meaning that players can use them in the background of their sessions to their heart’s content.

In addition to streaming music, OWSLA also plans to provide a number of livestream events and special activities to attract a bigger fanbase, as well as hosting particular game sessions with artists and unveiling new content that users will be able to utilize in the near future.

This is just the latest move by Twitch to attract more members of the music industry to its channel, since it’s become quite popular for its live broadcasts, reveals and events. “With more than 100 million unique visitors per month, Twitch has quickly become the most popular live social video platform in the gaming space,” said the company in a statement. “Now that Twitch has recently opened its doors to the music industry, the appeal of livestreamed shows and parties with real-time interaction has caught on with labels and artists. At the forefront of this movement is OWSLA, who is embracing this new medium and continuing their reputation of cultivating a strong bond between its artists and fans.”

Although the channel still uses services to mute audio for familiar tunes that are copyrighted, this new deal provides broadcasters with more options for music to listen to as they play. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, and Twitch is likely to bring more partners on as 2015 moves forwards. Rock on, indeed.

Spotify Learns From Its Music Business

Data collection is a great way for companies to figure out exactly what its customers want – although there is a slight concern as far as security is concerned. This week at the VentureBeat Mobile Summit in Sausalito, California, Spotify’s vice president of North American advertising Brian Benedik broke down just how the company utilizes data to get a better idea of what its consumers are listening to, as reported by VentureBeat.

With the requirement of a sign-in for consumers, who are either paying or not, Benedik explains that the company gathers an “enormous amount of data on what people are listening to, where, and in what context. It really gives us insight into what these people are doing.”

With a  user base of 15 million paying subscribers (up three million from the year before), Spotify has really flourished on figuring out what its consumers want. It also learned a thing or two about the age of its audience. “All that first-party data is wonderful,” he explained. “We can follow a listening from the desktop to other devices.”

From creating over 400,000 styles of playlists over the years, the company also learned about the kind of things users like to do, explained Benedik. This allows it to put together better advertising for the users that aren’t paying for the service, he believes.

The company came across a big “Oh My God” moment when it realized that it had found a way to renegotiate agreements with record companies in order to provide songs without charging people on mobile devices. Though the planning took about a year’s time, the pace of change with users moving to said devices has been “unbelievable.”

Spotify has also been able to work with typical brands in helping them create a better music experience, including Red Bull and Coca-Cola, who have sponsored musicians and promoted its own special playlists on the channel. “This system allows Coke to have a music identity on Spotify,” explained Benedik.

All of these business tactics combined together have helped Spotify generate better revenue, even from non-paying consumers, as Benedik believes “the longer you stay on (Spotify’s) free model, the more you are likely to upgrade to premium.

“Premium doesn’t work without free. There’s a graveyard of services that have tried to go at this over the last ten years with premium only. It doesn’t work unless you’ve got free and premium working together.”

Read more on Spotify’s findings in the article here.

Special Report: The Top Ten Gaming YouTubers

We’ve talked about YouTube’s top moneymakers in the past, as there are a number of areas where broadcasters and creators can amass a large audience – and make a fair amount of money in the process.

One of these areas is gaming, and for its latest video, ION has posted the list of the top ten gaming YouTubers, whether it’s posting walkthroughs or putting an original spin on their programming. The video is below, but we’ve posted a condensed list that gives you an idea who made the top ten.

In the number ten spot, KSIOlajidebt gets two to three million views a day, posting clips from FIFA and other sports games.

Number nine belongs to EIRubiusOMG, who covers a variety of independent and other titles, appealing to Spanish-speaking audiences. His personality certainly helps as well.

Just ahead at number eight is another Spanish-speaking YouTuber, JuegaGerman, whose walkthrough of popular titles earn more than four million views a day.

VanossGaming is in the number seven position, with over 500 million views of a month with a variety of titles being covered. That’s certainly quite impressive – and that’s just number seven.

The unconventional – and highly excited – Jacksepticeye comes in at number six, using his manic energy to bring in a large audience, with over one billion views overall.

Coming in at number five is TheDiamondMinecraft, who focuses solely on Minecraft shenanigans with two videos uploaded per day. The persistence is paying off, though, with over six million views a day.

At number four, MarkiplierGame, one of the veterans of Epic Gamer Voice, focuses on some of the worst games in the industry. It’s a good living, though, as he’s managed to achieve 100,000 new subscribers on a weekly basis.

Stampylonghead comes in at number three with over five million subscribers. Having two billion video views and counting doesn’t hurt either.

Another full time Minecraft creator, PopularMMOs, comes in at number two, with over 335,000 subscribers earned last month.

And, of course, coming in at number one is popular broadcaster PewDiePie, whose diverse content and personality has earned him over 100 million views on a weekly basis – and a paycheck that goes into the millions on a yearly basis to boot.

 

Telltale Games Has A New Story To Tell

Over the years, the team at Telltale Games has really made a name for itself through a series of episodic game releases, including ones based on hot properties like Jurassic Park, Back To the Future, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Borderlands and, most recently, HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is gaining huge accolades from fans. Now, it’s made a couple of moves behind-the-scenes that could mean even bigger business in the future.

According to IGN, the studio has added former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello to the company’s board of directors, bringing years of experience within the industry to the team. But that’s not all. Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer has also joined the board of directors.

“I’m thrilled to have these industry giants join us as we continue to define exceptional interactive scripted entertainment,” said Telltale CEO and co-founder Kevin Bruner.

Riccitiello was thrilled to join the team. “Telltale has created something entirely new. Their games combine linear storytelling and gameplay in an entirely new way that is fresh, unique and compelling,” he said.

While Riccitiello’s return to the video game industry is big news, Telltale’s partnership with Lionsgate could be even bigger, as the two are hard at work on a “Super Show” project that is part television, part video game. As a vote of confidence, Lionsgate has already announced a “significant investment” in the studio.

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Bruner explained how the concept of the “Super Show” works. “A ‘Super Show’ episode combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content. Both pieces, when combined together, are what make an actual ‘Super Show’ episode. As we’ve been developing the series, we’re using both mediums in concert to deliver our story. Developing both aspects simultaneously is key to utilizing this new medium. Both parts are first-class citizens during the writing and design process. It’s not an interactive series with a show, or a TV show with a game, but a story integrated in a way that only Telltale can do. For us, it’s a very natural evolution of the interactive storytelling expertise we’ve pioneered.”

The process to developing the “Super Show” is intricate, “but we’ve been producing games episodically for over 10 years and have brought a lot of television production techniques to our game studio,” explained Bruner.

The content for the “Super Show” should be much more than your typical one-hour TV show. “With this in mind, the release cadence will be more predictable like TV scheduling, but still a bit further apart like our games (are released) to allow newer audiences to consume and discuss both aspects of the show across their game consoles, tablets, mobile phones and computers,” he explained.

In a nutshell, “Super Show” could change the way we interact with programming, so that it’s on a far more real-time experience for those viewing it. “Our goal is to create products that have a legitimate chance of winning both a Golden Globe and a Game of the Year,” said Bruner. “This means both aspects of the productions must be first-class work.”

We should learn more about the “Super Show” idea next week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Can you imagine its concept mixed in with the Game of Thrones license Whoa.

‘Crowfall’: A Different MMO With Different Marketing

The growth in the gaming market has occurred in several dimensions — the revenues from gaming are higher than ever, heading towards $100 billion worldwide; the market has gone global, with over a billion gamers across the globe; and the demographics of gaming has spread to encompass nearly every age. The gaming market has also expanded in other ways by providing multiple opportunities for game creators to bring products to market through digital distribution, with a wider variety of platforms and business models than ever before. The opportunities are compelling enough that many veterans of the gaming industry are taking advantage of them to try new things, and this is amply illustrated by ArtCraft Entertainment.

ArtCraft Entertainment is the combined effort of J. Todd Coleman (director, Shadowbane, Wizard101, Pirate101) and Gordon Walton (executive producer, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Star Wars: The Old Republic). The stated goal of ArtCraft Entertainment is to “push the design of Massively Multiplayer Online games in bold new directions.” They are doing that not only with the design of the game, but with the marketing — which is, essentially, to let the game speak for itself. Their game, Crowfall, is an MMORPG crossbred with an RTS, and it approaches some of the basic MMORPG problems in an unusual way.

Not Gordon Walton

The marketing for Crowfall began with a teaser campaign just before Christmas last year. “We put up a sign-up page for Crowfall at play2crush.com,” explained J. Todd Coleman, CEO and game director. “Play2Crush was a statement of purpose — more manifesto than teaser. Without providing a single screenshot or even naming the game, the site has already collected 10,000 registrations. We are blown away by the response. We clearly struck a nerve.” The play2crush.com site has now been replaced with an official landing page for the game, which can be found at www.crowfall.com. Players are invited to visit www.crowfall.com to join the community, find information about the game, read and post to the development forums, and to sign up for future beta tests.

Now the campaign has moved into the next phase, with the Crowfall Kickstarter beginning today. It’s off to an auspicious start, as it’s already over 50% funded only partway through the first day, with over 4,000 backers. “Crowdfunding has revolutionized the game market, allowing developers access to funds and customers,” said ArtCraft co-founder and President Gordon Walton. “The traditional publishing model works for mass-market gaming, but fails to serve many of the more experienced and discriminating gamers. Crowdfunding allows us to serve these customers directly with experiences crafted specifically for them, using their direct feedback and funding.”

Not J. Todd Coleman

Marketing for Crowfall is planned to be mostly viral and community based, and that’s why the Kickstarter is so important. Raising money is good, but Walton and Coleman have enough of a reputation and enough connections that they could raise sufficient money from investors to create this product. “For us it’s market proof,”said Walton. “We don’t really need the money, but we really need the market proof because that allows us to raise the other money.” Coleman agreed, noting the early goals are fairly conservative. “If we can just prove that there’s five to ten thousand people who dig this idea at the concept stage enough to give us money, then we can show pretty easily that there’s fifty to a hundred thousand who will pay for it once it’s done,” Coleman said. “That’s enough to make a really solid business case for small team to build it, and scale it up from there.”

The community is already very active. “We have 2,000, 3,000 posts a day,” noted Coleman. That’s the sort of engagement you want to see with a game, and it’s impressive given that the game has barely been revealed. This sort of marketing effort is really a combination of game design, community, and marketing — floating the game idea out there in detail and seeing what kind of response can be generated. ArtCraft wants Crowfall to be a product of the community, and the Kickstarter is part of the test to see just how big the audience is for the concept. “I believe that in the MMO space as a whole, what they crave is something different,” said Coleman. “The idea I pitched was the unholy love child of Game of Thrones, EVE Online, and Shadowbane. It’s a virtual world simulator, but a world that’s undergoing painful destruction.”

Coleman and Walton have been happy with the rapid progress since they unveiled the concept. “Last December we put up a site saying we were going to do something different, and it’s been gaining momentum and traction and noise and buzz and hype ever since,” Coleman said. “We got something up and running now, and we’re trying to turn it into something unique. We think people will sit back and say, ‘That’s definitely different.’ They may not all love it.” You can’t make everybody happy, of course. “In fact, we want to make a lot of people unhappy,” Walton added with a grin. “We want to make a smaller group of people very happy.”

In strategy games with a winner and a loser, not every player is comfortable with that, especially when the stakes are high. On the other hand, that’s exactly what other players crave. In Crowfall, the heroes are eternal but the campaign worlds end. “The point is you go back, you lick your wounds and go back and do it again, and hope springs eternal,” said Coleman. “Shadowbane actually did this beta by accident, because occasionally we would screw up the game so badly that we would have to wipe the servers and start all over. Every time that happened, the next weekend I’d have 35 percent to 40 percent concurrency, which is unheard of in an MMO.” Sometimes those accidents lead to design inspirations, and that’s what Coleman is convinced they were missing before.

ArtCraft has licensed a system to do procedural terrain generation, so every map can be different — and fully destructible, since it’s constructed of voxels (similar to Minecraft, but much finer-grained). They brought Raph Koster in first as a formal advisor and now as a full designer to make the economy a core component of the game. This is where it gets really interesting, according to Coleman. He believes that many people will enjoy the exploration and crafting elements of the early stages of the game, as they build towards the large-scale conflicts of the latter stages.

What’s the business model for Crowfall “We looked at the ones that were out there, and the ones we liked the best were Guild Wars, which is buy once and you never have to pay again, and EVE Online, which is passive training where you just buy an account and you train,” said Coleman. “We combined those into one. You can buy the game once, you can play it forever, and you get three character slots. One of those characters can be training whether you’re online or off, and there’s an optional subscription where if you subscribe all three of your characters can be training offline. It’s not unbalancing because at any given moment in the game, my one guy against your one guy, I don’t get the benefit of that. But I have more breadth because I can play with different characters. The other thing we’re going to do is let people buy additional one-month subscriptions and trade that with other people in the game. So people who don’t pay can get the same benefit by providing in-game services.”