Join Us For Our First Webinar On March 10

With so many events and things to keep up with, we know your life is busy. That’s why in addition to our [a]list summits, Ayzenberg is now launching a series of convenient webinars.

These webinars are focused, 30-60 minute interactive presentations and will deliver timely information on a single marketing subject.

You can apply for an invite to join us for our first webinar on Tuesday, March 10, at 12 noon PT / 3 p.m. ET on the subject of influencer marketing.

Ayzenberg’s Chris Younger, Director of Strategy, and Vincent Juarez, Director of Media, will do an exclusive follow-up presentation to last summer’s [a]list summit on Influencer Marketing {link no longer active} in LA which 300+ progressive marketers and top-tier content creators attended. They will share their experiences in this exciting and evolving field through ION, the Influencer Outreach Network, an agency within Ayzenberg specializing in influencer marketing, content creation and custom brand channels.

The discussion will cover how to:

·      Discover new influencers

·      Connect with new and existing influencers

·      Activate campaign strategy

·      Create custom content across multiple influencer tiers

·      Amplify across paid and owned media channels

·      Report insights, optimization and ROI

Before we announce more of our upcoming plans, we also want to give you all, our readers, the opportunity to tell us what you want us to do more or less of. Please take a minute to fill out our survey and tell us what events or webinars you’d like to see from us.

Stay tuned for updates from us here at Ayzenberg and [a]listdaily by subscribing to us if you haven’t already here.


The Art Of Marketing Without Marketing

The rapid evolution of the game industry over the past twenty years has completely changed the platforms, the business models, and even the geographic origins of the revenue in the business. We’ve gone from selling console games in boxes at retail stores, mostly in North America, Japan, and Western Europe, to online games, mobile games, PC games and console games where most of the revenue is derived digitally with China being a major part of the market. The technology has undergone multiple revolutions, platforms are completely different in virtually every respect, and the audience demographic has gone from “teenage boys of all ages” to “anyone who can see the screen and activate the controls.” Is it any wonder, then, that game marketing has undergone equally massive changes?

Game marketing has moved from being mostly about placing ads in the right magazines and creating packaging to a dazzling array of social media, user acquisition, video, influencers, events, and a race to create ever more interesting and unusual ways to make an audience aware of your game and get them to spend money on it.

What is marketing in the classic sense The term does date back to 1561, after all, and its precise meaning has changed many times in the intervening centuries. Google, the source of all wisdom these days, tells us marketing is “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” Merriam-Webster goes with “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service” and “an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.”

For the game industry, marketing in the 1980’s was a department well-separated from product development. Games would get completed, then thrown over the wall into the marketing department for the packaging, advertising and PR functions; the game would ship and basically be ignored by all thereafter, while the process repeated with the next title. Mostly the two departments didn’t talk to each other much. Product development thought the people in marketing didn’t know much about games, and marketing thought people in product development knew little about the realities of the marketplace. Both were generally correct.

Now, marketing is becoming an integral part of game development, as games move from fire-and-forget things to ongoing services that publishers would like to keep going for years. Marketers have to think about millions of customers and having an individual relationship with them, rather than doing things for a handful of retail buyers and never seeing or talking to an actual game-player. Where’s marketing You’re soaking in it, or you should be. Now it has become the art of marketing without marketing, to play off of the classic Bruce Lee riff from Enter The Dragon.


The fascinating thing about this evolution, to this veteran of both game development and marketing, is how some game companies don’t even think of what they are doing as marketing any more. Riot Games, for instance, generally refuses to admit that they do any marketing when questioned about it. It’s true in that what they do doesn’t fall into the traditional category. There are no ad campaigns for League of Legends. There are no brochures, no banner ads, no product placement or billboards. So are they doing any marketing at all

Of course they are, but it’s not perceived that way within the company. The company is focused on making the game better, which results in good word of mouth — that is, in effect, a marketing act while it’s also a product development activity. When the company creates new champions or skins, players get excited and talk about them. Riot posts about that on their blog, and releases some cool videos to show the world what’s new. Those are marketing activities.

The biggest expenditure for Riot Games in terms of marketing is the entire effort Riot puts into eSports. Try to tell that to Dustin Beck, VP of eSports at Riot, and he’ll tell you that you’re crazy. Riot spends a ton of money on eSports (they won’t say how much, but it’s probably north of $100 million annually) and it’s not something the company makes a profit on directly. The benefit of eSports, of course, is that tens of millions of people are engaged with it, it gets people excited about the game and encourages them to play more and to imagine that they, too, might someday become a pro player. That sounds like a terrific marketing activity, but it’s certainly unlike traditional marketing functions.

The massive community effort put forth by Chris Roberts’ team over at Cloud Imperium Games for Star Citizen is another good example of the art of marketing without marketing. The team has put tremendous effort into direct interaction with the community of backers, who have spent more than $70 million so far on this game that hasn’t even been released yet. What Cloud Imperium is doing with Star Citizen isn’t marketing in any traditional sense. They are making cool things that people want to buy, and making cool videos, and engaging the audience. Is there any doubt that Star Citizen will have a long life and generate a lot of money, and a lot of fun for its players

If you need another example, Minecraft was never marketed in the traditional sense, either. It grew explosively from the thousands of videos that were created and viewed, and the articles that were being written about it. Part of that was the nature of the game design impelled you to want to show other people what you’d done — and some of the things you can do are astonishing, like building a fully functional computer inside the game. It was also a deliberate act of marketing, though in an inverse way — Mojang never tried to shut down or control the videos that people were posting about its game. Yes, there’s probably plenty of objectionable things appearing in Minecraft videos if you look dark corners of the Internet, but Mojang didn’t care. And neither did the audience.

For an example of how not to do this properly, one need look no further than Nintendo, which is striving to gain control over YouTube videos about Nintendo products, and in the process essentially shutting down a valuable marketing avenue that the company could surely benefit from in difficult times.

The art of marketing without marketing doesn’t mean abandoning traditional marketing activities — not if they’re working, anyway. It’s a recognition that building a community, fostering gamer’s efforts to share content with their friends, enabling competition and cooperation among gamers, and helping your players become product evangelists are all part of the marketing effort — as is creating the best game possible, with features and services that are centered around creating a terrific customer experience above all else.

Marketers, you have to think not about marketing, but about your ultimate goals. Create a game that’s truly satisfying, and an environment around that game that nurtures and supports the best aspects of the game and the players. Or, as Bruce Lee would advise, “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”


Along Came A Spider: A Milestone In Hollywood Dealmaking

Amy Pascal has ascended to the Throne of Nerdvana: as Co-Chair of Sony Pictures, she green-lighted The Interview, triggering a hacker skirmish between North Korea and the United States that reached the White House and sparked open talk about the future of cyber warfare. For her encore, she cut a deal that teamed her up with Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios to bring her beloved Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What does Sony get

Years in the making, the deal is genius, and rare model of win-win in Hollywood. On the Sony side, Disney will literally get out of Spidey’s way, and has shuffled its release schedule to accommodate the next Sony Spider-Man feature. (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Captain Marvel have each been bumped by roughly six months so the next Spidey can hit theaters on July 28, 2017.) That’s less competition for future Spider-Man releases, which can mean significantly bigger box office.

Contrary to predictions of her demise as a result of the hacker attack, Pascal fell “up.” Sony furnished her with a massive production deal, so that she can do what she’s always done best, cultivate talent and make big pictures. Note the subtle but important titling on the next Spider-Man: Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, who were producers on the last two Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield Spidey movies (the second of which performed below Sony’s expectations at the global box office, though it earned nearly $709 million), have been bumped up to executive producers, while Pascal takes on the producer credit.

In Hollywood-speak, exec producers lean back, while the producer is the one who develops the creative, assembles the talent, pulls the production together and toils on it every day until it gets done. That puts Pascal in the driver’s seat with Feige riding shotgun on future Sony pics, and vice versa for future Marvel Studios appearances by Spidey.

Why did Feige (and the remaining Sony brass) concede to this Because Pascal doesn’t just love Spider-Man, she knows the character and his universe, and has guided the franchise since the original Raimi/Maguire trilogy, generating billions for Sony. A comic book geek dating back to her teen years, she understands how the franchise’s value can increase exponentially if she plays well with others. Pascal has studied the Marvel films closely and will likely welcome a few shakes of Feige’s sparkle dust on Peter Parker’s shoulders.

Finally, Spider-Man no longer has to operate in a vacuum, dependent on evil Oscorp to churn out his rogues gallery. Sony gets access to Marvel superheroes and super-villains for future Spider-Man features. Spider-Man’s New York will become Marvel New York. He can swing past Avengers Tower, Iron Man can do a flyby, or Spidey can even spend a whole movie teamed up with the Hulk, battling Venom and the Abomination. (Yeah, I’m a geek, too.) Supercharged with Marvel all-stars, rather than relying on villains with whom the audience is unfamiliar, each Spider-Man movie will be a major event.

What does Marvel get

Marvel gets what it’s been missing: its beating heart. For its first several movies, Agent Coulson sort of filled the role of the ordinary guy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With no super powers, he was responsible for wrangling the heroes, dealing with them with a dry wit and the low-key hero worship of a closet fanboy.

Coulson’s “death” in Avengers pulled the team together for the first time. But his departure from the films for the SHIELD TV series has given him a different role to play, and left a hole in the chest of the franchise—one that Spider-Man is now destined to fill.

The upcoming Captain America: Civil War would have been fine as a vehicle pitting Iron Man against Captain America in a battle over the place of superheroes in the eyes of the feds. But what made the saga a great story in the comics was that Spider-Man represented the everyman superhero stuck between two of his idols. Marvel can have that now, which will almost certainly make for a better movie.

To this end, there is the question of the future of Andrew Garfield, whom Pascal rightly championed. Sadly, but perhaps logically, Garfield will be recast so that Marvel and Sony can have a younger, scrappier and more wide-eyed Spidey, one that will hang onto this side of 30 for at least several more pictures.

While Sony will continue to make Spider-Man movies, Marvel Studios can have Spidey as anything from a cameo to a featured player in its own movies and live-action TV shows (they already have Spider-Man for animation). More than likely, that also includes Spidey’s supporting cast of over 100 heroes (Black Cat), villains (Carnage), and civilians (J. Jonah Jameson), plus OsCorp, Horizon Labs, and The Daily Bugle.

“Spidey has evergreen kid cred like no other comic book character.”

Finally, Marvel will at last have access to its premiere asset, arguably the most popular and recognized superhero in global popular culture. He will show up on the posters, in the previews, and find his way into the playsets. Spidey has evergreen kid cred like no other comic book character. Kids like Thor and Captain America, but they love Spider-Man! That makes him the jewel missing from Marvel’s crown.

What do both studios get

Money! And you can wager it will be more than just increased box office. Feige has been running the Marvel Cinematic Universe from a transmedia mentality. This means that he has been devising a consistent shared universe, each piece of which is telling a part of a cosmically greater story. Feature films, DVD shorts, network television series, streaming series on Netflix—what’s left to conquer Mobile apps and console video games!

Until now, if a game licensee wanted to put Spider-Man into an app or vidgame, the license had to be based on the comic books. You couldn’t put the movie Spider-Man into an interactive adventure that featured the movie versions of Marvel’s heroes. That has likely changed, and this can fuel a push by Marvel (with Sony tagging along) into much stronger, more story-driven MCU game licenses.

It’s no secret that Marvel games based on the comics have done okay, and the ones based on the movies have…left something to be desired. This has to be a sore point that Feige and Disney would like fixed. After all, blockbuster games can generate hundreds of millions in revenues. Spider-Man games (particularly the ones from Activision) have actually fared better on average, and if cleverly negotiated, Spidey’s arrival can turbo-charge a new wave of games across a variety of platforms that play better, tell better stories, and become big event expansions of the MCU as opposed to fleas on its back.

Of course, the same might hold for other types of licensing, possibly granting Sony access to licensing revenues that it didn’t have before. For example, Sony did not derive revenue from Spider-Man toys based on Marvel’s cartoon series, or the comic books themselves, just from products that fell under their motion picture branding. With Spidey now an active participant in the MCU, Sony will likely be given a taste under Disney’s significantly broader licensing scope. At the very least, Sony will see a significant bump in licensing revenue from its own Spider-Man movies, as more high profile Marvel characters find their way into the hometown action.

“The world has never really understood why Spider-Man is not in the Marvel movies and vice versa. Now, they’re going to get what they want, and they don’t have to be the wiser about who is controlling or communicating what.”

Both studios are likely to leverage a major marketing boost. Again, this requires quite a bit of cooperative play, but if Sony and Disney pull this off, assets, characters, even entire campaigns can move fluidly back and forth between them. The world has never really understood why Spider-Man is not in the Marvel movies and vice versa. Now, they’re going to get what they want, and they don’t have to be the wiser about who is controlling or communicating what. The totality of the experience will be like pouring through your weekly pile of Marvel Comics, which is as it ought to be!

This makes the arduous negotiation of sharing custody of Spider-Man—despite studios rivalries, big egos, insider naysayers, and a morass of legal bureaucracy on both sides—a win-win for both Marvel and Sony, and producers Feige and Pascal. That’s a rarity in Hollywood that bodes well for the future efficacy of rich, multi-platform story worlds.

Hey Wolverine, want to come out and play?


Full disclosure: Jeff Gomez and his company Starlight Runner Entertainment have worked as transmedia producers for Sony Pictures Entertainment in the past. This article is based on publically available information and is not informed by that work.

Jeff Gomez is CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a New York based production company that consults with Hollywood studios on some of their most popular entertainment franchises. Follow him @Jeff_Gomez.

Five Hot Trends In Indie Gaming That AAA Game Studios Need To Learn

Independent game development has gone from a rare, curious thing in the 1990’s to a burgeoning part of the game business in the 2010’s. The shining example of success is Minecraft, which began as a quirky game worked on by one creator, and ended up a few years later as the target of a $2.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft.

Indie developers have come into their own on platforms like Kongregate on PCs, the massive Steam digital distributor, and of course on mobile platforms. Even consoles, traditionally the bastion of high-cost game development, have welcomed indie developers with open arms. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are all embracing indie development on their consoles, making it far easier and less expensive than it ever was before to create games on consoles.

Indie games are still a breed apart from the traditional AAA development, though, even while some indie games are generating revenue numbers any AAA publisher would be proud of. There’s clearly some things AAA publishers can learn from indie developers, and here are five important trends among indies that AAA publishers and developers should seek to learn from.

This is something that comes naturally to indie game developers, for whom the very act of becoming an indie developer is a risk. Many give up good jobs to seek their fortunes as an independent game, or leave positions at gaming companies to bring their own vision of a game into being. Everything an indie developer does is typically a risk, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that indie developers take plenty of risks in game design as well.

Certainly there’s plenty of me-too games being developed by indie developers, but those are the indie developers who don’t see a huge success. The indie game developers that have attained a measure of success have typically done so through taking chances with game design. Unusual play styles or game mechanics, off-beat subject matter, mixing genres of games — all of these tactics and more have been tried as huge numbers of indie developers strive to create something that fascinates enough people to generate an living wage.

The lesson for big game publishers and studios is this: The biggest risk of all is to take no risks. Eventually, that strategy leads to boredom on the part of the audience, who will wander off to find more interesting and innovative games. The most successful games are the ones that really pioneer a new playing style or genre, Could Minecraft have been the product of a big studio That hardly seems likely. Certainly it’s safer to create new versions of bestselling franchises than to create something new, yet eventually creating new versions of old games begins to lose steam (witness the gradual sales decline of Call of Duty from year to year).

Granted, spending tens or even hundreds of millions on a brand new game is a huge risk. But indies can try out interesting new concepts for a fraction of the cost. Large game studios and publishers are filled with creative people who must have plenty of ideas — why not let them build a few in-house, inexpensively, and try them out on digital platforms That’s the logic that fueled Ubisoft’s Child of Light, and it seems to have worked out well. Try out a new concept inexpensively, and if it proves popular then pour more money into it.

Graphics experimentation
While AAA games, by and large, try for the most realistic graphics possible, indie developers usually stay far away from that for one simple reason: Cost. It can cost tens of millions of dollars to create beautifully rendered 3D worlds, and more millions to make sure they animate at high speed. That’s simply not possible on the usual indie game budget, so they are forced to get more creative. The result is that indie games have an enormous variation in graphic style.

While it may get wearisome to see yet another indie showing its coolness by using retro 8-bit graphics, it’s also true that producing those graphics is a great savings. Those savings can be put into other areas of the game, like design, programming, marketing and more. The great advantage, though, comes in giving an indie game a distinctive look, like Transistor or Super Meat Boy or Botanicula or a thousand others. Once again, Minecraft stands out as being quite crude in its graphic presentation, te the game is so powerful it overcomes any thoughts of the crude graphics. Now Minecraft graphics are part of the game’s signature look, and have become a great marketing tool. If Minecraft teaches us anything, it’s that graphics are not the only thing that sells a game — and not even the most important thing.

Some AAA studios have given their games a distinctive, non-photorealistic look. Think Sunset Overdrive or Borderlands or (going back a ways) Okami, games that aren’t striving for scenes that look real. These games are creating a fantastic graphic style with a distinctive look, and it helps the games appeal to a wide audience. And, not coincidentally, aids in marketing as well.

Exploring new gameplay
Try imagining a game like the Binding of Isaac or Johann Sebastian Joust (part of Sportsfriends) coming along from a large developer or publisher… it’s hard to think of good examples. Portal, perhaps, which explored interesting puzzles. Certainly the Wii expanded gameplay, as did Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But if you leave aside hardware that promotes new gameplay, it’s pretty clear that if you’re looking for something different indie games are where you find it.

Again, it’s not to be expected that major publishers or studios will risk huge amounts of money on brand new gameplay ideas, not without some indication that it’s a sellable gameplay. Certainly watching to see what indie games are succeeding with unusual gameplay is something everyone already does. We’re seeing some of Minecraft’s concepts being built into major releases from big publishers, though as yet nothing has resonated in anywhere near the same degree.

It does seem like big publishers or studios could make their own low-cost gameplay experiments, and then be poised to take swift advantage if the idea proves to be popular. The tough part is for a large company to commit to this sort of budget, and not expect to make a lot of money. It’s not intended to be a profit center; it should be thought of as R&D that can partially pay for itself.

Doing more with less
This is something indie developers are always forced to do. It sounds painful and difficult, and it is — yet severe resource restrictions lead to amazingly creative solutions. If you can’t afford to build a huge 3D world, maybe the game will work in 2D. Not enough time and money to animate everything Design the game so fewer objects need to be on screen at once. Can’t work for months to create 40+ hours of gameplay See if you can get the essence of the experience in a couple of hours, and then charge far less for it.

Designing under constraints of time, budget, or technology can lead to interesting choices that may be popular. Shortcuts can lead to new and interesting places, and the journey may turn out to be lots of fun. But if you never constrain your development team, they may never be looking for unusual solutions to game design problems.

Open development
The relative openness of many indie games is perhaps the greatest difference, aside from budget, that separates them from big-budget products. Crowd-funded games are, by necessity, open projects that involve the community from the beginning. The fans who support a game become part of the design process, and this can lead in very different directions than originally anticipated. Chris Roberts will tell you that he thought Star Citizen was mostly going to be about ship combat, but after surveying the backers he found the exploration was the part of the game they were most interested in by far — and this led to a significant shift in development resources.

Big publishers and big developers are used to operating under a cloak of secrecy about titles in development, with very little known in advance except the title and the general nature of the game. Some information will be carefully released as development proceeds, with most of the info coming right before launch. The problem with this, of course, is that the audience may not really like the game’s ultimate direction, or major bugs may have crept in unnoticed. A quick look at the dismal launches of several very high-profile AAA games in 2014 should show the dangers of secret development.

Publishers and major developers should rethink the whole notion of utter top secret game development, and look at the advantages provided by an open development process. Chris Roberts has succeeded in taking an effort originally intended to raise a couple of million dollars and turned it into a $70 million juggernaut, rolling towards $100 million by launch time.

Opening up development becomes a terrific marketing tool, as well as validation of the audience size and interest. It also helps in finding the key parts of the design that resonate with the audience, and finding and fixing bugs. The danger has always been perceived that your competitors will be able to copy what you’re doing… but everybody is already doing that to successful games. That’s why there are so many FPS games, and RPGs, and MOBAs… and so on. Yet it’s very difficult and expensive to copy a big project; Electronic Arts ended up shutting down its MOBA game, for instance. Everyone knows what Grand Theft Auto is like, but it’s proven damn hard to copy.

Big publishers and developers have plenty of advantages, but they can profit by looking at what indie games are doing. Using some of the ideas and approaches of indie developers could revitalize a tired franchise, or help create a bold new one. Just keeping on keepin’ on is not a viable strategy when the market is growing and evolving so rapidly. The indie game market is a huge source of evolving ideas, and AAA publishers and developers should seek to add some of those new genes to their own DNA.

Wargaming’s eSports Surges Forward

Wargaming has continued to expand its already massive audience worldwide, now reaching more than 100 million players. The company has now grown to over 3500 employees worldwide, and has expanded onto mobile with World of Tanks Blitz — that title has been downloaded more than 8 million times so far, and it’s just getting started. The Xbox 360 version of World of Tanks has over 5.4 million downloads and an impressive set of statistics, as the infographic reveals. World of Tanks has been joined by World of Warplanes, and soon World of Warships will continue to expand the array of Wargaming combat titles.

Mohammed Fadl

For Wargaming, eSports has been an important aspect of the gameplay and the community. The game runs on competition, after all, and there’s nothing like being in a group with other players to get you to play more often. The [a]listdaily caught up with Mohamed Fadl, Director of eSports Europe and North America, as he was on the road for yet another eSports competition, to ask him some questions about the importance of eSports to Wargaming, and its future.

How important has eSports been to World of Tanks?

For us it was actually the other way around. World of Tanks was important for eSports as our community used it to create their own eSports environment. We never planned to be an eSports game with World of Tanks when we first launched. Now having our league running for almost two years, things have changed tremendously. eSports became the highest level of gaming experience for World of Tanks, and our professional teams drive passion, skill and even new content creation within our game on a global scale. eSports became a crucial component in our end game and new content is growing with every battle played.

Do you think eSports will be equally important to World of Warplanes and World of Warships?

It’s hard to say at this point. We learned one big lesson with World of Tanks; the community drives eSports and activities like it. It must grow naturally by itself. If you try to force or control it with too much pressure you will break the momentum in your own game. That’s why we ultimately let the community decide if and when they want to drive eSports within our other games. What I can say is that we will be there, ready and waiting for them to give us the green light.

How are brands getting involved with World of Tanks and eSports Is this going to be more important in the future?

Brands and partners are and will be crucial for our eSports activities. Not just for Wargaming itself but also for all our pro teams. One major focus within our Wargaming eSports ecosystem team is helping teams to get sponsors and partnerships so they can establish their team as a brand itself and have a future within the eSports universe. Our goal is to make sure that these teams will stay and help the overall growth and sustainability of the eSports scene even if they decide to play other games.

How do you see eSports developing over the next year or two, both for World of Tanks and for the industry in general?

For World of Tanks, eSports will focus on helping the pro teams turn their passion into a lifelong career and not just a hobby. The other point we will focus on within the next two years is to create a strong eSports ecosystem which will guide our players from the first steps in the competitive world up to the stage of the Grand Finals. An important part of this ecosystem is to create an entertainment system which covers every single point within our ecosystem and makes it easy accessible, fun and rewarding; both as a spectator and a player.

For the industry overall, I foresee eSports finding its position in the general media/entertainment section within every household around the globe. It will most likely change and transform as what we call eSports today; this is just the beginning. We scratched the surface of something much bigger and it’s up to everyone now to make sure we are a positive part in the evolution of entertainment.

More publishers are trying to get their games adopted as eSports. What will take for them to be successful, both within the game and from the company in terms of support and organization?

What’s most important is that companies create the games they believe in and what they wanted to build in the first place. To try and create an eSports product without having the support of your community behind it is nearly impossible. If the players love your game and want to turn it into an eSport, then they will do it. What is important is to then be ready to jump in and to pick up the ball. So be flexible and open minded, and don’t try to force something on the players that you don’t believe in just because someone said it’s not an eSport. Someone within the industry once told me that the 7v7 eSports format will never be successful which is why no one else uses it. Fast forward to the current state of our eSports league and we now have over hundreds of thousands of players playing it… you always have to trust your own instincts.

NPD January 2015 Retail: Software Finally Wins

January was a cold month in most of the U.S., and not just outside. “January 2015 retail sales data across hardware, software and accessories decreased by 6 percent from January 2014, with growth in software (up $12.4 million) and Accessories (up $5.4 million) unable to offset hardware declines of $54 million,” NPD’s Liam Callahan reported. For those keeping score, hardware sales were $185.5 million this January compared to $239.6 million last January, while software notched $235.7 million in sales compared to $223.2 million last year.

The engine of retail sales for the past year has been hardware, and that’s what took a sharp downturn in January. The older consoles (Xbox 360 and PS3) really slid, down 35%, probably because there were no price decreases or substantive marketing efforts for them. “Hardware sales declined by 23 percent as sales cooled off after the holiday season,” Callahan acknowledged. “Eighth generation console hardware sales were down by 22 percent while seventh generation console hardware sales decreased by 35 percent.”

Software was a bright spot for once, though coming off of a very down year at retail it’s not a very big increase. “Software spending rose 5 percent from January 2014 as eighth generation console spending outpaced seventh generation console software sales,” Callahan noted. “Eighth generation software increased by 74 percent, seventh generation decreased by 36 percent and dedicated portable software sales dropped by 12 percent.” This is not good news for Nintendo’s 3DS, as much of that drop must be attributed to the software for that device – because the PS Vita has been coasting along at a low level for months.

The top seller among software was Dying Light, followed by most of the usual suspects. Interestingly, Super Smash Bros. made the list, a bright spot for Nintendo which has all too often been absent from this list in recent years. Interestingly, Assassin’s Creed didn’t make the list, though Far Cry did.

January 2015 Top 10 Games (New Physical Retail only)
1. Dying Light (PS4, XBO, PC) Warner Bros. Interactive
2. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3, PC)** Activision Blizzard
3. Grand Theft Auto V (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3)** Take 2 Interactive
4. Minecraft (360, PS3, XBO, PS4) Microsoft (Corp) / Sony
5. NBA 2K15 (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3, PC) Take 2 Interactive
6. Super Smash Bros. (NWU, 3DS)* Nintendo
7. Far Cry 4 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3, PC)** Ubisoft
8. Madden NFL 15 (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3)** Electronic Arts
9. Destiny (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3)** Activision Blizzard
10. FIFA 15 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3, Wii, PSV, 3DS)** Electronic Arts

**(includes CE, GOTY editions, bundles, etc. but not those bundled with hardware)

Apple Opens Pay Once And Play Category In App Store

With the growing trend of games that work on a “free-to-play” structure and, in some cases, require a minimum purchase through the application in order to continue, some may be frustrated that there isn’t just an option to pay something up front and game to their heart’s content.

Ah, but there is, and several games are like that. Which is probably what drove Apple to create a new category that simply lets users find something they want to play, pay an up-front fee, and then enjoy without being nickeled and dimed afterwards.

Forbes has indicated that Apple has changed up its Featured section in the App Store a little bit, so that it includes a “Pay Once and Play” category, with titles that offer all of the gameplay experience up front after paying a small fee. After that, users can enjoy them, mostly with no advertising or prompts to pay anything further.

Some games easily fit into this category and have a lot to offer, like Supergiant Games’ brilliant Bastion, pictured above. Priced at $4.99, this game offers a meaty, console-like adventure where players venture through an open world, all while a quirky narrator follows them along. Players simply pay the up-front fee, then enjoy everything the game has to offer.

Granted, not all games can fit into this category. Titles like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Soda Saga are built upon a structure where players are prompted to pay for additional items, like power-ups and such, and offering everything for an up-front fee with them simply wouldn’t work, based on how they’re made. So expect the “free-to-play” games to continue invading the mobile front, with no sign of slowing down.

Still, the “Pay Once and Play” category looks like a thankful addition to the virtual marketplace, assuring gamers that they simply need to plunk down one lump sum, then move on without having to reach for their credit card or online account. It’s hard to say if other games on other formats, like PC and console, could have the same thing, especially with the downloadable content structure that a lot of them follow. Still, it’d be nice to get a gaming experience that charges you one entry fee, then lets you enjoy to your heart’s content.

Here’s hoping, at the very least, Android follows suit with a similar category.

Big Data’s Limits In Marketing

When it comes to marketing these days, everything is all about the “big data,” as companies attempt to come up with new ways to collect and analyze data in order to find trends and insights regarding how marketing activity has an effect on consumer purchase decisions and increasing loyalty.

Columnist Kohki Yamaguchi recently broke down the seven big points to look at in a new article for Marketing Land, which are as follows:

First off, user data can easily be fundamentally biased. Yamaguchi explains, “The user-level data that marketers have access to is only of individuals who have visited your owned digital properties or viewed your online ads, which is typically not representative of the total target consumer base.

Even within the pool of trackable cookies, the accuracy of the customer journey is dubious: many consumers now operate across devices, and it is impossible to tell for any given touchpoint sequence how fragmented the path actually is.

“Furthermore, those that operate across multiple devices are likely to be from a different demographic compared to those who only use a single device, and so on.”

Certain execution can exist with select channels, according to Yamaguchi. “Certain marketing channels are well suited for applying user-level data: website personalization, email automation, dynamic creatives, and RTB spring to mind. In many channels however, it is difficult or impossible to apply user data directly to execution except via segment-level aggregation and whatever other targeting information is provided by the platform or publisher. Social channels, paid search, and even most programmatic display is based on segment-level or attribute-level targeting at best. For offline channels and premium display, user-level data cannot be applied to execution at all.”

When user results do come up, they can’t always be presented directly. “More accurately, it can be presented via a few visualizations such as a flow diagram, but these tend to be incomprehensible to all but domain experts. This means that user-level data needs to be aggregated up to a daily segment-level or property-level at the very least in order for the results to be consumable at large,” explained Yamaguchi.

And certain algorithms don’t always explain “why,” either. “Largely speaking, there are only two ways to analyze user-level data: one is to aggregate it into a “smaller” data set in some way and then apply statistical or heuristic analysis; the other is to analyze the data set directly using algorithmic methods. Both can result in predictions and recommendations (e.g. move spend from campaign A to B), but algorithmic analyses tend to have difficulty answering “why” questions (e.g. why should we move spend) in a manner comprehensible to the average marketer. Certain types of algorithms such as neural networks are black boxes even to the data scientists who designed it. Which leads to the next limitation…”

That led to the next point, how user data isn’t always suited for product learnings. “Let’s say you apply big data to personalize your website, increasing overall conversion rates by 20 percent. While certainly a fantastic result, the only learning you get from the exercise is that you should indeed personalize your website. While this result certainly raises the bar on marketing, but it does nothing to raise the bar for marketers,” explained Yamaguchi. “Actionable learnings that require user-level data – for instance, applying a look-alike model to discover previously untapped customer segments – are relatively few and far in between, and require tons of effort to uncover. Boring, ol’ small data remains far more efficient at producing practical real-world learnings that you can apply to execution today.”

The following two points were just as crucial, discussing how user-level data is subject to certain interference, and how some of the data can’t be so easily transferred. “Because of security concerns, user data cannot be made accessible to just anyone, and requires care in transferring from machine to machine, server to server.

“Because of scale concerns, not everyone has the technical know-how to query big data in an efficient manner, which causes database admins to limit the number of people who has access in the first place.

“Because of the high amount of effort required, whatever insights that are mined from big data tend to remain a one-off exercise, making it difficult for team members to conduct follow-up analyses and validation,” concluded Yamaguchi.

“All of these factors limit agility of analysis and ability to collaborate.”

More information on this study, including the part that big data plays, can be found here.

Tapjoy CMO: 2015 Is The Year For Mobile Video Ads

Mobile video ads are becoming more and more apparent, not only with use in certain applications, but also on certain social media websites, as Facebook is currently exploring the medium for better use. But is this really the year of mobile video ads One person over at Tapjoy seems to think so.

Per Linkedin, Peter Dille, CMO for Tapjoy, explained in a detailed article, titled “Why 2015 is the year Mobile Video Ads Really Take Off,” just how effective this new medium is.

First off, he touched on how video is among the most impactful and user-friendly rewarded ad formats. “Rewarded ads — the type that effectively sponsor premium content or virtual currency for consumers — have become increasingly popular in mobile apps as freemium developers track how these ads drive increased long-term engagements in their apps,” he explained. “By offering non-paying customers ad-sponsored access to premium content, rewarded ads are a sure-fire approach to engagement for a large freemium customer base. And while all rewarded ads have this impact, videos are among the most popular type of rewarded ads because they are “low friction” for consumers to complete and are also entertaining for target audiences. Rewarded video ads are a great example of a win-win-win between advertisers, developers and consumers.”

He also explained that where to integrate video ads has become a more crucial tool for developers. “Not only is video more user-friendly than most other ad formats, but as developers become more sophisticated about when and where to integrate video into their apps, it is becoming more relevant to the in-app experience as well,” said Dille. “Video ads work best when they are integrated into the app in a seamless, non-intrusive way, and with solutions such as Tapjoy’s new Marketing Automation platform, developers are able to deliver videos at specific moments that provide the perfect context. Say a gamer lost her last ‘life’ in an action game but wanted to extend her gameplay. The developer could offer the user the chance to watch a quick video in order to earn an extra life. Another user might want to access a premium feature but won’t want to pay for it. He could watch a video or two and gain access to the locked content. The technology is now available to let developers deliver contextually relevant rewarded video ads at just the right moment, which helps them monetize more of their user base. It also enables brands to be seen as heroes for providing premium entertainment content without having to pay with hard-earned cash.”

Brands shifting their advertising dollars from one medium (television) to another (mobile) is also making a difference. He pointed out how consumers now spend more time using mobile devices than watching their favorite shows, a major shift on that front. Mobile is also a great place for high-value app installs to take off, thanks to the appeal of a certain trailer that plays during use of the device. “Game trailers not only show off an app’s gameplay in a far superior manner than banner or text ads, but also allow the viewer to make a more informed decision on whether or not the app suits their tastes,” he said. “With more app developers marketing their apps with trailer videos, the increased inventory and bid rates will lead to more revenue for app publishers promoting these types of trailer placements.”

More details on this report, which also cover the readiness of infrastructure and how certain marketers can get started on the front, can be found here.

Game Marketing Summit Introduces Keynote Speakers

When the 2015 Game Marketing Summit takes place in San Francisco, it’ll provide interactive game marketers the opportunity to absorb new information, as well as hobnob with fellow peers within their industry. It’ll also be the place where new possibilities can be found, and keynotes provide deeper insight into the success of marketing overall.

The Game Marketing Summit staff introduced two vital keynotes that will take place during the event, with Bing Gordon, general partner and chief product officer for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and James Buckhouse, head of story and design for Sequoia Capital, highlighting the show.

In addition, Jonathan Anastas, vice president of global brand marketing and head of digital and social media for Activision, and Jeanette McMurty, principal for e4 marketing, will join a number of other speakers at the event.

Both Gordon and Buckhouse will be the huge draws, however, as their influence has made Electronic Arts and Twitter big names on the social media front, respectively.

“Gaming has become the new normal for most Americans,” said Gordon. “We’re playing across mobile, computers and consoles, which have become the center of the living room. With more ways to play and imagine new titles and systems, gaming is transforming many aspects of our lives – from education to employment to transportation. GMS is giving us the info we need to live a more gamified life.”

“Games are everywhere, on every platform from the most complex to the everyday mobile device,” said Marci Yamaguchi Hughes, general manager for GMS. “To keep pace, marketers require multi-dimensional campaigns to reach broad yet targeted audiences. GMS brings the best and brightest marketing minds in video games together with this year’s theme being ‘Elevate Your Game: Connect, Amplify & Succeed’. We’re delighted to welcome Bing and James to our stage, as they both personify this year’s theme with their influence, expertise and vision. We look forward to being inspired by them and the rest of our amazing line-up for 2015.”

Those interested in registering for the summit can get more details on the official page.