From Mainstream To Mobile: Bill Trost Talks ‘Graphiti’

Sometimes, a change is needed in order to move a creative direction forward. Many people in the industry can feel this way, and depart from a cushy job in favor of something that would provide them the opportunity to work on a dream project. A roll of the dice, if you will.

That’s the case with Bill Trost, who previously worked as a lead designer and co-creator of Sony Online’s massively popular EverQuest, as well as creative lead on the ambitious online game component of SyFy’s Defiance series. He broke away from all that to work on his new venture, a mobile project called Graphiti, which will make its debut this weekend at the SXSW Startup Spotlight event.

The [a]listdaily managed to catch up with Bill to chat about his new project, as well as what drove him to step away from a major role in bigger franchises to work on something more independent.

What prompted you to make the move from such high profile projects (Defiance, EverQuest) into working something on your own in mobile?

While I love creating big projects like EverQuest and Defiance, this is actually my second foray into mobile. I was co-founder of a group called The Blimp Pilots that developed the #1 selling app for 2008, Koi Pond, and a really unique app that hit #3 on the app store called Distant Shore. We also did an app for the San Diego Zoo and got to meet elephants!

I enjoy working in mobile because of the speed you can operate at. Ideas are conceived and executed and then on to the next idea. I like exploring new things, wherever they are. This time was the cool tech and people that excited me and inspired the idea of a new, expressive way for people to share things with friends. Graphiti is actually a bigger idea than it might first appear.

What do you think are the necessary steps when it comes to creating a proper team for development, not to mention the groundwork for putting together the ideal studio for them?

Team building from scratch is super challenging, and I like to avoid it if I can. Throughout my career I have been fortunate to initially work with people I already know and trust as core team members. When teams expand, practical experience with shipping products is the most important thing I look for.

But that doesn’t mean you never take chances on a passionate person, even if they are a little green. Just be aware of what you are doing in those cases and attentive to what you need to do to ensure the success of the team and the professional development of the person.

Tell us about Graphiti, and how the concept behind it came about.

Prior to my involvement, our talented group of engineers, led by Steven Shen, had developed a core piece of tech that enabled the mark-up of live web content. My job was to figure out how to best use this technology within a consumer application. I am a classically trained painter and have always had an interest in street and outsider art.

So the idea of Graphiti, using street art tools, like spray paint, and stencils to bomb up the web just like you would a wall in real life came to me nearly instantly. To be able to boldly express your ideas directly on the content with a slash of dripping paint, instead of buried beneath it in some comment thread, sounded exciting and like something people would enjoy doing.

We also realized we couldn’t just call something Graphiti without embracing and respecting the culture and history of street art. We are fortunate to have hooked up with a fantastic non-profit group in San Diego called Writerz Blok that operates a huge graffiti park and give the youth in their community a safe place to express themselves and learn about art. Jose Venegas and Sergio Gonzalez, both of Writerz Blok, have really helped us refine and legitimize our vision for Graphiti.

It sounds like you have a number of experienced folks on board from the likes of Intel, Verizon, Kyocera and Zeebo. Were they looking for a change of pace from “big business” as well, eager to try out a new project?

The team we have built at Graphiti has an entrepreneurial spirit for sure, but I think the vision for the project is what brought us together. We feel confident swimming in either pond, big or small.

How long has Graphiti been in development?

Primary development, leveraging some existing technology, began in July of last year. I joined the team in August.

You’re making a big push with Graphiti at the SXSW Startup Spotlight event. Are you hyped about what kind of response you’re looking to get out of it?

I’m very excited. I’ve been to E3’s, PAXs, GDCs, and Comic Cons but I’ve never been to SXSW so I’m looking forward to the event and can’t wait to see what people think of Graphiti.

How is your team approaching Graphiti from a marketing point of view? Obviously it’s a different kind of beast from the previous products you’ve been working on.

Marketing is a big part of the mobile business these days and we are fortunate to have very experienced people working with us to develop a plan that makes sense for us. SXSW is our first focus and we are bombing that event with the world-renowned graffiti artist, Chor Boogie. We have plans for other events throughout the year in addition to other creative marketing efforts.

How will Graphiti work in terms of monetization and opening up experiences for new users?

Graphiti is a free app. We will be ad-supported in a unique and unobtrusive way that provides not only a service for the advertiser but cool rewards for the Graphiti user.

Finally, with the launch of Graphiti quickly coming up, what’s next Optimization for this app with new features Perhaps a new project?

We have big plans through the end of the year with Graphiti, both expanding the feature set in cool new ways and bringing it to additional platforms. We hope enough people enjoy what we are doing that we can start to make plans for 2016 as well.

Social Media Influence Is Changing Brands

For many years, advertising on television has been the effective medium when it comes to convincing consumers what to buy and what products to check out. However, there could be an interesting changing of the guard, according to new statistics from CivicScience.

As reported by AdAge, a new chart from the survey team shows that social media has been providing more of an influence over product advertising than television, almost running neck-and-neck with the popularity of ads on television. The closest point, according to the chart above, came during May-June 2014, when they actually inter-lapped with one another around the 43rd percentile. TV has since regained a little ground, but there’s no question that social media isn’t far behind.

Meanwhile, Internet advertising is a little less well-received, dwelling around the 10th to 17th percentile over the past year. That’s not to say it couldn’t pick up, but there’s no question that social media channels are far more effective.

CivicScience also reported the following findings:

“In 2014, the dominance of TV’s influence shrunk significantly over the prior year. In fact, at times during the year, TV and social media were on par.”

“There appears to be some seasonality to TV ads vs. social media: Warmer-weather months correlated with a rise in social media selection, and the fall TV season with greater TV ad influence.”

“Internet advertising sees a very gradual increase, but far less volatility than TV or social media.”

Social media chatter seems to be playing a much stronger influence, especially when ads have a certain amount of relevance.

While the report doesn’t indicate that TV advertising is finished – the buzz from the ads in the Super Bowl clearly show they aren’t, not by a longshot — they do indicate that advertisers need to have a better understanding of just how powerful social media is affecting perceptions for brands Advertisers who take this into account can develop creative campaigns to help support social media, and generate even more interest in their brands.

More details on the report can be found here.

‘Cards Against Humanity’ Goes Mobile

Admittedly, Cards Against Humanity isn’t for everyone. It’s an adult-oriented card game in which the answers can range from Auschwitz to Robocop to Adolf Hitler (and those are the clean ones). The game has become an enormous hit over the past few years, thanks to the offering of various expansion packs as well as holiday promotions – even if that meant avid users buying a piece of cow poop (again, that’s the clean term for what they sold) after it was clearly advertised by the company as being cow poop.

But now, Cards Against Humanity could be making its biggest shift to date into the mobile and online world. The company has announced that, starting this weekend, a version of the game titled Cards Against Originality will launch for smartphone, tablets and PCs through a browser-friendly app.

The mobile and browser app features all the original cards that came with the initial game, as well as its subsequent five expansion packs. With it, players can challenge one another online in match-ups, all without the need of shuffling cards or paying extra for pricey expansion packs. Best of all, it’s being offered for no charge, as part of the company’s agreement with the Creative Commons license.

Sharing match-ups is easy with the web browser, as a special URL will be provided that enables users to invite their friends – and not strangers that use the worst kind of cards – to play. Early tests of the game have been positive, although the service is currently down in favor of a full launch this weekend.

Cards Against Humanity has been a big hit on the board game front, with thousands of cards sold in both their original and expansion packs. And with each convention the team attends (mainly Penny Arcade Expo events), hundreds of thousands purchase new goods, including exclusive card decks and “bigger, blacker boxes” that can contain all the cards in one convenient spot.

Cards Against Originality will likely boost the game’s popularity even further, introducing new players to how it works and prompting them to pick up their own special card decks, in the hopes of playing along with their friends. It’s a brilliant idea that will generate a bigger audience – no matter how ridiculously profane it may get.

To learn more about Cards Against Humanity, visit the official page.

The Pepsi Challenge Returns With A Twist

Way back in 1975, PepsiCo started the Pepsi Challenge, a national promotion that dared consumers to see which soft drink they prefer in a blind taste test against its main competitor, Coke. It’s been ongoing for years, although to a somewhat smaller degree – but the company is about to bring it back for a new era.

AdAge has reported that the company intends to bring back the Pepsi Challenge for what could be its biggest “socially-led, content-driven initiative ever.” It’s already brought onboard a number of celebrities to help endorse the new promotion through social media, including popular singer Usher, athlete Usain Bolt and tennis superstar Serena Williams.

Instead of doing a routine taste test, however, the Challenges will be issued monthly through social and digital challenge, with the superstars promoting people to “take the challenge” in the hopes of social awareness.

Pepsi’s covered this territory before, with a 2010 promotion called the Pepsi Refresh Project, which encouraged consumers to apply for grants to fund community-driven projects on a monthly basis. It didn’t connect too closely with sales, but Pepsi believes that the Pepsi Challenge will make a much bigger difference this time.

“Pepsi Challenge is an iconic piece of our brand equity and in many ways established our can-do attitude and spirit,” said Kristin Patrick, senior VP and chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Global Beverage Brands, in a company statement. “When we talked to consumers around the globe about what challenge meant to them today, they resoundingly said that it entailed challenging convention and daring to do something differently. We used that sentiment as our inspiration to expand beyond just taste and re-imagine the Pepsi Challenge for new generations, creating this cross-pollination of experiences, events, community and social advocacy, designed to ignite a mindset that challenges the status quo, our fans and ourselves.”

Although details weren’t given on the specific challenges yet, they will involve people like fashion designer Nicola Formichetti in an effort to raise social awareness around the world. PepsiCo has already said that it intends to donate $1 to Liter of Light every time someone uses the #PepsiChallenge hashtag on their social channels.

The challenges will vary, as a later one revolving around sports should include “a collection of unconventional global sporting events and experiences anchored by some of the world’s most beloved sports heroes,” said the statement.

With a collection of TV spots, digital content and other engagement programs, the Pepsi Challenge should easily take off over the next year…and way stronger than it did back in ’75.

How ‘Grudge Match’ Could Become The ‘Candy Crush’ Of ESports

There’s a new mobile entry in the eSports game, and it’s actually an old IP. Rich Melcombe, creator of the 1991 Grudge Match TV show, is relaunching the concept with a new international TV show, a mobile game designed for eSports and a proprietary livestreaming network called Grudge Match Unitverse. The concept is to allow people a forum to settle real grudges on the TV show with hand-to-hand combat, or to match people up virtually against people who don’t agree with them on something for a video game grudge match. Each episode of the TV show will feature three video game matches.

Rich Melcombe, president and CEO of Richmel Media and Productions

Rich Melcombe, President and CEO of Richmel Media and Productions

Melcombe, president and CEO of Richmel Media and Productions, explains why his television concept was ahead of its time and how this concept can tap into the global popularity of eSports, opening up a new avenue for sponsors and brands, in this exclusive interview.

How successful was Grudge Match the first time around?

Grudge Match was successful, and it surprised us. The New York Times — then the TV standard for acknowledgement — gave us a good review.  In many markets — where the show ran on Saturday late night, we consistently beat Saturday Night Live. We were the number one 18-49 male demo show in our daypart.

Why did you decide to relaunch this brand now

For the last several years, I’ve been working on interactive television and advertising. I have a deal with Fox to test some of our concepts out. We have been using mobile games — specifically designed and built around the messaging of 30-second TV spots — and our research surprised everyone. During a long, frustrating conference call discussing a game tied to a TV show, I looked at my wall and saw the original Grudge Match placard used in the show, and it struck me that the idea to creative a multimedia property was right in front of me.

What role do you see the video game playing in this launch?  

The Grudge Match game is key. If the game does not deliver a good playing experience, the rest of Grudge Match doesn’t matter.

How are you designing the game as an eSport?

Dave Young is our games guru and strategist. He’s working with a terrific team of game developers to build a game that takes skill, but appeals to amateurs too. I’ve met with several sports consultants for the NBA and NFL. I wanted to get an inside perspective on how to build a sport brand. I’ve met with two sports networks too to work on our TV deal. What I learned is that we need to define Grudge Match Sports for the stakeholders — players, spectators/fans, and advertisers, and that all game play needs to be governed by rules and a games committee. Beginning with the players, the Grudge Match game will have three built-in thresholds (amateur, semi-pro and pro). Once a player reaches the semi-pro and pro levels, they will automatically trigger a slew of benefits including sponsorships, guaranteed prize money, and branding opportunities. These players are our athletes, and we need to take care of them. Spectators need a way to connect with the players, and embrace the love of the game, and for them, Grudge Match Universe will be like ESPN. Advertisers need data to support their media buys, and we have put together some pretty cool integrated media plans to leverage the Grudge Match ecosystem.

Who’s your target audience for the game?

Our target audience is 13-49 for game play and 18-49 for advertisers and social media

What have you learned from League of Legends, Dota 2 and Call of Duty in terms of eSports?

Every eSport has its own dynamics, and the fans of those eSports are passionate. We are not trying to compete with any eSport, but rather create a new eSport category that take four minutes to play rather than an hour or more, and is built around a premise. Maybe we could be the Candy Crush of eSports; sometime to do when you’re waiting to do something else

What types of prize money do you see supporting this eSport with at launch?

While we have not focused on prize money yet, I can tell you that we will have logic determining the amounts. The lowest prize money amount will be for local tournaments, and the highest will be for the global invitational tournaments. If players make the TV show, they will receive the greatest amount of prize money. For our streaming platform “Universe,” we are building a function for spectators/fans to”tip” players based on performance. It is possible players could double, triple their prize money. In one of my last interactive tests, I worked with WPP, one of the largest global ad agencies. I’ve spoken with a few of their executives, and they are trying to understand eSports too. I have no doubt that after “proof-of-concept,” we’ll get many brands to work with us from all of the agencies.

What are your plans for the TV show and how will this cross-promote the game?

Two sports networks have indicated they want to work with us, and I believe I could close a deal now, but I’m still analyzing the global TV market, and figuring out how all of the pieces work together. I’ve put together four movies and one TV show globally, so I know the players. What works for us in France and Germany might not work in Australia, and then there is China (I’ve been there 39 times) where I doubt we’ll get a TV deal because of our premise, but we’ll be on one of their online platforms. In terms of cross-promotion of the game, we will control every element of the show hour including advertising and promotion, and with our second screen application built into every game, the viewing experience will be nothing short of amazing. Since I’ve been in the old and new media space for some time, I think that several networks are looking to us to figure out the template for live sporting events going forward.

Why did you decide to create your own livestreaming network rather than going through Twitch?

There are truly no words to describe the success of Twitch. I’m in awe. The reason we decided to create or own platform was for two reasons, one, we did not want Grudge Match to get lost, and two, control. We want to build a business where every piece of our eSport interconnects, and leverages each vertical.

 

 

Nielsen: 40% Of US Households Have SVOD Access And They Watch It More

By: Jessica Klein

Nielsen just came out with its Total Audience Report for the fourth quarter of 2014, which revealed that over 40 percent of US homes use an SVOD service (as of November that year). That’s up from 36 percent of US homes in Q4 of 2013.

 

40% of US Households have SVOD access in Q4 of 2014 says Nielsen

Not only are these homes connected, they’re maximizing the use of their connected devices. According to Nielsen’s report, people in these homes watch almost 50 more minutes TV than a “typical TV home.”

Here are some other important stats you should know from the report…

This article was originally posted on VideoInk and is reposted on [a]listdaily via a partnership with the news publication, which is the online video industry’s go-to source for breaking news, features, and industry analysis. Follow VideoInk on Twitter @VideoInkNews, or subscribe via thevideoink.com for the latest news and stories, delivered right to your inbox.

ARM Brings Enlighten-ment To Gaming

Among the most interesting advances in gaming technology unveiled at GDC is the progress in middleware. This is the key software that allows developers to make better games more swiftly and easily, and it’s become a huge business. Major announcements from GDC included Unity 5, which is boasting improved graphics, and Unreal Engine 4, which has dropped its subscription fee to seek wider adoption by developers.

Both of these development engines utilize a key component: Enlighten, lighting software from Geomerics, a middleware firm that was purchased by ARM in 2013. ARM is the company that designs the basic mobile CPUs and GPUs licensed across the mobile industry, used as the basis for almost all of the smartphones and tablets on the market. Companies are free to modify ARM’s designs for their own chips, as Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, and others do.

At GDC Geomerics announced the release of what they style “the gaming industry’s most advanced dynamic lighting solution yet,” Enlighten 3 with Forge. This new version of the software “delivers cinematic-quality dynamic lighting through an accurate real-time simulation of global illumination; or how light is transferred between surfaces in a scene,” as the company puts it.

“Lighting is the key to artists expressing their creative vision across all forms of high-end graphics, and gaming is no exception to this rule,†said Mark Dickinson, vice president and general manager, media processing group, ARM. “ARM invested in Geomerics to enable gamers to benefit from the enhanced experience that advanced global illumination brings no matter what platform they use. The advances announced today place Enlighten technology at the cutting edge of game lighting quality and computer graphics.â€

While Enlighten boasts a number of advanced features, a few stand out from the business perspective. First, the Forge editor now allows artists to rapidly iterate with high quality real-time lighting. Forge also provides a customizable foundation for integrating Enlighten into any development pipeline thanks to import functionality from Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, and a modular design. The other important feature is the product’s scalablility across platforms, providing advanced, lightweight real-time global illumination technology between mobile, console and desktop platforms. Enlighten is the lighting technology in Unity 5, is available fully integrated into Unreal Engine 3 and 4, and is used by some of the world’s most successful game development studios.

“Unity 5 is the most powerful version of Unity yet, capable of rendering incredible visuals through the combination of physically-based shading and Enlighten’s industry best real-time global illumination technology,” said Joachim Ante, chief technology officer, Unity Technologies. “We’re very happy to have forged a strong long term relationship with Geomerics to ensure Unity’s amazing community of developers has access to Enlighten and all of its benefits.”

The [a]listdaily sat down with Chris Porthouse VP Gaming Middleware for ARM, to discuss Enlighten and how it’s affecting game development indsutry-wide.

Enlighten is aimed at consoles, PCs, and mobile. Does that mean we can now see the same sort of lighting features, and therefore graphics, on all of these platforms?

Enlighten is really scalable, from the very highest end desktop it scales into console and mobile, and next-gen consoles as well. Enlighten is able to utilize all that compute power. You can scale into mobile and do dynamic lighting on mobile as well.

When people talk about mobile devices being equivalent to consoles these days, they’re really talking about being able to use the same lighting and graphics techniques on all platforms, not the sheer number of polygons, right

That’s the good thing with Enlighten. You can turn all the dials up to 11 when you’re on a high-end desktop, or you can turn them down for mobile. It’s the same solution. Developers can use the same workflow, they can use the same assets — you just change slightly how you use those assets.

There’s a lot of time saved with the new Forge tool allowing you to preview in real-time. How are developers responding to that?

For an artist now they can take an existing asset and immediately start lighting it, moving lights around the scene. They can try out new gameplay ideas, which is one of the key things we’re trying to push with Enlighten. How can you use the power of Enlighten to do things you really couldn’t do before

The presentation about Enlighten made a point about how much lighting influences the emotional content of a scene. How do you see this applying to games?

The phrase “console-quality graphics” gets very tired. Let’s talk about “cinematic-quality graphics” and using very beautiful lighting to create a world, whether you’re a game designer or Stanley Kubrick — you use lighting to do that. The artists love this because they can immediately see how they can play around and see what difference that makes. They can create a movie-like feel in a game. It’s not just about creating a mood — you’ll see some developers using this to push the bounds of what a game is. For example, there’s a game called Quantum Conundrum that used Enlighten to change unusual dimensions like “fluffy.” The lighting changes immediately, and you couldn’t have done that any other way. It’s giving designers and developers new ways to create different types of games.

Why did ARM choose to buy Geomerics?

There were a number of reasons. If you look at dynamic global illumination, to do that in real-tim is an incredibly computational-intensive task. Which is good for ARM — we need to solve computationally-intensive problems. We looked at Geomerics and what they were doing, and we saw they could solve global illumination not just at the high end, but they could move into mobile as well. That was why it was interesting to us. We saw that lighting is a key thing in games, it’s absolutely critical. The other reason was we have a really strong ecosystem with ARM — we sell to everybody — and the types of conversations we can now have, now that we have Geomerics, helps influence our CPU and GPU roadmaps. Strategically, it’s important.

From past experience I know that when you design graphics software in concert with hardware design you can usually get much better results. Is that happening with Geomerics and ARM’s designs for future chips?

That’s exactly the conversations we’re having. One of our key developers has actually moved over to the graphics side of the business to do exactly that. He’s helping inform what a GPU should look like, because he’s been working in the console space for the last ten years. He know nothing about hardware design, but he'[s in conversations with our hardware designers about how to make the GPU perform better. This is something that will definitely inform our CPU and GPU roadmap.

Creating Music Magic With Lights and Gestures

Music simulations are pretty common in today’s world, with plenty of mobile and PC-based programs available to teach the very basics of how a tune is put together. However, the team over at Opho have managed to create a keyboard that makes putting together a tune even simpler – users won’t even need to pound away on keys.

The device, called Keys, enables a connection to either a computer or mobile device, then helps produce tunes using a series of gestures and light-up keys on the boards.

It’s not heavy like most keyboards, as it clocks in at around two pounds and enables easy interaction with whatever device it’s plugged into. It utilizes light-up interaction with the keys through proximity-based gestures, and also provides modular link, so that tunes can be easily customized.

With the coordinating Keys app (available through Apple’s App Store), users can learn to play along with a number of songs, as keys light up when they need to press them. A number of songs and modes are available, providing plenty to do for would-be pianists, whether they’re just getting started or can master Beethoven off the back off their hands.

Speaking with PSFK, Idan Beck, founder and CEO of Opho, explained the simplicity of the device. “We’ve taught thousands of people to successfully play the guitar with gTar. Our customers and our team felt that a keyboard-like device would offer even more accessibility, as well as be more portable and affordable. We designed and developed Keys from the ground up to be a modern take on the musical keyboard, leveraging the platform that we originally built for gTar.”

Best of all, the project won’t cost an arm and a leg like most instruments. Pre-orders for the Keys device are available now, selling for around $88 (down from the usual $99 price tag). In addition, Opho has vowed to donate some of the proceeds to the Immunity Project, a non-profit company devoted to developing a free HIV vaccine.

The video below shows just how easy the keyboard is to use. If Opho can find the right marketing angle, there’s no reason that it can’t be successful in the music/electronics industry – and that’s music to the company’s ears.

 

PlayStation Debuts Original, Live-Action Series ‘Powers’

By: Jessica Klein

PlayStation’s original series Powers debuted yesterday with its first three episodes, marking the company’s first live-action series.

Powers is now available for people to watch on PS3 and PS4 in addition to PlayStation’s YouTube channel (if you’re just looking for episode one) and website. The first episode runs for one hour and is free for everyone. Seven more will follow the initial three, all of which PlayStation Plus members can watch for free (others have to pay per episode through the PlayStation Store).

Here’s episode one…

This article was originally posted on VideoInk and is reposted on [a]listdaily via a partnership with the news publication, which is the online video industry’s go-to source for breaking news, features, and industry analysis. Follow VideoInk on Twitter @VideoInkNews, or subscribe via thevideoink.com for the latest news and stories, delivered right to your inbox.