Microsoft Leading Consoles On Free-To-Play Games

In the past, if players were looking for free-to-play games, they’d have to turn to either PC or mobile devices to find them. However, given Microsoft’s recent business decisions, it appears that the company is quite serious about bringing the format to Xbox One – in a number of ways.

A few decisions over the past week have fueled that change in direction, including the announcement of Wargaming’s highly popular World of Tanks for Xbox One (following its massive success on Xbox 360); the multiplayer action game Gigantic, which will be coming from Motiga sometime later this year; the confirmation that Microsoft’s own Fable Legends would be a free-to-play release, structured in a similar manner to Riot Games’ immensely popular League of Legends; and Hi-Rez Studios’ Smite, which has been confirmed to go into early access testing on the Xbox One starting this week.

So what does this mean It means that Microsoft is starting to move forward on the idea of offering free content for Xbox Live regular and Gold members alike, providing a number of alternatives for those who might be too tight on a budget to purchase a $60 title. The company is no stranger to the format, as it’s introduced hit games like Happy Wars and World of Tanks on the Xbox 360, generating huge audiences as a result.

The Xbox One got a free-to-play boost in the past year as well, including titles like Killer Instinct, Project Spark and Warframe (which is also available on PS4) providing a good amount of gameplay with no purchase required. (Microsoft also released the active Xbox Fitness program to Xbox Live Gold members for no charge.)

This new avenue of business could be good for not only players, but developers as well. Expanding highly regarded franchises to a new format can be a tremendous value to publishers, enabling them to bring a similar yet somehow new experience to players, and opening the door to potential business through microtransaction purchases and other features – without gouging them like crazy, as some “freemium” models have been known for in the past.

Microsoft can also benefit from this shift, as it not only brings more of these projects on board its system, but can also advertise them as a key ingredient to the success of Xbox One. While its focus on premium games like Halo 5: Guardians would remain steadfast, the company could easily promote free-to-play releases to its Xbox Live Gold members, thus increasing memberships and benefits to make the service worthwhile. Free weekend events could also be more concurrent, allowing those who don’t yet have Xbox Live Gold the chance to see what it’s like to be a member – and maybe even offer a discounted rate as well, as it did in the past month, lowering its price temporarily to $39.99 for one year.

It’s too soon to tell just how well these titles will do, but if the numbers from Happy Wars, Project Spark and World of Tanks are any indication, they’re bound to be hits – and that’s good news all around, for players, developers, publishers and Microsoft alike.

Zoolander At Paris Fashion Week Is Pure Online Gold

“It’s that damn Hansel! He’s so hot right now!”

Will Ferrell’s iconic line as fashion mogul Mugatu in the 2001 over-the-top comedy film directed by and starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson is feeling especially on-point right now.

Fourteen years later, both Hansel and Zoolander are at it again in today’s understated marketing move of the moment: they appeared together on the Valentino runway at Paris Fashion Week to announce a long-awaited upcoming sequel to Zoolander.

Ad Age has already dubbed it “the smartest and most delightful marketing move since The Simpsons took over 7-Eleven.”

It’s landed them a heap of buzz as the story is trending on Twitter. Paramount, which also tweeted the stunt scored a viral hit which even Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour got in on in a backstage video.

With the sequel being released on February 12 of next year, about 11 months away, it will be interesting to see what other marketing moves the folks at Paramount have up their sleeves.


Marriott’s First Original Film Is Here

Clocking in at 17 minutes, 37 seconds, the first original film from Marriott’s Content Studio, titled Two Bellmen, fits a lot of action into that relatively short period of time. Filmed on location at JW Marriott LA Live, much of the hotel is featured throughout.

The film was released digitally today on as well as Facebook and YouTube, with the help of the the social team at Ayzenberg. The short is also getting a limited theatrical release and will be available to play in JW Marriott guest rooms.

Two Bellmen combines music, movement, and talent from TV, film, and digital to tell an entertaining story where the brand simply plays a character,” said David Beebe, the film’s executive producer and vice president at Creative and Content Marketing at Marriott International in a press release this morning .

“Marketing as interruption is over, and Two Bellmen propels our strategy of providing entertaining and informative content that adds value and helps build a community of people passionate about travel who ultimately drive commerce for Marriott’s global brands, such as JW Marriott.”

Two Bellmen was created in collaboration with Substance Over Hype and is a part of Marriott Content Studio’s wider collaboration efforts on a branded digital project, a TV series for Renaissance Hotels distributed on AXS TV with AEG, native content on Medium and a Snapchat initiative as well as working with well-known YouTubers.


The Lessons Of GDC 2015

The 2015 Game Developers Conference is ended, and it’s back to work for the 26,000 attendees. As usual, though, the GDC leaves an indelible impression, and plenty of information to digest. As well, the conference is a window into the future of the game industry, as developers (and the companies that seek to influence or sell to them) are showing by word and deed what will be important in the future.

“As with every year, GDC offered a glimpse into the future of gaming, but still honored the history of the industry,” said Meggan Scavio, general manager of the event. “This year’s success is a testament to the hard work of the staff, volunteers, speakers, indies and students who maintained a fun and safe environment for everyone at the show. As the conference enters its 30th year, we reflect on the tremendous growth in the medium of video games, and we’re thankful for the friendly faces, engrossing debates and friendly discussions we’ve had along the way.”

First of all, the very size of the show tells you something important — the game industry continues to grow (the number of attendees is a new record), and all segments of the industry are looking to improve. Gaming is becoming an ever more important part of the global culture, and its near-ubiquity means plenty of opportunity for those who can create interesting interactive experiences.

The new hotness this year is clearly attached to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in a variety of flavors. VR and AR were everywhere at GDC, from the Expo floor to a variety of sessions to a number of compelling demos. Ah, but will VR or AR be The Next Big Thing That’s hard to say at this point. SuperData CEO Joost van Dreunen feels that the sheer scope of the investment into the category means there will be a good-sized audience. Then again, 3D TV was going to be a huge thing, as was 3D displays in gaming — and that fizzled out.

Still, interest and excitement over VR and AR is clearly high in the game development community despite the fact that we still don’t know when these devices will arrive or how much they will cost. Many developers see the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a market segment that may become huge, and they are eager to be there when it does. After watching how early leaders in social and mobile games used those new segments to grow their companies, it’s easy to see the appeal.

At the same time, larger publishers are more cautious. Trying to create a AAA equivalent title for VR would be a very costly undertaking, and there are certainly more dependable ways to invest that sort of capital in games. For now, big game publishers are mostly staying on the sidelines, adopting a wait and see attitude. The exceptions, of course, are Sony and Microsoft, who have their own VR/AR hardware under development, and thus plan to be at the forefront of whatever size industry develops — while making money from both the hardware and the software.

Elsewhere at GDC, we saw the newer segments of the game industry taking increasing mind share among sessions and summits. An entire summit was devoted to eSports, for instance, showing the growing influence of that sector. Riot Games had a number of sessions dealing with player behavior and how this can be made better industry-wide, a laudable goal.

Mobile games and online games were, of course, very well represented in the sessions, but you could see the real strength of those sectors in the job fair, where hiring was dominated by mobile and online studios. The industry isn’t staffing up in traditional sectors, but many people are still moving into mobile and online games. There’s plenty of vigor in mobile games, as many seem to feel that we are still at the very early stages of what mobile games can and should become.

Middleware is flourishing, with Unity’s booth occupying a prime piece of real estate right at the front of the Expo as a sign of how important that category is to developers. Today, it’s a rare developer that codes their own engine, when you can work in Unreal Engine 4 or Unity and see much of the hard work already done for you. There are also plenty of companies offering animation help, motion-capture, lighting and sound support, and every other possible assistance that developers could want in making games. With more and more game developers, there are more and more opportunities to sell them tools.

That tool industy isn’t confined to the development end of the business. Companies that address business and marketing functions were very much in evidence, offering help to developers in marketing, advertising, monetization, and community. The power of technology is now being harnessed to help marketers and business development and community relations, and that’s vital to the health of developers — especially smaller ones.

The aspiring developer isn’t being neglected either. We can see just how important the games industry is by the number of university programs offering degrees for it, and many of them had booths in the GDC Expo. Games are at the intersection of Art and Technology, and universities are working to teach students the disciplines they need to produce games. It’s not just practical education, either — many of the universities are conducting research into games, and those research programs may well influence the games of the future.

While new areas of the gaming industry were very much in evidence at GDC, consoles are still seen as the premium game experience — and the home of the big-budget games that define the very industry for so many people. That’s perhaps why the very concept of the console is under assault. Two big companies, Nvidia and Valve, are among those assaulting the very definition of the console. Valve is attempting to bring PC gaming into the living room right smack-dab next to consoles with a variety of Steam Machines, while Nvidia’s Shield console is bringing both high-quality Android gaming and PC game streaming into the same spot. Will they succeed That’s not clear, but the competition will be fierce — and great for gamers.

Overall, GDC 2015 demonstrates that there is no one true path to success in games. The game industry is big enough to allow multiple paths, and there’s plenty of exploration going on as companies large and small seek to satisfy the growing demand for games around the world. It’s an exciting time in the game industry, and that excitement was very much in evidence throughout GDC 2015.

Apple Watch Redefines The Wearable Market

So it’s officially happening – the Apple Watch will launch in the U.S. on April 24th, featuring a number of compatible apps and features, and ranging anywhere in price from $350 to $10,000 or more, depending on which model consumers want to go for and the choice of wristbands.

But along with a refined interest in Apple products, the announcement could also bring good news for the wearable tech market in general. ABC News has reported that the Watch will be a big seller for Apple, but will also generate interest in other pieces of technology, which will be good news for competitors.

“There is clearly interest in the category,” said Ben Wood, chief of research for CCS Insight. “If Apple can make this work and they can give the industry a few pointers, then I think you’re going to see the other players saying, ‘We’re going to have another go.’ I think you’ll see a halo effect.”

Although Apple’s Watch won’t be the first one on the market – Samsung beat it to the punch a few months ago with its own model – it will no doubt be one of the most popular, in spite of its price (compared to other watches). Its compatibility and apps will give it widespread appeal, form all appearances. The demo today showed how the Watch can take phone calls, process messages, and even summon a car via Uber — as well as pay for products at 700,000 different locations and open compatible hotel room doors. The broad array of functionality is sure to be expanded as developers hop on board, and don’t be surprised when games start appearing on the Watch.

While Apple’s new wearable will no doubt be off to a strong start, its relatively high base price (and stratospheric high-end price) will keep people looking at other, lower-priced alternatives. Pebble is another company that has stood out with its wearable tech line-up, according to CCS Insight. The company revealed a number of watches that come with various sizes and features, which can cater to audiences that aren’t necessarily looking for Apple’s.

“I think it is interesting for Pebble to get out there and highlight its capabilities” with the devices, according to Wood.

Now it’s just a matter of prodding tablet and iPhone owners to upgrade to an Apple Watch. “What I am hoping to see are the reasons why I need an Apple Watch in my life,” Wood continued. “I think Apple has been very smart in announcing this ahead of time. They were able to control the message. The single biggest advantage that I see is the fact that they were able to exploit their most valuable asset: the development community.”

It’s still too early to tell if the Apple Watch will be a big hit, but, judging by the buzz on the Apple site following its revealing of details, we could be in for a huge shift in the wearable tech market. And that’s good news for all involved, not just the “big A”.

The Growing Power of Podcasts

Some may think that podcasting is a simple art, putting a microphone in front of them and recording themselves saying what they want about a number of topics. However, there’s a certain finesse to doing the right kind of podcast, the kind that generates big audience numbers and more interest in the field.

That said, it appears that interest in podcasting has grown immensely, according to a number of new charts put up by Digiday. The site reports that a full 17 percent of the U.S. population 12 and over listen to at least one podcast per month, based on an Edison Research study.

The first chart above indicates that around 27 million Americans listen to a podcast once a week, based on a random sampling of 2,000 Americans aged 12 and up. There was a slight drop in listenership back in 2013, but the numbers continue to grow steadily over the years, reaching the 17 percent peak for this year. This shows that there’s still a great interest in podcasts, ranging across various topics from television to video games to entertainment.

The Serial podcast show continues to be the most successful podcast out there, with an audience of over six million unique downloads per episode (according to Podtrac). The show has managed to rack up 72 million total downloads in all, with roughly 24 million of those taking place this year. As you can see from the numbers above, it was able to generate a strong “off-season” ad campaign, and will no doubt continue to increase going into its second season.

That said, advertising for podcasts remains minimal at best, mainly because audiences are still growing for it. The podcast ad market spend is around $34 million, and should remain on that level through 2016, according to a ZenithOptimedia report. A good portion consist of wealthy or “well-to-do” types, with 24 percent of Americans with a college degree listening to the shows, while 26 percent of those make more than $100,000 annually, according to Infinite Dial.

Podcasting “is really interesting from a sizzle perspective as a media professional,” said John Tuchtenhagen, senior vice president of media at Digitas, “but in terms of scale, it’s a pebble in the ocean compared to Spotify or Pandora or terrestrial radio.”

There is room for even more growth, as many companies have featured their advertising on podcasts, like Google, PayPal and HBO. More companies should take interest as well, with advertising results in 62 percent average unaided ad recall, an 81 percent average increase in product or service awareness, a 187 percent increase in usage content (the highest overall) and a 69 percent average brand favorability rating. So, yes, there’s a market there.

If you haven’t heard podcasts lately, definitely do some shopping around. Whether it’s Serial, the array of ESPN podcasts or the likable nature of Gamertag Radio, there’s definitely something to listen to.

The Changing Scope Of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has come a long way in such a short amount of time. Evolving from a mere fad in the late 80’s and early 90’s into something far more intricate for this generation of technology, it’s about to lead a major shift in how consumers can interact with products, whether they’re immersive 3D games or movie-style experiences.

Better still, it seems that there’s something for everyone, despite budget. Aside from the deluxe units like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s recently announced Vive, Google’s Cardboard project provides a deep virtual reality experience without having to worry about the boisterous price tag. Re/code recently posted impressions of the device, highlighting the ups (a wide assortment of app usage and convenient use) and downs (your phone battery gets drained quickly by the number of programs) of using it. Obviously, it’s not as high-tech as the other devices, but also not that high in price – and that could be a driving factor to its success.

This can also open the door for developers to make a killing on the virtual reality market, since the store for the Gear VR opened last week at the opening of the Game Developers Conference. This enables tech makers to really produce some killer demos for an affordable price, even though virtual reality itself still has yet to find a voice in the consumer market. (The Oculus Rift, Vive and other models aren’t available just yet.)

Still, the future can be filled with potential, according to NDTV. “The truth is, we still don’t know what the best applications are going to be,” said John Carmack, chief technology office for Oculus, speaking at a recent conference. And there’s no doubt that the Vive is gaining huge buzz from those who saw it at the GDC event, even to the point that it could be a clear competitor for the Oculus. (No word yet how it’ll hold against the budget-priced Google Cardboard, though.)

Whatever the case, virtual reality has a huge chance to succeed as a business instead of just a fad, with a number of competitors and developers really taking strides in how effective it can truly be. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how well it adapts to the consumer market, how affordable it can be (the Google Cardboard is a huge example of this) and what kind of experiences will be able to draw us in. One thing’s for sure – the future is definitely getting interesting on a virtual level.

ESPN Brings The eSports Competition

Some people believed that eSports wouldn’t find a place on broadcast television, due to a lack of interest in the field compared to traditional sports. However, that isn’t stopping some major networks from trying to take part in eSports competitions, as it’s a growing phenomenon that attracts millions of viewers and fans.

ESPN is the latest network to take this gamble, as it will once again bring eSports to the forefront with the forthcoming Heroes of the Dorm event, which kicks off later this month and concludes in late April, according to MCV.

American and Canadian university students will compete in Blizzard’s action-packed Heroes of the Storm multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, in the hopes of waiting over $450,000 in tuition fee contributions. The winning team will be able to earn up to $25,000 per year for the remainder of their time at the university of their choosing, while senior and graduate students will be able to apply a contribution towards their student loan repayments.

ESPN plays to televise the eSports event within the area, although there’s no word if it will see national broadcast. At the very least, it should also be available for online viewing, especially considering that eSports-style events get big numbers online. Tournaments that have run over on are clear evidence of that.

This is quite a turnaround for ESPN when it comes to the thought of eSports, as the president of the sports network, John Skipper, stated that the competitive event is “not a sport” and even compared it to a competition level along the lines of chess. Perhaps the network changed its mind when it saw what kind of numbers events were drawing both online and in person (like any given League of Legends tournament, which generates huge interest regularly).

That’s not to say we’ll be seeing eSports coverage on a weekly basis, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. And who knows, ESPN may sponsor more events like this and slowly grasp that eSports are just as popular as traditional sports. And a little more exciting than golf matches, yes

Check out the teaser trailer for Heroes of the Dorm below.

5 Emerging Brand Channels On YouTube

By: Jessica Klein

These days, more and more brands have begun to understand the need to engage consumers online as well as on TV. The ones who know their target demographic will turn to YouTube to get their video fix have made some smart moves on the platform, showcasing their commercials there for the growing number of cord-cutters, cord-nevers, and cord-sometimes (yeah, we’re making that last one a term).

In order to create a YouTube channel that people will actually engage with, these five brands have gone beyond just putting their commercials on the web. They’ve created channels fully packed with creative content, relying on partnerships with “traditional” celebrities and YouTube personalities alike to bring in viewers. Original series sit next to commercials in these five emerging branded channels on YouTube, found through OpenSlate’s Emerging Talent Tracker tool.

 5. Fitbit

  • SlateScore: 327
  • Total Subs: 7,479
  • Monthly Views: 1,589,220

Featuring exercise videos and the brand’s commercials, Fitbit’s YouTube channel manages to be useful and entertaining.

Read more…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 for the latest news and stories, delivered right to your inbox.



Why Your Brand Gets Unfollowed And What You Can Do About It

It takes a whole lot of work to get users to follow your brand on social media and the larger your following, the more users you are able to reach with each post. The last thing you’d want is for those users to leave in droves.

Fractl and Buzzstream surveyed 900 social media users about how frequently they weed out brands they no longer feel kinship with and why. In terms of loyalty, LinkedIn users tend to unfollow brands quite unfrequently, with almost 50 percent of users saying they have never unfollowed a brand there. Facebook sees the highest percentage of brand unfollows, with 25 percent saying they had unfollowed a brand in the past month, but Twitter followers proved fickle, too, as 12 percent unfollowed a brand in the past few days alone.

Content is super-important to users as well as how active the brand is on their channel. Twenty-one percent of users say they unfollow brands whose content is boring, 19 percent said they unfollow if the brand posts are too frequent, and less than 15 percent say they unfollow a brand if they perceive the content is irrelevant to the brand itself.

Users prefer to see images (22 percent), videos (15 percent) and customer reviews (15 percent) as content types from the brand. There are content types that social media users avoid like the plague, too. Twelve percent of respondants said they don’t like brands posting white papers, 11 percent don’t want to read your e-books, and 8 percent aren’t particularly interest in your company news.

While these are good general recommendations, the content that works best for one platform may not perform as good on another. This is why it’s very important to have particular goals in mind and a social strategy that leverages those platforms best.

If you’re posting content that is irrelevant to your brand, you can be sure users are aware of it and will put you to task.