Epic: VR Is Good, But AR Has A Future

There’s a lot of hype going into the forthcoming wave of virtual reality-based devices, including Sony’s own Project Morpheus and Facebook’s Oculus Rift technology. However, according to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, the focus should be going elsewhere – augmented reality, or AR for short.

Speaking with GamesIndustry International, Sweeney doesn’t believe that VR is a “fad”, as Warren Spector recently stated, but it will have its limitations. “VR is a 150 million user audience, but it’s not for the whole world. Whereas AR, if you look out a number of years I bet the majority of mankind will have an AR device – it will redefine interaction with computers and replace computer monitors, tablets, televisions and every kind of play technology. I think it’s the next big development in the history of civilization, if you put it in perspective,” Sweeney stated.

So far, some AR demonstrations have left people less than thrilled (the Minecraft for HoloLens demo at E3 being an exception), though the potential is certainly there with the right developers on board. “It’s a ways out, it’s not going to provide the experience for hardcore gamers in the next couple of years whereas VR is doing that right now,” explained Sweeney.

That doesn’t mean that Epic isn’t preparing for a VR future, though. It’s already adapted its Unreal Engine 4-based technology for the Oculus. “Unreal provides all the hooks for the major VR devices. You focus 95 percent of your effort on building a game and the remaining five percent goes into tweaking it for the different configurations,” said Sweeney.

CTO Kim Libreri added his two cents on the matter, talking about experiences. “We have a large community that makes Unreal experiences and games… I liken it to the birth of film, people are just working out what the laws are. I actually think the openness we’re seeing in the industry about what works, what doesn’t work, how to avoid motion sickness, the coolest way to move a player around a space, these things are really great because we all have to learn these things before we can make a great experience. We’re very happy to be part of that,” he said.

There is plenty of excitement behind virtual reality, and for good reason, according to Libreri. “I think creatively, people like new challenges when they’re building stuff – you get into games or any creative [career] because you love it and you want to innovate and have your consumers, your audience experience a new thing. Even though there’s this whole new rule set that has to be established for this next generation of VR games, most designers and developers love this challenge because it levels the playing field. For this first few years of this new medium, you’re not going to have to necessarily make the big AAA Call of Duty style games. I think people will just be very happy to be entertained, as long as they believe in the space or the characters and world that’s presented to them.

“They don’t have to have a very complicated experience because they’re novel and new. On the technical side, we try to help people by supporting the major platforms to make it a little bit easier – but we do have the issue that you’re trying to render very high resolution frames in stereo at a high frame rate. You have to be clever about your content and make sure performance is something you think about, but it’s the creative challenges that are all new; they’re not scary, people love it.”

More of the interview can be found here.

Microsoft Gives Games With Gold A Boost With More Freebies

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since Microsoft initially introduced its Games With Gold program, in which certain game titles are offered free of charge to users who subscribe to Xbox Live Gold. The program has matured quite a bit over the years, offering more blockbuster titles, as well as exclusive first-day releases, such as Pool Nation FX and #IDARB.

Now, the program is expanding even further. According to the Xbox Wire page, starting with next month’s offerings, Xbox Live members will now get double the games on a monthly basis on the Xbox One, instead of just the one default title. Over the past few months, Microsoft has been hinting at such an expansion, offering two titles instead of the usual one, including the likes of the role-playing adventure Massive Chalice and other titles.

The titles will be offered on a monthly basis, but broken out into two-week periods. Up first, free from July 1st to 31st, is the Ubisoft pirating adventure Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Following on July 16th (through August 15th) is the puzzle/platforming adventure So Many Me’s.

The program will also continue on the Xbox 360 with two titles offered every month. July 1-15 will see the availability of PopCap’s puzzle game Plants Vs. Zombies, while the classic sequel Gears of War 3 will be offered from July 16-31.

“It’s been two years and we hope you’ve enjoyed playing all the amazing games as much as we have,” said the company in a statement. “We look forward to many more games to share with the Xbox community.”

Such a move is an effective one by Microsoft, as it not only allows the company to thank its hardcore gaming community, but also bolsters the opportunity to sell more Xbox Live Gold subscriptions. Adding freebie games to a service such as this will certainly serve as a benefit, especially if more AAA-based game titles like Black Flag are involved.

The full details on the Games With Gold program can be found here.

Nintendo’s ‘Skylanders’ Team-Up Is A Huge Win

Last week’s Electronics Entertainment Expo produced a number of surprises for fans around the industry, including a few from Nintendo, such as the introduction of a new StarFox game. However, what’s even more surprising is how the publisher is collaborating with Activision to produce a special version of Skylanders SuperChargers for Nintendo systems.

The companies announced this past week that the Wii U, Wii and Nintendo 3DS versions of Skylanders will be compatible with two special figures and vehicles straight from Nintendo’s library of characters – Bowser and Donkey Kong. In fact, those who pre-order the game will get both of these characters, along with their respective vehicles, with the Starter Pack of the game when it becomes available on September 20th. (Better still, the Donkey Kong and Bowser figurines can also double as amiibo figurines for other games, like Super Smash Bros. and others.)

This is a huge win for Nintendo, an exclusive that will no doubt make the Nintendo versions of the game more popular than the ones appearing on other platforms.

“Activision Blizzard has always cherished our collaboration with Nintendo, and we are grateful for decades of partnership. Since we made the first toys-to-life game, some of our most dedicated players have been Nintendo fans around the world. Skylanders is delighted to welcome beloved guest stars Donkey Kong and Bowser into its magical world,” said Activision Blizzard chief executive officer Bobby Kotick, speaking with Business Wire.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata also praised the team-up, indicating that this unique approach would make the franchise more appealing on Nintendo platforms – even older ones like the Wii.

Both Donkey Kong and Bowser bring their own signature attacks to the game, such as Donkey Kong calling flinging barrels at foes and pounding the ground with his hands, and Bowser turning into a “mega” version of himself, stomping around and breathing fire. He can also call upon loyal Koopas to do his dirty work for him, or stomp on their backs and create powerful projectiles to hit foes.

It appears that Activision is pledging itself to the Wii U again. The company was stagnant last year, with only a new Skylanders game for the system and no sign of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but this year tells a different story, between this partnership and the forthcoming music sim Guitar Hero Live, which will come to the platform this October. There’s still no word on Call of Duty: Black Ops III, though.

The trailer for SuperChargers is below.


How Twitter Is Helping Brands Win The Moment

A lot of brands like using Twitter when it comes to spreading the world about their products, but some of them are still hesitant, mainly due to concerns that they can’t quite convey their ads as effectively as they’d like. Fortunately, there’s a team for that.

Twitter’s Ross Hoffman, alongside his team, helps plan certain aspects of social media on the site. The team helps lay the groundwork for campaigns that in turn would help these companies “win the moment” with the right catchy message.

It looks like a simple marketing effort, but a lot of work goes into it, according to Hoffman, who recently spoke about it during a visit to Cannes. “Our mission here is to meet with our largest brand and agency partners for the week to talk about the second half of the year and talk about 2016 to get as upstream as possible,” he explained.

Hoffman is leading the drive when it comes to assisting brands to advertise on all of Twitter’s channels, including the short-form Vine video format, live streaming Periscope and autoplay. Niche, a recently formed creative agency that focuses on web celebrities, is also improved to an extent.

It’s all about the brands finding the right message, according to Hoffman. “They understand that they want to be on the platform but having the content strategy is something they look to us for,” he said. Brands usually point out something along the lines of “This is your product. Help us out.” In which Hoffman and his team oblige with a number of strategies.

One example of how a campaign can be effective on Twitter is with Coca-Coca’s recent stint, where personalized messages were sent via virtual bottles to users, as part of its “Share a Coke” campaign. “You see a Promoted Tweet with your name on it and you’re like, ‘Whoa, how does that work ” said Hoffman. It’s mainly through “serendipitous, cool moments for consumers with the brand, at scale.”

And it’s a practice that Facebook and Google are starting to take notice with, and perfect on their own – a job easier said than done considering their different formats.

As for other formats, like Periscope, there’s a lot of potential, as French-based telecom company Orange recently proved per the video below.


Is Verizon Really Well-Positioned For The Streaming TV Business?

by Allen Weiner

Those who follow the overlapping worlds of online video, streaming services, live online TV, and all of its permutations have short (or perhaps selective) memories. The excitement over Verizon closing the mega-deal to purchase AOL is, to say the least, misplaced. Many believe VZ’s assets in the area of a live-TV platform (the one it bought from Intel), snazzy ad-tech platform (from AOL), and infrastructure pieces (which it calls Acquire) make it a sure-fire bet to launch a successful service to compete with SlingSony Vue, and others who want to place a bet on the video services roulette wheel.

The facts tell us that Verizon will face more than a few challenges in its attempt to innovate in the TV service space. Wait, Verizon already is in the TV services space with an IPTV product called FIOS. What’s this we hear, customers, partners, and municipalities are PO-ed at Verizon for not living up to its promises when given permission to operate in their jurisdiction When the biggest city in the US calls your service “an egregious failure,” what are you chances for goodwill in any future similar endeavors Seven years ago, Verizon promised everyone in New York who wanted the service they would be granted their wish. As many reports point out, that was an empty promise.

Keep reading…

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.


‘Vainglory’ Delivers Core Gaming Engagement to Mobile

One of the interesting trends visible at this year’s E3, if you looked beneath the surface, is the increasing reach of mobile games into the core gaming territory. There’s no better example of this than Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory, a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) designed for touchscreens. The game has been in beta on iOS since late last year, and now Vainglory is coming out of beta with its official launch on July 2 for iOS and Android devices.

Vainglory will celebrate its official global launch with an exclusive event broadcast live from Twitch Headquarters, taking place in San Francisco on July 1. The launch update to Vainglory introduces new key features and content such as Android support for over 150 devices, Casual and Ranked queues, a three-tiered skins system and hours of tutorial content for new players. “We are determined to shatter preconceived notions about what’s possible on touch devices and bring the core gamer experience we grew up with to the mobile generation,” said Bo Daly, CEO and co-founder of Super Evil Megacorp. “Super Evil Megacorp is not a ‘mobile games studio’ —we make core games for core gamers and believe touch screens are the future primary core gaming devices.”

Super Evil’s COO and creative director Kristian Segerstrale spoke with [a]listdaily about the launch and what it means for core gaming on mobile platforms.

How does the team feel about reaching the milestone of an official launch date for Vainglory?

It’s equal parts incredible excitement and being absolutely terrified right now. We’ve been working with the player community for a long time to improve the features, and we’ve added tons of features. When Vainglory originally went live in the West about seven months ago the feature set was still very core, and very bare bones. Now that we’ve finally got the feature set that contains a casual queue for more casual players, where you can start before you try ranked gaming, we feel like we’re finally ready to invite in the masses, including the Android players. We’ve been working very hard to make sure we’re ready for it.

Vainglory’s Rona the Berserker

What surprising things have you learned since the beta launch of Vainglory?

I think there are three important things. The first and foremost is the sheer amount of time core gamers are willing to play on touchscreens. The established wisdom was people want to play three or four minutes at a time, maybe 20 or 30 minutes a day. The average session length for Vainglory is 24 minutes, and the average time spent per day is now north of 80 minutes per player. That has been a wonderful, pleasant surprise, to see that core gamers are ready to spend nearly as much time as they do on other gaming platforms. That shows us gamers are willing to make touchscreens their primary gaming platform, which was always the intent.

The second pleasant surprise is how quickly the community has embraced competitive gaming. We expected to be building Vainglory for years before the eSports scene happened, and here we are two weeks ahead of the world’s first invitational tournament in Korea at an eSports stadium with the best teams from every continent. That to us is super exciting. We’re excited by the trajectory. It’s early days still, but the velocity with which the community has embraced competitive play has taken us by surprise.

The third thing that has been interesting to observe is the amount of spontaneous Vainglory get-togethers that are being organized by the community, LAN party style. It was always our hope and our vision that at some point in time people have the same experience that we have here in the office, where we get to play with each other around the table. The sheer level of noise and fun from that experience is something we really want to get our players to feel. It’s been fun watching people around the world self-organizing into Vainglory events.

What can you tell us about Vainglory players? Are they core gamers on console and PC who have taken up Vainglory, or are you attracting some number of players who don’t think of themselves as core gamers?

Bear in mind that so far we’ve worked with an early adopter player base. When we look at the people who play Vainglory a lot, more than a hundred matches, the thing that we’ve been super-encouraged by is that yes, half of them identified as core gamers in that they played core games on a PC previously and they found Vainglory for that reason. But we’ve also been very encouraged by the fact that for half of our players, Vainglory is their very first MOBA. They’ve never played another MOBA before, and they’ve now gotten into Vainglory enough that they’ve played more than a hundred matches. We’ve been very pleased to see we’ve been able to create accessibility to a genre that’s traditionally been very inaccessible to newer players, and we’ve been able to do that without compromising on the strategic depth.

Now that you’ve reached the official launch and completed the core set of features, what is the next stage in Vainglory’s evolution?

We’re very happy to be here — it’s an important milestone — but that said, we’re still at the very beginning. There are three important axes we want to evolve the game along, and one of them is certainly competitive. We want to make sure we bring more of that into the game itself. We’ve really enjoyed the competitive scene, and you can see the explosion in the number of Twitch viewers the game has had, and the competitive scene is largely responsible for that. Helping those competitive players compete inside the game we think is pretty important. That competitive arc both inside of the game and outside of the game, in terms of leagues and tournaments, is one important axis.

Another important axis is just the social features and communications features inside the actual game. One thing you may notice that’s entirely missing in the game right now is any form of team or guild affiliation. Our players are self-organizing the teams and guilds, they create web pages and Twitter accounts, but we don’t support any of that in-game. The community is ahead of us in all of these things in every respect, and all we’re trying to do is meet their expectations inside the game itself.

Finally, one of the things that’s been a big focus for us is to work with local player communities. We are now very actively working with local communities to make sure wherever people play Vainglory, they are supported by a community of content creators, strategy guides and a set of players who are very actively engaged with each other. Fundamentally our dream is not just to be creating a game like any other computer game, but we’re hoping to create something more akin to basketball, which is a game that you play. But it’s really about the people that you play it with, and it being a part of your life because you care about playing it, watching it, and being with friends and interacting with friends around it.

‘Terminator Genisys’ Gets New Interactive Game In Theaters

The Terminator has been making quite a few headlines in the social media world lately. First, he appeared in a virtual reality-enabled video put together by YouTube; then he was the subject of a series of GIF videos to advertise his return. Now, with Terminator Genisys ready to hit movie screens in just a few days, he’s coming back with a new interactive game for select theaters.

The Business Insider reports that Paramount has announced a special interactive game that will allow players to keep up with on-screen actions at select IMAX locations at AMC theaters. With it, audience members who sit down can join a secure Wi-Fi network (without the need to load a secondary app) and join in a team-based game, where they must fight off against waves of incoming Terminators.

Players will be assigned to one of four teams fighting against the killer robots, based on settings from the Genisys film. From there, these players can point their phones at the movie screen while clicking a button to shoot and kill Terminator cyborgs. In short, it turns your mobile device into a temporary light gun, similar to what the NES did with the Zapper and Duck Hunt. (But obviously on a much larger scale – and with Terminators.) The page that users will load appears as follows.

The game only lasts three minutes — and stops when the movie starts — but it provides a fun activity while waiting for it to start. In addition, the winning team for each showing at participating theaters will walk away with a collectible Terminator Genisys poster

Only five locations — York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas — will take part in the game, but with enough success, future projects could come to more movie screens.

“For the first time ever, moviegoers can engage with each other in an interactive, digital setting from their own theater seats,” said Megan Wahtera, Senior Vice President of Interactive Marketing, Paramount Pictures in a press release. “This unique opportunity is a great way to bring rich online experiences to the big screen to celebrate the release of ‘Terminator Genisys.'”

For those that can’t take part in the big-screen fun, there’s also a mobile game, Terminator Genisys: Revolution. It is available for download now on iOS and Android {link no longer active}.

Genisys releases in theaters July 1st. The movie trailer is below.



Mattel’s Barbie Takes On Video Blogging

It’s hard to believe that Mattel’s Barbie doll has been around for well over 50 years. What’s even harder to believe is that she hasn’t taken up “vlogging” – or video blogging – until just recently.

But that’s just what happened to the iconic female doll, who recently posted her first video blog over on her official YouTube page. According to The Daily Dot, the video, which has already seen more than 100,000 views, features the popular doll talking about things going on in her virtual life, from the comfort of her bedroom.

“My friends and I just really love sharing new ideas. New music, favorite movies, videos, tips on personal style,” Barbie says in the clip, talking about why she wanted to give “vlogging” a try.

If her video, posted below, looks familiar, that’s because it emulates a style similar to other popular “vloggers,” including Bethany Mota and Meg DeAngelis.

With creating the video, Mattel made sure it covered the “vlogging” basics, as Barbie basically discusses “fun facts about me,” similar to Mota’s “5 Random Facts About Me” {link no longer active} clip posted back in 2010.

This marks the latest move by the popular doll into social media, following opening up an Instagram account that has attracted quite the audience, with over 828,000 followers and counting. As you might expect, the account consists of a number of photos featuring Barbie performing day-to-day activities.

With the “vlogging” page, however, Barbie is able to exhibit more of a personality that fans can relate to, while at the same time giving a nod to fellow “vloggers” who have found similar success in their art form.

Whether Mattel can retain this consistency with future videos has yet to be seen, but considering the popularity of this first entry, Barbie could have quite a “vlogging” future ahead of her.


Instant Articles Could Become Facebook’s Next Big Feature

The Facebook social site is already brimming with posts from users, talking about everything they run into on a daily basis. However, it’s soon going to fill up with stories from various news outlets, according to a post from the Wall Street Journal.

The site reports that various publishers are preparing to fill up Facebook’s Instant Articles section over the next few days with a variety of stories. The New York Times has already stated that it will publish about 30 articles on a daily basis through Facebook’s news feed, and the Atlantic will follow suit with pieces of its own content. NBC News is reportedly on board as well, with 30 to 40 articles set to run through the news stream. All these outlets are doing now is waiting for Facebook to give it the green light.

“We’re excited for the next phase,” said Bob Cohn, president and chief operating officer for The Atlantic. “At the outset, we’ll be putting most of our content into the feed and will closely monitor the effect. We are ready to change how much we make available.”

BuzzFeed, a site that gets big numbers with its various “click-through” articles, could be participating as well, according to chief executive Jonah Peretti.

However, Facebook will be pacing this out so it doesn’t overwhelm users, as it intends to make the articles visible only to select groups of readers, to see what kind of reaction it gauges in its news feed.

With the program, those who publish articles through Instant Articles (instead of providing links back to their own pages) believe that doing so will pick up the exposure of said content through the service, without interfering on the user’s main feed. This will also be the case for those who use the site on mobile devices, with improved load time.

On the business end of this deal, publishers will be able to keep 100 percent of revenue brought in from the ads being sold, or 70 percent if Facebook lends a hand in selling the ad.

As far as focus, The Atlantic will work alongside AMC to promote its upcoming sci-fi TV show Humans, which premieres this Sunday, alongside its Instant Article posts, according to Mr. Cohn. Meanwhile, the New York Times doesn’t have a corporate partner, instead focusing on innovation and strategy with its articles, according to editor Kinsey Wilson. “We believe we can command a rate similar to what we get for an ad on our own site.”

Newsrooms have become more reliant on getting the “word out” through social sites these days, and the Instant Articles feature could be quite a step for them. However, it all depends on how well it plays out – and if it has any effect on day-to-day use for the site, on both desktop and mobile devices.

We’ll see how the news plays out soon enough.