The video game is growing ever closer with Hollywood, evidenced by how Tribeca Games featured League of Legends last fall, and how Activision Blizzard started its own movie studio. Much like how comic book movies are making it big, the success of these upcoming video-game themed films, all expected to release this year, could hint to an era of renewed popularity and fandom for these video game brands.
The video game phenomenon is headed to the big screen, and even though these birds don’t say a lot in the game, they have plenty of personality in the film. In order to help further promote the movie, a giant balloon in the likeness of the main character “Red” was seen in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Furthermore, Angry Birds movie characters will be featured in a Lego Dimensions toy/game expansion pack later this year. Starring Jason Sudeikis, along with actors like Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph, Angry Birds is set to take flight on May 20th.
Ratchet & Clank
The first Ratchet & Clank game hit the scene in 2002, so it seems like it’s long past due time for a movie. The animated film, which details how the duo first met and got together, was originally supposed to release last year, but was delayed to 2016. It turned out to be OK, because it gave Insomniac Studios more time to work on its new movie-inspired Ratchet & Clank game, which completely retells events from the original game and will launch alongside the movie. We can expect some big promotional tie-ins as we draw closer to the April 29th release.
John Wick 2
John Wick, the 2014 movie starring Keenu Reeves, features a skilled hitman who comes out of retirement to single-handedly take on the mob after his dog is killed. Since the movie’s release, John Wick has appeared in the heist-themed video game Payday 2 (developed by Starbreeze) as a special add-on character. The sequel went into production last year, and Starbreeze was tapped to develop a virtual reality game that will bridge events between the two movies together, making John Wick a movie, character, video game, and experience all at the same time.
Warcraft is perhaps one of the most recognizable titles in recent history, given the incredible success of the massively-multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. It features a deep and rich story, featuring an ongoing battle between Orcs and Humans set in a fantasy world called Azeroth. So, it almost seems absurd that there hasn’t been a Warcraft movie much sooner. The movie, which hits theaters June 10th, shows how the war began. Although it isn’t being developed by the recently formed Activision Blizzard Studios, its success acts as a critical step as the video game publisher gets into the movie business.
Apart from starring Michael Fassbender, and the fact that it’s based on a hit game franchise, not a lot is known about the upcoming Assassin’s Creed movie. The game takes place in a world where individuals can revisit the lives of ancestors through genetic memory, and focuses specifically on a secret war between the Assassins and Templar, who are both after powerful technological artifacts.
Fassbender plays a character named Callum Lynch and his 15th-century ancestor Aguilar — both original characters created for the movie. However, it wouldn’t be out of the question for publisher Ubisoft to find a way to way to add Aguilar to its long-running game series through digital films. Ubisoft is no stranger to the Hollywood, after working closely with James Cameron to make an Avatar video game and creating three short films collectively called Assassin’s Creed: Lineage. More recently, Ubisoft worked with Amazon to make Tom Clancy’s The Division: Agent Origins, a digital film based on the upcoming game, and has partnered with SpectreVision to make virtual reality content.
Recent games include Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which received a Jack the Ripper campaign expansion in December, and the platforming game Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India released last week.
While millennials may have been the key focus for several marketing campaigns from companies and other research reports, it appears that the group may have reached its peak in terms of general interest.
Recent searches through Google Trends indicates that searches and article creation that revolve around the term “millennials” may have reached its peak, while, at the same time, similar searches for the term “Gen Z” is continuing to climb.
Using Google Trends, we saw that the term “millennials” has grown over the past decade, reaching a high in September of 2015, and has since begun a slow downward trend. Does this point to an oversaturation in millennial-themed content, or a slowing of interest? It’s unclear.
However, when compared to Gen Z numbers, there’s some more interesting numbers at play, indicating a sharp rise starting in 2006, and eventually jumping up and down until reaching a new high point in 2015. It looks like Gen Z is gaining real traction.
When comparing the two together, though, millennials appear to have a continuous lead, even though Gen Z is slowly catching up, and the prior group may have reached a peak. However, taking a closer look at regional interest, Gen Z has already surpassed in a number of areas.
While this seems a bit technical in terms of explanation, the numbers indicate that, while millennials have been a hot topic for marketers and the general public, Gen Z’s audience numbers are picking up – and that could mean 2016 may be the year where the focus shifts to the younger demographic.
The Davos World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is taking place this weekend in Switzerland, where people from all over the world gather to discuss technologies, and what kind of impact they have on the world, as well as what agenda and collaborative activities can help shape it in a creative manner.
While the full rundown of events, speakers and other panels can be found on the official page here, here’s a brief overview with some notes that may be of interest to marketers and companies:
The Internet of Things is here
Davos estimates that by 2020 50 billion devices will be connected with one another. A report from the McKinsey Institute also suggests that by 2025 the potential economic impact of having “sensors and actuators connected by networks to computing systems” could reach a whopping $11 trillion yearly.
The chart below shows just what kind of growth we’re in for. Right now, the numbers may not look very high, but there are nearly five billion devices currently connected – and it will grow over five times in just a few years time.
That said, there are challenges to consider, as some companies are still looking to tap the true potential of IoT. However, in the end, the general idea is that such devices will provide a better understanding of how the world works, and can strengthen through innovations.
The digital transformation of industries
With this particular panel, there were several subjects on the agenda, including defining digital transformation, making the right investment decisions and designing a digital culture.
The Forum’s Fulvia Montresor, head of technology pioneers, had plenty to say on the matter,pointing out seven different technologies that could change the way some companies look at business. “From intelligent robots and self-driving cars to gene editing and 3D printing, dramatic technological change is happening at lightning speed all around us.”
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being driven by a staggering range of new technologies that are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world. It’s a convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres.
It’s a transformation in the way we live, work and relate to one another in the coming years, affecting entire industries and economies, and even challenging our notion of what it means to be human.”
Innovation is coming at a rapid pace, according to panel member Marc Benioff, and that’s something companies can take advantage of as far as technology is concerned. He also notedthe following: “Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, clean energy, genetic engineering and other fields have the potential to profoundly reshape manufacturing, agriculture, medicine and more. Business leaders everywhere are trying to keep up with this immense wave of digital transformation.”
Other factors that were discussed during the panel include introducing innovations through business technology, creating possibilities for new customers (with minimal effort, in some cases) and even trust, as Benioff noted. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution starts with one very important point: trust. You are about to define a new level of trust between yourself and your employees, yourself and your customers, yourself, your shareholders, and yourself and your partners. This is a cultural revolution for organizations that are not built on trust.
“This is an opportunity for all of us – to get to the future first, but when you get there, make sure that you show up with the right values. Because the value of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is different to the values of the Third.”
In this panel, several speakers took part in discussing the evolution of artificial intelligence, as well as potential implications in terms of its effect on industry and society.
While a full recap of the piece wasn’t posted, the discussion does cover a lot of ground on the discussion of A.I., between Professors Andrew Moore and Stuart Russel, with one interesting point made. “So if AI, as seems to be happening, can amplify our intelligence, can provide tools that make us, in effect, much more intelligent than we have been, then we could be talking about a golden age for humanity.”
However, the panel also noted that, due to advancements in robotic technology, human jobs could be lost in the shuffle, with up to five million across 15 major economies expected by 2020. “Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills,” the report warns, “governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.”
That said, employment is expected to pick up in some industries, with business leaders believing it will “derive disproportionately from smaller, generally high-skilled job families that will be unable to absorb job losses coming from other parts of the labor market.”
The growth illusion
With this panel, the discussion of whether banks have managed to break the link between financial markets and the real economy is discussed.
The differences between banks across both United States and Europe has led to some shake-ups in financial markets, and some people have taken note of that. Said Raghuram Rajan, governor of India’s central bank, “With many central banks with their foots firmly pressed on the accelerator, the variety of new aggressive monetary policies, it’s not clear that we’ve really benefitted tremendously.
“To some extent, we may have reduced the room for other policies or reduced the incentives for other policies. We’re not quite sure what the fundamental value of any asset is.”
He continued, “And I would suspect that this is probably what is going on today, that as there is some anticipation that central banks will start reducing the accommodation, asset prices are trying to find the appropriate level.”
Axel Weber, chairman of Swiss bank UBS, also pointed out, “If the U.S. were to stay the course, the dollar would continue to rise and I think that would recouple the economies. So at some point you’re going to see the impact of current policies starting to migrate.”
A new platform for the digital economy
For this session, the discussion revolved around the emergence of digital platforms, and how they could benefit people in various categories, including new entrepreneurial opportunities and impact on employment and work.
Some aspects of this market are already expected to grow tremendously over the next few years. The “sharing economy” for instance, will reach $335 billion by 2025, which can be a huge market for those that can tap its potential.
The 21st century dream
Finally, in this particular panel, performer Will.i.am and others took part in a discussion about how the dreams of the 20th century were fading, although new ideas are forming in this century that are inspiring young generations across the globe.
The World Economic Forum posted a previous piece discussing this, stating a number of examples of just how this “dream” has changed over the years. “In an odd way, we seem content with the idea that ‘disruption’ is the ‘norm’,” says the article. “Like Joseph K., Kafka’s pitiable protagonist in The Trial, we accept a world we are powerless to control. Herein lays the real challenge. It is not the proverbial fight between man and machine, recounted myriad times since the Luddite era. It is the struggle against cynicism and apathy, the toxic by-products of trust that have been squandered in the crises of our decade. It is the struggle against a societal and technological discourse that stifles our ability to write our own version of the future, making us passive subjects in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – the top watchwords of our days.”
However, during the panel itself, Will.i.am broke down a specific example of how he came from a small upbringing and managed to create something defining for himself.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the many sessions taking place at the Annual Meeting.More can be found here.
Father Time is undefeated. It’s a popular slogan preached in sports whenever a superstar athlete with divine skills begins to toil as a shell of his former self. Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning are two icons recently bitten by this crippling disease, but the catchphrase especially rings true for a sport whose abbreviation also doubles as “Not For Long.”
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s age-35 season was lost to two separate left shoulder injuries.
Although the Cowboys arguably have the league’s most talented offensive line, Romo caught a case of bad luck last season and couldn’t stay upright as Dallas limped to a 4-12 finish. The four games he played were the fewest of his 13-year career. His underwhelming stat line of 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a career-low 55.8 passer rating was perhaps a precursor of a potential demise.
Romo is trying to fight Father Time and extend the lease on his aching body because he has plans of playing till he’s knocking on the doors of age 40.
“I am the old man, but I’m getting younger,” Romo told [a]listdaily. “I still have a lot of time left to play, and I’m pretty excited about it going forward.”
He’s still undergoing rehab treatment for the collarbone, and is not 100 percent yet, he says. However, Romo is “close” and assures he’ll be ready by offseason training activities.
Romo can’t control the punishing hits his body absorbs, so he’s doing his best to prevent it and regain 2014 form – his best season to date. One way is by embracing technology and subtly changing daily habits and the way he maintains his body.
“We’re always searching for answers. Detail is what I want,” Romo says. “I want to have more knowledge and facts to back up (technology). I’ve learned through trial and error and experience through most of my career.”
Romo signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour last August, and he’s enjoying the spoils of that partnership this offseason through the HealthBox, a kit equipped with an activity-tracking wristband, a chest-based heart rate strap and a scale; all of the health data saves in the UA app. The company has turned into a marketing monster in recent years, spending close to a half billion dollars as they try and soften Nike’s stronghold on sports. UA has inked such stars as Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Julio Jones to command attention in the much-coveted football market. NFL draft prospects are decked out in UA apparel during the scouting combine for years to come, and their “protect this house” promos get you more pumped up than a Ray Lewis motivational speech. Now, Romo is subscribing to the company’s “make athletes better” motto with the clothes-to-technology philosophy change.
“For me, I just want data. The more data I can get, the better I can be day-in, and day-out,” Romo says. “When you look at it closely, the HealthBox is really different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been using it, and it’s fantastic. It’s very unique in the sense of how easy it is. It’s a special thing I’ve learned to love it and it’s helping me get back from injury and be ready for next year.”
Romo’s paid to promote the product – his wife Candice has called him a “grandpa” when it comes to technology – but he’s also adapting to UA’s pillars of sleep, fitness, activity and nutrition in order to add some lines to the last stanza of his career.
Even though the perennial Pro Bowl signal-caller is under contract until 2019, all signs point to the Cowboys either drafting or trading for Romo’s future successor this offseason in case he bites the injury bug again. The first two names that immediately enter the equation in Big D is Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel – two embattled quarterbacks with ties to Texas likely headed for new beginnings elsewhere.
When asked if the Cowboys will pull the trigger on acquiring a new quarterback, Romo says “the evaluation has just started,” and complimented current backup Kellen Moore. Romo knows that if he can stay on the field, he could make the Cowboys immediate contenders again in the paltry NFC East.
“I think you’re going to see a good football team next year,” he says. “The season didn’t turn out the way we liked. It was a tough season for everybody in the organization, and for Cowboys fans. I wish I could have been out there more to help. … I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Hi-Rez Studios, creators of the hit competitive online game Smite, has been keeping busy these past months. Smite, a game where players go head-to-head as deities from a variety of mythological pantheons, released as a free-to-play game on the Xbox One last summer. That’s in addition to how the PC version, launched in 2014, surpassed 10 million total players last July.
Even as a relatively new game, Smite became one of the biggest eSport games around. The recently concluded Smite World Championship 2016 featured two different platforms, with a prize pool of $1,000,000 for the PC World Championship and $150,000 for the Xbox One Invitational. This year’s championship also saw special announcements regarding other Hi-Rez Studios games, including an upcoming shooter called Paladins and the free-to-play mobile game, Jetpack Fighter.
Todd Harris, Hi-Rez Studios co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, talks to [a]listdaily about using godly might to host the Smite World Championships, developing a new shooter, and breaking into the mobile market.
What sets Smite apart from other competitive eSports games?
Well, Smite is the only MOBA where you actually have to aim.
Being a MOBA, there are plenty of similarities with other great MOBA eSports titles. Our core competitive game mode is 5 versus 5 and played on a three-lane map, players specialize in a particular role like jungle or support or solo, there are many different characters to master, and at the competitive level the game requires a ton of teamwork and strategy.
But the big difference comes from the fact that thatSmite’s core combat uses the camera angle and controls of a third-person shooter. You directly control your character and almost all of your attacks are aimed and the enemy can dodge many of them.
This makes competitive Smite very action-oriented in addition to being strategic.
In what ways has Smite grown and changed since it first launched almost two years ago?
The game is almost unrecognizable from the early Beta and Launch versions. Since launching we’ve tried to work closely with both the competitive and casual player community to continually improve the game. We started with 9 playable god characters and now we have more than 70. Along the way almost every year one god character and every map have received a visual upgrade if not entirely new models. And last year, we more than doubled the player base to over 13 million registered players. So, lots and lots of change.
Likewise we’ve been blown away by the rise of the eSports competitive scene. I think it has grown way faster than any game franchise to date. For example – last year we joined the top game ranks in terms of eSports prizing. In fact in the history of eSports only one game has awarded a larger tournament prize pool than Smite and that is Dota2.
Tell us about this year’s Smite World Championship.
This year’s World Championship was a great event for our community. The event was held in the Cobb Performing Arts Center in Atlanta and sold out for all 4 days of the tournament. For the PC Championship we hosted teams participating from North America, Europe, Latin America, China, and Australia.
The big additions from last year’s event were: adding an extra day, adding Oceania as a new qualified region, adding an entirely new platform with Smite Xbox One, and also showing off some up and coming games from Hi-Rez.
What are the challenges in promoting two concurrent tournaments across the PC and Xbox One?
There were a bunch of scheduling and logistics challenges and ultimately that is what caused us to expand from 3 days to 4 days this year. With that 4 day format we were able to get all of the PC matches plus all the key Xbox One matches on the main stage and covered by our primary broadcast. In this way we made it easy for our PC audience to watch the Xbox One games and vice-versa.
How has the game grown since its launch on the Xbox One?
I think there was some external skepticism around how a MOBA would perform on console, but that argument has been settled. Players dig it. Smite has been the top free-to-play game on Xbox One almost every week since it launched, and that is against some other very high quality titles available on the platform.
How have you been promoting the Smite World Championship to get the word out?
We promote directly to our community through the game client itself, social channels, e-mail and so on. This year we saw many repeat attendees from last year and we had 85% of the attendees travel from outside of the state to attend. The event sold out well in advance so promotion was actually a lot easier in year two.
Tell us about Paladins.
Paladins is Hi-Rez Studios’ latest multiplayer game currently in Closed Beta. It is a team based shooter with character progression using collectable cards.
There are a great many competitive shooters on the market. How will Paladins stand out?
In Paladins, players collect and build decks of cards which they get to draw from as their character levels up in a match. The cards affect the shooter gameplay in many interesting ways. Our goal is for the card system to create a lot of interesting deck-building strategies, especially at the competitive level.
How are you promoting the Paladins beta?
Very well thank you. [laughs]
We showed off Paladins at Gamescom and Twitchcon. Even with that limited promotion, we have seen over a half a million players sign for beta access on the web site. But we are intentionally keeping the Closed Beta quite small at this point while we work with that community to shape the core game.
What inspired Hi-Rez to develop Jetpack Fighter, a free-to-play platforming gaming for mobile?
The dev team was inspired by classic 80s arcade games and 80s platformers, and wanted to built that type of game but designed around the strengths of the mobile platform – so swiping is the main input mechanic.
We’re pretty optimistic that it will find an audience since the core game loop is so different from any other mobile game out there.
It is funny because we were originally one of the first studios to bring the free-to-play business model to a core gaming audience on PC and console – we launched the very first f2p game on Steam [Global Agenda], and now with Smite, we have the top f2p game on Xbox One.
Now we are going the other way by bringing a very core game genre to a platform, mobile, already known for free-to-play.
Mobile is the primary computing and gaming platform that kids are growing up with today, so it makes sense for us to experiment there. We prototyped three different games and Jetpack Fighter was the concept that drew tremendous excitement internally and externally.
We were fortunate to be featured by Apple as a Top New Game and the early user feedback has been very, very positive.
What are some of the challenges in promoting a mobile game, compared to one on the PC or console?
Our approach is actually the same regardless of platform: get our playable game into the hands of end users as early as possible and then work with that passionate community to make the game even better with each ongoing updates. That is how we feel the best games are made.
Virtual reality is set to take a big hold this year, with the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive ready to make their market debuts over the next few months. With that, the publishers at Ubisoft are looking to expand its reach into the virtual market, not only with recently announced games like its upcoming Eagle Flight on PlayStation VR, but also with original content.
Ubisoft has announced today that it has partnered with SpectreVision to create, develop and produce original and interactive virtual reality programming, just in time to kick off the Sundance Film Festival.
The development studio, founded by actor Elijah Wood and partners Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller, has already shown off its creative vision with notable film releases last year, includingA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the zombie comedy Cooties. No doubt that kind of visceral content will easily translate to virtual reality.
“We’re thrilled to partner with an industry leader like Ubisoft to explore the innovative and burgeoning technology that is virtual reality,” says SpectreVision’s CEO Lisa Whalen. “The diversity of Ubisoft’s portfolio of titles from Assassin’s Creed to Zombi, makes for an ideal partnership with SpectreVision’s varied creative vision, as evidenced in (its previous films). Together, we can tell an infinite number of unique stories in a bold and original new format.”
Wood also chimed in on the partnership. “As a longtime gamer, I’m first and foremost a fan and admirer of Ubisoft,” he said. “So to be collaborating with them within the realm of VR is an incredible treat!”
“We’re thrilled to be working with the team at SpectreVision on an interactive VR experience,” said Patrick Plourde, Vice President at Ubisoft Montreal. “Their expertise in the horror film genre is exciting for us as a developer of interactive entertainment and we’re looking forward to a collaboration that will ultimately offer fans an unforgettable virtual reality experience.”
SpectreVision will work closely with Ubisoft’s FunHouse Studio in Montreal on the content, although no projects have been revealed as of yet.
The partnership is an ideal one, as it provides yet another venue for Ubisoft to continue its push into both mainstream media and virtual reality. We could very well see some Assassin’s Creed oriented content that ties in with the company’s film adaptation (pictured above), which features Michael Fassbender and is set to arrive sometime this holiday season.
We’ll see what the future holds for these partners over the next few months. An interactive version of Cooties would certainly be…interesting, to say the least.
Google discussed how its video channel is effectively reaching out to football fans, using specialized content and creating new opportunities for partners, in a report released Thursday.
The company estimates that about 110 million viewers tune in to the game every year (since 2011), and a lot of those fans tune in to YouTube to check out ads before they air during the Super Bowl. It also provides a venue to tune in to commentator analysis, interviews, behind-the-scenes vignettes and other pieces relating to the game. Everything that’s football related manages to be a tremendous draw on YouTube.
Google sees football coverage over entire season, not just for Super Bowl
“Viewers watch millions of hours of Super Bowl-related videos in the weeks before and after kickoff,” explains the report. “In the first two weeks of 2015, Super Bowl ads were viewed more than 16 million times, a number that steadily rose to more than 260 million through game day on February 1st.” That’s more than seven million hours of content.
Brands also benefitted from running full versions of ads before the game, with 2.2 times more views and 3.1 times more social shares than just airing during the Super Bowl.
Google advised that posting an ad before game day is a very effective process, as it recently explained in the video below, showcasing its AdBlitz channel, where a number of Super Bowl teasers from Wix, Kentucky Fried Chicken and others are already compiled.
The chart below also shows just how much traffic spikes over the course of a season, starting from the NFL Draft all the way through the Super Bowl. It’s easy to see that anticipation builds as the game draws closer.
The culture surrounding the game is as important as the game itself. Gameday highlight reels, commentator clips and a look back at triumphs for specific teams are vital to football fans, and Google noted how this could serve as a backbone for creative content from partners that will relate to them. This includes a variety of content, such as Dude Perfect’s Slip ‘n Slide Football Battle.
Evergreen content revolving around football also fares well. “Established categories, like football-related food and recipes, continue to rise, with video watch time growing 77 percent in the last year,” said the report. “Top YouTube searches include fan favorites like hot wings and nachos.” The chart below shows growth in various categories, including not only food, but also video games and comedy.
Football fans can be found, even if they’re not watching football
Google measured viewership patterns of fans to see what kind of content they were into. “Those who index high in watching football content are also interested in auto and cooking videos,” it notes. “Millennial fans specifically favor comedy and movie content, while fans that are fathers tend to turn in to auto and news content.”
Nissan’s previous Super Bowl campaign, focusing on the #WithDad hashtag, managed to feed into the excitement while stretching beyond the usual football-oriented content. It also benefitted from partnering with various YouTube stars, including Roman Atwood and Epic Meal Time, to reach a broader audience, instead of strictly staying on the football path. Those videos have managed to garner 76 million views to date, and is considered a fan favorite on the AdBlitz channel.
“As the big game has evolved into the big month – and the football season into an all-year affair – the opportunity for advertisers looking to connect with football fans has expanded,” says the report. “By understanding what types of video content football fans turn to in their video micro-moments, brands can find opportunities to connect, engage, and remain relevant and useful from the season’s kickoff to its grand finale.”
The company also launched an interactive dashboard, which can be found here and details the online football advertising experience even further. It also noted that over 70 percent of football content is watched on mobile, indicating that there’s more than enough reach on smartphones and tablets – even more so than desktop computers.
The charts below also break down how each group specifically benefits from advertising, with products that tie in with the Super Bowl, ranging from Madden NFL 16 to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, which last year featured Katy Perry and will focus on the band Coldplay this year.
Indeed, the “big game” is more than just about the game itself.
Social networking platforms have been locked in a battle of one-upsmanship over the past year, with Facebook reporting that its videos get 3 billion daily views, and Twitter expanding its video capabilities using Periscope. NowDigiday reports that Pinterest is looking to join in by fully supporting video ads.
In the same way that both Twitter and Facebook have autoplaying video ads that start on mute, Pinterest could feature videos as part of its broader approach toward creating targeted advertising. Brands may be able to promote video pins that fit into experiences like how-to and cooking videos.
However, the challenge is in growing Pinterest as a video platform, but it’s already off to a good start. Last year, Pinterest reached 100 million monthly users, and was listed among the top three social media platforms where they spend the most money, largely due to the “buy” button that was added to its app in June. Furthermore, the use of pins, formed around avariety of categories, makes it the perfect platform for native advertising that blends in with the rest of the content.
Last year, Pinterest began its support of Cinematic Pins, which work similarly to animated GIFs, except they only move when users scroll up and down the screen. Although the ad format was impressive from a creative standpoint, and test by big name brands like Target and Wendy’s, it’s uncertain how effective they are.
Doug Neil, executive VP of digital marketing at NBCUniversal states that, “Video does interest us more.” The entertainment media company is considering Pinterest as a promotional platform for its upcoming movies.
Video is bound to boom on Pinterst, which will help it grow to further match up against rival services like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
American McGee has been making games for 23 years now, having been part of id Software’s early first-person shooter PC glory days. The developer has succeeded in making a name for himself outside of his early work on games like Doom and Quake. McGee left the console and PC market behind seven years ago after developing games like American McGee’s Alice,Scrapland, Bad Day LA, Alice: Madness Returns, and American McGee’s Grimm.
After releasing free-to-play mobile games such as BigHead Bash, Akaneiro, and Crazy Fairiesthrough his Shanghai-based Spicy Horse studio, McGee has a new mobile game available for Android and iOS. Critter Academy blends tower defense and role-playing with deck building tournaments. McGee talks about the evolving mobile games industry and what the challenges are to succeed as a indie studio in the growing mobile video game market in this exclusive interview.
How have you seen the mobile video game space evolve since you first entered it?
At the end of the last console cycle we saw many studios, like Spicy Horse, make the pivot from AAA PC/console development to mobile/web development. At the same time, 3D art content and multiplayer game play became more common in mobile apps. F2P design combined with traditional game mechanics across a dizzying array of new game apps. A handful of big hits helped transform indie developers into publishing powerhouses – while at the same time driving existing publishers (who made the transition to mobile) to greater and greater profits.
Early on, developers in this space had reason to believe they could successfully self-publish. They could also choose to partner with existing publishers to larger, reach pre-existing audience networks. Over time, the cost for small studios to self publish increased, pushing more developers to chase a shrinking number of third party publishing options. In recent years the cost of User Acquisition and development have skyrocketed to the point where third party publishing deals are no longer viable options for either developers or publishers.
Smaller studios working to self-fund development and self-publish original games are facing serious difficulty in an environment where UA costs continue to rise. This is driven by war of attrition strategy among the industry giants, many of whom are spending millions of dollars a month on marketing/promotion with little chance of recouping their costs. In my view, the model isn’t sustainable — not for the indies, and not for many of the current giants.
What are the biggest challenges today for an indie studio like Spicy Horse?
Visibility, plain and simple. A game can’t be successful if people aren’t aware of it. The cost of acquiring users outstrips the profit potential of all but a select few users. The limited pool of valuable users is being oversold. And, as much as “mobile use” might increase month by month, I doubt whether the pool is being replenished with the kind of quality users the industry needs in order to sustain the current cost structure.
Beyond that, we’re pretty happy with our setup — we’ve proven our ability to efficiently convert cash into content. Our 35 person team has repeatedly out-produced 100 person teams in terms of quality/amount of content in similar mobile game genres. If speed to market and quality were all it took…
So many mobile games are just copies of other games. What role has originality played in Spicy Horse’s longevity?
We have to balance risk with creativity. Players are comfortable with certain mechanics and interfaces on mobile devices – there are things we know work, things we know don’t work, and lots of things we’d like to experiment on, but don’t for fear of innovating ourselves out of existence. Where we work hardest on originality is in our art, story, and presentation. But then, this is nothing new for our team — the same is true when you look at a AAA title from our studio, like Alice: Madness Returns. The innovation is in the art.
Where do you draw inspiration from for mobile games?
When it comes to the stories, I look to the classic foundations of drama. Some of our recent games have explored themes related to the human condition, using hell as a backdrop for the narrative. In Chains of Darkness, the player was thrown into an environment that looked like hell, surrounded by a cast of damned characters. As the story unfolds, a theme of competition and survival emerges; it’s a long form exploration of “hell is other people.”
How is bad free to play impacting mobile games for everyone?
I think F2P is the ultimate expression of consumer driven enterprise. There’s no chance you’re going to be fooled by a multi-million dollar, months-long marketing campaign for a $60 game, then purchase it only to realize it wasn’t what you’d hoped for. F2P is like walking into a retail shop at the mall — it costs you nothing to open the door, and take a look around. If you like what’s on offer, you engage. If you don’t, you check out the shop next door. What’s more, if you do engage, then decide you’re unhappy about the way the shop is being managed, then you have multiple ways in which to express your dissatisfaction – stop spending, tell the developers, and write a negative review.
F2P isn’t going away. Bad F2P is punished. And good F2P still has a lot of innovation and improvement it can make. Players, through their choices, can drive that positive innovation in real-time.
Ultimately, it’s just one of many choices consumers have on mobile devices. Don’t like the F2P model? Purchase a premium game. If consumers en masse really dislike F2P, they can help the model die through their choices.
How is the sheer amount of free-to-play choice in the overcrowded mobile marketplace impacted the development of Critters Academy?
It all goes back to the question of visibility and user acquisition costs. There are a lot of major publishers of F2P games out there who, by virtue of their existing player networks, spend very little on user acquisition. As a small indie studio with limited marketing budget, that’s very difficult for us to compete against. We have to be better where we can — through our 24/7 customer support channels, through art and story, and through implementing better mechanics, through listening to our customers.
What do you feel differentiates Critters Academy in the mobile market?
At its core is a unique story which explores the politics of power in a universe of magic. The art style has been described as “creepy cute,” and combines Asian anime style with Western character themes. The game play, while not completely unique, is presented in a fast-paced, low friction style. I’m biased, but I feel confident in saying it’s the best mobile title we’ve produced to date.
We’re seeing more Hollywood actors appearing in expensive TV commercials for mobile games in the U.S. like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Liam Neeson. Where does that leave the smaller game studios in finding an audience?
Trampled under food on the battlefield of giants! These huge celebrity deals, license IPs, and massive marketing budgets all echo trends that emerged with PC/console publishers a few cycles back. It seems this is a natural pattern that appears as new platforms are transformed by success. If the past is any indicator, smaller studios won’t have much chance in the emerging publishing environment. Many small studios are pivoting to VR/AR. One of the more ominous pivots, in my opinion, are the huge number of game devs who are moving into the User Acquisition space. Again, I think the value of the space is dangerously oversold. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re start seeing some spectacular blowups of major players as the bottom falls out of the market.
How are you marketing Critters Academy?
The traditional routes — Facebook, Google, and through a variety of ad network partners. I’m also leveraging my personal social networks and reaching out to traditional media. But I’m honest with myself and my team about the challenges we’re facing. This might be our last original title in the mobile/F2P space. At this point, a lot is riding on support from Google and Apple. They can make or break an indie these days.
What have you learned from being immersed in Shanghai culture for over a decade that has helped with mobile game development?
What I’ve learned is really only applicable to development here. With so many years behind me, it’s going to require a book in order to properly tell the story.
How do you feel your PC and hardcore gaming background has influenced your mobile games?
I’ve been making games for 23 years now — and everything’s an influence, one way or another. Difficult to pinpoint it on a day to day basis.
What are your thoughts on the transition of mobile games to the big screen with devices like Amazon TV, Apple TV and Android TV?
I could be wrong, but I feel like it’s a solution looking for a problem. Here in Asia, people just aren’t interested in sitting around a TV and playing games. Everyone’s out on their mobile phones, playing games, watching movies, and engaging with social media. My perspective is limited to Asia, but if the rest of the world is at all similar, then I would expect the focus on mobile only to increase.
While smartphone use is always on the rise, and increasing number of consumers are getting their content from different sources, which include computers, tablets, and mobile devices. So, it’s important for brands to reach out through all of them. To this end, Adweek reports that 2016 will be the year when targeting one specific kind of device will be out, replaced by cross-device programmatic advertising.
Internet advertising reached an all-time high of $50 billion in 2014, with one-fifth ($10.1 billion) made up of programmatic ad revenue. That trend isn’t likely to go down anytime soon, especially as programmatic video continues to grow across different channels. To put things into perspective, eMarketer predicts that programmatic display ad spending will grow to $21.55 billion in 2016, and hit $26.78 billion in 2017.
Businesses like the Red Roof Inn hotel chain are already investing heavily in cross-device advertising, doubling its ad spend to 40 percent this year. Kevin Scholl, Red Roof Inn’s digital marketing director states, “it’s about really maximizing our spend to make sure the audience we’re engaging with are people we know are going to have a need and will want to get served up an ad for one of our properties.”
Red Roof Inn joins brands like Project Rubicon, the mobile game publisher Zynga, and the car-sharing company Zipcar, in increasing its cross-device budget this year. It wouldn’t be surprising if more companies followed suit in marketing toward the variety of screens consumers have at their disposal.
Thank you for your continued support and readership.
-The AList Team
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