Marketing Challenges Ahead in 2016


The prospect of another solid growth year for the games industry is definitely positive, but that growth comes with plenty of challenges as the marketplace evolves. More than that, the increasing overlap between games and other entertainment media means overlapping challenges for marketers, and an ever-more-complex environment ahead. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges, and the strategies marketers might use in turning them into opportunities.

Virtual Reality (VR)

This is the year that VR hardware and software makes its way to the market, and by the end of the year we’ll see millions of units of high-end VR hardware in the hands of consumers – and millions more mobile VR units as well. This is a huge challenge for marketers of VR products, because unlike most new technologies VR is difficult to market with existing means. Marketers know the power of video in showing potential customers what a new product is like – but showing a VR experience through a video just doesn’t come anywhere close to giving the viewer an idea of what to expect. VR can be described or shown, but until you actually try out a unit you won’t really know what it’s like. Marketers, therefore, will have to find ways to bring a VR experience directly to consumers, and ideally in a way that millions of people can experience.

This may mean mall tours, traveling roadshows, appearances at consumer events like ComicCon or music festivals, in-store demos… we’re already seeing some of these methods being used. There’s no cut-and-dried solution yet, though, so marketers will have to get creative and deal with the complexity and cost of arranging personal VR experiences. On the plus side, when you do something creative with VR marketing you’re likely to get press coverage for it.

Another benefit to VR is that it can be used for creative marketing purposes, as Marriott has shown. There’s great power in VR, and the technology has a sexy lure that brings people in to check it out. Marketers for all kinds of brands are using VR as part of their plans, and the wider availability of VR hardware will make it even easier to tap this power. Even indirect use of VR can be powerful marketing – who wouldn’t be interested in a chance to win a VR headset, for instance?

Mobile Advertising

The entire subject of mobile advertising is vastly important to all kinds of products, as people increasingly spend more and more of their time on mobile devices. Yet, mobile advertising spend is still far lower than it should be based on time spent in that venue. It’s a continuing battle for marketers to get budget shifted into mobile from more traditional venues. At least you get plenty of data from mobile advertising, but so much data can be unwieldy to analyze, and you don’t necessarily get the precise kind of data you really want. Ad tech providers continue to change their features and tools, so marketers have to constantly be on top of what’s happening in the technology, and figure out how to apply it most effectively to their issues.

Added to those problems are the very basic issues of how and when ads should appear on mobile devices. Some games give you an option to go ad-free for a fee. Some only show ads for other games from the same publisher, some are in ad networks, some games let you earn in-game rewards for watching ad videos. It’s a complex environment, and this is an issue where marketers and game designers really have to work together to find the optimal solution for their particular audience.

We’re seeing some interesting innovation in this space, with companies like Zynga using specialized ad units to create integrated in-game advertising, with impressive results. It’s clear there’s enormous opportunity here, when for the typical free-to-play game more than 95 percent of all the users are not spending money on the game. Advertising is one obvious way to generate revenue from that vast audience – if you can figure out how to do it without losing them because you’re showing ads.

User-Controlled Marketing

One of the most important trends in marketing, not just for games but for all products and services, is the growth of user-controlled marketing. The brand, once in the iron grip of the marketer, has now escaped and is roaming freely among the users of a product or service. How is that possible? Through social media, streaming, YouTube, and other means of sharing information, users are creating and distributing messages every day that involve your brand – and often with far greater reach than any company can typically pay for. Minecraft is a perfect example, with billions of hours of Minecraft videos being watched every month. Those are billions of hours of brand impressions that were not created, vetted, or controlled in any way by Mojang (or its owner, Microsoft).

Losing control of your brand messaging in that fashion is a terrifying thought for some companies. Look at how Nintendo has tried to control YouTube videos and streaming involving Nintendo brands, for instance. All that’s done is reduce the amount of free impressions Nintendo gets, and other games have been the beneficiaries. Yet, one can understand Nintendo’s concerns. What if some YouTuber or streamer is doing something objectionable in connection with your brand? Or distorting it in some way that carries even more resonance than your branding message?

These are difficult issues for marketers to grapple with, but there’s no stopping the wave of social media and sharing. Marketers need to surf this wave or risk being pulled under by it. You have to be nimble, creative, and confident in your brand message. Working with influencers requires finesse and creativity, since ham-handed attempts to control influencers can easily backfire. That’s why utilizing services such as ION is very useful for marketers, tapping into expertise in dealing with influencers.

Marketing a brand has become bigger and more powerful than any one company. With the right brand that can engage and motivate users, brand messaging can reach amazing new heights and astounding reach. As social media extends its reach and its power, marketers will have to be ready, willing, and able to deal with this revolution in marketing. This will require paying close attention to new trends in technology and media, in marketing tech and ad tech and to the clever new techniques some marketers are employing. That’s part of what the [a]listdaily is trying to help with, so be sure to spread the word and stay tuned. Even better, tell us about the solutions you’re finding to deal with these issues – we’d love to bring that information to other marketers.


Twitter Continues Extended Reach To Brands

Twitter has made quite a few changes over the past few weeks, in an attempt to streamline its service and make it easier to pair with brands. Back in December, it made a killing with Star Wars-based emojis; and it recently pondered the idea of introducing an algorithmic timeline, so it would be set up in a similar manner to its biggest competitor, Facebook.

Today, the company debuted some brand-friendly new options: the ability to integrate a private message button into their tweets. This lets users initiate conversations based on something they see on the site. For instance, movie studios can debut trailers, then get people talking about them. Delta and StarBucks are already on board with the program, and several vendors, like Hootsuite and Sprinklr, are looking to mix it in as well.

In addition, the site will soon introduce a feedback option, which will enable marketers to ask users about customer service interactions. There are already a number of companies that try to interact with consumers based on experiences (like @Xboxsupport for Microsoft’s Xbox console), but this would indicate that Twitter is looking to take such an experience to the next level, helping companies out even further. With private messaging, users can share more sensitive information without it being seen in public.

While these features may benefit Twitter in building partnerships with brands and other potential clients, there is a bit of concern lingering in the back of some peoples’ minds. With some of these business moves, even though the site may see a profit, it could be turning it into a “pay to play” site?

There has already been some uproar over some changes, like the removal of wallpaper from users’ sites (likely to make room for potential ads) and the algorithm timeline. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was quick to quell fears, but still remained cryptic in regards to their inclusion.

He also assured that the social front of Twitter would remain in place, rather than delving full-on into business practices.

However, even small changes have some users feeling that the platform is becoming worse. Back in November, the company made a small change to the “favorite” system on the site, changing them to “likes” – such as Facebook uses. As a result, there was a huge outcry, with most users indicating they liked Twitter the way it was.

Following this change, Fortune writer Matthew Ingram made a note on the change to some of Twitter’s business tactics. “A lot of what Twitter is now didn’t come from the company at all, but from its loyal and passionate, and in many cases irritating users. So then how much attention should it pay to the concerns of those users now, when it is trying to broaden the reach and appeal to new kinds of audiences? There’s no easy answer to that one.”

Whether Twitter’s new approach to cater to businesses while keeping its avid userbase intact will be effective has yet to be seen. The small changes thus far haven’t had too big an impact, but if it does indeed lean more towards the “pay to play” style of approach, it’s hard to tell just how social they’ll continue to be. At least Dorsey remains optimistic.

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A Deeper Look At Mobile Advertising

AppsFlyer gets right to the point at the start of its new report about the effectiveness of mobile marketing: “Being a successful digital marketer in 2016 is hard. Being a successful mobile marketer is even harder.” The company then takes a close look at the best performing media sources to assist those in learning more when it comes to ad-spending.

Titled The AppsFlyer Performance Index MWC Special Edition, the report looks at over 2.5 billion installs, and the top sources of mobile advertising. Several takeaways from the report are:

Facebook Is Number One

The social media giant has managed to place consistently in the global top 5 media sources when it comes to retention, and also holds the number one spot when it comes to power rankings across every single category and region. Other companies like Twitter, AppLovin and Chartboost have found proper placing, but nothing seems to come close to Facebook.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 11.55.32 AMVideo advertising is key for retention

Ad networks show a roughly 30 to 90 percent higher retention rate than other networks in the overall index. The iOS format seems to get a good amount of these as well. The video ads for app installs seem to be more effective than non-video based ones, too, providing users a better idea of the experience included with certain games and other programs.

Social networks have great retention

On the Android platform, social networks rule, taking the top three spots in both gaming and non-gaming categories, including travel, eCommerce, utilities and lifestyle. On a side note, Google’s format has also managed to deliver when it comes to power of intent.

Twitter has an up-and-down performance

While Facebook’s dominance can’t be beat, Twitter has its own level of retention on the Android platform, with top two placings in gaming and non-gaming. That said, its scale could be better, as it’s currently placed at #18 and #10 in gaming and non-gaming. However, its ongoing integration with MoPub could change this in the future, enabling it to expand its reach.

There are many differences between iOS and Android

The top 30 media sources for iOS and Android showed many differences, with a lot of them being higher than the ones on Android. The gaps between the two are much smaller, though, showing around four to ten percent, based on AppsFlyer’s standard deviation calculation.

Android rules overseas

The Asian market is a big one, and it’s there that Android has a huge grip, mainly due to the diversity of phones available on the market – something for every budget. As a result, Asian networks have seen a boost, with about a third overall ending up in the power rankings, both in gaming and non-gaming.

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The History Channel Uses Comedy to Reach New Audience

For a while now, The History Channel has been a reliable source when it comes to revisiting many evens from years past, but now the channel hopes to turn a corner for an all-new genre of content: comedy.

The network has made forays into fictionalized programming before, including its well-received action/drama Vikings. However, it has recently decided to take a dive into late night comedy, and it could be a move that pays off in the long run, bringing in a fresh audience that will see beyond its “historic” approach.

Join Or Die, a new comedic talk show that made its debut last night, features host Craig Ferguson and three unique guests as they discuss something from history, whether it’s the worst medical treatments (surprise, lobotomies won) or the worst Presidential blunder in history. Though ratings haven’t been reported just yet, reception of the show has been positive, no doubt bolstered by how it lets viewers play along using social media with the #joinordie hashtag.

That’s just the beginning. Next week will see the debut of a series called Night Class, which focuses on short-form stories with portrayals of figures in history, played by celebrity guests. For example, Jack Black will portray Ludwig von Beethoven.

More series will also be making their debut in the future, with a lighthearted approach to history. Crossroads of History will look at some of the lesser characters in timelines, like Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard, who stepped away from the theater the night of his assassination. How To Lose the Presidency will also make its debut soon, featuring moments that spelled doom for potential presidential campaigns.

So, what prompted History Channel’s turnaround into such programming? “When I see people talk about some of the things they’re watching, it’s on the fringes of the schedule, the things that really push the creative, like a late-night comedy experiment. And I realized that was new territory we could explore,” said Paul Cabana, executive vice president and head of programming for History, speaking with AdWeek.

The focus of these new shows seem to be aimed at millennials, primarily men, as well as potential advertisers looking to reach out to them. And the channel isn’t playing around either, as it’s brought some big talent on board to drive particular shows. Dan Harmon, the co-creator of the hit series Rick and Morty, is just one of the forces working on content, for example.

“It just made sense that we start to produce content that was as much at home on your phone as it was in your living room,” said Cabana. “We’re entering an age where it’s about cumulative viewers and good content being forward to each other, so it’s a great way for us to explore the digital space.”

“Our hope is this block becomes an opportunity to get into business with younger clients, maybe clients with a little more of a comedic take that don’t always look to History as their first or probably second choice,” added Peter Olsen, executive vice president for A&E Networks. “In success, we have an opportunity to talk in a much bigger way with groups of clients that we don’t do a ton of business with.”

Digital content could go a long way for the network. “More and more, we’re talking about creating digital content short-form things but using linear as a launching pad and another place to run it,” said Olsen. “On our big brands, we’re talking about doing some comedy stuff that doesn’t have to be a 30-minute sitcom. It can be a five-minute comedic piece that can run on linear and on digital. So we’re looking at our non-prime dayparts in a way that they can almost become digital verticals that run on linear and have a digital life as well.”

Rovio Entertainment Investing Big for 2016

Since cutting one-third of its employees last August, Rovio Entertainment has been focusing more on expanding its Angry Birds brand of games and building out its Toons.TV network.

wilhelm-tahtWilhelm Taht, head of games at Rovio Entertainment, said at Casual Connect Amsterdam this week that the company wants to grow revenues significantly in 2016.

“We’ve grown revenue every year since Angry Birds was launched,” Taht said. “Our focus for 2016 and beyond is continued revenue growth, doubling down on performers, and increasing the speed of innovation.”

That believes two years from now new genres will break into the Top 10 mobile games list in the Western World. Rovio is already exploring new genres, including a “mystery mid-core game” that it’s testing that has had over a 60 percent retention rate.

Taht showed art for a new Angry Birds game coming out later this year that featured more detailed and less cartoony 3D characters, as well as an anime-inspired mid-core game art.

“We’re trying to age up the audience,” Taht said. “We have a fairly sizeable adult audience, but we’re actively trying to age up.”

The bulk of Rovio’s audience comes from Angry Birds. The company had successful launches for Angry Birds Fight! and Angry Birds 2 last year, and has continued to expand that brand across multiple cross-branded ventures from Angry Birds Star Wars to Angry Birds Transformers.

Taht said in 2015 Rovio had over 3 billion game downloads and over 5 billion views on its ToonTV service. The company has over 26 million fans on Facebook. Brand awareness for Angry Birds is above 90 percent brand awareness, which should help with the May 20th launch of the Sony Pictures’ Angry Birds feature film. Taht joked that the film is the most expensive mobile game trailer ever made.

“We have $100 million behind the production of the movie and much more on marketing, hopefully it’s going to succeed,” Taht said. “All of us feel happy about where it’s heading this spring. It’s the first blockbuster-level Hollywood movie originating from the mobile games industry.”

Taht said the goal moving forward is to grow new IP beyond Angry Birds. He said the company had had success with its Match-3 game, Nibblers, which launched last fall. Rovio is scaling the game up significantly and is seeing a daily conversion rate of over 2 percent.

The company continues to develop original games. Last fall it released the Drop-3 puzzle game, Love Rocks, in conjunction with singer Shakira. It was a continuation of what began as an Angry Birds marketing partnership.

Taht used a lot of recent mobile figures from Newzoo to show the opportunities that exist for Rovio and other developers in the evolving mobile games business. While Android is currently the leader in games when it comes to reach, iOS continues to generate more revenue.

“In the U.S., about 37 percent of the 1,000 game revenues is generated by the Top 10 games, so there’s more space to generate revenue at the top than there used to be,” Taht said. “You no longer have to focus on being in the top 10.”

The U.S. is also seeing movement in the top mobile game genres. The Battle genre remains on top, while the Puzzle genre has been fluctuating a lot as some mobile unicorns have leveled off. Casino games are growing significantly. And modern RPGs are starting to grow in the West. Simulation games are also growing. One area Taht said there’s room for success in is the Racing genre, which has yet to be cracked for mobile.

Taht referenced the $25 billion the mobile games industry generated last year, which eclipsed the $6.9 billion the digital music business made and the $11.1 billion the U.S. box office generated in 2015. Mobile is now a larger segment of the $91 billion video game industry than console games.


“More time is spent on mobile devices than on browsers, and hence there’s billions to make,” Taht said. “It’s still a gold rush, but it’s become a really crowded place with 179 new games coming out every day and over 300,000 iOS games in the App Store.”

Rovio was one of the early mobile companies to expand its IP into merchandising. The company continues to market Angry Birds through licensing deals that range from clothing to plush toys. And the upcoming Hollywood movie launch will only open additional opportunities for the studio.

Rovio means “raging fire” in Finnish, and Taht said this name ties into the company’s culture.

The company hopes to keep its fire burning in 2016.

WEBINAR: Learn the Earned Media Values for Social and Digital Endorsements

(Note: This article appears as a part of a partnership with our parent company Ayzenberg Group.)

Progressive marketers know influencer and social marketing works, but understanding the value gained from these programs compared to paid media can be difficult. A new webinar and index from Ayzenberg Group will help marketers that struggle to quantify the success of their campaigns.

In their March 2 webinar, “Earned Media Value: Intel for a Smarter Marketing Mix,” Ayzenberg is introducing an index of industry values for social and influencer activations, providing a way to judge these gains against other marketing options. The Earned Media Value Index will be available immediately following the webinar and the values will be updated regularly on the alistdaily and ION websites as they change over time.

During the session, Ayzenberg experts will share the methodology for creating the EMV Index, which is backed by more than a decade of media, social and influencer experience. They will also outline how to use the index to make smarter decisions when planning a campaign or content strategy. With actual values for key platforms and the actions that are generated by activations, marketers can better quantify efforts on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“Earned media has evolved in the social-mobile age but it is still immensely valuable,” said Vincent Juarez, Principal at Ayzenberg. “Nielsen tells us 92 percent of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations versus only 24 percent for online ads. Yet we found no accepted standards to really provide the value of individual, platform-specific social actions.”

“We’ve had an internal EMVI for years to report on the success of client campaigns,” said Juarez. “We’ve refined the numbers as we gained more knowledge, folded in third-party research and updated values against paid costs by platform. We are making this Index public so there are real baselines available to the industry that are updated regularly.”

Juarez will be joined on the webinar by Robin Barnett, Ayzenberg’s director of analytics and Francesca Forgach, the director of group accounts for ION, the Influencer Orchestration Network.

The webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, March 2 at 11 a.m. PT and registration is now open for all attendees. To join this session and be among the first to learn about this essential new tool to accurately report on marketing success, sign up here.

Casual Connect Embraces ESports

Casual Connect Europe just celebrated its biggest event ever with over 2,000 game developers, companies, journalists, and analysts from across the world converging for three days of talks, workshops, and networking in Amsterdam. Put on by the Casual Games Association, this marks the 11th year of the European leg of the global convention, which has its next stops in Singapore May 17-19 and San Francisco July 18-20.

Jessica Tams, founder and managing director of the Casual Games Association, explains why the conference is embracing eSports in this exclusive interview.

jessicatamsWhy is Casual Connect incorporating eSports into its panels?

ESports is something that really fits into the current audience at Casual Connect because if you think back to the early casual games days, the people who were involved in casual games were doing things similar to eSports in some ways. We did a lot of online contests and a lot of tournaments. King and GameDuell did contests against each other, and that that is very close to what eSports is now. It’s also very close to Social Casino, so we’ve taken that original track and split it off into eSports.

What opportunities do you see for indie games in eSports today?

A lot of eSports games are indie and one of the reasons is because it’s very difficult for an indie developer to get press. One of the best ways for them to actually get press and get notoriety and get some viral exposure for their games is to actually do an eSports contest. This is why you’re seeing a lot of indies that are doing eSports for their games.

How do you see the early success we’ve seen with Hearthstone and Vainglory in mobile opening up opportunities for this Casual Connect audience?

Once somebody who’s a bigger developer comes in and does something cool and enables the market to see that there’s an opportunity there, then it does really open it up for everybody. It makes it a little bit easier, so people will be using eSports and that type of promotion to actually get their games seen. If you think about the new marketing avenues for games, it’s eSports and then YouTube and Twitch gaming. These are two areas that the developers are starting to really focus on because it’s where they’re going to get their users.

When it comes to Casual Connect beyond Europe, is eSports now integrated going forward into all of your programming?

Yes, it is. We’ve actually had eSports content at our other events, but this is the first time we’ve had such a broad and deep range of topics. We also did a report that’s handed out to all the attendees that covers eSports to get everybody familiar with the topic and what’s going on. It really is a large area of growth that we feel that people should be looking into. We will see three days of content in San Francisco, and then that will continue moving forward. We’ll mail out that eSports report to our entire mailing list with some editorial in that report, so people can look for that in their mailboxes.


Virtual reality is another new area for Casual Connect. Outside of Sony and Ubisoft we’re not seeing much publisher support of VR. What does this open up for your Casual Connect audience?

We did some content on VR and AR in San Francisco last year and the thing that developers and indies and everybody should keep in mind about VR and AR is to not get too excited, not yet, because it’s not fully-fledged yet. This is why the publishers are ignoring it. They don’t have an install base yet, so that’s something that developers should definitely keep in mind when they’re designing their games so that they can help port them over when we do know where they should port, and what they should be porting to. Most of them are saying the big opportunity in VR and AR is actually more on the casual side of the games industry, rather than the hardcore side because what makes VR and AR cool is the interaction with other people. They’re going to be playing it on mobile devices and casual games will be a little easier for them to get in and get out of.

One of the top Samsung Gear VR games is Tommy Palm’s Solitaire Jester game, and he spoke about VR here in Amsterdam.

Yeah. Tommy is a big proponent of casual games for VR. He thinks that’s where it is, and he’s a big proponent of casual games.

How do you see VR and AR evolving at your conference moving forward?

For the next two or three years before VR and AR actually hits really big, our approach is to take VR and AR as one of our tracks. So we’re not going to become all VR and AR. It’s a nice global realistic approach on the market as a whole, of which eSports is a part, and YouTube and Twitch gaming is a part, and VR/AR is a part. When somebody’s defining their business, they need to be looking at all different avenues for their games, of which those are all very important.

Where is casual gaming today?

I remember when we first came to Amsterdam 11 years ago, we all talked about soon casual gaming’s going to be mass market; everybody is going to play casual games. I feel like now it’s almost like we made it. Everybody does play casual games. You see kids and parents playing on their phones and tablets. Casual games have really progressed from something that was very unique to something that’s common. Casual games have always existed, but they didn’t have the classification back when everyone played Microsoft Solitaire on their computer. Now that we have smartphones, instead of playing Solitaire people are playing Candy Crush or Clash of Clans.

What are the opportunities today in casual gaming with so much competition?

Yeah, there’s a lot of competition, but there’s a lot more people playing. Every year, there’s always the question: Can developers make it now? And developers can. Every single year I think, “There’s never been a better time to be an independent developer.” You just have to look at where the market is, where the market is going, and how do you fit in. You may have to change your business model and it might be hard, it might be trying to change it up and do something different, but there’s never been a better time.

How have you seen the opportunities open up from the Indie games competition that you do?

So Inde Prize has been a huge success this last year. We’ve done a lot more outreach into the local communities, so we tripled the number of submissions into Inde Prize this year than we had last year. We had well over 300 submissions into Inde Prize for 100 spots. It’s become a fierce competition. The game quality is definitely increasing significantly. And we’re seeing it as a way for publishers and platform holders to talk to all the developers to help them get their games up on their platforms and helping them get distribution with some marketing behind them. We’ve seen a lot of the games come out of the Indie Prize that have been successful. The reason that we have Indie Prize the way that we do with quite a large number of developers is because we feel that the next hit doesn’t always come from the person who just made the last hit. The joy is in the journey of becoming a full-fledged developer and starting from just getting their game into Indie Prize with a couple of people on their team to actually marketing it, and getting it out.

What’s in store for Casual Connect moving forward?

In Europe we have been planning to start touring around cities more frequently, and of course we get stuck in Amsterdam because Amsterdam is a beautiful city and everybody loves Amsterdam, as you can tell from our attendance numbers. It’s a very popular destination, but next year we’re going to Berlin, which is another hotspot in the gaming industry. We’ll start rotating the show more frequently and get some more people involved, make it so that it’s easier for some of the indies to travel in. But we’ll be coming back to Amsterdam, of course, so don’t worry.

What about the U.S.?

We’ll be in San Francisco this year but we’ll start rotating cities in the U.S. as well.

What about Asia?

We’re going to be in Singapore for a couple of years. We have a venue there reserved.

And Tel Aviv?

We’ll go back to Israel again. So this year will be Amsterdam, Singapore, San Francisco, and Tel Aviv.


Unity Technologies Is Enabling Virtual Reality Content Creators

Clive Downie and I are sitting in a hotel suite at the Loews Hollywood conducting a video interview about virtual reality as the inaugural Vision Summit unfolds on the hotel grounds below. Midway through our dialogue, the chief marketing officer for Unity Technologies suggests that we don’t even have to be sitting across from each other to necessarily have our discussion.

With VR, Downie says the room and its space can be rendered, just as each person can, and we can be speaking to each other remotely as our avatars interact, and a camera takes it all in. Good bye phones, Skype and cross-country flights for a monotonous meeting – there’s a new way to conduct business and deliver content.

“Just imagine what that unlocks, and how virtual reality extends to other examples,” Downie says. “It’s going to create more opportunities for reality to be mirrored.”

Over 1,400 attendees from all walks of VR and AR life made their way to Los Angeles last week to take in the Vision Summit – a conference where the the likes of Google, Sony and Oculus forecasted the inevitable VR storm that is coming. _DSF5006

With over 5.5 million registered users and a 30 percent share of the top-1,000 grossing games in the world, Unity Technologies has cemented its seat in the gaming space as the developer of Unity, one of the most-popular licensed 3D and 2D engines. They’re now continuing to add VR as a vital focus to the gaming ecosystem.

They recently announced a collaboration with Valve to offer native support for SteamVR in the Unity Platform. The partnership gives VR developers a rendering plugin to further enhance functionality. A scene editor allows developers to create 3D games while moving around inside the 3D environments.

“What’s going on today is nothing short of a revolution. The time for for VR and AR has come. The promise of decades is here … There has never been a better time,” says John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity Technologies. He then immediately warns: “The near term challenges are costs. It’s going to be expensive to get everything you want. 2016 is not the year for mass affordable VR.”

Downie, a former chief operating officer for the social gaming company Zynga, joined [a]listdaily to discuss Unity’s core principles, as well as marketing the mushrooming space that is virtual reality.

What are Unity’s principles designed to accomplish? How are you marketing and positioning the company?

The foundation of the company is to democratize development, and that’s something we live and breathe everyday. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the games business for over 25 years – making games is hard. We started out to make that easier for people by bringing people together, by ensuring that we have a community of developers who are unified around a central tool – the Unity Engine. We want to allow developers to talk to each other, share best practices with each other and make it as easy as possible to learn from the mistakes of others just so that there’s focus in creativity. Democratizing development is still an integral part of our business. If you earn less than $100,000, the Unity Engine is free because we want as many people as possible to use it. We don’t want creators to be impeded.

The second is solving hard problems. It’s subjective, so you have to narrow that down a bit. So, it’s hard problems we can predict over the horizon. We solve hard problems everyday within our Unity Engine tool. We release quarterly updates of the Unity editor to continue solving problems in graphical fidelity, scripting and 2D editing. Then there are problems in AR and VR, which is why we introduced an editor at the Vision Summit to optimize the VR space for maximum presence to the customer.

The third principle is enabling success. We realize that there is a life cycle around the creation, maintenance, and running of the game. It’s not just about the production. That’s the first part. People make games, but after they’ve launched it, it’s about making sure that’s as good as it can be for the customer. Games are services, and you need to continue updating your service to make it relevant and credible and delightful, which is why we have such tools like Unity Ads and Unity Cloud. Our analytics tool, for example, provides that kind of value. Unity has a 30 percent share of the top-1,000 grossing games in the world. That equates to 1.5 billion downloads of Unity games per month. Imagine the data that comes back from that network size – insights like devices they should be developing for, and chip sets they should be focusing on. Ultimately, we exist at the center of the creative and game developer universe. clive-downie-zynga-coo

How will Unity empower developers and content creators in the VR space?

We feel encumbered to reduce the noise at this moment in time to understand the opportunity, and what they need to be thinking about. VR and AR is going to be a spectacular moment for how hundreds and hundreds and billions and billions of consumers globally consume content. It will happen. We are very sure of that. It’s going to happen on a slower trajectory than many are predicting. Being at the center, we see so much. We see what developers need. We see what hardware, software and other tech companies are doing.

What is the common thread of feedback in terms of optimism and pain-points developers are sharing?

The common theme is people are excited, as we all are. People understand there is a major opportunity that’s about to happen. People are in exploration mode, and they need to know that’s OK. There’s a risk, and a gamble. They want to know if this is going to pay off. Being in the fortunate position in which we are, we see so much potential. Some of the great century companies of tomorrow were sitting in the room at the Vision Summit.

There’s been plenty of highs and false starts throughout the history of VR. What’s it going to take for VR to be adopted by a mass audience?

All great inventions over the course of history have done this: they make people’s lives better. It’s that simple. … I think VR and AR will do that over the course of the next five years. When it does, you’ll see a planet-wide adoption like you’ve seen with smart phones, for example.

You’re a father and a family man. Are you ready for family nights of isolated experiences? Is it dangerous to disconnect with each other?

I don’t think that’s going to be the case. VR and AR are going to be the exact opposite. It’s going to allow you to go to places, environments and moments and share them with other human beings in ways you haven’t been able to share them before. That’s going to be the mark of making a difference. … That’s the power of VR and AR. It’s actually going to allow to bind people together in ways they haven’t before.

What kind of content is it going to take for that to happen?

It needs to be content that could bring people together in a social manner. Educational content, like learning a language, is another. You don’t have to be limited to a physical space anymore. The applications are limitless. We’re just scratching the surface.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan.

How Netflix Prepared For a Global Audience

Netflix has become a juggernaut in the streaming industry over the past few years, thanks to the influx of original programming that it’s been introduced, as well as its debut in overseas market. But setting up in new markets isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

The channel posted a recent blog that explained how it had to make changes to its recommendations section in order to reach new audience members, adjusting algorithms so that they would cater to specific tastes.

For instance, people in the U.S. see particular suggestions for action or comedy flicks, while categories would change for other viewers, like an anime fan based in Sweden. This was noted as a “precarious shift for a core technology” that the company has been working on for well over a year, across a team of just about 70 engineers.

“We were very worried that running the algorithms we knew worked well when we pulled data from a single country and a single catalog, if we tried across places where the catalog differed, the recommendations would be pretty bad,” said Carlos Gomez-Uribe, vice president of product innovation for Netflix, and part of the recommendation redesign team.

To put it into more technical terms, a pair of engineers broke down just how the process works, via the blog post:

“The dystopian Sci-Fi movie Equilibrium might be available on Netflix in the US but not in France. And The Matrix might be available in France but not in the US. Our recommendation models rely heavily on learning patterns from play data, particularly involving co-occurrence or sequences of plays between videos. In particular, many algorithms assume that when something was not played it is a (weak) signal that someone may not like a video, because they chose not to play it. However, in this particular scenario we will never observe any members who played both Equilibrium and The Matrix. A basic recommendation model would then learn that these two movies do not appeal to the same kinds of people just because the audiences were constrained to be different. However, if these two movies were available to the same set of members, we would likely observe a similarity between the videos and between the members who watch them. From this example, it is clear that uneven video availability potentially interferes with the quality of our recommendations.”

Most of the work went into building individual models for each region. “This could capture the taste differences between regions because we trained separate models whose hyperparameters were tuned differently,” the blog explained. “Within a region, as long as there were enough members with certain taste preference and a reasonable amount of history, a recommendation model should be able to identify and use that pattern of taste.

“However, there were several problems with this approach. The first is that within a region the amount of data from a large country would dominate the model and dampen its ability to learn the local tastes for a country with a smaller number of members. It also presented a challenge of how to maintain the groupings as catalogs changed over time and memberships grew. Finally, because we’re continuously running A/B tests with model variants across many algorithms, the combinatorics involving a growing number of regions became overwhelming.”

Despite the hefty difficulties that lied with finding a proper groove for the algorithms, it eventually paid off. “We found not just approaches that will make Netflix better for those signing up in the 130 new countries, but in fact better for all Netflix members worldwide,” the blog concluded. “Our global journey is just beginning and we look forward to making our service dramatically better over time.”

Considering that Netflix has over 75 million subscribers and climbing, with record international growth, there’s a reason to aim high.

TwitchCon Returns; Heading to San Diego This Year

Last year’s TwitchCon was a huge success for the team at Twitch, between the community being able to chat with their favorite streamers, companies hosting tournaments and giveaways, and informative panels that taught up-and-comers a thing or two about the art of streaming.

So, it should be no surprise then that the show is making a return, as TwitchCon 2016 has been dated to take place from September 30th through October 2nd this year. However, there is one notable change. Instead of Twitch’s hometown of San Francisco, the show is moving to San Diego, which is traditionally the spot of one of the biggest conventions in the world, Comic-Con.

To get a little more insight on the show’s move, as well as what to expect the second time around, [a]listdaily sat down with Twitch’s director of global events, Amy Brady.

Amy BradyWhat changes are the company looking to implement to make this year’s show bigger and better?

While there is nothing we are sharing at this time, we will be making announcements leading up to the event with our goal to make it an exciting and worthwhile experience for both new and returning attendees.

What prompted a change in location for the event from San Francisco to San Diego?

We wanted to explore other locations, yet still remain close enough to our home base of San Francisco given all of the staff that will be attending the event. San Diego is a city that has a lot of experience dealing with large fan-driven conventions, so we are excited to try it out this year.

Will we see more sponsors, like third party gaming companies, involved?

Game companies and software developers were a huge part of TwitchCon and we intend to expand their footprint in 2016 while staying true to the community-centric vibe of the event. What we really want to do is drive the interaction between games, game companies, and the Twitch Community. That’s a win for everyone.


What promotion changes are you expecting to make for the event?

We will continue to leverage all of our social media channels, from Twitter and Facebook, to our blog, newsletter and Twitch Weekly show. We are also exploring ways to work with our participating broadcasters to incentivise them to encourage their communities to attend.

How has the community feedback affected any changes being made for TwitchCon 2016?

Community feedback is the cornerstone of everything that we do, so their feedback has played a significant role in how we are approaching TwitchCon 2016. This spans everything from the content and experiences to merchandise sales.

Are you already planning to stream a heavy amount of content from the event?

Yes. We are big proponents of broadcasting content from events, so it’s safe to say TwitchCon 2016 will get a lot of airtime.

Do you see more competitions taking place at this year’s TwitchCon, considering the growth of eSports when it comes to streaming?

We are exploring lots of ways to bring a broader experience into TwitchCon 2016, eSports included, but with our own unique Twitch flavor, of course.

More information about TwitchCon can be found at the official site.