Steam’s Early Access Program Leads To Big Results

Three years ago, Steam introduced the Early Access program onto its platform, which lets developers sell early builds of games in an effort to get the community more involved and gain funding. This enabled users to provide feedback towards the game’s final release while building up hype for the final game.

But how effective has the program been? Patrick Walker, head of insights at EEDAR, recently wrote (via GamesIndustry International) on findings that indicate how more games are finding success through Early Access.

Although Early Access has exploded in popularity, only 25 percent of titles are being released as full games. However, the findings also show that the program has significantly more (over 5 times as many) games available than when it was first introduced.


Although momentum slowed around the fourth quarter last year, about 573 games entered Early Access in 2015. As of March 2016, over 1,100 games in total will have been included in the program, with almost 70 percent of all Early Access games reaching completion.

The number of average days until release has dwindled during the course of the program, indicating that developers are taking community feedback and applying it much more quickly to the final product. At the same time, the rapidly increasing number of games take advantage of Early Access, along with a consistent 25 percent full-release rate, is a strong sign of stability.

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That doesn’t mean every developer is rushing to release, though. Some are taking their time in applying these changes, especially if it’s a deep experience, such as a role-playing game or a racing simulation. In fact, some games can take nearly a whole year for changes to be applied and a full release to be scheduled, which is probably one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to purchasing a game through the Early Access program.

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Regardless, the program has welcomed up-and-coming developments with open arms, while making a plethora of new games available through the Steam service. “Despite the long time these titles are spending in development, the program continues to grow rapidly,” writes Patrick Walker. “The program is cementing itself as a viable path for PC releases. It will be interesting to see how the platform continues to evolve, especially if the popularity continues to increase and discoverability becomes more and more of an issue.”

Square Enix Reveals Killer ‘Hitman’ Promotions

Today marks the release of an all-new Hitman game that brings the cool and profession contract killer, Agent 47, to an episodically styled game that will unfold with new missions and locations over months. Players will get to travel the world, starting with Paris, to complete contracts using a variety of means that include disguises, improvised weapons, and engineered “accidents.”

Marketing at Square Enix has been working to showcase Agent 47’s particular set of skills through a number of equally creative means. Recently, we’ve seen a 360 gameplay trailer and a spectacular live-action Real Life Hitman video, where players direct the movements of an actor from a booth. That was followed by a lengthy Twitch livestream leading up today’s release, and this morning we saw the launch of a new campaign called “Kill this ad.” In it, viewers watch a pre-roll for a fake reality TV show called Wolfshark, and have the option to “kill” it by clicking and using Agent 47 to violently end the advertisement.

Square Enix senior director of marketing, Mike Silbowitz, and Adrian Chen, product manager for Hitman talk to [a]listdaily about promoting Hitman‘s new episodic style and arranging a killer ad campaign.


How does the new Hitman stand out from previous games?

Adrian: The thing about Hitman is that this is really a game about the fans. IO Interactive listened to what fans like about Absolution, and are aware that Blood Money is a favorite. So, a good way to describe Hitman is kind of as a mix of the two. You have the contract aspect Blood Money combined with the high fidelity and good story of Absolution.

What made you decide on an episodic format?

Mike: Well, we had a lot of success with Life is Strange, for one. It really shows us that there are many ways and facets that our consumers can digest our products. One of my favorite parts about this Hitman is not too much about it being episodic. It’s about the consistent flow of content for our consumers. The added value that we will continue to provide. Other than the episodes, every week will have elusive content and contracts to keep people engaged throughout the whole season. That’s just so unique and different from what all consumers are used to—not just from the standpoint of a “AAA boxed product,” but also from what episodic has been until now.

How has promoting an episodic game been different from promoting a traditional game?

Mike: Actually, it’s how do we promote Hitman differently from anything we’ve ever promoted? Even the way we went to market on Life is Strange as an episodic product was very different from how we went with Just Cause 3.

With Just Cause 3, it was all about that big AAA blitz. We did a lot of cool campaigns prior to release, and one of my personal favorites is the Win an Island campaign to help drive awareness and pre-order. Then we approached Life is Strange in a very strategic and analytical way. The dollars weren’t necessarily there for a big AAA push, but we were able to utilize digital in a way that was truly meaningful to get in front of our consumers, and hopefully get the game into their hands.

Hitman is a hybrid of that. It’s having the same AAA presence, but then still having the power, the dollars, and the ability to retarget our audience throughout the season. You’ll see that there are going to be a lot of big blitzes around our first episode drop, but the campaign will pretty much always have an always on approach so that we can continue to target our audience. If people have joined us for the full experience upfront, that’s great. We want them to enjoy the experience, and they’ll have access to everything that we have to offer for this first season of Hitman. If they’re consumers who have opted to first try with the Starter Pack, then—as we progress through our campaign—we’re going to hopefully be able to target those customers and show them why they should expand on their journey.

How do your campaigns convey the size, scope and dynamics of Hitman?

Mike: As we progress, it’s really about showing, first and foremost, the size and scope of each of our episodes. The journey for episode one doesn’t end when episode two comes. There’s always going to be content that’s going to be ever expanding through elusive targets and contracts. It won’t always be about the newest hub that opens.

It’s all about the replayability, and the way our marketing will specifically expand on that is through some fantastic video content, which includes trailers that truly details our levels. But it’s also about streamers, and having our games played by them. Each hub is an open world in and of itself, and it’s all about getting as much of that content in front of our consumers, so they can see how great, expansive, and replayable the game is.

How did Real Life Hitman come together?

Mike: That is one of the best campaigns I’ve ever seen our brand team put together. That was managed from global brand team out of IO. For them, it was really something unique that shows off the size and scope of the product. It’s almost uncanny. The first time I saw some of the footage, I thought it was the game.

With how crowded the marketplace is these days, you can’t just show gameplay. You have to find unique ways to show off your experience. One of the things I absolutely loved this is how it detailed choice in the game, and not just scope. It also shows how much fun it can be. I actually hope I get the opportunity to do that, because it was awesome.

What was everyone at Square Enix’s reaction to the finished Real Life Hitman video?

Mike: [Laughs] “Holy crap, why aren’t we making a TV series?” That’s one of the most amazing reality TV shows to ever hit. It’s one of the those things that’s so ambitious in scope for a marketing asset. It’s impressive and admirable, and I have to give a lot of credit to IO for it.

How did the idea for the “Kill this ad” campaign come together?

Adrian: We used our agency, Omelet, who put this together. We’re very cognizant of all the different competitors we have to face, so we have to find means to stand out from the clutter. So, we tasked Omelet to come up with a creative idea that leverages all the elements of Hitman, in that he’s the ultimate assassin, that his targets are from the high echelons of society, stealth elements, and all the improvised weapons.

They proposed this idea of using skippable pre-roll. Using the whole angle of the reality TV show, Wolfshark, we wanted to encourage the viewer to be annoyed at how over-the-top it is and click skip the ad. But we added our own Hitman element to it, so instead of “Skip this ad” it says “Kill this ad.” We wanted it to be fun and interactive.

Mike: With the rollout that we have for Hitman and its episodic nature, our hardcore enthusiast fans are going for the full experience. But having a Starter Pack at a $14.99 price point is a unique opportunity to get new consumers into the franchise. This sort of advertisement has the opportunity to expand us well beyond our core Hitman fans, because they’ll see what they’re used to: pre-roll. They’ll see an ad for a reality TV show that they’ll probably be annoyed with, and by clicking, they will learn about the Hitman product in a unique way, which might actually make them want to see the ad more because of how much fun it is.

Adrian: We went through different rounds of what we wanted to do, and it was us at Square that wanted to go the cheesy reality show route, but the whole concept of skipping the pre-roll was Omelet.


Will there be more “Kill this ad” videos?

Mike: We’re starting off with one, but who knows what the future brings for the rest of this campaign?

Adrian: There are three different times where you can kill the video, depending on when you click, so it’s not just one experience.

What’s your favorite way to kill the ad?

Mike: My personal favorite is when he shoots him. I just love it.

Adrian: For me, I think it’s the last one, because I got to see the filming of it. One funny thing that happened is that, it’s not the actual actor that you see being lifted off the ground with the shoes dangling. The actor had a bad back, so we got a random stand-in to put on shoes and get lifted.

What would you say it is about Agent 47 and the Hitman franchise that resonates with so many fans?

Mike: There is a bit of a fantasy to the experience of being an international assassin. Not that people want to go out into the world and do this, per se, but it’s a safe experience within the game to be this sophisticated, classy, agent who travels the world and infiltrates with a complete James Bond-esque experience. That resonates with our consumers.

Adrian: I think our target audience just loves the creative aspect of being able to fulfill your contract in so many different ways. It’s not a game on rails by any means. You have total freedom, which can mean putting on one of the hundreds of disguises, using whatever weapons you want, making the kill look like an accident, or doing it “silent assassin” style, where nobody knows you were ever there. There aren’t any limits, and I think our consumers really like that aspect.

How have fans responded to the episodic format?

Mike: Well, there have been questions. People have wondered about it. This is not how people are used to digesting Hitman. Though I feel, as we’ve progressed through our campaign, that there has been more understanding. As we launch, I think there is a unique opportunity here where a lot of our hardcore consumers will be jumping into this experience, and we saw that with the numbers around our beta. That was very successful beta drop.

And, as I’ve said earlier, I love the idea of new fans having the opportunity to enter into the Hitman world. They can try it out and spend $14.99 to see what the fuss is all about. If it’s not for them, then that’s ok. But the flip side is when they love being Agent 47 and traveling the world. They have a unique experience, and we have new fans into the franchise.


Did you learn anything else did you learn from the beta?

Mike: That Hitman is awesome! [Laughs] But, to be honest, we at Square Enix fully back Hitman and are full steam ahead on the episodic nature, but there is always a little bit of nervousness about what our consumers will think as we proceed down a new and untested path for this franchise. The beta showed us that maybe we’re doing it right, and it just might work.

Does the episodic format signal an end to the big single-game campaign experience Hitman is traditionally known for?

Mike: When it comes to Hitman, it’s too soon to tell. Overall, when it comes the big AAA games, they are here to stay. I think there was a lot of confusion many publishers had, leading into the new-gen consoles, about what that “next thing” would be. It’s very clear that AAA is what our consumers want. But what’s nice about this episodic content is that it’s another route for gamers to enter into these experiences. Time will tell for Hitman, but AAA is here to stay.

Mobile Gaming Picking Up Alongside Smartphone User Growth

Mobile gaming continues to rise as more consumers use smartphones for entertainment, according to a new eMarketer report titled Growing Number of Smartphone Users Is Driving Mobile Gaming Consumption.

More than two thirds of mobile phone users  (about 56 percent of the overall U.S. population) play games on their phone at least once a month over the course of this year, eMarketer says. That comes out to an estimated 180.4 million people, which is a 9.4 percent increase over the 164.9 million from the previous year.

That growth is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The report suggests that, by 2020, we’ll see a rise to 213 million mobile gamers. That will be 77 percent of overall phone users and nearly 64 percent of the overall population.

As for tablets, an estimated 120 million people (roughly 72.5 percent of users) play games on one of these devices at least once a month. That’s expected to increase to 140.3 million by 2020, which covers over three-quarters of all tablet users.

The report also tracks online console gamers, who are no doubt enjoying games like Tom Clancy’s The Division and Call of Duty: Black Ops III right now. Their numbers are a bit smaller, with only about 19.4 of Internet users partaking in games like these. That number will remain steady over the next few years, peaking only by a 1 percentage point by 2020. This is mainly due to the lack of console releases, audience maturity and the growing popularity of mobile gaming.

NOTE: A subscription to eMarketer’s Total Access program is required to see the full report.

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How VR Shines As Marketing Tool

While millions of consumers await the arrival of affordable high-end VR equipment, there’s one group that’s not waiting to take advantage of the technology: marketers. The use of VR in marketing has been going on for years now, as they seek to capitalize on consumer excitement for the technology. We’ve seen movie studios using VR to promote films, and Marriott using VR to promote its hotel experience, and now we’re seeing McDonald’s use VR as a Happy Meal promotion.

The concept is simple: use a Happy Meal box as a VR viewer, in the manner of Google Cardboard. A few perforations let you convert it into Happy Goggles, where you slide in your smartphone and play a game McDonald’s had created for the promotion. Plus you get a Happy Meal along with it. What kid wouldn’t like this?

Don’t rush out to your local McDonald’s just yet, though. This promotion is courtesy of McDonald’s Sweden, and right now they’re just giving it a trial run at 14 restaurants over two weekends. The game included with the promotion is a ski-themed app called Slope Stars, which of course you can still play without the Happy Goggles. Equally, you can use the Happy Goggles with other mobile VR titles, at least until the cardboard wears out and you need to buy a new Happy Meal.

Adweek spoke to Jeff Hackett, the marketing director of McDonald’s Sweden about the promotion. He believes it’s “a really exciting opportunity to connect families in digital times,” and continued, “Parents can learn more about their children’s knowledge and experience of the digital world. And purposeful gaming can also be a great joint activity that helps families interact on equal terms.” Right now it’s a very small test, but Hackett also said “this is the first trial run globally” for the Happy Goggles. It seem likely this promotion may well be rolled out elsewhere if it does well.

Marketing VR is already becoming a regular thing when you want to attract people and engage them with a certain flair. For marketers, VR offers a number of positive factors; it’s the very latest in technology, and it’s something that most people are (a) curious about and (b) interesting in experiencing for themselves. The actual experience of VR itself offers the benefits of being immersive (so you’re focused entirely on the message), it’s impactful (creating a more intense and there more memorable experience), and it’s novel, meaning you’re more likely to get social media uptake and even media coverage of your marketing efforts.

VR is finding a home in marketing across a wide variety of industries. Marriott has been getting rave reviews for its varied VR efforts, like this virtual honeymoon.

Merrell has used VR to support the launch of a new hiking boot, the Capra, by giving the user the experience of a dangerous mountain hike. Patrón took its signature tequila brand into VR with an adroit mix of live action and computer graphics to follow the entire production process. And it should be no surprise that a car company is using VR, where Volvo has done expertly in the launch of their XC90 SUV. Fashion, movies, food, soft drinks, and travel… the list of companies using VR in marketing efforts goes on.

The uses of VR in marketing go well beyond the value of the technology as a way of attracting attention. Companies are now exploring the direct revenue potential of VR in creating virtual showrooms for products, where you can immerse yourself in a product experience that’s an order of magnitude more compelling than looking at some pictures or reading some text. Yes, it’s a big ask to get someone to put on a VR headset, but that’s getting easier to do all the time.

Marketing seems like a natural fit for many of VR’s qualities, and the attraction is bound to get more powerful. While high-end VR systems are going to be fairly limited in numbers for a while, mobile VR is already widespread with Google Cardboard and efforts like McDonald’s are going to see that spread to millions more people very quickly. The next major effort to hit the market will be the mid-priced headsets, ranging from Mattel’s View-Master (a steal at only $29.99) to Samsung’s Gear VR at $99, and the rumored mid-range new Google device that might be a couple of hundred dollars (but would not require a smartphone, if the rumor is correct).

As VR catches on in popularity, the low cost and easy availability of reasonably priced VR gear will mean that marketing efforts can find a wide audience. As of right now, most VR marketing has been based around creating a special event at a location, because it relies on high-end hardware that’s difficult to transport. The creative thinking changes when you have millions of people with the capability to experience VR already in their possession; you start thinking about sponsoring experiences, creating special VR content for your brand, or perhaps even making VR commercials that get added to other VR experiences. Ad-sponsored VR? Why not? The business model for VR apps is completely open, and none of the parameters have been set.

This is a key time for marketers to think about putting VR into their strategic plans for the future. The technology is cutting-edge right now, it’s new and hot and attractive. The possibilities of what you can do both creatively and business-wise are just beginning to be explored. Bold marketers can seize the moment and get in on the ground floor of the VR revolution, helping to shape how VR impacts marketing and indeed the very business of VR apps. The time is not so distant when people will be asking what your VR strategy is as a standard question, and one of those people is likely to be your boss. It’s time to start coming up with some good answers to the VR marketing question.

DingIt Exec Discusses ESports Growth Opportunities

After a year of operations, eSports streaming platform DingIt has attracted 80 million total unique viewers and 20 million current monthly unique viewers. The company has focused on creating professionally produced content that supports grassroots gaming as well as larger, high-end tournaments.

To date, DingIt has invested over $400,000 on original content, as well as acquiring the rights to third-party eSports streams that have resulted in over 800 broadcasts in the last year.

Simon Voysey, chief revenue officer at DingIt, explains the growth opportunities for the company into new territories, and why eSports remains ripe for expansion, in this exclusive interview.

simonvoyseyWhat differentiates DingIt from other livestreaming platforms?

DingIt is a streaming platform that is underpinned by some unique technology. We developed a new way of delivering video to the end user that results in a better quality stream whilst using less bandwidth. This means that more people are able to enjoy eSports around the world, even in areas where internet connections are not as good. We also try to differentiate ourselves with the content we produce. DingIt, unlike most other platforms, is a content producer as well as a distribution platform. We can decide what types of tournaments to run and what level to focus on. We decided very early on that we would feature mid-level tournaments that are accessible to up-and-coming gamers. By doing this we have been able to produce regular, professionally produced content that is streamed daily and weekly. We hope to add value to the gaming community by supporting grassroots events as well as the larger tournaments that we have planned.

What’s been the key to acquiring 20 million monthly users since launching?

We have been very pleased by the audience growth and we have worked very hard to get to this point. The growth can be attributed to a number of factors. Whilst we run regular tournaments that provide new content for our viewers every day, we also create highlights clips of the action which generate large audiences. These highlights are short ‘best of’ moments that show a particular piece of skill or cunning. Viewers will often watch quite a few of these clips in a session but may also progress into other areas of the site too, so the highlights act as a gateway to eSports tournaments.

Another reason for our growth stems from the technology we have built. eSports is growing at a fierce rate, but none more so than in developing markets such as Brazil, India and China. We have been able to capitalize on growth in these emerging markets through our ability to deliver streams to areas that do not have a great internet connection. We are dedicated to delivering the best possible experience to our viewers, so making it possible for fans all over the world to experience eSports is a core objective of ours.

Twitch dominates the livestreaming space today. How much room is there for other livestreaming platforms, especially in countries like Korea?

We believe the model for eSports streaming is broken. Existing platforms are struggling to run profitable businesses because the cost of streaming video in large volumes is prohibitive. What inevitably happens is that the quality is squeezed and the user suffers. The combination of our pioneering broadcast app and the integrations we have with Akamai, the largest CDN in the world, means that we are able to deliver higher quality streams at a lower cost. This is a huge step forward for video streaming and has applications well beyond gaming. For now though, we are laser-focused on the experience. Until recently, we required our viewers to download a plug-in or Chrome extension to benefit from the higher quality streams we push out. Now we are also able to offer a stream without the need for the extension in response to what our audience is telling us they want.

We believe that there is room in the market as long as we continue to focus on the viewing experience. We set up because we wanted to be part of the biggest eSports market in the world. We have a huge amount of respect for the Korean market and we have plans to source content and run tournaments there this year. Korea is also strategically important for our entry into China, something we have been working on for a while now.

What opportunities do new areas such as South America and Africa open up for eSports moving forward?

We are very interested in emerging markets and our technology gives us an edge when it comes to distribution into these countries. We feel like we are making a genuine contribution to the industry by making it possible for gamers to access new content for the first time. We’re very excited to be part of this industry and even more so, to be able to bring gaming to new audiences. ESports is a truly global phenomenon so we hope to be a positive force in its international development. We are already eyeing a South American office.

Can you explain what eSports titles you’re focusing on and why?

The three titles we are focusing on currently are StarCraft II, CS:GO and Hearthstone. These are all games where we feel we can add value to the respective communities and which command a big enough audience to justify long-term investment. We are already planning to diversify the titles we feature but the emphasis will be on quality rather than quantity.

What role does exclusive content play in the eSports landscape today for live streaming platforms?

Exclusive versus non-exclusive content is always a question on content creators’ (and distributors’) minds. On the one hand, exclusive content offers a streaming platform a good draw for viewership and content creators the ability to command a higher fee. However, non-exclusive empowers viewers to use the streaming service of their choice and content creators a larger audience in total. At DingIt, we see value in both. Thanks to our technology, we are able to make much smaller viewer numbers commercially viable and offer increased revenue share for non-exclusive content, it also means users come to our platform for the better experience rather than as the only option.

How have you gone about investing in exclusive content?

When looking at exclusive content, we always try to add value to a gaming community and enhance viewer experience while also balancing commercial interests. As both a platform and content creator, we mainly focus on original content as our exclusive offerings. This way, we are able to work closely with players, teams and sponsors to create events that viewers will enjoy. The most important thing we keep in mind with all our content is that it needs to be sustainable. While a couple of large events may be great short-term, if it isn’t viable long-term it can leave a void if they stop running.

We’ve seen a lot of investment in the Fantasy eSports and betting markets last year. How does this impact livestreaming of eSports events? 

With all new entrants into the eSports market it is important to look at how both the brands and consumers can benefit. Betting is a huge driving force in traditional sports, so it is exciting to see how it will influence eSports. One concern with betting is with eSports still being young, competitive integrity is paramount. As a content creator, working with the betting sectors is more challenging than other sponsors due to restrictions being in-place from game publishers.

What role do hosted tournaments play for your company?

We are heavily focused on eSports content. Firstly, it allows us to provide high-quality, engaging content on a consistent basis and importantly, gives the raw footage to create professional highlights and short form content which is appealing to a broader audience of gamers.

Outside of the professional eSports landscape, what opportunities do the amateur tournaments open up for connecting with consumers?

We have always believed that a combination of amateur and professional tournaments are good for our platform, our audience and the gaming industry as a whole. We have run lower-level tournaments since the start and we have also been looking for amateur invitationals to help bring budding gamers through the ranks.

What are your growth projections for your second year?

We hope to continue the success of our first year and to grow the platform through the creation of more quality and exclusive content. We’re not discussing exact numbers, but the site functionality will undergo some development and we will also be looking to build out our production capabilities to make this happen.

Google Unleashes ‘Cool’ Chromecast Promotion

Hundreds of people take to their mobile phones during sports game intermissions, and Google may have found a way to grab hold of their attention.

AdWeek reports that the company introduced a new promotion Tuesday night, during the NHL game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Titled On the Ice, the promotion directed fans to go to a particular website on their mobile devices, where they can play a quick game against one another.

The game not only provides fans the opportunity to let a few minutes breeze by during intermission, but also serves as a promotional opportunity for Google’s Chromecast video streaming device.

“There are a lot of moments at live events where the action stops, and people all the sudden will start talking to each other or they pull out their phone trying to keep themselves entertained for a little bit,” said Michael Jenkins, a communications strategist for Google. “This is the first time where we will have up to 18,000 people all experiencing Chromecast–we’re creating the biggest living room ever created.”

With Own the Ice, players compete with each other by tapping their screens as quickly as they can in 90 seconds to give their team the advantage. Those that take part in the action are rewarded with a promo code that takes $10 off a Chromecast device through Google’s eCommerce store.


It’s an interesting way to advertise for a product while keeping players involved with quick gaming action, and the campaign will carry over well through the Islanders’ season for the next few weeks.

Google is also open to the idea of similar promotions in the future. “We’re hoping to build a case to create more of these experiences out in the world, not even next year but hopefully in Q4 this fall,” Jenkins noted.

It sounds like this would be a perfect promotion for an even bigger crowd. Maybe Google could consider an Own the Turf game with fans of the New York Giants?

Oculus Introduces VR Social Features

Virtual reality lets people play interactive movies, introduces massive gaming environments to explore, and even transports tourists to exotic new locations. The potential for the technology is endless, and starting tomorrow, Samsung’s Gear VR users will be able to use it to take social interactions to the next level.

A new Oculus VR blog post explains the various social features that will be coming to virtual reality. Gear VR owners will be able to create a profile, search for others across the Oculus Social platform, and interact through games and videos.

The company has already detailed the first couple of games that will take advantage of social communication. The first is called Social Trivia. As its name implies, the game enables up to four friends to sit down for a good old-fashioned round of trivia, answering questions and earning points.


Another game, Herobound: Gladiators, lets players team up in four-player cooperative match to battle against goblins and demons in arena-based battlefields. Both of these games are available now.

On top of that, Oculus Social enables users to communicate with one another through Twitch or Vimeo streams. But this is just the start of the company’s VR video capabilities.

Upcoming features will include a new Facebook tab in its Videos section, enabling users to log into their Facebook account to view personalized 360-degree videos through their device, based on the pages and people that are being followed. Videos will also be shareable through the Gear VR headset, with interaction through comments.

Oculus has also promised to make the headset more accessible with developers, promising to release new tools “that make it even easier to create more incredible social VR games and apps”.

Chances are that Oculus will bring a number of these features, with possible improvements, to the high-end Oculus Rift VR headset when it launches later this spring.

It looks like a great way for more people to get involved with virtual reality, although it’d be neat to see additional games take advantage of the format, such as a first-person shooter or even sports titles.

For now, it’s definitely a good step in the right direction, and helps fulfill the vision Facebook had for virtual reality when it purchased Oculus VR in 2014.

Immersv Launches New VR Ad Platform

You don’t necessarily need an expensive headset to enjoy some of what virtual reality has to offer. The power to enter an all-new world is in your pocket, using smartphones in devices like the Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. Then it will be a matter of finding great content.

With that content comes advertising opportunities, which is where the newly announced Immersv platform comes in. Immersv is a virtual reality ad platform that allows “VR developers to drive both distribution and monetization for their content,” according to the official announcement. Not only does it deliver advertising from within a virtual reality space, but it is a VR experience in itself.

Mihir Shah, co-founder and CEO of Immersv, states, “Our goal is to build a marketplace to help consumers discover great VR apps and experiences, and to empower all the artists, content producers and game publishers building VR content to turn their hard work and creativity into commercial success.” Immersv seems to be on the right path, since its beta tests show that the completion rate for its videos were at 79 percent, with some trailers reaching as high as 88 percent. In comparison, video ad completion rates averaged 46 percent on smartphones and 54 percent on tablets, according to a Vindico report.

Developers that include Archiact, Element Games, Lunagames, Alitech, Arloopa and Meta3D have already signed on with the ad platform.


Shah speaks to [a]listdaily about Immersv’s capabilities and how it will lead the way to advertising in virtual space.

What is Immersv, and what can it do?

Immersv is a mobile virtual reality advertising platform. Our goal is to drive the mobile VR market to mass consumer adoption by helping VR developers turn their content into successful businesses. We provide both distribution and monetization for VR apps and content by providing a virtual reality ad unit that easily plugs into any VR app. It also provides a great way for consumers to discover new VR content by watching video trailers within VR settings.

Can you give an example of how Immersv can be best put to use?

Basically, any VR developer that has an app in the marketplace can use Immersv to drive downloads. All they have to do is create a video trailer, and our system can show that trailer within our fully customizable VR ad units, which are presented to consumers within other VR apps. The ad units are full VR experiences themselves and provide a great way for consumers to experience and discover new VR content. But it’s not just about distribution. We can help VR developers generate significant revenue as well, basically by getting paid by other VR apps to run their ads.

Can Immersv be used within VR video content in addition to games? What about livestreaming VR events?

Yes, absolutely. The Immersv platform can be used by any VR content developers, not just game developers. We have publishers ranging from media companies and retailers to movie studios and other types of entertainment.

Your beta testing shows very high completion rates for Immersv videos compared to those viewed on smartphones and tablets. What do you think is the reason for such a big difference?

The main reason is that the ad experience is so vibrant and compelling. It’s a great way for consumers to experience great new VR content, and it gets them excited to go and download it. It goes to show just how hungry consumers are for fresh new VR content, and that this is a great way for them to discover it.

There is such a wide variety of VR experiences, with more to come. Will Immersv be able to fit into every situation?

Yes, our platform was built from the ground up for the VR environment, and to be extremely flexible and customizable so that it can fit just about any situation. Our ad units have already been integrated into apps in a number of unique ways, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of is adaptability.

How soon do you think we’ll see mass adoption of VR?

It’s already starting to happen. I think we’ll look back at 2016 as the year that VR really took off, with Mobile VR as the main adoption driver. We are very excited to see the tremendous strides made by Google and Oculus, and we think this is just the beginning.

Mazda Explains Its SXSW Sponsorship Strategy

South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the year’s tentpole events for business professionals and tech, film and music buffs alike as they congregate in Austin, Texas for a 10-day networking and BBQ-palooza. The festival has turned into such a big deal that President Obama will speak at the keynote. It marks the first time in the conference’s 30-year history that a sitting president has participated.

For brands like Mazda, they’re celebrating their second year at the event in grand style by becoming one of the seven “super sponsors.”

The car manufacturer’s main activation for SXSW this year features the Mazda Express Shuttle System (no need to hail a cab!). The car company will transport around 6,000-to-8,000 people during the conference. A Mazda-and-Pandora-curated music playlist promoting emerging artists will complement the experience.

“Our goal is to connect with the people that go to SXSW and get them inspired around music, film and interactive. We’re bringing about 30 cars from our full lineup to SXSW and giving people an opportunity to ride around in those cars and get to various events and venues,” Eric Watson, Mazda’s marketing director, told [a]listdaily. “We really want people to see our new interiors for the Mazda 6, Mazda 3, CX-5, CX-3, connect with the driving experience you get with our cars and really be able to interact with the vehicle for a short period of time.”

Other Mazda models like the CX-9 and the MX-5 Miata will be on display for people to see, and Watson says they have VIP access and privileges lined up for people who already own a Mazda vehicle.

Mazda will also be participating in the usual panel discussions as well as partnering with Town Square Media around Hype Hotel, which is a big music component to SXSW. They merged forces with the Jalopnik Film Festival to bring movies to a different audience. They’re also holding court at the ACC Lounge to provide unique experiences, charging stations and giveaways—attendees can register for the Mazda Express shuttle service there, too.

[a]listdaily met with Watson, who’s worked a slew of positions for companies like Land Rover, Jaguar and Ford throughout his career, to discuss how Mazda plans on engaging consumers for the duration of the conference, and beyond.

What makes SXSW such a desirable event for Mazda to participate in?

SXSW is really a unique experience. It’s becoming part of the culture around technology, film and music, and really, it gives us an opportunity to be amongst thought leaders and people who are coming there to seek inspiration. That aligns really well with some of the passion points of our brand. … Mazda is a company that’s about innovation and always seeking a better way to be able to pursue our different technologies. 

What is Mazda’s main mission throughout the entire event?

We want to connect with people there to let them know what our company stands for—that we’re an innovative car company that really is about driving and putting the customer first, and that’s what we want to get out of that—connecting with people around those technologies. 

What are some ways Mazda is working toward connecting with the consumer?

It’s anything from participating in the different panels and forums to partnering with other people, bringing together technology, music and film and giving an experience to those who are there visiting.

How does Mazda use social media to educate and enhance the user experience with consumers in new ways? 

When we announce a new vehicle, or do something special at an auto show, we’ll create a hashtag strategy. A lot of times we invite influencers, bloggers and others that have social influence and reach. We give them access to see our vehicles and be able to report on those first-hand. We often use social strategies. [Influencer marketing] is a small piece of our plan, but every time we do an event or an activation, we use it … One thing we’ve been trying to do over the last year is engage our owners and our most loyal customers with the brand. In February, we went to Colorado and we engaged about 40 owners in something we call the “Mazda Ice Academy.” We gave them an opportunity to drive our new all-wheel drive vehicles in snow and show them against the competition. We also allowed for them to drive a sports car, the MX-5 Miata, on an ice track. 

The tech craze at events like SXSW range from automotive infotainment systems and connected cars. What is Mazda doing to be a leader in the pack with those two areas?

Mazda is really pursuing technologies that allow people to experience the drive, and to takeaway those distractions, and to have an experience where they’re connected with the road, and also able to have their technologies in the car as well.

As the usage of Uber and Lyft heightens, what is the hardest part of selling car ownership to millennials and digital natives?

I think people are in different life stages and needs. The vehicle industry has been very strong the last three-to-four years. The industry is up to almost 17 million cars a year. So people will go through different needs in the ownership cycle, but people still need cars.

How are you raising awareness for them to buy Mazda?  

A lot of that is through content and engaging with the customer, whether it’s through social media or finding a video on YouTube or connecting them with another owner who shares their same interests. We need to make those connections so they can engage with our brand.

Why Video Game Betas Are The Ultimate Promotional Tools

In the past, developers and publishers were often reluctant to release an open beta of a game, fearing that the public would get the wrong impression of a game that was still under development. That began to change after Blizzard discovered that, with World of Warcraft, testing periods helped promote the game through word-of-mouth while the developers steadily improved the experience. This is a formula that was repeated with hits like Heroes of the Storm and StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, and is sure to be repeated with the upcoming release of Overwatch. Furthermore, with the rise of crowdfunded projects and Early Access, the gaming public is now relatively accustomed to playing games that are still in development, and are often eager to get a sneak peek of an upcoming game, and may overlook the flaws if it means that it will lead to a better game on release.

Recently, hosting closed and public betas for high-profile games is practically expected, especially if they feature multiplayer. The most recent example is today’s reveal of Doom‘s multiplayer gameplay and the announcement of its closed beta session running from March 31st to April 3rd, which will no doubt stoke fan fervor leading up to the May 13 release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

Hosting a beta, particularly an open one that anyone can participate in, is a win-win situation when promoting a game. Although participants are likely to run into flaws, the event gives developers a chance to identify and fix them. At the same time, participants freely promote the game through livestreams, social media, and discussions. Last fall’s Rainbow Six Siege closed beta was extended due to server issues, which helped make for a smoother experience with the open beta, which acted as a big lead-in to the game’s launch.

However, the power of using a beta period to stir up hype is clearly shown by how the Call of Duty: Black Ops III beta was clearly used as both a promotional and data gathering tool. The game went on to make over $550 million in the first three days of its launch.

Last fall, the Star Wars: Battlefront open beta broke records by drawing in over 9 million players worldwide, which turned the testing event into a barometer of interest. Similarly, the recently released Tom Clancy’s The Division drew in 6.4 million players during its 3-day (four for Xbox One players) open beta period. The game ended up selling “more copies in its first 24 hours of availability than any previous title in the company’s history,” according to an official statement from Ubisoft.

EA discovered the value of giving players an early look at games, since these trial periods not only lead to a better game while promoting it at the same time, but also project a sense of transparency regarding its development and its features. Last year’s Battlefield Hardline saw multiple preview and testing periods, starting with its reveal at E3 2014, which helped get the word out about the game. The final beta leading up the game’s launch saw 7 million players that couldn’t wait to play cops and robbers on a large urban scale. This transparency could lead to a greater sense of trust, as developers get valuable data and feedback from fans, and players learn first-hand what to expect from a game before it releases.

Although beta periods are primarily used for testing, they are spectacularly useful as promotional demos. Halo: The Master Chief Collection offered early buyers access to the first Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta. Similarly, those who purchased Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection were allowed access to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End‘s multiplayer beta last December.

With high profile games like Doom, Homefront: The Revolution, Battleborn and more releasing this spring, it becomes ever more important to get them into the hands of players so that they can promote them through discussions and livestreams. It also doesn’t hurt that feedback improves the game.