How ‘Dark Souls 3’ Shared The Pain And Got The Love

Despite being an incredibly challenging game (or perhaps because it is), Dark Souls III became the fastest selling game in Bandai Namco’s history, breaking launch day sales records for the publisher, and topping the charts for the month of April. The mix of dark fantasy, menacing creatures, and oftentimes painfully difficult challenges has fans all around the world clamoring for more, thanks largely to the reputation established by the first two games and a marketing campaign that helped it appeal to a broader audience of gamers.

Mike Chang, global brand manager at Bandai Namco Entertainment America, speaks with [a]listdaily about the phenomenal success of Dark Souls III, and what it takes to promote a game many might consider intimidating.

What challenges did you face in promoting Dark Souls III after the success of Dark Souls II?

One of the main challenges was, how do we increase awareness of Dark Souls III after Dark Souls II in a way that feels natural without alienating the existing fans? The fans love the challenge that the Dark Souls games provide, but if all we say and show though the campaign is the difficulty of the game, that can be a big factor in limiting the appeal of the game to a wider audience. So being able to balance the overall message to the fans who help evangelize the game and have been the backbone of the success of the franchise since the beginning, along with the message for the mass audience who haven’t played a Dark Souls game before was a challenge, but I feel we were successful.

Considering how this was the last game in the trilogy, was there added pressure to go all-out with its promotion?

Dark Souls III is not the final chapter, but rather a turning point in the evolution of the series. That said, we wanted to introduce as many people as possible to the sense of joy when overcoming the many challenges in the game. Therefore, we really wanted to promote the game in a variety of new ways to speak to multiple audiences while staying true to the essence of Dark Souls. So, this campaign definitely reflected that “go big or go home” approach.

What was your favorite Dark Souls III promotion?

The fountain of the Red Knight sacrificing an undead Hollow that was on display at a number of events including E3 and PAX was a fun promotion. It was a first of its kind for us, and in all honesty, there definitely were some nervous team members. We wanted to capture the heavy sense of despair and torment in the game while not just creating another static display. So, why not create a giant display depicting a sacrifice with black blood spewing out of a dead body?! In the end, we were really proud with how it turned out and the fans definitely loved the fountain, judging from all the comments.

What do you think it is about extremely challenging games that attract so many fans?

It’s the overwhelming joy that comes with overcoming a challenge. The challenge is just a catalyst to create the feeling. I think it was best captured when we invited Kumail Nanjiani and T. J. Miller from the HBO show Silicon Valley to try Dark Souls III for the first time. Kumail is an avid gamer but never got the chance to try Dark Souls. They played part of the game one afternoon and after multiple deaths, Kumail finally defeated the first boss and let out a scream that really shows that genuine feeling one gets when playing Dark Souls. After that, he was hooked.

How did Eli Roth become involved with creating a Dark Souls III animated short?

We heard that Eli and his team were a fan of the series. So we reached out to him as well as Six Point Harness Animation Studios to create a unique animated short within the universe of Dark Souls. The essence of Dark Souls is to allow the player and community to discover the story through gameplay. Therefore, we definitely didn’t want to give away or spoil any bits of the story. That made it challenging for Eli, but he rose to the occasion and delivered a great video.

Colopl NI CEO Explains Why He’s Investing In VR ESports

Japanese game publisher Colopl NI has already set aside $50 million to invest in virtual reality startups and game developers. Now, the company is investing in virtual reality eSports with its recently released game, Cyberpong VR for the HTC Vive.

The game was built from the ground up for eSports and tournament-style matches. On May 15 at 5 p.m. PT, the company is hosting a “Duel the Devs” tournament in virtual reality on Twitch. It’s the first foray by the company into the new world of virtual reality eSports, and that’s an area that Colopl NI CEO Jikhan Jung believes will have great potential in the coming years. He talks about why his company is betting on virtual reality eSports in this exclusive interview.

How did you design Cyberpong VR for eSports?

We think that VR is currently too isolated for a single player experience, which can be lonely. Having fun together is the most important part of good game design for VR, since the platform really lends itself to a social experience.

We designed Cyberpong VR with a very clear goal of making it a social experience for people, whether that’s playing matches against each other or watching the competition. We tried to make the opponent be close enough that you feel like there are real people in VR. We believe that will create a better experience.

Our game is extremely fun and easy to learn, but is built for competition. So like any eSport game, if the player wants to do well and win, they must practice and become the best.

What opportunities do you see for virtual reality eSports?

ESports and tournament-style matches have been really popular for all gaming platforms, especially on PC. We believe that trend will only continue in gaming.

VR will replace gaming on PC, and will be even bigger. Thus, this has huge potential. This is why our strategy is to create VR games that are socially engaging.

How receptive at this stage are eSports leagues to this type of VR content?

It’s too early to tell, as there aren’t any eSports leagues in the VR space but we hope we’ll be one of the first game companies to realize this potential. We feel strongly that VR will be a big presence in gaming, and eSports is a natural area for games to further expand into.

Riot Games went and built out its own league with League of Legends. Is that a route you’d go?

Again, it is too early to say. But, we are committed to VR as well as investing in eSports, so it will take time, but I believe that eventually we will.

Another factor for any eSports is prize money and infrastructure. What are your plans from that perspective?

We just launched the game so are working to build a community. We are starting with a moderate incentive for players who join our “Duel the Dev” event, and we certainly are planning to have additional tournaments that will offer more prizes and infrastructure. We will share more when they are announced.

What are the current challenges of livestreaming a VR game in a 2D fashion?

Developing for VR is great. Some of the challenges include camera positions for the viewers, since it has to look fun and understandable since you’re not actually in the game. We realized that if we set the camera in the same angle as player, it will look very shaky and cause issues.

Several companies are working on livestreaming for VR, but the audience isn’t there yet. What role do you see VR eSports playing in getting eyeballs to those types of platforms?

The audience will grow as the VR category grows—with more hardware and games. ESports VR games will contribute a lot, since it’s always fun to watch when there is great competition happening. It’s like how we like to watch sports games when they are happening, the same will happen with VR games.

Is Colopl NI investing in any companies or building out any type of infrastructure for VR livestreaming itself?

We have not made any formal announcements, but we do plan to invest and expand our VR reach. So we will make announcements later.

What does spectating in virtual reality open up for fans?

Spectating in VR gives fans an opportunity to see what’s out there first before they commit to buying the device or game(s). Moreover, spectating will help people to learn from other players, including the best players, so they can become better. They can also meet new people, make new friends and help build a strong community. There are many benefits and opportunities, so it will be great to see this area grows over time.

How long do you see before there’s enough of an audience (at least across mobile devices) to support VR eSports?

It is definitely going to happen. I think next year will be an interesting year, since all the major VR devices will be in the market. And there will be at least 100 game centers and internet cafes in the major eSports countries like Korea, China and the United States.

NewFronts Recap: Keeping Up With Trends While Setting New Ones

As NewFronts 2016 draws to a close, there’s a lot of information to process between all the flashy presentations, parties and concerts. Here are the announcements, advancements and trends that brands should know.

Keeping Up With Trends

The purpose of NewFronts is to attract advertisers for digital media specifically, but navigating this ever-changing landscape is easier said than done. In a world where anyone with a smart phone or web cam can become “the next big thing,” and keeping up with trends can be an uphill battle, brands are working hard to predict the best course for their marketing efforts. Luckily, a healthy dose of cold, hard statistics can help brands make an educated decision on which digital media producers to invest in.

YouTube, for example, announced that on mobile alone, their video streaming platform reaches more viewers between the ages of 18 to 49-year-olds than any TV network.  “In fact,” said CEO, Susan Wojcicki, “We reach more 18-49-year-olds during primetime than the top 10 TV shows combined.” These numbers clearly impressed someone, as YouTube landed a $250 million marketing contract during the event.

Buzzfeed announced a new analytic tool called POUND (Process for Optimizing and Understanding Network Diffusion) that traces sharing across multiple social networks. Rather than displaying that an article received X amount of tweets, Facebook shares and the like, the tool can show the path of these shares by tracking an anonymous code included in an article’s URL. Buzzfeed hopes to work with beta partners to develop POUND into an effective marketing tool.

Creating New Trends

Buzzfeed, Maker and Refinery29 are fostering the next generation of hit content creators, particular millennials. Condé Nast Entertainment’s Creators in Residence program specifically mentors millennials in their storytelling efforts. Newsy, a millennial-focused news video producer, plans to have a total 12 new original series by the end of the year in addition to their normal output of 30 to 35 news videos per day. YouTube celebrated its self-made celebrities with a red carpet leading up to their presentation.

While some companies announced a plethora of new programs, a major focus of this year’s NewFronts aimed to build partnerships on the ground floor of new projects, as well.

NewFronts Blizzard
Activision Blizzard and MLG announce their eSports programming partnership at NewFronts. (Source: IAB)

How New Content Will Be Delivered

Although not a presenter, Snapchat was never far away from any one NewFronts presentation this year. Brands like Popsugar, Hearst and Vox Media announcing initiatives to utilize the 10-second video messaging app, which attracts over 80 billion views a day. Snapchat, realizing how “hot they are right now,” has recently raised their advertising rates to meet demand.

Facebook wasn’t a presenter, either but has partnered with Activision Blizzard to form a new eSports network. Daily live programming will begin June 10 during the MLG Anaheim Open gaming tournament. Live streaming is gaining popularity in the marketing world beyond video games as well, with brands like Jose Cuervo hosting concerts and BMW unveiling new vehicles.

YouTube has partnered with Studio71 and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to create a channel for his production studio, Seven Bucks Digital. Big Bird helped announce the launch of Sesame Studios, a new channel that will feature educational content and popular YouTube personalities. NBA commissioner, Adam Silver also took the stage to announce a deal to make all of the NBA’s footage available on the Google Preferred ad network. “We’re incredibly excited about this deal, and we think it’s going to be a great way for us to partner with all of your brands,” said Silver.

Virtual Reality (VR) played a large role this year, with The New York Times offering virtual reality journalism. Refinery29 announced VR29, a new virtual reality studio devoted to creating VR and 360-degree video programming. Hulu has partnered with Live Nation for a VR concert series, while NatGeo announced a number of original media created specifically for the medium. Other brands with upcoming virtual reality content include CNN, Time, Inc. and The Economist.

GameStop Exec Explains How ThinkGeek Retail Generates Sales

While many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are closing shop, GameStop is opening 25 to 50 new ThinkGeek locations this year. The retailer is opening the fourth ThinkGeek physical store in the U.S. on May 13 in New York City.

What started as an e-commerce site in 1999, ThinkGeek now has products in more than 4,000 GameStop stores, and was instrumental in helping GameStop generate more than $300 million in revenue in 2015 after it had been acquired last summer.

Mike Mauler
Mike Mauler

Mike Mauler, ‎executive vice president and president of GameStop International, explains why there are more opportunities for ThinkGeek physical stores in this exclusive interview.

How do you decide where to open brick-and-mortar ThinkGeek stores?

We look at a few things. We’re opening 25-50 stores in the U.S. this year. We have three places that we can look at for data: our ThinkGeek e-commerce sales, loot sales within our GameStop stores, and our 46 million PowerUp Rewards members to see where they’re at and what they like to purchase.

What do you look for when deciding whether to flip a GameStop store to a ThinkGeek store?

We look for high traffic locations. We’re doing a combination of flipped GameStop stores and new ThinkGeek stores. We can transfer the video game customers and start off in a location with high traffic. So far, we’ve done high traffic street or mall locations. We’ll be testing high traffic strip mall locations next.

How does GameStop’s knowledge of real estate come into play with this?

We have 6,500 stores worldwide and relationships with every major developer in 14 countries. Most locations in the U.S. are 5 to 10 minutes away from a GameStop. We have a great understanding of small box real estate, more than any other retailer. We know customers by location. We have short lease commitments. We can transfer and close quickly, we have a lot of expertise around that area, and we’re optimizing our portfolio worldwide.

What’s the New York City location like?

The New York store is an existing GameStop store. It’s a multi-floor location that’s done well in the loot category. We’re making one floor a ThinkGeek and the other will remain a GameStop. Internationally, we have a few locations like Swanson Street in Australia, where the entire basement is the Zing Pop Culture brand, and it has done extremely well. This is an extension of that, but the first multilevel example in the U.S.

Do you have a lot of multilevel GameStops in the U.S.?

Most stores in the U.S. are in strip malls, and some are in malls. The New York location is a street store in Manhattan. Internationally, we have five of those multilevel stores, including one in Canada.

How have you seen ThinkGeek impact the demographics of who comes into the stores?

When we converted stores from GameStop to ThinkGeek, we saw a large number of GameStop customers return. But also, a large number of new customers came in. In Australia, where we started in 2014, EB Games stores have a 35 percent female demographic. But we saw that number rise to 65 percent with ThinkGeek. We get them into our loyalty program and try to sell games to them as well.

Can you talk about the power of ThinkGeek’s online audience?

GameStop started physically and now has a strong omni-channel business. ThinkGeek allowed us to buy a company that’s very strong in e-commerce, has strong brands and licenses, and strength in design and manufacturing. It’s allowed us to move up the food chain in a fragmented market. Those Minecraft swords you see all over the world are a ThinkGeek exclusively licensed product. They also have Star Wars, Star Trek, and other exclusive licenses.

How do you decide between e-commerce and physical stores?

The ThinkGeek brand name was strong in the U.S. It helps the stores hit the ground running with a name people recognize. You have to be in one of the stores to see it, but consumers play with the products and interact with the different IPs. Nobody goes online and looks for a Star Trek pizza cutter, but when they go into the ThinkGeek store and see it, they can’t leave without it. There’s real power in being able to touch and interact with these products.

How do these products translate internationally?

Most of the IP in this category are brands like Star Wars, Batman, Superman, and Doctor Who, which translate well internationally. The product categories sold in the store are similar across different countries, and there are a lot of similarities with these brands. The way the customers interact with the product in stores is similar internationally. We found that 50 percent of customers that go to ThinkGeek stores weren’t previous GameStop customers.

Do PowerUp Rewards work across GameStop and ThinkGeek?

Yes. Credit from GameStop stores works at ThinkGeek. We just did a marketing email in Australian stores and the theme was to trade in games to buy something cool for your mom. This week was May the 4th Be With You for Star Wars promotions. And we knew which customers bought Star Wars Battlefront, so we were able to target them. We have everything from t-shirts, to lightsabers, to BB-8 robots and all types of figures to market to them during the largest Star Wars week of the year.

What does always having something going on in pop culture open up for you at ThinkGeek for marketing?

With video games, we have 40 or 50 big games to market around throughout the year. When you add TV shows and movies, there’s something new and exciting coming out almost every week. We’ve already had Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Batman vs. Superman, and now Captain America: Civil War open in theaters. With Game of Thrones, we had premiere night parties, and people would come in and buy Game of Thrones coffee cups. We market around these launches.

What are the best practices when it comes to e-commerce versus physical retail?

We don’t see it as e-commerce versus physical retail. We used to look at it that way, but now we see power through omni-channel. It’s not just e-commerce to the home, it’s mobile, it’s click-and-collect, web-to-store, ship-to-store. Today 40 percent of online orders are click-and-collect. We just added ship-from-store, so our entire inventory is available to consumers and we can ship a rare game straight to your house. We’re optimizing that ecosystem, and you can use trade credits online, which ties everything to the loyalty program and Game Informer.

One thing about e-commerce versus brick and mortar, we’re seeing more brick and mortar stores evolve from e-commerce. Customers demand stores. It’s similar to what we’re seeing with ThinkGeek. Customers want to interface with products.

What does that say about the power of these licenses that ThinkGeek is opening stores while retailers like Sports Authority are closing?

It’s not just about having a store, but the relevance of product and the overall customer experience. There are retailers like Bass Pro Shops that make visiting the store a cool experience. If you support the products customers want to buy with a cool retail experience, a lot of retailers that do this are finding success today.

Old Spice’s Newest Promotion Puts Consumers On The Run

Old Spice has been on a roll with its oddball promotions, between the strange (yet enjoyable) commercials featuring Terry Crews and Isaiah Mustafa (aka “The Old Spice Guy”); product giveaways at recent events like PAX East; and its team-up with Twitch that put the adventures of a “Nature Man” into the control of fans, which resulted in a major boon with viewership.

Now, it’s back with another promotion that smells of sweet success. The company has just announced its new Dream Runner campaign that ties in with a mobile website. Here, users can upload their neighborhood run routes, and if the shapes resemble real-world items, they could come away with a variety of wacky prizes.

Dream 2

The steps are fairly easy to follow, and no matter how weird the run routes look, consumers have an equal opportunity to win prizes that range from a high-quality lycra luchador mask, to a guitar, to a life-sized pelvic skeleton. The full run-down of prizes can be found here, and as weird as they might be, they fit right in with Old Spice’s offbeat way of thinking.

The promotion already has a large number of submissions, and it’s just getting started. For good measure, Old Spice also provided a video that explains how the promotion works, and with a durable runner all clad in red for good measure.

It’s yet another great promotion for a company that has been going all-out with weird (yet entertaining) marketing. If you need a reminder of just how strange it gets, here’s Old Spice’s humorous take on an infomercial. It may not be as pretty a sight as the “The Old Spice Guy”, but it definitely has its moments, like with the Volcano Fireman.

‘UFC 2’ Lands A Knockout With Live Event Competitions

Ever since it made its debut in March, EA Sports UFC 2 has been scoring a winning knockout with gamers and fans of the league alike. But now it’s about to score another victory with a great new promotion: Live Event Competitions.

The UFC and EA Sports announced the add-on to the hit game this week, which will give fans the opportunity to compete in a promotion that could earn them a trip to the much-coveted UFC 200 event in July.

Kicking off May 14, fans will be able to play in a number of qualifiers in UFC 2 for a chance to earn Ultimate Team rewards. Grand prizes include a trip to Las Vegas to see UFC 200 and the coinciding UFC Fan Expo.

Competing is simply a matter of choosing one of four athletes on a card, customizing the fighter, and taking on the competition online through Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.

“Fans love EA Sports UFC 2 for the intense head-to-head competition, and we’re excited to raise the stakes for all our players,” said Todd Sitrin, senior vice president and general manager of EA’s Competitive Gaming Division. “Live Event Competition encourages players to experience the thrill of each bout by bringing fans even closer to the intensity of mixed martial arts.”

“We are thrilled to launch our first online competition to find the top EA Sports UFC 2 players,” UFC senior vice president of Global Consumer Products, Tracey Bleczinski, said. “UFC International Fight Week is the largest celebration of combat sports in the world and we couldn’t think of a better place than the UFC Fan Expo to crown the first-ever EA Sports UFC 2 champion!”

It won’t be an easy competition, as many devoted players have already proven their dominance in previous match-ups, but it’s certainly something that fans of UFC will want to give a try.

EA Sports UFC 2 is available now for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.


NPD: ‘Dark Souls 3’ And ‘Ratchet and Clank’ Top April Sales

The NPD Group has released its latest sales numbers for video games in April 2016, and while figures were down, a few franchises proved to be big hits.

NPD’s Liam Callahan noted, “Overall trends (hardware, new physical software and accessories) were down 15 percent, or $88.5 million compared to April 2015 due to a $41.66 million decline in hardware and a $52.8 million decline in software, with the $5.9 million growth in accessories unable to offset these losses.”

He also noted a slight drop in physical software sales for the month, due to poor comparisons to the previous year’s game releases. However, things aren’t all on the down side, as both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 managed to trend 40 percent higher in cumulative sales after 30 months in the market, compared to previous consoles.

New releases did quite well for the month, too. Sony’s Ratchet and Clank, which debuted mid-month for PlayStation 4, “had the best launch of any game in the Ratchet and Clank franchise when adjusting for the number of days sold in the data month, with sales recapturing success not seen for the franchise since the height of the PlayStation 2 era,” noted Callahan.

But the month belonged to Bandai Namco’s Dark Souls III, the tough-as-nails action game that became a big hit with fans. “The launch of Dark Souls III marked the strongest launch in the franchise’s history,” said Callahan. “Sales for Dark Souls III nearly doubled that of its predecessor, Dark Souls II, when adjusted for days in the market.”

The top ten sellers for the month also included holdovers from March, such as the PlayStation 4 sports game MLB: The Show 16; Tom Clancy’s The Division; and Grand Theft Auto V. Microsoft’s heavily hyped action adventure, Quantum Break, firmly made the seventh place spot.

As for accessories, overall sales grew four percent over the previous year, mainly with Video Game Points and Subscription Cards, according to Callahan. Gamepads and headphones also performed very well for the month.

As interesting as April’s numbers have been, May will tell a much bigger story, as several blockbusters are making their debut this month. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End arrived earlier this week for PlayStation 4 with thunderous critical acclaim and social media buzz, while Bethesda’s reboot of its classic shooter, Doom, hit shelves today and is already a big hit with fans. Other highly anticipated games, such as Homefront: The Revolution, Overwatch and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants In Manhattan are just days away from release.

‘Bejeweled Stars’ Turns Match-3 Into A Social Experience

Match-3 games are immensely popular right now, and that’s all thanks to Bejeweled, which originated the gameplay and helped make PopCap Games one of the most recognizable companies around. It has been six years since we last saw a new Bejeweled game, but PopCap is still wowing the mobile gaming world with the recent release of Bejeweled Stars. The game, available for iOS and Android, takes the classic match-3 gameplay and combines it with a number of new features for a fantastic and fun experience.

Heather Hazen, the game general manager for Bejeweled Stars, has been at PopCap for eight years and worked on various Bejeweled titles. She talks to [a]listdaily about bringing Bejeweled back, competing in a genre it created, and how PopCap excels in making games fans can connect to.

What inspired PopCap to make a new Bejeweled game?

The inspiration for Bejeweled Stars comes from our passion for the Bejeweled franchise, how we think of Bejeweled fans, and how match-3 has evolved over the six years since we last launched a Bejeweled title. It’s part of PopCap’s DNA, and there are a lot of people here—including myself—who have been thinking about how to bring Bejeweled to the next level. This game is a manifestation of all of those ideas.

hhazenHow is Bejeweled Stars different from previous games?

Essentially, Bejeweled Stars is a game about playing how you wish to play. We’ve taken the classic match-3 mechanic that we created with Bejeweled and maintained the quality that we’ve been known for. The matches feel good, there are lots of great visual effects, the audio is spectacular, and matches have the same gravity and weight that you expect. But we also wanted to evolve what it means to play match-3. So, in our game, you collect things called SkyGems, that you can use as ingredients to build power-ups—as opposed to having to pay for them.

Another way that we’re evolving the game is by changing the board, which is normally a pretty static piece, although there might be challenges like clearing a crystal or destroying a stone. We thought it would be awesome if the board were interactive. Now there are things called Currents, which are like rivers that run down the board, and the gems move down them to potentially create matches. We have Clouds, where you can pick up a section of the board and move it to another place. So, you might make matches without using a move, because you’re strategically placing gems into clouds and then moving them to match with gems on the other side.

The final innovation is about social connection. There are a lot of games out there where you just send a request for a heart or life, or you could send a note or gift, but there’s never any personal tie-in to that. So, it’s our expectation that people—we’re social creatures—like to have conversations about the experiences that we have. So we’ve created a system called Charms, which are basically Bejeweled Stars emoji, which you can use to express yourself. You might put some emoji together to tell stories about what you’re doing. You might display a rare emoji that you got because you completed an achievement. It gives a narrative to your game experience that’s more immersive than anything else we’ve seen in match-3.

Does Bejeweled Stars still have the quick gameplay previous games are famous for?

We are going for accessibility, for sure. How people fit this style of game into their lives is a completely personal choice. You might only have five minutes while waiting in the carpool line to pick up your kids. You could either play a quick game or create some power-ups to use for later. Later in the evening, you might have thirty minutes, so you might want to get more strategic and try out some of the things you’ve been thinking about during the course of the day.

The gameplay is the same match-3 that it has always been, and we’re hoping the new innovations will create an experience that will fit into your life no matter how much time you have.

Are there challenges to promoting a new game in the ever-crowded mobile market, even with a brand name as big as Bejeweled?

People have a lot of choices, that’s for sure, and it’s not just about games. If you think about what you have on your mobile device—and what you use it to do—you’re making a choice not only about which game to play, but whether or not you’re going to check your email. Or you might check the weather, read the news, or send a text message. It’s a crowded space for time in addition to being a crowded space for games.

What we want to do is make the experience accessible and easy enough to engage in so that—when you do have a few minutes between checking text messages and emails—you’ll quickly go in and send a quick note or emoji in Bejeweled Stars because you just have to tell someone about it.

It’s about creating more opportunities for people to engage whenever they might have time, and how it fits into the ritual of your life.

There are a great many match-3 games available now. How do you compete in a genre you originated?

I think one thing that’s super important is that we stay true to who we are. There are a ton of Bejeweled fans out there, so our first job is to make an experience that they love and recognize. Before we do anything else, we have to make sure we stay true to the core of who we are. After that, it’s a matter of taking a look at what is missing.

I’m a match-3 player, and I don’t have a social experience with any match-3 game that I’ve played. There’s nothing that I can say to my sister, who also plays match-3, about what I’m doing beyond taking a screenshot, sending a text message, or having a conversation. I think finding those areas that are underserved is what differentiates us.

You can also create your own power-ups, which is something no one else is doing. We’re relying on a strong crafting system, which we know works in other games, to give you a sense of autonomy and choice in how you proceed with your game experience. That’s something I can’t do in any other match-3 game. I would either have to have a power-up gifted to me, purchase them, or (if I’m lucky) earn them through something that I do. But I never have the opportunity to take a strategic view of how I’m going to create them for later use.

What do you think makes the Bejeweled brand such a timeless classic?

I think it comes back to quality. We spend so much time thinking about how players are going to experience what we’ve given them and the emotions it’s going to evoke. If you look at some the things we’ve put in the game, we have a choir that sings the word “meow” at the end of a level. It’s so awesome when you hear it, because it’s a whole choir singing meow, and it fits with our theme.

Then there are the incredible visual effects and how they appeal to me as a player. I have an amazing move, then suddenly everything explodes with fireworks going off, and I feel awesome about what just happened. Not only with Bejeweled, either. I think that’s something that PopCap is great at—thinking about that emotional connection to how you play games.


Have PopCap’s other hit games, like Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, influenced how Bejeweled Stars was made?

Yes, in a variety of ways, but the most obvious is how we take midcore and hardcore mechanics, like tower defense or crafting, and figure out ways to make them accessible. Those types of constructs, like having a strong collection mechanic with the Charm system, are extremely motivational for players. Collection is also something that has driven game engagement for a very long time.

PopCap kind of has the “special sauce” around taking a mechanic that could be considered hardcore—or maybe not accessible or easy to understand for a casual audience—and turning it into something that feels really good. That helps drive the motivation to continue playing our games.

PwC Study Reveals 8 Trends In Wearables And Connected Living


Wearable device adoption has more than doubled since 2014, from 21 percent to 49 percent, based on the number of respondents who said they owned at least one device, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers-conducted survey released today.

The PwC study, titled “The Wearable Life: Connected Living in a Wearable World,” was based off 1,000 U.S. consumers on the wearable device industry as part of its ongoing Consumer Intelligence Series; it’s an update of PwC’s 2014 report.

Mike Pegler, a partner at PwC who leads their product innovation and development team in the computer, networking and semiconductor segment, joined [a]listdaily to dive deeper in the findings. But first, lets outline the top eight findings as detailed in the 23-page report.

  1. Fitness devices are still the favorite, but growing consumer excitement and trust means there’s more opportunity across industries and device types
  2. Consumers largely view their wearable device as an extension of their smartphone
  3. Price is far and away the number one barrier to adoption
  4. Long-term commitment depends on consumers’ ability to reap tangible benefits from regular use
  5. Sustained success for the wearables industry relies heavily on user engagement
  6. There are clear benefits for wearables in the workplace, but concerns about employee privacy linger
  7. Parents are significantly more likely to own not just one, but multiple wearable devices
  8. Consumers anticipate a bright and healthier future in a wearable world

What was the most telling and eye-opening finding from your research?


There has been a significant increase in adoption in wearable technology. What we’ve seen, in terms of specific data, is a move from what were the early adopters of the technology just 18 months ago to really now being mass market. As one goes around the shows, whether it’s CES or Mobile World Congress, you see a much broader set of products that appeal to a wider audience. The devices are a lot more stylish now. Another interesting observation from the report, is that price is the absolutely largest barrier to adoption. It was immediately followed by ‘if consumers would find the technology useful.’ Those are some implications for designers and manufactures to think about. What is the killer application these devices are filling? And ultimately, will they pass the ‘turnaround test?’ We also found that two-thirds of the people believed that their company should pay for the device. That was really interesting. 

Wearables are mostly dominated by Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, Apple Watch, and Samsung. How are brands trying to gain consumer awareness, and audience ownership?

We certainly have seen the tier-one consumer electronics companies offering wearbales. We’ve seen the more established wearable companies continue to expand into other ideas. We now have the traditional watch manufactures entering the space with respect to smart watches in a bigger way. There is a rise in China-based companies, as well. If I distill the critical success factors into four buckets, they are design, ecosystem, software and analytics, and security and privacy.

From a design standpoint, you can argue that with the exception of metal jewelry, wearables are perhaps the first item in the history of Mankind that is potentially on you 24/7. The comfort level needs to be there. That’s something to watch if you expect consumers to wear these things 24/7. It is critical.

You also need to worry about the other players in the ecosystem. This is where it gets interesting with strategic partnerships and forming them with companies you traditionally wouldn’t, where you don’t buy just a single wearable, but you have other products like a wireless scale linked to it, and adding more value.

From a software and analytics standpoint, there are a lot companies can do with improving the accuracy of the device. That small device has a really tough job on its hand. It needs to figure out—particularly with wrist wearables with what you’re actually doing—are you walking or are you running, and get rid of the blurry line.

Security and privacy is an interesting one, too. I’m surprised to see privacy high on the list of concerns from the research. I would argue that the wearable device knows more about you than any other device you’ve ever owned. People don’t seem to yet treat that level data with the same concern of that of a laptop. And of course, the whole encryption argument has been well documented over the last year. 

Aside from health and wellness, what industries and brands are on the cusp of adopting wearables and connected living as a part of their business strategy? 

Retail is certainly one, but other interesting ones moving forward are in the enterprise and industrial space. … The integration of technology into the devices is a very easy step. There are companies exploring and providing augmented reality to enable someone to do a task that they haven’t been trained for. Another, in a connected sense, is integrating into clothing. … There are a lot of pilots coming in the next 12 months across the enterprise and industrial settings.

Raising awareness for adoption is always half the battle. How are brands using influencer marketing to grow consumer excitement and trust?

I think it begins to get interesting when some of the brands partner with unlikely ones according to their historical trends. Like a wearable manufacturer partnering with a hotel chain. Walking into your room check-in free by using a wearable is already a reality at certain chains. It’s truly offering something much more than an extension of a smartphone. It creates excitement, and an added value that you previously didn’t have. Another one is through connected transactions, and making credit card payments with the swipe of a wearable.

MasterCard is trying to drive that platform forward in order to launch their own products. What kind of impact does that have on adoption?

Having major financial institutions that consumers have come to trust come in and play a role is important. They have the brand reach and trust factor. Consumers will see these kinds of companies involved, and it will make it more enticing for them.

Based on your research, how do you see the space developing in the next few years? What will it take for wearable device adoption to continue to increase?

Building on the four critical success factors I touched upon earlier is key. But the big focus needs to be on finding a really compelling reason why you need a wearable instead of a smartphone. A smartphone has become so capable. So much of what you want to do with a wearable, you can do on a smartphone. Like, if you’re just interested in tracking your steps, and so on. Where it starts to get interesting is that a smartphone can’t easily track your heart rate. What if we can move to tracking blood glucose? … In the next few years, in terms of how I see it developing, we’re going to see the continued expansion into the mass market. There will be an improvement in style and offerings. The technology will increase, too. The potential scenarios that will continue to unfold will be health care, retail and industrial led, or potentially software or platform led.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

VR Insights From Industry Visionaries

At the GamesBeat Summit 2016, while industry luminaries covered many topics large and small, there was one that almost all of them addressed at some point—virtual reality (VR). The interest and excitement around both VR and AR (augmented reality) continues to exert a gravitational pull within the games industry, luring investors and developers to see how they might position themselves to take advantage of these devices.

However, not everyone is unabashedly positive about VR right now; a few of the industry visionaries are somewhat wary of VR at this point. “Love it, not ready for prime time right now,” said Neil Young, CEO of N3twork, when asked about the state of VR. “There’s going to be some train wrecks in terms of companies that have committed themselves, hoping there’s going to be a big business in the next eighteen months, and that doesn’t materialize. Medium to long-term, that I see.”

On the other hand, some long-time visionaries see great things ahead. “VR and AR will lead to a much more visceral and believable experience than ever before—I think that will be the most competitive and innovative platform ever launched. I think it’s the future of media and entertainment,” said Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games. It’s worth noting that Epic’s Unreal Engine is one of the prime development tools for VR and AR applications, so Sweeney certainly has vested interest in this area. It’s also worth noting that Sweeney talks to many developers about how they use Unreal Engine, which also informs his position.

On the publisher side, there’s both interest and caution about VR. “We think it’s incredibly interesting, and there’s things we’ve done as a company that have touched the surface, especially with our advertising partners,” said Peter Phillips, executive vice president and general manager, interactive and digital distribution for Marvel Entertainment. “It’s marketing focused, and there’s a marketing focus around the film that opens Friday [Captain America: Civil War]. In terms of what’s the big win, how do we integrate it down the road, as the consumer base really absorbs it, we’re spending an awful lot of cycles to learn more about it and figure out how to act on it. There’s a lot of work being done on it across the Disney company, and that’s probably as much as I can say.”

“But I do think it’s going to be something that is incredibly rich, especially for gaming,” Phillips continued. “I just can’t imagine that we wouldn’t have some really fantastic experiences with it. We’ve done stuff already, in terms of our Comic-Con event, interviews and things like that with 360 cameras and some of the opportunities to enrich those experiences. But they’re spots in a larger set of coverage. That’s a good way to see VR start; that’s where our modeling is.”

Taking the analytic approach is Digi-Capital’s Tim Merel. “VR could be big. AR could be bigger, and take longer to get there. There’s almost as much confusion as there is excitement about the market,” said Merel, who is now also leading VR/AR startup EyeTouch Reality. “One of the big questions is business models. How are folks going to make money from all of this? Hardware, e-commerce sales, mobile data and advertising could generate over 80 percent of all revenue for AR and VR in five year’s time. It’s not all about games.”

“We think there will be in the low single digits hundreds of millions of units installed base of AR and VR in five year’s time, everything from solutions like Google Cardboard to Magic Leap, from price points ranging from free to around similar prices of today’s smartphones,” Merel noted. He pointed to a key indicator of one VR area that’s going to be big. “Why would a Chinese e-commerce company [Ali-Baba] pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a Florida hardware startup with no sales [Magic Leap]? They believe, like we believe, that e-commerce could be the largest non-hardware revenue stream from AR and VR, taking two dollars out of every ten dollars by AR and VR in 2020.”

Merel believes that the marketing value of VR and AR will be huge in coming years. “Then we get into advertising, and as the market scales into hundreds of millions of users, the advertisers will come in at scale as well,” Merel said. “We think that will generate one dollar for every ten dollars in 2020.” Of the possible business models, he believes that the bulk of the content on mobile will be free, supported by in-app purchases or subscriptions similar to those of Hulu, Netflix and Spotify for premium content or an ad-free experience. At the same time, high-end experiences like games could generate $10 billion by 2020.

John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity Technologies, talked about the “gap of disappointment” last year when referring to VR. “A lot of industry analysts have a straight line of about seven or eight billion dollars in forecast revenue in VR for this year to 2020 where they put about $100 billion on it,” said Riccitiello. “I think what they’ve largely done is apply a smartphone adoption model to it, which is a heavily carrier-subsidized model. You had a $700 device in your pocket that you paid $30 for. That subsidization model is pretty massive. By the time these products come to the market, they were very, very well executed. The truth for VR this year is that, from a hardware perspective and a software perspective, it’s a masking tape and twine year. These things are barely making it to the shelf; they are barely making it to the consumer.”

“Now, they are magical things, and I’m a giant bull on the long-term opportunity for VR and AR, but I think these revenue forecasts in the early years are too high,” Riccitiello went on. “I think they’re going to miss their numbers in 2016 by 80 percent, and they’re going to miss them again in 2017 by 60 percent or more. Now, in the fullness of holograms dancing on your coffee table, $120 billion is not enough to describe that marketplace. That is coming, but it’s a longer-term market. The hardware’s not there, and it’s way too expensive to really attract a mass market in the near term. In mobile, it’s going to give you a good experience, but it’s not a good enough experience to really hit that point. In regard to the ‘gap of disappointment,’ if the analysts are like this and the reality is like this, it’s only a matter of time before people say ‘oh, it didn’t happen, this was a waste of time.’ We’re going to get that, but it’s going to recover.”

Riccitiello said the industry will need to push back against stories that will appear when VR and AR don’t meet early forecasts, because after a time, VR will catch up and surpass those expectations. Regardless of the exact time that VR and AR take to achieve market greatness, the one thing all these observers agree on is that VR and AR are destined to be very important parts of media and entertainment future.