Spaces Founder Discusses VR Opportunities In Chinese Theme Parks

On the heels of its $3 million seed funding led by Comcast Ventures alongside Boost VC, Canyon Creek Capital, Colopl VR Fund, and GREE—virtual reality (VR) startup company, Spaces, has entered into a $30 million joint venture with China’s Songcheng Performance Development, one of the world’s biggest theme park operators.

Utilizing creative tools and technology, Spaces is developing specifically for theme parks. The joint venture will bring new virtual reality and mixed reality (MxR) attractions to Songcheng’s theme parks, which drew nearly 23 million guests in 2015, according to Themed Entertainment Association data.

In Songcheng’s theme parks, VR and MxR elements will be added to existing attractions, including elaborate stage shows that, on their own, attract more than 7 million people annually. Songcheng-Spaces also plans to build unique, standalone virtual reality attractions and parks throughout China.

Spaces will also work with Songcheng to bring its popular livestreaming video site 6Rooms (, which has more than 33 million unique users a month, to VR and MxR platforms. Spaces will create VR experiences that further enhance China’s largest online platform for performing arts. With 6Rooms, users create and watch more than 50,000 live broadcast hours each day.

Shiraz Akmal, CEO of Spaces, is a former game developer and studio head, as well as the co-founder of DreamWorks Animation’s virtual reality DreamLab. Akmal explains the opportunities Spaces opens up for Chinese theme parks, as well as brands and game publishers in the US.

What was the initial goal of Spaces?

Our goal is to be a company that enables brands and companies to have spaces in virtual reality and mixed reality, with a heavy focus on entertainment companies. We began from the idea of developing tools and technology that can enable companies we partner with to enter the world of virtual reality—and to keep up with it as it grows and changes.

How does this deal with Songcheng expand what Spaces can now accomplish with virtual reality and mixed reality?

We are not only building technology, content and VR experiences, but we’re also creating distribution channels for VR and MxR. Working with Songcheng allows us to play a role in every step of VR and MxR, from start to finish.

From an industry perspective, these technologies will take time to mature in the home market. Theme parks and location-based entertainment venues are a natural place to give millions of people their first and best VR experience very quickly.

How has your experience with DreamWorks in AR and VR prepared you for the Chinese theme park world?

While Spaces is only a few months old, our VR and MxR efforts really started more than three years ago, when my co-founder Brad Herman and I set up the DreamLab at DreamWorks Animation. We started working on VR for location-based entertainment attractions large and small with the idea we could deploy them in any theme park location or LBE venue that was already underway or being planned. Location-based VR is part of the DNA that makes up our company, it’s really part of our “origin story.”

How do you see the initial concept of Spaces connecting with this theme park audience through 6rooms?

6rooms is an incredibly advanced business—we were blown away by the leadership team and the level of cross-functional interaction between Songcheng’s offline businesses, like theme parks, and its online initiatives. Both within and outside of the parks, they already have a great interaction set up, and our real challenge and opportunity is to bring that onto virtual and mixed reality platforms.

What does VR open up for livestreaming?

We’ve had significant experience working with MxR, VR and video capture. What struck us about VR more than three years ago was how close you can feel to animated or live characters. We believe VR will bring people closer to each other, which is also part of what livestreaming does, so VR opens up a really amazing opportunity to feel like you are there in the room with someone, in real-time, even though they are halfway across the world.

VR and livestreaming are enormously complementary. Our technology will give the 6rooms performers and viewers a more personal and rich experience through VR. There is a tremendous power in one-on-one interactions in VR. We have seen this with scripted digital characters, live avatars, and real-time presence capture.

Will smartphones be used to enhance the theme park mixed reality experiences?

Clearly, we are positioned to directly promote VR across any platform to millions of park goers. Smartphone AR is a stepping-stone to true MxR. The power of headsets like HoloLens, ODG and others will be truly felt when they replace our phones as our primary connected device. That’s what excites us for the future. Our partnership with Songcheng gives us the ability show people what this accelerated future can look like.

We’ve seen early experimentation with Samsung Gear VR across select US theme parks with roller coasters. What impact do you see VR having on Chinese parks?

Chinese parks are similar to US parks in many ways with traditional rides and attractions, but they are also quite different. Chinese park goers love having immersive experiences, they enjoy the experience of just being in a theme park—of being somewhere that is very different than reality. Culturally, Chinese audiences are even more open to the addition of VR and mixed reality than anywhere else in the world. Plus, the importance of live stage shows to Chinese theme parks, especially to Songcheng’s parks, gives us some amazing existing attractions to enhance and re-imagine by using VR and MxR.

How soon will existing shows and attractions begin adding AR and VR content?

We haven’t announced specific dates, but it’s going to happen within the foreseeable future, for sure. We are really eager to get these experiences in front of people. Songcheng and Spaces are both used to working at a quick pace.

Will VR-exclusive theme parks impact smaller VR spaces in China, and will they have the ability to constantly change the experience?

This is an area ripe for rapid innovation—fortunately our history at Spaces, and prior, is about rapid innovation, testing and deployment to learn what works. Having a frequently changing attraction may lead to greater attendance and greater marketability, so that is going to be an enormously exciting new development in this area.

One of the great things about working in China is the large amount of space you can use for things. Small things, you can do at home. We are aiming for big experiences.

What backend game engine technology will you be building out these VR and AR experiences with?

We use the best tools for the job. That includes game engines, cloud rendering, light fields, and much more. Virtual and mixed reality are new media and there is no one-size-fits-all approach quite yet. That is something that’s really intriguing and exciting about the future of VR.

What role will E3 play for Spaces next week?

We’ll be spending our time meeting with developers, content creators, brands and hardware technology partners. For us, E3 is about meeting others who are as excited about the future of VR as we are, and who see all the opportunities that lie ahead to use VR in ways that develop personal connections with brands, and that really explore all the possibilities inherent in VR.

Skybound President Discusses ‘Outcast,’ Power Of Virtual Reality

The Walking Dead is one of the rare independently created intellectual properties that has succeeded across graphic novels, television, video games, and virtual reality (at least in demo form). The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, co-founded Skybound Entertainment with David Alpert, who serves as president of the transmedia company that has found success with The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead.

The new Cinemax series, Outcast, is the latest comic book adaptation based on a Kirkman creation. The show debuted June 3, but Cinemax had already greenlit a second season of the demon-hunting series starring Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl) as Kyle Barnes.

Alpert talks to [a]listdaily about Outcast, the lessons learned from filming Gone in virtual reality with Samsung VR, and video games.

How did producing The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead help with turning Skybound comic book Outcast into a show?

What we’ve really learned from both those shows is that having great character moments allows us to do some interesting horror moments. We have to lead with character and story first and foremost, and then we can always go from there into doing cool genre stuff. But whenever we lead with the genre stuff and then come with character later, that’s when we feel like we don’t connect with the audience.

In what ways, creatively speaking, did working with Cinemax enable you to push things further than other channels?

On the one hand, it’s not all that different because we’re still doing long-form narrative, we’re telling the story. We still structure the script in the same way. The biggest difference is that we got a chance to work with an amazing team over at Cinemax and HBO, and seeing the way that they approach certain things was really great for us. We weren’t like, “Oh great, we have to do something that’s more gory or more sexy,” although we do both of those things. We still let the story drive the narrative as much as possible, so from a nuts and bolts process, it really wasn’t that different. The biggest thing that was different for us was just the personalities and people involved. We got to work with some really amazing execs over there, but it wasn’t all that different on the day-to-day.

What are the challenges of keeping things consistently scary throughout the show?

That’s honestly a giant challenge for us because when you have someone in a movie theater, you know they’re locked in there in the dark. When someone is watching on TV you don’t know if they’re watching on their cell phone, you don’t know if they’re watching it in a dormitory, you don’t know if they’re watching it with the lights on or with a computer. You’re not exactly sure how you’re catching your viewer. So you have to really make sure that there’s a build and a mood that’s layered into your storytelling. What we try to do is make it out of a cohesive piece, where everything from the cinematography, to the score, the acting, and the writing are all building towards this one overall sense of mood. And that mood should hopefully be a slow pull that draws you into the story. And then, just when you’re lulled into a little bit of a relaxed state, that’s when we try to jump out and get you. Not from a “boo scare” perspective, but with a narrative twist that you don’t see coming.

What is the challenge of converting The Walking Dead audience into Outcast fans?

The biggest challenge is really just how successful The Walking Dead has been. Outcast—as far as the writing, acting, directing and all the technical performances that we have—is at the same level as we’ve done on The Walking Dead. And Outcast is a show that we’re truly proud of. With The Walking Dead, we really captured lightning in a bottle. When we came on the air nobody was doing serialized horror. No one really thought you could that on television. There had been shows that indulged in horrific moments for certain, but the idea of a serialized horror story just hadn’t really existed on television. We really felt like we captured something special, and obviously the ratings have been huge, so to become a cultural phenomenon is amazing.

Looking at it from Outcast’s perspective, it’s a much more crowded landscape with The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, and things like American Horror Story out there. The challenge for us is that people seem to really love The Walking Dead. We hope that they love Outcast the same. It’s a story that we’re incredibly proud of. Patrick Fugit is an actor that I’ve always wanted to work with. He’s done an amazing job in bringing Kyle Barnes to life. I really think that there’s something unique and special here, and we hope that audiences just give it a chance.

When it comes to The Walking Dead you have also had success in the video game market with Telltale Games and mobile games. What potential do you see for Outcast in gaming?

The thing that makes the Telltale game work so well, and the thing that works on our mobile game, is that we’re always driven by narrative. You always hope you get success. You always hope that it looks cool. You always hope that the music sounds great, but ultimately we’re a story-driven company and we want to tell great stories. We hope that they resonate with our audience, but the goal for us is to tell great and compelling stories. Everything we do with The Walking Dead—whether it’s the series we did for YouTube or virtual reality or gaming—we always try to come at it from a narrative storytelling perspective. Outcast is one of the best stories we’ve ever told, but it’s not like we went, “Oh, we did zombies, now let’s do demons.” It’s more like here’s a great story that happens to be set in this particular world.


Are there stories to be told in the video game space with Outcast?

The world of shooting zombies is an obvious one for video games, and there’s tons of different franchises that work there. Demons and possession are a little bit more internal, so it’s trying to figure out the way in which to externalize that for a game and to make it more active. That’s something we’re working on right now and trying to figure out what is the mechanic, and how does that work from a storytelling perspective. We’re really trying to work on that, but we don’t have anything yet ready to announce.

What do you see virtual reality opening up creatively for Skybound as storytellers?

One of the things that’s amazing about VR has just been the notion of full immersion, just the idea that this world is all around you has been exciting. I remember we did on Gone—as we do with every production that we do—we send in camera tests to the studio to show them what you’re thinking. The first camera test that we did on Gone, we were shooting in the Sequoia National Forest. We basically just put out the camera in the Sequoias and sent them footage, and we got a call from the studio—and you never get calls on the camera test—saying, “This is the best thing ever, just keep doing that.” I’m like, “Doing what? It’s just a camera test.” That was the power of VR because you put the goggles on and you’re transported to the Sequoias from the Samsung office in New Jersey. So just the idea that you can then tell stories in that medium is really exciting for us.

IMAX and Nokia are now in the VR space. How is all that technology impacting how you can tell stories in VR, especially since you had to create custom rigs to shoot Gone last year?

A lot of things that we were trying to accomplish when we shot Gone last year have now become a little bit more standardized. Even getting quick stitches done on your video is now possible. We had to wait a few hours before we could see what we had just shot, so you never knew if you actually got something. That said, the ambitions of what we want to be able to accomplish in the next shoot that we do are so much higher, so we’d want to be stitching in real-time. But we also want to be doing much more advanced camera moves and much more dynamic immersion, so hopefully we’d still be teetering on the razor’s edge of what’s possible inside technology because that was a big part of what made that a lot of fun.

HBO has been very active in the VR space with Game of Thrones shorts and other examples. Do you see an opportunity for Outcast in VR?

We would love to. Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about that. We haven’t settled on what that would be, or how we would do it. We’re about to start shooting the second season, which by the way as an aside, is pretty remarkable. It’s rare that you get a second season pick-up before you’ve aired your first episode. We took that as a big sign of confidence.

But, yes, we’re having a lot of ideas and conversations about what could we do from a perspective of shooting a unique piece of VR. And the conversations are about: Is it part of canon? Is it inside one of our stories? Is it using your main actors? Is it something like what we did with Fear the Walking Dead where you’re telling the airline flight story and then that intersects with the main story? Is it a standalone? We’re trying to figure out what narratively makes the most sense for our world.

Does heading into that second season open up a new scale and budget for you guys to explore?

Absolutely. Knowing that we have a second season gives us time to really figure that thing out.

ESL Pro League Viewership Sees Double-Digit Growth Across All Metrics

It’s official—a whole lot of people are watching eSports, especially the first-person shooter game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). In fact, Electronic Sports League (ESL) saw double-digit growth across all viewership metrics during its third season of the ESL Pro League.

Offering competitors a $750,000 prize pool, the 2016 ESL Pro League for Valve’s CS:GO was the first league to implement the new standardized regulations of the World ESports Association (WESA). As the most-watched event of ESL history, the nine-week competition saw a peak year-over-year growth of over 44 percent for online content consumption. During the season finals in London, content shared through Facebook garnered a total of 5.3 million views. A combined total of over 39 million impressions were recorded on ESL-owned social media, with 5.7 million engagements over Twitter and Facebook.

An average of 180,000 people tuned in for each match throughout the 2016 ESL CS:GO Pro League. When combined with the sold-out London arena, this year marks the largest UK viewership of a first-person shooter event in the eSports industry.

Not surprisingly, the most interactions were reached when the stakes were highest: during the closing games of the tournament. Globally, season viewership saw a 40 percent increase, reaching more than 61 million online sessions with over 1.2 million unique viewers tuning in for the final day of the tournament alone, an increase of over 30 percent. With ESL strategic partnerships like Twitch, Yahoo and Nvidia, that’s some serious brand awareness.

ESL Pro League Winners 2016
Luminosity Gaming took home $200,000 as the 2016 ESL Pro League champions. (Source: ESL)

Fans watched and posted their thoughts online as Brazilian team, Luminosity Gaming, took on G2 Esports, ultimately winning to take home $200,000. The takeaway for these metrics? Interactions for the beginning of a competition are made by dedicated fans cheering on a specific team or eSports in general, while the majority of audience participation begins as the pressure builds toward a finale.

ESL launched a 24/7 eSports TV channel in the Baltic and Nordic regions last month, with the intention of growing its 100 million digital viewership. “We have always dreamt of making eSports the world’s most popular sport, and it’s the opportunities like this one that bring us one step closer to making that dream come true,” said ESL’s managing director, Ralf Reichert when the new channel was announced. “Bringing new and existing content to more screens worldwide is key to further accelerating the growth and popularity of eSports, and we’re on a mission to reach every gamer in the world.”

2K Sports’ Debut ESports Event Is A Slam Dunk Success

Earlier this year, details were announced regarding the Road To the Finals tournament for NBA 2K16, 2K Sports’ debut onto the eSports scene in which players could compete for a $250,000 prize. The tournament concluded last week, officially marking the NBA 2K franchise’s position in the eSports world.

Road to the Finals took place at the Imperial Art Studios in Los Angeles, drawing in both a live audience and online viewers as teams took part in the $250,000 NBA 2K16 competition. In the end, The Drewkerbockers came up big, beating Team GFG to take the top prize, as well as the commemorative ring pictured below.

A lot of build-up went into the tournament, but senior vice president of basketball operations for 2K, Jason Argent, explained (via Fox Sports) that it was all about consumers wanting an eSports-related event for the NBA franchise.

“It’s something that our development team, and, frankly, our publishing and marketing teams probably wanted to do for the same reason that everyone has. You know, we tend to take things a little more deliberate. We wanted to make sure that the fans wanted it, which they seemingly certainly did. So we were taking it a little step-by-step — there’s a lot of momentum from our company and particularly our development team to continue to put resources behind this. And you can see that hopefully in the game.

“The exciting thing for us is what’s coming up, so having something like this is a big deal for us. Going on-stage with something that could sort of happen just online is really big. Yes. We intend to continue to build this. We’re kind of wanting to deliver what the fans want, so we’re excited.”

This could mean the return of the Pro-Am mode that made its debut in NBA 2K16 for the new edition, with more emphasis on competitive play that could mean more possible eSports events in the future. The custom multiplayer mode is a popular feature in the NBA series, where players start in the Jordan Rec Center and move up to setting up five-on-five online contests. Players can even edit the appearance of their courts and jerseys.

As for the connection between eSports and the NBA, Argent noted, “Our userbase is small compared to some of the games you noted (such as League of Legends). But I think we look at eSports as a potential to build that ceiling.

“There’s a lot of things about eSports as it relates to the NBA that I think are very aligned with the NBA game. Just the five-on-five, the fast pace — this lends itself well. So much of eSports happened organically. It grew from the bottom up. Is there a place, do fans want to follow that? Yeah, we think so.”

Finally, as far as how eSports will expand with NBA 2K, Argent notes, “Right now, I think it’s fair to say there’s a bit more of a hardcore following for (Pro-Am) mode. But our goal as it always is to make this open and to engage a bigger, more mass audience–to the extent that it makes sense. We would never dumb down the game or anything like that. But the idea is to bring as many people into the fold as we possibly can and to give them what they want.”

It’ll certainly be great to see 2K become more prominent on the actual sports side of eSports. For the time being, fans can relive the Road To the Finals Championship in full below.

To drum up excitement for the next installment, it was revealed (during the course of the tournament) that Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and retired NBA star Kobe Bryant would be cover stars for NBA 2K17, which will release on September 20th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

6 ‘Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’ Promotions That Got Players Ready To Run

In Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the sequel to 2008’s Mirror’s Edge, players take the role of a female protagonist named Faith as she uses both free-running skills and gadgets to make her way across a dystopian city called Glass. Featuring amazing graphics, dizzying heights, and a beautiful soundtrack, the original Mirror’s Edge gained an extensive fan base. Now it’s time for Faith’s big return as she speeds across Glass and uses a combination of fast thinking and martial arts to avoid the authorities chasing after her.

The game is set to release tomorrow (June 7), and the developer DICE and publisher EA are both ready for players to come crashing into Glass. The billboard above DICE’s headquarters has been decked out to prepare for the launch, and here are some of the best ways the developer has gotten more fans to join the underground resistance movement.

A Preview To Plan Your Course

The best way to take advantage of the global excitement for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and to get people pre-ordering, is to get an early gameplay preview in the hands of fans. To this end, EA and DICE hosted a closed beta of the game, which showed off much of the open world free running and combat. Codes were given away through social media channels like Twitter, and most importantly, participants were allowed to livestream their experiences so that those who couldn’t participate could play vicariously.

Things were stepped up quite a bit on June 2, when Mirror’s Edge Catalyst became available on EA Access (Origin Access on PC). Subscribers had a chance to experience up to 6 hours of the game, across two large districts and 10 missions, one week before the game officially released. Catalyst was cleverly used to promote both the EA Access subscription program and the game itself.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst Wallpaper

Explore The City Of Glass

A wonderfully impressive tool that the developers often refer to in social media posts and update announcements is an interactive 3D map of the city of Glass, where the game takes place. Fans can use it for a bird’s-eye view of the city’s layout, or they can zoom in on the model for better detail. Starting with one small district, the developers added new districts to it over time, until there was a full representation of the city. There are also points of interest to click on to learn more about the city’s political factions, locations, characters and more. Information is critical when running from the law and for your life, and this tool has plenty to offer.

Getting Runner’s Vision

Mirror’s Edge features something called “Runner’s Vision,” where the otherwise pristine white world is marked with red to highlight running paths and objects. The developers invited people to see the real world in a different light in a social media campaign called #RunnersVisionIRL. In it, fans posted pictures to Twitter using the hashtag illustrating real-world locations that look suspiciously like they could pass for free-running challenges taken straight from the game.

The idea was taken to a new level at PAX East this year, where at least one Mirror’s Edge fan found a way to navigate the crowds.

CHVRCHES Issues The “Warning Call”

One of the key highlights of the original Mirror’s Edge was a song called “Still Alive,” performed by the Swedish rock musician Lisa Miskovsky. It looks like EA wants to keep to having an unforgettable soundtrack associated with the game, and it turned to the critically-acclaimed Scottish synthpop band, CHVRCHES (pronounced “Churches”), to fit the bill. The band composed an original song titled “Warning Call,” which is featured at the start of the game and in a secret location players are challenged to find as they explore the city of Glass. Alternatively, fans can either purchase the single from iTunes or listen to it on YouTube.

Explore Life On The Mirror’s Edge

EA and DICE partnered with Dark Horse Comics so that the Mirror’s Edge story could make the leap onto comic books. Fans are encouraged to learn more about what happened to Faith in the time between the first game and Catalyst with a six-issue prequel miniseries titled, Mirror’s Edge: Exordium. Scripted by the writer of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the comic book makes for the perfect way for fans to familiarize themselves with the futuristic world, the city of Glass, and some of the characters Faith will meet.

Mirror's Edge Exordium

No Excuse For Not Playing

In case there are any reservations about getting into Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, DICE provided 64 reasons to play. Reasons include everything from exploring the gorgeous city of Glass, to meeting new characters, to beating up new enemies. There is also mention of the amazing soundtrack featuring an original song by CHVRCHES. Most fans probably don’t need more than one reason to, but now they have 63 more to get them psyched for the game’s release.

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Twitch Signs Global Brand Ambassador, Prepares For E3

Twitch has come a long way when it comes to representing itself with original programming, engaging livestreams and a variety of content. Now, it’s got a global brand ambassador on board to help spread awareness.

Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, a fighting game champ that has dominated the Street Fighter scene for years, announced on his stream ( this past weekend that he has become Twitch’s first Global Brand Ambassador. Although he will continue to livestream on his channel every week (and continue his partnership with Red Bull), the deal enables him to help expand knowledge and presence of Twitch, particularly with the fighting game community.

Daigo 2“I want to engage with my fans and the players all over the world,” Daigo noted. “Twitch has long been a supporter of the FGC (fighting game community), and I could not find any better platform to engage with the players at the global level.

“As Twitch’s Global Ambassador, I will continue creating entertaining moments with viewers. I hope to be their inspiration as much as they are a big inspiration to me.”

Daigo will be in attendance at this year’s TwitchCon, which takes place September 30th-October 2nd in San Diego, which is a considerably bigger venue than the previous year’s show.

In the meantime, though, the company is putting the focus on the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which takes place next week in Los Angeles. The company recently revealed its livestreaming schedule for the event, which includes all the major press conferences, as well as an exclusive Nintendo Treehouse event and highlights from the show floor throughout each day. Various gaming talents and hosts will be on hand, including djWHEAT, Jon Carnage and Alex Corea.

E3 2

With the event, Twitch is bringing back its Co-Streaming functionality, which was a big hit with the community last year. It enables users to host their own official E3 streams through their channels so that broadcasters and viewers can both enjoy a more personalized experience of the event. About 35 percent of viewers watched E3 2015 via a Co-Stream, so it’s likely to be just as big a feature this year.

The company has also paired with T-Mobile to host multiple remote Co-Streams around the globe, with partners including RocketBeansTV (Germany), Twitchkr (Korea) and Alexelcapo (Spain), among others. “They will be commentating in their native languages as they interpret and showcase E3 in their respective countries,” the blog notes.

E3 also marks the fifth birthday of Twitch, which initially launched at E3 2011, so it’s easy to see why it’s such a vital event for the company. That, along with the signing of Daigo as Global Brand Ambassador, shows that it’s certainly ready for big things to happen.

To get further insight into Daigo’s signing and E3, we chatted with Twitch’s director of global events Amy Brady.

What makes Daigo such a key choice as a Global Brand Ambassador for Twitch?

Twitch has long been a supporter of the fighting community and he is one of the community’s most popular players, so there was a natural fit. He also wants to strengthen his connection with the community, stating “By sharing my skills and knowledge, I hope to help the entire community to level up. The stronger you are, the more fun you can have.”

Will there be more roles for key talent such as this with the company? 

We are growing very fast and hiring across the company for all levels and positions. Recruiting is actually one of our biggest challenges right now. Employment opportunities are currently listed here.

Twitch has a huge variety of programming planned for E3. How will the team able to balance it all out?

The toughest part about our E3 stage shows is the heavy demand from publishers of all sizes, and not enough time in the day to accommodate everyone. We addressed this a little bit last year by introducing our Day Zero broadcast that kicks off the day before our official Day 1 broadcast. This year we took things to an all-new level with our Pre-Pre-Show which adds another day to the mix.

Is there anything you’d like to expand upon with future E3 shows?

It’s too soon to say if a Pre-Pre-Pre-Show is needed, but based on how so many publishers and developers are amplifying their presence with livestreams, you never know. We’re also quite proud of our “Co-Streaming” initiative in which we essentially give the content to our broadcasters, who can choose to commentate over the official E3 content, should they choose. It’s a way for Twitch broadcasters to bring the real-time content to their communities while wrapping it in a format that makes sense for them.

The second TwitchCon will be hosted in San Diego later this year. With Daigo and a large number of talents expected to attend, what are the team’s expectations for the event?

TwitchCon 2016 will build on our success in 2015, while staying true to its roots: the community. We learned a ton in 2015, and this year will be bigger, better, and even more fun for viewers, broadcasters, and developers alike.

‘Rick and Morty’ Return With First-Ever Instagram Game

Last year, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim label hit paydirt with its Instagram promotion for Rick and Morty, where players could explore the “Rickstaverse” to find fun little second season factoids by clicking planets and other images tied into the account. Now, the duo is back for more.

A new expansion to the “Rickstaverse” has been introduced on the official Rick and Morty Instagram, titled Interdimensional Cable Adventures. In the game, players can explore 20 new levels across a number of new images, including ones based on episodes of the show. This lets fans check out content based on familiar locations, such as the Plumbus Factory, and pick up collectibles.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Rick and Morty follows the goofball adventures of a drunken scientist and his younger nephew as they explore strange new parts of the universe, from planets hosting an American Idol sing-off to worlds where a sun screams constantly on the horizon. Highlights from the recent second season can be found below.

The “Rickstaverse” has been a huge hit with fans since it launched last July, with over 100,000 followers on the account looking to hunt down mini-games, clips and content from the show. Cable Adventures adds to that, with new goodies to find, including a number of Gazorpazorpfield Comics—a favorite of the duo’s from the show.

This is just the beginning of hype for Rick and Morty‘s forthcoming third season, which is expected to debut on Adult Swim later this year. Expect the show to once again have a big presence at the San Diego Comic-Con next month, where attendees will likely see the debut of new footage, along with other surprises. In the meantime, fans can pick up the second season on DVD and Blu-Ray starting tomorrow.

As for Instagram users, the “Rickstaverse” awaits, and it certainly won’t “get schwifty” by itself.

Facebook Exec Explains Why More Game Companies Are Going ‘Live’

While Twitch and Twitter receive a lot more attention when it comes to video game press coverage, Facebook and Instagram remain leading social media platforms for game companies. Starting this month, Blizzard will be integrating Facebook Login and Facebook’s Live API into all its games.

Using their Facebook accounts, players will be able to sign up for and log into games such as World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, Diablo III, StarCraft II, and Blizzard’s most recent blockbuster release, Overwatch. Adding a Facebook Login will pave the way for new social functionality in Blizzard games.

Blizzard will be incorporating Facebook’s Live API in order to create its own “Go Live” streaming functionality for its games. For the first time, players will be able to livestream their Blizzard gaming sessions directly to their Facebook timelines, and friends will be able to subscribe and be notified when new streams are available.

Leo Olebe, director of global games partnerships at Facebook, explains why Blizzard and other AAA game makers are gravitating to these social media platforms.

How have you seen game developers gravitate towards Facebook?

In 2015, game developers earned over $2.5 billion on our platform by using Facebook tools and services to help build, grow, and monetize their games. Facebook has more than 1.6 billion monthly active users, and that includes more than 650 million people who play games either on Facebook or connected to Facebook every month across desktop, mobile and console. No other platform in the world has this kind of reach. With world-class mobile advertising products, monetization via Audience Network (a unique tool set for building optimized data-driven apps with Facebook Analytics for Apps), and the world’s best social identity and account authentication solution, Facebook Login—we have built products that create true developer value. We also support developers with mentorship and resources via programs like FbStart, as well as our regular meet-ups and hackathons around the world.

Traditionally, Twitch is the go-to service for video game livestreaming. What does Facebook open up to game makers?

We always like to tie our ideas back to our mission. Our mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. We want people to be able to share the game content they are most passionate about, with the people they care about. Facebook brings tremendous reach and engagement for streamers as well as social connectivity options that just don’t exist in the livestreaming world today. Also, Facebook has a real identity policy, whereby people are their real selves. As a result, interactions in the community are different than seen on other platforms, and we believe this will improve the overall experience, making it better for both game makers and people.

How big a role does Facebook play for the average gamer?

If you just look at, more than 15 percent of time spent is people playing games. In addition to games played on, mobile game developers use both Facebook Login and friend connections to improve their game experiences: whether that’s to find other Facebook friends, compete against each other on leaderboards, invite others to play, share content to their news feed, join each other’s guilds, and more. On the desktop, we are also connecting people. As you know we just announced that Blizzard is bringing Facebook Login and Facebook Live to all of its games, and we’ve also partnered with Riot to integrate Facebook Login into League of Legends.

With PlayStation and now Microsoft, we’ve also unlocked sharing directly from consoles in screenshot and video format. We recently launched Facebook Friend Finder, available via the Xbox app on Windows 10 and This new feature lets players add their Facebook friends to their Xbox Live friends list without having to manually search for their name or Gamertag. Today, more than 30 million people have connected their Facebook account to either PSN or Xbox Live.

What type of engagement are you seeing from game companies that have embraced these new features early?

Early game partners that have integrated the Live API have seen engagement increase exponentially compared to other streaming platforms. We’ve seen many different and creative ways developers are choosing to use it, from producer interviews, to tournaments, to high-end productions. Some other partners that have been using the Live API include 2K Sports, Super Evil Mega Corp, EA, Zynga, PlayStation, Activision, PopCap Games, and many others.

How did you work with Blizzard on the Overwatch launch?

We worked closely together to reach Facebook’s global audience. Blizzard used a mix of Facebook’s marketing solutions, including Carousel ads, Canvas, and Instagram Marquee. Blizzard tapped into Facebook and Instagram’s global audience of 1.65 billion and 400 million people respectively to reach a broad set of gaming and entertainment audiences. Using tools and services such as Facebook Login and Live API will allow Blizzard to reach more gamers around the world through its games.


How are you blending Facebook with Instagram to reach a larger audience?

With more than 1.65 billion people on Facebook and 400 million people on Instagram every month, games marketers have a huge opportunity to reach gamers across the entire customer lifecycle. Discovery is increasingly difficult in the crowded mobile app ecosystem. To grow brand awareness, marketers can leverage ad formats like video ads, Canvas, carousel, and 360 video while using precise targeting to reach the gamers who matter most to their brand. To acquire users and game downloads, games marketers can leverage mobile app install ads, lead ads, and extend their campaigns using the Audience Network. But engagement and loyalty are what ultimately drives the gaming industry, and games marketers can retain their most valuable players with mobile app engagement ads, leveraging custom and lookalike audiences to reach gamers who are most likely to re-engage with a game.

What does this open up for game publishers and developers?

Our goal is to enable the world’s most creative publishers to tell stories in the most immersive, interactive, and engaging ways. The Live API puts tools in the hands of these publishers that help them connect with their audience in ways they’ve never been able to before. As publishers and developers are now showing us, great production and quality can be extremely interactive and engaging.

What does Facebook Login open for Blizzard fans who already use or Twitch?

Using their Facebook account, players will be able to sign up for and log into games and pave the way for new social functionality in Blizzard games while highlighting Facebook as a platform of choice for sharing, viewing, and discussing AAA game content. Also, integrating Facebook Login allows Blizzard’s players to find friends to form teams and coordinate strategy together.

What does Facebook’s Live API open up for eSports?

ESports is just one part of what we call FB Live Game Streaming. If you think about it, eSports is professional, competitive gameplay. There are many creators, people and games that are outside of this mold, and we want to be sure they all have the opportunity to find an audience—whether that’s their closest friends or millions of followers. It’s still the very early days for us in these areas, and we do not have any plans or details to share at this time. We believe the most important thing to think about is building incredible experiences for people to enjoy.

How do you see Facebook’s Live API impacting general fans sharing their in-game exploits with friends?

It’s still early days for us, so we’ll have to see how Live Game Streaming continues to grow on the Facebook platform. We think it’s important that both players and game makers have a great experience.

Kabam Exec Reveals Blueprint For Success In Chinese Mobile Market

Kabam’s mobile game, Marvel Contest of Champions, has been downloaded more than 75 million times and has over 7 million consumers who play every week. It’s one of Marvel’s most popular mobile games, having generated over $300 million in revenue to date.

Last month, Kabam released the iOS version of its mobile brawler in China, which offers the largest mobile audience in the world. The company decided to self-publish the title, which required a lot of additional work, but the game quickly shot to the number #1 most downloaded game in China shortly after launch and continues to perform strongly.

Kent Wakeford, chief operating officer of Kabam, explains how the company will now reap the rewards of the foundation it built for mobile game publishing in China.

How has Marvel Contest of Champions evolved?

Kabam and Marvel have a deep relationship. The game was created through a series of meetings with the product teams, thinking about an environment in which you can have this experience where you can pit any Marvel character against another. We found an old Marvel comic book called Contest of Champions and it was like a lightbulb went off.

Our creative team took that fiction and created a whole experience with gameplay around that, and expanded it with new characters. That’s how the concept ideated. Kabam Vancouver, which has a lot of former Electronic Arts developers from the console business, created an experience with that “wow” factor for a mobile device.

How does this game tie into the Marvel Universe of movies and television shows?

Over 100 people are working on this game. We’ve worked closely with Marvel to create a pipeline 12 months out with all of the key beats from collaborating on films like Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Netflix’s Daredevil series so our game ties into the big beats.

We’ve also been able to create our own fiction and expand the Marvel Universe from the creative talent within Kabam. Our team in Vancouver had an idea for a character that could live within Marvel, and spent time working with the Marvel creators to create Guillotine. She’s a new heroine with whole backstory and narrative. Marvel put that character into the re-released Contest of Champions comic series. We developed VenomPool—we brought Venom and Deadpool together to create an over-the-top character with crazy powers. We’re working on another Kabam-created character that will be released in July.

How has this partnership with Marvel evolved?

It’s a two-way collaboration. The Contest of Champions comic was republished based on the power of the game. Not only have we done a great job of making a game fans love to play, but we’ve added to the Marvel Universe.

And we’re just in the beginning stages. You’re going to see a lot more collaboration beyond the new July character, and we’ll be working on a lot more tie-ins with the films and TV shows coming out.

Can you give an example of how you worked with a recent film like Deadpool in the game world?

In the Contest of Champions fiction, the Collector collects all these heroes and pits them against each other. We had Deadpool take the place of the Collector and make everything challenging with special quests for people to get in and play. It took advantage of the humorous aspect. We have a Deadpool character in the game, and we also introduced VenomPool at that time.

Can you talk about the global popularity of this game?

Kabam is a global gaming company. Our games are played in close to 130 countries around the world. Our goal is to make sure consumers have access to great games, and when married with great IP, that it resonates around the world. We’ve launched Marvel Contest of Champions in over 100 countries. North America remains the strongest market for the game. A big part of that is the history of Marvel in the US, but we have millions of people who play the game from South America to Europe to Russia to the Middle East. And now we’ve launched the game in China.

What makes China a unique mobile games market?

China has become the world’s largest mobile gaming market. It generated over $6.5 billion in revenue in 2015, and it’s growing faster than any other market in the world. The Marvel IP does very well in China. They have a lot of loyal fans around this brand. When we talked to Marvel about bringing this game to China, we thought about what we needed to do to bring this iconic brand to China.

What was the process like to deliver a Chinese version of this game?

We had to change the experience for Chinese consumers. We spent four months changing the technology and developing the technology and data infrastructure. We’ve created a pipeline so that we can bring a product into China. We spent six months working with AWS to get all of the hosting for the game right with no latency. We had to solve issues across two major network backbones (China has two, where in the US there’s only one). We needed to allow people to go back and forth across these networks.

China also has a different device fragmentation than other countries with a lot of lower-end devices. We had to make sure the game worked across all of them.

There are also regulatory requirements. You have to work with two different ministries to get licenses for the game so we could publish. And we only published on iOS. You can’t self-publish on Android in China because those app stores are all local. We will bring our game to Android, but we’ll need a partner.

How has the actual game changed for Chinese players?

The gameplay features are a lot different because of consumer play patterns and tastes. Chinese players are more sophisticated. They progress faster through the games. We created systems that added depth and a deeper story that connected everything, so they could see their powers increasing. We created an RPG Gear system and a Quick Fight system, so they could quickly fight through.

We also changed the visual presentation. There’s a lot going on on the screen in China.

Instead of strictly translating the game, we designed the text to the local market. We recreated the narrative with the understanding of the emotional feeling that the Chinese consumer would get from the words. We rewrote the game for the Chinese market.

How are you marketing the game in China?

Kabam’s initiative to self-publish in China created a structural advantage that we can now bring all future games that we create into the Chinese market. All the blood, sweat, and tears are going to pay off now, and in the future. Going into China, we’ve had an office on the ground for five years with 200 employees. What we needed to build up was a marketing infrastructure. We put people on the ground in China to work with all of the ad networks and social platforms. We integrated all the tracking solutions and SDKs. We had to understand and translate the results of spending on media.

We’ve been able to optimize the advertising creative and understand what resonates with consumers, the landing page optimation, what visuals Chinese gamers like to see from an app icon perspective. And then in the media planning, we can buy and optimize and get CPI (cost per install) that are equivalent in China to what we get in Western markets. Now we can buy media just like we do in the West and target consumers and look at the yield. It’s an amazing infrastructure that we’ve created, and we learned a tremendous amount.

We were the #1 downloaded game in all of China, and it’s the result of a lot of effort across the board from the studio to the publishing group.

What opportunities have the Chinese chat apps opened up for marketing this game?

In-app chat is extremely popular in China. Tencent Games are often in the Top 20, and a large part of that is because they have the power of WeChat, which is the largest social platform in China. It’s the power of that channel that can drive consumers into games and drive installs. We’ve been doing a lot of work with WeChat. We’ve spent marketing dollars there, and have seen the impact and benefits of marketing through those social channels.

We worked through Disney and Marvel’s WeiBo channels to drive excitement of the game socially. Social channels in China for mobile have a much tighter correlation to the success of games than they do in the West. WeChat is tightly integrated into the gaming system. QQ is another Tencent platform that is very popular.

Facebook Emoji Become More Diversified

Emoji continue to play a pivotal part in users’ day-to-day messaging, and now it looks like they’re starting to grow up.

Facebook has announced that it has begun rolling out a series of new emoji for its Messenger app that lets users customize them to their liking, including changing the color of their skin, as well as diverse types of characters like red-headed emoji and female characters in roles like police officers and doctors.

“Emoji have changed the way we talk to each other—whether it’s a smiley face to show you’re happy, a thumbs up, or a pizza when hungry, emoji are a fun, easy way to express yourself when words just aren’t enough—and people love them! In fact, nearly 10 percent of mobile sends in Messenger include emoji. However, not all platforms have kept up with emoji standards as they’ve evolved—which means sometimes the emoji you wanted to send wasn’t the one that showed up. Nor are they living up to the gender and skin tone diversity that we see in our world everyday,” Facebook stated in a recent post.

The posts aren’t just based on diversity, but also effectiveness, with little technical error. “Messenger is addressing emoji woes by rolling out a new set of standardized emoji so you can be sure you’re sending the right message. No matter what emoji you pick, it will now look the same for all Messenger users, regardless if the recipient is on Android, iOS or another platform. In other words, no more broken-looking black boxes or emoji that just don’t make sense. Our characters are consistent every time you use them, no matter what platform the recipient is on.”

In short, “We’re diversifying the genders to create a more balanced mix that’s more representative of our world,” the company noted.

The emoji are presented in a uniform set, making it easy to select which ones users want to use when it comes to expressing themselves through Facebook’s services.

The popularity of emoji extends beyond Facebook. Motorola recently introduced a new campaign called #ShatteredStories that focuses on saddened characters after they accidentally drop their phones, which is an advertising point for the brand’s Droid Turbo 2, which features a shatter-proof screen.

If that weren’t enough, Sony has also introduced The Emoji Movie, set for release sometime next year with a focus on the characters, and Pepsi recently launched a promotion with five-second ads featuring animated emoji on its bottles.