Virtual reality has been a key marketing tool for Hollywood film and television studios over the past four years at San Diego Comic-Con. This year will see a variety of new VR experiences, ranging from Warner Bros. Suicide Squad to Nickelodeon’s Legends of the Hidden Temple to FX Networks’American Horror Story Fearless VR experience.
FX Networks is once again taking over the Hilton Bayfront Park from Thursday to Sunday to promote Archer, American Horror Story, The Strain, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. The FXhibition will include a 25-foot “infected” Lady Liberty statue from the vampire horror show The Strain. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Paddy’s Pub will offer an escape from the heat providing water on tap for fans to stay cool throughout the day.
After using VR to transport fans into the world of Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain last year, FX is focusing on American Horror Story this time around. The AHSFearless VR Experience will allow fans of Ryan Murphy’s long-running TV series to become a part of their favorite show and test the boundaries of their own fear. To avoid waiting the long lines that haunted last year’s experience, fans can reserve a spot at AHSReservations.com.
Kenya Hardaway-Green, vice president of integrated promotions at FX Networks, explains the power of virtual reality as a marketing tool in the midst of the largest consumer pop culture gathering in the world in this exclusive interview with [a]listdaily.
What were your goals with this American Horror Story VR Experience?
The premise of the sixth installment of American Horror Story will not be revealed until the premiere on Sept. 14. We were looking to create an immersive experience that would serve as a thrill ride through previous installments of AHS and excite fans with what’s to come. Our goal was to create this experience so it could be enjoyed by die hard fans of AHS, as well as anyone daring enough to give it a try.
What did you learn from last year’s The Strain VR Experience activation that you’re applying to American Horror Story this year?
Our VR experience for The Strain was extremely popular with Comic-Con fans last year. As a result, we had long lines and extended wait times to enter the space. This year we have developed a reservation system that will allow visitors to reserve a space at AHSreservations.com. We want our guests to enjoy their time in our activation, not spend their day in a queue.
How did you work with actors and creatives from American Horror Story on this VR experience?
We took our inspiration from the series and a few terrifying moments AHS fans may recognize. It’s a fun ride.
Creatively, what does VR open up for storytelling?
Virtual reality is a great storytelling tool because it allows us to take an audience and drop them right in the middle of the action. For a fan, there is no better place to be. It also challenges us to tell a more complete story through environments and sound design. The participant has a 360-degree view into the world we create so we can add a richness to the narrative that’s lacking in other presentations.
What’s the gist of the experience and how long is it?
AHS Fearless VR takes fans on a journey through frightful encounters inspired by previous installments of AHS and gives them the chance to face some of their biggest fears. The experience is 4.5 minutes long.
What type of themed set-up do you have for the VR activation given last year’s The Strain VR experience?
All I can tell you is that we call it “The Vault.”
How does VR connect with Comic-Con attendees?
VR experiences at Comic-Con allow us to attract hardcore fans of not only our shows but fans of various entertainment genres and technology as well. There is still a great deal of curiosity surrounding VR and we cater to that interest to tell our stories to a broader audience.
How do you use VR to market to those not in San Diego?
The great thing about producing a VR experience is that the content is portable. Unlike other engagements we have invested in for Comic-Con, this will have a life beyond the event.
As mobile VR devices continue to become more popular, what role does VR play in marketing beyond a big show like Comic-Con?
As VR technology becomes more accessible, the demand for content will grow. Audiences will be more receptive of branded content as it allows them to sample the technology. It is a great opportunity to capture an adventurous audience.
What impact do you see PlayStation VR having on VR for FX shows?
Nickelodeon is going back to the ‘90s at San Diego Comic-Con this year. And for the fourth time, the kids’ network is using virtual reality to market a show. This year, it’s Legends of the Hidden Temple that’s getting a new live action TV movie, along with a 360-degree experience brought to life through Samsung Gear VR for those who visit the 1,800 square-foot Nickelodeon booth on the convention floor.
Jaime Dictenberg, senior vice president of Nickelodeon Consumer Marketing, explains the lessons learned from marketing to Comic-Con attendees through virtual reality in this exclusive interview.
Why did you decide to use virtual reality with Legends of the Hidden Temple?
VR is generating interest from millennials, who remember the Legends of the Hidden Temple game show fondly from their own childhoods, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to reacquaint them with the property. We created a beautiful set for the movie, which is perfect for VR because it allows fans to fulfill the fantasy of stepping into the movie and exploring the Hidden Temple.
What’s the VR experience like?
The Legends VR experience is a guided tour from the game show’s original host Kirk Fogg, who reprises his role in the re-imagined movie. He walks viewers through the mysterious and sometimes spooky rooms within the Temple, and the audience is immersed in the temple environment as they explore the corridors of the Hidden Temple. Like the adventurers of our movie, they follow Olmec’s clues on a quest to find the animals from the original show and obtain the Pendant of Life.
Who produced it and how were the show creators involved?
Nickelodeon’s creative promotions team and Immersive Media partnered to produce the Legends 360-degree VR experience. Both teams worked closely with the movie production unit to ensure that the end product would be true to the upcoming movie and a great experience for fans that grew up with the original program.
How long an experience is it and what platform are you demonstrating it on and how many demos will there be at Comic-Con?
The experience is five minutes long and it will be showcased on four Samsung Gear VR units. The activation will be up and running at Nickelodeon’s booth every day of Comic-Con.
We’ve seen VR at Comic-Con for several years now. What role does this technology play in standing out from the crowd?
The VR technology has been around a few years, but utilizing VR as a storytelling medium is just getting started. Nickelodeon has a history of creating incredible characters and telling unforgettable stories, so our fans are eager to see us bring that expertise into the VR space. This will be one of the first hands-on experiences that many kids will have with VR. As far as millennials who’ve already had a chance to experience VR at Comic-Con, we’re betting that they’re more than willing to sign on for one more Temple run.
How has Nickelodeon worked with or learned from other VR experiences across the company?
This is Nickelodeon’s fourth time using 360-degree VR and we learn something new with each execution. Keeping the viewer engaged with both the story and the environment is key. We use Easter eggs, interactivity and sight and sound cues to direct the user’s attention and keep them engaged. Experiments in 360-degree storytelling are shared across Viacom so each network is free to experiment for their own audience, while leveraging best practices in technology, technique and vendors.
Can you detail the VR activation for Legends?
The experience transports fans into the world of the upcoming action-adventure TV movie inspired by the iconic game show. Virtual visitors to the Hidden Temple are guided through the dangerous corridors by none other than original series host, and official Temple tour guide, Kirk Fogg. After exploring several of the rooms and corridors, visitors will enter the epic Throne Room where King Olmec resides. He challenges adventurers to find the five iconic animals from the original series (like Orange Iguana, Purple Parrot, Red Jaguar, Silver Snake and Green Monkey), ultimately revealing the Pendant of Life that allows them to escape the temple. Visitors must hunt all around them, guided only by their keen eyes and Olmec’s cryptic clues. Especially eagle-eyed users will spot Easter eggs hidden throughout the entire Temple experience.
With a lot of retro celebration at Comic-Con this year, how big a push will the Legends show get?
Nickelodeon’s Comic-Con booth will offer several ways for fans to interact with and experience Legends of the Hidden Temple every day of the convention. In addition to a VR 360-degree experience that will transport fans into the world of the upcoming TV movie, Comic-Con attendees can also interact with Legends’ King Olmec and test their knowledge by answering trivia questions for the opportunity to win prizes. Also, on Saturday, July 23, returning cast members Kirk Fogg and Dee Bradley Baker, along with star of the new TV movie Isabela Moner, will appear on the “Back to the ‘90s” panel and sign autographs at the booth.
Can you explain what the live-action movie is about?
Drawing on the original game show’s premise of kids competing to retrieve artifacts from a mysterious Mayan temple, the upcoming Legends of the Hidden Temple action-adventure TV movie will follow three siblings who embark on a high-stakes, life-or-death mission. The TV movie will feature elements from the original game show including: Olmec, a talking head who knows the secrets behind the temple; the Steps of Knowledge, the entrance to the temple; and cameos from a green monkey, red jaguar and silver snakes, among others.
What role does Comic-Con play in the overall marketing of a movie like Legends?
With its diverse group of attendees, Comic-Con allows us to reach fans who grew up on the original show and potential new ones. We’re able to offer a deeper dive into the property through our activations at the booth like the Olmec trivia and the 360 VR, and the cast panel will give them a sneak peek at the movie featuring stars Kirk Fogg and Dee Bradley Baker from the original show.
Can you detail the trivia game activation for Legends?
Fans can interact with Legends of the Hidden Temple’s King Olmec and test their knowledge by answering trivia questions for the opportunity to win prizes.
Lego Dimensions has proven to be a huge hit for WB Games. In addition to taking advantage of the Lego brand, the game enables players to expand their adventures with secondary packs based on films such as Back To the Future and Ghostbusters. Other properties range from TV shows to classic Midway arcade games such as Defender and Gauntlet.
The publisher recently announced that it will be extending Lego Dimensions‘ life with a second season. Instead of requiring players to purchase new versions of the game, as other toy-to-life games such as Disney Infinity have done, WB Games has opted to make new packs based on new properties available, and it’s opening the door for a number of brands to take center stage.
The Warner Bros. franchises that will benefit from the new Lego Dimensions packs over the next year include The Lego Batman Movie, which opens next year; the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which opens later this year (along with a pack for Potter fans); and older favorites such as The Goonies, Gremlins and Beetlejuice, featuring iconic characters like Gizmo and Sloth.
WB has also opened the door for other studio properties to enjoy a Lego Dimensions promotion. Sony, for example, is working alongside the developer at Travellers’ Tales to make a story pack based on its recently released Ghostbusters movie, while Paramount’s Mission: Impossible series, featuring Tom Cruise, will also be featured. The Cartoon Network shows Adventure Time, The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titans Go will get their own add-on, along with classic Universal-produced shows like Knight Rider and The A-Team (complete with a Mr. T figurine).
Even unlikely partners will be adding characters and environments to Lego Dimensions, including Universal’s cinematic classic, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and Sega’s champion mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog—although WB Games hasn’t discussed to what extent they’ll be featured.
Lego Dimensions is a franchise that welcomes all types of brands to add to its ever-expanding universe. More importantly, as a brand that has been around for 67 years, Lego is a family-friendly brand that appeals to multiple generations. It’s also one that continues to grow and with new characters based on different properties, making it the perfect way to introduce shows, games and movies from different eras to families.
As society endures trying times of global violence, racial tension and political turmoil, YouTube aims its latest campaign at those who define themselves by the music they listen to. The five-video initiative titled “It’s Who We Are”promotes the YouTube Music app by highlighting its audience’s diversity.
“We did a bunch of segmentation around our users and found this set of users who is really our key target market who finds and defines themselves by music,” Danielle Tiedt, YouTube’s chief marketing officer told Billboard. “We kind of leaned into characters where you really saw that juxtaposition of the way music is with you at really critical moments in your life and how it helps define you and bring these characters to life in the same way we’re also highlighting this incredible diversity of users and the music we have on the platform.”
The new series of ads are deliberately provocative, depicting characters that are the subject of much current debate, such as Muslims, racial stereotypes and the LGBTQ community. While any dialogue is brief, the focus of each video is the character and what they’re listening to. In Alex’s Theme, a teenager in a rural town dresses up in women’s clothing to Big Freedia’s “Club Now Skunk.” Afsa’s Theme, meanwhile, depicts a young, hijabi Muslim woman jamming out to “Blackalicious.” The common thread is that each character accepts themselves through the music they enjoy. After all, who hasn’t blasted their earballs to a motivating jam or fell into the melancholy embrace of a sad song after a break-up?
It’s no coincidence that these YouTube Music videos are timed with the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. YouTube admits that the purpose is to start conversations, heated or otherwise.
“There’s no doubt that they will cause controversy,” continued Tiedt, “These are exactly the kind of lightning rod identity politics that are going crazy in the world right now. One of the reasons why we’re kind of leaning into that a little bit is because at YouTube we have such commitment to this idea that everyone should have the freedom to belong. It’s really, really a core part of our mission and how we run our business and that’s part of why we’re sticking strong to characters like this because if not us, who?”
Music streaming is big business, with brands partnering with YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and more for maximum exposure. According to a new report by App Annie, music and entertainment-related categories experienced strong worldwide revenue growth across both Google Play and the iOS App Store in the second quarter of 2016.
While this celebration of diversity may be music to the ears of some, there’s no better place to find opposing and often misspelled opinions than on YouTube video comments, and the war has already begun.
Sony is readying a big push on one of its bigger holiday releases, starting with a fan favorite by announcing that it will release Gravity Rush 2 for PlayStation 4 on December 2. The game features a heroine named Kat and her companion, Raven (who happens to be a cat), as she battles enemies using her special power: manipulating gravity so that sides of buildings and ceilings turn into walkable platforms. The game is the follow-up to Gravity Rush Remastered, which released for the PlayStation 4 in February, adapted from the PlayStation Vita version.
While Sony is still riding high on the success of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, that isn’t keeping it from promoting this particular cult-favorite game in an innovative way, as it’s working on an anime program that will tie in with it.
Titled Gravity Rush: The Animation—Overture, the series will focus on Kat’s misadventures between the first game and the second. It’s being put together by Studio Khara, the same team responsible for the popular Japanese anime Rebuild of Evangelion. The series is expected to release before Gravity Rush 2 comes out in an effort to build up hype for the sequel.
Considering how fans are enjoying a variety of anime programs at the moment, including the dozens available across services like Netflix and CrunchyRoll, the tie-in for a program with Gravity Rush is a solid idea. Plus, it’s a tactic that’s been quite successful for other companies in the past that have released animated programs alongside game releases.
For instance, Electronic Arts released separate home video movies to coincide with their Dead Space and Mass Effect titles, with both Dead Space: Downfall and Mass Effect: Paragon Lost getting strong reception from fans. In addition, Sega promoted its heroine Bayonetta with her own Japanese anime film, Bloody Fate, which got equally positive reviews on its release back in 2013 while bringing the star back into the spotlight as Nintendo prepared to launch Bayonetta 2.
It’s a move that helps flesh out the characters and worlds to new players while generating interest in the games. Considering the game’s art style and presentation, it seems right at home for a Japanese anime-style program.
Those who pre-order the game will also have access to other Gravity Rush-based goodies, including bonus costumes for Kat and a nine-track soundtrack—giving players something more to indulge in besides the anime.
For the first time, China has climbed to the #1 spot for iOS mobile game revenue, surpassing the US and Japan in the second quarter of 2016. According to analytics firm, App Annie, China’s sudden domination is attributed to the explosive popularity of multiplayer collaborative games in the region. Although the rise of the Chinese market to global leader was impressive compared to the last two years, it’s not exactly surprising. In fact, in a March report, App Annie predicted that the mobile gaming market would top $10 billion in 2016, and eventually reach $13.9 billion by 2019.
Together, China, the US and Japan are responsible for approximately 75 percent of gaming revenue on the iOS platform, with gaming as the single largest revenue driver. China alone nearly doubled the iOS App Store games revenue it had just a year earlier in second quarter of 2015.
So, which games are responsible for this huge leap in revenue? According to the report, locally developed games were responsible for a large portion of the year-over-year growth. Specifically, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) dominate the Chinese mobile market. As evidenced in a May report by Newzoo, NetEase’s Fantasy Westward Journey is the only game to remain in the top ten since June 2015, while Fantasy Westward Journey 2 climbed back to number two in June, followed by Tencent’s King of Glory at number three. Fantasy Westward Journey 2 launched last October and the franchise consistently sits atop the App Store in the world’s biggest mobile market. While foreign publishers have seen success in the country, local publishers dominate the top iOS revenue chart. Tencent alone claimed about 45 percent of Chinese Android revenues in May, publishing 23 of the top 100 titles.
There was hope for foreign publishers, with Supercell’s Clash Royale ranking at number 10 by iOS revenue in the second quarter of 2016. However, now that Tencent owns Supercell, brands outside of China will have to get creative or establish strategic partnerships to increase brand awareness within the region.
Given the tremendous success of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and last month’s critically acclaimedGordon Ramsay: DASH, it’s easy to forget that Glu Mobile has a history of producing a wide variety of games that don’t have celebrity names or movie licenses associated with them. However, considering how the company’s newest game, Rival Fire, is adapted from Tencent’s WeFire—the most popular action shooter in China—it’s still working with big name support.
The partnership with global gaming giant, Tencent, to bring WeFire to Western players was announced last November. Rival Fire uses the same graphics engine and many of the same core features that made the original game popular but adapted to suit a global audience.
Rival Fire launched on both the Apple App Store and Google Play today, giving Western players a chance to check out its unique blend of action and social gameplay. Glu Mobile’s president and CEO, Niccolo de Masi, talks to [a]listdaily about working with Tencent in the ultimate East and West collaboration to bring WeFire to the world.
In what ways does Rival Fire differ from the original game, WeFire?
Rival Fire utilizes the most engaging parts of the original in addition to synchronous co-op PvE (Player-Versus-Environment) and PVP (Player-Versus-Player), an industry first that we’re tremendously proud of.
How has Glu worked with Tencent to develop the game, and what would you say it is about Rival Fire that will appeal most to a global audience?
The development of Rival Fire is the result of a powerhouse collaboration from East and West. Tencent and Glu have worked alongside one another over the past year to deliver a game with an immersive storyline, stunning 3D graphics, engaging social features, and multiplayer gameplay—features that have been historically reserved for PCs and consoles. It is a true one-of-a-kind mobile shooter experience transformed for a Western audience.
Was there any consideration given to associating a celebrity with Rivals, similar to Sniper X with Jason Statham?
At this time, we’re highly focused on delivering a high-quality third-person shooter to the market and supporting that community of players with a robust pipeline of updates, live events, and support.
How does releasing a shooter for mobile devices compare to games such as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood or Gordon Ramsay DASH?
Glu has a diverse portfolio of titles spanning five genres: Action, Celebrity, Sports & Racing and Simulation. Rival Fire falls into the Action category, and there are certainly major differences in the target audience, features, community etc. However, our ongoing vision is to deliver unmissable entertainment, no matter the genre.
What has Glu learned from releasing Frontline Commando and Deer Hunter games about promoting shooters on mobile devices?
We always aim to learn, as a team from each title we release into the market. As time goes on, socio-competitive features have become increasingly important parts of any game. For mobile, that comes in the form of co-ops, or “guilds,” offering players the opportunity to be a part of a community. Additionally, PVP features offering players the chance to go head-to-head with others provides a unique competitive, adrenaline-filled, edge. Both of which Rival Fire has.
What are some of the most important things to keep in mind when releasing a new mobile shooter, even when it’s based on a popular game like WeFire?
WeFire is the most successful mobile shooter in China. However, we must take into account that it was built rather specifically for that market, which differs tremendously from the West. We’ve used the success of WeFire’s engine and art style as a launching pad and iterated on it to suit the audience we’re going after. Mobile shooters are tough to do well, but Glu has a long track-record of success in the space. Shooters are typically associated with AAA console titles, so convincing players that a mobile shooter is worth their time requires that expertise.
Japanese social networking firm LINE Corp. made its debut on the Tokyo and New York markets last Thursday at a $1.5 billion valuation. It’s the largest tech IPO to date this year and is the first Japanese company to list its IPO in the US since 2000. LINE is owned by South Korean internet company Naver Corporation. Over the last 12 months, LINE generated $1.1 billion in revenue. LINE’s IPO raised $1.26 billion for the company, and its share price jumped 27 percent from the opening, an impressive beginning.
What This Has To Do With The Games Market
LINE claims 218 million monthly active users across 230 countries and generates about 35 percent of its annual revenue from what it calls “games and music.” LINE’s strength appears to be its ability to engage its audience. While there are many other messaging apps that offer communication functionality, few can match LINE’s success in providing entertainment and games.
Is This A Competitor To Tencent?
Yes . . . and no. Despite having a monthly active user base that’s roughly a third of Tencent’s, LINE holds a dominant stake in the most valuable mobile games market in the world. In 2015, spending on mobile games in Japan totaled $7.48 billion, compared to $5.77 billion in China, where Tencent dominates. The average monthly spending per paying user in Japan was $62.74 (over the whole of 2015), compared to $20.15 in China.
With a solid grip on such a valuable audience, LINE presents a small but formidable competitor to China’s titan Tencent. What LINE currently lacks, however, is a more pronounced content strategy to further drive monetization and engagement. It remains to be seen if the two firms will truly be head-on competitors, as neither firm is strongly incentivized or capable to penetrate the other’s market. Tencent’s WeChat has 762 million users compared to LINE’s 218 million. It’s more likely that both will seek to appeal to western audiences in the future to expand their addressable markets, once they’ve reached a natural limit on their own. The recent acquisition of Supercell is evidence of the move of Tencent in that direction.
What Does This Mean For The Market At Large?
There is an increasing emphasis on capturing and engaging audiences. Both Tencent and LINE both directly monetize their audience with micro-transactions, and earn revenue from advertisers. As interactive entertainment becomes increasingly mainstream, the ability to operate a dual-product strategy becomes more sustainable. As Asia tends to be several years ahead of western markets in terms of technological innovation and business models, we anticipate similar strategies to become more prevalent in North America and Europe in the coming years. The implications for marketers are great, because messaging has become important in app discovery overseas—but not in the US. This could potentially open up some critical new marketing strategies if LINE chooses to use some its newfound cash to boost its presence in other countries.
Joost van Dreunen, the CEO and co-founder at SuperData Research, joined [a]listdaily to further discuss the matter.
Tencent, with WeChat, LINE, and Kakao, have been hugely important in their respective markets through the use of messaging apps to spur game discovery and installation. That never seems to have taken hold elsewhere in the world. Why is that?
In markets like China, Korea and Japan, gamer audiences show a stronger affinity with mobile, among other things, due to the relative price point of PC and console hardware.
Now that Facebook Messenger allows apps, and the new iMessage in iOS 10 allows apps, could we see more game companies using messaging as a means of game discovery?
Entertainment companies, especially on mobile, will start integrating messenger app functionality to build their user base. Discovery continues to be a challenge for companies in the space. It also opens the market up to new revenue models, allowing game companies to rely more on ad revenue, provided they can build a large enough, and relevant, user base that is of interest to brands and advertisers.
Both LINE and WeChat have limited presence outside of their home markets. With LINE’s big cash infusion, do you expect that they’ll seek to expand their messaging presence to other countries? Which ones seem like good targets for them?
International expansion is certainly on the roadmap for all of the messenger app companies. What has made LINE successful is allowing each country’s team to localize the offering. Rather than rolling out a single, uniform mobile chat application, each country’s version differs, which has benefitted retention and monetization.
Tencent’s purchase of Supercell gives them a huge presence in the gaming market: Riot Games, Epic Games, a big chunk of Activision Blizzard as well. Do you see Tencent trying to use this broad array of gaming properties to help move their messaging app WeChat into other countries?
It’s an obvious move for Tencent to leverage their access to all this great content to expand their footprint and increase average spending. What’s less obvious is whether they consider themselves a Chinese monopolist that owns assets beyond its borders, or a global entertainment firm.
Tencent is also making deals in advertising and luxury goods, as well as in gaming. Do you see gaming remaining the company’s biggest source of revenue, or do you think they are trying to grow other parts of the business faster? Will Tencent be looking for connections between games and its many other interests?
In principle, Tencent is content-agnostic. If fashion or business news were a better driver of success they’d pursue that instead of games. But there’s currently no reason to assume they’d abandon gaming and, instead, Tencent is more likely to build on its existing success.
Vantage Sports is the latest traditional sports statistics company to enter the eSports industry. The company has launched a new subscription service designed to help amateur League of Legends players improve their game. The company is also working with professional eSports teams to provide detailed analysis of amateur players through statistics tracking.
Chase Exon, president of Vantage Sports, explains why the company is venturing into League of Legends and what other games are on the horizon in this exclusive interview with [a]listdaily.
What’s your background in traditional sports?
We address the data problem and the analytics problem in sports. The data problem is that there aren’t enough events tracked in most traditional sports. We have the box score stuff. That’s fine for newspapers and understanding the results of what happened, but it’s not very good for understanding how things happened and how to improve and make better decisions as far as player acquisition, trading players and things like that. So we created new data sets. We expanded what is being tracked, so that we’re tracking absolutely everything in a sport. And then we take that data and we can run better analytics on it, we can do deep machine learning.
How does that translate to eSports?
The process in eSports is the exact same. There’s the data problem, which is what events are you actually tracking, what events matter, and it’s actually a lot harder than a lot of people think. It’s not just a matter of, “did something happen at this time?” because you need to know the context. You need to know why it happened, where were the other players, what is the team comp, and all these other contextual elements that actually make that data important and actionable so you can do something about it. What we did in traditional sports is the exact same thing we’re doing in eSports. It’s just a different venue.
What challenges has eSports opened up specifically, since it is a video game sport?
The biggest challenge really is that none of this work has ever been done before. At least in traditional sports—we started in basketball—and we could look at baseball, which was so much more sophisticated analytically. And we looked at what worked in baseball and how that translates into basketball.
With eSports, we’re starting from scratch. And that’s why we have partnered with LCS teams and worked with them on developing this data set. Another big problem in eSports is there’s this big divide between professional eSports and amateur. In League of Legends you get to the pros and it’s an entirely different game. So the challenge for us and for aspiring professional players, or players of any level that want to play organized eSports, is—how do you learn that game, how do you teach that game and what are the data points that you need to track in order to help people get better and to measure how they’re getting better in playing a pro style, or an organized style, of eSports?
What are some of the pro teams you’ve worked with in developing League of Legends?
We’ve worked with Team Liquid a lot. One of the first products we’re launching is called Vantage League and the idea is to do a training league and to base it on how the pros play the game. Mark Zimmerman and Team Liquid have developed a curriculum for our players to learn and to develop. They have been instrumental in developing this data set to analyze players on how well they execute the strategy, the maneuvers and all the rest of it.
Then we take that and apply it to the amateur game and run custom games and put together a four-week round-robin-style league. We put you on the team. You have pre-game meetings and post-game meetings. You use our stats that we run on your game to develop, and you get immersed in the professional style of playing the eSport, which you can’t get anywhere else because it’s not organized and you don’t have the coaches. You don’t have the institutional knowledge that helps you get better and play that way.
Are you working with Riot Games on this?
No, we’re not working with Riot yet. We’re consultants for teams. We’re trying to help them be better. We started to do this organized league based on what we were hearing from teams because they have a huge recruiting problem. How do they analyze who is a really good player that they might want to bring on their Challenger team? Analyzing their solo queue data doesn’t help that much because it’s a totally different style of game, and without watching tons and tons of video, they can’t necessarily make the right determination on this player. We’re trying to get these players to play like the pros so that their stats are actually relevant to what the pros are looking at.
Outside of the Challenger series, is this program designed for a gamer who just wants to get better at League of Legends?
Absolutely. We are initially targeting aspiring pros, but at some level this is for everybody. Everybody wants organized competition in any sport, right? You can go play a basketball game or you can join a rec league. A lot of times people do both because those things are very different. I’m currently a Silver. I would love a bunch of other Silvers in my level to join the league because it’s a much richer experience when you’re developing communication and plays with a team. There are all sorts of things that this organized system builds up and makes possible that wouldn’t be possible in a pick-up game or solo or dynamic queue.
Will there be any prize pools?
No, we’re not doing a prize pool, initially. That might be something we consider down the road, but really this is a training league. Our goal is to make players better. And the way we do that is through our coaching, our curriculum and the stats that we track on each one of these games.
What are some of the specific stats you track in League of Legends?
Some of the interesting stuff we’re doing a lot of is around team comp analysis before and after every single game. We then do a whole tilt analysis, which is one of the more complicated things. We show you how your play style is changing based on deaths and forced recalls. Are you becoming more aggressive, and how can we pinpoint that and make you a little bit better there? We’re tracking everything like ganks, roaming, time management, how many times you’re landing your skilled shots, how you’re using flash or other spells. If you do have a flash engage, are you already getting kills and assists and you’re dying? If you’re flash retreating, are you escaping with your life or are you getting killed most of the time?
From individual champions, we can identify how many times you landed this combo and whether it was effective. Did you get the results that you wanted? When you use your ult, were you able to get some kills? It’s all a little bit contextual champion by champion, but we’re actually able to do that. The idea is to keep iterating and growing each one of these stats so that you can actually play as a team.
What are the costs involved for the consumer?
The membership fee is $15 per month and includes: a competitive experience, pro tools, coaching (from an LCS coach), and if a player is looking to go pro, we can provide and share that data with our LCS partners for recruitment.
Will this type of stat analysis cross over to CS:GO, Dota 2 and the other eSports games?
Absolutely. There are opportunities for organized eSports in every game. League of Legends is obviously one of the more popular ones, and it makes sense for us to start there. But the exact same principle applies to any professional eSport.
Will this work across PC and console games?
Yes. Initially, we’re starting on the PC, but there’s really no reason that we couldn’t do console games as well.
About three years ago, in an era before the Apple Music streaming service, Wally Nguyen was browsing through the Apple Music Store to purchase songs when he had a realization. You could listen to 30 to 60-second samples of songs to decide whether you liked them, but you couldn’t do the same with apps. The only way to try a game was to download it in its entirety, which was a considerable waste of time given how it only takes a few moments to realize whether you like a game or not.
Coincidentally, Nguyen’s longtime friend, Artem Grigoryan (mNectar CTO), had reached a similar conclusion while working with interactive showcase technology—users could rotate a virtual watch from within an ad—and thought that it could be applied to games. The two partnered with Daniel Cheng (mNectar CRO), who reached out to developers such as Kabam (Marvel: Contest of Champions) to find out that there was strong interest in removing the mobile game download barrier.
That’s when they formed mNectar—an ad platform that streams 30-second demos called Playable Ads straight to a user’s mobile device. Users can play a game straight away and then decide whether or not they want to download a game after experiencing the demo. According to mNectar, the conversion rate is seven times greater than with video ads, while user retention does twice as well. Considering how the cost-per-install advertising rates are rising ever higher, with developers and publishers spending between $3 to $10 per person, connecting gamers with the games that they’ll stay with is critical. It is no wonder why both Google and Apple are implementing similar technologies in their respective app stores.
Wally Nguyen, CEO of mNectar, talks to [a]listdaily about the how mNectar’s Playable technology will shape how users discover mobile games in the future as the era of downloads dies out.
Note: This interview has been edited for readability.
How are mNectar’s Playable Ads better than traditional downloads?
When you think about it, downloads are dead. You’re streaming movies on Netflix and streaming music on Spotify. I haven’t used a Microsoft document in about five years; I just use Google Docs. So, for all intents and purposes, the download was dead. But on our mobile devices, downloads are everywhere.
We have these devices that are supposed to be the future, but we’re stuck in the 1990s in terms of downloading everything. Downloads are also just a barrier. If you want to try anything on mobile, you have to download it. Three-quarters of apps that are downloaded get deleted within a day, according to TechCrunch. So, 75 percent of the time, people end up downloading something and then they delete it. That’s a massive time-suck to the user, but that’s also a waste of money for developers.
We know that the app install market is worth between $5 to $7 billion right now. That’s how much game developers are spending to market and acquire new users, what they’re really paying for is that barrier. About 75 percent of that $7 billion is wasted because we know [most] users delete whatever they just downloaded.
With Playable Ads, we stream the real experience to you. There’s no lying or misleading that you might get with a video or any other type of ad. You get the game, you play a level, and if you like it, you’ll probably download it. If you don’t, you probably won’t. It’s simple product marketing, but really hard to build from a technology standpoint. But now that we’ve been at it for three years, I’m proud to say that we haven’t lost a single customer, and they come back to tell us that we’ve saved them a ton of money. We’re only acquiring that 25 percent of customers who want to play our games.
Playable Ads are about 30 seconds long. Is that enough time for users to engage with games?
It depends on the genre. If you’re talking about a casual match-3 game, 30 seconds is about right. If you’re talking about something longer, like Marvel Contest of Champions, we’ll probably go up to a minute or a minute-and-a-half. With something deep, like Game of War, we’ll go a little bit longer.
The thing about Playable is that we can track real engagement. The most prevalent ad form for apps today is video. They generally auto-roll, which interrupts the experience, and you’re stuck watching it. Most people treat them like TV commercials by putting down the phone, walking away, and doing something else. With Playable, we know that users are actually playing, and we can track every touch event. We know—when we stream millions of Playables every day—the appropriate amount of time for a user to get hooked, and that’s data we give back to our clients.
Google has streaming demos in the Google Play search. How do Playable Ads compare?
The only two players in the world that do this [app streaming] right now is us and Google. Google announced its playable products back in November, so I’m proud to say that we’re about two years ahead. We can both stream to WiFi very easily, but mobile users could be in a cab or otherwise moving. mNectar is the only one that can stream down to cellular coverage, including Edge, LTE and 4G. We can stream to any device, to any mobile user, as long as it’s at least iOS 7 or Android 4.4.
What do you see as the future of Playable Ads?
We believe that downloads will go away. In the very near future, we won’t be downloading anything on our devices; we’ll just be streaming content. In between here and there, we believe we train users to get into app streaming through advertising.
When you say the end of downloads, you mean you’re working towards streaming full games?
Exactly—that is how mNectar is poised. We have a trained market. Advertising is the start of the path for us. When users sample games for 30 seconds to a minute, the natural question is, “why can’t I keep playing?” We’ll be able to turn our infrastructure to allow for full play. That is the vision for the company. The infrastructure we built today for advertising is the same infrastructure we’ll use for full streaming of all content on mobile.
Playables are said to have seven times the conversion and twice the retention rate of video. What do you think accounts for that?
We ran video ads to see how they worked and also got first party data back from our customers. We saw a 7x conversion rate compared to video. People are downloading apps after Playables because they trust the experience. They know what they’re going to get when they hit download, and there are no surprises. It’s all about setting the proper level of expectation. Video is a massive over-promise and under-deliver. With Playable app streaming, what you see is what you get, and the retention rates are high for that reason.
What do you think about hits such as Clash of Clans and Game of War, with their popular commercials?
I think those examples are great ones, but they’re different. There’s no argument that Supercell and Machine Zone are two of the most successful game studios to date, but they didn’t start with TV commercials. TV was the island of last resort, in that they had been spending for years and maxed out all mobile avenues of getting people to see their games. The reason I say island of last resort is because there is no data in TV commercials. There’s no link between running a $5 million Super Bowl ad and the number of views you’ll get. It’s really hard to connect that data.
I would argue that we don’t compete with TV commercials because we’re not the island of last resort. We’re the first call for advertising games. Machine Zone is running Playable advertising like crazy. They got a taste of it and saw the better conversion and retention rates, and now it’s one of their more popular ways of advertising. I also want to state that product marketing shouldn’t be only for the rich developers. Only the top one percent of developers can buy TV commercials. We have a really big problem right now in that the top 100 stays the top 100 unless a cultural event like Pokémon GO comes around.
Apple just announced paid app search. That’s not going to change anything. We’re working with a lot of indie developers that have an average CPI (Cost Per Install) of $5 to $8. That’s not scalable. You spend $8 to acquire a user and maybe make a dollar off of them? Only developers that are already wildly successful, or funded with a lot of money, can afford to buy users at a loss. We’re helping all app developers get the right type of audience, and help the audience find the right type of game.
With so many mobile games available, how will mNectar keep from overwhelming users with content?
There’s a very strong, rational argument that we’re at “peak app.” The market is too saturated, and I think that’s why there’s a lot of enthusiasm around VR and AR. It’s like a new gold rush. I don’t think a lot of the fundamentals are there, but I think a lot of developers are just praying that VR becomes the next app platform because it’s really hard to make money on mobile now.
In that future, I think games must earn the user’s attention. Another stat is that most users only use about nine apps in total. I think that’s where mNectar will thrive. When you have to earn your right to be in that top nine and not be deleted at the end of the day, it’s all about setting up the proper expectations the first time. Video ads have encouraged 93 percent of users to download ad-blocking software. Users are sick of being fooled by video and all other types of ads. The advertising industry is cannibalizing itself because it refuses to evolve and put the user first.
That world is great for mNectar. Apple and Google love us because we don’t lie to users. In that peak app future, where advertising gets fewer and fewer eyeballs because of ad-blocking, I believe product marketing will go much farther.
Thank you for your continued support and readership.
-The AList Team
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