The Instant In-Game Community For Mobile Games

As mobile games continue to grow and expand into new genres, it seems apparent that mobile gaming is becoming the center of the games industry, in much the same way that mobile computing is becoming the place where people spend most of their computer time. That evolution for mobile games has been accompanied by the shift from casual games as the core of mobile gaming, to other genres. We’ve seen strategy games like Clash of Clans and Game of War: Fire Age become enormously profitable, and roleplaying game elements have been important in the success of Puzzle & Dragons. Other mobile games are finding tremendous success with fighting genres, card games, and of course location-based gaming with Pokemon Go (now at 100 million downloads and $10 million in revenue per day).

There’s one factor that’s been driving the long-term success of many games on consoles and PCs, and this has been true for decades. That’s community—the groups of fans of a game who connect with each other (both online and, increasingly, in person at various gatherings) to discuss their favorite experiences, share tips and tactics, and generally hang out with like-minded people. The role of game fans in evangelizing games to new users has only grown over time—and with the advent of game streaming, it’s reaching hundreds of millions between streaming and social media. Yet, for the most part, the communities built around mobile games have been feeble things compared to the communities of PC and console games.

Spencer Liu
KTplay CEO Spencer Liu

Now KTplay, which bills itself as “your instant in-game community” for mobile games, has been changing all that. The company, headed by CEO Spencer Liu, has been serving millions of mobile gamers in China with a full-featured community platform that mobile game developers can easily add to their games. Best of all for small developers, Ktplay is free—supported by advertising within the platform. KTplay has been used by dozens of games in China, with tens of millions of users and impressive metrics for virality, retention, engagement and revenue. Now, KTplay is bringing its community platform to Western developers, and there’s tremendous potential for growth.

Why hasn’t community been as important for mobile games as it has for PC and console games? “We feel that so far there has not been a platform that’s effective,” said Liu. “The reason being, where are your most active, your most loyal, your most engaged players? Are they on Facebook? No. Are they on Twitter? Instagram? Maybe, I don’t know. The one place you know where to find them is in your game, that’s where we can be 100 percent certain they will be there. That’s where their minds are on your game, they are focused on playing your game and understanding your game. That’s also where they will most likely run into issues advancing in your game. They want new tactics, they want strategies, and they would be very interested to find other players who are like-minded and share their passion for your game. Where? Right inside your game. It’s all about in-game.”

The role of communities in helping make games successful is clear for PC and console games, but those communities have found their home on the Internet, on forums and websites. Now that we see deeper mobile games, where do people go to find a community? It’s a problem for lots of mobile games, and KTPlay sees itself as the answer.

“We have to admit there are a lot of good developers who are developing many more social features right inside their game,” said Liu. “You can check out each other’s villages, you can even do game replays and share a video clip inside the game. But those features, those user flows are built to directly benefit the entire game mechanism, the game experience. And monetization, retention, and so forth What about casually meeting other players, what about asking a question on how I can advance? So far there has never been a place or a platform or a tool where users can do that. Developers default to what has been done for many years—let’s launch an open-source forum on their web site. So it’s extremely disconnected from the game experience, the user accounts are not linked in.”

Developers can customize the look and feel of KTplay to their game, so that it fits right into the style and interface—and you never have to worry about uniting users spread across Facebook, web forums and other platforms, because you can find them all in the game itself.

KTplay offers a community management tool within your game that helps with marketing efforts, by better targeting of customers and engaging with them more directly, within the game itself. “Now that we’ve aggregated all the users inside the game, how do we help developers to influence their behavior? Besides content curation and community management tools on the back end, we also have a series of light live ops tools,” Lui said. “In-game messaging with deep links that can be sent to specific segments of the users. For instance, if I have certain IAPs on sale, most developers would send a notification and say ‘Come buy this, it’s 50 percent off.’ We want to add a more social element to the whole experience, so you ask people to come into the community and talk about it. You click on the in-game notification, you are led to that specific topic in the discussion forum.”

In other words, it’s much more targeted and effective marketing, and that’s what KTplay’s community tool provides. The product isn’t difficult to install; Liu estimates it takes about a day if the game is built in Unity. Of course, adding in deep links and other features could take more time, and require the involvement of the product team. The business model for KTplay grows out of the company’s concept of trying to benefit all parties in the ecosystem.

“Our philosophy has always been ‘let’s create a great product first that will benefit players, then benefit the developers and the publishers,'” Liu said. “Based on that win-win scenario, how can we create a great product that’s offered to developers for free? Phase one of monetization is native advertising right inside the user experience. Right now we’re partnering with AdMob to power our native ad experience. We chose native because we don’t want the ad experience to be intrusive or interrupting. There are multiple native ad injection points throughout the experience.”

KTplay also has a paid model for larger publishers who don’t want to have other advertisers in their games. “From our experience, some 90 percent of developers welcome this ad solution because it’s not intrusive,” Liu said.

Now the challenge for KTplay is to get the package installed in the West. “We’re at the very beginning of pushing it out to the Western market—KTplay has existed in Asia-Pacific for the past year and a half, and it’s gained great traction in China,” Liu said. “Now we believe the platform has been battle-tested, it’s very stable, the features are extremely robust, and most importantly beneficial to retention and revenue. We’re launching our big PR blitz now, and plan to attend various conferences and shows to get ourselves out there.”

US Marketers Ramping Up On Social Video Campaigns

Video has become a major platform for US marketers, particularly on Facebook. According to a recent survey by Animoto, a cloud-based video creation service, 70.8 percent of respondents said they plan to invest in social video ads, including ads to boost content in the next 12 months. Facebook is most likely to benefit from these plans, as 65.8 percent of those who planned to do social video advertising expressed plans to use the platform. Following as the number two choice for social marketing was YouTube at 42.3 percent.

The study by Animoto was conducted between April and May of 2016 and shows an increase in Facebook interest over a similar study in December 2015. The December study, conducted by Advertiser Perceptions, showed that 72 percent of US marketers anticipated using Google and YouTube campaigns, compared to 46 percent who said Facebook.

Mobile advertising is a natural platform for video marketing, and brands are taking full advantage. Facebook earned 84 percent of its ad revenue from mobile during the last quarter and earlier this year, Google stated that it is now serving more search queries on mobile than on desktop. A new report from Mixpo reveals how popular Facebook’s video has become. The report shows that 50 percent of companies have launched some form of video campaign on the site, a huge jump compared to the 31 percent on YouTube, and even bigger than Twitter (17 percent), Instagram (13 percent) and Snapchat (2 percent).

At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London this year, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, predicted that the social media platform “will be definitely mobile” and “probably all video” in five years. Mendelsohn also said she believes video is a better way to tell stories and predicted that 360-degree video will move beyond its current novelty status.

Facebook is well aware of its popularity among video advertisers, and has made plans accordingly, including the signing of many media partners and celebrities, along with a recent partnership with Blizzard to help connect friends better with the competitive shooting game Overwatch. The medium is just getting started, as more and more marketers are finding the best ways to utilize video, including new formats like 360-degree video—a very friendly format for virtual reality.

How TBS’s ELeague Leverages Television To Gain New ESports Audience

Turner Broadcasting is seeing great success when it comes to eSports. Its ELeague initiative, which hosts tournaments that are broadcast online and followed by televised programs Friday nights during prime time, has pulled in both existing and new fans to eSports. In the days leading up to last weekend’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) finals, ELeague boasted 800 million gross minutes of video consumption across digital and linear platforms, 18 million video streams, 16 million viewers on TBS, and over 45 million social impressions.

Now it has begun hosting a new tournament called the Overwatch Open in partnership with FaceIt. In it, teams from across the US and Europe compete in the hit shooter, Overwatch, for a $300,000 prize pool and a shot at the Regional and Grand Finals, which will take place at Turner Studios’ ELeague Arena in Atlanta. The Grand Finals will be broadcast live on TBS and Twitch.

“We understand that the native platform for eSports is digital,” said Craig Barry, executive vice president and chief content officer for Turner Sports, during a media call. He explained that television was an important point-of-entry for casual eSports fans, and that, “understanding that the majority of our audience lives and breathes in the digital space creates a great opportunity.”

“This is not different from five years ago,” Barry said, “when we were in the more traditional sports space and everyone was asking: what’s the digital extension? What’s the companion app? How do we get the millennials? Flip that model 180-degrees, and we have the core native audience on the digital, and we have this support system that we can use as a portal for new fans and a new audience.”

When asked about how ELeague balanced between online and televised content, and whether he expected the television content to expand next season, Barry told [a]listdaily: “We have to manage to the strengths of the platforms.”

“In this particular case, all platforms aren’t created equal,” he continued. ELeague played to the strength a linear format by using television big events showcased storylines, teams and important tent pole moments throughout the season while creating a new portal for new or curious fans. “I don’t think there will ever be a time when it’ll be on five days a week on television instead of five days a week on Twitch,” said Barry. “I think it’s important to strategically use the platforms that creates the best user experience.”

Christina Alejandre, general manager of ELeague and VP of eSports at Turner Sports, spoke highly of the production values Turner put into it eSports initiative during the call.

“Turner puts just as much effort and resources into ELeague as they do for any of the verticals under the Turner Sports umbrella—whether that’s NBA, NCAA or PGA,” said Alejandre. “The thing that wowed me is that we would have Emmy Award-winning personnel working on ELeague, and it’s incredible to see eSports getting that attention and devotion.”

Alejandre also discussed how eSports benefitted network by drawing in new audiences.

“One of our main philosophies, outside of being authentic, is: what’s good for eSports is what’s good for us. We did a great job of bringing newer audiences in and leveraging the addition platform of television to bring those in. I think television lends itself almost being a sacred space for someone to watch eSports. If you go into Twitch chat right now and know nothing about eSports, it can be a bit intimidating—if not overwhelming—to watch. Providing an episodic structure and a safer, more familiar space to watch, we’ve been able to open it up to newer audiences that generally wouldn’t watch or be interested in eSports.

“I also think that the television aspect has enabled us to bring on a lot of non-endemic sponsors to the space. We’ve had great partners like Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Credit Karma and Domino’s. That additionally helps us to open it [eSports] up to new audiences, because those are brands they’re familiar with. If those brands are getting behind eSports, why not tune in? We’re seeing a lot of posts on Reddit about how kids, for the first time, can sit down with their parents and watch eSports. It Friday night—Family Fun Night—and they’re all watching eSports together.”

Alejandre continued to discuss audience growth, particularly with millennials. “It has not only been successful for us; it has also been successful to TBS,” said Alejandre. “We’ve seen millions of new viewers coming to TBS, and those are viewers that have not watched TBS over the prior months. Those are viewers that are specifically tuning in to watch eSports. TBS is attracting a younger audience to the network. Its audience composition is up 70 percent in the male 18-34, 38 percent in men 18-49.”

With ELeague’s first season now concluded, attention now turns to the Overwatch Open, which fills in the period before Season 2 begins. Alejandre spoke with [a]listdaily about the Overwatch Open and how it will help continue the audience growth that eSports brings to TBS.

Christina Alejandre VP/GM eSports
Christina Alejandre, VP/GM eSports at Turner Sports

What do you think makes Overwatch the ideal game to bring to broadcast TV?

For starters, it has the power of Blizzard behind it, and they have earned a reputation for delivering some of the most popular eSports titles in the world. Since its launch, the entire community has been buzzing about Overwatch, and we think its popularity will continue to grow. It’s a beautiful game to watch, with great gameplay, and we believe it will translate well across all screens.

In what ways do you think Overwatch will help towards the mainstream adoption of eSports?

The visuals for the game are amazing, as are the characters and storylines. We think those elements will lend well to television, as a natural extension to the digital experience.


Does showing an eSport on television have different challenges compared to online streaming?

We approach both similarly from a general production standpoint, but we also understand there may be a new viewer coming to TBS that hasn’t previously been exposed to eSports. First and foremost, we want to cater to the hardcore fan, but we also realize we have an obligation to explain certain aspects of the gameplay and strategy to the more casual fan.

How do you think audiences will respond to a new game, compared to eSports classics such as CS:GO, League of Legends and Call of Duty?

It’s a relatively new game, but Overwatch is already among the most popular eSports titles right now, and we anticipate that interest is only growing.

What lessons were learned from the ELeague’s first season, featuring CS:GO, that will be applied to the Overwatch Open?

At our core, Turner is a content creation company, and we’ve focused on producing these events with the highest of production values. Ultimately, content is king, and we’ve concentrated on telling richer narratives surrounding the players and teams. That same approach will carry over to Overwatch, whether it is character development or other key aspects of the game. That is the type of content our fans have come to expect, and we are committed to producing the absolute best experience for them across everything we touch.

Overwatch ana-screenshot-004

What has been the response so far to ELeague and broadcasting eSports on TBS?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re thrilled with the sentiment from the community and engagement with our content has been consistently strong across all platforms throughout the first season of ELeague.

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Buffalo Wild Wings Exec Discusses Future ELeague Plans

The members of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team,, aren’t the only winners at the culmination of Turner and WME/IMG’s inaugural 10-week ELeague. Buffalo Wild Wings, one of the primary sponsors of the event, has committed to the first year of Turner eSports, including the upcoming $300,000 Overwatch Open with FaceIt.

ELeague, which focused on digital coverage of CS:GO competition four days a week with Friday night television matches, saw over 897 million gross minutes of video consumption on TBS and Twitch. ELeague also attracted more than 3.4 million new viewers to TBS during its 10-week season, with the audience composition consisting heavily of millennial viewers falling in the coveted male 18-34 demographic.

Bob Ruhland

Bob Ruhland, vice president of North America marketing at Buffalo Wild Wings, talks to [a]listdaily about what these Turner numbers mean for his restaurant chain in this exclusive interview.

Why did you decide to enter into eSports with Turner?

It was the perfect combination that brought a new audience together with a trusted partner we had with our NCAA basketball relationship. Turner told us where they were going and about the relationship with IMG in getting talent, and the model of having the best-of-the-best top gamers in the country combined with the discipline behind Turner Broadcasting. All the planets aligned.

Who is your typical Buffalo Wild Wings consumer?

Our typical demo with media marketing is 18-49, but we tend to skew younger. It’s important to look at growth vehicles to build our fans of tomorrow. We look at people who are younger than 18 like a farm team. We think that this ELeague opportunity can help build up our fans of the future. ELeague spans both younger viewers and our traditional demographic, so it’s a great opportunity to engage with both.

How does ELeague viewership compare to your NCAA basketball fans?

There’s a lot of overlap with our NCAA basketball audience. We define our core audience as MPVs. They enjoy casual dining and want to be socially engaged. There are a lot of common threads across NCAA basketball and eSports. We do regular surveys and we know that two-thirds of our MVPs are engaged with gaming on smartphones.

Have you asked MVPs about eSports?

Not yet. We have some info on MVPs from previous surveys. We’re now changing some of the questions we have, from a research perspective, to get more info about their gaming. We have enough evidence today to know that it’s the right way to communicate directionally, but we need more evidence so we’re reaching out to MVPs and asking questions around this category.

What are your thoughts on the Season 1 stats Turner released on ELeague?

Everything we anticipated happening, happened. We were impressed, from a Turner perspective, in the production and how people who tuned in on Fridays could see where everyone was in the whole (CS:GO) map so they knew what was coming—which you don’t get in the game itself.

Do you anticipate any changes for Season 2?

Seasons can’t be as long as they were. We knew this was an area that was going to change in a hurry. Even Turner offering Overwatch as a bridge season before they go into CS:GO Season 2 is a good example of them learning on-the-fly.

How long are you committed to ELeague?

We’re a sponsor of ELeague for the full year. Turner only wanted to do one-year commitments for ELeague. We’re in for whatever they decide they’re going to rally around for that first year. We’ll have the same role in Overwatch as we did with CS:GO. Then they’ll go to the second season CS:GO later in the year.

What are your thoughts on the flexibility Turner has had with eSports?

Craig Barry, EVP at Turner, did a good job of building out this first year. It’s interesting to see how many different games they’re focusing on.

We were at Turner Studios about two weeks ago to get a chance to watch Craig and how he’s approaching this in a fluid way. He’d tell us: “this is what we think is going to work, but as the year progresses and we see what’s happening on Twitch, we’ll adapt to this.” This is the way this category has to be, changing on-the-fly.

What has being part of the massive Twitch audience opened up for your brand?

We have a TV network within our network, B-Dubs, in close to 900 locations now. By the end of this year, it will be in all 1,200 locations. We’re not just focusing on the TBS ELeague broadcasts, but also exploring streaming online (eSports) content in restaurants moving forward as an extension of the Friday Night “Game On” opportunity. That’s really intriguing to us as content participants.

When do you anticipate the streaming of weekly ELeague content in restaurants?

I probably see us going that deep next year. We’re looking at other opportunities around eGaming that extend beyond Turner ELeague and Twitch Showdown. We’re looking at a holistic, national eGaming offering. We’re not limiting it just to Turner.

What’s been your customer reaction to having eSports in restaurants?

This is our first time in eSports. Initially, the reaction has been good. We wanted to do a soft launch with the start of the season to make sure it looked good on the TVs. What we didn’t anticipate was how much demand there would be out of the gate. We missed the expectations of the guests. Overall, we’re comfortable with what we did with our first season.

Did you see an uptick with the Finals?

One thing that happened on Friday was that the ELeague championship occurred on National Chicken Wing Day, so we had half price chicken wings. We don’t know yet if the surge in attendance was because of the first of the two-day Finals or Chicken Wing Day.

Was ELeague bigger than your Twitch Showdown activation July 25-27?

It was bigger for ELeague. Certain locations like Sherman Oaks, CA saw over 80 people who are fans of Luminosity Gaming and Team Karma come in and store sales were up 9 percent that night. It shows us there are opportunities out there, and we should reach out and do more from a local development community perspective to get people into the restaurants. We’ll do that in Season 2 and beyond.

How long had you been exploring eSports before jumping in?

We’ve been looking at this for two years. It was something we’re very proud of, and while we knew it was going to be a big deal, we wanted to make sure we’d done all of our due diligence before we jumped in. This was a great first test and now the genie’s out of the jar.

How ASTRO Gaming Is Empowering ESports Players Through Headsets

ASTRO Gaming brought some serious heat this summer to eSports players around the world when they introduced a new iteration of their best-selling A50 headsets.

Launched at E3 and still set to be available to major retailers later this summer, the A50 wireless gaming headsets feature a new base station transmitter, low-latency 5GHz technology and Dolby surround sound, as well as a slew of other upgrades.

For the company that was born from the pits of pro gaming, it’s just another extension of marrying technology and lifestyle with innovative industrial design.

James Lang, technical product manager at ASTRO Gaming, joined [a]listdaily (video above) to detail the how gamers swear by their array of audio equipment, and how they’re working with non-gaming brands.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

How Bitmoji Is ‘Changing The Face’ Of Snapchat

Earlier this year, Snapchat shelled out $100 million for Bitstrips, a company that makes personalized comic strips and emoji. Called “Bitmoji,” the custom-tailored expressions are now available for Snapchat integration. Users must simply download the Bitmoji app on either Android or iOS and link the account with their Snapchat profile.

So, why is this a big deal? Although more and more brands are using emoji to convey ideas to their audiences, Bitmoji is more flexible, adding flair to spice up those disappearing messages. The personalized cartoons are available for both snaps and chat, encouraging users to be creative in how they engage with others. Another feature that sets Bitmoji apart from other emoji keyboards is the fact that you can utilize cartoon versions of your friends, as well, so long as they have made a Bitmoji version of themselves.

Snapchat is a rising star in the world of marketing, particularly in the use of branded lenses. According to a Demandware study, 72 percent of US beauty brands are testing a form of “guided selling” to push sales, like Snapchat lenses and augmented reality.

In May, 20th Century Fox staged the first-ever, complete lens takeover to promote X-Men: Apocalypse. For online underwear brand MeUndies, demonstrating their products in funny, “brief” ways has proved incredibly effective. In a video ad called “Lounge Off,” two members of the team modeled the brand’s new tie-dyed lounge pants in some seemingly uncomfortable places like on top of tables, and in the street. Using a call-to-action with vanity URLs, the company saw a conversion rate of 16 percent on Snapchat traffic in June.

As for Bitmoji, the addition of these custom cartoons to Snapchat offers both opportunity and challenges for brands. A study by AppBoy found that in general, people respond well to emoji-based marketing. The poll found that overall, 52 percent find their use to be fun or relatable. However, it’s important to note the remaining 47 percent of those surveyed range from a resounding “meh” to downright disgusted. People over 45 years of age were most opposed to emoji messaging in ads, while those between the ages of 25 and 44 find them to be the most fun.

As always, the use of a popular marketing tactic comes down to knowing the target audience a bit better.

After 25 Years, Sega Explains The Fast Future Of Sonic The Hedgehog

These are exciting times for Sega, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog and looking ahead with a renewed sense of purpose for the famous blue speedster. With the induction of Sonic into the Video Game Hall of Fame, Sega’s legacy is ensured—but how do you keep an iconic franchise relevant to new generations? Sega has been keeping it fresh on social media with Twitter takeovers and comedic content, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the video games.

During this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), Sega announced two games that cater to fans both new: Project Sonic 2017 and the old-school-styled Sonic Mania. This was no coincidence. “As fans saw at the SDCC party, we are focusing on various styles of games to ensure that all of our fans enjoy the same feelings they had when they started playing Sonic games no matter how long ago this may have been,” Ivo Gerscovich, chief brand officer for Sonic the Hedgehog and senior vice president for Sega of America, told [a]listdaily.

Sonic Boom, meanwhile, an animated show on Cartoon Network, has introduced the franchise to new generations. For a real nostalgia bomb, SDCC party-goers were invited to recreate a classic TV commercial moment. “[We surprised] the over 1,500 people at the [SDCC] party and spontaneously recorded the “SEEEGGAAAAA!!!!” audio cue using their voices,” Gerscovich added slyly. “Maybe there are interesting ways it can be used. Fans will have to stay tuned!”

Although Sonic has found a loving home on mobile with Sonic Dash, Sega’s latest projects are focused on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

“At this time,” Gerscovich explained, “our primary focus is delivering great experiences across those two console products. Seeing fans light up worldwide at our announcement has been a nice reward for the team’s hard work on Sonic Mania and the untitled project [Project Sonic 2017]. Yet we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us to deliver these exciting products. As for mobile, we always evaluate all platforms and mobile has been very successful for Sonic.”

Next-gen consoles aren’t the only place Sonic will be featured. Gerscovich added that the Sonic film development is going well, but they haven’t made any announcements regarding games based on the film or cross-promotional efforts. “Sega and the Sonic brand are on a good trajectory, and the steps the team has been taking are being well received by the fans.”

Sega’s fans are, in fact, at the heart of every Sega promotion, and the company is devoted to keeping them happy. “This 25th anniversary year is a very special one,” Gerscovich said. “The team has loved working on Sonic over the years and to be doing so 25 years later is a huge testament to the devotion of all the people who have worked on the games as well as the loyal fans.”

VRLA Keeps Growing As It Heads Into Eighth Installment

Once a meetup of fewer than 100 virtual reality enthusiasts, VRLA has quickly grown out from borrowed spaces into a hotbed that is now billed as the world’s largest virtual and augmented reality expo. On Friday and Saturday, it will return for the eighth time in two years in Los Angeles to showcase the latest in cutting-edge VR and AR technologies.

The floors of the Los Angeles Convention Center (West Hall B) will be lined with an all-star list of over 130 exhibitors like Google VR, GoPro and Dolby as well as demos for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Google Cardboard and Samsung GearVR. There will also be over 30 panels and presentations.

The two-day expo will kick off Friday with a keynote from the expo’s sponsor in Radeon Technologies Group to discuss lessons and opportunities for VR content. Comedian Reggie Watts, who earlier this year put on a show in VR, will be giving a keynote speech on Saturday.

John Root, co-founder of VRLA, joined [a]listdaily to talk about how the expo has vastly evolved from an initial meetup to one that now hosts communities of AR/VR professionals and enthusiasts from across the world.

John Root, co-founder of VRLA

What is the impetus for VRLA? Why was it started, and what is it designed to accomplish for the VR industry?

VRLA started as a meet-up between friends who just wanted to get together and talk about VR. At the time I was working as a motion capture supervisor at Digital Domain and I was able to convince managing director Rich Flier to hold the event on our virtual production stage.

How would you assess the earlier installment of VRLA that took place this January? Why was it critical to have another one in the summer?

We’ve just about doubled in size at every VRLA. Also, we’ve sold out every event. So, we don’t really know how big the VR scene is in Los Angeles, which we consider a problem. We want everyone to have a chance to try VR and to be able to experience the energy of a VRLA event. It really bums us out when we have to turn people away. So with each event, we book more and more space. Each time we think to ourselves ‘this is going to be way more space than we need!’ and ‘this is going to be way more people than we can find’ but we build it, and they come (smiles). The frequency of the events is another thing. We hold them as often as we can. If you were to only sample VR once a year, you would not be getting the real story of what’s happening in the space.

Are consumers ready for VR today?

Absolutely they are. It’s the big companies that aren’t. I believe VR came from the consumers. It’s not like 3D TV or something that, where the giant mega corporations were trying to ram down our throats. It was the Oculus Rift Kickstarter that was voted on by the consumers. Now you’ve got all these big companies taking a wait and see attitude, holding back until there’s a market. I think a lot of them have an old mindset and they underestimate and disrespect consumers.

What is it going to take for VR to turn from one-to-one to a social experience?

I like AltspaceVR. At VRLA, we’re working with some major brands to spool up a VR eSports league. Probably not the kind of social you were thinking, but if you look at what VReal is doing and what’s happening in the eSports space, I think you’ll see what I mean.


How do you share a VR story in a non-VR format? How do you overcome that challenge of someone having to actually experience it?

I see that as a temporary problem. In the not-so-distant future, lightweight, low-profile, head-mounted (HMD) displays will be completely ubiquitous with our everyday lives. Like how today, if you don’t have a smart phone in your pocket, you’re at a huge disadvantage. Soon, if you’re not ‘wearing’ an HMD you won’t know what’s going on. We’ll live most of our days in AR, and with a single command we can switch to VR. Lightfields, scent collars, high-dynamic range—the works. Our children will wonder how we ever got by looking at still images.

What is the best way brands can use 360-degree video and VR for their integrated marketing strategies?

Early on I was admittedly down on video-based VR. I couldn’t see how it could be made to work. The math doesn’t add up. And yet, it’s totally happening, and it’s really good. We see a lot of it, due to being in the heart of Hollywood. It seems like you have all these storytellers, custumers, cinematographers and actors, and they’re all looking at VR saying, ‘that’s cool—how do I do that?’ But they’re not about to learn Unity or Unreal to create some hyper-optimized, real-time thing with a $60,000 budget. 360-degree video is how they use VR. So it’s not about how people use it—it’s about that they can use it.

One of the main problems currently plaguing VR is that people don’t have access to headsets. What is the workaround for people who don’t own the gear?

Give it time. We’re only a few months into consumers even being able to have headsets. They can’t make the things fast enough.

What needs to happen so that the industry can continue to grow? Who will help drive the growth of VR?

We need more high-quality content. That’s actually a hard problem, because most of the people making VR are not super-funded mega corporations. They’re people who love it and want to see their dreams come true. One thing that’s happening that I don’t think anyone could have predicted is the number of people teaching themselves to code and create art assets so they can see their VR visions come to life. This is a really good thing for the world.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

How ‘Narcos’ Mobile Game Expands Entertainment Experience Beyond Netflix

Narcos, a Netflix exclusive show, tells the story of the notorious drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar, as he rose to power in Colombia. Soon, the show will be the inspiration for a new mobile game from FTX Games, which in developing games based on hit television shows and movies such as The Hunger Games.

FTX partnered with Gaumont Television, which produces Narcos and has worked on shows that include Hannibal and Hemlock Grove. The free-to-play mobile game, titled Narcos: Cartel Wars, launches in September to coincide with the show’s second season premiere. Cartel Wars puts players in the role of an up-and-coming cartel lieutenant, with characters from the show providing guidance. In building the organization, players must balance between gaining respect through loyalty or making shows of power to instill fear as they align with other cartels to battle over territory, profit and respect.

Narcos is about a lot more than violence, money and power,” said Aaron Berndtson, head of business development for FTX Games, in a press release. “We really wanted to explore the moral ambiguity from the show, where right and wrong are subjective. We’re very excited to put these choices into the player’s hands.”

Casey Dickinson, VP of publishing and general manager at FTX Games talked to [a]listdaily about the partnership to create Narcos: Cartel Wars and its connection to the show as we fast approach the start of season two.

Casey Dickinson, vice president of publishing at FTX Games

“Everyone on the team is a big fan of the show,” Dickinson said, discussing how FTX was inspired to create a Narcos game. “We separately binged on Narcos season one when it released last year and immediately began circulating ideas on a game treatment for the show.”

As for what about it was about Narcos in particular that stood out, Dickinson stated that “we’re always on the lookout for shows and movies that tell unique, inspiring and powerful stories. Generally, these storytelling components translate into great games.

“We love those TV shows and films that are windows into a much bigger world because games present an opportunity to explore those stories, characters and places that can’t fit neatly inside the format for the show. Not only are games another medium to tell stories, but they are a unique way to interact and explore the theme or world. With our Hunger Games title, we gave fans the ability to explore Panem. With Narcos: Cartel Wars the game is more about exploring the theme: what would it be like to run a cartel?”

We asked how a show like Narcos, which deals with explicit themes that include drugs and violence, fit with the FTX Games brand. “We’re not afraid to embrace controversial themes, but we want to do it in a context that makes sense inside a game and results in an experience that’s fun,” Dickinson replied. “One of the things that we love about the show is how it explores the moral ambiguity of the decisions that the characters have to make. Boyd and Pedro are willing to do things that are bad for the greater good. Pablo is willing to do things that are good for his greater gain. That’s very interesting in a gameplay dynamic, and we wanted to explore that in the context of a strategy game.”

So how will a mobile game help further engagement with a Netflix show? “We’ve done games based on TV shows with standard weekly formats, where we can feed content from the show into the game and drive interest between the two mediums,” said Dickinson. “Because Narcos is released in a non-linear format, it has more similarities to a movie release with September 2 as the premiere. In that sense, many fans will binge and devour the show content quickly. Narcos: Cartel Wars will give fans a way to keep enjoying the Narcos world after they’ve finished watching the second season. In the other direction, the game will introduce the large audience of strategy game players to the show, so they can then go binge through two seasons of the show on Netflix.”

With that said, we asked if there were any challenges in working with a Netflix show compared to broadcast or cable television shows. “The VOD format has far more in common with a theatrical release than traditional, linear TV,” said Dickinson. “The premiere on September 2 of season two is a major event. With this format, there are no on-air promotion opportunities, but we gain others that focus the excitement to hit a crescendo around a specific event, which is why we are launching alongside the season two premiere. This is really brand new territory. We’ve always been very adept at looking for opportunities as they arise and being quick to work with our partners to create successful integrated promotions.”

In addition to capturing existing fans of the show, Dickinson also detailed FTX’s plan to reach those that might not yet be familiar with the series. “In the case of Narcos, there are the specific elements particular to the story that fans will love, but there are also the general elements of the overall theme. Organized crime is a well-established setting for games with dozens of well-known, successful titles. It’s an appealing theme that allows for the escapist pleasures of being the ‘bad guy.'” Furthermore, Dickinson detailed how the Narcos: Cartel Wars gameplay system, developed by an internal team called Plamee, will keep users engaged with multi-day campaigns that will challenge players to strategize and compete.

Dickinson also discussed potential cross-promotional events between the show and the game. “We’re working very closely with the team at Gaumont Television on exciting ways to collaborate and promote the Narcos brand. Live online games offer a unique, real-time interaction with fans. Our ability to message players about news from the show team is great for the show and great for the fans. We relish the opportunity to bring fans closer to the show and vice versa. We will be announcing a closed beta program for fans very soon and look forward to creating a hub for fans for years to come.”

Lastly, with the mobile gaming space becoming increasingly crowded, how does a Netflix exclusive show such as Narcos help the game to stand out?

“First and foremost, Narcos is a fantastic show with a great established base of fans,” said Dickinson. “Being able to kickstart momentum at launch is incredibly valuable. One of the things we look for in a great property is if it has a true fandom. Real fans feel compelled to share their love with their friends and with the world through social media. Narcos exploded last season as one of the most talked-about shows when it launched last summer. The anticipation leading into season two is building, and we’re thrilled to be along for the ride when it premieres on Netflix on September 2.”

Industry Execs Discuss The Future Of Mobile Games

What was the mood from games industry executives at the 2016 San Francisco Casual Connect? That’s easy: a renewed sense of optimism about the mobile and gaming market. While there’s plenty of concern to go around about discovery issues, increasing cost-per-installs (CPI) and the resistance of the top-grossing mobile games charts to change, there’s also optimism. The wild success of Pokémon GO has brought a smile to many faces, and not just at Niantic.

The message that Pokémon GO brings is that the games industry is still open to new hits, and that innovation can succeed in multiple areas. Some see Pokémon GO as validating the enthusiasm for augmented reality (AR), and by extension, virtual reality (VR). Others see location-based gaming as a new genre that has rich possibilities, not just in motivating gamers, but in finding new sources of revenue like getting businesses to pay for in-game items that can draw customers. Others see the power of an iconic brand that has been building enthusiasm for twenty years, and that makes them want to double down efforts to license other top brands. There’s also a question: will the success of Pokémon GO mean that Nintendo will take mobile games more seriously?

Meanwhile, enthusiasm continues unabated for the areas of the industry that are showing massive investment and growth: VR and eSports. The intersection of mobile gaming with streaming, eSports, VR and AR is obvious, and people in the industry are working to make those connections and crossovers. Mobile games will not be left out in any of those areas, and mobile is becoming the center of people’s online and computing experiences.

Industry executives pointed out specific areas ahead that they see of prime importance. These trends will be defining the market over the next few years, so getting on board early is important.

Social Features In Games

Numerous executives pointed out how mobile games are becoming more social than ever, and the more connected a game becomes, the better. Community is becoming as important to mobile games as it is to console and PC games, as are streaming video and the phenomenon of eSports. Even casual games are beginning to see the importance of this trend. “Casual gaming companies like SGN are going to be adopting midcore features that will make them a lot more social,” said Chris DeWolfe, CEO of SGN. “People want to play games with their friends—it goes back to the board game days; it’s game night. To the degree that you can replicate with mobile games you’re going to be more and more successful. Pokémon GO is hugely social, and things like clans and chat that we see as midcore are all going to be coming to casual games.”


The total number of large companies in the mobile games industry will probably drop, just as we’ll see more consolidation among all the mobile services vendors offering advertising, financial, and other services to mobile companies. We’ll keep seeing mergers and acquisitions in the mobile space for years to come. “There are definitely more gaming companies than there will be in five years in the mobile space, at least of any size,” said Niccolo de Masi, CEO of Glu Mobile. “Console went through this very healthy consolidation where it went from thousands of companies to five or six. Mobile gaming is different because it’s a global market for both labor and distribution. There will be two tiers—a dozen or perhaps half a dozen multinational holding companies that are big in the four markets that matter: Japan, China, Korea and the US. Each of those markets can support a billion dollar game in a year. Very little in the middle, and then you’ll have a very vibrant indie space.” Tencent, the world’s largest game company, will still hold that position in five years, de Masi predicts.

New Markets Will Emerge

Some proclaim that we are seeing another paradigm shift occurring in the tech industry. First the PC revolution, then the internet revolution, and we’re seeing the tail end of the mobile revolution. What’s next? Messaging apps are a platform, and Game Bots are the new apps, “Messaging apps are showing explosive growth,” said Alexander Krug, CEO of Softgames. “Two billion users are using messaging apps. Messaging apps are the top apps—in terms of usage about 8 percent of the time spent with a mobile phone. Bots are the new apps, and the bot store is the new app store.” He sees games already appearing in messaging, and their current crudeness will rapidly give way to more sophisticated efforts. Shopping and gaming will become important things that can be done entirely within messaging apps.

Innovation Is Important

Although there’s more content coming, it’s important to remember that innovation is the engine that drives the whole industry. A new match-3 game may produce some revenue for a publisher, but that’s not going to ignite a whole new audience or boost a company to the next level. VR hardware is coming along nicely, but it’s going to be innovation in the content that will truly see the VR market take off. “Great content is going to drive adoption [of VR], it always does,” said Clive Downie, chief marketing officer for Unity. “Content is and always has been king. That’s where the creators of tomorrow come in. The opportunity is here, it’s real, and it’s waiting for people like you to dream and to invent something we haven’t thought about. Eventually, everyone will be in this place. My advice is to get there first, because it’s going to be worth it.”

Investment In Games

While there’s no scarcity of capital available to fund ventures in the games business, most investors are being careful about where they make their plays. “Games are my home base, it’s a place I’ve done a lot of my investing and I really love the games business,” said Mitch Lasky, managing director of Benchmark Capital. “Despite my background in mobile, I haven’t invested in a mobile game company in four years. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find competitive advantage in the mobile business. The tyranny of the App Store and Facebook’s customer acquisition is just a very hard place to generate outsize returns.”