Unity Technologies, which makes one of the most popular game development tools in the world, recently announced a strategic partnership with Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world. With a new streamlining tool in the upcoming version of Unity (5.4), developers will have new ways to reach and engage with an audience of over 650 million gamers by publishing games directly to Facebook. Additionally, they’ll have access to the new Facebook PC gaming platform that is currently in development with Unity.
A Unity spokesperson spoke with [a]listdaily about how the new streamlined process will help developers access this massive channel for discovery and monetization.
When asked about how the partnership was started, Unity stated that: “We’ve had a longstanding relationship but this is the first formal strategic partnership. Making sure our developers have access to the most relevant platforms is core to our principles of solving hard problems and enabling success. With its massive audience, Facebook presents an exciting opportunity for developers.
“Facebook.com has always been one of the platforms that Unity developers publish their games on (take a look back at the Facebook Unity SDK). With this alliance, Unity and Facebook are now working closely together to introduce a new export functionality within the Unity Editor for developers to easily export their games on Facebook, including to a brand-new Facebook PC gaming platform currently in development. Initial access is limited to a select group of developers building in Unity version 5.4.”
The new Facebook PC gaming platform is still under development, so Unity was unable to discuss how it would help developers with discoverability and whether or not the platform would support VR games, given how Facebook owns Oculus VR. However, Unity did state that, “the streamlined development and exporting functionality will make it much easier for developers to publish to Facebook.”
Although the gaming platform will be focused directly on players on PC, it is not being built to be in competition with existing video game services such as Steam. “The new Facebook PC gaming platform is still very early in development, and Facebook is not in competition with other game services,” said the Unity spokesperson. “Facebook is bringing new and exciting games from both web and mobile, and across many different genres. Unity is excited to add Facebook’s new PC gaming platform, as it will add to our to our list of more than 25 supported platforms, furthering our approach of allowing developers to ‘author once, deploy everywhere.'”
Given Facebook’s massive audience, we asked Unity what the most exciting part of building a new gaming platform was. “The PC market is still a big business, with free-to-play and social games becoming increasingly important segments,” said Unity. “With this partnership, Unity developers will be able to easily reach the more than 650 million gamers already playing Facebook-connected games every month. In fact, the export functionality that we will build into the engine will allow developers building in Unity 5.4 to push their games onto Facebook with little-to-no code changes from directly within the Unity editor.
“For developers who hadn’t considered Facebook or PC as a target platform, or want to expand their existing platforms, the ability to unlock additional business opportunities by going cross-platform onto a new PC gaming platform offers a huge upside with very little effort. It’s exciting to think they will now have the chance to participate in the Facebook platform, an ecosystem that paid out over $2.5 billion to just web-game developers in 2015 alone.”
The partnership with Unity is the latest and perhaps one of the biggest moves by Facebook to strengthen its engagement with the gaming community. In June, the social media giant announced a partnership with Blizzard to include Facebook Login and Facebook’s API into all its games, including blockbusters such as Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and Hearthstone. Later that month, Facebook hired former pro gamer Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis as the company’s first eSports strategic partnerships manager, tasked with helping to grow eSports content on its video streaming platform.
With the impressive success of Pokémon GO, interest in creating location-based games has naturally spiked. If there’s a mobile game publisher around who hasn’t at least considered the idea that a location-based game, it would be surprising. While most of the attention has focused on the amazing metrics of Pokémon GO, one of its key advances lies in monetization. Pokémon GO is demonstrating the viability of sponsorship, and it’s not just applicable to location-based gaming. The potential of sponsorship is enormous, and it’s going to be up to marketers to realize that potential.
Let’s start by looking at what Pokémon GO is doing in just over a month. The game has already passed 100 million downloads on the Google Play store, in addition to setting a record on the Apple App Store for the most downloads ever in a launch week. Estimates are that the game is generating around $10 million per day in revenues; another source estimates that the game has generated $268 million in less than five weeks after launch. An astounding 29 percent of US players have spent money in the app, according to YouGov, and so have 20 percent of German players. Some 9 percent of German players (142,000 people) have spent more than €100. These metrics are astounding, and it’s no wonder that other publishers are looking to figure out how they can create something nearly as popular.
Part of what’s driven the success of Pokémon GO is its effect on businesses in the real world. The game has driven swarms of players out into the real world. Businesses lucky enough to be near PokéStops or PokéGyms have seen a huge increase in traffic and revenues. For example, one ice cream store saw its business triple thanks to Pokémon GO; plenty of other businesses are seeing sales boost as well. Some of these businesses are paying to put lures in nearby places, which is adding to the revenue generate by Pokémon GO. However, since that’s done through individual accounts, it’s not tracked as revenue from businesses.
It’s not clear whether Niantic will be taking advantage of this phenomenon to work directly with small businesses, but the company did study a similar effect with its earlier game, Ingress.
“Gamers will memorize the locations of these local businesses, they’ll visit them more frequently, and they’ll make purchases when they’re there,” said Niantic CEO John Hanke, speaking at GamesBeat earlier this month. “Then you see that ad hoc validation from all the small businesses that have adapted that strategy themselves, just buying lures through in-app purchases and applying them to PokéStops nearby. Some of them have published ROI metrics around that. There are how-to guides for businesses about how to use Pokémon. That’s really cool. The power, if you will, is in the hands of the users and businesses that are savvy and want to take advantage of that.”
Niantic has moved to take advantage of corporate sponsorship for mobile game monetization. The first sponsorship announcement was a deal with McDonald’s of Japan, turning the chain’s outlets into PokéStops and PokéGyms to lure players. It’s been a rousing success so far for McDonald’s, which credited the deal for helping the company post its first profitable quarter after seven consecutive losing quarters. While it’s too early to estimate the precise impact on earnings, McDonald’s did note the company is seeing an increase in traffic due to the sponsorship.
What’s fascinating about this partnership is the way it’s affecting the game. Hanke sees corporate sponsorships as a way to reduce reliance on in-app purchases to generate revenue. “It’s tough to understand where you want to draw the line,” Hanke said. By adding sponsorships, the company felt “we wouldn’t have to cave to that pressure to just dial it up a little more.”
Niantic has big plans to do more with sponsorships. “It’s in its early days,” Hanke told GamesBeat. “We have run that through Ingress. We have a number of global sponsors in that game. We launched Pokémon GO with McDonald’s in Japan. We’re talking to a bunch of other businesses that want to take advantage of that model for Pokémon GO in other parts of the world. It’s promising. Again, it’s early days. People have been talking about ads in video games for a long time. But this is a case where, because you’re able to draw people to physical locations, you can do something that not too many other forms of advertising can do. We’re excited about it.”
Right now, monetization for mobile games is generally either from advertising or through in-app purchases. Adding another major form of monetization could have a huge impact on how mobile games are structured or paid for, and how players perceive them.
Sponsorships need not be exclusive to location-based games. If you have a game set in the modern world, brands could have a presence in the game in much the same way as product placement in a movie. Heroes could be drinking specific beverages or staying in a certain brand of hotel. As in movies, such placement would be subject to careful scrutiny to make sure a brand is seen appropriately.
So how do you go about lining up a sponsorship? That’s going to fall to marketers, who are the people that speak the language of brands. Marketers, start thinking about sponsorship possibilities for your games, whether or not they are mobile or location-based at all. Game audiences have reached a size where they should be on major brands’ radar, and sponsorship could be a winning formula for developers, publishers, and players alike.
Trapped in a zombie-infested theme park? Frankie says “relax.” Activision’s first look at Call of Duty: InfiniteWarfare‘szombie mode takes players back in time to a 1980s-style playground full of Day-Glo, big hair and a whole lot of tributes to the era like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Revenge of the Nerds, parachute pants and track suit-wearing rap stars.
To promote the new game, Activision is taking advantage of Snapchat’s zombie filter with “zombie karaoke.” The new sponsored lens morphs users into zombies wearing a headband and holding a microphone. Fans were able to record a video of themselves singing “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood with the undead overlay and share it with their friends. Available initially in the US, the lens went live internationally on Friday—marking the first time a gaming company has purchased an international lens.
Zombies in Spacelandis a separate storyline in the usual Call of Duty: Zombies series, and follows four aspiring actors who come upon a mysterious movie theater for an audition. They’ve been invited by director Willard Wyler, portrayed with voice and likeness by Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman), who was once the shining star of the horror genre. Unbeknownst to the actors, they will be transformed into characters and transported straight into Wyler’s film to fight against waves of zombies in a space-themed amusement park set in the 1980s.
The four actors will meet none other than David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider, Baywatch), who plays a DJ in the theme park in voice and in likeness. Players will get to choose from a cast of four 1980s archetypes—the Valley girl, the jock, the rapper or the nerd.
Zombies in Spaceland aims to attract both hardcore and new Call of Duty zombie slayers, while creating nostalgia with pop culture references. “It’s accessible for new players,” explained Brian Bright, project director at Infinity Ward in a press release. “But [it] also has a deep layer of progression, brimming with easter eggs and various game features that will be a blast for hardcore zombies fans. We can’t wait for fans to go hands-on this fall.”
Nostalgia plays a large part in marketing, and studies show economic decision to be 70 percent emotional and 30 percent rational. Netflix’s break-out hit, Stranger Things pays tribute to the 80s, and movie-goers are experiencing reboots at a staggering rate. At the end of the day (or video game session), however, success comes down to quality content to match said nostalgia. Time will tell if crimping irons and Valley girl speak will be enough to bring back memories for players as they slay zombies in the new Call of Duty game, but the undead wearing parachute pants is sure to induce a few chuckles.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare launches November 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Those who pre-order any version of the game will receive bonus in-game digital items.
According to a job posting on LinkedIn, Amazon is seeking a “virtual reality experience development executive” to produce “innovative mixed reality experiences for distribution on Amazon Video.” Amazon Studios has seen success for original content such as The Man In the High Castle and Transparent, but the studio is obviously planning something a bit more interactive. Applicants are expected to have experience with the development of TV shows, movies or video games, but also VR technology and content production.
Mixed reality implies the use of augmented reality (AR), perhaps direct tie-ins to Amazon programming. Netflix saw great success with virtual reality and 360-degree video tie-ins to Stranger Things, and Berlin Station, a thriller coming to EPIX this fall, received a fully interactive, 360-degree video experience. Considering Amazon’s successful partnerships with networks like HBO, mixed reality could very well extend to other IP beyond their own original content.
“The ideal candidate will be interested in telling stories uniquely, bringing people together and expanding the definition of entertainment,” the posting reads. “They will have brilliant artistic taste, a hunger for calculated risks and they will live slightly in the future already.”
Amazon has been planning a move into virtual reality as soon as this past March, when the company posted a job opening for a virtual reality software developer. A source told Variety that the company is developing an app or service similar to the one launched by Hulu earlier this year, with plans to license content from third-party producers.
Reaching $1 billion in revenue this year, virtual reality is here to stay and no longer science fiction—so Amazon is wise to explore the new medium. As the technology becomes more affordable, and streaming entertainment even more popular, consumers are more likely to invest in “innovative mixed reality experiences” for many years to come.
LiquidSky is a new cloud-based gaming platform that allows Steam, Uplay and Battle.net users to play virtually any PC video game on Android, Windows, Mac or Linux devices. The company recruited Silicon Valley legend, Scott McNealy, to be on the company’s advisory board. McNealy saw the future of the cloud decades ago.
“I’ve been a believer in thin client computing since the ‘80s,” McNealy told [a]listdaily. “We said ‘the network is the computer,’ which became one of the more famous slogans in the world. Today it’s been co-opted by one word: cloud. We were a verbose way of saying what cloud computing was before the cloud.”
McNealy said the cloud has always been a personal passion of his. When Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, bought Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion in 2009, McNealy said Ellison killed the company’s thin client product called Sun Ray.
“Larry’s now on the cloud bandwagon, but he hasn’t really been building the client environment,” McNealy said. “I’ve always felt this [cloud technology] is something I’d like to see happen. My goal is to keep driving [the notion] that the network is the computer.”
While still in stealth mode, LiquidSky was able to attract 400,000 gamers to its cross-platform, cloud-based service.
“Look how many sign-ups they’ve gotten and they haven’t even launched,” McNealy said. “This is what a lot of VCs call ‘going viral.’”
Ian McLoughlin, founder and CEO of LiquidSky, said the company went viral on reddit over a year ago through a small promotion on the PCMasterRace subreddit.
“People loved our product because we solve a major pain point for PC gamers,” McLoughlin said. “Before LiquidSky, gamers needed expensive hardware that had to be upgraded on a regular basis to keep up with the ever more demanding game requirements. With LiquidSky, users don’t have to keep upgrading their hardware, yet they can still play their favorite PC games on low-spec and mobile devices. Early adopters embraced this and spread the word, often through our referral program. No formal marketing or PR has been done until now.”
While past cloud-based gaming ventures like OnLive have failed, the key to success in this industry is all about timing.
“We were early at Sun with a lot of things,” McNealy said. “We did Google Glasses a long time ago, wearable computing, cloud computing, and an enormous number of Internet of Things. Our future vision was spot-on. What’s different here with LiquidSky is Ian [McLoughlin] and the team have done very good technology engineering in the network and dealing with latency and cloud architecture that is very special.”
McNealy said the focus of the team has been making sure the experience is PC game machine caliber.
“Gamers are very particular about their experience,” McNealy said. “If it doesn’t feel like you have your own game machine, it’s not going to work. You also need a pricing model that works. It’s hard, or else everybody would do it. It takes a lot of engineering to give you a personal console experience and provide a pricing model that pays for the cloud and is palatable to the gamer.”
LiquidSky is employing multiple business models, allowing gamers to pay as they play through SkyCredits (about an hour for $0.50) or commit to Gamer ($14.99 per month with 500GB of storage) or Unlimited ($39.99 with 1TB of storage) subscription packages.
Scott Johnston, co-founder and board member of LiquidSky, said the company plans to use many different channels to increase its touchpoint frequency, targeting PC gamers across North America and Europe.
“Some channels include influencer marketing campaigns, affiliate marketing, developer partnerships, social outreach to different forums and groups targeting PC gamers, and traditional social ad buys on Facebook and YouTube,” Jason Kirby, head of marketing, said. “We also plan to use engaging remarketing ads, automated marketing and social campaigns to convert existing traffic/users into paying customers. We’re also attending events like PAX West and TwitchCon to explore partnerships with content creators, streamers and video game developers and publishers.”
McNealy believes there’s a lot of innovation that can be done in this space. The company is rolling out internationally in a capital-efficient way. And the product opens up the entire world to gaming.
“We’re a thin client, so our cloud can project to a fat, thin or absolutely stateless dataless environment with no change,” McNealy said. “The client can be a set top box or a super thin tablet with a radio. TCP/IP is available to everybody, whether it’s a mainframe, a security camera or a JumboTron. It doesn’t matter to us. Everything is happening in the cloud and we’re delivering the display bits down to whoever and wherever.”
Although LiquidSky is taking small steps, McNealy said longer-term after the company has established volume through gamers, it will have consumer-grade scale.
“What LiquidSky is doing has longer-term far-reaching tentacles into everyday life beyond gaming,” McNealy said. “My interest is more on the architectural and tech component side, and the future enterprise and commercial aspects of what this can do.”
Gamescom, the world’s largest video game convention, concludes this weekend, but it has already left its mark with some incredible reveals and announcements. This year, one of the prominent themes includes virtual reality technology, especially given how Sony’s PlayStation VR will launch in October. Instead of giving a press conference, Sony relied on eye-catching show floor demonstrations that included Batman VR among other big-name titles.
Industry observers believe that this year is a mark-or-break time for virtual reality. However, consumers have been reluctant to adopt the hardware. According to SuperData Research, 30 percent of US consumers stated that they’d pick up a PlayStation VR when it releases. In comparison, 13 percent will get an Oculus Rift, 10 percent the Samsung Gear, 7 percent Google Cardboard, and 5 percent the HTC Vive.
The convention expects a record turnout this year, and a large part of that has to do with the immense popularity of eSports in Germany. BIU, an important digital entertainment interest group in Germany, recently announced the formation of eSports.BIU and the organization has been establishing partnerships with developers in an effort to grow eSports in the country.
Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData, spoke with [a]listdaily about the growing presence of VR and eSports at Gamescom and how the two impact the show.
How important is Gamescom to promoting PlayStation VR? How does it compare with Paris Games Week, which will take place after the product’s launch?
Because of its size and timing in August, Gamescom has traditionally been critical in building up the momentum toward the holidays. Other European conferences like Paris Games Week fall in October, leaving publishers and platforms with considerably less time to get consumers excited.
Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have been on the market for months, but the PlayStation VR is getting much of the attention this holiday. Do you think a showing at Gamescom may help close the gap between these devices and the PSVR?
Oculus Rift and HTC Vive’s presence at Gamescom this year will certainly help strengthen their awareness among consumers. But any successful platform introduction requires a strong content line-up, which is what Sony has managed to do more convincingly. Our expectation is that this holiday season will go to Sony and that Facebook and Valve/HTC will ramp up more momentum in 2017.
Statistics show relatively low interest in mobile VR viewers such as the Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. Do you think mobile still has a chance to break out as VR devices?
Because of its widespread presence, mobile VR will continue to be of value to content providers. However, as a platform, it is more limited in terms of interaction, and the audience for it are less likely to shell out hundreds of dollars. This presents a different design agenda, especially from a content perspective, but that is not unlike the differences we see between mobile, console and PC gaming elsewhere.
What do you think is needed to generate more consumer interest in VR?
Good content. An overwhelming share of the consumer audience today has no sense of the exact hardware specs or frame rate when it comes to their devices. But they do know when something sucks. So, in order for gaming VR to prosper, the industry has to emphasize a clear vision and level of quality in the content it plans to offer on its various platforms.
What kind of impact has eSports had on Gamescom?
Competitive gaming is wildly popular in Germany: it is the second largest eSports market in Europe with an audience of 2.8 million. So its presence at Gamescom makes sense because attendees love it, and it strengthens the love affair between competitive gaming and gaming culture at large now that it has managed to rise to a more mainstream form of entertainment.
What does the BIU’s strong interest in eSports indicate for the growth of the industry?
BIU has traditionally kept a relatively open mind to gaming culture, and its interest in eSports should be no surprise. For a key market like Germany, it really helps to have a large industry association with strong government ties as a partner.
Gamescom 2016 is underway in Cologne, Germany, and video game fans have gathered for the latest announcements, hand-on demos and more. The world’s largest video game convention of its kind, Gamescom kicked off its eighth year with a mixture of new games and additional details for those games announced during E3.
Takeaways thus far from Gamescom 2016 include: publishers favor influencers over press, VR and mobile are making a big push and this is going to be one heck of a holiday shopping season for the video game industry.
Microsoft took a new approach to Gamescom this year, skipping the press conference and opting for XBox Fanfest, a community event running throughout the show that offers hands-on demos of upcoming games. Microsoft isn’t alone in this idea—Sony, too decided not to hold a press conference for the second year in a row. Peter Moore, EA’s chief competition officer, told Eurogamer that publishers like themselves are moving toward influencers rather than press coverage. “I’m not too sure that press conferences have a future,” he said. “The medium is changing. Influencers, celebrities who aren’t the classic journalists are finding their own way. Our job is to put the games in their hands.”
Microsoft announced FIFA 17 during Gamescom, as well as two forthcoming Xbox One S bundles that include the game. There will be versions of the 500 GB and 1 TB console available. Konami unleashed a look at Metal Gear: Survive, a zombie take on the classic franchise and the first MGS game since the exit of Hideo Kojima. Blizzard unveiled its fifth Overwatch animated short entitled The Last Bastion, a story that ties into a new map coming in September.
Traditionally, the largest game announcements occur during E3, but Gamescom is the ideal follow-up with trailers, DLC and additional features to explore. Although this is far from an inclusive list, here are some highlights from the show:
The latest creature was unveiled for Pokémon Sun/Moon—Turtonator, a fire/dragon-type. Additional footage and details were also released for Battlefield 1, featuring desert combat on horseback. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will soon get a zombie DLC entitled Zombies in Spaceland, starring Pee Wee Herman and a 1980’s-style theme park. South Park: The Fractured But Whole shows off the new battle system and Bandai Namco announced that Lee Chaolan and his alter-ego Violet are joining as playable characters in Tekken 7.
Ubisoft and Sony are both on hand to show off their virtual reality wares, including Eagle Flight and Star Trek: Bridge Crew. EA has announced FIFA Mobile, feauring an “Attack Mode” that implements turned-based gameplay. In addition, FIFA Mobile will benefit from live content updates, inviting players to play a variety of mini-games created in accordance with real-world events.
Rodger Saffold is sitting in a throne-like chair, head down, eyes fixed on his phone and muttering words of encouragement under his breath to the proceedings playing out on the screen.
If you were a fly on the wall, you’d think the starting offensive lineman of the Los Angeles Rams was watching film of every false start he’s ever committed in his career. Or, in some instances seconds later, all the times he pancaked a defender into oblivion.
But on this sunny Southern California Friday morning in July, preseason is still weeks away and there are no NFL opponents in sight. The seven-year football veteran is watching the waning moments between Rise Nation, the eSports team that he owns, taking on Cloud9 in the Call of Duty World League Stage 2 Finals.
The Rise Nation quartet is playing 30 minutes away at the ESL Studios in Burbank, but Saffold can’t attend because he previously committed to working out on the rooftop of a Beverly Hills hotel as part of an episode that will appear on the upcoming E! docu-series he’s starring for in Hollywood and Football.
Saffold, a Midwesterner through and through, is still getting accustomed to life in the big city. He was born in Bedford, Ohio and played college ball at Indiana for the Hoosiers where he majored in business management/finance with a minor in accounting before the St. Louis Rams selected him with the No. 33 overall pick in 2010.
He’s weeks removed from officially moving his wife, Asia, 3-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and 1-year-old son, Price, from St. Louis to Los Angeles, where the Rams recently relocated. Although his infinity pool outside offers scenic views of the San Fernando Valley, he stiff-arms every room of the two-story Woodland Hills abode he’s staying in and heads straight to the garage, where after shuffling through boxes of unpacked clothes, a broom-closet-like space serves as his gaming compound. This is the only part of the house Asia has allowed for his 6-foot-5, 330-pound husband to play video games.
Saffold is entering the third year of a five-year contract he signed in 2014 that was worth $31.7 million, with $19.5 million guaranteed. Although his position versatility makes him a valuable commodity, three of the six seasons he’s played have been cut short due to injury.
In addition to relocating his family to Los Angeles, he spent the offseason rehabbing the shoulder injury that cut his 2015 campaign to just five games and is focusing on yet another position change—he’ll be the starting right tackle this year. He also used the spoils he’s earned to keep a promise he made to his mother when he was 9-years-old by buying her a Jaguar for her 60th birthday.
Saffold is far more than a football player. In addition to his eSports business endeavors, the 28-year-old owns Spirited 76, an indie record label. He’s also been featured inGillettecommercials, and now, the E! reality series which will show him and his Rams teammates adjusting to playing football in LA.
Although Tinseltown doesn’t typically offer glitz and glamour to video game stars, the made-for-Hollywood Saffold is an affable character who can break those barriers.
Dressed in full Rise Nation regalia, Saffold is soon pumping his fist in the air as his team wipes away Cloud9 with a 4-to-0 sweep. He shuts off the livestream, and we now have his full attention.
What kind of an impact have video games had on your life?
Growing up, everyone knew that I loved the challenge in video games. I used to play a lot of adventure games growing up. The first game that grabbed me was Super Mario—beating Bowser was huge for me. After that, it just kept going and growing on me with games like Star Fox. Call of Duty took everything to the next level. In college, I was on Modern Warfare constantly. When I was at Indiana, we went to our first bowl game [in 2007], and the gift was an Xbox 360. ‘Are you kidding me?’ I bought Call of Duty, and I was playing it like a mad man. I was better than everyone on my team, so then I started playing online. I was super passionate about Call of Duty, so I thought to myself ‘what’s next?’ People started telling me to organize an eSports team after I started streaming on Twitch, and I’m like ‘ok, that’s a no brainer—let’s get it done.’
How did you identify that eSports was the next big thing way before the big wave of the last 18 months came in? Why were you so intrigued in this being a legitimate investment avenue for you?
I just wanted to invest in something I was passionate in. Back then, it wasn’t even expensive. We were able to make the team up from scratch. I was able to use my resources from the NFL to help me get things going. My wife was making our jerseys at one point. Our amateur team got involved within the pro players system, and then out of nowhere, I’m in COD championships. Once we reached there, we’re like ‘this is big—we can really do this.’
What do you think makes a great eSports title? Are you thinking of expanding into other titles?
Call of Duty is one of the hottest games on any console—period. Now, no matter how many different games come out, it’s still destroying sales numbers. Why not get into that? As it’s continuing to grow, I want Rise Nation to be recognized as an international organization, and in order to do that, I need to expand. With the expansion, it all comes down to timing and equity. I’ve been able to handle everything myself so far. Now, it’s time to bring in possible investors to be able to help out with the workload. It’s pretty much been a one- or two-man thing with me and my friend and co-owner Kahreem Horsley, who operates the day-to-day. We’ve been working together to get things done. We have already expanded to an Overwatch team, which we believe is definitely going to be taking off. It’s getting perfect ratings; the patches have been amazing. They have in-game content and in-game sales, which is really good. Then it’s time to go after the big hitters like CS:GO and a League of Legends team. But that takes time.
How do you think you could branch out beyond the United States to perhaps to the Asian market?
For one, some of the best teams in CS:GO are not American teams. They’re European teams. To do that, you need a European office. I’m not the first person to go out and start looking for one. I know Team EnVyUs did the same thing, and now they have a European office. You have managers based on the circle that they’re in. To even get to Asia, there are people from companies that travel to Singapore and other places around the world to work in eSports. In order to get those relationships, you have to talk to them. Then through sponsors, they introduce you to other people. Now, you’re picking people’s brains who are the companies and the organizations in those areas. Then you work from there. It’s almost like you’re in business with your friends. You design these relationships. Our partners are really great and I’m really excited to work with them. GFuel Energy, Scuf Gaming and Kontrol Freek—they’ve been extremely well. I love working with those guys.
How has it been working with brands? What kind of feedback are you getting from them?
I think brands want to work with me because of my background, but I also have to remember to humble myself. This is not the NFL, or any type of sports-related business. The only thing that’s going to make sense is your following based off of social media, or your livestream views. Endorsers are only going to talk to you as long as you continue to push their product, and people can see their product. One thing we had to do was make sure we got our following up. Now we have 40,000 followers on Twitter, which is good. I think you have to go out there and hunt these guys down. You have to literally say ‘hey, this is what I’m doing, this is what I would like to do; I think this is a great opportunity for you, as well as myself.’ Then of course, I put myself out there, too, to use me and my following to help raise awareness of what eSports is, to try to get the NFL kind of involved, you can use me . . . you get eSports, you get the NFL and now we’re taking over. That’s the whole part of this; we’re taking over. We’re literally growing at an alarming rate—almost too hard to handle.
What have you learned on the business side through the entire process of eSports? Are you glad you made the move into it?
The business side of eSports has definitely not been the easiest thing. I’ve definitely learned a lot. I understand that this is a true business. You can’t come without being prepared; you can’t come in without having the right paperwork; you can’t come in without being a true organization. You have to have your LLC in order, you have to have your taxes in order, you need to be a business because all of these teams are small businesses. We have to handle it as such. I don’t handle any type of deal with any team, any sponsors, without talking to my lawyers, talking to my marketing guys through my agency, talking to the agencies that deal with the teams I’m looking into buying. All of these things are factors. When it comes down to profit and loss, everybody needs to know. It has to be known before you make any type of transaction. I’ve had many calls where everything looks good, but it’s not exactly where you want to be and sometimes, you have to back out of it.
Rick Fox, Shaquille O’Neal andMark Cuban, among countless others, also have invested in eSports. Why do you think eSports is such an enticing and attractive space for sports figures?
I think that a lot of these athletes are jumping into eSports for one reason—it’s been widespread information, and it’s become an actual sport. By actual sport, I mean it’s recognized by ESPN. Because of this, you’re going to have guys that are interested. Who is telling these guys that this is something you need to jump on? The community is getting so big. I’ve [been called an] innovator for athletes getting into eSports. Next thing you know, everybody is getting involved because they see how profitable this stuff is getting. It’s not even just the competitions. It’s the money off of the game, through marketing, in-game purchases, merchandise and sticker prices for teams. It’s getting out of hand with how big it’s getting. The thing I like, with Rise Nation, I don’t have a bunch of people with their hands in it. I continue to want to be that guy. I also know that if I’m going to continue to make this organization bigger, I’m going to need partners, and that’s just going to be the next step . . . This is going to be so lucrative that not a lot of people are going to be able to control it, so I need to get everything together with my organization and get this going.
Broncos offensive lineman Russell Okung also invested in an eSports startup. What is the conversation like when you’re talking about eSports with players from the NFL community? Are they interested in a similar business endeavor?
It’s weird. I get a lot of people that run up to me randomly like, ‘hey, don’t you own a team?’ and I’m like, ‘yes I do own a team.’ They’re like, ‘wait a minute—they’re Rise Nation? I heard that they’re really good.’ Then they’re like, ‘how can my little brother get on the team?’ I’m just like, ‘aw, man!’ I can’t tell you enough how many people have wanted their sons on the team, or how they can get involved and I gave them the plan of how many hours go into it, how much work it is, and they’re like, ‘I don’t know if we can do all that.’
You have other passions aside from video games. You recently signed on for E!’s new reality show Hollywood & Football. You’ll also be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks, too. Can you give us a sneak peek into what we’re going to learn about Rodger Saffold?
Through Hollywood & Football fans can learn about my businesses like Rise Nation, which a lot of people don’t know. It’s kind of funny, I’ve done interviews, tweeted, posted on Instagram and people are still like, ‘wow, I never knew that an NFL player owned Rise.’ I continue to try and branch out myself that way and spread some eSports awareness. I also have my own record label in Spirited 76. Plus, I just want you to know about me and my family. I’m pretty much a goofy guy. I like to have fun and do different things with my friends, so you’ll get to see that.
How’s the move to LA been? What will your close proximity to the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles, open up for you?
It’s my first time living on the west coast. Everyone knows about LA. There’s definitely a bunch of opportunities. The reality show is one of them, to branch out and show myself a little bit more, which we really didn’t get to do in St. Louis. All of the interviews and commercials, they’re all great, but I just want to make sure I don’t change and become too Hollywood, and keep my family grounded, too. It’s a give-and-take battle, and it’s a constant one.
Speaking of personal branding, you were a big hit with the Gillette campaign earlier this year. Do the bigwigs in Hollywood now have you on speed dial for the next big marketing campaign?
It’s extremely tricky. When I’m doing stuff off the field, you don’t want to do too much. You want to have that balance. You always have to remember that the check to do a commercial is good, but you’re not making anywhere near what you are as an athlete. With Gillette though, I’m already a dancing machine. I know this already in my heart of hearts. Now doing that with a bunch of pads on and cleats is a little bit tougher. I’ve also done a funny PSA on adopting animals. Now, in LA, it’s just going to keep coming in, so what are you going to do with that?
How else do you spend your down time? Do you play Madden?
Nah, man. I don’t play any type of Madden. I will tell you why—because I live Madden. I play Madden every day of my life. Your offseason is three minutes, mine is six months. I’m not going to be playing Madden when I’m already living it 24/7. Who wants to look at football when you’ve been practicing for three hours and you’ve been in the film room for about nine hours a day. There’s just no way. No way.
Your Madden rating was an 83 last year. What are you going to have to do on the actual field this year for the Rams to make that better?
The only thing that I can do is stay healthy. This game is just hard, period. It’s rough trying to watch the game from the sideline. I’ve already gone through a couple of shoulder surgeries. Everything is good now. I have a very positive attitude and outlook on this team, and on myself. The biggest thing I need to do is stay healthy and continue to play the way I need to play. I’ve had a bunch of unknowns happen to me where I’ve had to switch positions. I’ve played all four positions in one game on the offensive line, which is completely crazy. I’m definitely confident in my ability. I have personal goals that I need to obtain. I intend on having a fantastic year and just opening holes for [running back] Todd Gurley.
The spotlight will be much brighter on you this year since you’ll have to keep the No. 1 overall pick in Jared Goff upright under center, and open holes for Todd Gurley. Do you feel any extra pressure having to protect the franchise saviors?
It wouldn’t be the first time. When it comes down to protecting these guys, protecting the franchise, Sam Bradford was the first pick overall, I was the first pick in the second round. It’s all about protecting the quarterback. We used to have Steven Jackson in the backfield. He was just a guy that was all about grinding. Now this is just a new lineage coming up. We’ll see how it goes. I think Todd Gurley has shown himself to be a great running back. He’s going to have a lot of challenges this year. People are going to design defenses just to stop him. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on Goff. He needs to make sure that he’s able to throw the ball, do it on time, make his reads, and read blitzes. There’s a lot of work that goes into this. It’s also going to take all 11 guys to make sure everything happens. I know that when Todd is running the ball, the wide receivers are blocking as hard as they can, the offensive line is blocking as hard as they can. We’re trying to move people, we’re being physical and we’re a bunch of bullies. That’s all I can say. We’re a bunch of bullies.
What philosophies—whether it be preparing for gameday, coaching or business—translate over well from the NFL to eSports? Have you used some of the tactics you’ve learned from, say, Jeff Fisher on your own players?
Yes. I’m definitely using the same process. Mentally, you have to be sharp in order to work on the business side. For my players, they definitely have to be on their A-game. We consider our players like family. We know these guys through and through. We hang out with them, we play with them on the games. I don’t know how many people do that, but we work together so you have to have that type of relationship. For them, they also know we’re paid based on our performance, and how we play. They’ve been killing it this year. When it comes to playing football and dealing with coaches, there’s not a lot you can say to these players. Those leadership qualities that I possess from playing football help out a bunch. When I talk to my players, I mostly talk about consistency. Consistency, hard work, be driven, play with a chip on your shoulder. I’m not like, ‘get your ass in there’ or ‘don’t jump offsides!’ Like what does that mean? Nothing is going to come from that stuff. I basically just tell them that we need to be consistent and make money together. My players on Rise—Danny, Jerry, Sam, Nick—they’ve done a fantastic job complementing each other and they continue to show why we’re an elite team. I stand behind those guys 1,000 percent. I really appreciate them and Kahreem. I have to thank those guys, especially right now. They’re making me look good, they’re putting me in a great position for great opportunities. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if it weren’t for those guys.
When you hear about multimillion dollar prize pools, one might imagine a young video game star driving around in a sports car, living it up in his/her mansion. The truth is, professional eSports players can earn a comfortable living with their gaming skills, but it depends on several factors. Hall-of-Famer Dennis Fong won a Ferrari playing Quake in the ’90s, but fancy cars and a life of luxury are anything but the norm. We know eSports players make money, so where does it all come from?
A large part of supporting an eSports lifestyle (that is, not having to get a day job), comes from sponsors. SteelSeries, which manufactures competitive video game peripherals such as headphones and mice, sponsors a number of professional teams. According to Travis Hezel (SteelSeries’ global director of sponsorships), the exact details of such a partnership vary according to the players themselves.
“Depending on the account, it can result in varying items,” Hezel told [a]listdaily. “Ultimately, we take the stance that the players need to be taken care of financially, but that also comes with making sure they’re happy utilizing our equipment when competing. Their interests always come first when we’re working with management on negotiating an agreement. A great case would be the guys from Evil Geniuses—the management approached us based on feedback from their Dota 2 Team already using our peripherals.”
Salaries vary by team, player and another mitigating factors that are anything but easy to calculate. There is a significant lack of transparency in the world of eSports, which makes it difficult for players to determine what constitutes fair compensation.
“Teams are much more focused on the big picture—namely, that all this growth is actually sustainable,” said eSports attorney, Bryce Blum, writing about the need for transparency. “While there are certainly exceptions, the overwhelming majority of team owners want to compensate their players fairly. But how do we determine what is ‘fair’? In most industries, that can be easily dictated by the market. But the market can be misleading when it is in a state of flux, and nowhere is that more true than for eSports heading into 2016.”
For the League of Legends Championship Series, Riot gives each team a set amount of money to provide salaries and help with operating expenses. According to the 2014 handbook, players must be paid a minimum of $12,500—which, for 28 match season equals around $450 each match. However, many players are compensated much higher. The North American League of Legends team, Ember, became the first organization to publicly reveal player salaries in December.
As part of a statement by Ember CEO Jonathan Pan, the team disclosed how much their new lineup would be banking. At the top of the list is Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer who will earn $65,000 in salary with a further $27,000 in performance and signing bonuses. Colin “Solo” Earnest is also clearing $65,000 in salary with $21,000 in added bonuses. Benjamin DeMunck is earning $75,000, Nicolar “GleebGlarbu” Haddad earns $72,500 and $70,000 for Jaun “Contractz” Garcia. Although the exact calculations were not revealed, there is a general understanding in the industry that salaries will be based on factors like reputation, skill and social following. Ember has their players on payroll as employees rather than contractors, and even offers health insurance.
In addition to basic compensation, teams and players can earn additional money by the obvious means of winning or placing in competitions. For a five-person team, this could range from $2,000 to $10,000 per player in the playoffs alone. Dota 2 is a wildy-popular title for eSports, and the 2016 Dota2 International is hosting a whopping $20 million prize pool.
Professional video game players hone their skills through grueling practice sessions and create a brand for themselves by nurturing online communities. When they’re not playing in front of millions of viewers, many eSports pros have taken to online streaming as a way to supplement their income. Subscribing to a Twitch stream costs $4.99 a month, with half that money going to the streamer. For top streamers like The Oddone with thousands of subscribers, this can be a huge boon to their income. A streamer with 2,000 subscriptions (at $2.50 in revenue per sub) gets an additional $5,000 a month. League of Legends streamer, Imaqtpie is said to have earned $9,000 in one month. Another way to earn income while streaming is monetizing with ads and taking donations from viewers, and players use the donation feature to raise funds for their favorite charities.
In short, eSports players can earn a LOT, but it depends on their skill, influence over buyers, reputation and willingness to diversify their revenue stream. With the eSports industry reaching $1 billion this year, salaries will no doubt rise over the coming years, and we can all hold on to those dreams of swapping a briefcase for a controller.
There is no denying the growing power of messenger apps, particularly Facebook Messenger. Pew Research reported that 49 percent of smartphone owners age 18 to 29 use messenger apps, and the number of users is expected to reach 2.19 billion by 2019. There are currently over 11,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger alone, and messenger bots from brands such as Expedia, HP and Victoria’s Secret can help customers make purchases.
A recent Facebook Messenger policy change allows these chatbots to send subscription messages to its users with advertisements, promotions or services such as makeup consultations. However, “All conversations between businesses and people must be initiated by the person receiving the messages, who can then mute or block the business at any time,” wrote Facebook product manager Seth Rosenberg. Subscription messaging is still in its testing phase, but it could become a powerful tool for different brands.
The use of chatbots to promote and support different brands has become a fast-growing trend. Alexander Krug, CEO and founder of Softgames, said that “2016 is the year of messaging,” while speaking with [a]listdaily.
“Messaging apps are showing explosive growth now,” Krug continued. “Now almost 2 billion people use messaging services. There’s a massive opportunity out there. Messaging is the top app type in terms of usage. This is where chatbots come into play, as messaging apps become the new platform, subsuming the role of the mobile operating system. Instead of having an app for shipping, game, or whatever’s out there, you just have a messaging app and within it is a bot for a service or a game.”
Here are some best brand-supported chatbots around right now.
Call of Duty
One of the most impressive uses of a chatbot was used to promote the upcoming game Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Last May, fans took to Facebook Messenger to chat with a bot playing the role of Lt. Reyes, a character from the game. Users could unlock exclusive Infinite Warfare content, and the chatbot even played being annoyed when asked too many questions. The campaign was a huge success, exchanging over 6 million chats within its first 24 hours online—a sign that chatbots will be used in future promotions.
“We wanted to give our fans playing Call of Duty the first peek at the next game and a unique way to interact with one of the characters from the upcoming Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” said Tim Ellis, the chief marketing officer of Activision Publishing, in a press release. “Messenger gives us the opportunity to engage directly with our fans in an interactive adventure that has never been done before—in Call of Duty or on Messenger. It’s been a lot of fun to see the community rally to work with each other and with Lt. Reyes on Messenger.”
Although you can perform straightforward tasks such as linking the messaging app to your Kayak Trips account for up-to-date itinerary changes, the travel search service has its sights set on putting “a transport representative in your pocket.” This includes finding and booking flights, hotels and rental cars using Facebook Messenger, but more engaging features include asking Kayak about things to do at a particular destination, or where you can go for $500.
The news organization delivers daily headlines, complete with images, to its readers through its bot. However, the messaging app can also customize content to the reader’s tastes. Users can type in topics such as “politics,” “science,” or “Pokémon” for related results. Additionally, the bot keeps track of what you’ve read and can recommend additional stories based on your history.
Now You See Me 2
Given the virtual reality experiences Lionsgate used to promote movies such as Nerve, The Hunger Games series and others, it’s clear that the movie company isn’t afraid to experiment with new forms of promotion. However, it seemed to go the extra mile with Now You See Me 2, the movie sequel about a group of magicians performing Robin Hood-style heists in front of a live audience. In addition to a real-world augmented reality game and magic trick app, the studio produced a chatbot for Facebook Messenger and Kik. With it, users can interact with characters from the movie, solve puzzles, and overcome challenges in the hopes of gaining recognition from The Eye, a secret magical organization from the movie. It became an engaging way to tell a story and for audiences to delve deeper into the movie’s world.
The chatbot promotion was developed by Sequel. When asked whether chatbots are bound to be used in future promotions, the company’s CEO, Omar Siddiqui, told [a]listdaily: “Absolutely. Given the audience size and the possibilities available to connect with games in a more emotional and intimate character-centric way, we expect much more experimentation and development of ‘bot games’ in the future.”
Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza
The two food delivery giants, Pizza Hut and Domino’s, are currently in a war over customer engagement. In the past, Domino’s has usually been in the lead when it comes to experimenting with new technology, including ordering pizza with emoji, from a smart TV, or using Amazon’s Echo device. Domino’s launched a Facebook Messenger bot named “DOM The Pizza Bot” in the UK and Ireland earlier this month. Users simply need to register for the Easy Order service and type “pizza” to initiate an order.
Not to be outdone, Pizza Hut is also expected to launch a social ordering platform on Facebook Messenger and Twitter, and it promises to let users find deals and order food in a conversational style. Additionally, the Messenger service can link your Facebook and Pizza Hut accounts together so that it can list your past orders, which should make reordering a breeze.
Baron Concors, the chief digital officer for Pizza Hut, told [a]listdailyin an interview that “we want to make it easy for customers to order or get whatever information they are looking for—this could be customer service, nutritional information or deals and offers.”
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