Atari CEO Discusses Taking Brand Recognition Beyond Video Games

Atari has been around since the dawn of video games, and it remains one of the most enduring brands in the industry. Classic arcade games from the ’70s and ’80s such as Asteroids, Centipede and Missile Command are still loved by many for their nostalgic value, as evidenced by the successful launch of Atari Vault for PC last March, which includes 100 of the company’s most iconic titles. In the same vein, Atari announced in June that it was partnering with AtGames to bring its retro games to modern consoles this holiday season with Atari Flashback Classics Volumes 1 and 2.

Although the company is best known for its retro titles, Atari has been steadily expanding toward other industries, including consumer electronics. Last year, the company launched a mobile app called Atari Fit, which “gamified” exercise routines and encourage people to go outdoors—months before Pokémon GO released. In a seemingly unlikely pairing, Atari announced in May that it was partnering with SIGFOX to develop a line of branded Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices that will focus on home, pets, lifestyle and safety.

Other partnerships include one with hip-hop artist RZA to produce an album that celebrates the legacy of the company by featuring the sounds and music from Atari’s classic games collection. Not long after, Atari announced a partnership with the audio company ROAM to develop a set of branded high-quality earphones and mobile audio products.

Atari CEO, Fred Chesnais is one of the executive producers for the RZA album, and as part of the partnership deal, Atari has become a shareholder in ROAM. Chesnais talks to [a]listdaily about growing the Atari brand from its video game roots to consumer electronics.

Fred Chesnais Headshot landscape
Fred Chesnais, Atari CEO

How would you describe the Atari brand?

Atari is an iconic and globally recognized brand that transcends generations and audiences. The brand is broader than video games and targets many segments of the interactive entertainment industry. As an interactive entertainment production company, Atari continues to own and manage a portfolio of more than 200 games and franchises, including world renowned brands like Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Pong, and RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Last year, Atari launched the Atari Fit app. With the tremendous success of games such as Pokémon GO in getting players out and active, does Atari still intend to grow in the fitness area?

We believe fitness is an important part of being healthy and that was one of the driving forces behind the development of the Atari Fit app. We are working on other concepts and game ideas that will also encourage active play. More details will be shared later this year.

In May, Atari announced a partnership with SIGFOX to develop branded Internet of Things devices. What led to this partnership, and how does the Atari brand relate to IoT devices?

I have known Ludovic Le Moan, SIGFOX CEO for quite some time and we saw an opportunity to work together and develop Atari-branded connected devices using SIGFOX’s global IoT network. We believe we can bring our brand, our expertise in developing applications and managing communities to develop very interesting products. By partnering with SIGFOX, we are going to use the Atari brand and develop a product line that will include categories such as home, pets, lifestyle and safety.

What led Atari to expand its brand beyond gaming and toward consumer electronics technology?

As an interactive production company, Atari has been developing products beyond gaming for a long time. Consumer technology naturally lends itself to gaming and we see that connection as a market opportunity to develop products such as connected devices using a trusted and recognized brand.

Any word on what Atari IoT devices are coming and how soon we might see them?

Our product line will include categories such as home, pets, lifestyle and safety. We are currently in development stage and you can expect to see the initial product offering hit the market in 2017.

How did the partnership with hip-hop artist RZA come together?

We worked with RZA before on the video game, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. During that time, we developed a good relationship and discussed partnering again for the right project. We are thrilled to be working with RZA again, and this time to create new music based on and inspired by the sounds and music in Atari’s vast collection of games.

ROAM-AtariAtari also recently announced a partnership with ROAM to develop branded earphones. Given the partnership with RZA, how would you describe Atari’s relationship with the music and audio technology industries?

Music, audio technology and video games have been co-existing together for a long time. Gamers wear headsets when playing their favorite games. We want to be a part of that entire experience and that is why our new line of gaming headphones and earphones will serve as a platform to bring ROAM’s personalized audio to listeners and gamers alike.

What would you say is the biggest reason Atari has remained such an enduring and recognizable brand?

Because it means entertainment and innovation, things everyone likes, combined with an amazing logo.

Stay On Target: Snapchat’s Ad Network Will Feature Behavioral Targeting

Snapchat has come a long way since its humble “Pictaboo” beginnings (and now you finally understand the ghost logo), and brands are taking advantage of the tremendous growth. There’s no question that Snapchat’s popularity is surging with eight billion video views on a daily basis and a new eMarketer report predicts the app will increase its userbase to 217 million by the end of 2017, up from 150 million in 2016. So what’s next?

Clement Xue, Snapchat’s director of revenue operations, said behavioral targeting was on track to roll out before the end of the third quarter of 2016, according eMarketer.  What this means is that if a user follows or views a lot of video game or sports channels, advertisers could target them with categories such as “gaming” or “basketball.” Snapchat currently offers advertising target options for age, gender, location, device and operating system, mobile carrier and content affinity, but this could soon expand to broader interests such as “beauty,” “animals,” etc. (Category titles are speculative examples only.)

bitmojiThe disappearing photo-sharing app has expanded into a number of advertising firsts for the platform, including its first 360-video ad for Don’t Breathe and its first multi-level video game ad for Gatorade. Meanwhile, Snapchat acquired Bitmoji, a custom emoji-creating and sharing keyboard that is now integrated into the app and vice versa.

During this year’s Cannes Lions festival, Snapchat co-founder and CEO, Evan Spiegel expressed that his company “really care[s] about not being creepy,” which is why the business chose to concentrate on the context of advertising and where it sits, rather than targeting. Snapchat’s Privacy Center states: “We want you to feel understood. We want to understand what’s relevant to you and your life, and we want to show you things that you’ll care about. At the same time, we don’t want to serve ads that are so custom-tailored that they feel invasive or uncomfortable.”

Despite its increasing popularity, Snapchat has some catching up to do in the way of measuring ROI. A recent survey placed Snapchat at the very bottom of the list for producing investment return, which could be attributed to a lack of onboard analytic tools. Snapchat currently does not offer direct monetization, but brands are still finding ways to measure financial success through the app.

Tapjoy: ‘Brand Advertising Is Coming’ To Mobile

When you want to find out what’s going on with mobile advertising, there’s no better place to get that information than with a company that deals with a wide variety of mobile advertisers on a daily basis. That describes Tapjoy perfectly. The company has an enormous network, as befits a firm that calls itself “the leading Marketing Automation Platform to monetize mobile freemium apps.” Tapjoy has 10,000+ active apps, a 520 million global monthly reach, 4.23 million daily ad conversions, and over 1 billion total app downloads.

Paul Longhenry, SVP of strategy,  corporate and business development for Tapjoy, spoke recently with [a]listdaily about the current and future state of the mobile games and mobile advertising industries.

Paul Longhenry
Paul Longhenry, Tapjoy SVP of strategy, corporate and business development

What’s the state of the mobile advertising market today, and where is it heading? “It’s probably getting less crowded, with larger players duking it out with one another, but less startups and new entrants,” Longhenry said. “The table stakes for providing a meaningful solution are too high for new entrants.”

The mobile ad marketplace is changing as well, and Longhenry sees brand advertising playing a bigger role in the future. “In terms of how it’s evolving, mobile advertising has been dominated by app distribution for the last five or six years,” Longhenry recalled. “Early on it was banner ads, which tended to be remnant direct-response type demand, but then app developers took the mobile advertising ecosystem up an order of magnitude in size. That market is probably growing at a slower rate than it would have two years ago. Part of that is the app market is maturing—what genres are more powerful, who are the established players? They don’t need to continue to pour 75 percent of their opex [operating expenses] into marketing. You’ve got large players like Facebook and Google that provide a lot of app distribution and user acquisition for those places. There’s not as much opportunity there.”

“What’s starting to happen is [that] brand advertisers are coming, and they’re coming in a variety of ways,” Longhenry continued. “They are certainly investing in content-du-jour experiences like Snapchat. They’re starting to flow in through programmatic channels as well, where they’re buying cross-platform audiences. It’s still really early days, though. If you look at mobile brand advertising as a percentage of digital, it’s still really tiny. That’s what most of us are solving for now. We know that brand advertising eventually flows to where consumers are spending their time, and we know that we can deliver a great user experience and brand impact that’s putting all the pipes and measurement systems in place that brand advertisers can get measure everything they’re used to on web. Over the course of the next year, year-and-a-half, I fully expect that brand advertising will become the largest percentage of mobile ad spend. Those of us that cater to that and do it well will do very well.”

There’s been plenty of competition in mobile marketing, and Tapjoy has managed to prevail despite that. Longhenry sees that Tapjoy’s advantage is taking the long view, and he describes the environment in stark terms. “Our approach is to look at how this ecosystem is going to play out over time,” Longhenry said. “Adtech is a very competitive, innovative space, so where do you build long-term value? Our strong perspective on it has been that simply focusing on delivering demand tends to be a short-lived opportunity. It all comes down to who’s got the best data. As inventory channels become more open to different demand sources, it’s really hard to be just focused on the demand side unless you’re deeply embedded with the advertisers themselves. Folks like Oracle, SAP, Salesforce—that’s really what they’ve focused on. They’ve used all their enterprise systems to deeply embed themselves into making client data actionable from both a marketing and an advertising perspective. That’s a sustainable position. But if you don’t have control of the proprietary data of the advertiser, playing a middleman on the demand side is really tough.”

“We focused on the publisher community, the content developers,” Longhenry continued. “Where we knew the space the best was in freemium apps, where it’s an order of magnitude more complicated than traditional apps. You have 2 or 3 percent paying users who generate 50 percent of revenue, and then 97 percent non-paying users who need to be monetized with advertising. We’ve been solving for that use case. How do you have a single application experience that is tailored to this type of person? Are they going to buy content or are they not? How do leverage a big data platform and predictive analytics to quickly figure that out and deliver the experience that people really want without having to perpetually hit them over the head with marketing messages trying to get them to buy content? Where we differentiated ourselves is to solve for that publisher use case, to make sure our SDK is embedded with larger studios, and then monetize through the ad solution. We are the only players in the space that have taken that approach. We’ve got a strong adtech stack, and we’ve got the combination of adtech and martech, and we’ve got a strong publisher footprint that gets stickier every month as more and more publishers use our services to run their app.”

That perspective led to Tapjoy creating its unified system. “Rather than competing with every other adtech player with a CPM that’s 10 percent higher, why don’t we try to change our value proposition fundamentally?” said Longhenry. “We’re not just changing your eCPM, we’re helping you monetize everybody. You’re using our platform to drive spending behavior as you would with a marketing automation system that you pay for on a SaaS basis to someone else. When you combine marketing automation with adtech, then an ad strategy can be informed innately, on our system, by whether or not someone has been engaged with the marketing message. Similarly, the marketing messages or push notifications that you deliver can be signaled with an ad placement that you put in front of them. These systems, when you get them from multiple parties, they just don’t talk to one another. We saw there’s lots of differentiation out of the box, and you have an ability to innovate faster. That’s proven out pretty well so far.”

Turning to the hottest new game in mobile, Pokémon GO, Longhenry sees that it offers some lessons for the industry. “Answering a little superficially, I think the biggest takeaway that folks should view as really positive is that this industry is far from being done,” Longhenry noted. “It’s not that every genre of consumer experience has already been explored and replicated many times over. We’re all just starting to figure out how we use our mobile devices and what entertainment looks like. Ingress was around for a long time, and no one thought it could be a mass market. To see Pokémon GO be so successful, for those of us who have worked a long time in gaming, is fantastic. It’s not all about match-3 games or city builders; there are other things that a mass market of consumers will find entertaining.”

Microsoft Shows Off ‘Gears of War 4’ And Indie Games At PAX West

It’s PAX West time once again, and Microsoft is taking full advantage of the event being is being held in its home state of Washington. Open to the public, the company’s pre-PAX ID@Xbox open house event takes place on Thursday on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. Complimentary buses will ferry guests from the Washington State Convention Center to the open house, where fans can try over 50 video games from indie developers using the ID@Xbox publishing platform. The event is free, and it offers complimentary soda along with the chance to win prizes such as an Xbox One, branded apparel, controllers and even tickets to the sold-out PAX event.

In addition to hands-on play time with games like Outlast 2, Everspace, Cuphead, Pit People and new content for ARK: Survival Evolvedthose who attend the event can collect pins for each of the games and meet the developers. The event gives Microsoft’s independent development partners a chance to shine before the holiday season and creates personal memories for those who attend, introducing emotion to future game-buying decisions.

microsoft pax west

Naturally, Microsoft will have a presence inside the convention center as well, showing off titles that were announced during E3Gears of War 4Halo Wars 2, Forza Horizon 3, Dead Rising 4, ReCore and Battlefield 1. Taking up three booths in the North Hall, Microsoft will offer hands-on game demos and eight custom Xbox One S 2TB consoles, which convention-goers can snap a picture of and share on social media for a chance to win. Each console bears designs inspired by Gears of War 4, Halo Wars 2, Forza Horizon 3, Dead Rising 4, ReCore, Sea of Thieves, Battlefield and Final Fantasy XVThose outside of PAX can still enter for a chance to win one of the consoles by re-tweeting a message from Xbox on Twitter.

The biggest push from the game publisher is Gears of War 4, which is debuting its new Horde 3.0 and Arms Race modes for fans to try. Based on their performance, players can win t-shirts, pins, physical gear packs and on Saturday, a special poster drawn by comic book artist, Tony Moore.

Frontline marketing such as the ID@Xbox open house and Gears of War 4 challenge make the emotional difference between “I heard that game is cool” and “I remember the time I played that game at Microsoft.” As we near the big holiday shopping season, time will tell whether these tactics have paid off, especially since Gears of War 4 launches October 11.

Coca-Cola Exec Discusses ‘FIFA 17’ College ESports Plans

With Matt Wolf getting a promotion to vice president of entertainment, ventures and strategic alliances at Coca-Cola, his colleague Alban Dechelotte has been named head of global eSports for the soft drink company. Dechelotte told [a]listdaily that he’s been working behind-the-scenes at Coke for the past four years, after identifying gaming as a key growth potential for the company.

Alban DechelotteDechelotte’s background is in traditional sports, having worked as a Western European sponsorship manager for Coke across sports like tennis and cycling. He explains: “There are a lot of similarities between traditional sports and eSports: from a competition point-of-view, from the stage, to the coaches, players, fans, the broadcast booth, the training, the pressure and the competitive ecosystem.”

Dechelotte said that, from a brand perspective, there’s a greater ability for brands to be on stage in eSports than anywhere else in gaming in the past. “Fans love that Coke is engaged with them and recognizes the popularity of eSports,” Dechelotte said. “They love being invited to live events, whether it’s through an activation in movie theaters for League of Legends or connecting with fans live at the League of Legends world championship—which we see as the Super Bowl of eSports.”

Coke will be at the Staples Center this October for the League of Legends world championship, and the company is also increasing its movie theater livestreaming activation. “We’ll be in cinemas like never before in both the number of cinemas and the number of countries, including Canada and Eastern countries,” Dechelotte said. “We’ll also be working with additional partners in cinemas.”

Dechelotte said Coke is actively looking beyond League of Legends to expand its eSports presence and that the company engaged in a huge international activation around the recent launch of Blizzard’s Overwatch. “We saw big eSports potential with Overwatch early on, and the recent success of the game has proven that out,” Dechelotte said. “Overwatch gives us a more diverse portfolio. It’s a nice complement to what we’ve done in the past with League of Legends.”

Dechelotte also sees a huge eSports growth opportunity for the soccer game, FIFA in the US. FIFA and Electronic Arts have been collaborating on the FIFA Interactive World Cup for years, and the Grand Final was held this past March in New York City. Additionally, the Final Showdown was broadcast live on Fox 1, as well as Twitch and YouTube. Coke is a long-time sponsor of both FIFA and the World Cup. “EA’s FIFA soccer franchise has been growing as an eSport, especially in the US,” Dechelotte said.

FIFA 17 SlurpeeNext week, Coke is partnering with EA to celebrate the upcoming launch of FIFA 17 through a collectible Slurpee cup activation at 7-Eleven stores across the US. There will be a FIFA 17 contest featuring over 10,000 prizes. Dechelotte said there will be five layers of prizes that include codes that can be redeemed for in-game items like special jerseys; points that can be used for FIFA Ultimate Team; copies of the game; or a trip to Vancouver to meet the EA development team behind the game.

Later in September, Coke, FIFA and EA will launch a nationwide FIFA 17 collegiate eSports competition with students from 80 colleges participating. It’s a pilot program for the companies that will debut in the US and not in Europe, which Dechelotte said shows the power of soccer in this country.

The FIFA 17 competition will run for two to three months and feature a local round where students will compete to become college champions. The second round will award a winner for each of the four conferences, which sets up a Final Four showdown and championship round with the top universities competing for college tuition money. The competition will be livestreamed. Dechelotte said all of the details are still being worked out.

“We see 150 million players per year playing FIFA and we’re excited to be part of this franchise and help EA take this game further into eSports,” Dechelotte said. “Our belief in the potential for eSports aligns consistently with EA and what they’re building on their side for competitive play.”

The key with both traditional sports and eSports is to find the right balance between the sport and the brand, according to Dechelotte. However, two eSports games Coke won’t be getting involved with are Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Activision’s Call of Duty. Dechelotte said the violence in these games and their Mature ratings will keep Coke on the sidelines from any marketing or sponsorship endeavors.

‘Marvel Tsum Tsum’ Brings Plush Toy Superheroes To Life

The summer movie blockbuster movie season is over, but superhero fandom lives on in TV and video games. One of the most inventive takes on the Marvel comic book universe comes from the newly launched mobile game, Marvel Tsum Tsum. With it, players have a chance to collect Tsum Tsum-styled characters—inspired by the Disney plush toy line made for easy stacking into pyramids—and power them up to tackle puzzles and challenges.

Similar in some respects to a match-3-type game, players draw a line to connect strings of Tsum Tsum figures based on popular Marvel characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and others as they tumble onto the screen. Long matches enable different power-ups as players race to clear as many characters from the screen as they can before time runs out.

The game is developed by XFLAG and published by mixi, one of the most popular social networking services and smartphone game providers in Japan. It is distinctly different from Disney Tsum Tsum, which was developed and published by Line Corporation last year, even though both are inspired by the Disney toy line. Marvel Tsum Tsum launched in North America this week on both the Apple App Store and Google Play, with a roll out in other territories coming soon.

Erika Nakamura, senior producer for Marvel Tsum Tsum at mixi, describes the game to [a]listdaily: “Marvel Tsum Tsum is a simple-to-play connect-3 puzzle game. Players can also team up with friends to defeat supervillains.”

In discussing the mobile game’s social features, Nakamura explained that mixi’s XFLAG Studio “is focused on creating content that players can enjoy together with friends and family,” and that one of its core features is multiplayer so that players can pair up and compete. “Players can also connect with each other on Marvel Tsum Tsum via social media,” Nakamura adds, and mixi plans on promoting the game by hosting a viral campaign using its cooperative batter feature with a distinct focus on Marvel fans.

So what is the key difference between launching a mobile game in the North American market compared to Japan? “Compared to the Japanese market, in the North American market, there is less of a tendency for people to play together using smartphones. This is probably our biggest challenge,” Nakamura explained.

There are currently no cross-promotional plans between Marvel Tsum Tsum and the Disney Toy line, but Nakamura explains why the Tsum Tsum-style makes for such an appealing game. “The adorable Tsum Tsum characters with cute rounded forms contribute to their lovability. In addition, gameplay is simple but exciting with flashy and cool effects, like character skills. These are the main features that we believe make Tsum Tsum popular.”

Lastly, we asked what mixi tries to keep in mind when launching a mobile puzzle game such as Marvel Tsum Tsum globally. “We believe that running our service with a focus on our target’s needs is the key to success,” said Nakamura. “User testing will be done regularly after the launch to keep our service optimized for our players by improving the game to meet their needs.”