‘Blair Witch’ Scares Up Conspiracy Marketing Akin To The Original

In May, a movie trailer appeared for The Woods, a horror film set in, you guessed it, the woods. The video did a good job of establishing that something goes horribly wrong when a group of people head into the forest, but not much else. Horror fans were intrigued, seeing director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett attached, who’d previously worked together on You’re Next and The Guest. During San Diego Comic-Con, however, Lionsgate dropped a bomb—The Woods was the working title for Blair Witch, a sequel to the original 1999 classic. Teasing the real identity of its film was to be the first in a string of brilliant marketing strategies for the studio.

Found Footage That “Authorities Don’t Want You To See”

I remember when The Blair Witch Project was a real topic of debate—before the film was released. My friends and I scoured websites that detailed the mysterious circumstances in which this footage was found. The hikers were never seen again, their backpacks found buried . . . and like staring at a horrific train wreck, we just couldn’t look away. In keeping with the spirit of that incredibly effective campaign, Lionsgate is at it again with a conspiracy theorist who uploaded more found footage on August 31 to YouTube. The video doesn’t contain any watermarks or studio credits, but watchful eyes will notice those trademark hand prints on the Blair Witch house walls.

According to the video description:

Now that people are starting to wake up and join the search for truth, we felt it time to share one of our darkest secrets. Our friends and fellow hactivists, known as darknet666 (https://darknet666blog.wordpress.com), originally posted this in April 2014 when they found an old dv tape in the Black Hills Forest (Frederick Watershed), Maryland. Within a month, they’d gone missing in those same woods and the video was mysteriously DELETED as part of a COVER-UP. We recently “acquired” the file from our friend’s computer. THIS IS WHAT THE AUTHORITIES DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE.

The linked blog is a simple site that doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2014 (either true or intentional to appear authentic, since this project began in 2013). The site’s “author” is obsessed with hiker disappearances in the area, often referring to a mythological creature called “Snallygaster.”

A Missing Filmmaker

Source: Facebook

Further adding to the idea that this, in fact, really happened, a Kickstarter campaign appeared that links a funded documentary from 2014. The Absence of Closure is the name of a college thesis by Lisa Arlington who planned to explore the psychological effect of disappearances on their friends and family. One of those to be interviewed was the brother of a woman who went missing in the same manner as those in The Blair Witch Project. (Although they never explicitly say this.) Ironically, the most recent post says that Lisa has been missing since May 2014. Lisa’s last post said that she was meeting none other than darknet666, the one who found and posted the aforementioned creepy footage on his site. Lisa’s profile even links to a corresponding Tumblr page, complete with realistic entries and the absence, thereof.

Lisa’s best friend posted an update in August that authorities have given up on Lisa and her family needs help. They even set up a Facebook page which asks for leads, but request that commenters refrain from conspiracy theories. The photo of Lisa looks an awful lot like actress Callie Hernandez, who plays a filmmaker named Lisa in the Blair Witch. The Facebook page even links to several “news stories” about Lisa’s disappearance.

The marketing team behind Blair Witch is doing a fantastic job leaving bread crumbs for the curious to follow. If “viral marketing” actually existed, this would be it. The found footage, the missing filmmaker—it all appears so real—I only wish I didn’t know the truth, heading to the theater once again to find out that it’s actually a sequel.

Blair Witch haunts theaters beginning September 16.

Follow H.B. Duran on Twitter

‘Pure Chess’ Grandmaster Takes On Twitch

Chess has long been considered the ultimate game of logic and strategy, but the game is so ubiquitous launching a new version of it may become a video game publisher’s biggest challenge. That’s when Ripstone Games, makers of Stick it to the Man, Ironcast and Pure Hold’em, came up with a brilliant move of its own. To mark the launch of Pure Chess Grandmaster Edition today on Steam and Xbox One, the publisher decided to pit the collective mind of the Twitch audience against chess grandmaster Simon Williams (pictured above) in the first livestreaming experiment of its kind.

In many ways, the match is similar to the 1999 “Kasparov versus the World” game, where famous grandmaster Garry Kasparov took on a collective of minds that made moves using a messaging board. Users would vote on moves, and those with the most votes were executed.

Michelle Turner, Ripstone Games head of marketing and PR

Michelle Turner, head of marketing and PR at Ripstone, told [a]listdaily about how Pure Chess challenged Twitch to a grandmaster game. She explained that Ripstone’s PR manager, Mike Rose, initially came up with the idea, given his experience with Twitch. They didn’t know about the Kasparov game at the time, so the similarities were coincidental. After playing a number of games against the Twitch community themselves, they felt that introducing a grandmaster into the mix would up the ante.

“Chess in itself is quite a straightforward game to talk about, most people know what chess is even if they don’t know how to play it,” said Turner. “With the launch of Pure Chess, we had to think of something interesting that would appeal to a broad audience, and that would also showcase the stunning visuals of the game. Twitch is a great place for that, and its users are really engaged.”

Turner also described how the voting system works. “We have a Twitch bot, which was developed by Alex Rose Games (brother of our PR manager, Mike), that pulls together all the moves suggested by the chat. The Twitch chat will suggest their moves, the move with the highest number of votes will be selected by our bot; we’ll then make that move on behalf of the chat.”

Chess grandmaster Simon Williams has worked with Ripstone in testing the artificial intelligence since Pure Chess released years ago for the PlayStation 3 and Vita. So, it was only natural for Ripstone to turn to him for this promotional experiment. “He was the first person we thought of when it came to finding a grandmaster for this challenge,” Turner said. “He regularly streams on Twitch and YouTube, so we knew he’d be comfortable interacting with the Twitch audience. Luckily, he was as excited about the idea as we were and thought it would be an interesting challenge.

“He’s watched a few of our previous streams where we occasionally play forfeit chess—some of the Ripstone team have ended up with pies in their faces or underwear on their head, and he was totally up for that too! But we thought we’d go for something a little more serious this time. He’s pretty confident he can beat the chat, and has even offered to play blindfolded if he’s finding it too easy.”

When asked how Ripstone expected the Twitch game to compare with Kasparov’s, given the vast changes in technology, Turner responded: “It certainly going to be much quicker—we aren’t expecting this match to take four months! After the event, Kasparov admitted that he’d been reading the messaging board where the World were discussing their strategy on, so he knew their game plan, which they weren’t aware of. We’re planning to avoid any cheating in this game.

However, what will be really exciting is that Simon will be able to see the chat in real-time, while the people watching and playing against him will be able to hear his thoughts on the moves he’s making and how he feels like the chat is doing. We’re hoping there’s going to be plenty of trash talk from both sides.”

Having already played a few matches against Twitch without the benefit of being a chess grandmaster, Turner describes the collective gameplay style. “There is a core group of people that always tune in. They aren’t necessarily experts at playing chess, but then neither are we. Their play style usually starts off messy, and then becomes a hive-mind when the chat realizes who is actually good at chess. With that, we do see that a lot of people will wait for one or two particular people to make a move, and the others will copy their suggestion. However, recently we’ve been getting more traction with new people joining who are really good at chess. The Twitch chat now openly talks about strategy, which we ignore so we can’t take advantage of the situation—but they’re becoming more confident against us, which is making our task harder to try and beat them.”

However, Ripstone’s skill at chess isn’t necessarily the challenge it needs to overcome. The real issue is that there are a tremendous number of chess games on the market, with a wide variety of challenge and graphics, for every platform. We asked Turner how Pure Chess Grandmaster Edition would stand out from the crowd.

The visuals in Pure Chess are absolutely beautiful—it’s definitely the best-looking chess I’ve ever seen,” Turner replied. “Aside from that, the game offers the complete package for any ability of chess player. It has comprehensive tutorials teaching basic and advanced chess techniques, an in-depth ELO ranking system for online play as well as 100 chess puzzles. People can play online against up to eight friends at any one time, set up an auto matchmaking game with the existing Pure Chess community of over 2.5 million players, or go head-to-head against the custom built AI; so they’ll always be able to play.

The Grandmaster Edition includes nine different chess sets, such as the traditional Staunton and Williams set as well as exclusive sets like Easter Island and Halloween—and 6 locations ranging from a luxury penthouse to a park.”

No matter how today’s match turns out, Williams is already excited for a rematch. “Simon already said he wants to do blindfolded chess against Twitch, the thought of which just blows my mind,” said Turner. “And the Ripstone team are up for some more forfeit chess on stream.”

How Skullcandy Wants To Pioneer Audio For Virtual Reality

The influx of virtual reality advancements over the last handful of years—and over time, for that matter—have been focused on elevating the visual experience. Headphone and audio lifestyle brand Skullcandy wants to dramatically change that and be the catalysts for progressing audio in the VR space by releasing the Crusher VRA headphones.

Slated to hit store shelves early next year, it features stereo-haptic bass drivers that deliver directional bass that you can feel, ferrofluid integration for broader, cleaner bass response, and refined digital-signal processing.

They also introduced Audioscape VR, and audio-first, Hitchcock-like, VR thinking app. The music-generator app accentuates directionality, spatial sound and responsive visuals that reinforce what you’re hearing creates a rich audio-visual experience.

“The content demonstrates the power of designing a VR experience around audio,” Sam Paschel, Skullcandy’s chief commercial officer, told [a]listdaily. “The idea is that we take the visuals and strip them down. The visuals are there only to demonstrate and reinforce what is being created in the audio space. This is game changing. It’s really great and helps us understand how audio can become a bigger part of the VR environment.”

Skullcandy is using the app as an experience and tool to help people understand—and plant the seed—that audio is going to be a huge component in this space and technology. At VRLA in August, Skullcandy further drove that point home by collaborating for the world’s first silent VR rave experience that included 11 artists mixing live music inside VR.

Sam Paschel joined [a]listdaily to talk about how they plan on pioneering audio for virtual reality.

Sam Paschel, chief commercial officer for Skullcandy

How did Skullcandy decide that VR would be the next great vertical for the company?

VR is aiming to create these incredible, immersive experiences and really transport you with all the upside of having experiences complemented with empathy and entertainment. When you’re only tapping into one sense, it’s different stories. Storytelling is evolving, but no one is introducing additional senses. When you think back to the best memories you’ve had, like your favorite concert, you have an audio experience, a visual experience and you have a psycho-acoustic experience of feeling the vibration of the music on your skin. It’s multisensory. The combination of our technologies make the Crusher VRA headphones the most immersive, and the first true VR audio headphones in the world. We are just trying to put audio at the forefront and be the champions of audio in the VR space. That’s what this is all about.

Why was it so critical for Skullcandy to have ownership in this kind of space? Why was it important for Skullcandy to reach consumers via virtual reality?

This isn’t a critical business unit for us, but it’s incredible trending technology that we see a ton of opportunity in. We see a lot of momentum coming in from the high-end, and the tail-end. I believe in it, we believe in it as an organization, but today this isn’t something that’s driving our business. It’s a passion project. We saw the income from the VR technology wave, and we already had an earlier version of the Crusher that was meant to be about immersion. We wanted to be the most immersive audio company. I don’t want to just recreate sounds that were in a studio in a very antiseptic. I want to put you back in the middle of that concert. I want it to be a little bit grittier, and provocative. As soon as VR started coming in, we saw that this is another massive technology in an area that we know we want to be an innovation leader in—which is immersion and putting you in experiences. It was a natural for us—like no one else is paying any attention to this: how do we create the most immersive audio headphone experience in the world that can be part of the VR revolution?

Is it fair to say you will separate yourself from other industry leaders in audio via VR technology?

That’s the hope. If that’s the outcome, then that’s awesome. I think we’re doing it mostly because we want to help create those experiences that help separate us. We’re early in the game, and that’s great. We’re really here because we want to show the content creators. In the long run, as the Crusher VRA headphones become a wildly successful and commercial product in the VR space, there’s an opportunity for sure. It’s more about showing consumers of what we’re capable of doing technologically as a brand. I think that’s surprising for some people, based on the picture they have of Skullcandy. They don’t know of the capabilities that we have.


What are some of the ways that you’re trying to reach consumers with this Crusher VRA headphones?

This product changed perception and showed people what Skullcandy is capable of—that’s a huge win for us. As far as the market for it—we’re early. I think it’s going to come. I think it also lets us begin to evolve alongside content creators, and even with some of the headset manufacturers as to ‘how do we become a part of this ecosystem, and this family.’ This commercial success of this version of the Crusher VRA headphones isn’t the first key thing. Getting it into a ton of consumers’ hands and attach rates with every time someone buys an Oculus—that’s not how we’re really thinking. It’s about flexing our technological muscle, moving it forward at the cutting edge and really trying to pioneer immersion.

How does VR open the doors for brands to be leaders in the space in their respective businesses?

You look at some of the projections, and how so many headsets could be sold in the next two years, and that’s possible. Not betting the farm on that, though. We have a core business that’s driven off of a lot of other things around music consumption, and regular media. In house, both from the stories we have to tell, how we have to frame it, and the expertise in our engineering teams—mechanical, electrical, acoustics, signal processing—having built this, we’re a fundamentally different organization as well, based on what we learned. All of the learning is going to make our other headphones and audio products much better because we went through a process, and did a real deep-dive. The passion from the product team to create this have been amazing.

How do you think the live music and concert realm while watching in VR is going to grow in the near future?

I see it as an opportunity. The audio, with us in the lead, will get stronger and better. For people who can’t attend, I think it is by far the best and highest fidelity, in every way, proxy for actually going to an event. If you look at, this there’s an entertainment side to what’s coming in VR for sure—to be able to transport you and give you these immersive experiences that you couldn’t get before. There’s also just a massive opportunity in education. It’s an empathy machine that helps you see the world and life through someone else’s eyes. All of that is incredible opportunities. Music is a passion point for us. We’re doing some things with YouTube where we’re going to YouTube studios and recording some music, and have plans to do our own VR or 360-degree content capture as to see how well can you transport people there, and what that’s like.

How do you see the space developing?

I think there’s going to be a lot of evolution in these platforms. This isn’t something we drop in and say ‘we did this VR headphone’ and walk away. It’s something you have to nurture and keep up with the pace of evolution inside of this space. Our goal is to shine a light that multi-sensory is better than just visual. Getting people to start thinking about longer term and the future of the ecosystem. We want to take a leadership position on the audio side. It’s very much a brand way. We think we can sell these and it can very much be a commercial product, but we’re not betting the farm on that.

What are some of the audio challenges VR has to overcome for it to hold its own on that front?

There’s so many. It’s a really complex problem to solve when you talk about recreating real-world audio. If I were going to recreate this conversation perfectly, I’d need to know everything about the size of the room, and the materials in it. Left and right directionality, or 360-degree directionalities. We need to know not just the sound and the room and what was created there and its space, because the visuals need to match the audio. There’s been a ton of investment from large companies in this space, but if you really want to create immersion, what about the other sense in sound? That’s when it is really going to start to take off and that is where we’re going to pioneer.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

PlayStation 4 Adopts 4K Entertainment, Developers Jump Aboard

New York—Sony Interactive Entertainment introduced two new consoles (PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation 4 slim) at its PlayStation Meeting event at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square. While most of the console information had been leaked early, one surprise was the decision to not include a 4K Ultra HD player in the new PlayStation 4 Pro. Instead, the new $500 console (available November 10) will offer 4K streaming entertainment content through YouTube and Netflix apps, but gamers who have begun collecting the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies will either have to buy a separate player or the new $300 Xbox One S from Microsoft. The Xbox One S also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR), which replicates the colors and lighting that the human eye can see within virtual worlds, television shows and film.

4K And HDR Are Transforming Entertainment

Mark Cerny, the PlayStation 4 architect, said Sony has doubled the power of the GPU and boosted the clock rate of the CPU in the PS4 Pro, allowing additional hardware rendering for enhanced resolutions on screen, as 4K supports 8 million pixels of resolution for gaming and entertainment. Sony had a dozen playable games in 4K at its event, and the company is encouraging first-party and third-party developers to adapt both existing and new titles to 4K, as well as HDR when possible. There was much more support for 4K by developers than HDR, which is a much newer addition to the Pro.

Cerny said HDR is the most exciting advance in TV technology in the last decade because current HDTVs only offer a fraction of the colors the human eye can see. “HDR is a new technology and the standards are still in flux, so game creators are still figuring out how to take advantage of it,” Cerny said. “Not everyone will support HDR out of the gate.” But there’s also more of an incentive for developers to support HDR moving forward, as the original PS4 consoles will get a patch next week that will enable HDR capabilities. That means an audience of over 40 million gamers may experience HDR if they have compatible televisions.

Andrew House, CEO at Sony, said the upgrade to 4K will transform entertainment like we haven’t seen since transition from standard definition to high definition. “Our vision is to present clear choice to the gamer,” House said. “We want to offer an option for those who want to heighten the game experience. We’re asking developers how they can support HDR and 4K in each title.” At the same time, House said the goal is for PS4 to remain a single unified community, which means the same discs and downloads will work across all consoles.

“PlayStation 4 Pro sits alongside the standard PS4 and is part of this generation of consoles, House said. “It’s targeted toward the hardcore gamer or those who have invested in 4K TVs.” Sony has the current lead in the console wars, but it will face competition in 2017 from the Nintendo NX, which is currently slated to launch in spring, and Microsoft’s Scorpio, which has not received a launch window yet.

According to IHS Markit analyst Piers Harding-Rolls, Sony’s PS4 Pro console strategy reflects the nature of the consumer electronics market today. “Consumers are looking for updates to hardware more regularly and consumer electronics companies are looking to sell more devices,” Harding-Rolls said.

At the same time, today’s consoles use less proprietary technology compared to older generations and are more like PCs. AMD powers Sony’s PlayStation consoles. Harding-Rolls said this makes it easier and quick to develop and build improved versions. IHS forecasts PS4 Pro worldwide sales of 1.5 million in 2016. The overall installed base of PS4 is forecast to reach 53.5 million by the end of 2016.

Mike Goodman, Strategy Analytics’ director of digital media strategies, forecasts that game console sales globally will fall slightly, to around 34 million units this year, mainly due to Nintendo’s Wii U being discontinued. Sony will account for 60 percent of game console shipments, while Microsoft will represent 36 percent. “We estimate that Sony has shipped around 46 million PS4s—compared to 27 million for Microsoft’s Xbox One/One S,” Goodman said.

According to IHS, 4K TV shipments are expected to grow from 55 million units in 2016 to more than 112 million units by 2020. Hardcore gamers are traditionally early adopters of new technology, and 4K TV prices are dropping. Goodman said that while HDR may be the future of television, it has a long way to go. As of year-end 2016, the global installed base of HDR compatible televisions will only be between 3 and 3.5 million.

The Games

Some big publishers were on hand to reveal what titles will be receiving 4K support this fall and next year. It’s not yet clear how Sony or its third-party partners will market 4K and HDR capabilities, but there will clearly be messaging for gamers. For example, Bend Studios was on hand to demonstrate its 2017 Sony exclusive Days Gone featuring both 4K and HDR. The developer said this technology brings all of the brightness of the sun and the colors of the clothing and environments to life with photorealism, but it also accentuates the nighttime scenes. The playable demo included the ability to throw Molotov cocktails into the crowds of “freakers” in the shadows of the night.

Activision CTO Andy Hendrickson was on hand to announce that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will support both 4K and HDR. An “Operation Dark Quarry” mission was played live on a PS4 Pro to showcase the added visual clarity, and the game was playable at the arcade following the press conference. Activision is also supporting 4K with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered and will provide an online title update for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.

Aaryn Flynn, vice president of Electronic Arts-owned Bioware, said FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1 will support 4K this fall, while Mass Effect Andromeda will support 4K and HDR next year. Andromeda was playable in the arcade with a dark alien world showcasing the lighting effects and visuals that HDR opens up on a 4K display.

Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man was shown in 4K during the presentation to illustrate the level of depth and detail in the distance as tiny pedestrians were crisp and clear as Spidey sat perched high atop a building, every crevice and fiber in his suit crystal clear. Meanwhile, Naughty Dog said it was “fairly easy” to go back and add 4K and HDR support to Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us. Both games were playable, and a chase sequence in Uncharted 4 featured explosions that are dozens of times brighter than what a conventional TV can display. Additionally, an underwater sequence showcased HDR as the sunlight came down through the water and highlighted the coral reef.

Ubisoft’s For Honor was featured during the press conference and playable at the arcade. Cerny pointed out that 4K opens up the intensity of the combat and the authenticity of the experience through more detailed models and textures for both the environment and the warriors battling within them. Meanwhile, Tripwire Interactive’s Killing Floor 2, which GameStop will publish for PS4 Pro and PS4, was featured as an example of what smaller teams can bring to titles using 4K. Tripwire said this technology not only adds more lighting to the darker environments, but brings the blood-soaked snowscape to life in a way that allows the player to traverse the environment more safely.

Rise of the Tomb Raider was shown in the press conference and playable afterward. Square Enix said 4K unlocks new details like the work that went into Lara Croft’s hair, as well as the clothes she wears, and the huge environments, including more realistic waterfalls and full realized backdrops. Meanwhile, Square Enix’s other hit game, Deus Ex Mankind Divided was also shown with a playable demo afterward. Although already launched, a patch will add 4K and HDR support to the game. Cerny said this technology brings to life the extreme level of detail in both environment and characters that the developers created, but previously weren’t able to be seen on console systems.

Guerrilla Games was on hand to show a new level of Horizon: Zero Dawn featuring 4K and HDR support. The developer said this technology ultimately brings thier vision to life more accurately, since everything from the worlds to the characters are more visually stunning and more immersive. Similarly, developer Impulse Gear showed the leap 4K provides for PlayStation VR with its first-person shooter, Farpoint. The developer said the Unreal Engine 4 game features four times the visual clarity on PS4 Pro, which makes the immersion within the virtual world much more realistic.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spices All The Things In New Marketing Campaign

It’s that time of year again when the leaves begin to turn, and when grocery store aisles are lined with candy and everything gets a pumpkin spice makeover.

Starbucks, the most notorious of all pumpkin spice peddlers, is going all out for this year’s fall promotion—going so far as to create a dedicated Instagram profile, verified Twitter account and its very own sponsored hashtag emoji.

Fans of the sugary-sweet fall tradition can even use a dedicated Facebook Messenger Bot, where users can ask the pumpkin spice latte (PSL) character questions, access animated gifs and photos. The spicy cup of autumn warmth is also creating buzz on Tumblr, with a collection of themed photos, gifs and the ability to share your every own PSL pics with the hashtag #ShowMeYourSpice.

Just as the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake used to appear in the spring, the PSL has become an official herald of the autumn season—and comes with its own dedicated fan base.

To see just how much hype is generated by the annual launch of the PSL, social media analytics company Spredfast collected some interesting statistics in the week leading up to the Tuesday’s menu re-launch.

In the week leading up to the re-launch, tweets about the drink reached a maximum of 2,855 per minute. However, once the drink launched, that number leaped to 5,076 tweets per minute. In total, the phrase “pumpkin spice latte” and the abbreviated hashtag #PSL have racked up over 56.8 million tweets.


According to the report, there have been more than 731,000 posts tagged with #pumpkin on Instagram related to the drink and another 468,000 labeled with #PSL. Moreover, Starbucks’ PSLs receive 493 percent more likes per photo than shots tagged with #Starbucks.

Starbucks’ PSL is back for its 13th year and remains the coffee king’s most popular menu item. Since 2015, the PCL contains real pumpkin and no caramel color, although its nutritional value and addictive properties are another topic altogether.

Whether or not the drink itself will kill you, Starbucks is totally killing it on social media.

Twitch: ‘Streamline’ Brings Gamers, Viewers And Brands Together

Twitch is all about the relationship between gamers and their viewers, so the social video platform has come up with an even more interactive way to bring players and audiences together. Streamline is the first in a series of Stream First games—which are specifically designed to be played by Twitch streamers with their fans. Developed by Proletariat, Streamline is a third-person multiplayer action game that pits player against player, viewer against player and viewer against viewer. Game rules and stage conditions are ever-changing, as voted on by the spectators, from making players move slowly to turning the ground into lava. Spectators can also place bets on which runner will emerge victorious against the lone hunter and even play bingo against other viewers based on in-game events.

“Stream First games evolved out of streamers wanting to involve their viewers in the games they were playing and developers recognizing this desire,” said Brooke Van Dusen, director of game developer success at Twitch in a statement. “Streamline is the perfect example of the pieces coming together just right with the Streamline Road to TwitchCon Tournament illustrating the potential for this new genre in the competitive gaming space.” Streamline tournament hopefuls will compete from September 12 to 16, with the top players winning a trip to TwitchCon 2016 to battle it out on October 1.


Currently in alpha stage and “active development,” Streamline is headed for an official tournament at TwitchCon 2016 with a whopping $10,000 prize pool and naturally, viewer participation. Other titles will also be on display at the event, including H1Z1, a zombie survival game. Building on the success of Twitch Plays events, each Stream First game was created from the ground up to be played by both gamers and audiences together. Streamline, however was the top choice as TwitchCon’s featured game, thanks to being developed specifically for the streaming platform. “We’ve been working with [Proletariat] closely for the past year on making an experience that is fun and unique to Twitch,” Van Dusen told [a]listdaily. “For example, the game uses TwitchID as its primary identification system.”

“Developers of Stream First games focus on the unique ways broadcasters engage their audiences on Twitch and then create features to enhance those experiences,” Van Dusen further explained. “In Streamline‘s case, one of the many things they focused on was how broadcasters enjoy playing games with their viewers. However, the process of setting up matches with one’s Twitch community is extremely difficult. Streamline built a system so that not only is that process automated and simple, but the game itself does a great job of ensuring lots of folks can participate and share the spotlight among a broadcaster’s entire community. ”

Audience participation strengthens the power of influencer marketing, so it’s no wonder that brands will be able to benefit from Stream First titles. “We’ve seen lots of Twitch Plays activations from brands this year,” Van Dusen said, “Such as Totino’s Bucking Couch Bowl, [where the] game is controlled by chat commands. Stream First games take Twitch Plays a step further by involving the audience in a metagame where they not only interact, but compete and win. This definitely opens up the opportunity for brands to do even more fun and creative campaigns on Twitch.”

Björk And Unity Take VR Engagement To A Whole New Level

Icelandic singer and actress Björk made history last week by conducting the world’s first live motion capture press conference at the European launch of the Björk Digital exhibit—an interactive VR experience that spans her career. After experiencing the exhibit, press attendees engaged with Björk during the Q&A session through a virtual avatar, which captured her movements and reactions in real-time via the Unity 3D engine. The artist could hear, see and respond to the audience (located at London’s Somerset House) from Reykjavik, Iceland.

Björk has been a long-time supporter of immersive technologies such as virtual reality, which has become most evident with her 2015 album, Vulnicura. Four songs from the album have been transformed into 360-degree VR experiences, with plans to convert the remaining five songs as Björk Digital tours the world. Meanwhile, the live motion captured press conference represents a major milestone in technology, showing the potential VR applications for other live performances and entertainment experiences such as concerts, sports events and speeches.

Marcos Sanchez, head of global communications at Unity Technologies and Andrew Melchior, the technical producer of Björk Digital from Third Space Agency, spoke to [a]listdaily about how they brought the artist’s vision to life.

How did Unity become involved with Björk’s digital exhibit and real-time motion captured press conference?

Sanchez: We were approached by the team that put together the press conference after they had chosen Unity to be the platform on which they would base the experiences. We love working with artists who are pushing the boundaries between technology, art and people. They really did all the heavy lifting; we just worked in an advisory capacity.

Can you describe the Björk digital exhibit?

Melchior: The Björk Digital exhibit is an eclectic mixture of virtual reality, immersive audiovisual technologies, real instruments, a 5.1 cinema room and a tablet based ‘Biophilia’ music making application.

The foundation of the touring show is the brilliant ‘Black Lake’ immersive film installation created by Björk with James Merry and director Andrew Huang for MoMA in New York. This features two large projection screens showing versions of Andrew’s amazing piece shot in the subterranean lava caves of Iceland.

Then we have three mobile 360 film virtual reality experiences for the songs ‘Stonemilker’, ‘Mouth Mantra’ and ‘Quicksand’. These extraordinary audiovisual works by Björk were done in collaboration with her creative collaborator James Merry, Andrew Huang, Jesse Kanda, Dentsu Lab in Tokyo, Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones. They transport the viewers to visit Björk on a beach, look out of her actual mouth and then fire augmented reality visuals in and out of her amazing ‘Rottlace’ face mask in linear 360 videos.

For this section of the Björk Digital exhibition, we use mobile VR players to let visitors watch the 360 VR films on a phone with the best quality headphones to make sure the dynamic, immersive audio is as great as the visuals. The 4K equirectangular 360 films are hung around a dome created in a special Unity shell to make robust standalone applications that are suited to the play, pause, rewind and repeat of the gallery environment and are capable of utilizing the full audio rendering capabilities within the Unity authoring platform.

The last piece, ‘Notget’ is a real departure creatively and technologically from the linear 360 films and uses the virtual reality real-time game engine in Unity, a fully featured high-end head mounted display, fast computers with powerful video graphics cards and room tracking cameras. This places the visitor into a mysterious, and dynamic computer generated environment featuring Björk in an amazing 3D motion capture performance directed by the visionary directors Nick Thornton Jones and Warren du Preez.

How did Björk explain her vision and what she wanted to do?

Melchior: I find the creative and technical process with Björk, who has such breadth and depth as an artist, is always an iterative and innovative journey with her and her creative, production and management teams.

Björk has always absorbed and experimented with a wide spectrum of horizon scanning technical innovations, VR being the latest in a long line of technologies she has implemented creatively in her recording career. In this instance, we first all met while discussing augmented reality (AR) and how real-time holographic media was starting to become a real possibility with emerging devices and opportunities for new layers of immersion and interaction. Devices being ushered in, such as those being presented by Google’s mixed reality startup Magic Leap and their counterparts from Microsoft and Apple, gave us all some exciting pause for thought about the adjacent possible.

Björk and James were excited about the creative potential for the real world scans we made of Iceland with the X-Rez team and their LIDAR (light and radar) drone captures of the countryside during the making of Black Lake. Björk, James and Andy Huang had a rich palette of 3D objects and assets from the post production outputs from the ‘Black Lake’ film, and they were able to insert these materials into an object-based world browser concept as a kind of VR collage.

The full downloadable Vulnicura VR album experience has been designed by them to test the musical boundaries of this new medium and place the viewer in the middle of an Icelandic volcanic tundra, using the frozen lava motif of Björk from the ‘Family’ moving album cover as its central navigation and song browser. Above this striking frozen lava sculpture of Björk are visual ‘totems’ that depict the album song titles. The user then navigates around each experience by staring at the totem of their choice and teleporting into the distinct pieces.

The overall effect and impact of this first VR Album plays very much to Björk’s passionate interest in Icelandic ecology and uses VR to allow the viewer to connect with the musical landscape that offered Björk her inspiration for the tracks on Vulnicura.

How was Björk’s avatar developed?

Melchior: The amazing streaming avatar was designed by Andy Huang for Björk using scans of her body and face augmented with his own masterly digital paintbrush skills featured in the soon to be premiered ‘Family’ VR narrative. It is based on sketches Björk made and three years of discussions between her, Andrew Huang and James Merry.

The model created by Andy was given to our super skilled Unity developers and animation team Twisted Oak, in San Francisco, who rigged the model with the experienced assistance of Unity Technologies engineers and The Imaginarium Studios motion capture specialist teams based in Ealing, here in the UK. The team in Iceland used MotionBuilder to capture and stream Björk’s motion capture performance data from the Icelandic Multimedia School in Reykjavik live into Unity, which was running in real-time at Somerset House in London and displayed for journalists on the Björk Cinema room screen with 5.1 audio.

What does the virtual interactive press conference represent for the future of VR?

Sanchez: We believe that some of the most compelling applications for VR will have a social component and will involve transcending traditional physical boundaries so people can interact in other realities. At some point in the near future, that same press conference could be done completely virtually with each person putting on a headset to enter a room as the avatar of their choice—talking and interacting just as they would in a traditional press conference. Imagine the holodeck, and you see where we’re going.

How do you think other brands take advantage of real-time motion capture?

Sanchez: Motion capture can be used in everything from gameplay to movies, to virtual experiences. By capturing people’s real physical movements and inserting into other worlds, you’re offering them the ultimate in immersive experiences, which gives brands the emotional connection that they seek. I don’t think we really know exactly what those will look like yet—it’s a brave new world, and were just in the experimentation stages when it comes to understanding what works and what doesn’t. That said, we’ve already seen some amazing things including the fully immersive Ghostbusters Experience at Madame Tussauds that was created by The Void. Expect to see more as people get even more creative.

PlayStation 4 Goes Pro With 4K Graphics And ‘Forward Compatibility’

Wednesday’s PlayStation Meeting press conference, held in New York City, catered to the love of superior video game and movie graphics with the reveal of PlayStation 4 Pro, an improved version of the PS4. Code named “Neo” during Sony’s E3 press conference this summer, PlayStation 4 Pro will come equipped with a faster processor, a 1TB hard drive, better graphics and support for 4K resolution.

Sony’s move into 4K isn’t surprising—Microsoft unveiled a similarly upgraded version of the Xbox One at E3 this year, code named Project Scorpio. It will also feature support for 4K display and is expected to launch next fall. Never one to bow to the competition, Sony is one-upping Microsoft by releasing PlayStation 4 Pro on November 10 for $399. What was surprising about this press conference was that there was hardly any mention of virtual reality, as the PlayStation VR launches next month, presumably because there’s nothing new to report between E3, Gamescom and PAX West. Instead, Sony aimed to excite viewers with just how shiny and beautiful new games can be by demonstrating Mass Effect: Andromeda and Horizon: Zero Dawn—two of many games that will offer sharper graphics when played on the PlayStation Pro. In fact, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Modern Warfare Remastered, and Black Ops 3 will all be getting Day One patches for PlayStation 4 Pro consoles.

“PS4 Pro is not intended to blur the line between console generations,” Mark Cerny, the chief architect for the PS4, said on stage. “Instead, the vision is to take the PS4 experience to extraordinary new levels.”

In addition to offering a slim version of the PS4 and better graphics for both future and current PlayStation games, as Sony discussed the concept of being “forward compatible.” A firmware update next week will enable all PS4 consoles from the original 2013 base model to the Pro to playback in high dynamic range (HDR). Of course, you’ll need a television that supports HDR to enjoy the improved graphics.

The Strategic Marketing Importance Of Customer Support

Marketing is often focused on acquiring new customers, but keeping existing customers through good customer support is much more cost-effective. In fact, existing customers are your best targets for new sales—one study shows that you have a 60-70 percent chance of getting new business from existing customers versus only a 5 to 20 percent chance of selling to new prospects. So it makes sense to make good customer support part of your marketing strategy, and make sure you’re doing a great job.

Customer support has changed with the vast array of technologies available. Some of those technologies have been used badly, as anyone who gets stuck in a seemingly endless series of phone menus can attest. There are those companies that have used the latest technology to make customer support a far better experience, and even contribute substantially to larger marketing goals. One of those companies is Helpshift, which is providing a mobile solution for customer support.

Helpshift Abinath Tripathy
Helpshift CEO Abinash Tripathy

Helpshift customer support software is installed on some 1.3 billion devices, helping on average 130 million people per month. Recently, [a]listdaily spoke with Helpshift CEO and co-founder Abinash Tripathy about the importance of customer support to marketing, and how Helpshift contributes to marketing goals.

What does Helpshift provide that’s different from other support platforms?

Helpshift is the world’s first customer support platform for mobile. My co-founder, Baishampayan Ghose, and I discovered that no other CRM solution focused on mobile-first, so we created it. Our company provides an enterprise-class experience inside mobile, and that’s what sets us apart. There are other companies with large products and services that would love to say they’ve done this, but it’s a complicated space and we’re the first to master it.

What’s the importance of good customer support to marketing?

Great customer support and marketing go hand-in-hand, especially in the mobile economy. For example, Pokémon GO’s lack of a clear path to service—when users come across server issues or item issues—they take to social media and other mediums to vent. If the problem can be resolved at the time of the issue, a bad image would be prevented from forming. Also, with great customer support, you’re more likely to keep customers engaged, creating retention marketing: increasing the likelihood of repeated purchases. Like Jason Wesbecher, Contributor to Entrepreneur.com, said, “customer care is your best marketing strategy.”

Over the past five years, there’s been an interesting shift in CRM where it has moved from being a pure revenue-tracking tool to a “front office platform,” which allows a company to service their customers and drive more deals into the funnel. It has expanded from being a system of record for sales teams to a suite that has capability to service or support your customers and the ability to drive more leads via marketing automation. CRM was largely built for for B2B companies. Helpshift entered the industry as the first B2C mobile CRM and other companies started to follow suit.

What is proactive support, and how is that important?

Proactive support is engaging with customers before an issue arises. Apps need proactive customer support and qualitative feedback to grow fast. In the mobile economy, it’s imperative for businesses, large and small, to proactively support and engage with their customers on devices they’re intimately attached to. With in-app support, apps are able to turn positive feedback into higher app store rating. Customer support helps build five star apps.

Can you share with us some examples of how Helpshift has made a difference in customer support?

Helpshift’s data scientists polled the company’s entire install base of 1.3 billion devices. The result revealed that of the 1.3 billion devices polled, 20 percent actively sought help. Of that 20 percent (284 million users) only seven percent proceeded to file a support ticket after utilizing a specific self-service FAQ provided in-app. That’s because of Helpshift.

Also, one of our clients, Shyp, was able to reduce customer support tickets by 25 percent after just one month of incorporating our SDK into their app. You can find the case study here.Helpshift Sample

Do you think that this sort of support is helpful in creating, building, and maintaining a community around a game? Can Helpshift be used to not only connect people with customer support, but with a community as well?

Definitely! Our client Zynga is a great example of that. Helpshift’s solutions allowed Zynga to create a quality VIP experience for their best users through retention and activation. Zynga has a sophisticated, data-driven, VIP program that helps them keep loyal gamers they care about, engaged and happy.

With the massive success of Pokémon GO, there were many issues and problems in the first few weeks. Niantic seemed to be taken by surprise at the level of success. How could Helpshift be of assistance to companies who may not have the staff to handle a huge surge in customers right away?

Helpshift serves small to large companies. Our client, Flipboard, is a great example of handling customer surges. Flipboard has an 80 million user base with a team of three. With Helpshift’s in-app FAQs and messaging, they were able to cut their interactions down by half. You can read the full case study here.

How do you see chatbots evolving in the future, and what will they do to help marketing? What does Helpshift plan for the future of its product?

I believe A.I. needs to mature before chatbots can see a stronger future. They present unique opportunities for marketing in terms of personalized content, calls-to-action, and a wealth of data about the customer. They automate many of the processes behind customer service—not replacing humans, but driving efficiency in the customer support workflow. You’ll have to follow our company news to see what we’re planning for the future.

How The Apple Event Provided More Marketing Moxie Than Ever Before

The Apple Event never fails to get the internet talking, but just to be safe, Apple used the hashtag #AppleEvent, sponsored a custom hashtag emoji and touted a promoted tweet on Twitter this year for more marketing moxie. The annual fall event was livestreamed across AppleTV, iOS devices and on Microsoft’s new browser, Edge, a nice subtle way of wooing Android users to the platform. Recently named the world’s most valuable portfolio, Apple pulled out all of the stops for this year’s announcements—or lack thereof if you’re part of a legion of shunned MacBook professionals in desperate need of an upgrade. So let’s get to it.

iphone 7 apple event

iPhone 7

It was no surprise that the iPhone 7 was officially introduced on Wednesday, with pre-orders available beginning Friday. The 32GB iPhone 7 will retail for $649 (the same starting price as the iPhone 6) and $769 for the 32GB iPhone 7 Plus. Public service announcement: be a decent human and don’t do anything that will shame the progress of mankind.

The iPhone 7 features two rear cameras and live previews of camera shots with a shallow depth of field. Photos taken on the iPhone 7 Plus will be able to achieve a very sharp foreground and blurry background for all those artistic shots of the chicken Caesar salad you’ll surely incessantly snap during lunch. The new phone may look an awful lot like the iPhone 6, but there is one notable difference—the absence of a headphone jack. Keep reading before your heart explodes.

Apple introduced the AirPod wireless headphones that can be paired to the device with the touch of a button. Each iPhone 7 will ship with the wireless AirPods and a Lightning-to-3.5-millimeter headphone jack adapter. If you want the headphones by themselves, they’ll cost you a cool $159 when they become available this October. If that’s still music to your ears, let’s move on to . . .

Nike+ Apple Watches (Source: Apple)
Nike+ Apple Watches (Source: Apple)

Watch Out(side)

The new Apple Watch appears to be the same aesthetically but features built-in GPS and is water-resistant up to 50 meters, which means it will track swim activity, which really means you can be the next Michael Phelps by the 2020 Olympics, or Ryan Lochte if you only have plans to abuse and misuse it.

A strategic partnership with Nike resulted in a special Apple Watch designed for fitness. The Nike+ version is aimed at runners and will “hit the road”—and your bank account—in late October for $369. The first Apple Watch focused heavily on fitness; the Nike+ version includes many health apps as well as calories burned and mileage and step tracking. Compared to previous versions, Apple has added several new features with the athlete in mind including water resistance for swimming, built-in GPS and a brighter display for daytime activities.


Ninten-DO on the Ninten-GO

Super Mario Run is a new game headed to iOS devices this holiday season, starring the world’s most famous plumber—sorry for the snub Thomas Crapper! Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario Brothers, took to the stage and demonstrated the colorful, one-handed gameplay design, which features multiplayer and the chance to customize your very own Mushroom Kingdom. In addition to Mario’s mushroom-stomping marathon, Pokémon GO will be available for Apple Watch by the end of 2016, allowing players to access game features without having to pull out their phones. What a time to be alive!