NPD has released its monthly video game sales report for September 2016, and it was definitely the month for sports games with NBA 2K17, NHL 17 and FIFA 17 launching at number one, three and four, respectively. Despite these popular releases, overall software sales were down 23 percent over September last year. In fact, every category (hardware, software and accessories) saw a decline year-over-year except for PC software, which saw an increase of three percent.
Sony’s PS4 Slim released in September, but the new console, together with other video game hardware, brought in sales of just $234.3 million compared to $311.7 million in September 2015. Xbox One was the best-selling hardware for the month and accounted for 37 percent of all hardware units sold. Not surprisingly, Xbox One accessories experienced a surge thanks to the release of an Xbox One Elite controller and the new Xbox One S controller. Unfortunately, the new Xbox One S and its accessories were unable to offset declines in spending from other systems, with an overall decline of 10 percent over last year.
NPD’s video game industry analyst, Sam Naji notes that despite a drop in Wii U sales, Nintendo is experiencing renewed interest in the 3DS. “The 3DS experienced its fourth consecutive month of increased hardware unit sales compared to last year,” said Naji. “Since the release of Pokémon GO back in July 2016, the 3DS has experienced a resurgence in hardware spending.”
As predicted, No Man’s Sky experienced a strong launch in August but did not make the top ten following controversy over advertising practices. September was a strong month for 2K’s annual sports titles, and Madden NFL 17 still experienced strong sales in its second month. Amazingly, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V remains in the top ten month after month, although it dropped three spots to number seven.
The NPD’s top 10 best-selling games for September 2016 are:
Asterisks indicate that digital sales were not accounted for (or purchases made on Battle.net, in the case of Overwatch).
“Interactive gaming toy (IGT) accessory spending reached $13M, which is 75 percent less than a year ago,” Naji reported. “Last year, Lego Dimensions launched, Skylanders: SuperChargers released and there were 13 new Amiibos. This year, the new Skylanders accessory, Skylanders: Imaginators, is expected to release in October 2016 and no new Amiibos launched in September 2016.”
In fact, total accessory spending (excluding Point Cards) saw a decline of 30 percent compared to September 2015. With no new interactive releases in September, consumers spent $47 million less than they did last year.
Sid Meier is one of the few game developers left today whose name is included in the title of almost every game he makes. 2K Games and Firaxis have launched Civilization VI in tandem with the celebration of 25 successful years for the strategy franchise that has combined Meier’s own love of history with strategic gameplay and has kept players coming back for more.
Meier, who has been developing games since 1982, has seen many changes in the industry. Today, even his son, Ryan, works at Firaxis as a designer and programmer. We caught up with the game industry legend in this exclusive interview.
What are your thoughts are about the fact that so many people are watching games on Twitch or YouTube more than they’re playing games themselves?
Yeah, that kind of destroys my whole theory about why games are fun. It was amazing to me to watch StarCraft players, for example, and see these amazing experts who got everything figured out; every hot button and every keystroke optimized, and people watching that. What I eventually realized is that they believe that that world is interesting and they’ve had a lot of experiences in the StarCraft world. So it’s meaningful to them to see how an expert player would play.
I always thought games were interactive, you were the star, and you were creating the story, but I guess it’s become so much a part of our culture and our set of experiences that it’s interesting to see how someone else would go through that same game and you can learn from that.
You mentioned StarCraft, which has been an eSport for years. What are your thoughts just on the fact that video games today are considered a sport?
I’m skeptical. I guess it depends on your definition of sports. It used to be fresh that air was involved in sports and actual motion of all of your body parts, but it’s probably a good example of how technology is becoming more and more an integral part of our lives. I would call it e-skills. I’d be more comfortable looking at it that way that there are people who have these incredible video game skills, and to watch them play is really entertaining and enlightening. I think you can probably have a fruitful discussion about whether it’s a sport or not.
You’ve been around long enough to have seen previous iterations of VR, but what do you think about the current VR landscape with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR?
It’s more different than any other new technology that’s come around for a long time, in ways that are good and also challenging. The immersiveness of the experience is incredible. That comes with a few side effects that are cautionary, and we’re going to have to change our way of thinking about games to a certain extent to really leverage what’s special about VR. I think that will happen. Game designers are smart people, and they’ll figure things out, but it’s a fairly revolutionary kind of technology. I think it will kind of exist in a parallel path with regular computer and video games, as opposed to being tacked on. VR games will be a fairly special separate subcategory of games. And we’re in the very, very early stages of exploring what the possibilities are. The killer app, as we used to say, for VR hasn’t been created yet. It’s something that probably will be coming along and we’ll say, “A-ha, that’s how it’s going to work. Okay, we get it now.”
How have you seen the Civilization franchise evolve over the last 25 years?
We’ve really been responding to the community. They let us know what works, what doesn’t, and what they want to see. That’s what really has kept Civ alive and vibrant and new; that dialogue that we have with the community out there. They’re making mods and they’re on forums. They’re sending us information. We now have telemetry to tell what things are going out there and connecting. We’re gamers ourselves, and we can identify with the mindset of the players that are playing our game. And that allows us to stay current and it allows us to anticipate, in a lot of cases, what they’re going to want. That’s really the key to the longevity of Civ: respecting the community of players that are playing the game.
How has that community become a part of Firaxis over the years?
A lot of our designers have come from that community. When you look back through all the designers of the past games, from Soren Johnson to Jon Shafer, they came from the community. Shafer was an intern and he was a huge fan. He used to do modding for Civilization IV. A lot of these great new concepts for where we could take the franchise came from people who had grown up with the game. That’s really been effective with constantly injecting these new grand concepts into each title as new designers have come on board.
Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Radio is launching a new radio series called Diggin’ In The Carts, which explores the history of video game music. Similar to the digital video documentary series with the same title RBMA released in 2014, the series discusses the impact and influence of video game soundtracks. The first season of the new radio show will focus on classic Japanese video game soundtracks from the 8-bit, 16-bit and arcade eras. Music and composers from well-known publishers such as Nintendo, Sega, Capcom, Konami, Namco, Sunsoft and others will be featured in the series.
To promote the new Diggin’ In The Carts series, RBMA will be hosting a live AMA on Twitch on November 10, where they will discuss the show, classic video game music and more. Nick Dwyer, host and producer of the series, recently talked with [a]listdaily to discuss celebrating the music that made classic video games so memorable.
What inspired Red Bull Music Academy Radio to create a video series in 2014 that explores video game music?
Like most young kids around the world who grew up in that era, video game music was a massive part of what soundtracked my youth. That music played more in our households than any other music when you think about it, and those melodies stayed with me through to later life. I had a background in making documentaries, and I had also been involved with the Red Bull Music Academy for more than a decade. So, when it was time for the Academy to be hosted in Tokyo in 2014, I suggested we produce a series shining the light on the composers of that era. I’m thankful they agreed! The world needed to know who those legends are!
How critical was the music to making classic games memorable?
Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think it really was the most important element [laughs]. Okay yes, the gameplay has to be good, but you think about the classics like Mario and Sonic—the soundtracks were incredible, and you didn’t mind being stuck on levels with those tracks playing on loop because Koji Kondo and Masato Nakamura had nailed the art of making looped music so damn good. But if a soundtrack was poor, you’d give up on those games pretty quickly, right?
When you think about it, if you’re listing off the most memorable games of that era, chances are that—first and foremost—those games had a killer soundtrack.
What kind of audience are you reaching out to with the radio series?
What’s been super important for me with the radio series—and what was super important to Tu (my co-director on the video series) and I when we made the documentary—is we wanted to present the music of that era not as just “music made for a video game,” but as this unique period of pioneering Japanese electronic music.
We specifically shot sequences that were detached from game graphics so that the audience would just listen and be like “damn, in its own right it’s incredible music.” So, with the radio series, I’ve expanded on that. The series isn’t necessarily about the most famous tracks from the biggest titles. I’ve been digging deep through the history and selecting tracks that I feel stand on their own as unique electronic music, irrespective of the fact that they were created initially to serve a purpose in the context of a video game.
So, this is very much aimed at not just fans of that era of music, but also electronic music fans the world over who can appreciate this music without having played the games or even being fans of classic video games. We’ve been lucky as well, in that we’ve got some of the world’s most respected contemporary artists who have been involved in the project—artists like Just Blaze, Flying Lotus, Mumdance, Thundercat, Ryan Hemsworth and a whole lot more just to show how much the music itself has influenced the world and its appeal is more than just nostalgia for video game fans.
How did you get publishers and composers on board?
I’m based in Tokyo now and have relationships with the game companies. It was a lot of work, a lot of meetings, and a lot of meishi (Japanese business etiquette) when we made the video series, but it was worth it. Also, a lot of the composers have now become friends of mine, and I catch up with them regularly. We’re currently working on a couple of other projects that I can’t talk about just yet, but they’re pretty exciting, and we’re working super close with the publishers and composers on those projects.
What convinced you to host an AMA on Twitch?
I jumped at the chance! It’s the biggest and best platform for video game culture in the world, right? So, it’s an honor to be able to get the opportunity to tell the Twitch audience what we’re doing with the series. One thing for sure is that gaming audiences know their stuff and their history, but I’m hoping there will be a few things that even the deepest fans of that era didn’t know about. Also, if anyone missed it the first time around, hopefully it will lead an all new audience back to the video series which Tu and I are still super proud of.
I’ll be in New York Thursday, November 10 to do the AMA, which I’m pretty damned excited about!
What would you say are some of the most influential game soundtracks around?
In terms of global influence, then definitely the work that Yuzo Koshiro did for the Streets of Rage series; Yoko Shimomura’s work for Street Fighter II; and I also have to give Square a mention for what Nobuo Uematsu did for the Final Fantasy series. Also, Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack for Chrono Trigger still stands as one of the greatest soundtracks in the history of video game music.
What is your favorite classic video game soundtrack?
Oh man, it’s hard, and it’s changing all the time. When I was researching for the video series, I’d gone pretty deep, but for the radio series, I pretty much listened through the entire history of Japanese video game music including all of the Japanese-only platforms like PC8801 and MSX (although the MSX was big in places like Brazil and available in Russia).
At the moment, I’ve got to make mention of a Japanese company called Masaya—all of their soundtracks for the PC Engine are incredible. Also pretty much everything that was produced by Konami with the SCC sound expansion chip for MSX titles. But if I were to pick one soundtrack above all that everyone should check out, it would this super obscure mahjong game called The Mahjong Touhaiden; it’s this minimalist masterpiece and features in an upcoming episode of the series.
On this episode of [a]live, we’re joined by Will Maurer, VP of VR and VFX for Legend 3D—the studio behind some of the hottest VR, 3D and visual effects in entertainment today. Maurer and his company made waves at San Diego Comic Con 2016 with The Cosmic Crusaders by Stan Lee, a VR experience that brings a comic to life.
Maurer explained how quick turnaround and budget restraints forced creativity for the project. “Stan [Lee] hadn’t done VR yet, so his team was basically open to whatever we could put together in the time frame,” Maurer related. Since they weren’t able to recreate the entire comic in VR from the ground up, Legend decided to take the 2D motion comic and build a 360 environment from the series. Stan Lee “morphs in like only Stan Lee can” and provides an intro and outro to each motion comic. The story then plays on a big screen within the VR, 360 experience.
San Diego Comic Con has provided opportunities for Maurer and his team to create unique—and wildly popular—attractions in collaboration with brands. While the obvious choice for VR is entertainment, Maurer shared some insight into how his company has expanded into other industries.
“Entertainment, marketing and brands have driven content for the most part—the good quality content where there are real budgets behind them to produce,” said Maurer. “We had an opportunity to work on the Suicide Squad piece for Comic Con, we launched the Stan Lee piece for Comic Con, we worked on the Crimson Peak piece for last year’s Comic Con and a lot of marketing-driven, scripted content. [We also] worked with brands like Master Card and Patrón so that’s where the money’s been funneling in. We’re developing a real estate VR platform as well . . . so we’re working with a company called Rex on that technology and bringing the VR marketplace to the real estate sector.”
When it comes to adding VR to other areas of entertainment, Maurer found that many brands don’t know what they want, exactly—only that they want in on the action. As more people understand the process, it will help them to plan better VR stories from the ground up.
“We found an opening working with studios and filmmakers to educate them on what happens in post for VR,” Maurer said. “As that happens more often, you’re going to see stories being created in a way that look better or are shot better or directed better—camera choices and movements that are more thought out.”
Nintendo has formally announced its plans to enter the world of eSports, among other exciting news with the anticipated reveal of its NX console—now formerly called the Nintendo Switch. The new gaming platform is a hybrid console, tablet and hand held device that allows seamless transition from the TV to wherever users want to go. Although battery life and other specs were not revealed, memory-heavy games featured in the reveal trailer include Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Skyrim and NBA 2K17. Perhaps the most significant section of the trailer, however, was Nintendo’s entry into eSports with Splatoon, a first-person (ink) shooter that was featured in a tournament during Gamescom thanks to a strategic partnership with ESL.
Among a sea of next-gen consoles and virtual reality, Nintendo’s innovation takes a different approach by expanding on the many ways video games can be integrated into daily life. Rather than tethering oneself to a console or being limited with the type of games playable on a handheld device, Nintendo has combined the two, favoring functionality and user interface over shiny new graphics—although the Nintendo Switch features a large, HD display on which gamers can enjoy some very pretty games.
“Nintendo Switch allows gamers the freedom to play however they like,” said Reggie Fils-Aimé, president and COO of Nintendo of America in a statement. “It gives game developers new abilities to bring their creative visions to life by opening up the concept of gaming without boundaries.”
The new console docks as part of a user’s entertainment system and can be removed for a variety of play styles either alone or with friends. The unique versatility of the Nintendo Switch and its many controller options will translate over to developers and marketing teams to reach a more diverse range of audiences. Over 40 confirmed development partners include Telltale Games, Sega, Capcom, Square Enix, Epic Games and even Niantic of Pokémon GO fame. Although a camera was not featured in the console’s reveal trailer, the idea of augmented reality on Nintendo Switch would further add to its appeal.
Between Nintendo Switch and the company’s partnership with Apple, the company is taking a marketing approach that’s rather the opposite of virtual reality. Rather than ask what worlds Nintendo can transport you to, the Nintendo Switch allows consumers to integrate gaming into their everyday lives—free to make their own memories that lead to brand loyalty.
VRTIFY is the new virtual reality social network that gives its users a new way to experience and share music. That includes creating VR environments and channels, sharing concert experiences and playlists, and doing more with services such as Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Instagram, YouTube and Google Street View. Users can choose to either stick with a free experience or they can upgrade to a premium version that removes ads and provides subscriber access to special pay-per-view events.
The app is currently in beta and will be launch for a variety of virtual and mixed reality devices in January 2017, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, iOS, Android, Microsoft HoloLens and Meta.
The company’s CEO and founder, Facundo Diaz, describes the VRTIFY as “the world’s first virtual and mixed reality (MxR) music distribution platform.” He talks to [a]listdaily about creating a platform that brings users together using music like never before.
What inspired the idea to combine music, VR and social features?
When we first started in the virtual reality industry five years ago, we saw that the emergence of technologies like VR, AR and MxR would change many industries (gaming, entertainment, tourism, education, cinema, etc.), so we directed all of our efforts into the music industry—in which we believe will be the most impactful in terms of experiences, adoptions, revenues and more. Music has always been an experience to share with others.
How does VRTIFY work to create a new market for the music industry?
By offering an end-to-end solution for each stakeholder, transforming music content into new virtual experiences using high-end technology and creating a new market for the music industry through our revenue sharing business model.
How is VRTIFY different from 360-degree videos and concerts that are found on YouTube and Facebook?
In terms of content, we produce fully immersive 3D/360 stereoscopic videos and experiences. YouTube and Facebook only support 360 plain videos. And in terms of distribution, we offer high quality VR and MxR music content through our premium channels (like Netflix, but for music experiences) and allow users to socialize within the platform, share their favorite content, create their own playlists and groups and also provide them with the tools to create their own content and channels. User channels address our content quality requirements and our premium content can start to generate revenue for the channel’s creator.
Does VRTIFY support virtual reality live streaming for events?
Yes, we offer a live multi-camera 3D/360 streaming where users can move around during live concerts, changing the place from where they experience the concert. In our mixed reality app, the consumer could place the artist or the band in the middle of their living room and see the band visual playing just for them.
Are there any music artists that are helping to promote the platform?
VRTIFY has the world’s largest virtual and mixed reality music library to date and is in the process of increasing its content with additional artists by launch, making it an entirely new distribution destination for music.
In what ways can users discover music using VRTIFY?
VRTIFY offers users 4 immersive sections:
VR/MxR Music Experiences: users can upload, share and select 360-degree environments/videos and integrate them with any mood-type music from online streaming services like Spotify, Deezer, Soundcloud and others to be announced soon, or their own MP3, and create their own music experience in VR and MxR.
Music Videos: 3D/360 HQ produced concerts or video clips.
VR/MxR Livestreaming: multi-camera 3D/360 live streamed events.
VR/MxR Channels: exclusive custom branded channels for artists/music labels/events/brands/etc. to show exclusive content in an immersive way.
How can brands make use of the VRTIFY platform to promote themselves?
Brands can use the VRTIFY platform to promote themselves through:
Advertising: VR/MxR ad production services, targeted ad distribution over the platform, ad management system, CMP.
Sponsorship: Sponsor live events, premium content, artists, VRTIFY channels.
Value to Brand: Create a VRTIFY channel, offer VR/MxR experiences for consumers, show innovative tendency to the global market.
ESL has integrated its competitive gaming systems and technology into the new Tournaments feature Sony Interactive Entertainment has launched on PlayStation 4. This opens up competitive gaming across Sony’s 46 million PS4s worldwide. Any gamer around the world can compete in online game competitions organized by ESL through the PS4, as well as the ESL Play and PlayStation apps.
The first tournaments start today and will feature NBA 2K17. Mortal Kombat X, and Project Cars, with other games joining the ranks in the future.
After sitting on the sidelines during the early days of console eSports, Sony partnered with Activision for last year’s Call of Duty World League. All Activision Call of Duty pro gaming events are now played on PS4. This ESL deal further solidifies Sony’s commitment to eSports, which Newzoo’s CEO, Peter Warman believes has a huge growth opportunity in the console space.
Marcel Menge, managing director of ESL technology, explains how this latest offering will impact the console eSports space in this exclusive interview.
How are you applying your past tournament knowledge to this new PlayStation 4 business?
Over the last 15 years, we have constantly improved the competitive experience on PC games, but as the core part of tournament systems and user interaction was always PC focused, console players had to use a PC as their second device to be able to participate on a console. Starting today, the integration with PlayStation 4 gives users the same intense experience and the same opportunities to participate, as if they were doing it from their PCs.
What does PS4 open up for the average gamer?
Tournaments on the PS4 will allow the average gamer to test their skills in tournaments and compete with similar-minded players. For some, it will open up a career path into eSports; for others it will be just an additional layer to experience the games they love and spend time with friends and the online communities.
How are you working with Sony in this endeavor?
We are working closely with Sony on the development and business of the offering around tournaments. Features and strategy alike are discussed together to find the best solution for the community.
Who’s selecting the games to partner with?
Sony and we are talking to game publishers and developers to select games and decide together with them on how to approach competitive gaming. In the end, the decision is of course with the game publishers to decide if tournaments are the right step for their community.
What has been the initial reaction from game publishers for tournaments?
The feedback has been very positive and interestingly, a lot of game publishers were already active in competitive gaming and see the new tournaments feature as a way to improve the user experience for their community.
What types of prizes will gamers be vying for across the first tournaments?
Most of the tournaments will be community cups without prizes, as the focus should be on having fun and enjoying the games. But there will also be weekly tournaments with small amounts of prize money, and some regions will have tournaments with hardware prizes. We have just launched, and depending on the interest of the communities in different regions, this might change from time to time. Like PlayStation announcing the PlayStation Masters in Germany, and there are several PlayStation Leagues running in various countries with higher prizes.
How do you see prizing evolving, given what you’ve seen on other platforms?
Our goal is to build up a large community of players who are interested in competitive gaming and eSports. When we reach that goal, we are certain that bigger prize money tournaments will start existing around PlayStation 4. There are tons of titles with a lot of potential, and we are looking forward to seeing where and how the competitive communities will grow.
What type of structure will these initial tournaments have in terms of length, and how are you handling different regions?
The initial tournaments will be single elimination bracket tournaments that will be run in one day over a few hours. We already have tons of local tournaments that only players from that country (or small country groups like the US and Canada) can see, but also tournaments for the European and Asian regions. Local tournaments will be handled in the language of the country and will be supported by local referees, while Europe and Asia will be handled in English.
Is there any difference entering these tournaments using ESL Play versus the PlayStation App?
The same tournaments can be entered through the event system on the PlayStation 4, the ESL Play website, the ESL Play and PlayStation mobile apps. It’s possible that in the future there might be tournaments that are exclusively available on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation mobile apps.
How do you see this level of tournaments impacting the professional ranks, given games like NBA 2K and Mortal Kombat X have had eSports competitions?
It will be pushing the already established star players to new levels of play, but even more importantly: the amount of talent and level of play will increase consistently, as it brings fresh blood to the competitive communities when entering tournaments is now so much easier.
Oakley and Intel have partnered for the launch of Radar Pace, a new smart eyewear product that features a real-time voice-activated coaching system to redefine the way athletes train.
The branded innovation, retailing at $450, creates a dynamic training program, tracks performance, virtually coaches in the moment while interpreting data in real time and responds to the user’s questions, allowing people to communicate with the system in a live, natural way during a workout.
[a]listdaily was joined by Scott Smith, vice president of strategic partnerships at Luxottica, the parent company of Oakley, and Chris Croteau, senior director of business development for Intel’s headworn platform division, to discuss how the two brands are pushing the boundaries of innovation.
Scott: CES is a great platform for the innovation industry to introduce breakthrough technology, and it was the perfect time to formally introduce the collaboration between Luxottica and Intel on Radar Pace. Since CES, the Oakley and Intel teams have been hard at work in the final stages of testing to bring this product to market on October 3—timed to a peak in training and working out and notable competitions and races for both runners and cyclists.
Why is Intel in the smartglasses business? What is the brand trying to accomplish in this space?
Chris: Our foray into smartglasses is core to our overall wearables strategy, as we continue to reinvent the boundaries of computing. We’re exploring new form factors that enable more seamless, intuitive interactions with technology that enhances consumers’ everyday experiences. Moving forward, we plan to harness leading-edge technology to continue our development of head-worn devices—both branded (under Recon) and with our external brand partners—that deliver compelling use cases and real-world benefits. This goal, coupled with a commitment to uncompromising design and usability, make Intel unique in the segment.
How is Radar Pace an experimental play that complements the brand’s other “high-tech” glasses?
Scott: Oakley has always been a technology company wrapped in design, and Radar Pace continues Oakley’s legacy of performance sports and innovation. From the early days of Thump to 3D, Airwave and now Radar Pace, Oakley has always focused on making eyewear smart, stylish, functional and fit for optimal performance.
How are you going to be branding this new vertical?
Scott: Radar Pace is being branded as a smart eyewear featuring a real-time voice activated coaching system. It is Oakley’s first foray into electronically enabled products specifically built for runners and cyclists.
What is toughest part about co-branding and co-creating a product? And how do you overcome that?
Scott: As two companies grounded in innovation, this has been a very effective partnership. We combined Oakley’s heritage in sport innovation and design and Intel’s innovation and technology expertise to create Radar Pace. Throughout the process, we of course challenged each other to push the limits of what we could create. For example, we pushed Intel to find a way to house all technology (wiring, casing, battery, etc.), while still maintaining a sleek sunglasses look that fit the Oakley design requirements. As you can see from the product, we were able to overcome that hurdle, together—all tech was outfitted into a 56 gram product which is a consistent weight for Oakley’s high-performance sport eyewear.
How will Intel’s foray into wearables help the company gain momentum against your rivals?
Chris: As the power of computing extends well beyond PCs, tablets and phones, everyday objects are becoming part of a smart and connected ecosystem that will enable complex use cases, inspire innovation and fundamentally alter our relationship with technology. Intel’s end-to-end capabilities are uniquely and strategically positioned to power not only new wearables and smart devices, but also the data centers and technology backbone for actively analyzing, sharing and acting on data in real-time.
What is the best marketing method to reach CrossFit athletes, bicyclists and marathoners—a predominant group of which is a big sample of your consumer base?
Scott: We are looking to reach athletes across sports and fitness levels. The product is for athletes of all levels looking to progress in their sport. They’re focused on pushing boundaries and setting personal goals, are data driven, competitive and social by nature, and see the value in getting the help they need to improve their performance. The product and our communication will resonate with these athletes because they understand the performance impact that Radar Pace will have on their training.
How are you envisioning the long-term direction of the product, and the future of the technology?
Scott: Today, we are completely focused on Radar Pace and giving it the support it needs in the coming months. Radar Pace was designed with the future of technology in mind, and is a product that will regularly receive updates to its operating system and improve over time.
How does wearable technology and other IoT technology fit within the overall company strategy?
Chris: Intel is focused on developing wearables that are a part of the larger intersection between data, the cloud and the Internet of Things, creating a smart and connected network of technology to enable amazing, new experiences and change the way we live. We believe that wearables have the potential to make consumers’ lives easier, challenge organizations to create new business models and enable research that addresses society’s biggest challenges. This is our vision of how IoT will work for us, with wearable devices at the core. With our deep data center experience, along with our new and exciting innovations in wearables and IoT, Intel is uniquely equipped to help make this vision a reality.
Al Roker is known best as the weather anchorman on NBC’s Today, but at the 2016 Livefronts he will be known as founder of the first livestreaming network. Roker Media will be introducing brands to a number of opportunities, including the Never Settle Show—an audience-driven, Facebook Live program hosted by Emmy-award-winning talk show host Mario Armstrong.
Animated and passionate, Armstrong, the show creator and host, wants Never Settle to be all about helping people find their passions and setting them on the path to make their dreams a reality. The show, airing on Facebook Live Wednesday nights, will offer entertainment, guidance, interviews and even homework to build a community that achieves their goals.
Ahead of the show’s presentation at Livefronts, Armstrong gave [a]listdaily some background on the project, as well as what it takes to build an authentic, audience-first experience.
Filling A Need
“Most programming is done to make money,” Armstrong said. “We’re doing programming to make an impact.” Never Settle was inspired by the fact that so many Americans are still trying to find their place in a post-recession world.
“People are still recovering and struggling,” he said, noting that he, himself was laid off in 2007 and a year later, his wife was, too. Armstrong described a shift in the American workplace in which more people are becoming freelancers and entrepreneurs.
At first, it might have started as a necessity, but now it comes from a desire to do what you love and to make a difference in the world. “People just don’t want to give up,” he said. “They don’t want to settle and they desperately need solutions and community. Those are the real reasons we felt that it was time for a show.”
Being a live show on Facebook, Never Settle isn’t targeted only to millennials, Armstrong explained, but it certainly won’t exclude them. In fact, the show’s premise fits nicely into the lifestyle trends of this allusive and sought-after demographic.
“When you look at the millennial generation, they’re mostly focused on not making a ton of money but actually making more impact,” Armstrong noted. “They’re more willing to sacrifice actual finances over making a really big contribution or being happy where they’re working or who they’re working for. All this culminates around the fact that it’s not just cut and dry like it used to be, where you were either an entrepreneur or you worked for someone. Now you’re starting to see 40 or so percent of people becoming freelancers, meaning they aren’t working for one particular company.”
The Never Settle Show sets itself apart not only by being broadcast live each week on Facebook, but being powered by its “members”—what Armstrong calls the community he hopes to create. All guests and programming will be chosen by those who watch the show—not its producers—driving content to be as relevant as possible.
“From a content perspective, the first thing that millennials will appreciate is that it’s crowd-produced—I think that’s a significant difference,” Armstrong explained. “We are willing to let go of control [so] that this show becomes everyone’s show. This isn’t top-down programming, this is bottom-up content. They know that their input is being heard and being put into the show and then we build it. It should be the most relevant show possible for the most people that have decided to participate in that part of the content building. On the tech side, we’re opening the show up in so many ways for that interaction to happen live—we think that’s a fundamentally missing piece of talk programming, specifically. A talk show is meant to be two-way and too often today (and traditionally) talk shows have been one-way. So we’re now in a time where we have so many pieces of technology available to us were we people can place their comments, voice their opinions, shoot video, take pictures and be integrated into the show in real time.”
When members interact with the show via Twitter, Busker, Instagram and Periscope just to name a few, they will be made to feel like honored guests. “We’ll have a live, interactive video wall on the set so people will be able to see themselves actually on the show which I think is really different—really compelling.” Armstrong revealed, excitedly. “The authenticity, the transparency . . . these are things that connect to Millennials as well as content that can actually make an impact.”
Branding That Fits
Mario Armstrong Media is “honing in” on two-to-three tech company partners and also developing its own products that will be featured on the show. Never Settle is described as a mid-week party complete with a guest DJ and even a bartender to serve drinks to the live audience. As the audience arrives to a lively event atmosphere, they will be encouraged to share photos using a branded Snapchat geofilter.
Since members will be choosing who and what they see on Never Settle, this poses a bit of a challenge when it comes to choosing a brand partner. Armstrong confided that a number of guests have already expressed interest—and he hopes he doesn’t hurt any egos—but it’s ultimately up to the audience to decide.
“We need to keep the lights on, we need to pay the bills and we don’t want to have a crappy-looking production,” he remarked. “But that doesn’t mean that advertising drives the conversation. [This new format] gives you an empowering effect to stay honest and not going to those areas that may seem tempting because you need to pay the bills.”
When it comes to courting brands at Livefronts on October 25, not everyone will make the cut. “It has to be intelligent. The minute we do any advertising or brand integration that is not true to the core of the show, the show fails,” Armstrong stressed. “And people will know, too, if things are forced—they’ll feel it. What we’re looking to do with brands is [to] educate them on the power of live streaming and what it can do for [a] brand in terms of reach of real-time interactivity and in terms of video on demand—what happens after the show when people want to replay it and be able to see your brand associated with it. And there’s the bigger piece, which is the content. ‘How does your brand help my viewers?'”
Basketball was not a part of Kobe Bryant’s life—it was life.
From being drafted as a flamboyant 17-year-old kid from high school to retiring as a 38-year-old man and sports icon, a ball and a court is all he’s ever known.
The words that were the embodiment of his being—transcendent, clutch, disciplined, killer, winner, G.O.A.T.—were on full display the last time we saw Bryant in the public eye. On April 13, one of the greatest champions of his generation said farewell in what arguably was the most exhilarating retirement performance of all time.
Bryant’s broken down and brittle body battled its way to 60 points in a game that had no implications other than placing a period in his illustrious basketball book. But Bryant does not conform to the uniformity of a script. He did exactly what a writer is mostly advised against doing—he punctuated his career with an exclamation mark for an ending!
His last game was a mirage featuring a sequence of one miraculous shot dropping in after another. He single-handedly willed his team to a come-from-behind win before dropping the mic and exiting stage right with the now-famous phrase “Mamba Out.”
It was a great story.
Six months later, Kobe Bryant is seated on stage in a ballroom mere steps away from the Staples Center to a packed house of marketing executives at the &THEN Conference. It’s one of his first post-retirement speaking engagements, and he’s talking about how much he enjoys the process of storytelling.
A year ago this time, he was in preseason mode prepping for the final chapter of his Los Angeles Lakers career. Now he’s dressed in a designer suit and full beard, dropping knowledge about investments, marketing and branding as if it were uncontested jump shots.
The second act of Bryant’s career officially started a day before his 38th birthday in August when he rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange and announced a $100 million fund to drive media, technology and data companies.
Meet Kobe Bryant, the Hall of Fame-bound basketball player who is recreating himself as a venture capitalist businessman.
“I want to try and help put entrepreneurs in the best possible situation to be successful,” he says. “That’s all it is—and it starts with the entrepreneur, and them having a vision on how to make the world a better place.”
As part of Kobe Inc., Bryant’s current investments include sports media website The Players Tribune, video game designer Scopely, legal-services company LegalZoom, telemarketing-software firm RingDNA, home-juicing company Juicero, T-shirt company Represent, Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, and VIPKid, a company that provides a North American school experience to children in China. Bryant officially made his first ever investment in the sports drink BodyArmor when he was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon in 2014.
The NBA’s third all-time leading scorer is trying to become the second coming of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan—two hoops predecessors who’ve made more money off the court as savvy businessman than they ever did on it. If Kobe plays the startup scene to precision, he could join their ranks, too.
Bryant spoke on stage about how he’s tackling his newfound passion for business, storytelling and creativity with the same intensity that he did as a five-time NBA champion. Here are the highlights of the conversation, as told by Kobe himself.
On finding his post-basketball identity …
“At around the age of 20, I understood that basketball is not going to be here forever, so it was about figuring out what was going to happen when the [retirement] time comes. The hardest part is figuring out what the passion is going to be. I thought it was important to start at an early age to try and figure out what I’m passionate about and a chance to try things out. It took me about 15 years to finally figure it out. I didn’t know how long I was going to play for. You have to challenge yourself to grow and evolve—with athletes in particular. It’s easy for us athletes to lose our identity. It’s a dangerous zone to be in. It’s common sense for me to go with the same intensity, attention to detail and curiosity. I want to be better now than I was in my previous career.”
On what he wants to accomplish with his $100 million investment fund …
“The entrepreneurs need to have the passion first, and if the product they are creating has a true purpose for existing in the world, you have to start there. We just want to help them be successful.”
On what the Kobe Inc. brand narrative will be …
“We try and help people reach their maximum level of potential. ‘Storytelling,’ along with ‘big data’ are extremely overused words. What we want to do with our stories is have the viewer internalize it. Can we bring out compelling content that moves you in a certain way, where you see yourself through the lens of the story we are creating? If we can do that at Kobe Inc., we’ll be very, very happy.”
On investment strategy …
“We’re flooded with requests every single day, and a lot of the times, it’s relationships. There are certain things that we want to get to. We have to pace those out. We have to have absolute focus. There are other things that are going to come, but that’s way down the road. We have to have a very sharp lens, because we can’t do so many things. That’s the hardest part when we first started. We had so many people coming from different angles with lucrative offers but they were small-window opportunities. The hardest part has been pushing those to the side and going for things that have a much longer tail, which is risky. But it’s the best way to go about it.”
On his relationship with business partner Jeff Stibel …
“I’m the creative side of the brain. He’s the execution side of the brain. When we look at deals, I’ll start by formulating my mind on where the story of the company can go, and what’s the trajectory of this company from a public standpoint. What could it communicate? What services are they providing that connect to the human nature of us all? How can you connect those dots? That’s what I really love doing.”
On failure …
“I don’t think about it, honestly. I’m aware of [other athletes’ business failures.] I pay attention and try to learn from them. But I could really care less of what others think of my businesses. The focus must be on the work, on the craft, and what it is I’m doing on a daily basis. It’s not about a conversation of trying to convince people that ‘this is going to be a success.’ . . . As an athlete, the most important thing is staying away from things I don’t understand. I’m not going to sit here and say ‘I read balance sheets all day.’ I don’t have the mental stamina to do that. You have people that you trust, and you need to build those relationships. If you invest in the people, it tends to pay off.”
On Los Angeles opening access to creative opportunities …
“I literally was never around it. It’s really weird. I didn’t go to awards show or anything. It was 100 percent basketball. I was completely focused on the game. It just so happened that my passion is what this city is known for. I just kind of fell into it. Is that strange?”
On how he communicates with business leaders and builds relationships …
“I just pick up the phone out of the blue and cold call people, like there’s nothing in particular, I just want to talk. I’ll get a lot of ‘what the hell are you calling me for?’ [I’ll ask them to] explain to me ‘how you see your business. How you operate? How does it connect to basketball? Is there something there that I could learn that can be used when I step out on the court?’ If a question comes up, I have to know the answer. There are lessons that surround us. All we need to do is open our eyes and look. Curiosity is the most important thing. It sounds really weird to say, but I learn leadership lessons just from walking in the park and observing nature, and the sun’s relationship with nature, the sun’s relationship with the moon, and the sun understanding when to be present and when to go away. . . . I like talking. I like getting to know the process and the journey. It is more so learning by sitting down and having an open conversation. Just talk. Ideas tend to emerge naturally. But you start with the truth, and the idea comes from that, and that’s when you have an idea that lasts forever.”
On having access to anyone he’d like …
“The stories have to be good. You can have access and get on the phone with anybody but if the idea isn’t there, if the core of the story isn’t there, if the characters aren’t there, nobody is going to do business with you. You’ll wind up having a lot of meetings and nothing gets executed. So it all comes back to the truth of the story. Is it good? If it is, I’m sure we’ll be doing business.”
On working on Nike’s marketing and advertising campaigns …
“Nike is such a great company. The truth of their company, as told by Phil Knight, is ‘listen to the voice of the athlete.’ It just so happened that I had an itch for marketing a story as it related to advertising the products and innovation. I was able to start the storytelling process, and building out campaigns. I started writing quite a few of them and just started building them year-by-year. That’s where the itch came from. I never thought that I’d actually be doing this, but life will surprise you sometimes.”
“We are talking about eSports virtually every single day. I’m sure there is a move to be made there. We’re just being very patient right now for the dust to settle to figure out the best move. . . . ESports is entertainment. You’re still watching a competitive thing.”
On investing into virtual reality …
“The VR space is a very interesting one in terms of where it could go, and the potential that it has, and the tool that it could be used for, particularly as it relates to sports. It has compelling educational components, and simulating certain schemes and strategies. It can also be used for storytelling to explain different points of view, with one narrative thread, taking place at the same time. There’s a big runway there, and I’m very curious about where it goes. The sound is really the biggest factor of VR, because sound is so impactful. When you’re watching a movie, the sound is what’s drawing you in. Right now, VR is not there yet. I feel like if we can add that, it has a potential to be something special.”
On being known as a basketball player versus a businessman …
“It’s fine with me. Certain people identify with me from that lens, and always will. I’m totally cool with that. I invested a lot of time to make sure the first career was a successful one. At the same time, it’s part of the challenge. The focus is not to one-up what I did before. It’s simply to continue to scratch that daily itch that I have every day and see where that leads. That’s what I’m focused on.”
On the day of his final game …
“Not too many people know this, but I was at the office editing stories from some very talented writers. I wanted to see them finished. I was at the office until about 4-to-4:15 p.m., and I lost track of time and I’m like ‘I have to go home’ as I am sitting there. I went home, showered, changed, and flew down to the game. I played the game, came home, hung out with family, woke up the next morning, worked out, went back to the office, and finished editing the stories. I really love the process of storytelling.”
On still being a fan of the NBA …
“I get in trouble for saying this all the time but we need to figure out a way with our broadcast partners to make sure a game is not five hours long. I can’t do it. I’ll sleep like an hour into it. We need to make it a little bit more efficient, and maybe I’ll watch a little bit more. But I like watching the playoffs. It’s better now because I don’t have to watch from a studying and dissecting point of view. I’m not filing anything away to use later. I just simply watch it, and enjoy it.”
On having the itch to play this season …
“It’s weird, but not even anything at all. It’s really strange. It’s bizarre. I never would have thought that would have even been possible years ago. But there’s no desire to play. Not even a little bit. . . . It’s still kind of weird to sit here today and realize that I played for 20 years. It’s kind of crazy. I get asked all the time now, ‘do I miss it?’ I’m like, ‘dude, I played for 20 years. There’s no more juice left in that orange to squeeze. I’m done.’”
Thank you for your continued support and readership.
-The AList Team
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