HBO’s New Head Of Marketing; Sony Music Names New CEO

Here are some of the top personnel moves in marketing over the last week.

HBO Names Chris Spadaccini As Head Of Marketing

Chris Spadaccini has been promoted to EVP of consumer marketing at HBO, replacing Pam Levine, who joined 20th Century Fox last month. Spadaccini has been at HBO since 1999 and will oversee marketing for HBO and Cinemax. His duties include directing all branding efforts, providing oversight for program and marketing campaigns, and guiding digital platform and marketing efforts.

Rob Stringer Becomes Sony Music Entertainment’s New CEO

Sony Music announced that Rob Stringer will take over as chief executive next year while Doug Morris, the company’s chief since 2011, will become chairman. Stringer is currently the head of Columbia Records, one of Sony’s flagship labels. During his time, Columbia became the leading label with artists such as Adele, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, One Direction and David Bowie releasing hit albums.

A+E Networks Appoints Melissa Madden Head Of Marketing UK & International

Melissa Madden has been named to the newly created role of head of marketing UK & international at A+E Networks. In this role, Madden will be responsible for showcasing A+E Networks content to the international marketplace. She will also run trade and consumer marketing in addition to providing support to the A+E’s content sales division. Madden joins from BBC Worldwide, where she served as SVP of content marketing and creative, leading consumer and trade marketing strategy, global channels strategy and Masterbrand.

Mattel Creations Named Two New Execs

Cheryl Gresham has been named VP of global media & marketing, and Justin Richardson has been named vice president of global content distribution & strategy at Mattel Creations—a centralized theatrical, television and digital content division from Mattel Inc.

According to a press release, Gresham will be “responsible for leading the company’s global media team in the development and execution of its brands’ media strategies, with a focus on accelerating brand growth through increased consumer awareness and engagement.” At the same time, Richardson will “oversee Mattel’s global content distribution portfolio of iconic brands such as Thomas & Friends, Barbie, Monster High, Hot Wheels, American Girl, Ever After High and many more with distribution teams in the US, Asia, Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa.”

Dan Lovinger Named NBCUniversal Sports Ad Sales Chief

Dan Lovinger is stepping into the ad sales chief role at the NBC Sports Group, a position previously held by Seth Winters, who stepped down last month. Lovinger was previously the EVP for NBCUniversal’s entertainment ad sales group. In his new role, Lovinger will oversee NBCUniversal Sports’ ad sales, including major 2018 events such as the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and the World Cup.

Casey Shilling Named Zoës Kitchen Chief Marketing Officer

The casual Mediterranean restaurant group, Zoës Kitchen announced Casey Shilling as the company’s new chief marketing officer. Shilling joins Zoës Kitchen after almost two decades with The Container Store, where she served as vice president of marketing and public relations.

MarVista Entertainment Expands Executive Team

Independent entertainment studio, MarVista Entertainment has appointed Deena Stern, former senior vice president of marketing and digital at Esquire Network, as senior vice president of marketing and communications. At the same time, Kenny Christmas was appointed senior vice president of business and legal affairs, and Hannah Pillemer was promoted to senior vice president of development and production.

Curve Digital Dives Into VR With New Studio Head

Independent game developer, Curve Digital has appointed former Sony Interactive Entertainment London Studios executive producer Brynley Gibson as its new head of studios. In the new position, Gibson will oversee game production at Curve along with its Zöe Mode and Headstrong Games subsidiaries. He will likely use his expertise to help the studio create VR games.

Facebook Hires Former The Sims Developer As Head Of Social VR

Rachel Rubin Franklin, who previously worked at Electronic Arts to develop hit games such as The Sims will head Facebook’s Social VR branch. Franklin’s appointment comes after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced advancements in social VR at the Oculus Connect keynote. Features include virtual meeting spaces and taking Facebook Messenger phone calls in VR.

Gregory Gopman Joins Twitter’s VR Initiative

Gregory Gopman, founder of AngelHack, has been hired as part of Twitter’s virtual reality initiative. The social media platform is working to integrate 360-degree videos and 360-degree livestreaming to its service in the coming months. It is currently unknown what Gopman’s role or responsibilities will be.

Lionsgate Appoints Gisela Asimus-Minnbergh Vice President Of Alternative Programming Sales

Reflecting the global growth of its unscripted television business, Lionsgate named Gisela Asimus-Minnbergh to the newly-created position of vice president of alternative programming sales. As stated in a press release, Asimus-Minnbergh “will be part of the team responsible for helping launch the company’s unscripted programming and format sales division globally. She will be in charge of identifying new revenue streams and business opportunities for Lionsgate’s slate of alternative programming as well as negotiating and closing format and programming deals across most European territories.”

Uninterrupted Picks Up Three New Hires

The sports-focused digital media company founded by NBA star LeBron James, Uninterrupted, has hired Matt DeMartis (former director of digital ad sales strategy at the Disney ABC Television Group) as head of marketing and brand partnerships. Additionally, Trevor McNeal, formerly HBO’s director of social media marketing, joins as director of audience development. Lastly, former ESPN producer Matt Rissmiller joins Uninterrupted as production director.

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Nielsen: Mobile Game Retention Hinges On New Content

With over 656,000 active mobile games in the App Store alone, what makes players keep coming back, while others move on to the next big title? Nielsen Games set out to find the answer by analyzing several games released in the last year that fit the “big bang adoption” curve in a new report, Long Term Mobile Game Success: Beyond Awareness and Adoption. Using titles like Clash Royale, Fallout Shelter and Pokémon GOexamples of exploding downloads upon release, Nielsen studied game retention and found that unmet demand for new content is potentially the cause for fading lack of interest.

The study shows that gamers are generally content with an exciting new mobile game for about three to five weeks before they start to crave new content. Nielsen found this to be true for most titles across the board, regardless of game genre or target audience.  “For newer titles, especially those riding a wave of momentum,” Nielsen notes, “developers should plan to release new content to re-engage their early adopters during this three-to-five week window. Releasing new content while you still have your early adopters engaged not only retains their attention, avoiding the cost associated with bringing back an old consumer, but it puts your new content in the hands of consumers who have already shown a propensity to spread the news about your content, which leads to more free buzz.”


While new content is incredibly important for a mobile title, Nielsen also explored the main elements that engage a player to begin with. The analyst firm found that different game elements are important for male vs. female players. For instance, women value gameplay and social elements more than men. On the other hand, men prefer graphics (particularly in the sports genre) and storylines—especially when it comes to role-playing games (RPGs).

The study also examines what elements are most important across the most popular genres: matching puzzle, role-playing and sports. While gameplay and value are the most valued features in the matching puzzle and RPG genres, graphics are a top priority for sports fans.

Nielsen concluded that developers should place emphasis and more resources behind the features that are most important to their particular genre and target audience. Additional content released at pivotal times will also improve retention based on the information learned. “If developers can re-engage early adopters before they lose interest and switch to a different title,” Nielsen said, “It can prolong the momentum behind mobile games and lead to more sustained user acquisition.”

Facebook’s New Features Turn Recommendations Into Revenue

Facebook has introduced some new features that make the social hub a one-stop destination for discussing and finalizing plans. A recent partnership with Fandango made it possible to purchase movie tickets directly from a feed, and now users can do the same with other events like museum exhibits and concerts.

The implementation of eCommerce into the platform is great news for brands, especially since a whopping 84 percent of social shares are done privately via chat or email. Friends and family are talking about these brands anyway, so why not make it easier to convert those conversations into sales?


The first new feature is called “recommendations.” Now when a user posts a status update looking for advice on where to eat, get their hair cut, where to buy an evil clown costume, etc. an optional “recommendations” tool allows friends and family to post comments about where you should go. These locations are then mapped out and stored in a special tab for later access.

For US Facebook users, the Events bookmark will receive some significant updates over the next few weeks. Users will soon be able to see what events their friends have been up to, or get notified of activities they might be interested in based on past connections. This is especially good news for influencers and brands alike, since the platform will automatically remind or recommend events if that user has participated in the past.

Businesses should start seeing some additional revenue from their Facebook pages thanks to new features that allow customers to order food, request a quote, make an appointment or purchase tickets directly from the site. These features are rolling out first in the US. If they’re successful, they could be rolling out to other areas in the near future. The best part is that businesses don’t have to pay for this option—call to action elements are being added thanks to partnerships with HomeAdvisor, Ticketmaster, and more.

Facebook wants to be your hub for everyday life and the place to be for brands to reach their audience. In light of its recent metrics miscalculations, the social media giant is making huge strides to establish confidence in its partners and, of course, the 1.71 billion monthly active users.

By tapping into the purchasing power of influencers—whether that be a celebrity or your mother—Facebook is making it even harder to tear away from the site and even easier for brands to measure revenue from social media.

How ‘Paladins’ Could Become The Next Big ESports Game

Hi-Rez Studios, creators of the hit eSports game Smite, is out to make lightning strike twice with the free-to-play competitive first-person shooter game, Paladins, which launched its open beta on Steam Early Access in September. The game fast became a huge success, with over 100,000 new player accounts created within the first 24 hours, which grew to over 1 million within a week, rocketing the game onto Steam’s Top 10 Games by player count.

Although Paladins is still in development, Hi-Rez took full advantage of the game’s momentum. It recently announced the first ever Paladins Invitational—a global competition that will take place on January 5-8, 2017, where teams battle for a $150,000 prize. Eight teams from around the world will make their way to the Hi-Rez Expo, held in Atlanta, Georgia for the opening matches of the Paladins Invitational, and the finals will be broadcast live from the Cobb Energy Center. Global partners for the event include Level Up, Double Jump and Tencent, which will oversee regional tournaments in Brazil/Latin America, Australia/New Zealand and China respectively. To further promote the eSport, Hi-Rez has begun releasing weekly videos to keep fans informed about how Paladins is progressing.

Todd Harris, Hi-Rez Studios co-founder and chief operating officer, spoke with [a]listdaily about how Paladins is already well on its way to possibly becoming the next hit eSports game.

Todd Harris, Hi-Rez Studios co-founder and chief operating officer

How would you describe Paladins?

Paladins is a fantasy themed team-based first-person shooter that happens to be free-to-play. If you enjoy multiplayer shooters, enjoy free, and also want to customize each hero around your playstyle, then Paladins might be the game for you.

Why do you think Paladins has found success so quickly on Steam?

A couple of reasons, I think:

First, I think Paladins taps into what a lot of the Steam audience is looking for right now. The most popular games on Steam are multiplayer shooters or MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas). And Paladins actually combines elements of both these popular genres. Paladins is foremost a competitive shooter, but with some elements of a MOBA.

Secondly, Paladins is benefitting from very positive user reviews. The way new game discovery now works on Steam, it is less hand curated and more automated based on positive user feedback and overall playtime. So games that users are enjoying most will get higher visibility on the Steam store.

Paladins is benefitting a lot from that discovery process, and we’ve added an unbelievable 1 million new Paladins players in the first ten days of Steam Early Access.

There are a great number of competitive shooters on the market, including Overwatch. How does Paladins manage to stand out among them?

More customization, more progression, and more frequent content updates.

In many other hero shooters, the ability kit for each champion is fixed. You play each champion a single way with no player customization. In Paladins, we have a system of card collection and deck building that lets you customize each champion around your playstyle.

In terms of progression within the match, we have an item system similar to MOBA games but simplified because, with an FPS, the action is so much faster and the respawn time is lower. The item system allows players to counter other players in interesting ways. So during the match, I can get more resistance against different damage types, or lower my ability cooldowns, or many other stat buffs and adjustments. The item system adds depth and strategy which leads to replayability, especially among competitive players.

Finally, as we’ve learned with Smite, a free-to-play game really benefits from frequent content updates. With Paladins, we update the game with new features and content every two weeks. That schedule is pretty demanding on the development team, but it is also satisfying for us and the player community to see the game improve so dramatically every two weeks.

What convinced you to announce the Paladins Invitational now, when the game is still in open beta?

When building a competitive game, we like to solicit feedback as early as possible from competitive players. Pro player feedback helps our team tune game balance. And we get valuable feedback on the features we’ve built like Spectator Mode, player rankings, leaderboards and the Competitive Queue system.

Hosting a large international tournament like the Paladins Invitational is a great way to attract and reward the competitive players who invest their time in our game.

What lessons did you learn from promoting Smite as an eSport that you will be applying to Paladins?

It is less about promoting the game as an eSport and more about embracing a community-driven development approach, and the competitive player base is just one important segment of the overall community we engage with.

The second big lesson is a focus on sustainability versus being a flash in the pan. We ask ourselves: if a player dedicates his or her time to being the best in the world at our game right now, how are they using those skills one year later?

How did you come to partner with Level Up, Double Jump and Tencent to oversee the regional events?

Within North America and Europe, we operate Leagues ourselves, but we currently work with partners in other regions. Tencent, Level Up, Double Jump and also ESL have supported our operations in other regions with Smite, and they are supporting Paladins operations as well.

We have also recently integrated with FaceIt to put Smite PC and Smite console on their tournament platform to give amateurs a great path toward becoming professional.

What would you say is key to growing a game as an eSport?

It starts with game design. The game itself must have a high skill curve such that expert play can be distinguished from more casual play; that skill curve is a big part of why spectators tune in to watch.

Next comes the focus on sustainability. The top eSports games are basically ‘games as a service.’ The top eSports games have a publisher who is also the developer and is focused upon customer retention as the most important business metric. This retention incentive justifies investing in the game long term rather than doing a few one-off marketing events to drive sales upon initial game release with no follow-up activities. Players have plenty of competitive gaming choices these days. If the publisher is not invested in the game long term, why would a player invest the time and energy to master that game and compete professionally?

Turner Exec Discusses Improvements To ELeague Season 2

Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG kick off the second season of ELeague featuring Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) on October 21 with 16 teams vying for the championship. After defeated Fnatic at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta to complete the inaugural $1.4 million season, Turner decided to make some changes.

ESports fans consumed over 800 million gross minutes of video on TBS and Twitch during the inaugural season. Eleague also attracted more than 3.4 million new viewers to TBS during its 10-week season, with the audience composition consisting heavily of millennial viewers falling in the coveted male 18-34 demographic.

Christina Alejandre VP/GM eSports
Christina Alejandre, ELeague general manager, VP of eSports at Turner Sports

Christina Alejandre, general manager of ELeague and vice president of eSports at Turner Sports, told [a]listdaily that the new shortened season will help offset the fatigue from the inaugural season.

“By shortening the season, we make every match matter as we head into group stages,” Alejandre said. “We saw fatigue from the players, the teams and the community by the end of season 1. CS:GO is a crowded space and we want to make sure we program things strategically to maximize viewership and engagement.”

Last season ELeague had six weeks of group play, a last chance qualifier and quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship that stretched out over nine weeks. This year had preliminaries online and will have four weeks of group stages, which will occur twice weekly instead of four days a week, and then one week of playoffs.

“You can see fatigue in the community with so much CS:GO content out there and with players having to decide which tournament to participate in,” Alejandre said. “We have active relationships with other tournament organizers to try to make sure our schedules align, or if they overlap we give a heads-up. There’s a whole group of us discussing scheduling. We maintain an open and honest conversation that puts the least amount of strain as possible on the teams, players and community.”

In its second season, Eleague will continue to feature a limited commercial break format, including advertising, branding and content from official marketing partners Domino’s, Credit Karma, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and HyperX.

Alejandre said Arby’s came into the ELeague relationship saying they didn’t want to be the guys who weren’t invited to the party and just showed up.

“We collaborated with them to ensure their integration into ELeague was natural and authentic to the space,” Alejandre said. “You can see that the commercials they ran on TV were all about CS:GO and ELeague. They nailed the tone, as well. One of the great things we saw was people tweeting about Arby’s commercials during ELeague. How often does that happen other than for Super Bowl commercials?”

Alejandre said Buffalo Wild Wings did a phenomenal job of showing the game in their restaurants during the first season—something that will continue into season 2. “People have been doing viewing parties in restaurants, which adds some validity to the space and the community,” Alejandre said. “They can go to a restaurant with beer and wings and watch ELeague. You never had that before. They’re also working with us on their creative, so eSports is treated like it should be.”

Alejandre said the key sponsors aren’t changing things up for season 2. “Their learnings were positive,” Alejandre said. “They saw a lot of good feedback on it. There wasn’t much to tweak or change.”

Turner partnered with Asus to sponsor the recent Overwatch Open they organized in conjunction with FaceIt. Alejandre said CS:GO and Overwatch complement each other. “It’s a different type of game and experience, but it still has the undertones of a first-person shooter,” Alejandre said. “We’re seeing a lot of crossover with casters, players and fans.”

Moving forward, there could be potential for more Overwatch. “We are constantly looking at ways to expand our eSports portfolio,” Alejandre said. “We’re trying to align ourselves with the right brands and partners. Overwatch provided a good opportunity to work with a different IP. They’re a new game, so maybe they’re not ready to do an entire season. We worked with FaceIt and we’re happy with the results.”

Alejandre said additional one-off open events will be decided on a case-by-case basis with new games and experiments. “We have to develop the right product for the right brand and the right game,” Alejandre said. “It depends on the situation and where the game is.”

To date, ELeague has focused on PC games, but Alejandre said it’s looking at console and mobile games. “We’re evaluating every platform,” Alejandre said. “We’re looking at everything.”

Red Bull Gives Social Media Wings With Speedy GIF Creator

The Red Bull brand is all about living fast, so it’s not totally surprising that it would develop a way to post social updates at the speed of memes. Users will soon be able to share posts through Red Bull’s website in the form of a fast-paced animated GIF. Accompanied by images, these messages are then rendered into an animated speed reading GIF where each word appears in rapid sequential order. Although the words fly by at a dizzying pace, they are still comprehensible to the human eye. Red Bull then gives users the option to customize the post and edit it before sharing online.


The service, deemed Shout/out, provides each post with a unique standout, which the company said has been designed to help users stand out in a sea of posts and get noticed by fans and peers. Shout/out launched to the public in October at GLA x LDN in Glasgow, which is part of Red Bull’s Music Academy UK Tour. Athletes and artists will also be able to share their experiences using this speed-reading method at future events.

Citing marketing bias in social media algorithms, Red Bull hopes to take back the impact of organic content through these new tools. The campaign is meant as a means for fans to express themselves and be heard. Animated GIFs are an effective way to express ideas, emotions or messages through social media without having to worry about 140-character limitations. Last year, Twitter users shared over 100 million GIFs—so to make it easier, the service introduced a GIF search tool in February.

By giving fans a unique way to share ideas and experiences, Red Bull is reaching them on an emotional level and offering an easy way to share Red Bull events they are attending. The new Shout/out tool will no doubt be a great way for influencers to share quick updates, as well. Time will tell whether these fast-paced GIFs will become the norm, but the in the meantime, using pictures and emoji to express ideas aren’t going away anytime soon.

World Wars Are Battled With Livestreams And Giveaways In This Week’s Game Promos

It’s all about nations battling it out, and few games capture that struggle better than Battlefield and Sid Mier’s Civilization. This week, we take a look at how EA and 2K Games got fans ready for battle.

Battlefield 1

Since its wildly popular trailer in May and subsequent unveiling at E3, EA has carefully laid the groundwork for the launch of Battlefield 1 on October 21 with its Road to Battlefield 1 livestreams. These streams offer a behind-the-scenes look at the game, during which downloadable content (DLC) for previous Battlefield titles were offered free for a limited time. These interactive livestreams started months in advance of the game’s launch, appealing to the hardcore fans and curious alike. Unlike some popular game titles that focus on one console or another, EA has created a number of partnerships across the spectrum with PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the PC. Although you can’t play the game on mobile, a companion app has been launched for fans to keep track of progress and customize their load outs.

During Electronic Arts’ Investor Day, investor relations vice president, Chris Evenden explained that despite the popularity of Battlefield on PlayStation, partnerships with Xbox would only stand to increase the game’s fan base. “You know, I think this is a game for PlayStation as much as it is for Xbox as much as it is for PC,” he said. “I think what DICE has done and the game that they’re building is going to satisfy the Battlefield core that continues to play Battlefield 4 and Hardline, and it’s actually gonna bring a lot of additional players into the battlefield franchise.”


Those who pre-ordered the game on Xbox One, for example, receive early access to a new map releasing later this year, the Harlem Hellfights DLC pack and an entire month of free EA Access membership. Microsoft is also offering a special Xbox One S Battlefield 1 Bundle. PlayStation fans will receive a PS4 dashboard theme, the DLC and early access to the aforementioned map a week before it releases publicly.

PC gamers, meanwhile, were offered some pretty sweet perks in partnership with MSI. Those who purchased select MSI laptops could choose to receive either Battlefield 1 or Titanfall 2 for free and purchases of an MSI Radeon RX 480 Graphics Card came with an Early Enlister Deluxe Edition upgrade code, which provided additional content and early access beginning October 18.

Battlefield is headed to TV thanks to a deal with Paramount Television and Anonymous Content. Although there are no details yet on a release date or even subject matter, Paramount expressed plans to remain faithful to the fans. “Battlefield has a tremendous built-in, engaged fan base, making it a highly coveted piece of IP primed for long-form adaptation,” Anonymous Content partner Michael Sugar said. “Together with EA and Paramount TV, we’ll develop the Battlefield TV series with the same commitment to robust storytelling that has made the game such a runaway success for nearly 15 years.”

To stay sharp for all that combat, specially-marked Monster Energy drinks are giving away Battlefield 1 Battlepack codes, plus a chance to win a trip for two to Stockholm to either visit the Battlefield development studio or receive a free Xbox One S along with a copy of the game.

Civilization VI

2K Games is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of its award-winning Civilization series with a special edition—complete with art book, Aztec pack pre-order bonus and even a commemorative coin set. On Twitter, the publisher has been appealing to history buffs with facts and news, while getting players hyped with how-to tutorials and livestreams. There are many civilizations to control in the game, so to find out which is the best, 2K is hosting a Battle Royale on Twitch October 19. Viewers can watch eight AI-controlled civilizations duke it out while the game’s developers offer live commentary. For those who love behind-the-scenes, fans were treated to a video with the series’ Grammy-award-winning composer, Christopher Tin about his new musical score for the game.

Baobab Studios Expands VR Entertainment With Bunny Power

It’s almost hard to believe that Baobab Studios debuted its first animated VR short, Invasion! last April. Since then, the experience has made its way onto just about every VR platform, including the recently launched PlayStation VR, and a sequel was announced at Oculus Connect. Invasion!—created by Eric Darnell, who directed the Madagascar movies and is currently Baobab’s chief creative officer—is making its way to traditional movie theaters as a full-length feature film created in partnership with Roth Kirschenbaum Films, a movie studio founded by Hollywood veterans Joe Roth and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum.

Today, the studio announced that it has just raised $25 million in Series B funding, with Horizon Ventures as the lead investor. Horizon’s investment in Baobab is led by Phil Chen, founder and former content officer for HTC Vive, stands among several other companies that are returning for a second round of funding. New investors include Twentieth Century Fox, Evolution Media Partners, China’s Shanghai Media Group, Youku Global Media Fund and LDV Partners. The investments bring the studio’s total funding to $31 million, making it one of the top funding rounds for a content studio to date.

With the new investment, Baobab brought on Larry Cutler as its new CTO. Cutler was formerly Pixar’s technical director for Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc., and then became global head of character technology for DreamWorks Animation. Additionally, Baobab has also appointed Chris Milk, founder and CEO of Within (a story-based VR content portal), to its advisory board. Milk has been a longtime proponent and pioneer of VR content.

Baobab CEO (and former VP at Zynga) Maureen Fan and Kane Lee, the studio’s head of content, spoke with [a]listdaily about the funding announcement along with the success of Invasion! and how it’s being made into a movie.

What do you think led to such a significant funding success?

Maureen Fan, Baobab Studios CEO

[Fan]: We think the reason why we were able to raise such a round in such a short amount of time is given to the traction that we’ve had from the Series A through now. We only founded about a year ago, so traction means introducing Invasion! Consumer adoption-wise, Invasion! is one of the most popular—if not the most popular—pieces of content out there in VR. We are on just about every single platform: the HTC Vive, we launched day one on the PSVR (PlayStation VR), we’re on Oculus Rift, on [Samsung] Gear VR, and on Within, Hulu, Jaunt, etc.

So besides having great consumer adoption and validation, we also had great traction with the HMDs (head mounted displays) and distributors. The Oculus Connect keynote featured our next VR short, Asteroids! Besides consumers and distributors, there’s also Hollywood. We just announced a partnership between Baobab Studios and Roth Kirschenbaum Films. [Joe] Roth was the former chairman of Disney, and his production company was behind Maleficent, The Huntsman, and the entire Alice in Wonderland series. They partnered with us to take Invasion! to the big screen, turning it into a full-length animated feature film for the rectangular screen. This is great validation from Hollywood because they care about IP. This the first time that IP was sourced from VR going to Hollywood rather than the other way around.

With the funding and partnership, do you feel that Hollywood is regarding VR in a very serious way?

[Fan]: I do. Our lead investor isn’t Hollywood. Horizon Ventures is stationed in Hong Kong, and they’re traditionally a technology investing firm. They invest in us not only because of our technology, but on the strength of the team. Phil Chen, being a VR expert, in seeing what was happening internally within our team, had the confidence and excitement to lead our Series B.

But the reason why we had all these great media companies also invest in us is because they see VR as not only potential for IP, but as something that’s going to revolutionize their business, and they want to partner with teams that know how to do storytelling in a different way. What these media companies care about, first and foremost, is storytelling. That was great validation for us from Twentieth Century Fox.

A lot of VR right now is targeted towards early adopters. They’re more niche, so you have hardcore games and documentaries, but not a lot of the universally appealing stuff that’s in between. I think one of the reasons Invasion! has been so successful is because it is broadly appealing to just about every single demographic group. But also because we care about story first. I know a lot of people talk about story, but we feel that a lot of VR creators are focused on technology first and the story is in service of the technology. We take the opposite approach.

Eric (Darnell) oftentimes says he’d prefer a good story animated with stick figures than a beautifully drawn film with a crappy story. It’s always story first, and I think that’s what Hollywood recognized in what we’re doing.

How does Baobab plan to use the additional funding?

[Fan]: We’re using it in three main ways. One is to create additional experiences that bring characters that people love to life in VR. People really loved Invasion!, so that’s why we announced Asteroids!, our follow-up. It’s featuring the same characters but in a different setting and different type of animation and focus. So, creating new experiences, but also experimenting even more.

VR is a new industry and a new cinematic language, which means we’re always testing out how we define this language. In Invasion!, we learned that the most powerful parts of our story were when the bunny comes to sniff you and play with you. We had audiences try to pet the bunny, and when it started dancing, they got down and danced too. Sometimes in a feature film like Deadpool, you can beak the fourth wall, but you never truly believe that Deadpool is speaking to you. But something in your animal brain in VR believes that the character is truly real.

That is something we found really exciting because, for Eric, it’s all about the audience care about the character. That’s the heart of filmmaking for him. If we can get the audience to care even more about the characters than they would normally, that’s winning. We want to experiment with even more ways to make you care about these characters so that the audience acts on behalf of the characters, not because they have to get to the next level like in a game, but because they truly care about the characters and want them to succeed.

We also want to use the funding to further develop the technology we created as a base through Series A to make it even better. I think it will allow us to make our VR experiences unique and differentiated even more so than they already are.

Was it challenging to get Invasion! picked up by almost every major VR content distributor?

[Fan]: It’s interesting, because a lot of the industry is focused on games, and it makes sense that early adopters would be gamers. But it’s funny, because we didn’t know how to categorize ourselves in the beginning. Are we a film or are we a game? We realized that we fit into both categories, but honestly, we believe that we transcend both categories. You’re in a narrative, but you are a character in a real-time game engine, and what you do actually has impact on what is happening. So you can’t say that it’s just a game nor is it just a film. This new category hadn’t been defined yet, so I think the VR industry didn’t necessarily know what to do with that. But after we put it up there and it became incredibly popular, I think that’s when distributors took even more notice. I’m sure part of the reason we were featured in the Oculus keynote is because of how well Invasion! is performing.

What are your thoughts about the premium headsets versus mobile VR?

[Fan]: We believe in both. Invasion! is available on high-end headsets, where it’s interactive and you have the bunny body—when you squat, it gets fatter. With the Vive, you can jump around and the other characters follow you. We also have eye tracking and all that activity on the high-end headsets. But we also have a ton of people who enjoy our experience on the Gear VR, and that’s a 360-degree video.

We think that both are completely viable. Of course, I do think the high-end headsets add a layer of interactivity that is amazing and makes VR even more powerful. But people still love the 360 version, and if that’s what mobile is able to get you, then it’s not for us to be snobs and say those people are wrong. I’m really excited about mobile because it allows VR to get to the masses, rather than just the high-end headsets, which are not as accessible. We believe in both approaches and in creating experiences that can work on all the different devices, because again, what we believe in is the story. If you have a good story, it should be able to translate across the different platforms.

How did the partnership with Roth Kirschenbaum Films turn Invasion! into a movie come together?

[Lee]: Basically we were showing our friends at Roth Kirschenbaum Films the experience because they were interested in VR and wanted to meet with us. Unexpectedly, after the meeting, they gave me a call and said, “Hey, what about doing this as a feature film?” Joe is extremely picky about doing animation, after having worked on the Toy Story franchise while chairman at Disney, but we saw this IP as being special. I think the idea of them putting on the headset and getting to know the characters in six minutes in a way that they couldn’t have in any other medium sold them on the strength of the storytelling and this particular universe. We are producing partners on the feature film and we’re moving forward very quickly.

screencaps_1280x720_05Is there a concern that Invasion! will lose its intensity when translated from VR to film?

[Lee]: No, we think of the mediums as apples and oranges. There are obviously things that you can learn from each. Typically in Hollywood, a lot of VR content will be created on pre-existing franchises or film properties. So it has been on the shoulders of the VR filmmakers to take that and translate it into VR. In this case, they didn’t look at this any differently than they would look at an amazing book, a classic fairy tale, or a true life story you read about in The New York Times.

As leaders in traditional cinema, we think they’re going to make movie magic while we try to make VR magic.

Do you think the success of the movie will translate into increased VR technology adoption?

[Lee]: I think that the success of our characters and this universe on any platform would. As long as whatever we do has integrity and builds upon our characters and worlds in a way that we all believe in, we think it’s win-win.

‘The Walking Dead’ Producer Talks Season 7, Virtual Reality And Video Games

David Alpert, CEO and co-founder of Skybound Entertainment, has helped Robert Kirkman steer the business side of the company beyond comic books and television shows. He’s focused on digital media, video games and virtual reality across existing properties like The Walking Dead and brand new IP like the first narrative 360-degree series, Gone, for Samsung Milk VR. He also produced the YouTube Red’s Scare PewDiePie series.

With PlayStation VR now globally available and The Walking Dead returning to AMC on October 23, [a]listdaily caught up with Alpert to discuss how video games, VR and digital are helping Skybound expand its many comic book franchises in this exclusive interview.

What has virtual reality opened up for Skybound Entertainment?

The great things about VR are the possibilities and the challenges, in equal measure. The cool thing about comics and linear media when you tell stories is you really control the POV, so we have this natural inclination to show the audience where to look. The initial challenge of VR is if you can’t control where they look, how do you make sure that they’re seeing what you want them to see? And so the answer that we found, and the thing that’s been mind-opening for us, has been the idea of how we make a 360-degree environment equally compelling in all directions at all times. Or how do you deal with the fact that people might be missing critical components of the narrative?

Is that something you explored with Gone on Samsung Milk VR?

In Gone, we actually embraced that as part of our storytelling device, where we acknowledged you’re going to miss things and now that’s actually part of the story. There were plenty of people at Dealy Plaza when JFK was shot, but they didn’t know where they were supposed to be looking. They heard something happened. Even when you go back and watch the Zapruder film frame by frame knowing what happened, they still can’t tell exactly what happened. So if you embrace that ambiguity, it actually makes things—in a weird way—feel more lifelike. It’s a little more challenging from a storytelling perspective, but it actually makes it more interesting to us.

Open world video games have had the same problem long before VR and audio has always played an important role. What can you learn from gaming and how important is sound in a VR experience?

Sound is hugely important not just in VR, but in linear too. Horror is 60 or 70 percent sound. If you look at the season opener of The Walking Dead season 2, we had some famous production problems in that season, and if you play that scene without the sound it is one of the most boring scenes you’ll ever see on TV. You watch that scene with sound and it has you on the edge of your seat. The score that’s going on tells your mind that this is something that’s tense, as opposed to seeing a bunch of feet walking by and you’re stuck under a truck. Sound is critical in video games, and we believe that the value of sound in a 3D or 360-degree environment is only going to be heightened.

For The Walking Dead season 7, what does Negan open up as a new villain ripped from the comic book?

The great thing about Negan is we’ve seen bad guys at Terminus and we’ve seen The Governor. They’ve been seriously bad and they’ve done horrible things, but they’ve always been on a size of scale that you can wrap your heads around. When you get to Negan, and you see the size and scope of the Saviors, and you see the degree of savagery that this guy is willing to engage in not only physically but psychologically with Rick and our gang survivors—and how he’s imposed himself as a bit of a demigod on these people—it’s really on scale we haven’t seen before. He’s bigger, badder and meaner than anything we’ve seen in this world yet, which is a big thing to say considering we’re in season 7.

Actor Jeffrey Dean Anderson is such a nice guy normally that it takes a minute to realize he’s a bad guy if you haven’t read the comics.

Here’s the thing: if you ask Negan if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, he would tell you he’s a good guy. He would acknowledge that he’s doing horrible things, but he’s a “the ends justify the means” type guy. He sees this as what this world calls for. There’s the argument that Rick tried to kill him.

And Rick has been doing some nasty shit too. Rick doesn’t bash people’s homes in and beat them to death with baseball bats, but Rick has shot people. Rick has not been afraid to put people down. He does it with a semblance of decency, but Negan would argue that they’re the same—that Negan just happens to be more effective and more efficient than Rick, and is less hung up on old world niceties. When it comes to “the ends justify the means,” they both embrace the same philosophy. Negan’s just less tortured about it.

Is there a short list of characters that are “safe” from dying in The Walking Dead TV show?

No. The truth is, when we start the year nobody has to survive. Everybody is on the table. If somebody was to come in the room with a pitch that was incredibly compelling as to why we write-off one of the leads, we’d take it on. We’ve killed major characters on the show, and we’ve killed them before and after they’ve been killed in the comics. Andrea is still alive in the comic, but she was written off in the show a few years ago just because the storyline really seemed to demand it. We really try to cue very closely to what the story demands.

With The Walking Dead: March to War heading to mobile devices in 2017 from Disruptor Beam, what role do video games play for Skybound Entertainment?

The thing we want to do with our games and with our platforms is build out the universe of The Walking Dead such that people love the story of Rick Grimes and know his search for his family and putting it back together and trying to save his group. But beyond that, there’s a lot of stories that demand to be told. We’ve had successful games that have really broadened that universe for us. That’s what we hope to accomplish with Disrupter Beam; another expansion of the world so that people understand that it’s just not Rick Grimes. It’s not just Atlanta. It’s not just the Southeast. It’s the world. We want to explore all those nooks and crannies. We’ve had a great partnership with Telltale doing that. We’ve had a great partnership with Scopely doing that, and we hope that Disruptor Beam follows suit.

And you get to explore Mexico with Fear the Walking Dead?

Yeah, we explore Mexico. We’ve had a novel series, which explores some of the characters in The Walking Dead from a different angle, really giving the Governor’s backstory. We don’t want to tell the same story again and again in different mediums. We want the story to be expanded across all of these different mediums.

Op-Ed: Making History With ‘Battlefield 1’

The Battlefield franchise has been something of a fixture lately, despite not being an annual release as its main competitor, the Call of Duty franchise, is. The Battlefield brand that has been reinventing itself since the first game (Battlefield 1942) launched 14 years ago. While its chief rival has continued to expand into futuristic sci-fi settings, Battlefield has experimented with various spin-offs that take advantage of large-scale combat, including the urban Cops-vs.-Robbers theme of last year’s Battlefield Hardline and using The Force in Star Wars: Battlefront. However, few games in the franchise gained as much immediate attention as Battlefield 1 when it was first announced.

Despite having details about the game being leaked before its official announcement in May, the Battlefield 1 trailer quickly gained over 2 million likes, making it the most-liked video on YouTube for its time. Similarly, the latest trailer that shows the single-player campaign has drawn over 9 million views in two weeks, and EA continued to build momentum for the game’s launch this week by offering Origin Access and EA Access subscribers a 5-day head start, and with a series of livestreams called Road to Battlefield 1, where streamers and developers presented gameplay details and tips.

An open beta was held last month, and it drew in over 13.2 million total players, making it the biggest in EA’s history. Although open beta numbers aren’t always an indicator of potential sales, the number dethrones the record set by Star Wars Battlefront’s beta, which pulled in over 9 million players and went on to sell over 14 million copies across all platforms—even amid complaints that there wasn’t enough content at launch. An EA exec even admitted in an interview that the game lacked depth for hardcore fans. Nevertheless, Battlefield 1 is already being described by some critics as the best Battlefield game since the beloved Bad Company series, and EA expects it to sell 14 million copies within its first year.

Quite a turnaround, considering how SuperData’s Joost van Dreunen wrote last year (prior to Battlefront’s release) that the franchise was seeing sharper post-launch sale declines. Given how the game was in direct competition with massive franchises that included Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Halo 5: Guardians and Fallout 4, it had a great deal to overcome. Granted, Battlefront released when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was coming to theaters, which generated an incredible amount of promotion for the IP. Battlefield 1 won’t enjoy that benefit, but judging from the early response and how EA expects it to match or surpass Battlefront, it might not matter.

Much of the enthusiasm centers around how the game takes place in a World War I setting—an era with brutal combat that is often overlooked by video games, especially after the Call of Duty franchise revealed that its next game, Infinite Warfare was heading to the far future with outer space combat. There’s also how the game is developed by the franchise’s originators, DICE, so the hardcore audience (especially the ones that loved Battlefield 4) expect a rich experience. This was reinforced by the E3 presentation at the first ever EA Play public event, showed the three main pillars of exciting gameplay. Following the presentation with a livestreamed 64-player multiplayer match, featuring celebrities Jamie Foxx and Zack Efron alongside prominent YouTube and Twitch streamers must have also helped the game’s popularity.

However, the long-term success and growth of Battlefield will mean getting new players and continually engaging with existing fans. That means the latest game will need to extend beyond its brand recognition, developer reputation and novel setting to sustain the franchise. That’s the lesson EA learned from the release of Battlefield 4 and treating games as a service.

According to Peter Moore, EA’s executive vice president and chief competition officer, Battlefield 4 still had 9 million players fighting online in Q4 2015—two years after the game first released. At least with the Battlefield games, the era of riding a game’s popularity for a year after launch with add-on content is long past. Battlefield 1 is a first-person shooter that’s expected to retain a player base for a long time to come, with EA doing all that it can to keep the game relevant, particularly through eSports and reaching out to players through public events, similar to its strategy with Madden 17. The strength and persistence of the franchise will be told over a matter of years, not just the holiday months immediately following Battlefield 1’s launch.