Razer CEO Explains How THX Acquisition Will Help ESports, VR

Video game hardware and lifestyle brand Razer continues to expand its portfolio. The company, which has a valuation of $1.5 billion, just acquired THX, the sound performance company founded by George Lucas in 1983. Financial details of the transaction, which closed earlier this month, were not disclosed.

THX will operate as an independent startup under its own management and apart from the ongoing business of Razer. While the audio technology business will work with Razer, THX will have the freedom to work with other product makers, service providers and financial partners.

While THX originated as a certification program for entertainment experiences in the cinema, it has expanded to the home and mobile. Most recently, the company has added automotive systems and THX Live!, a live-entertainment certification program that premiered at Beyoncé’s 2016 Formation World Tour.

On the heels of its acquisition of the assets from OUYA, Razer has expanded its business over the past few years beyond gaming headphones into Razer Music. Audio plays an increasing role across multiple Razer projects, which opens new opportunities for THX.

Min-Liang Tan, co-founder and CEO of Razer, talks to [a]listdaily about this latest acquisition in this exclusive interview.

Min-Liang Tan, Razer co-founder and CEO

What has your experience been like with THX?

The THX audiovisual designers and engineers are the most talented of their kind in the world. I can suggest this with some authority, having personally worked with Laurie Fincham and his team when we embarked on the Razer THX Mako project, which was released in 2008.

What does THX open up for OSVR and Razer’s virtual reality investments, given how important sound is in VR?

THX and OSVR are not specifically associated with each other, even while we are committed to the furtherance of both as long-term interests. Even so, both organizations are fundamentally concerned with enhancing sensory experience, so the proposition of their meeting at some intersection of technology in the future is absolutely possible. We will leave it up to their respective management to decide if and when that make sense.

VR as a practicable matter of business and product implementation is still in the formative stages. As such, OSVR will continue to serve its purpose as an incubator and aggregator of technology interests that will inform a truly consumer ready solution set.

THX, on the other hand, is a mature business with immediate relevance in the way of certification and the development of IP. There’s a lot more to do in this space to ensure that we bring the best audiovisual experiences to enthusiasts all over the world.

How do you see THX helping Razer’s eSports business, especially given how important surround sound is for competitive gaming?

Razer engineers, our eSports managers, athletes and fans can look forward to THX being an increasingly powerful resource for co-developing headsets and other audio products that give gamers the “unfair advantage” and the phenomenal experience for which Razer products are famous. But remember, THX will remain standalone from Razer. As such, Razer will work with THX as it has enjoyed in the past—with THX serving as a separate but psychically vested partner in innovation.

What does allowing THX to operate independently open up for Hollywood opportunities and movie theaters?

The field is wide open for THX to work in any and every area of Hollywood that makes sense. There are no encumbrances whatsoever. This should be very exciting for theaters and moviegoers alike.

What do you feel separates THX technology from competition such as IMAX, DTS and Dolby?

The massive breadth of application of the THX IP and the relevance of its certification to every audio technologist and auditorium in the world leaves it in a class by itself. It is not bounded to product types or venues. Comparing THX to other audio technology brands is tantamount to comparing Alphabet Inc. to a Samsung phone.

How can Razer help THX grow across gaming, music and entertainment given the direct audience reach it has through social and web channels?

The best thing we can do is share our expertise with the good people at THX. They have built an incredible brand, with a fervent following not unlike our own. Everything is there for THX to be socially connected: great partners, great user base [and] great content will bring it all together for this quite worthy brand.

How have things been progressing with your last acquisition, OUYA?

Amazingly, we recently published our fifth multiplatform game under OUYA Publishing. The dream of an open Android platform is alive and well.

What freedoms does Razer have as a company by not being acquired by a larger company?

We can do anything and everything that needs to be done to meet the needs of gamers worldwide in any category of interest—and we usually do. Other companies (big or small) wouldn’t possess the expertise required to do what we do correctly, regardless of financial resources or the positive disposition of fiduciaries. For those few gamer-focused businesses that might have a shot at copying us, their corporate governance and/or financial constraints wouldn’t likely allow for it.

Do you have any desire to one day be acquired, or would you rather continue to build out Razer larger through M&A?

We have always maintained that any opportunity that better allows us to improve our products and services for the benefit of gamers is worth exploring. To date, we’ve done well with exploiting the talent within our ranks and onboarding great talent from other businesses that share our passion for technological innovation, design and experience.

NPD: 77 Percent Of Gamers Are Willing To Pay For Microtransactions

The NPD Group has released a new report, PC and Video Games—DLC and Microtransaction Purchasing that explores just who is making additional in-game purchases and why some flat-out refuse. Downloadable content (DLC) and microtransactions are often the topic of debate among gamers, particularly when it comes to AAA titles that cost $60 or more up front. While some feel that they are being sold an unfinished product and being forced to buy the remainder, many more enjoy the additional content, as it keeps gameplay fresh or customizable.

16 percent purchase DLC as opposed to 23 percent for microtransactions.
16 percent purchase DLC as opposed to 23 percent for microtransactions.

First, we should differentiate DLC from microtransactions for clarity—DLC refers to an addition to existing gameplay such as new maps, quests, raids, etc. and may include cosmetic or other items as part of a bundle. Microtransactions, as the name implies, are small, easy-to-buy options that are the bread and butter of “freemium” titles, i.e. free-to-play with optional purchases. Microtransactions tend to be a one-time-use item such as extra moves, boosters or additional XP for a match.

Roughly a quarter (28 percent) of US males and females ages 13-to-54 have purchased additional video game content in the past three months, according to NPD, with males and teens being the primary purchasers.

Why Gamers Buy

Sixteen percent of those surveyed have purchased DLC. The top reasons indicated for breaking out the wallet include wanting to play online with friends, having all the game content and feeling the price for the extra content was reasonable. Over half indicate they would be influenced to purchase more DLC if the prices were cheaper. Bungie suffered a bit of controversy for a $40 Destiny expansion in 2015, with fans complaining about the hefty price tag and perceived lack of value compared to the Collector’s Edition. Call of Duty DLC can range anywhere from free to $15 or more—a price point that is determined by its publisher, Activision and not the developers.

In an interview with Gamasutra, Call of Duty multiplayer lead, Dan Bunting responded to the DLC pricing criticism. “If you look at how many hours—in some cases, hundreds of hours—for some players of entertainment they get, I think it’s an incredible value. With Elite, there’s a ton of completely free service that gets added on top of the game experience. I think that, if you look at the overall package, it’s an incredible value.”

Microtransactions are purchased more often among those surveyed by NPD, at 23 percent. Meanwhile, 77 percent of these buyers said that microtransactions allow them to extend their enjoyment of a particular game. While being able to earn virtual currency to buy items is preferred, 78 percent are willing to spend some amount of real money to purchase in-game items or power-ups. As with DLC, the price must be right.

Why They Don’t

A meme illustrates common gamer frustration with DLC content.
A meme illustrates common gamer frustration with DLC content.

Money seems to be the biggest factor that drives players to keep their wallets shut. Half of those who do not buy DLC stated that they were not worth the money and 16 percent believed the extra content should have been included in the full game price. Likewise, 48 percent of those who do not purchase microtransactions felt the content was not worth the extra expense. Sixty-eight percent believe in the “pay-to-win” aspect of microstransactions within gaming, expressing a concern that those who pay receive an unfair advantage.

These findings reflect the importance of player experience and a balance between incentive to buy and whether a player can still win if they don’t. “Spending on microtransactions and DLC is currently healthy,” said Sam Naji an industry analyst for The NPD Group. “But game publishers and developers must not lose sight of the importance of looking at areas that will stimulate spending growth without compromising real and perceived value of the content they’re providing,”

Resolution Games CEO: VR Is ‘The Next Big Platform Shift’

Resolution Games has emerged as a game studios to watch in the virtual reality market, with its fishing game, Bait! already nearly a million downloads as one of the early success stories on the Samsung Gear VR. That’s all the more impressive when you consider that Samsung has sold just over 1 million Gear VR units earlier this year. Part of the success story for Bait! is connected to the fact that it was an early title for the Samsung Gear VR, which helped the game gain publicity. Now, Resolution Games is looking to repeat its success by launching its VR game Wonderglade along with Google’s launch of the Daydream VR headset next month.

Wonderglade is a carnival-themed game that “allows users to magically teleport into a world of wonders to play new takes on traditional carnival games,” said Resolution Games. “We’re excited to make one of the first games for Google Daydream. Wonderglade is truly a game that anyone can enjoy and immediately pick up and start having fun with—whether experienced with VR and games or not,” said Resolution Games’ CEO Tommy Palm. “And, it’s the perfect introduction for those interested in trying Daydream. The game is optimized to utilize the Daydream motion controller, enabling users to experience the different aspects of the controller, while playing games that are familiar and can be played in small bursts or for hours on end.”

While at the Oculus Connect Conference, [a]listdaily spoke with Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm about Wonderglade and the VR market ahead.

The VR market is expanding with the introduction of new hardware, and that’s something that Palm feels is helpful to all participants in the market. As you might expect, since Wonderglade is a launch title for Daydream VR, Palm is positive about Google’s introduction of a mobile VR headset. “We’re super excited,” Palm said. “We really like Samsung Gear VR, but it is a very limited platform because it only reaches people with Samsung phones. Whereas Daydream is a much broader initiative. We’re very happy to see that. I tried the headset, and it feels very good.” Part of what impresses Palm is the control scheme for the Daydream VR, which includes a motion-sensitive handheld controller. “It’s both a broader reach and the fact that you have something that works with three degrees of freedom in the 3D world,” Palm noted. “With Bait! now it’s a one-button game on the Samsung Gear. Two of the games we announced in Wonderglade, one is a mini-golf game, and putts are very intuitive with that type of controller. Another is a racing game where you tilt the entire board and race around the track.”

Achieving notable success in the VR market has been difficult so far because of the small size of the market, and thus Bait! is quite unusual. Palm attributes part of that success to the game’s basic design. “We’ve really aimed at making games so everybody can enjoy it, where it’s not violent and it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to play the game. You can quite easily understand what you need to do,” Palm noted. “Also, I think the fact that you are in beautiful scenery in nature is a really good place to go to in VR. Not everybody wants to be in dungeons or catacombs. It’s rather tricky as a developer to make a good nature scene with the limited capacity of mobile VR. We have 50,000 polygons or so, and that’s about 200 times less than what you would have in a PC environment. It takes a bit of effort to create a scene with palm trees.”wonderglade

Unlike Bait!, Wonderglade includes a number of minigames. That decision may broaden the game’s appeal, but the choice wasn’t marketing-driven so much as practical. “It felt like a path that was a good way to go,” Palm said. “With Bait! we recruited the team at the same time we developed Bait!, and we saw that was very hard for developers coming into the platform. It was difficult for the team to develop one big game as their first experience. It’s much better to do a bunch of different minigames so the team gets to try out different things. Plus, it felt like a very appealing concept to experiment and bring different types of experiences together. We always aim to make games that are very easy for people to get into and enjoy in a social setting. We haven’t done multiplayer stuff yet, because the target audience is so small and technical requirements to make multiplayer would take a long time.”

The best monetization model is still something that’s not settled in the VR market, but Palm will continue to use the method employed in their earlier game. “It’s a free game. Like Bait!, you can play the game without ever having to pay,” Palm noted. “There are in-app purchases you can buy. We haven’t announced any content yet for Wonderglade yet, but it’s a format we like to work in. People really like to see that we continue to develop for a title that they like.”

Marketing for Resolution Games has been mostly in the realm of generating press coverage, and to that end being a launch title for Google’s Daydream VR should be a solid boost. “I think it’s a very exciting opportunity,” Palm agreed. “There’s a lot of buzz around the new platform, and many people who saw Google’s talk had the opportunity to see our game there. Hopefully, that creates some buzz—it’s a very cheap type of marketing. I think it can be very good to be there from the early days, but it also sets a lot of requirements for game design. It’s not so easy to have a fixed deadline. One of the things I think Swedish developers have been good at is to plan, and not overpromise. We’ve been trying to be very sober in the amount of content we can have in a very short period.”

Looking around at the state of the market, Palm sees PlayStation VR as a worthy addition to the field. “I tried it myself, and I felt that it’s a really comfortable headset. That was a really striking thing,” Palm said. “I think it’s going to be very good initiative. Right now we want to grow the audience as much as possible, so any big initiative like that is good to see. I think it’s going to be very helpful to get them into the ecosystem as well. More people are going to try VR and you have a very unified base. As a developer, it’s much easier to target something like that than on the PC market. I haven’t tried any content yet that would sell it to me as a consumer of games.”

We’re at an interesting point in the VR market where there are many hardware choices for consumers interested in VR. As a consequence, this makes things harder to predict for developers and marketers trying to figure out where to place their bets. Palm sees a more complex VR market in the year ahead. “I think we’re going to have a few different choices,” Palm said. “I hope we’ll have a cross-platform environment. I’ve always been a fan of cross-platform games, where it’s so much easier for consumers to choose their device. I hope we’re not going to see these siloed experiences that we’ve seen on consoles.”

Palm also said: “I’d much rather have it that we all help out growing the VR market to what it has the potential to be, which is the next big platform shift in computing. Especially with AR looming around the corner as well.” The future looks bright all around for VR and AR, from Resolution Games’ viewpoint.

Littlstar Exec Explains PlayStation VR Non-Gaming Opportunities For Brands

Gamers powered up Sony Interactive Entertainment’s PlayStation VR on October 13, and one of the primary apps they found on the device was Littlstar VR. PSVR is the latest platform for the Disney-backed company, which is also available across Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Apple and Android devices. And it also aligns perfectly with the app’s users. “Sony sees Lilltstar as a global launch partner, and we’re one of a handful of companies that has that honor,” Tony Mugavero, founder and CEO of Littlstar, told [a]listdaily. “Our core demographic naturally gravitates towards gaming anyway. With the PSVR app, we’ve reworked the interface to have top-level channels that are branded mini experiences.”

Mugavero points to the Wargaming VR Room as a great example of content designed for gamers. While a lot of game companies have been focused on making games in VR, Wargaming is one that has leaned in on 360-degree video and used that as a great tool for marketing and doing mini-documentaries involving World War II history. “We’re highlighting Wargaming as a top-level channel so that viewers will see something that’s familiar to them in the gaming world, but is also great content,” Mugavero said. “We’ve tried to curate VR content toward the gaming demographic, but we’re also starting to show a broader range of content.”

Mugavero said there will be additional 360-degree content around at least one big game franchise launching this year on Littlstar, but he can’t reveal the game yet. “Not everyone will have a high-end PC, so game companies are figuring out 360-degree content for games through in-game footage, trailers and live action content,” Mugavero said. “There are a number of things coming.”

Having the app on every PS VR will guarantee eyeballs for marketers. “We’re having conversations with game companies about content and we’ll start to see more game marketing coming from 360-degree video, particularly now that Nvidia has opened up its graphics cards to import 360 video,” Mugavero said.

Mugavero believes Sony will see similar patterns that have emerged on PlayStation 4, where more people are using the console to consume non-gaming entertainment across streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, as well as Twitch and YouTube. “We have (VR) content from Showtime with boxing and sports-related stuff, Discovery has some great content from Shark Week and ABC is another top-level channel with interesting content,” Mugavero said. “There’s a new company, Mandt VR, that has some incredible stuff that’s really funny and edgier. It’s like what you’d see on TruTV and it’s faster-paced and great for a younger audience.”

Bento Box is a featured channel, although right now it just has a Bob’s Burger VR experience. “They’re working on a bunch of things and they’re leaning in heavily on the VR side of things,” Mugavero said. “We’re also working with them on a broader animation vertical. They have a bunch of things coming down the pipe. The animation side of things is a huge opportunity in VR. Bento Box is just a little behind because they had to modify the pipeline to work in VR because it’s hand-drawn.”

Littlstar recently worked with Universal Music on a One Republic virtual reality music video. And the company also inked a deal with Sony Music Japan to explore virtual reality opportunities involving artists. “Music content is heating up pretty quickly,” Mugavero said. “We’ve seen some pretty impressive music videos in VR. We’re also working on behind-the-scenes content to get up close and personal with the artist. We helped Warner Music with the production of a 30-minute concert film/documentary from Disturbed, which was shot at Red Rock in 360-degree video.”

There’s also a lot of interest from brands and sponsors that want to get involved in 360-degree content, according to Mugavero. “A lot of early content around 360-degree video has been brand-sponsored,” Mugavero said. “We’ve been approached by a number of brands interested in boosting their content to the top of our premium placement across all of the apps. We have a number of pieces coming in from outlets like the Discovery Channel where the brands are baked right into the content. There are revenue shares created around that type of content. It’s more like a traditional manual ad sales approach because the space is so new. There’s no VR ad network, really. And it’s difficult to run programmatic VR advertising to a couple million headsets. So a lot of opportunities are around branded content and having Littlstar provide a boost to watch that 360-degree content across multiple devices.”

Twitch Isn’t Just For Gaming, And That Goes For Ads Too

“For the first time ever, gamers now finally have a true social network suited for them,” reads the Twitch website. While gamers are a highly-interactive and lucrative, millennial-filled market, Twitch advertisers aren’t always video game-related. A growing list of brands are purchasing advertising space in the way of pre-mid-and-post-roll videos including Coke, Pepsi, Bud Light, Totino’s and Red Bull, just to name a few.

Brands are also turning to the platform to broadcast its own content, such as interactive scare sessions for Stranger Things and The Magnificent Seven. “We’re having tremendous success with nonendemic brands. The most significant shift we’ve seen is that gamers are now becoming an extremely attractive target,” Anthony Danzi, Twitch’s senior vice president of client strategy told The Wallstreet Journal.

Finding a balance between successful marketing on the platform and getting shut down altogether can be a real challenge for brands. Gamers and their fans aren’t thrilled to have their broadcasts interrupted, after all, which is why Twitch Prime was introduced for subscribers of Amazon. It’s worth a shot for many brands, however, as Twitch hosts 10 million daily active users globally, and those users spend a whopping 106 minutes per person per day on the site on average. Almost 500,000 new subscriptions have signed up since Twitch Prime was announced, according to Justin Wong, VP of Twitch eSports.

Could Twitch be a sleeping giant for advertising dollars? While Twitch doesn’t yet share the same visitor count as Facebook or YouTube, sometimes quality over quantity yields the best results. Twitch claims that 75 percent of its users are male, with 73 percent of them between the ages of 18 to 49, and that the service reaches 50 percent of US millennial males. Studies show that gamers are more interactive and loyal when it comes to brands—a huge reason why non-traditional brands, particularly sports leagues have taken notice.



How ‘Hitman’ Won Over Gamers With Its First Season

Hitman, the game where players take the role of a master assassin named Agent 47 to eliminate targets however they can, saw some stunning promotions leading up to its launch as an episodic game series. Since then, the game has been challenging players with new locations and elusive targets—characters that players have only one chance and a limited window of opportunity to take out.

The first season, which is comprised of six episodes and a prologue, will release its finale on October 31, which takes place in Japan. Then the game will release on disc in January before developer Io-Interactive begins work on the second season. In a sense, the approach of the season finale brings a sense of freedom to the developers. Up until the release of the penultimate episode, Colorado, the studio had to downplay the story, which had to remain as a great mystery. This made promoting the game all that much more difficult.

(Left) Michael Vogt, Hitman lead writer. (Right) Sven Liebold, global brand PR manager
(Left) Michael Vogt, Hitman lead writer. (Right) Sven Liebold,

Hitman’s lead writer Michael Vogt, and Sven Liebold, the global brand PR manager recently talked with [a]listdaily about bringing the first season of its episodic game to its conclusion, the power of its main character, and what might be in store for the future.

Vogt, in describing the new Hitman game said, “we set out to reimagine the Hitman franchise as a cool, contemporary spy thriller set in a believable universe with characters you actually care about in a mature, intelligent, way.”

Part of that plan was to create an ambitious episodic storyline that covered multiple seasons. Hitman is a unique game on multiple levels, starting with how the main characters of story usually end up being the targets. The episodes are also unlike most other AAA games, with its sandbox gameplay, where players are free to do anything they please, and elusive target challenges. However, keeping the plot that tied all the episodes together under wraps proved to be a challenge.

“We decided to just launch the storyline. We didn’t make a big fuss about it.” Io let people pick up the essence of the story, and the World of Assassination, as they played. As an episodic game, Io wanted to give players a chance to be Agent 47 and conduct business as usual, taking out targets, before realizing that they were all connected to a larger plot. Players experienced what it was like to be Agent 47 and travel the world. They went to Paris to become a superspy, but it wasn’t until recently that the plot became clear enough for many players to discern what was going on.

Vogt noted that Hitman has a fan base that’s very loyal, and when they first saw that the prologue delved into the Agent 47’s past, and then played the Paris mission, they were probably confused about the plot but remained engaged with the game. “There was enthusiasm, then confusion, then enthusiasm again,” said Vogt.

Vogt also stated that with episodic games, he could spend more time developing characters, while with a traditional game, the story had to move at the same pace as the action. “As a writer, I can plan storylines for multiple seasons, but I don’t know how it will actually turn out,” he said and discussed how the main beats of the storyline are filled out, but each mission is its own self-contained universe with “a buffet of different approaches” to solve them.

Liebold talked about pleasing the fan base. They didn’t plan out episodes saying to themselves that they were destined to become fan favorites. Incidentally, the most popular level is the villa of Sapienza. “At least from a holistic perspective, that’s a fan favorite,” said Liebold. Other favorites include the Bangkok mission because of its storyline. All of it builds to the penultimate episode in Colorado, where stealth plays a considerably greater role than in previous missions.

“It’s interesting to see things unfold from the player’s side,” said Vogt. “When we first started in March, there were a lot of concerns.” He said that there were some supportive fans, but others that claimed that the episodic format wouldn’t work. “In the end, that really shifted around a bit—when players realized they have this one level and they can spend extra time there. One thing we’re really proud of is making replay fun.”

The two compared rushing through and playing Hitman like a traditional game to going into a bar and taking one sip of a beer before moving to the next one. “The replay value is huge,” said Liebold. “It’s not just that it’s fun to replay, it’s that it’s necessary if you want to discover the stuff that’s in there.”

“The interesting thing for me is that the game now is sort of different from what we started out with in March,” said Vogt. “The episodic nature of the game truly gives us an opportunity to react to community feedback very quickly, and also gives a lot of freedom to put stuff into episodes that we missed out on [in previous episodes].” For example, in the Paris mission, fans found a vampire magician costume and had lots of fun with it. Those antics inspired a Vampire Magician Challenge Pack, which turned out to be a great success. “We really embrace the freedom the episodic model gives us.”


Vogt also discussed the success of the live content, particularly the elusive targets. “It’s a very bold move to set up the elusive targets, where you have one shot and one target in a certain amount of time. The question was: how much time is good? Forty hours? Twenty-four hours? Do we have to set up for three days? Four days?”

Liebold also talked about the elusive targets. “We made it clear from the beginning that the best experience is if you join right from the beginning,” he said. Elusive target content to helped to fill in the time between the episodes. Liebold also said that the team understands that there will be frustration from players, having missed out on these timed events, but “that doesn’t mean that we don’t have something in store for when the discs release.”

When asked about the difficulty of promoting the Hitman episodes, given its unique gameplay and complex plot, Vogt spoke about how “vulnerable” the game was. Players can’t just play it for five minutes to truly understand it. They have to fully commit to playing it. “Unless you take the time to not only play the training, but walk around listen to the characters and what they’re saying, they (the episodes) could come across as thin because they’re only experiencing two percent of the actual game.”

Liebold added that talking about Hitman can be difficult because it’s such unique game. “There’s nothing out there like this,” he said. “It’s really hard to bring across this sort of gameplay, because it’s attached to so much creative freedom. You can do whatever you want. . . It’s difficult to bring across what Hitman actually is unless you take the control pad and take the time to embrace it and rub it in. Then you start to realize what Hitman actually is.”


When asked about what made Agent 47, a cold killer, such an enduring character after so many games, Vogt responded by saying “he has been many different things.” In the past, he has been the master assassin, and the latest game portrays him more as a spy. Liebold characterized Agent 47 as a “master strategist who is always two steps ahead.” He also added that, “many of our fans don’t like the idea of him changing.” That doesn’t mean that the developers can’t add personality, but the evolution of his character needs to be subtle. Vogt also stated that everybody in the audience has a different idea of what Agent 47 should be, and striking the right balance is the challenge.

From Android To AdWords: 9 Stats You Shouldn’t Miss This Week

What’s the next hottest place to buy ads, and what makes consumers even look at them? This week we explore budget trends, a surprising turn in mobile dominance and why less people are turning to hotels for their next vacation.

Renting Socially

Monthly visits to residential rental sites including Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway are up 70.3 percent over the last three years, according to data by Hitwise, a division of Connexity. The report predicts that residential rental sites will surpass hotel direct sites in traffic within the next 12 months. These rental options are widely shared via social media, and receive more traffic (7.3 percent) from social sites over hotel aggregators like Booking.com (3.9 percent) or hotels directly.

Android Uprising

Mobile advertisers are spending more money on Android, according to September data on mobile ad spending from a report by mobile marketing firm Fiksu DSP. The data shows that Android is catching up to iOS with CPP rising 59 percent since September 2015.

“It’s clear looking at these metrics that among advertisers, Android is no longer an afterthought. Marketers know what to expect from iOS, including what they’ll earn and what they have to pay per user, so costs have settled into a more stable range,” said Micah Adler, CEO and founder of Fiksu DSP, in a statement. “Now, monetization levels on Android are proving that it can be as effective as iOS in terms of bottom line dollars, which is sending a signal to developers, publishers, and marketers that they should be putting more effort and money into their Android apps.”


To VR Or Not VR?

According to a poll taken by ClickZ Intelligence, 37 percent of US consumers have tried out a virtual reality headset versus 19 percent in the UK. The study consisted of 1,000 people in the US and 1,000 in the UK. Despite the increased awareness and hands-on experience, only six percent of Americans will own a VR headset this year, according to a forecast report by market researcher Strategy Analytics. Of those who own a headset, the report predicts, 93 percent will have basic smartphone models, while only one percent will buy the most expensive headsets, such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.

While consumers might hesitate to invest right away, businesses are definitely on board—DeLoitte published a survey in August that found 88 percent of mid-market companies (firms with annual revenue of between $100 million and $1 billion) were using some form of virtual or augmented reality as part of their business, such as tourism or health care. Citi predicts hardware sales, specifically of headsets, will be the primary driver of the industry’s growth and the VR and AR market will be worth $692 billion by 2025, rising to more than a trillion by the following decade.

Gunning For The Holidays

First-person-shooters are at the top of the holiday wish list, with two titles in particular. According to Nielsen Game Rank, 96 percent of gamers are excited for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and the same amount are just as excited about EA’s Battlefield 1Final Fantasy XV comes in third at 95 percent anticipation, followed by Mafia III at 83 percent. The number one most-anticipated title for Xbox One is Gears of War 4 at a whopping 99 percent.

Brands And Agencies Disagree On Marketing Budgets

What is the most important type of marketing to invest in? According to a survey from Hanapin Marketing, 75 percent of US marketing professionals said that they plan to increase their AdWords budget in the next 12 months (as of August 2016), more than any other option. Following at 73 percent is mobile advertising and Facebook at 69 percent. Brands and marketing agencies have slightly different priorities, the study showed. Over 50 percent of brands cited social advertising as most important over the prior 12 months and 46 percent of agencies agreed. When it comes to social commerce, however, 38 percent of agencies called it the most important compared to only 26 percent of brands.

Feeling Free (With Ad Support)

Seventy-nine percent of consumers prefer to access free-or-ad-supported content, according to an online survey by CodeFuel and Nielsen. The data shows when and why participants interact with an ad. Forty-three percent will watch an entire video ad if it has interesting content, 39 percent click on an ad if it has an interesting offer and 28 percent will click if it’s an ad by a preferred brand. There’s still quite a bit of resistance to advertising, however, with 25 percent claiming that nothing would make them click on any ad.

The Sweet Sound Of Marketing

More brands are investing in digital audio, according to a recent study. Advertising Age and The Trade Desk, along with Advantage Business Research, surveyed 532 marketing and media professionals about the future of digital audio ads, and the potential impact of programmatic buying. In June, respondents said seven percent of their ad budgets were set aside for digital audio. but in the next 12 months, their investment in the format would likely grow to 11.6 percent. 67.5 percent of respondents in the US said that streaming music services are of interest when considering buying programmatically. Podcasts were the next choice at 41.7 percent and formatted music channels at 37.4 percent.

Pampering Pays Off

Diaper manufacturer Pampers ranks number one when it comes to brand experience, according to the latest Group XP’s The Experience Index. The study considered revenue, branding, store design, content, online presence and data from Millward Brown and BrandZ to measure customer satisfaction. Following Pampers on the list are Disney, Paypal, DHL and Facebook.

More People Watch Live TV On Cable

Can’t wait to watch your favorite shows? It turns out that when it comes to tuning in to live TV, more people do so on cable than on broadcast networks. TiVo Research’s Q2 State of TV report tracks time-shifting—watching at times other than when a show was broadcast—pulling data from more than 2.3 million households including TiVo owners and other cable providers. For cable prime-time viewing during the quarter, 88 percent was viewed live, with total day viewing even higher at 91 percent. Broadcast networks, however, saw only 74 percent viewed live, with 80 percent watching the same day as the original broadcast. In case you’re wondering who gets the most live views, it’s ESPN at 92 percent. The CW, meanwhile, is only watched live 56 percent of the time.

GameStop CEO, Paul Raines Sees Huge Attach Rate With PlayStation VR Hardware Sales

Sony Interactive Entertainment has officially entered the virtual reality fray with the launch of the PlayStation VR, and the company celebrated the release of its VR headset at 1,650 GameStop retail locations, which held midnight launch events across the country.

Paul Raines, CEO of GameStop, told [a]listdaily that there’s been a lot of interest in PSVR from early pre-orders, and that he and several executives attending launch events last night in Dallas, New York City, Miami and California and his teams felt really good about the events. “PSVR is the most exciting thing we’ve seen this year,” Raines said. “It expands video gaming and will help us return to growth.”

Paul Raines
Paul Raines, CEO of GameStop

Raines noted that both PSVR SKUs, the $500 bundle and $400 core edition, have been selling through well. “Our attach rate for PlayStation VR was one of the highest of the year,” he said. “There are a lot of accessories with this device with the Move controllers and the camera, in addition to the games. That’s great for both the new and pre-owned markets.”

Raines said GameStop has seen a significant amount of trade-in promotions. “We’ve been pushing out trade credit to customers over the last two months,” Raines said. “We had one of the top trade days of the year with this launch.”

Since PSVR requires a PS4 console, the dynamic of this new platform launch differs from the traditional introduction of new hardware. Raines said a lot of old next gen games have been traded in, which will help GameStop on sell-through at holiday.

GameStop began demoing PSVR the past few weeks across 1,700 stores, and although the retailer also offers in-store demos for the HTC Vive, they are at fewer locations. “Demos are key for VR,” Raines said. “If you don’t have someone show you the experience, it’s hard to get excited about it.”

Raines said that because of its tight partnership with Sony, GameStop will have the largest allocation of PSVR hardware available across its 4,000 stores—bigger than Amazon, Best Buy and anyone in the market. “Sony has been working on VR for over four years and there are a lot of publishers who have been developing games for PSVR, which is why we’re seeing 50 games in the launch window,” Raines said. “That’s a good way to put your product in the market. Wii U had 10 titles and half were shovelware and not great titles. Sony having 50 games by holiday is exciting stuff.”

Publishers like Ubisoft have invested heavily in VR development across PSVR and other platforms while 2K Games, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Sega and Electronic Arts have all stepped into VR. “This is a real disruptive moment for publishers, and you really have to be all-in with VR if you’re going to make games for it,” Raines said. “VR requires significant investment, but there’s a lot of potential there.”

Next up for Sony is the November 10 launch of PlayStation 4 Pro, the $400 4K gaming and entertainment device that will give PS4 and PSVR games an upgrade with improved visuals and faster processing power. “It’s too early to tell the demand for PS4 Pro,” Raines said. “We had a ton of early adopters last night line-up for PSVR. Power Up Rewards has two levels. There’s the free option, and then the premium level ‘pro’ folks that have been getting lots of extra benefits. They want the latest tech and will probably be trading in PS4 for PS4 Pro, as well. PS4 is a great device. And people who own PS3s and want to upgrade will want PS4s, so it’s great for everyone.”



Although GameStop sells HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, Raines believes PSVR will be the clear winner this fall in the virtual reality arena. “We always said the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are more expensive propositions that require higher-end PCs to run richer experiences,” Raines said. “Sony VR will get most of the market share this year. We think this will be the mass market VR console and device. Sony has a great install base with PS4.”

With regard to the upcoming $200 release of Oculus Touch controllers this December, Raines believes introducing new accessories is always risky. “Sony has struggled for years to get it right with PlayStation Move and Microsoft’s Kinect didn’t have legs with Kinect,” Raines said. “Oculus Touch has great potential, but we have to manage the cost. The sweet spot to get a large install base built is not $1,000.”

psvrRaines is excited about the non-gaming opportunities virtual reality opens up, including everything from sports spectating to the travel industry to education. “VR could be a game-changer in how we live our lives,” Raines said. “You can go to your travel agent and see your cruise ship before stepping on board. We’ve had board members talk about VR in the education space. My kids are seeing lectures by video on laptops today, not too far from now they’ll be able to virtually explore how hydrogen is created through VR.”

The billions of dollars that have been invested in new VR hardware is good for more than just the gaming market. “What’s exciting is the rush to invest in VR,” Gaines said. “We have not seen this much activity in the video game space in quite a while. It’s a real growth industry.”

Raines is bullish on the games industry today, on the heels of Microsoft’s Xbox One S launch, the PSVR release, and next year’s Nintendo NX and Microsoft’s Project Scorpio. “2017 could be a record year for the industry,” Raines said. “People will scoff at the idea, but when you see some of the stuff they’re working on—the innovation between VR and some of the new consoles coming out, the experience will change dramatically. There are a lot of digital properties, and we’re involved in those, but there’s also new physical media that may not be disc-based. These consoles will be significantly impacting the industry.”

Raines wouldn’t confirm that Nintendo NX is cartridge-based like online rumors have stated, but he said there’s “strong innovation” coming from that hardware. He’s meeting with Nintendo next week in Seattle to discuss the NX launch.

GameStop has also invested heavily in the mobile space through its Spring Mobile AT&T stores. VR will be getting a big push from Google in November with the launch of Daydream VR. “Daydream will be good for us,” Raines said. “It has a lot of potential, and we think it will be a big push for mobile gaming.”

Steam Dev Days Markets A Virtual And Connected Future For Gaming

Steam Dev Days is Valve’s developer convention that takes place in Seattle every two years. The event is for developers only, but those in attendance were quick to share Valve’s vision of the future on social media. One of the biggest announcements was Steam Link, a device that lets you stream Steam games from your PC to your TV, will be built into some of Samsung’s upcoming smart TV models. That’s exciting for consumers, but here’s what Valve is marketing to developers:

Virtual Worlds

In addition to hosting an open VR development platform, Valve is investing in VR companies, particularly Nitero who is responsible for 60GHz wireless transfer technology, according to a live Tweet from the keynote. This partnership could result in a leap for wireless VR headsets. Valve, which built most of the underlying VR tech for the HTC Vive, shared that its online store now has over 600 virtual reality titles and is registering 1,000 new VR users every day, encouraging developers to jump on board.

“Although we’re not going to treat dev days this year as the place or the time to make big product announcements related to the content we have in development at Valve for virtual reality, I do think that once it comes time to do that next year that nobody in this room is going to be disappointed about what we have in the works,” stated Valve’s Greg Coomer in a Periscope video.

More Control

Excited developers got their hands on prototypes for the new Vive controllers, which track hand movements—most notably the ability to partially open or close them, a feature that is incredibly helpful for testing in a virtual reality environment, particularly when gamers want to handle everything they see.

PC gamers will soon be able to use a PS4 controller natively in Steam, thanks to an update that will allow full configuration. “This means that players can pair their PS4 controller directly to their PC and use all the configurability options available to the Steam Controller, including use of the PS4 touchpad and gyro,” said Lars Doucet, developer of Defender’s Quest in a presentation for enhanced controller support.

Developers were also shown a radically-redesigned Steam Controller along with confirmation of Steam Machine exclusives, although the company is encouraging third-party Steam controller manufacturing.

Valve also discussed an improved Lighthouse base station for increased accuracy. The tracking system allows devices outfitted with sensors to connect to Valve’s base stations receivers and then show up as tracked objects in the virtual world. Valve wants the Lighthouse standard to be as “ubiquitous as WiFi,” and is thus open-licensing the tech to any dev that wants to check it out. As of now, the company says they have 300 hardware partners building Lighthouse-tracked devices.

Overall, Valve pushed the importance of new technology, player experiences and localization—particularly to the growing Asian demographic. By remaining an open source development platform, Valve hopes that Steam will attract more diversity and accessibility to developers than the Oculus Rift.

Smile: Expedia Uses Facial Recognition For ‘Discover Your Aloha’ Campaign

Can a smile determine what kind of Hawaiian vacation you’d like best? Expedia’s “Discover Your Aloha” campaign uses facial recognition software to do just that. A strategic partnership with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) seeks to inspire vacation goers, particularly millennials, with this interactive frontline marketing by using their own emotional response to custom-tailor a vacation experience–at a discount, no less.

The “Discover Your Aloha” microsite features brightly-colored images and video footage largely captured by drones via the land, sea and sky. With the viewer’s permission, custom-built facial recognition software identifies which footage evokes the most positive reaction from the viewer. The algorithm identifies the personal preferences of each viewer and pairs them with their ‘Aloha’ represented by an animal guide of significance to Hawaiian culture: ‘Iwa (Bird) Hawaii’s all-knowing guide; He‘e (Octopus), Hawaii’s loving spirit; or Pua‘a (Pig), Hawaii’s bold adventurer. After all, a trip to Hawaii could be anything from lounging on the beach to hiking a live volcano, and would-be travelers may not know where to start. Personalizing each vacation offer recognizes that not all travelers are the same, and thus honoring the desires of each individual.

Envisioning your next vacation destination is going far beyond the brochure, thanks to the adoption of new technology by companies worldwide. Carnival Cruise Line employs virtual reality to bring the curious onboard and has even added video game elements to their ships to entertain younger guests. Hilton Hotels uses interactive, 360-degree videos to encourage exploration of various destinations. “Virtual reality technology is here to stay and we will continue leveraging this exciting capability to create new experiences for travelers from the moment they begin thinking about their trip to when they’re ready to book that dream vacation,” Stuart Foster, Hilton Worldwide’s vice president of global marketing, told [a]listdaily.

With its “Discover Your Aloha” campaign, Expedia wants to connect with its audience on an emotional level. “By integrating the facial recognition technology to identify the content and guide that resonates most positively with the viewer, the experience and perception of the Hawaiian Islands as a travel destination can be even more personal and inspiring for the viewer,” Noah Tratt, Global senior vice president of Expedia wrote. “It’s not just about being innovative, but it’s using innovation in a strategic way to achieve the right results.”

The campaign will run in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand on Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity and Wotif sites throughout the year.