Versus Systems Uses Prizes To Connect Brands With Games

As the tremendous rise of eSports has demonstrated, video games gain an extra sense of excitement when stakes are involved. However, developing the right prizing system requires a considerable amount of time and investment. Versus Systems looks to ease the process with a prizing platform that integrates directly into games, giving players seamless access to prizes that range from in-game add-ons to soft drinks and food, to live events such as concerts.

Versus works with developers and publishers for the prize structure and adhering to laws, which can be exceptionally tricky at times. In short, Versus handles all the work of managing prizes and competitions while leaving developers free to make the best game possible. At the same time, it identifies player characteristics such as age, location and in-game behaviors and matches them to digital and real-world prizes. Meanwhile, players select from a range of prizes, improving both engagement and enjoyment.

Versus announced today that it filed multiple patents that expand its “existing portfolio of prizing, promotion, and financial technologies that enable brands to reach the rapidly growing competitive gaming audience of players, spectators and broadcasters.” The platfrom is expected to launch later this year with a focus on PC and console games, but it’s platform agnostic, so mobile game integration may not be far off. Matthew Pierce, founder and CEO of Versus Systems spoke with [a]listdaily about the benefits of the prizing platform and how it can significantly improve engagement with games.

Matthew Pierce, Versus Systems founder and CEO
Matthew Pierce, Versus Systems founder and CEO

How would you describe the Versus platform and how does it work? 

Versus Systems has developed a prizing and promotions platform that enables game developers and brands to offer prize-based matches to players at home. It is a B2B enterprise solution, integrated directly into games, that enables publishers, developers, and brands to schedule and manage promotions and campaigns in-game with Dynamic Regulatory Compliance, rewarding players with targeted, contextual prizing that they want.

What are the advantages of using the Versus platform compared to hosting an in-game event or partnering directly with a brand?

There are three key advantages to the Versus platform: first, Versus makes games more fun for players and spectators for the long-term. Developers and publishers can work with brands to create and manage regular, changing and evolving campaigns—keeping both the game and the prizes fresh for players and spectators—driving engagement for all involved.

Second, Versus provides Dynamic Regulatory Compliance (DRC) so developers and publishers can focus on what they do best: creating the best possible game experience for the people that love their games. Our system addresses player verification, as well as the ever-changing regulations around prizing eligibility and distribution, taking that burden off the shoulders of publishers and developers.

Third, the Versus platform is simply easier to work with from a brand and developer standpoint. We have a dashboard that allows developers to choose prizes, manage inventory, and collect rich data about player preferences. The platform flexibility allows for regional prizing, and adaptive campaigns that can adjust to player behavior. This system allows brands and developers to avoid the long lead times and the hassles of the one-off deals and minimum requirements that have historically been hallmarks of the brand-developer relationship. We can be faster, more flexible, and more adaptive to players’ needs with this platform.

Finally, the Versus platform is an integrated prizing and promotions solution. It’s not just overlays, banner ads and interstitials that create friction. It’s offering players the opportunity to play for prizes that they want, making the brand’s merchandise more exciting and aspirational, while keeping the players and spectators in-game and immersed in the experience. It’s a way for brands to interact with players and spectators organically with targeted, contextual prizing.

What kinds of games can best make use of Versus?

At Versus we love the passion that players have for their favorite games. The avid fan bases and specific match structures of competitive multiplayer genres like first-person shooters, MOBAs, and fighting games make those games ideal for the existing platform, but we are already hard at work writing IP and creating functionality for single player and sandbox games as well. We’re building solutions for any game that features engaging sessions of play showcasing individual skill.

How can Versus be used to promote games and brands on broadcast platforms like Twitch and YouTube?

Both players and spectators love it when games have stakes. We are simply more likely to watch games where there’s something on the line. We are currently in discussions with broadcast platforms about creating prizing opportunities for spectators, but in the near-term, we believe that our platform will help to make certain matches much more exciting for spectators who want to see how players react when there’s something to play for.

Do the prize companies get to choose which games they’re associated with and vice versa?

We help bring brands and developers together. In the case where a developer already has existing relationships with a brand or brands, we make those interactions richer by facilitating more player engagement. In the cases where the developer does not have existing relationships, we enable them to choose from a variety of prizing partners based on whose products they believe will resonate most with their players. Brands get the opportunity to offer prizes to specific games and specific players, and Versus does make those conversations easier—especially given that the platform allows for short term and limited time engagements. But the ultimate decision of which prizes are available in which games rests with the publishers and developers of the games.

How is the winning criteria determined? Will players have to compete as hard for DLC and soft drinks as they would concert tickets or money?

Developers and publishers set the win conditions to give players the best possible experience. While it is likely that competition for high-value prizes will attract the most attention, and the most competition, the platform has been developed to allow players of all skill types to play each other for stakes. This is most clearly seen in invite-only matches where players can invite specific friends to play rather than trying to take on the whole world. We know that sometimes players don’t want to be the best player on earth, they just want to be the best one in the house/office/friend circle.

What are the challenges of offering prizes on a global scale?

Regulations governing regional rewards distribution is a complicated problem that has always prevented brands from providing players the promotions they want and need. Versus exists to solve the challenge of supporting developers, publishers, and brands that serve global audiences. We recognize that what players are into winning is as unique as the games they are into playing. While we’re launching in the US initially, where brand partnerships are more common, the Versus platform will make it possible for games to engage with regional brands and provide prizes worldwide that are aligned with the best interest of their players.

Apart from money, how do you ensure that prizes such as event tickets match the player’s tastes? 

The Versus platform allows players to make the choice of what prizes they want to play for. Prizes with regional emphasis, like tickets to concerts or live eSports events, are made possible by prioritizing those options to players who are within a specific travel distance, based on a location-verification system. That said, there are fans who might fly across the country to see a certain team or show, so our platform provides players with the ability to find any match where they are eligible for the prize, which may be somewhere outside the area that they live or play in.

In what way will Versus help improve engagement with games and how does it enhance their existing rewards systems such as unlockables?

People love playing for real stakes. They practice more, they play more, they talk more—they engage more—when something is on the line. This is true with some existing rewards systems, but it’s even more true with Versus. Our system allows players to invite other players to matches featuring certain prizes. We also allow help to enable publishers and developers to create and manage even larger matches and tournaments featuring higher stakes.

We believe that prize-based matches are going to become a standard in the industry, but until then, games with this functionality will be more interesting to players than games that don’t. Games that have interesting prizes that change over time will have more opportunities to engage with players than games that don’t. Our goal is to help publishers and developers to turn non-players into players, players into active players, and active players into daily active players.

No matter the game, fresh prizing provides players something new to play for—a new reason to play—whether it is on a monthly, weekly or daily cycle. Campaigns supported by this platform can work in concert with promoting in-game expansions, season of eSports, new licensed merchandise, new brand partners, etc. In that way, the Versus platform can be a discovery engine, enabling larger publishers and developers to offer DLC and licensed goods of other games that are under the same publisher or developer banner, cross-selling and cross-promoting those items.

Our team understands that the nuances of player engagement are specific to each game and subject to the evolving cultures around gameplay. Versus provides developers and publishers a suite of tools to identify and refine what works best for their players by game, mode, and region with the flexibility to evolve over time to serve their community.

Inside The Record-Breaking Sales For This Year’s Black Friday

Post-Thanksgiving shopper madness is stompingly underway, and while the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday tradition is starting to catch on outside the US, American shoppers are spending more than ever this holiday season—a lot more. Adobe and the Consumer Technology Association both report record-breaking figures for the year so far, poising retailers for a shopping event to remember.

Record-breaking sales

More than $5 billion was spent online over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a 17.7 percent increase year-over-year, according to a weekend report by Adobe. Black Friday itself set a new record by surpassing the $3 billion mark for the first time at $3.34 billion, a growth of 21.6 percent YoY.

Black Friday also became the first day in retail history to drive over $1 billion in mobile revenue at $1.2 billion, a 33 percent growth YoY. Conversions improved over holiday averages, reported Adobe, with smartphones at 2.4 percent, tablets at 4.6 percent and desktops at 5.5 percent (compared to holiday averages of 1.3, 2.9 and 3.2 percent, respectively). The average order value (AOV) on iOS smartphones ($142) was higher compared to Android smartphones ($130).

More shoppers

According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the number of US adults shopping during the week starting on Black Friday has increased six percent over the last year to 135.9 million. The National Retail Federation says 122 million Americans plan to shop online on Cyber Monday, up from 121 million who planned to do so last year.


Still Flocking To Stores

Despite all those disturbing images of Black Friday crowds, Americans still prefer to buy in-store. Of the 25 percent of Americans planning to buy tech this week (surveyed by the CTA), 76 percent were doing so in physical stores, while 57 percent shopped online and some did both. It seems ironic not to use tech to buy tech, but CTA attributes this trend to a need for physical contact and analysis before buying.

What people are buying

The CTA’s 2016 Post Black Friday Survey also finds it was a record year for tech with 61.7 million American adults (25 percent), an increase over last year, that have bought or plan to buy tech products over the course of the holiday shopping week.

Adobe reports this year’s hottest items to be: 

Toys: LEGO builder sets, Razor electronic scooters

Tech: Apple iPads, Samsung 4K TVs

Video Games: Pokémon Sun and Moon, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Consoles: PlayStation 4Xbox One

Why Cap’n Crunch Is Bringing Branded Content To The Web With A Fake Morning Show

Cap’n Crunch is tapping into the spirit of its cereal to cultivate equity among consumers through The Earliest Show, a brand-sponsored entertainment series and ad concept made in partnership with Funny Or Die.

The fictional six-episode series—a morning show that takes place in the middle of the night—stars perky co-hosts Ben Schwartz (Parks and Rec, House of Lies) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black).

Quaker, the parent company of Cap’n Crunch, created the video vehicle to connect with nocturnal male millennials who snack at non-breakfast times.

“Consumers have more control over their media consumption than ever before,” Jessica Spaulding, marketing director for Quaker, told [a]listdaily. “It made more sense for our brand to find ways to be part of their experience versus just trying to interrupt it. Through The Earliest Show, we’re creating meaningful connections with our consumers that cater to their very interests, humor and aspirations.”

Each episode of the digital shenanigans ranges roughly to a dozen minutes and features guests such as Reggie Miller, Reggie Watts, Jake Johnson, Jane Levy, Thomas Middleditch and Pedro Pascal. The hijinks are highlighted by the comedian Schwartz botching a live on-air proposal in the first episode, and the eventual unraveling of his life that ensues afterward.

The show’s skits are integrated with cooking tutorials and wacky infomercials at the halfway point of each episode.


“In the series you’ll see the brand is featured in infomercials that break up each episode and within the show as a segment sponsor, or featured in cooking segments. We wanted brand integration to feel natural to the humor of the show, and to do that we had to find the right balance of being featured versus not appearing at all,” said Spaulding. “We saw an opportunity to disrupt the space by speaking specifically to [millennial males] in a way that really breaks through their daily clutter and makes them think about the brand in a new way. Our work with Funny or Die demonstrates how a brand can put a platform, in this case The Earliest Show, at the center of a marketing program versus starting with a tactic such as a 30-second spot or pre roll.”

Spaulding said that co-developing and co-creating the series with Funny Or Die and their president of digital, Chris Bruss, has been instrumental to the success the comedy show has seen since it premiered in late October.

“From the beginning, it’s been such an integrated and collaborative experience for both sides and I think Chris would tell you that, too,” Spaulding said. “We worked together to land in a spot where we’ve created some awesome content for the consumer.”

Marketers from companies like Starbucks, Geico, Chipotle and Nutella are increasingly using branded content in favor of pre-roll ads to elicit emotional responses from viewers. The alternative entertainment is outperforming the traditional and sometimes archaic format.

Original branded content generates an average of 86 percent brand recall among consumers—a much higher number than the 65 percent with pre-roll advertising—according to a July study from Television News Daily.

Cereal brands in particular are experimenting in unique marketing to share and showcase their stories for next-level engagement. Earlier this summer, Kellogg’s and Post both used virtual reality to connect with cereal-loving enthusiasts and General Mills, who has its own newsroom and has become an earned media machine in recent years—dove into eSports and became the first presenting sponsor of Yahoo ESports Live, an hour-long pair of weekly live shows. Cap’n Crunch previously poured branded content over its cereal in 2013 with an animated YouTube show.

All of this marketing is to combat the stale and soggy sales statistics cereal brands have been dealing with in recent years. By the end of 2016, sales of hot and cold cereals will have declined by about 17 percent from $12.7 billion in 2009, according to research firm IBISWorld.

The Earliest Show is not your typical brand sponsorship, and it has the potential to turn some heads in advertising. Whether or not it’s savored or soured by the patrons they’re targeting remains to be seen.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan


How ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Promotions Were Powered By Its Fans

This week, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs 2 launches on PC and The Crew gets a Calling All Units expansion. Darksiders: Warmastered Edition is also now available, harnessing the power of both a Horseman of the Apocalypse and how nostalgia fuels remastered video games. But the star of the week, aside from turkey leftovers, is a not-so-little title by Square Enix that has a lot of gamers “fantasizing” about November 29.

Final Fantasy XV

If you have any Final Fantasy fans on your payroll, don’t be too surprised if they call in “sick” this week as they return to the world of Eos for about a million hours of gameplay. This wildly-imaginative (and often confusing) video game franchise has inspired full-length animated films, a concert series and has even been the face of Louis Vuitton—but despite some very clever marketing, nostalgia plays a major role in why fans return again and again.

To explore this concept, Square Enix invited game developers and fans to share how the franchise affected their lives using the hashtag, #FFLegacies. The Final Fantasy XV: New Legacy campaign culminated into a video that showcased these memories and ideas, while allowing a chosen few to preview the game for themselves and showing their reactions to the camera. “By having fans share their personal experience,” Square Enix says on the campaign website, “it serves as a reminder that much like how each Final Fantasy has a completely different story, world and characters, we all bring distinctive and new perspectives to the legacy that is Final Fantasy.”

Lucky fans in the UK got to check out the game a week early and have a bit of experiential fun when Square Enix teamed up with IGN for the Final Fantasy XV IGN Premiere event in London. The exclusive event on November 22 featured life-sized creature statues, game demos and even a potion-making station. For those who weren’t able to attend, there was a one-hour live broadcast from the activation with developer interviews and never-before-seen game content.

Microsoft was definitely on board to help promote the title, partnering with Square Enix to create a special edition FFXV-themed Xbox One that features a unique, Magitek armor design. In honor of its DC cross-over event, the CW is giving away one of these consoles along with an Xbox One code for the game through November 30. Whether or not a fan gets their hands on the special console, anyone with an Xbox can check out the Final Fantasy XV Experience, where they can view character and creature profiles, watch trailers and participate in a quiz.

Sony got in on the action too, offering a special Deluxe Edition PlayStation 4 Slim bundle that features its own custom console and controller along with a steelbook, Blu-ray of the Final Fantasy movie and a number of exclusive in-game items. Sony also offered exclusive pre-order bonuses for PS4 that include an in-game weapon, vehicle skin, DLC and a PlayStation home screen theme.

Amazon Japan participated in a publicity stunt in which randomly-selected shipments arrived in boxes that appeared to have been ripped open, exposing copies of Final Fantasy XV inside. The stunt worked, with recipients posting pictures and comments on social media. Meanwhile, in London, renowned chef Jamie Oliver created a special menu for his restaurant to commemorate the game from November 22 to the 29.

Speaking of food, the US is getting its first-ever Final Fantasy-themed beverage thanks to Jones Soda and Target. Those who show proof of purchase for Final Fantasy XV on either PlayStation 4 or Xbox One will receive a free bottle of Wiz’s Energizing Elixer at participating Target locations. The orange and cream soda-flavored soda can also be purchased separately in-store.

As mentioned earlier, the game series is notoriously time-consuming and so imaginative that it borders on confusing. Such was the case when Final Fantasy XV was featured on Conan O’Brien’s Clueless Gamer segment. O’Brien, along with guest Elijah Wood found themselves more dumbfounded than excited after spending more time in the game than any other on the show. “I don’t know what we achieved,” O’Brien commented. “I don’t know what we were trying to achieve. I have no sense of satisfaction.”

O’Brien later yelled, “You’re a mass murderer of people’s time!” at the developers as they laughed. “Babies will never be born because of you! Crops will not be brought in from the fields! That said, good job.”

MZ CEO Explains Mobile Game Marketing Success

At the recent Web Summit in London, MZ (formerly Machine Zone) CEO Gabe Leydon spoke on stage about the company’s massive marketing efforts that have helped it maintain a position near the top of the mobile game charts. Leydon described MZ as “probably the world’s largest direct response marketer and largest single product marketer on mobile.” He presented some astonishing facts and figures about MZ’s marketing efforts.

Gabe Leydon, MZ CEO

MZ’s huge hits Game of War: Fire Age and Mobile Strike have maintained a top five position in the top-grossing charts on both Android and iOS for years. That’s quite an achievement, and an impressive marketing effort is part of the strategy. Leydon sees MZ as a tech company where marketing and games are both highly important. “Machine Zone is a real-time technology company,” Leydon said, “We deal with vast volumes of data that is moving very, very quickly. We manage everything through data manipulation. When we run our games, we monitor everything we do. When we run our marketing, we monitor everything we do. We brought a lot of financial-style workflow to the games business and to the marketing business.”

Leydon recalled how DeNA came to the US in 2011 and spent $7 million on advertising in one week, “and it scared the hell out of us,” Leydon recalled. “We saw what the future of the industry was going to look like. We knew marketing was going to be really important. We probably over-reacted to that, to be honest. We realized that we’re competing in an auction marketplace. When people are buying on Facebook or buying on Google you have to compete against somebody else who’s also making a bid for that same impression. So your intelligence when you’re going into that bidding process really matters, considering how many bidders you’re actually competing against to buy media.”

“We just focused on the highest quality networks first; we built out our Facebook and our Google capabilities and then we went from there. Now we’re integrated into 300 different networks and our marketing team is over 200 people,” Leydon said.

How does MZ maintain its position on the top-grossing lists with two games? Marketing is critical, according to Leydon. “When we look at our marketing, you have to think about edges. What is my edge over the marketplace?,” Leydon said. “We track over 400 KPIs (key performance indicators) when we’re doing our marketing. That’s a tremendous amount of data we’re looking at when we’re making decisions on where we’re going to spend next.”

“Another big part of it is diversification in your styles of marketing,” Leydon continued. “Are you doing video, playable ads, banner ads, [or] fullscreen ads? I believe we make about 20,000 creatives a week now. It’s a very intense process, and I believe on Facebook we have about 50,000 different campaigns running at any moment. It’s very, very hard to do. Diversification is the most important thing you can do as a marketer, but it’s a very difficult and daunting task for most people.”

MZ has gone beyond mobile advertising into the domain of TV advertising in a big way, using major talent like Kate Upton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mariah Carey, purchasing time during the Super Bowl for lavishly produced ads. “We didn’t go to television because we were excited about television,” Leydon said. “We went to television because we had pretty much maxed out the mobile digital market. What we found is that television is really bad. Most people lose money on TV because it’s not trackable, the ratings are questionable whether they’re actually correct or not, and there’s a lot of confusion in the space just in general.” From a technical point of view, Leydon feels the TV market is very immature.

“What we found is that while most of your television ads don’t do much, what they do have is a tremendous effect on your mobile digital ads,” Leydon said. “When people see Arnold Schwarzenegger on television, and they look down at their Facebook app and they see Arnold Schwarzenegger on a video ad there, they make that emotional connection from what they’ve seen on TV and it legitimizes the product in a lot of ways.

“You spend some money on television, and it dramatically increases your distribution. It’s a great place to go when you’ve essentially conquered the mobile digital market.” That said, the television market is difficult, both in creating effective ads and in measuring the results.

What’s next for MZ? Partnering with Square Enix on a Final Fantasy mobile RPG, something Leydon has very high hopes for. “We are by far the best at what we do,” Leydon said. “We are probably the largest direct-response marketer in the world, we’re probably the largest single product marketer on mobile in the world. When you combine that with something as loved as Final Fantasy, I think we’re competitive with anything that Nintendo can put out.” That’s a very tall order, but MZ certainly has the infrastructure to pull off something on that scale.

Leydon is proud of what MZ has accomplished, and he stresses that it’s not a lucky break that has brought the company this far. “We’re not a miracle business, we work extremely hard,” said Leydon. “I feel we’ve created a unique business in the market, because we don’t rely on luck. We rely on change. Your product and process should be changing constantly because the world is changing constantly.”

Leydon’s advice for other companies is straightforward: continue to innovate, surround yourself with experts, and change quickly.

VirZoom Targets Gamers With Virtual Reality Exercise

Boston-based startup VirZoom has launched its $400 virtual reality exercise bike, VirZoom, for PlayStation VR. The bike is now compatible across Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR. The company was co-founded 18 months ago by serial entrepreneur Eric Janszen and Eric Malafeew, who spent 15 years at Harmonix as a chief architect, making games like Dance Central and Rock Band.

Malafeew told [a]listdaily that after spending so many years motivating people to dance and play music through game peripherals, he wanted to harness users’ emotional response to VR and motivate them to move.

“The idea came about where we could use games and VR to motivate people to move, and it’s actually easier to offer more motivating than ever before because VR is so emotional,” Malafeew said.

Spencer Honeyman, director of business development at VirZoom, told [a]listdaily that the product is being marketed to both the casual gamer and the fitness enthusiast.

“It’s like a Wii Fit for VR,” Honeyman said. “Our focus isn’t a spin class customer, but someone who wants to get in a workout but wants it to be fun. Ninety percent of people don’t like jumping on a bike at the gym, so they watch TV to distract themselves from what they’re doing. Instead of distracting you, VirZoom motivates you and you’re getting a good workout without realizing it.”

To date, the bike has been featured at tradeshows and events, including at the Vive booth at CES and GDC along with the Sony booth at E3 this year. VirZoom is also supplying gaming and fitness influencers with the bike so they can get the word out. “Word-of-mouth will be key to explaining how much fun it is to play and exercise,” Honeyman said.

Honeyman said VirZoom is focused on the consumer market with the bike, which is now available at retailers like Best Buy, Target, GameStop and Amazon. Come January, the bike will be available at retailers for customers to try it out before purchasing it.

The bike comes with a free VirZoom Arcade collection of seven games, which have been designed by the studio from the ground up to get users pedaling. The suite of arcade games includes Cowboy, Race Car, Tank, Pegasus, Helicopter, Kayak and Cycle. The last three games on this list are designed for online multiplayer, while the single-player games offer leaderboards and ghost challenge modes.

“Every month, we’re adding new levels for existing games and we’re also working on completely new game concepts,” Honeyman said. A free SDK comes with the bike for developers to make games.

Honeyman said the vision for VirZoom is to create an exercise game platform and the world’s first virtual sport. “We envision this technology and IP translating into the real world with specialized software motion controls,” Honeyman said. “We’re looking at different hardware platforms for higher-end bikes and the consumer market with the first announcement coming at CES.”

The idea would be to take the VirZoom Arcade games and tailor them to higher-end exercise bikes at health clubs. The first gym partnership announcement will be made at CES in January.

“In the early stage we want to establish community online, but our goal is to create a real physical eSport in the future,” Honeyman said. “We think games like Cycling are well suited for online competition.”

Ultimately, competitors exercising at one gym could be competing online with those at another. Malafeew added that all of the games for VirZoom Arcade have been designed for extended lengths of time, and they’ve been created to be comfortable in virtual reality without motion sickness, thanks to extensive testing with 500 early adopters over the past year.

How ‘Streamline’ Connects With Twitch Broadcasters And Viewers

Streamline connects livestream broadcasters with their audience in new and exciting ways by having viewers interact with in-game events. The game was revealed at last September’s TwitchCon and marked the launch of Twitch Prime, a service that connects the Twitch livestreaming platform with its owner, Amazon. Users that signed on with Twitch Prime within 30 days of the announcement got the Streamline and a number of other digital extras for free.

More recently, Proletariat Inc., the developers of Streamline, has been working with Twitch to develop the Bounty system. A purchase button appears during a livestream of the game, giving viewers an opportunity to purchase Streamline via Twitch. Additionally, the broadcaster gets 30 percent of the sale, giving streamers an additional revenue source and more incentive to show the game. On top of that, Proletariat gave Streamline away for free last week on Steam as a limited-time event.

The CEO of Proletariat, Seth Sivak, spoke with [a]listdaily recently to discuss the company’s partnership with Twitch to promote Streamline and how the developer is tapping into the special relationship between broadcaster and audience.

Seth Sivak, CEO of Proletariat Inc.
Seth Sivak, CEO of Proletariat Inc.

Can you tell us what Streamline is about?

We built Streamline to be an action multiplayer arena game that has deep Twitch integration. The idea came from thinking about how you design games with the viewer and broadcaster in mind—building a game that can both help broadcasters create great content while being fun to play, as well as engage viewers in new and interesting ways.

What are some of the things viewers and players can do?

We built a viewer interaction platform called Streamote. The way it works is that viewers go to [with a link to] the broadcaster they’re following and it has Twitch’s video and chat along with a handful of interactions. They include voting for changes to the rules of the game; turning on slow motion or low gravity; they can place bets on which player they think will win, which uses a loyalty point system that’s controlled by the streamer channel; and play games against other viewers, and the most popular one is bingo based on what the broadcaster is doing. For example, a double kill is a bingo tile on the viewer’s board. Each one has a unique board and they can play bingo against each other as they’re watching along the way.

How did you come to partner with Twitch to include the game with Twitch Prime subscriptions?

We’ve been working closely with Twitch as part of their dev success initiative for a while, and what ended up happening is that we started to talk with them early in the year and they became really interested. They wanted to support this type of game and developers, who are starting to think about doing more with the Twitch audience and community. When the option came up to partner with them as part of Twitch Prime and be the first game to be put up for sale on Twitch, we jumped at the opportunity to do that.

It came out of an early partnership with them. We really want to push this space forward—to make games with the idea that social video and Twitch specifically could be a platform for developers and games could be played on that platform in a new way.

What inspired the idea of putting in the Bounty system?

That was straight from Twitch. Since Streamline is the first game to use the Twitch launcher, which you get when you download the game from Prime, they said “hey, we really want to get your game out there. So, what if we put it for sale on Twitch and provide a bounty for broadcasters so they can share in the game’s revenue as it’s sold?”

For us, that was really exciting. I think it’s something a lot of game studios have tried to do in various ways, as far as partnering with broadcasters, and it’s an interesting way to sell games. It points to the direction some people are starting to go as far as going to influencers and broadcasters. So, that’s a way for broadcasters to benefit as well. We were totally on board with the idea, and we love the idea of helping broadcasters make more revenue.

Does the “Buy this game” button work with archived, on-demand video of a broadcast?

No, it only appears when the broadcaster is playing it live. That’s the only way to access it, but there is a permanent buy button on the game’s details page within the game directory on Twitch.

Last week, you gave Streamline away for free on Steam. What was the strategy behind that?

The challenge with a multiplayer-only game is that you want to get a lot of players in. So, we decided: “How about we drive some players in?” One of the challenges with a game like this is that you need to see people streaming it to understand how people are playing. While the game is in Early Access, we figured it would be a good time to experiment with some of this. So, we decided to do this and see what would come out of it. It’s been really good. We picked up a huge number of players, which is really exciting, and we’re looking into all their feedback.

We use Twitch as the primary login right now, so we’re starting to understand what it means to use a Twitch identity as the primary login for games and how it works with services like Steam.

Having the game shown at TwitchCon was a huge promotion. Did it help to promote the game on Steam, and how are you approaching the platform?

We reached out to folks on Steam and talked with them. The Steam community is really interesting because they’re so active. Our community page there is definitely a core piece, similar to our channel on Twitch, which is also a core part of our community. A lot of the work we’ve been doing on Steam has been reaching out to groups that do livestreaming and working with them to get copies of the game, try it out, and give us feedback on it while it’s in Early Access.

How are you working with influencers?

We’ve worked with a bunch of broadcasters to give them keys to give away, as well as spending time in their channels and their communities—giving them the game and giving them access to the developers to talk through the game and get their feedback. That’s one of the things we do several times a week.

We have a group of people here who spend a lot of their time watching as new broadcasters and our current community play and getting feedback. We have tons of video on the game itself, so we spend a lot of time seeing what we can learn from it.

strealine_03In your opinion, what makes a game ideal for livestreaming?

A handful of things, but I think the biggest thing for streamers is giving them more opportunities for shout-outs to viewers. So, we tie things that are happening on the viewer platform to the in-game UI (user interface) so that the broadcasters can see it without needing to look at another window. We have Twitch chat integrated into the game, which can help with that. There’s also creating exciting and funny moments—something to commentate on—by giving them variety and an easy way to create content. Multiplayer helps a lot because it helps broadcasters create little narratives about the people they’re playing with and loop through that.

From the viewer perspective, we went with third-person to make it much easier for people to understand what’s going on. We also spent a good amount of time with how we handle UI elements and general feedback around the game to make it easy for a viewer who jumps in to know what’s going on. That’s one of the biggest challenges, since not all viewers are there at the start of the stream and they don’t stay for the entire time. You need to find ways to quickly onboard them into what’s happening to give them context into what’s going on or they’ll jump ship.

There are a lot of competitive games out right now, including Overwatch, Battlefield 1 and Rocket League. How does Streamline stand out among them?

The Twitch integration helps a lot as far as having a different feel for it and making it a game that can engage audiences in a new way. The other piece is making a game with solid mechanics that we haven’t seen very often. We have freerunning movement, and it’s not a first-person shooter, so it’s a different variety and style of play than you would see in Overwatch.

There are tons of competitive shooters, and what we’re going for is the competitive feel of a sport—more like Rocket League or Splatoon. When you look at those types of games, you’ll find that there are less of them out there, and I think there’s a huge opportunity for them because there are things people watch besides shooters.

What do you think is the potential for Streamline to be adopted as an eSport?

I think it’s very difficult to design for eSports or force a game in that direction. We’ve seen a lot of developers try that, and it’s hard. That really has to come from the community that’s built around a game, how they engage with it, and how they continue to interact with the game. We’re not necessarily going to rule it out, but our focus is on how we can discover what makes this experience interesting.

There’s something special that happens when you’re playing a game with a broadcaster in front of an audience, especially an audience that you may know and have an identity with, that we haven’t seen before. I think we’re just starting to tap into it and there’s a bunch of things you can do there. There could be a competitive aspect that comes out of it that fits into an eSports model, but that’s something that’s harder for us.

American Express Small Business Saturday Strategy Consists Of Shaq, Soap And Social

American Express is reinvesting into the company’s largest and longest running campaign in “Shop Small” by enlisting basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal and rapper Kendrick Lamar for a social video and experiential campaign in preparation for the consumer shopping holiday Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26.

The comical online video series tipped off with Shaq and Kendrick enjoying an afternoon at a local Los Angeles soap shop sampling scents like the “Luscious Lamar Bar” and “Shea Butter Shaq.”

“As a card member since 1992, American Express has been a part of my life from when I began my NBA career to today,” O’Neal said. “I am excited to partner with such an internationally respected brand that has supported small businesses for more than 25 years. As a businessman myself, I understand how important it is for our communities to shop small and have a personal stake in supporting American Express’ 2X rewards campaign.”

In addition to more spots still to be unveiled on the financial services corporation’s social channels, they’re also getting experiential with their marketing by creating in-venue experiences for NBA fans for the six teams—Warriors, Nets, Heat, Bulls, Lakers, Celtics—they sponsor. Whether it’s sponsoring the NBA on TNT halftime show, buying ads on Twitter for the platform’s deal with the NBA, hosting intimate events with stars like Kobe Bryant, or becoming the first brand to livestream a sporting event at a US IMAX theater, American Express continues to play some serious ball as the official card of the league.shaqThe “Shop Small” campaign ties into the greater national shopping holiday American Express created in Small Business Saturday (SBS), a consumer-marketed day designed for their card holders to counter Black Friday and Cyber Monday and enable local business instead.

According to an SBS survey released by American Express this month, 48 percent of respondents who are aware of SBS and who plan to shop once the Black Friday dust has settled said they expect to spend more on the day this year than last year—the highest amount yet recorded. Reflecting on the rising importance consumers place on supporting local businesses, two thirds of respondents said they plan to spend at least $100 on the day.

SBS is also promoted by a commercial featuring Frozen actresses Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as they shop in a small antique store to find the perfect holiday gifts for friends and family.

Brad Minor, vice president of global brand partnerships and experiential marketing for American Express, joined [a]listdaily to dive deeper into the strategy for their “Shop Small” campaign.

Behind The Scenes: Shaquille O'Neal And Kendrick Lamar Shop Small With American Express In Los Angeles

The “Shop Small” campaign is a social video and experiential campaign that encourages people to patronize small businesses. How has the campaign been received thus far? How does “Shop Small” fit into the overall American Express corporate strategy?

Now in its seventh year, Small Business Saturday (SBS) is larger than ever, and we’re excited to support it with our largest offer ever—the Shop Small for 2X Rewards offer—which gives card members the opportunity to earn twice the rewards when they enroll an eligible American Express card and shop at qualifying small merchants through December 31. This campaign expands on our ongoing support for small businesses, while delivering valuable rewards to card members. Founded in 2010, SBS supports the independently owned businesses that help create jobs and help make local economies thrive. According to the 2015 SBS Consumer Insights Survey, more than 95 million consumers shopped at small businesses on SBS, spending approximately $16.2 billion. This year, we’re providing small businesses with even more free resources, customizable materials and educational content to help them prepare for the day, and a successful holiday shopping season.

American Express has been a partner with the NBA for quite a while. Why are NBA fans a specific audience you’re trying to reach? What are the special in-venue NBA experiences supposed to accomplish from a marketing perspective?

We know our card members—and our card members love basketball. American Express has teamed up with the NBA and its teams for more than a decade to deliver experiences that heighten our card members’ passion for the game and bring them closer to their favorite sport. For our in-venue activations, we found a fun way to bring our ‘Shop Small’ campaign and partnership with Shaq to our partner teams and cities. By supporting a local small business in each of the six cities, our goal was to continue to drive awareness of the 2X offer and encourage NBA fans and card members to enroll and shop small.

What kind of social and experiential campaigns work best with American Express cardholders?

We are always looking for ways to provide our card members with premium access to memorable events and experiences. We know where they want to be, and we strive to make their experiences even better. Our most successful programs provide unique value at each stage of the customer journey—this includes everything from early access to tickets, in-venue opportunities, exclusive fan access and post-event surprise and delight moments to keep the memory alive.  

Behind The Scenes: Shaquille O'Neal And Kendrick Lamar Shop Small With American Express In Los Angeles

What is American Express’ social media strategy going to be in this particular space moving forward? Do you plan on experimenting on other channels and platforms?

The campaign will be featured across multiple social platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. We’ve also started to explore Instagram Stories as part of this campaign. The content is light-hearted and fun to watch, so we’ve seen really strong engagement across platforms. Additionally, we’ve teamed up with influencers, many of whom are small business owners themselves, to help motivate their followers to shop small. Because this is a movement that everyone is excited to support, the influencers are excited to participate in an authentic and genuine way.

You’ve long been a sponsor of Shaq, and now Kendrick Lamar. Why is it so important to work with social influencers to get the right brand message across?

American Express continues its longstanding tradition of working with individuals who embody the brand, and what it represents.

How will you be further marketing “Small Business Saturday” this year?

With Shop Small Studio and Boot Camps, we’ve added an array of new activities and resources to help make it the most successful SBS, both for small businesses, and the community.

For Shop Small Studio, we completely refreshed and expanded our online Shop Small Studio. Small business owners can print customizable marketing assets to promote their businesses and SBS events at, including flyers, posters, website badges, social media assets, Facebook cover photos and many more. SBS 101 materials include how-to guides, and tips and insights from small business owners and influencers. SBS 101 tools are designed to educate, prepare and inspire small business owners to participate in SBS through videos, articles, infographics and more. We’ve also enlisted well-known entrepreneurs to share their secrets including Tyson Wheatly, Erica Domesek, Andrew Steinthal and Chris Stang, and more.

For Boot Camps, we hosted three SBS Boot Camps throughout October in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Each session focused on how small business owners can excite their customers and market their business on SBS to maximize their presence throughout the entire holiday shopping season. Additionally, we’ve teamed up with Uber, The Infatuation and Daybreaker to offer several events that enhance the overall card member experience and make this year’s SBS more memorable.

American Express is asking consumers to join the conversation and spread the ‘Shop Small’ message to their family, friends and online followers by using the hashtags #ShopSmall, #SmallBizSat and #DineSmall.

How will you measure success of the “Shop Small” campaign?

Card members are encouraged to ‘Shop Small’ by gaining twice the rewards, and our merchants benefit by having the extra support, so it’s really a win-win. If our merchants and card members are happy, then we’re happy!

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Recipe For Success: Food Brands That Serve Delicious Facebook Livestreams

It’s been a little over a year since Facebook introduced livestreaming capabilities, and a number of food brands, in particular, have taken full advantage of this new-found opportunity to make mouths water. Luckily, there’s a “National Day” for just about everything, especially food. Here are a few examples of tasty campaigns executed via Facebook Live so far this year.


To celebrate International Coffee Day on October 1, Nescafé—the world’s first instant coffee—hosted a 24-hour livestream over Facebook Live, YouTube and Periscope. Audience members were encouraged to share videos of themselves drinking a cup of joe and the best content was shared on the air. Michael Chrisment, Nescafé’s global head of integrated marketing, told [a]listdaily that the company is all about making connections that matter.

“Livestreaming was the perfect way to bring people together in an innovative, and very real, way. When you wake up, you grab your phone and a coffee. Nescafé and social media go hand-in-hand, which is why Facebook livestream was a great way to reach our fans.”

For every video submitted, the Nestlé-owned food industry giant distributed a coffee plantlet to a farmer around the world. Not only did coffee drinkers celebrate their beloved beverage together, but did so with the confidence that they were making a difference.



For National Fried Chicken Day on July 6, Popeyes took to Facebook Live with a virtual drive-thru window and jazz musician. Fans were encouraged to interact with the stream through trivia, music and games. Participants in the US who commented also had the chance to win a delivery of Popeyes’ limited-time offer of their $5 Boneless Wing Bash.

“Not only will we engage with current consumers but we also have an opportunity to reach new consumers that maybe never tried us,” said Hector A. Muñoz, chief marketing officer for Popeyes.



To celebrate National Hamburger Day on May 25, McDonald’s hosted its first Facebook Live video—an hour-long art show reminiscent of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting. Titled The Starving Artist, the mock program featured an improv actor wearing a sweater and fanny pack creating hamburger-inspired artwork. He told viewers that he was going to take the burgers from “mouth-worthy to museum-worthy.”

Over the course of the show, three oil paintings were revealed: “The Beefy Gastronaut,” “Burger Brawn” and “Beefy Peaks.” The paintings by artist Adam Holzrichter were then auctioned on eBay to benefit the Ronald McDonald House charities.

McDonald's celebrated National Hamburger Day with their first Facebook Live stream. The paintings above will be auctioned for their Ronald McDonald House charities. (Source: McDonald's)


Sometimes you just wanna watch food, and over 3.8 million people decided they wanted to watch tiny food being cooked in a tiny kitchen. Tastemade has been experimenting with daily Facebook Live content since the spring, and discovering that fans are hungry for more. Producing original live content between 10-to-60 minutes in length, the company has learned that high engagement doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of upfront cost. A livestream of latte art has garnered over 2.4 million views to date, for example, and over 100,000 simultaneous viewers as it happened.

“What we’ve found so far [on Facebook Live is that] it does not need to be TV-quality to get people excited,” Oren Katzeff, head of programming at Tastemade told Digiday. “That doesn’t mean everything we do is going to be raw, but we do have the range to test different styles of video.”

This tiny kitchen is a big hit for Tastemade. Source: Mashable
This tiny kitchen is a big hit for Tastemade. Source: Mashable

Why Women Turn To Social Media For Purchasing Decisions

Outside experience plays a major role in the consumer journey for women, with 96 percent likely to seek out opinions and recommendations from others, according to the latest research from Influence Central. This study, conducted over the summer, analyzed the purchasing habits of over 400 US women and a definite trend emerged—women rely heavily on social media to make informed buying decisions.

Ask Mom

When asked which sources consistently give them useful recommendations for making purchasing decisions, consumers named close friends and family as the number one go-to. “Other moms” was listed as the second most-useful source of information, followed by web searches and social media communities. This is important to note when a brand leans toward frontline marketing and chooses an influencer to partner with or when targeting a female demographic.

Eighty percent say they often seek peer opinions while 59 percent turn to experts, and women value firsthand experience over any other reason for the recommendations they receive. While a vast majority of women reach out on social media channels for help, the offer goes both ways. Seventy-two percent of women consumers often share their own opinions, advice and recommendations via social media, as well.


Social Smarts

Eighty-six percent of women surveyed turn to social media outlets for opinions, advice and recommendations while 72 percent connect with their social media community “frequently” to help make everyday purchasing decisions. When asked why this is, 45 percent indicated the simple fact that they are more active on social media now than in previous years. Ninety-three percent of women consumers said they seek out more types of information more often now that it’s easier to access. Mobile access is also incredibly important, too, with 83 percent agreeing that they “couldn’t get nearly as much accomplished in life” without a smart phone.

You’d think the answer for marketers would be to jump on social and offer opinions, but it’s not that easy.

The women surveyed are confident in their ability to make informed decisions. Ninety-three percent describe themselves as skilled at determining which information to trust, but only 56 percent say their level of trust has increased thanks to the growing information available through search engines and social media.