Op-Ed: PlayStation Aims For Future While Nintendo Looks Back

Perhaps it was fated timing or an incredible coincidence that both the PlayStation 4 Pro and the NES Classic Edition launched at about the same time. No matter what the case, we have a fascinating case of two products and brand approaches that are complete opposites of each other. While Sony’s $400 PlayStation 4 Pro is betting that 4K HDR televisions will soon take off, the $60 NES Classic Edition takes advantage of over thirty years of nostalgia with 30 retro games installed onto a tiny console. Guess which one sold out within seconds of launching? Yes, it was the NES Classic, proving once again that nostalgia is a powerful force.

Certainly, this isn’t the console competition video game fans imagined, but it’s the one that’s happening. It might not be a fair comparison, given how the NES Classic has numerous market advantages when compared to the PS4 Pro, starting with the significantly lower price tag, making it the perfect impulse buy or gift. Additionally, the Nintendo is using games that were originally released in the ‘80s, including the original Mario and Zelda games in addition to classics such as Super Punch-Out! There are no expectations that the games will feature cutting-edge graphics or innovative gameplay, just the idea of reliving some of the early days of video gaming or trying to pass on some of those memories to the next generation. As a result, the NES Classic doesn’t need a lot of promotion to sell out—it just needed to exist.

Meanwhile, PlayStation has been working with developers to modify current and upcoming games to support 4K resolutions and HDR technology. So far, critics have been a little hard-pressed to find enough noticeable differences between the Pro and the base model PlayStation 4 with its early games to completely justify the cost.

Then there’s how Sony hasn’t emphasized the PlayStation VR in relation to the Pro, to the bafflement of many, considering how computational horsepower should feed well into a virtual reality experience. As it turns out, the PSVR ended up being a kind of exception. Although outlets have reported that the PlayStation Pro’s faster processor helps to create a smoother VR experience in addition to some graphical upgrades, should developers decide to update their games, the effect is fairly subtle. Furthermore, the PSVR headset can’t take advantage of the increased resolution nor does it support HDR.

Even though some fans may purchase a PS4 Pro for a smoother experience, Sony can’t necessarily rely on early PSVR adopters to drive the console’s sales either. That means the company must work twice as hard to market and grow the new console, and its success will be largely dependent on 4K TV sales. However, the relationship is reciprocal, given how the gaming console is an incentive for more people to upgrade to 4K televisions as their prices continue to drop.

Although PlayStation would probably be happy to maintain its current top-place position with a 48 million (original) PlayStation 4 installed base, the PS4 Pro represents Sony’s attempt to keep up with technology, competing with Microsoft’s Xbox One S (which released in August) and high-powered Project Scorpio, releasing next year. It’s also a test to see how successful a mid-cycle updated console can be.

As Sony works to help pave a path for the future of video game entertainment, it can be said that Nintendo is doing something similar. The NES Classic isn’t just a fun little console for fans. It’s a reminder to everyone about Nintendo’s video game roots and how it left a deep impression on video game history with franchises that are still as popular as ever. Hopefully, those warm feelings will carry over to the spring, when the Nintendo Switch is expected to launch.

From Anime To Hackable Houses: This Week’s Top Game Promotions

Sony’s PS4 Pro is now on the shelves as is the Nintendo NES Classic Edition console—setting the stage for eager gamers to pick up new titles and remember what they loved about previous ones. On that note, Ubisoft will release Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection—a remastered trio of games for current-gen consoles and PC that will get fans excited for the upcoming film. When it comes to hype, Ubisoft and Nintendo have gone all out for two titles that release this week through a string of promotions ranging from music videos to TV tie-ins.

Watch Dogs 2

In 2014, Watch Dogs became the biggest first-day sale of an Ubisoft game and the biggest launch of a new IP ever in the United Kingdom at the time. So when Ubisoft set out to promote the game’s sequel, this publisher went big—like, real-life hacking big. Watch Dogs 2 is a tale of harmful government surveillance, the Internet of Things (IoT) and an underground hacking group called Dedsec. Ubisoft partnered with Major League Hacking, an organization that hosts, sponsors and advertises a series of hacking competitions around North America. Hacking teams are offered challenges inspired by Watch Dogs 2, with the winners receiving free copies of the game. At the end of the year, the fastest time out of all events will win a trip to Montreal to meet the Watch Dog 2 developers.

On October 13, Ubisoft invited game fans to an interactive tour of a smart home outfitted with HAUM, the in-game connected home technology used in Watch Dogs 2. The tour was captured on surveillance cameras and streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, where online fans were invited to “hack” everything in the home from the lighting to the music and even the temperature. The event attracted more than 350,000 impressions during the event, according to Lucile Bousquet, senior director of marketing and communications for Ubisoft Canada. To make the event seem more real, Ubisoft coordinated with Canadian news outlets, TSN and RDS, working with Bell Media to simulate the sites being hacked. Bousquet told Media In Canada that as a result, 50 percent of traffic to Ubisoft’s site on October 13 was from TSN and RDS.

Footage from the HAUM livestream, where online fans could tamper with items around the home.

Continuing the “Dedsec R3sistance” campaign, Ubisoft invited social media users to take a closer look at what they post online. The “Selfie Reveal” analyzes` a user’s photo based on details like head tilt, gender, age, background and emotional state. Apparently “Big Data” thinks I’m a 30-year old egomaniac without a mustache, which I can totally live with. Other details are a bit creepy, though, which is the point—reminding you that social media sites can often use your selfie for advertising without your permission, that the government can use facial recognition to locate you and other disturbing but true factoids to get you in the mood to join a resistance.

Just when you thought you couldn’t get more paranoid, Ubisoft partnered with Vice for a documentary series about “Big Data” and how online information can be used against us. Fans who want to “join” the fictional hacker group can sign up on the Ubisoft website to receive exclusive in-game items, apparel and custom video game consoles.

Ubisoft is showing its artistic side by producing a music video for DJ, Oliver Heldens and his latest track, “Good Life.” The partnership with Spinnin’ Records places Watch Dogs 2 front and center, with brightly-colored images inspired by “the lifestyle of in-game hacking collective, Dedsec.”

The release of Watch Dogs 2 may garner extra attention thanks to real-life hacking in current events such as Anonymous calling out mainstream media or the Podesta emails being released on WikiLeaks. Even in the fictional world, hacking is a popular theme thanks to shows like Mr. Robot. While partnering with Anonymous is most likely not on the agenda, Mr. Robot star, Rami Malek did play Watch Dogs 2 on a November 13 Twitch livestream, and viewers were able to suggest in-game challenges for Malek to attempte. Twitch Prime members received exclusive, in-game items such as XP boosts and customization options, as well.

Pokémon Sun and Moon

Nintendo is enjoying some serious brand awareness thanks to Pokémon GO and has been hard at work getting fans excited for Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon. Although the publisher devoted most of its E3 resources to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a livestream demonstration of Pokémon Sun revealed a number of big changes to gameplay in an attempt to make the title more accessible to new players. Not only do the games offer hundreds of new Pokémon to collect, but players will interact with a revamped battle system, Pokédex and even new online battle modes.

pok-mon-sun-and-moon-anime-new-trailer-teases-z-moves-features-rotom-pokedex-and-new-generation-pok-monOne of the most notable creatures to appear in the game will be Mimikyu, a lonely Pokémon that hopes to make friends by impersonating Pikachu—the famous yellow creature that serves as Nintendo’s face of the franchise. A special music video about Mimikyu was released on the Japanese Pokémon YouTube channel, garnering over two million views in a matter of weeks.

A month prior to the game’s launch, Nintendo released a special demo for the 3DS that contains stand-alone gameplay from the finished titles. Those who complete the first part of the demo can transfer a powerful Pokémon called Greninja over to the full game once it’s purchased. Pokémon Sun and Moon are linked to the time on the player’s 2DS or 3DS, and performing certain tasks within the special demo on certain days awards players with in-game items they can transfer, as well. In addition to introducing Pokémon fans to the new region of Alola, the demo also links the game’s story to Ash—the main character of the animated series and most-recognized trainer in the franchise.

Ash’s adventures in Alola will play out in a brand-new anime series debuting in Japan on November 18, sharing a launch date with the game. The games are also inspiring a manga adaptation called Pokémon Horizon that debuted in the October issue of Coro Coro Comics. Meanwhile, the Pocket Monsters Special manga series will begin its Sun/Moon arc in the January issue of CoroCoro Ichiban! magazine on November 21.

Wargaming Alliance Opens New Free-To-Play Business Opportunities

Wargaming has launched a new publishing label, Wargaming Alliance, designed to help game developers tap into its massive free-to-play audience across World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Warships. The company has enlisted publisher Sega and developer Creative Assembly for its first Wargaming Alliance deal, which focuses on Total War: Arena.

Vladimir Makarychev, head of Wargaming Alliance, told [a]listdaily that the label is dedicated to providing third-party publishers and developers the tools, resources and platform to enter the highly competitive free-to-play gaming market along with access to Wargaming’s substantial subscriber base of over 100 million gamers.

“To make our players happy, we have to constantly offer new gaming experiences or new game content,” Makarychev said. “If we don’t, existing games can become a monotonous grind. With no variation, players don’t get the satisfaction they expect, and generally lose their loyalty to the company and the product. On the one hand, we are actively working on the development of our existing games and systematically bringing to market new projects. On the other, this is not enough, because 100 million people constantly demand new entertainment and new games.”

Makarychev said Wargaming Alliance is one of the solutions to this problem. This division was created to meet this player need by publishing new online projects developed by strong game studios and providing high-quality support to their audience anywhere in the world. “Our partners will learn a lot from us, and we’ll learn from our partners,” Makarychev said. “It works out in everyone’s best interests, especially the players.”

Total War: Arena builds on the strategic game design from Sega and Creative Assembly’s bestselling franchise and adds free-to-play gameplay with 10-vs.-10 player battles.

Tim Heaton, studio director at Creative Assembly, said, “For more than a decade, the Total War franchise has been the standard-bearer of strategy gaming thanks to its trademark gameplay and a focus on authenticity. The free-to-play market is an exciting new opportunity for the franchise and in the last year, we have seen great potential with Total War: Arena.”

Additionally, president and COO at Sega Europe, Jurgen Post, said Sega is constantly exploring ways in which its diverse range of IPs can be brought to a wider gaming audience.

“We have gained great, and I would even say unique, experience in publishing free-to-play online games on a global scale,” Makarychev said. “We’re happy to share this expertise with our partners, as it will help significantly increase their chances for success for any game. This includes engaging our best publishing professionals from all the regions we operate in, as well as providing all the tools needed for effective game publishing (i.e. publishing platform), giving access to a 100-million-strong global Wargaming community and allowing them to reach a diverse partnership network in each region.”

While Total War: Arena is a perfect match for Wargaming’s war-themed strategy game audience, Makarychev doesn’t want to focus on a single genre with future deals.

“The range of opportunities is staggering, and we will eagerly evaluate all of them, but our priority will be given to games close to Wargaming’s DNA,” Makarychev said. “Let’s put it this way: we are ready to operate a fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game, unless there’s a military first-person shooter project standing near, given the projects are similar in other crucial parameters and both are developed by great, well-experienced teams.”

Wargaming Alliance would like to work mainly with free-to-play games, but they are open to operating any other genre. Makarychev said the most important goal is that any collaboration must be beneficial to the three parties: the developer, the publisher, and—most importantly—the player.

“We are not striving to operate dozens of games simultaneously,” Makarychev said. “We have absolutely no desire to turn into an assembly line, cranking out projects one by one. That approach leads to a loss of quality—and quality loss, inevitably, [leads to] losing the loyalty of our players.”

The plan is for Wargaming Alliance to start small with the initial launch of Total War: Arena and then gradually grow its publishing label. “Total War: Arena is going to be a test case, and the game’s success will be the main indicator of our capabilities,” Makarychev said.

How B2Bs Find BFFs: 10 Marketing Stats You Shouldn’t Miss

It’s that time of year when the mind thinks of shopping and the wallet begs for mercy. This week, we take a look at how marketers are spending, consumers are researching and what’s important to everyone when it comes to the buying process.

Search Before You Shop

A new survey from inMarket examines the mobile shopping behaviors of 2,500 US smartphone owners who used their devices in stores. While it’s no surprise that 55 percent used their smartphone in the store to conduct related research, only eight percent were utilizing that retailer’s dedicated app. The results reflect a similar study by Fluent that revealed a little more than half (54 percent) of consumers researching purchases online beforehand.

Mobile Matters

Speaking of mobile, Zenith predicts that in 2017, mobile advertising will surpass advertising on desktop. In 2018, Zenith estimates that mobile advertising will reach $134 billion, more than what marketers will spend on newspaper, magazine, cinema and outdoor advertising combined.

IoT Is Important To Marketers

Of four emerging technologies—VR/AR, AI, Conversational and Internet of Things (IoT), 79 percent of marketers deem IoT very or somewhat important, compared to 72 percent of agency executives. The survey, conducted online by Advertiser Perceptions Inc. in October with ad executives, found that 74 percent of respondents felt IoT was at least somewhat important, while 24 percent said it was very important. Only 6 percent said it was not important.

Source: Advertiser Perceptions, inc.

Spending More To Make More

Marketing budgets are on the rise, according to a survey of marketing executives by Gartner. The survey showed that marketing budgets increased slightly to 12 percent of company revenue in 2016, compared to 11 percent in 2015. Fifty-seven percent of marketing leaders surveyed expect their budgets will increase further in 2017.

Deck The Halls With Deals

Retailers are gearing up for the holiday shopping season and 25 percent plan to offer more discounts and promotions than last year. According to the 2016 BDO Retail Compass Survey of CMO, 91 percent of those surveyed expressed plans to leverage social media to promote deals and discounts. It’s not just about the sales, however, as 87 percent will aim to make more meaningful one-to-one connections with consumers this holiday season through social media. Two-thirds plan to partner with an influencer or brand ambassador to reach coveted customers via their most trusted sources.

Young, Confident Spenders

Multicultural millennials are influential, and they know it. According to a study by Buzz Marketing Group, 78 percent of  those surveyed feel that they have power as a consumer to influence big brands. If a brand agrees with those same millennials on a social issue, even better—83 percent like it when brands make a public stand for or against issues they believe in.

Source: Buzz Marketing Group
Source: Buzz Marketing Group

That’s A Whole Lotta TV Programming

The amount of TV inventory available to be bought and sold programmatically has risen more than 500 percent since the first quarter, according to a new report by TV advertising software company Videology. Spending on advanced advertising and programmatic TV campaigns increased by 92 percent since the first quarter, with 30-second ads remaining the most popular format at 50 percent.

Everything’s Coming Up Digital

If you feel as though your eyes are constantly glued to one screen or another, you’re right. EMarketer expects the average US adult will spend 12 hours and 5 minutes each day consuming media content in 2016. Major digital media gets about 5 hours and 42 minutes per day, according to 2016 estimates in the report—including mobile, desktop and other connected devices. Meanwhile, the use of TV, newspaper and print will decline steadily over the next two years, and radio will make a bigger shift to digital platforms, as well. While radio consumption is expected to drop 0.7 percent on traditional devices and three percent for desktop listening in 2017, music lovers will get their groove on with a 5.7 percent up-tick on mobile devices.

B2B BFFs On Social

Regalix has released a new report on the state of B2B social media marketing. According to the data, 67 percent of respondents said they allocate budget to social media ads. Despite this fact, whether or not the investment is worth it seems to be in question. While 52 percent said that social media marketing is “very important,” the remaining 48 percent said the effort was “somewhat important.” 87 percent of respondents said that hope that they hope social media marketing will increase brand awareness and a majority (58 percent) named LinkedIn and Facebook as having delivered efficiently on advertising dollars.

B2B Marketers Get With The Program

Programmatic ad spending is common practice among B2C marketers, encouraging brand awareness and impulse buys among targeted audiences. When it comes to B2B sales, however, ad spending can be a bit more tricky. According to a new study by Dun & Bradstreet, 42 percent of B2B marketers cited targeting the right audience as a top obstacle, compared to 34 percent who named measurement metrics. B2B marketers are more willing to give it a go in 2017, however—nearly 70 percent said they plan to increase their spending on programmatic, with 22 percent saying they will increase it by more than 25 percent.

ESL And Sliver.tv Partner To Broadcast Intel ESports Event In Virtual Reality

ESports fans will be able to watch the Intel Extreme Masters in a whole new way thanks to a partnership between ESL and Sliver.tv, a 360-degree virtual reality platform. On Nov. 19 and 20, spectators can immerse themselves into livestreams of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and League of Legends through VR and 360-degree video, enhanced with live stats, for the first time.

Intel Extreme Masters Oakland will be broadcast in VR through Sliver.tv’s platform that is viewable through a website, mobile device or VR headset. The stream will be viewable on the company’s website and for those who download and install the Sliver.tv Android and iOS apps. Those watching via website, app or Google Cardboard will experience the stream in a 360-degree format. For those who really want to step into the action, the Sliver.tv GearVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive apps will stream in full VR.

“Our vision is to transform the eSports spectator landscape forever,” said Mitch Liu, co-founder and CEO of Sliver.tv, “and incorporating augmented live stats into our VR 360 livestreams of CS:GO and LoL is a big step towards this vision.”


Viewers around the world will get access to real-time stats including player KDAs (kill-deaths-assists), event timeline with bomb plants, defuses, kills with various weapons and “key moment” stats such as 2K, 3K, and multi-kill streaks by players in the round.

“Having a real-time, in-depth look at everything that happens in a CS:GO match is something unique to a VR broadcast,” Stuart Ewen, product manager for ESL, said in a statement. “Now, viewers not only have a bird’s eye view of all the action and a first-person feed, but also all of the statistics to put together a high level view of how a round or match unfolds. All of this is only possible in a VR environment.”

Nielsen reports that 14 percent of all Americans 13 and over are eSports fans—a major increase from eight percent last year. Superdata, meanwhile, forecasts a total market for virtual, augmented and mixed reality gaming to reach $8.8 billion globally, which will lead to applications in other fields.

Twitter Appoints New COO; IGN Hires Chief Programming Officer

Women represent 19.6 percent of the staff at the top 25 tech companies, according to a study by hiring firm HiringSolved, and this week’s hires further hint on the diversification in today’s workplace. Here are some of the top personnel moves in marketing over the last week.

Laura Dames will now oversee all facets of Turner Studios after she was promoted to executive vice president and general manager of Turner Studios. Turner Studios collaborates with more than 70 departments across all Turner divisions, including ELeague.

Telemundo appointed Daniela Chaparro Vegas as its new vice president of marketing. Chaparro Vegas will be based in Miami and be responsible for marketing strategies to help grow Telemundo’s brand and expand the networks within the US Hispanic market. She worked as vice president of marketing and digital at NBCUniversal International Networks Latin America for the last six years, and marketing director for Sony Pictures Entertainment Latin America before that.

Specialty apparel chain New York & Company appointed Michelle Pearlman as its new chief marketing officer and new executive vice president of eCommerce. Pearlman will be responsible for marketing and visual aspects of New York & Company’s integrated omni-channel strategy and strategic initiative to further evolve as a broader lifestyle brand.

“Under Michelle’s leadership, we expect to more fully capitalize on New York & Company’s differentiation in specialty retail by elevating our key assets, exclusive merchandise, sub-brands and celebrity partnerships while furthering our strength in eCommerce,” Greg Scott, New York & Company’s CEO, said in statement.

New York & Company has 483 retail stores specializing in women’s fashion apparel and accessories.

Twitter appointed Anthony Noto as its new chief operating officer. Noto replaces Adam Bain, who stepped down from his position to pursue new opportunities earlier this week. Noto, previously the social media network’s chief financial officer, will manage the live content business and revenue-generating organizations, including global advertising sales, data, revenue product, global partnerships and business development, effective immediately.

“Anthony is a passionate leader who has shown an unmatched depth of financial expertise as our CFO,” Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, said in a statement. “He’s also a stellar operational leader, and consistently shows a capacity to take on more. [He] gives us confidence as we drive towards our goal of GAAP profitability in 2017 to ensure Twitter continues to serve more and more people.”

IGN Entertainment is expanding its video operations by bringing in Wade Beckett as chief programming officer. Beckett, who previously was chief programming officer and senior vice president of production at Fusion, will lead the video game and entertainment media company’s cross-platform video initiatives from their Los Angeles studio.

“Advertisers are increasingly looking to go beyond pre-roll with custom programs while platforms and content distributors are seeking differentiated original programming that speaks to the fan culture audience,” Peer Schneider, general manager and co-founder of IGN Entertainment, said in a statement. “The combination of IGN’s 20-year brand credibility in gaming and entertainment coupled with Wade’s experience in delivering original programming will cement IGN’s position as a leader in video for games and geek culture across all screens.”

IGN programs games and entertainment content for 132 million monthly users across 12 platforms, including mobile devices, Apple TV, Roku, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Veteran sports and entertainment industry executives Happy Walters, founder and former CEO of Relativity Sports, and Josh Swartz, former president of Relativity Sports, announced the launch of Catalyst Sports & Media, a new vertical designed to take advantage of the shifts in media consumption in basketball, global football and eSports. Bryce Blum will lead its eSports division.

“Happy first identified the opportunity in eSports several years ago through our investment in Major League Gaming,” Swartz said in a statement. “We have spent a considerable part of the past year building a first class team with deep expertise in both endemic eSports and more traditional stick and ball sports. ESports represents a vast and still untapped opportunity for marketers to reach an audience that is not consuming sports content the same way it has over the last 25 years.”

“The financial opportunities in the burgeoning world of eSports are infinite and we believe we at Catalyst are uniquely positioned to take advantage of them,” said Blum. “I am thrilled to be working alongside such sports and media industry powerhouses as Happy, Josh and Brad, and look forward to helping transform the face of the eSports world for the betterment of all stakeholders. We are also excited to add other talented, eSports industry veterans in the coming months.”

Tiziana Barrow has been appointed vice president of marketing for RiskLens, a provider of purpose-built cyber risk quantification solutions, to accelerate the company’s growth, awareness and thought leadership in the information risk management market.

“Tiziana has a proven track record for recognizing gaps and identifying ways to do more with less, striving to achieve positive ROI and creating exponential value,” RiskLens CEO Nicola Sanna said in a statement.

Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.com.

Vertebrae Builds New Form Of Intensely Creative VR Advertising

The Vertebrae advertising platform bridges the gap between brands and creating fun and highly engaging virtual reality experiences. One of its most notable activations was done in partnership with Lionsgate to promote September’s supernatural horror movie, Blair Witch. Although the experience is primarily designed for mobile VR viewers such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, there is an online version for web browsers. It places viewers in the middle of a darkened and spooky environment that changes as they look around.

Vertebrae founder and CEO, Vince Cacace, recently spoke with [a]listdaily about the challenges of creating a VR ad platform, and how experiences like Blair Witch will lead to even bigger ones down the road.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae
Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae

What is Vertebrae?

We’re a virtual reality advertising platform based in Santa Monica, California. We’re about 20 people, and our mission is to help creators monetize content in virtual reality and usher in a new form of intensely creative advertising. What we saw when we started the company was that, on the one side, creators and publishers need an effective monetization solution outside of a transactional model. On the other side, we realized that for some of the same reasons VR is transformative for storytelling, it has those same abilities for advertisers—in terms of creating ads that have a sense of depth, presence and emotional engagement—using them to monetize content in a fun way.

Vertebrae is the conduit and the pipeline. We’ve defined some of the first VR ad formats in concert with the IAB. We’re working with brands on the one side, and creators and publishers on the other, to help monetize the VR ecosystem as the audience grows and ad revenue becomes a meaningful income source.

With the rise of apps and 360-degree video ads, what direction do you think VR advertising will lean most heavily toward?

Some of the first ad formats that we defined with the IAB are 360 videos, [including] 3D objects, so that you can think of dynamic product placement into a virtual environment, then you can create little Easter eggs around those objects. Then they pop-out into a 360 video, and you can make those incentivized or rewarded. Then also there are branded rooms, which kind of look like a 360 image but with interactive things to do in the space.

From a scalable perspective—in terms of what people are starting to largely advertise—I think product placement will be a big one. 360 videos will be a big one, and I think some of the more bespoke campaigns we’ve worked on are going to be the future when the technology is better defined and worked through.

My thesis on what ads will work best in VR are ads that are an “on-rail” experience—meaning that you don’t want to have to teach users navigation or control within an ad because they’ll get frustrated. But you also want to make them interactive, so I think ads are going to a place where they’re gaze-based interactive on-rail experiences. Gaze-based interactive essentially means that the content is non-linear and that the user has to engage and interact with the environment for the story to continue to unfold. For instance, with what we did with Blair Witch, it’s interactive but a lot of times people don’t realize it, because the user looking one way will input some change to the scenery behind them. So, when they look back, things changed but they can’t see it. It worked really well for a horror concept. Then the jump scare at the end is triggered by you turning around for a final time. A more tangible example would be Taco Bell, where you’re on an alien planet, and you have to find a quesalupa before a monster attacks you. In that case, you have to look at the quesalupa for a mechanical arm to shoot out, pick it up, and bring it back to the spaceship.

How did you partner with Lionsgate to create the Blair Witch promotion?

They’re an advertiser that came to us and said, “We want to promote our new Blair Witch movie in the form of a VR ad. We’re looking for X most single digit million number of impressions on that campaign and a contextual core audience that can fit the bill.” So, we looked across our publisher network and worked with them to get the ad created. We did not produce the content, that was the Other World team, and they’re amazing on the production side. We try to be production agnostic when working with brands. Sometimes brands will be working with an agency, and the agency may want to do production, or (in the case of Lionsgate) they can say you can do the production yourself or work with an external partner. Our goal is to be a technology platform. Although we occasionally take on production projects, we try not to because they take away from platform resources.

Which has a greater influence on VR ad creation, video games or traditional ads?

I would say games. The reason being that games are naturally interactive, and there’s a whole industry that’s been going on for 200 years around ad units and formats in the 2D world. When you think about an immersive world, going beyond the 2D window of content, and being inside the content, you need to be able to interact with that environment. I think gaming lends nicer to that than some of the traditional ad world. We’re focused on creating ad units and formats that are true to the medium of VR versus regurgitating things from the past and plastering them into VR.

The Vertebrae platform is focused on mobile VR. Do you think it’s worthwhile to expand it to premium headsets?

In my opinion, not right now. Maybe with the emergence of PlayStation VR, we’ll see something different, but we’re focused on mobile for three reasons:

  1. There’s a much larger user base at this point in time.
  2. That user base is a wider demographic, whereas it’s hardcore gamers and early adopters, 18-34-year-old males, in the premium market. Mobile VR can have female, head of household, decision makers who got a Cardboard with their New York Times subscriptions.
  3. The nature of the content is more casual and therefore more conducive to advertising. If you think about buying an Xbox and then paying $50 per game, you don’t expect to see ads within them. Likewise, the same is largely true with Oculus and Vive, where you pay a lot of money for the console, then a lot of money for the individual experience.

How do you generate awareness for VR activations like Blair Witch?

I think what we’re seeing is that these advertisements are maximizing the distribution within themselves. It’s brands approaching us and saying, “Hey we’re looking for X number of impressions across these types of environments. What do you have in your network that fits the bill?”

From a brand justifying an ad spend in VR, where it gets really interesting, is that you don’t have to spend $3 million to build The Martian VR and spend almost a year building that out. People who are doing ads in VR can experiment with shorter forms of content to see what works and what doesn’t. Then we’re maximizing the distribution on the other end.

How have you seen mobile VR adoption grow over the past year?

It’s huge. The Gear VR has just grown in waves and waves, especially since they gave away with S7 purchases, and I’m hoping the same will be true with the new Pixel Phone [and Daydream Viewer]. Then, of course, Cardboard is free at every conference. So, it seems like you’re seeing the download rates, particularly for Cardboard apps, picking up in waves. I hope that Daydream sees the same kind of exponential growth that Gear VR has so that it becomes a meaningful platform in a short amount of time.

What is the most important factor in continuing to grow VR as an advertising platform?

It all comes down to the users. If the users aren’t there, the advertisers don’t really care. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth and investment this year, and we’re starting to have that moment where there’s so much investment and momentum that it’s starting to feel real. But the users need to catch up to that. I saw a statistic showing that six percent of people in the US have had a VR experience. For that to grow into a regular user base that’s coming back and engaging with the content is going to be crucial. We’re bullish on how soon that will happen, but it is a big open question. There’s a lot of investment and hype in the space right now, but we haven’t seen the consumer demand match up with that yet, and that’s partly because the technology is still coming out.

Baobab Studios CEO On Building The Pixar Of VR

Baobab Studios has been dubbed the “Pixar of VR,” which is quite a feat given the studio was just founded in 2015. But the startup already has a pair of VR animated shorts to its name, Invasion! and Asteroids! (which launches early next year) following the humorous relationship between a cute and fuzzy bunny and a pair of aliens. Those shorts, written and directed by ex-DreamWorks Animation writer/director Eric Darnell, have attracted the attention of both Hollywood and venture capitalists.

Baobab recently added $25 million from Twentieth Century Fox, Evolution Media Partners and Shanghai Media Group to its coffers. CEO of Baobab Studios, Maureen Fan, said this will allow the company to both expand its original IP and pull the trigger on some of the dozen new ideas co-founder Darnell is already developing. The studio raised $6 million last year from Comcast Ventures, HTC and Samsung to create its first two VR shorts using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology.

Fan recently spoke at the VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy, where she revealed one of the new original VR projects in the works focuses on a germ’s journey through the human body. She talks about the creative freedom virtual reality is opening up and how video games and Hollywood creatives at Baobab are working together to define storytelling in this new medium in this exclusive interview.

Maureen Fan, Baobab Studios CEO
Maureen Fan, Baobab Studios CEO

What has virtual reality opened up creatively for your studio?

It’s a completely different medium from traditional 2D film, so we have to think about it completely differently. But at the same time, there are some things that are similar, which is that a great story is still at the heart of everything. I’d rather a great story be told with stick figures than a poor story told with beautiful graphics and photorealism. VR lets you put the viewer in that space and make them feel like they’re part of that story.

VR is very much in the early days, so everyone is experimenting. It’s too early to say what you can and can’t do. But the two parts of our first VR experience that audiences liked the most was when the bunny comes and sniffs you in the face and then starts playing with you. At first, Eric (Darnell) didn’t believe in the empathy thing because he thought it was a buzz word, but after that experience of people saying that they loved when the bunny came up and sniffed them, he changed his mind. People would start trying to pet the bunny, coo at the bunny and start playing on the ground with the bunny as though it were actually reacting to them. Just think about Mickey Mouse. If he’s actually in that room with you interacting with you, how much more real does that character become, how much more do you care about that character? So, the ability to make you care more about the character means that you care more about the story and what happens to that character.

How did you set up your studio to draw from both video games and traditional Hollywood entertainment?

My background is mostly in games. I did do film as well, working on The Dam Keeper and Toy Story 3, but the majority of my career was at Zynga focusing on casual gaming. So, I very much come from that mindset of slightly less production value, but it’s about the interactivity on the screen and the story of you as a character. Both Larry Cutler and Eric Darnell, my two co-founders, came from the film side, which is a very different way of thinking. Even from a project management style, film uses more of a waterfalls process and product management versus games, which are more agile and a daily scrub. So converging those two has been interesting because our team also reflects that split between people from the game industry and from the film industry. And in some cases, we have unicorns—people who are from the film industry and then moved to the game industry. Having both really helps because VR is a medium that’s not necessary only film or games, but oftentimes it can be both. At least that’s what we are trying to do. It’s a narrative experience like film, but it’s in a real-time game engine. You are a character inside our first two VR experiences, to it’s also somewhat the story of you. But we want you to care about the other characters more than in a game. It blurs the lines, so we needed talent from both sides.

What do you feel separates your interactive films from video games?

Eric feels that the majority of games are about you and your ego. When you perform actions in games you often think about what the game maker wants me to do. There’s a bit of self-consciousness in there and there’s always a goal. Eric wants you to act because you care about these characters. You want to make the character happy or you want to help the character, but it feels slightly different than the majority of the games because you’re not acting in self-interest. Instead, you’re acting out of compassion and care for this other character. With the game controller, it always feels like there’s an interface between you and this world, but now in VR, you just act like a normal human being using your normal gestures and you feel like it’s real life. Just think about how amazing it will be when you don’t have to push a button or do anything, you could just be yourself. At that point, you are a character in the experience rather than an actor or an avatar inside that experience.

How much interactivity do viewers want in a narrative experience that’s not a game?

I think the jury is still out because it’s mostly early adopters who are using VR, especially with the high-end headsets. They’re gamers who are used to interactivity and love it, but I’m not convinced that everybody wants [entertainment] to be interactive when they come home from a long day at work. Many people just want to sit on their couch and be able to experience things passively. So, there’s a balance to be had between those, which is why I think 360 video is actually the most popular form on mobile headsets rather than a lot of the games and interactive experiences. That being said, I do believe that interactivity does take you there even more. VR is about putting you in that space and giving you some agency and control in that space. Interactivity adds even more to that sense of presence.

What do the Oculus Touch and the HTC Vive controllers open up for storytelling?

In Invasion!, you have your little bunny body, so you realize that you are a character in there and people were delighted by that. Many people spent the first session of the experience, especially kids, of just looking at their bunny bodies and squatting up and down and hopping around the room like a bunny. And then they would want to watch the experience again because they just love the story. People absolutely loved it, and it does add some depth to the experience and explains why these other characters interact with you.

What did you learn even going from Invasion! to Asteroids! in terms of what people were looking for?

They loved being the character and being able to interact with other characters. Even when the other characters aren’t actually running in the real-time game engine and interacting with you, they still had that emotional response. On the high-end headsets they’re fully interactive, but our mobile version is pre-rendered 360 all around. And even these people still believed that the bunny was interacting with them. Those are the most powerful moments—when they bond with the other characters.

What potential do you see for video games with Invasion!?

Our IP can go everywhere because it’s a great story. I know a lot of Hollywood companies actually wanted to turn Farmville into a TV show and a movie. At DreamWorks, where Eric is from, they’ve now turned a lot of their movies into TV shows and video games like How to Train Your Dragon and Minions. So, I definitely see that as a possibility for the future. If people love those characters, the story and that world, that’s when it opens up a ton of possibilities.

Hormel’s Bacon Black Market Is A Sizzling Sight To Behold In Virtual Reality

Wake up and smell the billowing bacon, baby, because Hormel Foods is bringing the Cherrywood goods with a one of a kind immersive experience that lets you explore, salivate and then purchase one of God’s greatest creations in virtual reality.

Hormel is turning up the sizzle with “The Black Market,” a multi-sensory activation that’s being billed as the first mobile VR shopping experience available to consumers via a smart phone that does not require using an application or headset.


Yes, you read that right. Bacon is so deceptively dynamic that it can even carry its weight in virtual e-commerce.

Designed to promote Hormel’s Black Label brand, bacon lovers from Bali to the Bay Area can explore “The Black Market” campaign in four different worlds. Each experience—dark woods, volcano, salty sea and the darkness of outer space—allows consumers to unlock and purchase select varieties in VR. Custom bacon-scented Google Cardboard glasses are also available, at no cost, on “The Black Market.” What a time to be alive.

With brands having more platforms than ever to wow consumers with, VR has become a growing trend.

VR elicits a 27 percent higher emotional engagement than in a 2D environment and 17 higher emotional engagement than a 360-degree video on a flat screen, according to a YuMe study released Wednesday.

Vice president of marketing, Steve Venenga, who’s been with Hormel Foods for 20 years and is responsible for managing all brand-building marketing activities, including the associated marketing budget and new product development activities, joined [a]listdaily to discuss how the bacon-infused campaign is designed to break the mold in marketing.


What is the Hormel’s goal with this activation?

With ‘The Black Market,’ we wanted to push bacon forward in an innovative way, because innovation has been a key component to our growth and it’s how we keep consumers and our customers engaged and excited. VR is the natural next step in our mission to push bacon forward because it’s the new frontier of communication and e-commerce. However, we also wanted the opportunity to connect with consumers and our customers like never before while also giving them the ease and convenience of another way to purchase our products.

As a major bacon maker, why are you trying to raise the bar in premium mobile experiences? How does this tie-in to your overall social strategy?

As a brand, we always aim to deliver innovative products and experiences, including mobile experiences, to consumers and our customers, because it’s what is expected of us as a brand. Because mobile technology is constantly changing, it represents a lot of opportunity for innovation and growth and allows us to connect with our key audiences in new ways.

How does “The Black Market” experience complement “We’re always the new black” campaign? What’s the story you’re trying to tell here?

‘We’re always the new black’ is about celebrating innovation and how it’s been a key component to our success as a brand. We’ve used it to differentiate ourselves as industry leaders and keep our audiences engaged and excited for over 100 years. We are responsible for groundbreaking bacon innovations including the invention of Canadian Bacon in America, powering an epic motorcycle trip on bacon grease and launching the International Bacon Film Festival. Because ‘The Black Market’ is truly a one-of-a-kind mobile VR bacon shopping experience, it’s the perfect innovation to start a new chapter in our brand’s story.


You also partnered with comedian and Reggie Watts, who’s long been at the forefront of VR for the musical creation “The Reggie Watts Bacon Experience.” How important is it to work with social influencers to get the right brand message across?

Working with social influencers is important because it adds value to brand messages and also helps messages reach a larger audience; however, influencers have to be a great fit for the brand. Reggie Watts was perfect for us because he’s an innovator, just like us, who experiments and takes risks to create pioneering innovations in technology, music and more.

What is Hormel looking to accomplish in VR e-commerce space? What kind of doors does the virtual marketplace open for food brands and retailers alike?

With ‘The Black Market,’ we wanted to use VR as an opportunity to connect with consumers and our customers like never before, while also giving them the ease and convenience of another way to purchase our products. Aside from that, because ‘The Black Market’ is so unique, it’s another way for us to keep our audiences excited and engaged. Over time, as advancements are made in virtual reality, we would not be surprised to see other brands and retailers use it as part of their strategy.


Why is it critical for brands to implement immersive VR experiences in their current marketing campaigns? Is there something specific you learned while doing yours?

The value of VR is that it provides an opportunity for brands to engage with consumers and their customers in an engaging and exciting new way. VR is also customizable, so it allows brands to create custom experiences that are unique to them. With ‘The Black Market,’ we love that we were able to create a VR experience that reflects who we are as a brand, while also adding value for mobile consumers and customers.

Why has bacon become such a hot commodity within marketing circles?

We believe in the ‘bacon craze,’ and we strive to create it, not follow it, because bacon is who we are. First, bacon is incredibly delicious and it smells fantastic, so how could anyone pass that up? Bacon is also versatile and can exist in many different forms, flavors and textures. With bacon, the possibilities are endless. How could anyone stop loving it?

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

How Skillz Levels The Playing Field For Mobile ESports

Skillz is out to redefine what people imagine when they think of eSports on mobile devices. The platform is basically a tournament system that provides fair, carefully matched, multiplayer experiences for single-player mobile games. Additionally, players can compete for either virtual currency or cash.

The company also recently revealed that as of last June, its annual run rate was $50 million and its annual growth for the previous fiscal year (2015 vs. 2014) was 5.1x. As a result, the mobile game tournament platform accounted for a large portion of the predicted revenues for the industry as a whole. Skillz also announced that awarded over $50 million in prizes since being founded in 2012, and accounted for more than 30 percent of all eSports prizes in 2016, a significant increase from 21 percent in 2015 and 8.4 percent in 2014.

Skillz product manager, Bill Mooney, spoke with [a]listdaily about how Skillz ups helps create engaging competitive experiences with mobile games, and how brands can take advantage of this growing sector.

William Mooney, Skillz chief product officer
William Mooney, Skillz chief product officer

With the main focus being on PCs and consoles right now, how do you see eSports growing on mobile devices?

If you look at Hearthstone and Clash Royale, there’s a growing scene around them. Tencent is also investing in its games in China. But more broadly, I think the media is a couple years late to the story. The hypothesis of Skillz is that you can bring eSports to everybody. Only a tiny fraction of people can play basketball professionally, but a lot of people like to play basketball. With us, we basically plug into 1,600+ games and take a game that’s single-player and give it multiplayer.

So, a single-player game can be an eSport?

Yes, because what happens is that we give you asynchronous play, and we’re just building up our functionality for synchronous play for some cases. There’s some stuff around it to make sure it’s fair because of the cash component. We take the example of how we have a bowling game that people love playing. They create a Skillz account and can play for either virtual currency or paid currency. Then we match them into various tournaments with different brackets. Really what we do is provide the framework for the game while taking care of player matching, fairness, customer service and basically make sure that the stuff runs.

It’s a good deal for little devs, and interesting for big devs—because we have cash, we have a much higher level of security. Even the virtual stuff is much more secure.

How does Skillz work with streaming platforms like Twitch and Mobcrush?

We appear on those platforms as content. The key difference is that we’re a tournament management system. In some ways, we’re making sure there’s a fair playing field and we take care of the cash payments, customer support and legalities. We also make sure to match you with someone who is at an appropriate level, because one of the keys is to find you someone who is fun to play with and will have a good match with. Some people win, some lose, but we really want you to have a good match.

We have steady streamers who use us on their shows as a way to engage with their audience. What’s nice is we’re not paying for it and they’re not paying for it. In fact, they’re making money from it.

person-playing-skillz-mobile-pool-gameWith Skillz, what differentiates eSports from traditional competitive multiplayer?

In my opinion, free-to-play sort of busted multiplayer, because the expectation is that the stuff I buy will help me dominate multiplayer. What Skillz fundamentally does to multiplayer—and it can be for casual or serious players—give them the exact same stuff. You play on the exact same board and play the same pieces against each other. It’s a perfectly fair match, and we go to great lengths to make sure it is. We even give you replays so you can see what’s going on.

So, a game like Bejeweled could potentially become an eSport?

Right, and I would argue that when people talk about eSports, there’s that vision of a bunch of guys playing Counter-strike. But when you think about sports more broadly, I think of it as the level playing field. With basketball, we’re on the same court with the same ball. I don’t get a +7 basketball. We don’t run out of basketballs or are limited to five shots before we’re out. That’s the big difference.

People tend to think of League of Legends for strategy, but I would argue that Clash Royale is a very good eSport, and Hearthstone is even more complex. Historically, 20 percent of everybody wants to play competitively, but mobile has its limitations that are akin to social games that almost make it need to be turn based in many cases. At core, we want to provide fair multiplayer, and the cash is an appeal to smaller devs because we’re another revenue source for them compared to ads. We split any money we get in 50/50.

How can a single-player game capture the same kind of excitement of one that’s designed from the ground up for multiplayer?

Some of the games that are working have direct, real-life analogies, like bowling. But what I think it comes down to is—Clash Royale, which I use as the best mobile experience so far, is three minutes. It’s three, very meaningful, action-packed minutes. It’s wonderful to see people who are excellent at anything. It’s a very different skillset to be awesome at Counter-strike compared to StarCraft or Hearthstone. The reality is, people watch more than one thing. They’ll like the NFL, but they’ll watch other sports.

I think one of the key things about games, you want to play it. Whereas I love playing Counter-strike, but I would never play it online because I’d get smoked. It might seem funny to think this about a bowling game, a match-3 puzzle game or a bubble shooter, but those are accessible and you can go play. Another good thing is that you get good matches, especially if you’re playing for money, because people care and will try. It’s like playing poker with your buddies. It’s more fun with money because people pay attention, and it doesn’t have to be a lot. And it’s more fun to play a bubble shooter for money because you know the other person is trying hard.


Do players place bets?

It’s an entry fee, it’s not a bet. It’s very clearly not gambling because it’s skill. For example, if you and I play a bubble shooter, we both put in 60 cents. If you win, you get a dollar, and Skillz gets 10 cents and the dev gets 10 cents. It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the essence of it. The other important thing to note is that a solid majority of games on the platform are virtual currency only. Something like 92 or 95 percent of our players never play for cash.

How can brands take advantage of this platform?

There are a couple of ways. One thing that we’ve just started to do is sponsored tournaments. So if a brand like Mountain Dew wants to run a tournament over the weekend, they could sponsor something. We’ve talked to people with games that incorporate brands as well. The brand aspect plugs in very naturally; things like skinning and [branded] boards would be easy to do.

Does Skillz plan to expand to other gaming platforms?

It makes sense, especially on the PC where there’s some precedent for it. I think we’ll do it, but it just takes focus. We’re 60 people and 3-years-old. In fact, I’m dying to do it for a variety of reasons, but it’s just a question of focus. We’ll probably do it when there’s somebody worth doing it with. But there are 2 billion phones, and that’s why we’re focused on that right now.

Do you see Skillz as a discovery platform for mobile games?

Yes. It’s one of the things that drew me personally to come to Skillz. One of the keys to success was that we tapped into a player motivation that hadn’t been easily served and was accessible. Mobile games are exceptionally accessible, they’re just hard to discover.

Learn everything you need to know to invest in today’s fastest-growing media channel—Competitive Gaming and eSports on 2.16.17 in Los Angeles. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.