For London-based VR/AR studio, Suchworks, skiing is life. For the past year, these snow sport enthusiasts have been hard at work developing “virtual reality skiing technology” with the help of Fatmap—an innovator in 3D mapping technology for the outdoors. Whether you hit the slopes for real or prefer to do so from the comfort of home, Suchworks has a VR experience for you. Steve Such, CEO of Suchworks joined [a]listdaily to share the inspiration, technology and challenges of creating virtual reality ski experiences for two different demographics.
“There are two areas to the Suchworks ski business,” Such explained. “The gaming side has produced Alpine Ski VR which is going to be launched on the Oculus Store and Steam on December 16 and [will be] available for the Rift and HTC Vive. This is predominantly aimed at gamers, as its slalom and freestyle levels have a fun arcade feel to them.” Despite being accessible from home, Such is confident Alpine Ski VR will be a hit with real-life skiers. “It fully taps into the skier market,” he added, noting that there are 100 square kilometers (around 39 square miles) to ski in the game, accessible by helicopter.
Meanwhile, Resort Ski Experiences taps mainly into the ski market, targeting both the expert and the novice. Suchworks has presented its VR experience on the real slopes and at events, with positive results. “Experts loved to take a helicopter to the top of mountains they’d never usually be able to reach and try out new lines,” Such said, “whilst novices love just getting off the green slope and trying runs they wouldn’t potentially have access to for a few years.”
Of course, the ability to virtually ski a slope naturally lends itself to marketing for the real thing. Suchworks has partnered with the Three Valleys and will work toward many more resort partnerships in 2017. “There are some fantastic marketing implications of this program, the most obvious is allowing people to try out resorts and ski runs before they head off to their holiday,” added Such. “We’d like to move into real estate and allow people to have a virtual tour of their chalet before they book. We’re even in talks with ski manufacturers to create a simulator that will allow you to try out the different types of skis in VR before you buy them!”
For Such and his team, watching people try Resort Ski Experiences has been part of the fun. “To be honest, VR is still such a novel experience to have at events, a lot of people will come just to try VR out for VR itself,” Such explained. “It’s wonderful to see people’s reactions to it, we’ve had pro skiers that loved tearing down the slopes, [and] others that just liked flying around in the helicopter admiring the view.”
“Others would throw themselves on the floor to avoid the helicopter blades when it comes in to land and nearly launch themselves through the monitor when going over a cliff. No one really knows what to expect when they go into an experience like this—it’s their curiosity that’s drawn them in. Once out, they all seem to have very definite areas they’d like to return to and it’s always varied.”
While keeping skiers’ heads out of their monitors is a challenge, keeping players comfortable has been tricky.
“The biggest technical challenges we’ve faced were around creating a believable yet fun skiing model in VR that doesn’t leave the user with motion sickness,” said Such. “We’ve spent over a year tweaking and iterating this model, adding in realistic functionality, then taking it out realizing it doesn’t work in VR. Things like spins work without making you feel too dizzy, but as soon as we added in backflips as well, testers were practically ripping their headsets off to stop themselves feeling ill! You can carve down the slopes, but as soon as we added in a realistic skidding mechanism, it would have the same nauseating affect. We’re really happy with where the model is right now, but it’s been a long process trying to get it right!”
Someday, it may be possible to ski a slope, then book a resort trip within the same VR experience. In the meantime, it helps that Suchworks and Fatmap already know and love the industry enough to get the word out. These connections have helped the company gain traction at events, along with a partnership with Faction Skis, whose wares appear in the game. Alpine Ski VR will be available in the Oculus Store and Steam on December 16.
From beverages to matchmaking, here are some of the top personnel moves over the last week.
Nitro Circus, an action sports entertainment company, expanded its digital presence with a number of hires. Nitro named Lauren Reilly as VP if digital product marketing; Nick Crooks as VP of digital business development and distribution; Remi Guyton as VP of Digital Content and Programming and Charley Daniels as director of content marketing. The team is tasked with accelerating the company’s delivery of original content while driving the growth of its touring, sponsorship and licensing business.
Coca-Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent announced that he will be stepping down after nearly a decade at the helm. The soft drink giant’s current president and COO, James Quincey, will succeed him as CEO on May 1, 2017.
Drink giant, Diageo, has promoted David Gates from the global head of Captain Morgan, whisky, rum and tequila businesses to helm the company’s Futures team. However, Gates will still oversee those businesses at an international level.
Drink importer, Royal Cup Coffee & Tea (Royal Cup), announced that Anne Pritz has joined the company as its new CMO. Pritz was formerly the CMO of Sbarro.
Sean Rad is stepping down as CEO of Tinder to become chairman of both it and a newly launched branch of the company called Swipe Ventures. Greg Blatt, CEO and chairman of Match (Tinder’s parent company), is stepping in to fill the role of Tinder CEO.
Foursquare has hired Gayle Fuguitt, former president and CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation, as its chief of customer insights and innovation.
Twitter has acquired Yes Inc., developer of social apps such as Frenzy and WYD. As part of the acquisition, Yes CEO Keith Coleman will become Twitter’s new VP of product.
Pinterest appointed Brian Monahanas its new head of vertical strategy. According to a company statement, Monahanas will be responsible for developing and managing marketing programs to increase awareness, enhance adoption and drive revenue for Pinterest in verticals like CPG, retail, entertainment, auto, tech, telco, financial services, travel and quick-serve restaurants.
The Google-backed AR startup, Magic Leap, hired former Nat Geo Channel CMO, Brenda Freeman. She replaces Brian Wallace, who left as the company’s CMO to join a stealth startup founded by Andy Rubin—the co-creator of Android former SVP of mobile at Google.
Startup marketing tech company, Appboy, has named Bill Magnuson as its CEO, effective January 1. The company’s founding CEO Mark Ghermezian will move to the role of executive chairman.
Frank Cooper announced that he is leaving as BuzzFeed’s chief marketing officer at the end of the year to serve in the same capacity at the asset management firm, BlackRock. Additionally, Laura Henderson is joining BuzzFeed as its SVP of marketing on January 3.
H1Z1 developer, Daybreak, confirmed that Russel Shanks recently stepped down as president of the company “to pursue other interests.” Jim Ham will take over his duties as acting president.
Paradox Interactive will bring Kim Nordström aboard in 2017 to head the company’s innovation and mobile efforts.
Online game publisher, Innogames announced that Funda Yakin has been hired as its new director of media and market development. In this role, Yakin will head the company’s TV marketing strategy and will focus on expanding its direct media partnerships.
Running apparel company Boa Inc. announced that it hired Jeff Fleming to the position of global sales and marketing manager. He is tasked with bringing greater distribution and overall brand presence to the running market.
Brand management company, Iconix Brand Group (ICON) announced that Jamie Cygielman will be joining the company as its executive vice president and chief marketing officer on January 3.
Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company with a focus on facilitating trade between Asia and the world, has appointed Craig Pepples as its CEO.
General Mills CMO Ann Simonds said that she will be leaving the company at the end of the year. This move is part of a restructuring strategy at the company.
Verizon brought on Erin McPherson, a former exec at Disney’s Maker Studios and Yahoo, as the company’s new head of content strategy, acquisition and programming.
Tom Malleschitz has left the CMO role at Three, a UK telecommunications service, to take up a chief digital officer position.
This week, we examine the state of mobile advertising, new records being set in the video game industry and chat bots perhaps turning into our new robot overlords—but it turns out Americans like it that way.
This year’s Black Friday was the best-ever for PlayStation, who announced that more than 50 million PS4 units have been sold to consumers worldwide. This includes the sales of PlayStation 4 Pro (PS4 Pro) that launched in November. “With tremendous support from our fans and partners across the globe, this year we were able to deliver an unprecedented lineup of hardware, including the new slimmer PS4, PS4 Pro and PlayStation VR,” Andrew House, president and global CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, said in a statement. “We will continue to provide the best gaming experiences available through our ground-breaking software lineup and network services, as we focus on accelerating our business and expanding the PS4 ecosystem.”
LoL‘ing Big Time
The 2016 League of Legends World Championship finals were seen by 43 million people, according to Riot Games in a release on the League of Legends eSports website. The competition was broadcast over 23 networks in 18 different languages and resulted in 396 million daily unique impressions. Peak concurrent viewership for the final match-up hit 14.7 million and the total number of viewers was up over last year’s record of 36 million.
When it comes to dealing with customer service, 38 percent of Americans would rather clean a toilet, according to the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index. While that number has decreased compared to 42 percent last year, a general feeling of dread remains when a consumer has to ask for help. Forty-four percent of American consumers prefer chat bots to traditional customer service, “if the company gets it right” and 71 percent of participants want the ability to solve most customer service issues on their own.
“This is an opportunity for companies to satisfy a growing customer demand,” Joe Gagnon, Aspect’s chief customer strategy officer, advised in a statement, “but even though a large number of consumers now prefer using chat bots, they aren’t going to tolerate a substandard experience. The important thing is that companies who deploy automated interaction must provide an experience that is connected to the rest of the customer experience ecosystem.”
Global advertising is poised to reach $547 billion in 2017, according to media investment firm, GroupM, despite a turbulent financial year impacted by Brexit and the US election.
A recent study by Steelhouse/Forrester revealed that a majority of marketers (89 percent) spend on social advertising, while 77 percent purchase display banner ads, 65 percent use video advertising and 60 percent use email advertising. Ad spend is frequent, according to the study, with 41 percent of participants spending daily on mobile ad networks and 32 percent spending on programmatic managed service providers.
While it’s no surprise that a majority of marketers (85.8 percent) will utilize Facebook in 2017, eMarketer predicts that Instagram will finally overtake Twitter next year as a marketing platform. By 2017, the research firm forecasts, 74.2 percent of US companies with more than 100 employees will use Instagram for marketing purposes, whereas 66.2 percent will be using Twitter. To put that into perspective, eMarketer estimates that 66.1 percent of marketers currently use Twitter, compared to the 53.2 percent who use Instagram.
In September, Instagram reported that the number of advertisers on its platform had grown to over half a million. The ability for marketers to access Instagram options through Facebook, along with its own dedicated services makes this platform even more lucrative as marketers budget for the new year.
Native advertising may soon be dominated primarily by social media, according to findings by Advertiser Perceptions, Inc. The results on an online study revealed that ad execs estimate 43 percent of their native ad budgets are being allocated to conventional publishers, compared to an average of 25 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, social networks currently account for 39 percent of the respondents’ native ad budgets, an increase of 14 percent.
Measuring social engagement can be tricky, especially when consumers use platforms in different ways. While an official hashtag certainly helps, a study by Nielsen found that only 47 percent of Tweets sent about primetime series programming during the 2015 to 2016 broadcast TV season mentioned an official program hashtag. In fact, Nielsen found that TV audiences drive 81 percent of all Twitter engagement, compared to just 18 percent of posts by official or affiliated accounts.
Racing Rivals, the street racing game from Glu Mobile, kicked things up another gear recently with a new update that brought near console-quality graphics to the mobile game. The update also included six updated tracks (Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, Rio, and London) and some hot additions to its collection of over 250 licensed cars. These included a Halloween celebration where three Hot Wheels-inspired vehicles (Bone Shaker, Twin Mill and Rip Rod) were included. However, the main attraction of the update is the fully customizable Acura NSX GT3, which is exclusive to Racing Rivals.
Glu Mobile’s VP of sports and racing games, Jerome Collin, recently spoke with [a]listdaily about taking on mobile gaming at top speed. He discussed how the latest update enhanced the racing experience.
“Our latest Racing Rivals update amplifies the thrill of being behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle like never before,” said Collin. “The enhanced interface mimics real-world camera effects so players feel the adrenaline of starring in their own racing film right on their mobile device.”
Describing the Acura NSX GT3, which is exclusive to Racing Rivals, Collin said that “the Acura NSX GT3 is the ultimate street race car and a fan favorite both online and offline. Its exclusive addition to the game showcases the unique experience we’ve created: a racing club in which a test run of a dream car is a reality only a tap away.”
Collin also explained how a race car such as the Acura NSX GT3 fit in with the Hot Wheels vehicles. “Together, the two brands perfectly merge reality and fantasy to offer the best of both worlds for car lovers,” he said.
However, Racing Rivals isn’t the only high-speed game on mobile. When asked how the game stood out from the rest, Collin explained that “whether offering multiplayer matchups, which allow users to race against live opponents in real-time, or our gritty real-world street aesthetic with the chance of winning it all, Racing Rivals is designed for both the automotive enthusiast and adrenaline junkie alike.”
So, what’s Collin’s favorite car in the game? “Our selection of top cars makes it hard to select just one,” he said. “That said, I’ve always been a fan of McLaren and the 2014 12C GT3 is probably my favorite ride.”
With the December 16 launch of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Disney-owned Lucasfilm continues to build out the Star Wars universe. A key part of developing future Star Wars stories is Lucasfilm’s R&D lab, dubbed ILMxLab. This team of visual effects wizards, sound designers and video game developers is housed in the Letterman Digital Arts building in San Francisco, where virtual reality experiences like the HTC Vive Trials on Tatooine and 360-degree video experiences like the new Rogue One X-Wing video. ILMxLab even worked with Electronic Arts’ Dice to develop the Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing Mission game expansion for PlayStation VR.
Rob Bredow, chief technology officer at Lucasfilm, oversees ILMxLab and has been a driving force in mapping out how virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality will impact Star Wars and other franchises. We caught up with Bredow at the VIEW VR Conference in Turin, Italy recently to talk about the future of entertainment in this exclusive interview.
What do you see Google’s Daydream View opening up for the masses on the mobile side of virtual reality?
Anything that gets you to a tetherless environment and gets you more people who are able to experience VR is a fantastic thing for virtual reality, especially when you’re looking at raising the bar of what can be done in that tetherless environment. A lot of our focus to date has all been on very high-end headsets because the truth is, most of our focus at Lucasfilm is: where are things headed in a few years? The reason we gave Trials on Tatooine out to the world was because it was an interesting experiment, but that’s just a small seed that we’re planting along the way. We’re really interested in where things are going to be a few years from now, and Daydream is a good step in that direction, for sure. But we’re looking three years ahead to try to make sure we’re building all the technology, building our storytelling, and understanding what kinds of things people love, so that we can be there when the audience is ready for those kinds of experiences.
Where are we going to be in three years?
Anybody who tells you they know is probably selling something, right? I really don’t know. VR has had resurgences in the past. This is not the first time this has happened, but this one is bigger and it has some very big players with Facebook, Google, Sony and Microsoft all making big investments. It does seem like the time has come, whether it takes two or three years or whether it takes ten years is still to be determined. People’s first reaction when they put this generation of headsets on is that “Wow” moment, and we’re still in the wow moment as an industry. There will be a phase of like, “Well, this is kind of expensive.” It could see a bit of correction from that and that could be two months or it could be a few years, but we’re going to still stay on that trajectory where VR is going to be useful for lots of things.
Is VR the most exciting technology you’ve explored?
It’s equally as exciting as the early days of computer graphics when every few months there was a whole new technique that made it possible for us to do something completely new again. It really feels very similar to those days where we had some idea of how to make these kinds of images, but it was impractical to do it the right way so we had to do a lot of cheats and cut a lot of corners. Today, walking into VR, all of us have many more years of history and many more years of techniques to rely on, but a lot of those techniques just don’t work in VR for one reason or another, so now there’s a whole new set of challenges ahead of us.
How does video game design and thinking impact virtual reality storytelling?
It’s a perfect question because it’s interesting the way they complement each other. Giving people instructions without ever having to tell them what to do is just a lovely thing that transfers great into VR. You already know how to use your hands. You already know how to interact with things because you’re working in a virtual version of the real world, and the more simple tasks we can give people to do reinforces it as positive, and then we build on that for the next thing which is just classic good game design. We find that transfers really well, and that’s great for storytelling too because you can get people to follow along and you don’t have to worry about a fail through for every case if you’ve trained the user properly. So for the Trials on Tatooine experiment, when we first started doing it, I’d sit there sweating bullets watching people go through it and they’d miss that TIE Fighter coming in. Now we have to rethink how we’re going to train the user to look in the right direction, or change the composition in the storytelling so that they get the kind of interactions we’re looking for.
In VR, sound seems like it takes a bigger focal point. How does the Skywalker Sound fit into ILMxLab?
Yeah, we love working with the Skywalker team. They’re so amazingly talented. Not only did they bring their entire library and all the filmmaking experience, but they’re embedded here at ILMxLab. So, very early in the Trials on Tatooine experience—when we just had a Millennium Falcon model and nothing else—we’re mocking things up, we’re doing it with stand-in sound for everything, and you’re exactly right. We like to joke that audio is 51 percent of the experience and it really is. It’s so important, and there are the obvious things like giving them a TIE Fighter cue when they’re flying in. But that’s barely scratching the surface of what you can do with audio cues to give people a sense of presence; a sense of being immersed in the environment. Things like putting a fun sound system together so when the subwoofers go you feel like the Millennium Falcon is landing right next to you is pretty amazing, and we wouldn’t have discovered that without their involvement.
The holidays are a time to go big—big meals, big family gatherings and for these brands, big marketing. From encouraging good deeds to calling out oddly specific playlists, these brands are ringing in the holidays with a healthy dose of humor and inspiration.
Pokémon GO Frapuccino
For a limited time, Starbucks has introduced a special frozen raspberry and blackberry-flavored version of its Vanilla Bean Frappuccino. Just in time for the latest Pokémon GO update that adds 100 new creatures, the themed drink will be featured only at store locations listed as PokéStops and Gyms —physical areas that let Pokémon Go players catch Pokémon or battle other players. When a player enters the location and swipes the spinning disc, they will unlock the ability to purchase the drink. About 7,800 of its U.S. locations will carry the Pokémon GO Frappuccino. In Pokémon Sun and Moon, players are able to visit a café and purchase a drink while at a Pokécenter—a parallel that may boost the campaign’s popularity.
Thanks, 2016. It’s Been Weird.
The title of this campaign says it all, and we’d have to agree. Music streaming service, Spotify has taken user data and delivered it in a way that reaches its customers on an emotional level. A series of ads have appeared across 14 different markets, each custom-tailored to that location and addressing a particular trend or strange discovery from 2016 listener data.
One billboard in the UK reads, “Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ the day of the Brexit Vote. Hang in There.” Another in New York says, “Dear person in the Theater District who listened to the Hamilton soundtrack 5,376 times this year. Can you get us tickets?”
This campaign is especially unique in how its uses very specific data to be engaging rather than creepy. “There has been some debate about whether big data is muting creativity in marketing, but we have turned that on its head,” Spotify’s chief marketing officer, Seth Farbman, toldCreativity. “For us, data inspires and gives an insight into the emotion that people are expressing.”
The Gift Of Oreos
Baked goods are a delicious holiday tradition, and Oreo is making it easier than ever to gift its white fudge cookies over the internet with new direct-to-consumer shopping. Those who visit gifts.oreo.com can send gifts without knowing the recipient’s address, using only their e-mail address or mobile phone number. Recipients can then “open” the gift online and confirm shipping details to send the Oreo gift to the location of their choice.
“Our goal is to become the leader in eCommerce snacking by providing the best product assortment, value and convenience for consumers,” said Neil Ackerman, global director of Oreo eCommerce, in a press release. “We’re piloting a more flexible, agile supply chain model that will allow us to have a more direct interaction with shoppers during a time of year when they’re increasingly turning to online sources to research gift ideas and complete purchases.”
Spread The Happy
Italian food giant Ferrero, maker of the Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread, is delivering a little positivity with “Spread the Happy,” a four-part documentary-short series on the brand’s YouTube channel that celebrates citizens in their communities.
“We were inspired by these stories of people spreading happiness and wanted to provide a platform for which to tell them,” Eric Berger, marketing director of Nutella USA, told [a]listdaily. “Since Nutella is all about spreading happiness, this idea is a great fit for our brand. We felt compelled to tell them to a large audience.”
The 12 Stinks Of Christmas
Febreze is back for the second year in a row to remind us along with Jingle Bells, there are lots of things that smell other than Batman. The odor-fighting brand has released a hip-hop music video featuring Doug E. Fresh and Instagram “petfluencer” @ItsDougThePug, where the rapper counts down stinks of the season, including “12 musty stockings, 11 burnt cookies . . . and eight frying latkes” all the way down to “a family that really needs Febreze.”
“Using the momentum from last year’s campaign, we reacted to consumer responses and trends, putting together a funky fresh remix,” Mandy Ciccarella, brand communications manager at Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Febreze, told [a]listdaily. “The goal is always to reach consumers in a fun way as they manage the holiday rush and prepare for the influx of guests and parties. The ’12 Stinks of Christmas’ proves that Febreze is the only solution when it comes to holiday odors. Don’t get us wrong, the holidays are great, but in reality, they can literally stink.”
Camera manufacturer, Canon has created a kindness advent calendar and invited the public to engage in selfless acts on camera without being in them. The #Selfieless campaign challenges photographers to turn the lens away from themselves and offers a suggestion each day for spreading a little cheer—from donating to a local food bank to clearing someone’s garden or just making tea for your work colleagues.
“The festive season is a time for giving back,” Lee Bonniface, marketing director of Canon Europe, toldThe Drum. “A small act of kindness can make a huge impact, especially at Christmas. It seemed fitting to invite people to use their cameras to share a feeling of goodwill this year. It is the most photographed time of the year after all.”
Department store Macy’s and Make-A-Wish celebrated the eighth annual National Believe Day on Friday, a pinnacle moment of this year’s Believe campaign. Each year, children are encouraged to write letters to Santa Claus and deliver them to a Macy’s store—for which one dollar is donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation up to one million dollars. This year, the brand will commemorate the holiday season with a double donation for the Believe letter writing program and the return of Wishes Across America, a day devoted to granting incredible wishes for children across the country with life-threatening medical conditions.
The award-winning animated special “Yes, Virginia” will air online on Macy’s YouTube channel. The half-hour holiday program features a star-studded cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alfred Molina and Beatrice Miller. The cast also includes former wish child Taylor Hay, who had her wish granted when her voice was captured for one of the film’s characters.
“National Believe Day is one of our favorite times of the year, where our partners at Make-A-Wish, Macy’s customers and employees come together to help make wishes come true for wish kids and their families,” said Holly Thomas, group vice president of cause marketing for Macy’s, in a press release. “Along with these incredible wishes, we’re bringing back double donation, which is a huge opportunity to raise an additional one million dollars for Make-A-Wish on National Believe Day alone.”
Cheetos now boasts its own luxury fashion line, offering a stylish array of products from Flamin’ Hot Pants and dangerously cheeky underwear to a cheetah onesie and a $20,000 sapphire-embedded ring boasting more than 190 diamonds.
“Each year, holiday catalogs and gift gurus share their most unique and coveted gift items of the year,” Ryan Matiyow, senior director of marketing for Frito-Lay, the parent company of Cheetos, told [a]listdaily. “The Cheetos brand is joining this illustrious group with the release of a legendary gift collection and holiday book showcasing an assortment of this season’s must-have gifts. Each item puts the true meaning of opulence into the holidays, delivering a uniquely Cheetos wow factor that will impress even the most discerning gift recipients.”
Uber’s one-day event on Friday will allow consumers in Singapore to request 15 minutes of puppy play time. The ride-hailing app’s #UberPuppies drive raises awareness for the plight of Singapore’s homeless pups and benefits Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD). To get involved, all Singapore users have to do is tap the “Puppies” button at the bottom of their Uber app to request a visit. Two puppies will be delivered right to their front door by volunteers from SOSD who will educate the public about their cause. Cuddles are completely free, but the push will welcome donations—100 percent of which will go directly to SOSD.
Nostalgia For Leftovers
Hellman’s mayonnaise is revamping a 2005 TV spot in the UK with a contemporary foodie feel in an effort to appeal to a modern audience, The Drum reports. The condiment brand knows a thing or two about nostalgia, having been around since 1913. The ad will run between December 26 and into January, during which the brand will re-create a Christmas dinner leftovers recipe to inspire people to get creative with Hellmann’s mayonnaise.
“Over 12 million households buy Hellmann’s mayonnaise,” Hannah Webb, brand manager for Hellmann’s said, “and we estimate that this figure will increase even further during the festive period as Brits consume as many as 100 million turkey sandwiches between Christmas and New Year.”
In case you can’t get enough mayonnaise but you’re kind of sick of turkey about now, Hellman’s offers a number of recipes and tips for transforming holiday leftovers into new and exciting meals with its #Strangewich campaign.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that’s currently in its fifth year of operation. The free-to-play game (with optional subscription), which is developed by BioWare (Mass Effect; Dragon Age) and takes place in the golden age of Star Wars’ fictional history, launched its Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion last week. In it, players are referred to as “The Outlander,” and become deeply involved with the Royal Family of the Eternal Empire and its fate. Similar to last year’s hit, Knights of the Fallen Empire, the latest expansion includes nine chapters that emphasize Dark vs. Light Side decision making and themes of familial conflict.
The creative director for SWTOR, Charles Boyd, and lead producer, Ben Irving, recently spoke about launching the new expansion, how it compares to the last one, and what it will take to keep the game going for another five years.
Irving explained that last year’s Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion worked very well with nine epic story chapters. However, what didn’t work was the monthly schedule for each chapter, which was chalked up to how people like to consume entertainment these days, such as binge watching on Netflix. Players weren’t satisfied with getting one chapter a month. So, while the Eternal Throne chapters are deep and revolve around personal choices, there is an added focus on replayable multiplayer content to fill in the spaces between the big story beats.
Boyd also discussed the theme of family, which he describes as a core concept of Star Wars. “The original trilogy is all about the father, son and daughter relationship,” said Boyd. “It’s a family drama, which is very personable and very relatable. I think that’s what draws a lot of people into Star Wars. It’s an exciting space adventure; there are lasers, spaceships, strange aliens and all of that stuff, but it’s all grounded with very relatable conflicts and drama between the characters. There are probably no more relatable conflicts or personal drama than family, right? Everyone has some kind of family experience that they can relate to or have dealt with. I think that’s what makes Star Wars accessible, why that theme is so consistently used, and why we want to deploy it—because it’s so iconic to Star Wars.”
When asked whether the latest movies, such as The Force Awakens and the upcoming Rogue One had an impact on the game’s awareness and enthusiasm for the expansion, Irving told [a]listdaily:
“When Force Awakens came out, we saw a giant resurgence of Star Wars hype across the world. That certainly had a positive impact on Star Wars: The Old Republic as well. We saw a lot more interest in Star Wars, a resurgence in nostalgia, and when a lot of people think about Star Wars, they think about video games. They want a really deep, story driven, RPG-style game and that’s the exact kind of game that we’ve built.
“Rogue One hasn’t come out yet, and we hope that it’s a fantastic movie. All the previews suggest that it will be, and we think people are excited about that. We hope that people will continue to be excited about Star Wars, which is great for Star Wars: The Old Republic. If last year was any indication, that will be true.”
As to whether or not the movies influenced the game’s content, Boyd said that “no matter how hard we try, we can never get any real details about the movies in advance. Lucasfilm is very tight-lipped about it, which is good because we go as a company to check out the movies and it’s fun to just walk in and have the same experience as the fans—with no pre-knowledge and experiencing it for the first time.
“Given how we don’t have that secret insight into what’s happening in the film, we don’t really adjust for that. But certainly, we watch the previews like everyone else and get excited about the themes they’re exploring and the visual elements they’re introducing. We always look for ways to include that in our own stories.
“For example, in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren’s lightsaber was awesome, and it was established that it was an ancient design from days long past, which happens to be the time period of our game! We were really excited by that; it was really cool to have the opportunity to introduce something new that fit perfectly into The Old Republic universe but also harkened to last year’s story.”
So, what’s the key to keeping an MMORPG engaging for over five years? Irving believes that it’s flexibility.
“The gaming industry changes significantly over a five-year period,” said Irving. “It’s a very mutable space, whether you’re building an online game, single-player game, strategy game, or shooter. You look at the industry and the feedback from people who are playing the games you made. I think we’ve been doing that, especially in the last couple of years. Look at Fallen Empire. The monthly chapters didn’t work out, but after you play the story, there’s highly repeatable content. So this year, our strategy is to have Galactic Command centered around providing longer-term engagement such as group activities and a focus on social. That’s all about retention and engagement. Of the lessons we’ve learned, the key is ultimately the flexibility to adapt to the industry and the environment.”
“We’re very fortunate to be on the type of game where we can do that,” Boyd added, “where we have regular updates, see what players are doing in real-time, get their feedback on different places, make changes and add new stuff.”
In speaking about how BioWare created dynamic content that involved Light vs. Dark Side decision making, Boyd said, “I think it comes down to thinking about real life and the experiences that you’re having. Although that’s not a realistic way to do things—people rarely think about whether they’re going to have cereal or granola as a Light Side or Dark Side decision—or even when people do things that we don’t like. Usually, their reasoning is not to be mean.
“Ultimately, you’re looking at what people do and adding a level of drama to it to coincide with the Star Wars philosophy. This is a universe where good and evil have a tangible and visual effect on people and the universe. Just like with the family theme, we’re looking at decisions that relate to our own lives and adding drama. This is a universe where making evil decisions makes you more evil. You look at it in that lens and try to make it relatable, but have that exciting and dramatic outcome you expect from a space opera like Star Wars.”
Brands have been upping the ante on bots and adding a new layer of consumer engagement to their strategy at a fever pace ever since Facebook enabled the conversational-tech friendly feature in April.
Food Network became the latest forward-thinking organization to join the frenzy and the over 30,000 pool of brands trying to engage with the friendly AI tech on Messenger’s billion-strong user base.
The lifestyle TV network, website and magazine is leveraging its foothold as the go-to source for foodies in search of some culinary inspiration by instantly offering recipes through chat. The concept is straightforward: simply strike a conversation with Food Network through Facebook Messenger and search by any ingredient, chef, emoji and more for over 60,000 recipes. The service is free, and no download is required.
The fairly nascent concept of bots is an interesting one that can revolutionize the consumer experience. But it hasn’t happened in a meaningful way—yet.
With a buffet of recipes and menu suggestions, Food Network is hoping to change that with an artificial intelligence strategy that’s about connecting and interacting with consumers in a way that provides value in their lives. In September, the brand became the first culinary network to launch a skill on Alexa-enabled devices that allows access to show information and scheduling, as well as recipes seen on air.
Forty percent of US mobile users are on Facebook Messenger, so there definitely is an audience for brands to engage with millennials and Gen Z consumers who are increasingly shifting smartphone communication from voice to text and images.
Liesel Kipp, vice president of product management for Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent company of Food Network, joined [a]listdaily to detail how they’re engaging with kitchen conquistadors over the holidays, and beyond.
How did Food Network identify that there was an appetite for chat bots among consumers? What are you trying to accomplish in this space?
Food Network is the leading provider of trusted recipes for our fans on our sites, and in social. We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to be there for our audience and reach new audiences. Consumers are looking for fast and easy ways to find recipes, and chat bots are just that—fast, and very easy to use. Bots are another great way for us to deliver on the promise of Food Network being our user’s best friend in food.
Why is forgoing the download of a branded app a good strategy for companies to offer consumers?
Food Network’s ‘In the Kitchen’ app is an important part of our digital offering and among Apple’s Hall of Fame. Our commitment to that experience is strong. Our app provides consumers the opportunity to go deeper into their planning and cooking with features like Recipe Box, our wide selection of how-to video content and the ability to quickly see the recipes that are on air at that moment. However, we often let our users decide where they want to engage with us, and when. By providing a chat bot experience, we’re giving them another option for possibly a quicker response that rides on the popularity of Facebook Messenger. For us, it’s just another opportunity to connect with our brand in multiple ways, and one experience doesn’t negate the other.
What makes foodies a great audience to target on Facebook?
Food enthusiasm is taking over the internet and especially resonates with millennials. People can relate to each other through food, and we’re watching more millennials engage with food as part of their identity. Not only do they love food and cooking, they use food as a gateway to broaden their perspective of the world—and they love using social media to showcase this. For us, this is just about extending our brand to another platform. Food Network is uniquely positioned to provide inspiration, entertainment and utility. In October, Food Network had the second highest audience of total food video views across social platforms, with more than 715 million video views on Facebook alone. It’s definitely a trend we are loving.
What is your favorite way in interacting with the bot? How do you find it to be most pragmatic, and useful?
My favorite way of interacting with the bot is the ‘surprise me’ feature—these are fun recipe ideas hand-curated daily by our editorial team—we aim to make finding ideas fun, as well as easy. The bot is useful because it’s easy to use. We know our customers often search by ingredient, but they also search based on what they recently saw on TV from a favorite Food Network show or chef. Giving users control to quickly find what they want, in a platform they are already using, like Facebook Messenger, was a no-brainer for us.
Are you looking to test other social and digital platforms to reach your mobile audience?
Everything we do is optimized for mobile. The Food Network brand is everywhere, really, and our goal is to bring our brand to wherever our users are today. We are testing Facebook Live, Facebook social video and we were an early partner on Snapchat’s Discover platform. In October, we broke our own records on Facebook Live with a pumpkin carving that reached 4.6 million views. We are also reaching millions of daily Snapchat users with our Food Network experience on Snapchat Discover. Of course, we’re also working on some exciting projects that we can’t mention just yet.
Food Network also launched a “skill” on Alexa-powered devices. What’s been your main takeaway from your artificial intelligence marketing activations thus far?
We see consumers moving to new technologies for inspiration and ideas around food, and we want to be there to serve their needs, whether they are on the go, or in their kitchen—so you will see us continue to innovate in this space, but always in ways that provide value to consumers.
How does bringing content right into kitchens of consumers through Food Network’s menu of digital offerings help raise brand equity?
We believe that touching the Food Network brand happens in many different ways. Ultimately, we’re here to provide entertainment and trusted support for users who are food enthusiasts and love to cook. What better way to show the power of our brand than to help you fix a meal and allow programming that is suitable for the entire family? Ultimately, we want our fans to be able to experience our brand wherever they are right now—the plane, the living room, the grocery store or the kitchen.
The US Government wants gamers to know the importance of health coverage, and they’ve assembled a crack team of video game influencers to deliver the message. For the first time ever, our nation’s capitol is holding an eSports and gaming marathon—the White House Competitive Gaming Event—which will be livestreamed on Twitch in a four-hour special event hosted by Twitch programming manager and streamer, Anna Prosser Robinson. Last year, Robinson joined the ESports League (ESL) for a public service announcement to encourage pro gamers to get insured. Her husband, pro gamer Geoff Robinson, suffered from blood clots in his legs but was able to make a full recovery with the assistance of their healthcare coverage.
“We appreciate how the White House has recognized the power and passion of our community,” said Brian Petrocelli, product marketing manager for Twitch, in a press release. “Their desire to present the White House Competitive Gaming Event to promote health coverage enrollment exemplifies how they continue to have their hand on the pulse of the younger generation. We share their enthusiasm since we also see the value of health coverage and encourage everyone to explore their options.”
As video games establish themselves as an athletic sport, the importance of nutrition has become a concern, and just as in any sport, a single injury can disrupt a promising eSports career. Such was the case for Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek, who was the AD Carry for European League of Legends team, H2K until a repetitive injury sidelined him from the starting roster. However, he has since reported a full recovery is now working as a free agent.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 25 million adults aged 18 to 64 were uninsured in 2015. While this is a major improvement compared to 31.7 million uninsured the year before, there remains a major population with no health coverage of any kind. Meanwhile, the video game community is 155 million players strong, according to a report by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and 33 percent of those gamers are between the ages of 18 to 35. Although it doesn’t cover healthcare, Geico has been selling other types of insurance with the help of eSports team, SoloMid, thus proving that a team-up can be quite effective. The influential power of video game personalities along with the looming insurance enrollment deadline might inspire some folks to consider insurance—after all, gamer’s thumb is a real condition.
“It’s a famously difficult task to reach Millennials and Generation Z with any message whether that be from a cause, a brand, a politician, or otherwise,” Petrocelli told [a]listdaily. “Members of the Twitch community tend be cord cutters or often ‘cord nevers.’ They consume media in a wholly different way as compared to other generations. Given that a significant part of that media revolves around gaming, leveraging a social gaming platform like Twitch makes sense if that’s the demographic one wants to reach.”
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.
There’s a new Assassin’s Creed adventure coming this month, but instead of a video game, it will be exclusive to the Hollywood big screen. Ubisoft is taking a brief hiatus from its video game franchise and allowing 20th Century Fox to have the spotlight in the Ubisoft Motion Pictures and New Regency production starring Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Irons.
Ubisoft Motion Pictures vice president of global marketing, Stephanie Simard, said at an E3 media presentation that games are changing, opening up optimal storytelling beyond the interactive medium. “We’re working with top filmmakers to ensure the quality of the product while maintaining creative control to maintain the spirit of the games and what fans love about them,” Simard said.
With over 96 million units sold worldwide, Simard said Assassin’s Creed was the perfect choice for a feature film as the number one Ubisoft brand. “It has an expansive universe and all of the building blocks needed in creating a feature film with characters, action, historical eras, the mythology of a secret society, genetic memory, the theme of free will vs. control, and learning about who you are through your ancestors,” she explained.
Ubisoft has assembled a stellar Hollywood team for the new film, partnering with New Regency, which has won the Best Picture Oscar for two of the last three years, and 20th Century Fox, which is distributing and marketing the Christmas release. “Michael Fassbender was our first and only choice to play our hero,” Simard said. “He was immediately captivated by the brand and the work our game teams have done with the franchise. He became a producer of the film and has been involved every step of the way.”
Frank Marshall, who has generated over $9 billion at the box office through franchises like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, serves as producer of the film. He brought in director Justin Kurzel (MacBeth) to helm the original Assassin’s Creed big screen adventure.
“Assassin’s Creed has always been about tribe, about belonging to something,” Kurzel told [a]listdaily from the set of the movie at London’s Pinewood Studios. “This is an origin story about a man who discovers that he’s an Assassin and that he’s not alone, and that in him he has a blood that runs very, very deep. Those themes are really fascinating—the idea that you’re made up of the people that come before you and you somehow have some kind of conscious dialogue with your genetics. It’s really really deep and interesting stuff, and it’s probably why the game’s so popular. As a context to the game, it’s smart and sophisticated, but also very contemporary.”
Simard said the filmmakers worked with Ubisoft’s brand team in Montreal to establish the rules of the universe and ensure consistency in the film around the essence of who the Assassins and the Templars (their enemies) are. “We’re not interested in telling the same stories from the games,” Sinard said. “Films bring in a new dimension. Working from the present day allowed is to introduce new characters and attract a wider audience, while exciting existing fans.”
Kurzel said the most tricky part of adapting this universe for film has been reversing the focus from the past. In this case, that’s the Spanish Inquisition time period. “In the game, you spend more time in the past, and the present settings are really transient cases to get you into the past,” he said. “In terms of setting up the film, we spend a little more time in the present setting up the lead character, Cal, and getting the audience to know him and understand him.”
Kurzel talked about how, in the games, there’s the “bleeding effect” and the idea that the shadows of the regressions start to play out in the present world with seeing the ghost of your past ancestor.
“The idea that history becomes a ghost within the present can been seen in the Animus, which is built in this Byzantine Templar church that Abstergo has built its headquarters around,” Kurzel said. “We’ve decided to combine the old and the new within the actual production design, where you feel the history of the Templars play in a space like this. We were continuously trying to find ways in which there’s a bridge between those two worlds. But at the same time, there’s something very exciting about going between two different pallets. The past feels very like a Caravaggio painting. It’s rich and very seductive and like the game, there’s a romance to the history that we really didn’t want to lose. That contrasts with this very sophisticated architectural, heavily-designed world of modern day Templars.”
That Animus has been designed with this in mind, which means it’s different from the one used in the games. Fans can get an up-close look at the Animus in the new free Assassin’s Creed VR Experience on Oculus Rift.
Kurzel said the film is also packed with Easter Eggs that fans of the games will be able to enjoy. “We believe this is a film that will stand on its own with no knowledge of the franchise necessary,” Simard said. “But we want fans to be on the inside.”
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-The AList Team
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