Last year, mobile games brought in $40.6 billion worldwide—more than any other interactive entertainment medium, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be the next Candy Crush. Mobile monetization platform, Tapjoy has just released some data that can help marketers learn more about this lucrative audience. “The Changing Face of Mobile Gamers: What Brands Need to Know” reveals insights about mobile gaming behavior, such as how they view themselves, what kind of games they prefer and where the urge to play strikes the most (surprisingly, it’s not the bathroom).
Who plays mobile games? About 1.9 billion people, Tapjoy reports—but if you think most of those are teenagers, you’re wrong. The largest age group is made up of consumers 55 and over, followed by consumers ages 25-to-34 (21 percent) and 35-to-44 (19 percent). Children aged 13-to-17 only make up 8.05 percent of mobile gamers, while ages 18-to-24 was slightly higher at 13.56 percent, behind 25-to-34-year-olds at 20.7 percent.
Women represent the majority of mobile gamers, making up 63 percent of the total player base. Despite this revelation, 72 percent of the women surveyed said that they do not consider themselves a “gamer” even though 59 percent of women said they play games at least ten times per week. In fact, mobile gamers are extremely active, Tapjoy observed. The vast majority of them—69 percent—said they play at least three to five times per day, while 71 percent of respondents play for an hour or more every day, and 21 percent play for more than three hours a day.
It turns out that to consumers, mobile gaming is about more than just killing time. Tapjoy asked consumers how they felt while playing mobile games compared to social apps and the differences are stark. At 59 percent, consumers are twice as likely to say they feel relaxed when playing mobile games than they are when using social apps like Facebook or Twitter. Users also said they feel more focused (35 percent vs 11 percent), happier (34 percent vs 21 percent), and more engaged (35 percent vs 20 percent) on gaming apps than social networking apps. Also, those status updates about your break-up aren’t as interesting as you may think—consumers are 2.4 times more likely to feel bored on social apps than gaming apps, and 60 percent more likely to feel stressed.
Tapjoy observed that the most popular mobile titles are more similar to board games than what you might find on a console. Case in point, the Shooting category was least popular among mobile gamers at just eight percent. Puzzle games are by far the most popular category, played by 59 percent of respondents, followed by Strategy (38 percent), Trivia (33 percent) and Casino/Card (27 percent). Among the least popular games were Player-vs.-Player (15 ) and Sports (11 percent).
If you had to guess where the most mobile gaming takes place, what would you say—the bathroom? The subway? Well, mobile gamers like to multitask, it seems, because 70 percent responded, “in front of the TV.” Just under TV time was “relaxing at home” at 67 percent (admittedly, that could include the bathroom) and 59 percent play “before bed.” Seventeen percent admit to playing at work . . . you know who you are.
“When designing their digital advertising strategies, it’s critical that brands take into consideration the activities that consumers are engaged in at the time and how they make them feel,” said Shannon Jessup, chief revenue officer of Tapjoy in the report. “There are nearly 2 billion mobile gamers in the world, and the unique state of mind consumers have when playing games on their smartphones or tablets represents an incredible opportunity for brands to truly connect with consumers.”
Electronic Arts continues forward with its competitive gaming business, and the publisher has partnered with Collegiate StarLeague (CSL) to host and facilitateChallenger Events within the Madden Championship Series (MCS). The competition will give student gamers across North America the opportunity to represent their school and compete for two $5,000 scholarships. The event will be hosted on CStarleague.com and the winners will advance to the inaugural Midwest Campus Clash at Columbia College in Missouri on April 8, 2017.
Duran Parsi, CEO of the CSL, told [a]listdaily that this is entirely new ground for the company.
“CSL has traditionally hosted leagues for PC gamers, so console sports players are a new thing for us,” Parsi said. “We’re thrilled to open the CSL experience to a new set of gamers. We have gotten a fair bit of interest in Madden, so we’re excited to finally get started. We believe that Madden is going to be a huge staple for us in the future because of how popular the game is, especially amongst college students.”
Registration is currently open and league play will begin February 11, 2017. Madden NFL 17 will be played on Draft Champions mode on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4. After a three-to-four-week regular season, which will pit players divided into groups playing a round-robin format, the top players at the end of the regular season will advance to a single elimination playoff bracket. The championship will happen live in Columbia, Missouri on April 8 and the top four competitors per console will be flown out to the finals to compete live to crown a collegiate champion.
“Collegiate tournaments have been at the heart of the competitive Madden scene for over a decade,” Matt Marcou, Madden NFL competitive gaming commissioner said in a statement. “We’re proud to work with the Collegiate StarLeague in our ongoing effort to make stars of all of our players.”
As the official collegiate partner for Madden, CSL will award collegiate players points towards the Madden Championship.
“Our goal is to fit within the Madden eSports ecosystem, and we hope to grow that relationship over time,” Parsi said. “We’ll be awarding Challenger points to the top players, which can help players qualify for the MCS. It’s really important to build an integrated system that ties in all aspects of competitive play, so hopefully, we can continue doing this into the future. It would be great to see collegiate players on the MCS stage competing with other pros, and so on.”
Parsi believes this console gaming demographic is unique and will open the door for new sponsors and brand partners. He said, “Madden players are very different from PC gamers, so we’re opening the door to a whole new group of gamers who have different interests than our traditional audience.”
Parsi also hopes Madden turns into a year-long league to mirror a system like real athletics use within the NCAA.
“Having a longer structure allows for better competitive integrity and gives players a chance to play more games,” Parsi said. “We hope to move towards this type of system, but at the same time, we’re open to taking things as they come. Madden is going to be different than our other games, so we’re not married to any particular format moving forward. This first league will be a great learning experience for us, and our main goal is to do a great job, ensure players have fun, and then make adjustments and improvements to the structure next year—always striving to be better.”
Ultimately, the goal is to increase this over time and to make the league more prestigious as CSL builds the collegiate Madden brand. “It would be great to one day be able to offer full scholarships to the best collegiate Madden players,” Parsi said.
Theresa Gaffney, editor-in-chief of CStarleague.com, told [a]listdaily that during a campus tour last fall, one of the biggest notes they took away from eSports clubs was that CSL players really wanted a console title to compete in.
“This is going to be a great way for us to gauge the response and then create some ambitious plans to expand the Madden circuit and then branch off to other popular console eSports titles that are underserved in the collegiate circuit,” Gaffney said. “My personal hope would be a fighting game.”
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.
The world might know Akon as a musician, and rightfully so. The multi-platinum recording artist moved dancefloors with a bevy of nightclub bangers at the turn of the millennium. But shortly after such hits as “Right Now” and “Smack That,” he shifted his focus to solar energy and providing electricity to millions of homes in Africa with his Akon Lighting Africa initiative.
In between the music and benevolent work, the global R&B music icon also showed a sense for the business side of the artistic world by joining budding tech company Royole as its chief creative officer to bring some serious swag in the tech space.
Royole, who touts itself as a “global pioneer and innovator of flexible displays, flexible sensors, and smart device technologies” and has a reported valuation of $3 billion, used the relationship with their newly minted CCO to introduce the special-edition Akon Moon, a 3D virtual mobile theater for movies, gaming and more.
“What made me so excited about Royole was that a lot of the things I wanted to get into, they were already doing it, and on a whole other level,” Akon told [a]listdaily. “The way the team thought about tomorrow is what attracted me the most. I was really cautious with which kind of companies to partner up with my interests in consumer electronics, and wanting to create my own virtual reality headphones. I didn’t want to do basic headphones like every other artist.”
Royole Moon combines two full HD 1080p AMOLED displays at over 3,000 PPI resolution that simulates an 800-inch curved screen with stereoscopic 3D, and unlike most VR devices on the market today, it doesn’t require specifically taped content for compatibility.
“It’s like sitting in an IMAX movie theater,” Royole founder and CEO Dr. Bill Liu told [a]listdaily. “We have a very high resolution display integrated in the device, complemented by a foldable design to incorporate the noise-cancelling headphones. It’s a perfect entertainment portal for consumers who like movies and music. We’re proud to have Akon as our chief creative officer. He’s very talented and has a lot of ideas that help us.”
Liu says Akon will serve as a bridge between science and art for his company’s engineering team and tech-savvy consumers by being involved with product design and creative direction for their line of products, specifically with ideation on the music side.
“Our products are geared toward global markets,” Dr. Liu says. “VR has been hot for the last few years. People have been talking about how everything is going to be virtual reality. I see it a bit differently, though. VR has a great future, and great potential, but it takes time. Especially on the hardware side. That’s why we designed the Moon differently. It’s not a traditional VR device. We focus on movie and high resolution video applications without motion sensors. That way, we can actually use the computation consumption to make sure the display resolutions are super high, and people can get great experiences with their movies.”
At CES earlier this month, Akon and Dr. Liu were front and center in Sin City to showcase their stable of products in both a press conference and a cavernous booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
That notion alone may have first been considered farfetched because Liu and Akon originally met in a hotel lobby at 4 a.m. in a chance encounter. Now, they’re both working in unison to change how sound is applied to new products technologies.
Royole, founded in 2012 by Stanford engineering graduates, capped off what they say was a successful show by winning CES 2017 Innovation Awards for their FlexPhone and Smart Cycling Backpack.
“We believe the future of information displays and consumer electronics will be mainly about human-machine interfaces, artificial intelligence and IoT,” Dr. Liu says. “You can see a lot of companies working on the AI and IoT side. We’re more focused on human-machine interface technologies with flexible displays and sensors and VR. But the industry is growing rapidly in these three categories.”
The Fremont, California-based verified “unicorn” company is growing, too, as evidenced by their expansion into a new $1.7 billion production campus in Shenzhen, China. The facility—Royole’s second in the country—will be used to mass produce their line of products. They are expecting the 1.1 million square foot project to be completed and fully operational during Q3.
Earlier last year, Royole announced their valuation grew to $3 billion after receiving $80 million in series Pre-D funding. They were also named “5 under 5” most innovative and fastest growing startup company by Scientific American.
Royole has over 700 employees from 12 different countries, but Akon is by far their most famous.
“What Royole has with flexible displays and flexible sensors, and what we’ve created with the Moon, this is a long-term relationship that we are building,” Akon says. “It’s the perfect plan to how we want to move forward. We want to have all the patents. . . . We’re coming with new innovative ideas and creations before people can wrap their minds around it. That’s what we’re dealing with now. Some of the stuff we’re doing won’t be profitable for another five or six years because it’s just too ahead of its time. We’ll have to descale that so it can engulf in the minds of the everyday person. The biggest challenge we are going to face is moving forward too fast.”
Although spearheading a burgeoning business in Royole and a creative product with Moon, Dr. Liu remains cautious by not forecasting a future with out-of-this-world predictions.
“There’s still a lot of work to do this year for all of the VR companies,” he says. “It’s still going to be hot. It just takes time.”
Warframe is free-to-play online action game where players get to act as space ninjas wearing battle suits called warframes. Players equip themselves with gear and weapons to explore the universe and save it from menacing monsters. Although everything in the game can be earned through gameplay, players have the option to purchase gear and cosmetic items using premium currency. But unlike many free-to-play online games, Warframe focuses on four-player cooperative gameplay without much emphasis on a competitive element, which is especially noteworthy given how its developer, Digital Extremes had a hand in creating iconic games such as Unreal Tournament and the multiplayer mode in BioShock 2.
Meridith Braun, VP of publishing at Digital Extremes, told [a]listdaily that Warframe was created as a last-ditch effort to transition away from the work-for-hire development it had been doing for 15 years. “We saw the change in the industry—the ballooning of AAA budgets for games that weren’t coming to independent developers. So, we needed to pivot to survive.
“Looking into the free-to-play model was the answer for us. It was something that we had a bit of experience with because Digital Extremes was founded in the shareware days, which I feel is kind of the originator of the free-to-play mechanism—you give the player a sample of what the game is like, and if it’s great and they love it, they’ll pay for more.”
Braun detailed how building a community was a key focus for the company when it started development on Warframe almost four years ago.
“[In the shareware days] we were connected directly to our players, and we got to talk to them closely. It was nice to get back to that model, where we were talking to them in real-time,” she said. “Now, in modern day free-to-play, we’re able to work with our community to change the game as they’re playing it, progressing and providing feedback.
“From the beginning, our community philosophy was to be transparent, update rapidly, and don’t be gross. There’s so much information that players have at their fingertips, so if you’re not on the ball with your communication—if you’re not straightforward and honest—they can see right through it. Updating rapidly gives us the opportunity to show them that we’re listening on a constant basis. The PC version receives anywhere from two to five hotfixes a week and major updates happen every six to eight weeks. We have conditioned the community to have high expectations of us, just as we have high expectations of them to stick around with us.”
To clarify what not “being gross” meant, Braun explained that “it’s our philosophy for a fair free-to-play model. We are all gamers, and we don’t like being hassled for our money. If the game is great, then it’s worth paying for. That’s the bottom line no matter what kind of business model you’re working with. We make monetization decisions that are much more subtle than other free-to-play games, and we hope that we’re paving the way for a new trend and a brighter outlook on what the free-to-play reputation has been since the early 2000s.”
When asked why Digital Extremes went with a cooperative shooter when it had a history developing competitive shooters, Braun said that
“It (Warframe) became a cooperative shooter after looking at the competition in the free-to-play landscape at the time, which was all PvP (Player-vs.-Player) focused. We thought that a differentiator was that there wasn’t one really good PvE (Player-vs.-Environment) shooter out there. But even though the publishers that we showed Warframe to loved the concept, artwork and gameplay, they said it would fail as soon as we said it was PvE. Luckily, we didn’t believe them, and we decided to do it on our own. The community was refreshed by a cooperative shooter, and our community was immediately set up as a friendly one, as opposed to one with immediate angst because they’re competing against each other to be better. Many people who participate in our forums and regular livestreams are surprised by how inviting, engaging and welcoming our community is.”
Warframe also released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2013, and Braun talked about how it was more difficult to reach a console audience compared to on the PC. “On the PC, you already have them on a computer, so it’s easier to get them engaged in our community because they can go straight to our forums, Twitch page or social media pages. Both consoles have added a lot of great community features to their dashboards, but it’s still limited. You don’t have a keyboard for quickly chat with other people. So, it’s a lot more challenging for us to come up with creative ways to engage them and bring them to our other channels.
“It’s key for us to have very good relationships with Sony and Microsoft, and to work with them and let them know how Warframe is doing—especially since it’s an ongoing title and everybody is looking for the next new shiny thing. We’re in their ear on a regular basis, letting them know that Warframe is still big and still growing. We haven’t even peaked yet. We’re heading into our fourth year and we’re still growing.”
Braun also discussed how console players differ from PC gamers. “I think console players are fresher to this type of game. Free-to-play is fairly new to consoles, mainly with the PS4 and Xbox One, so we’re hitting a whole new set of gamers, and I believe that they’ve greeted it with much less skepticism than PC players. PC players have had this type of game for a long time and there are tons of free-to-play games out there that aren’t that great, so there’s more of a risk for them in picking the right ones. But Paragon released last year and so did Paladins. I think console players are very lucky because they have received the cream of the crop.”
As a free-to-play game, Warframe has done some CPA (cost per action) advertising to grow its player base, but Braun admits that Digital Extremes hasn’t done a lot to reach past its core community. “We’re starting to do more, but the stuff that we can’t measure makes us very nervous. When we first started Warframe, we barely had two nickels to rub together, and that’s why we focused on community and viral marketing—it was the least costly for us. We were watching games like Hawken and Firefall do enormous brand awareness campaigns and we were very nervous because we felt ourselves being dwarfed by their awareness. But we realized that we didn’t have to do that because they did, and they’re not around anymore.
“It was much more economical to start in the grassroots area, and less scary because we could measure it all. We could see players coming in from the various ways we were reaching out, and still to this day, there’s nothing better than word-of-mouth, which is why Twitch and YouTube [are so great]. People want referrals and testimonials.”
Although Destiny isn’t free-to-play, it’s similar in many respects to Warframe, and it has tremendous marketing and development budgets behind it. Braun discusses what it was like when the gaming juggernaut launched in 2014.
“We gripped our seats tightly and hoped and prayed,” said Braun. “Destiny was the first AAA game that we saw dent our user numbers when it launched. We were very nervous when it first came out, and we’ve kept track of what they’re doing—when updates come out—and we continue to do our own thing. Our players appreciate that we’re staying true to Warframe, and I think there’s always room for great games.”
In addition to being showcased on The Game Awards last year, Warframe launched a major updated called The War Within on the Xbox One and PS4 in December. The update had launched for the PC earlier last year and it broke concurrent player records that weekend, rocketing it up to one of the top three games on Steam during its release. Warframe was named as one of Steam’s top 100 games in 2016, and Digital Extremes intends to keep that momentum going in 2017. Plans are already underway to celebrate its four-year anniversary in a big way.
Technology is always evolving, and marketers must evolve with it in order to ensure brand success. While there are many factors that affect marketers on a day-to-day basis such as social media, budgeting and reaching audiences on an emotional level, here are six of the top technologies are impacting marketing the most.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
“Okay, Google.” Gartner analysts predict that by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be conducted without a screen. With the rise of voice-activated technology like Google Home and Amazon Echo, consumers will not be limited to traditional screen-based browsing, Gartner predicts, especially since web browsing will be extended to other areas of daily activities such as driving and exercising.
Artificial intelligence (AI) means more than another way to shop—it can help marketers make smart decisions. A May study conducted by the National Business Research Institute for Narrative Science found that 38 percent of US business executives considered this type of data crunching and predictive activity to be the most important solution provided by AI.
Similarly, research by The Economist Intelligence Unit last April found that 37 percent of global marketing executives believe big data and AI were among the technologies they expected to have the biggest impact on marketing companies by 2020. According to a survey of 150 senior executives by Weber Shandwick across five markets, 68 percent said their brand is currently selling, using or planning for business in the AI era. When gauging which types of marketing will greatly affect their world, 55 percent named AI over social media.
By 2020, over a billion people worldwide will regularly access AR and VR content, according to predictions by research firm, IDC. In an attempt to reach this growing demographic, IDC predicts that 30 percent of consumer-facing companies in the Forbes Global 2000 will experiment with AR and VR as part of their marketing efforts in 2017. A large of part of this adoption will be via digital assistants (Amazon Echo and Google Home) with over 110 million consumer devices with embedded intelligent assistants installed in US households by 2019.
“Okay, Google . . . show me what such-n-such couch looks like in my living room,” may not be that far off. In fact, Gartner believes that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality.
DeLoitte published a survey in August that found 88 percent of mid-market companies (firms with annual revenue of between $100 million and $1 billion) were using some form of virtual or augmented reality as part of their business, such as tourism or health care. Citi predicts hardware sales, specifically of headsets, will be the primary driver of the industry’s growth and the VR and AR market will be worth $692 billion by 2025, rising to more than a trillion by the following decade.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT market is expected to grow to $151 billion by 2020, according to market researcher Research and Markets. That includes infrastructure, software, processors, sensors and other tech. The market is growing in part due to advances in technology, but also increasing areas of global internet accessibility. Gartner analysts predict IoT will save consumers and businesses $1 trillion a year in maintenance, services and consumables.
Of four emerging technologies—AR/VR, AI, Conversational and 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.
Programmatic Ad Purchasing
In 2016, US advertisers spent $6.18 billion for digital video ads purchased programmatically, up from three billion in 2015, according to an eMarketerreport. That figure accounts for 60 percent of all digital video ad spending, compared to 39 percent last year. The research provider predicts that by 2018, programmatic digital video advertising will reach $10.65 billion, or 74 percent of total video ad expenditures, not including video advertising on social platforms.
Programmatic ad spending is growing in popularity and Zenith predicts that the method will grow 31 percent this year. “Programmatic buying of digital media has become the norm in major markets, and is aggressively following this path in smaller markets,” said Benoit Cacheux, global head of digital and innovation at Zenith.
While ad blocking is on the rise, a study by AudienceProject found that while 26 percent of respondents in the UK and 23 percent in the US used an ad blocker on their desktops, only two percent in both countries use ad blocking tools on their smart phones. Among the ad blockers in UK, 34 percent say that their attitude toward ads would be affected in a positive way if the ads displayed relevant messages, with 44 percent feeling the same way in the US.
According to Juniper, ad blocking will continue to rise in popularity among consumers, resulting in a loss in revenue by 70.2 percent in the next few years. “Adoption (of ad blockers) is being driven by consumer concerns over mobile data usage and privacy,” noted Sam Barker, author of the research report. “They are also incentivized to adopt the technology in order to reduce page load times.”
The most important strategy is to be authentic and to understand the connected customer journey across all touch points. A new study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council reveals this to be one of the biggest challenges for marketers in 2017.
“Savvy CMOs don’t see digital as a destination for transformation but instead see the digital experience as a constantly moving evolution for both engagements and operations,” noted Liz Miller, senior vice president of marketing for the CMO Council. “The year ahead will represent a real turning point in the customer experience as marketers plan to turn their sights toward connecting, streamlining and measuring the entire journey.”
When you think of Coca-Cola, you probably imagine a polar bear or glass bottle of soda, but do you think of video games? You should. Recently named the third-most valuable company in the world, this 130-year-old brand is committed to engaging massive audiences and was one of the early mainstream brands to embrace eSports. Here’s how the most popular soft drink brand is making waves in the rising world of competitive gaming.
During an exclusive, 2014 interview with [a]listdaily, Matt Wolf (since promoted to vice president of entertainment, ventures and strategic alliances at Coca-Cola) said the company considers eSports a key pillar in its overall gaming strategy. The company aligned with Riot Games and its global League of Legends eSports infrastructure to build an amateur league featuring its Coke Zero brand.
The Power Of Streaming
“Two words: reach and scale,” Wolf expressed in the interview. “Twitch is powerful because it offers a direct-to-consumer marketing platform, however, we are really interested in the deeper integration with the community that lends itself more to the live event side of the business. The key to both platforms is credibility and authenticity—the right voice at the right time is critical to connect with the audience.”
Fans Need Communication And Engagement
Coca-Cola’s Twitter account, @CokeEsports, engages over 354,000 followers each day, growing by 100,000 in just a year.
“We work closely with Twitter because it gives us a close one-to-one relationship with people who follow us and we can communicate quickly with that audience,” Wolf said. “The response by players and fans has been positive. We use it to announce new programs and initiatives like renewing LCS and the Cinemark movie theater deal for viewing parties. It’s been a very strong bright spot. It’s an interesting byproduct as it relates to Riot and eSports in general. Fans are very social. Twitter can be a tenuous form of communication, but we continue to create messaging and content that ultimately is about positivity and celebration of eSports. I read responses very carefully, and when fans respond it makes all of this work worthwhile.”
Coca-Cola’s head of global eSports, Alban Dechelotte told[a]listdaily that, from a brand perspective, there’s a greater ability for brands to be on stage in eSports than anywhere else in gaming in the past. “Fans love that Coke is engaged with them and recognizes the popularity of eSports,” Dechelotte said. “They love being invited to live events, whether it’s through an activation in movie theaters for League of Legends or connecting with fans live at the League of Legends world championship—which we see as the Super Bowl of eSports.”
Recently, the soda company hosted viewing parties for the 2017 Smite PC World Championship Grand Finals at select Cinemark Theaters across North America.
Authenticity Is Key
“ESports fans are just as, if not more, passionate about the games, teams, and players they follow than fans of traditional sports,” Dechelotte toldESports Insider, “but it is a much tighter rope to walk. Gamers are hyper-aware and highly communicative—make one mistake or appear disingenuous and you’ll get called out for it . . . not privately, either. If you understand them, speak their language, and give their passion the same level of respect and celebration as any other sport, they’ll love you for it.”
Dechelotte continued by saying, “we’ve learned to approach each game, community, and project we do with humility and tact. Overall, we think it’s better to start small and prioritize key insights in everything we do. ESports is not a fad. This is a real community and a sustainable industry that will keep growing year after year.”
Matt Wolf is a featured speaker at this year’s [a]list summit—sharing valuable insight into marketing strategies throughout the world of gaming. Coming to Los Angeles on February 16, [a]list summit: Competitive Gaming + ESports is the definitive event for marketers who want to understand eSports and competitive gaming and are looking to investigate opportunities in the space.
Register now to attend [a]list summit and learn the tactics and techniques to tap into this massive opportunity and get in front of this vibrant, burgeoning audience.
Seattle-based Drifter Entertainment recently raised $2.25 million in seed funding to develop virtual reality eSports games. The company was co-founded by former Epic Games, Microsoft and Oculus VR creatives Ray Davis, Kenneth Scott and Brian Murphy. While there have been experiments in virtual reality eSports from companies like Colopl Ni, it’s still a brand new frontier. So, Drifter Entertainment is meeting the challenge by bringing a team with experience in developing blockbuster franchises like Gears of War and Halo to the virtual reality ecosystem.
Davis, who previously served as general manager of Unreal Engine 4 at Epic Games, explains why his company believes in VR eSports in this exclusive interview.
How did your work with Epic Games help with this new venture?
First off, Epic is a fantastic place to work, full of really smart people. My time heading up the Unreal Engine 4 team gave me a great perspective on the evolution of the games development market, and I was also able to stay very close to the emerging VR technologies thanks to our close relationships with Valve and Oculus. Our work in building the Bullet Train VR demo for Oculus Touch was a huge influence in my decision to start a VR game development studio. It proved to me that VR truly had great potential to deliver the next generation of games.
What were your goals heading into this new company?
It’s safe to say we have two core focuses with Drifter. More than anything, we believe in building a great team with people who share our passion for chasing creativity, and we want to build a company that recognizes the value that really talented people bring to any project. We also believe simply in making things that excite us; things that we can show to each other and say, “holy s**t, that’s awesome!” It’s not always just about chasing after whatever will sell the most copies—it’s about creating works that you’re excited about, showing the world, and then building a community of fans who want to support you in making even more.
What do your partners’ diverse backgrounds bring to the table?
It’s a double-win that all of us have had the opportunity to work with AR/VR firsthand, in addition to having long track records in games development. We’re really able to hit the ground running when it comes to building VR content. Working with AR/VR in the earliest days has equipped us with a pragmatic approach: We understand that VR is going to rapidly evolve over the next few years, so it’s more important for us to ship early and often, versus falling into a traditional multi-year development cycle.
Why did you decide to focus on VR eSports?
In some ways, it’s a little less to do with VR, and far more to do with motion controls. We’re smitten with incorporating your physical movements into our game, which means players are now conveying a tremendous amount of information in a multiplayer environment. This opens the door for players to not only express themselves through their natural body language, but to also bring a new element of style to how they play the game. We believe this notion of incorporating physicality into the game experience makes for far more compelling eSports content. It’s no longer just how well you can master the rules of the game, but now your physical ability and character can play a key role. For pros, this gives a way for them to stand out among their competitors while creating far more engaging content for the spectators to view. In many ways, it brings the eSports experience even closer to traditional, physical sports.
Creatively, what has VR opened up for you as a game development studio?
Personally, making a new experience for VR has been exactly what I was craving as a game programmer after years of getting burned out on traditional AAA development cycles. So many things that you’ve taken for granted in making games just flat out doesn’t work in VR (i.e. player locomotion), so you’re immediately presented with some really hard challenges to overcome. That process (creatively smacking your head against a wall, and eventually finding an elegant solution) is incredibly rewarding, and is a big reason many developers will tell you that the act of making games is far more satisfying than actually playing them. Additionally, once you dive into VR, you quickly realize that there are many qualities the technology gives you “for free,” which help you craft experiences that are much more immersive and believable—qualities that every game developer has been chasing for the last 20+ years.
What VR platforms are you currently targeting?
Anything with reasonably good motion controls, which means Vive, Touch, and PSVR at some point. We love all VR, but if I can’t at least have my hands in the experience, then it just doesn’t cut if for us.
We’re seeing eSports selling out sports stadiums and 360 video being used to bring users into those stadiums. What do VR games open up from a “being on the playing field” perspective?
Active spectating in VR experiences is something I believe we’ll see a lot of development in over the next few years. Right now, we primarily watch our favorite pros superimposed over a video capture of the game. While that can be compelling, it rarely shares that same feeling as being physically courtside at your favorite ball game. With VR spectating, there’s no reason you can’t be toe-to-toe in that same situation, and get an experience that exceeds what you’d be able to experience in reality. Beyond that, there are a lot of interesting opportunities to involve active VR spectators into the match as well, much like how services like Twitch are offering more and more ways for fans to engage with their favorite players.
How are you allocating this initial $2.25 million funding?
This round of funding was exclusively focused on helping us build out the team, helping us grow from the founding crew of three to a team of around 15 developers across engineering, art and design.
When will gamers be able to start playing your titles?
Optimistically, we’re looking to make our first game available sometime in mid-to-late 2017. Game development, of course, is a highly creative process entailing a tremendous amount of iteration along the way, so it’s a safe bet we’ll dramatically shift our target dates every month from here on out.
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.
Big brands are beefing up their storytelling methods for the sake of content creativity and engaging consumers, and car companies are in pole position in driving that trend forward.
With native ads and content marketing increasingly becoming more of an alternative and preferred advertising method each day, marketers from BMW to Burberry are assembling teams to make long-form videos to build deeper connections through content with luxury consumers. With 70 percent of marketers planning to increase budgets this year, branded stories are a trend that likely will speed through 2017.
Currently in its eighth year, L/Studio is the Lexus-owned digital content channel that produces a collection of passion projects and programming in art, fashion, science, architecture and beyond designed to engage audiences outside of the traditional automotive encounter.
Whether it’s a mockumentary featuring Colin Quinn and Jerry Seinfeld with their live-action series Cop Show, a docuseries about the LGBT community like It Got Better, or partnering with Comedy Central for the eight-episode digital scripted series Junketeers, L/Studio’s long-form videos offer an eclectic collection that appeals to a broad demographic.
And it’s not only Lexus enjoying the wonders that long-form content does to brand affinity. Marketers from brands like Starbucks, Cap’n Crunch, Nutella, Geico and Chipotle are increasingly using branded content in favor of traditional ads—which typically have a limited shelf life—to improve recall, brand perception and intent/consideration.
Original branded content generates an average of 86 percent brand recall among consumers—a much higher number than the 65 percent with pre-roll advertising—according to a July study from Television News Daily, and brand recall is 59 percentage points higher for branded content, per a joint study from IPG MediaLab, Forbes and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. The September report also noted that consumers are 14 percent more likely to seek out more content from the brands after a single exposure to branded content.
Lexus, however, is uniquely positioning L/Studio to “forget the call-to-action.” So don’t be surprised when the Lexus Sport Yacht, or any of their line of cars, for that matter, are nowhere near sight next time you catch their content.
Andrea Lim, digital communications manager for Lexus who oversees L/Studio, joined [a]listdaily to discuss how they’re strategizing to drive their short films business forward.
How has the strategy of L/Studio evolved since it first debuted as an experimental creative forum in 2008?
While L/Studio still serves as a creative platform for some of Hollywood’s top talent, it’s evolved into a partnered distribution forum and to house content from a broader definition of content creators—people who are influential outside of the traditional Hollywood circuit. We plan to continue to evolve L/Studio and partner with likeminded platforms on the distribution of content, such as the satirical comedy Junketeers that was co-distributed with Comedy Central.
How did Lexus choose the five verticals for L/Studio? Were psychometric insights used to determine which ones were the best match for Lexus?
Over the years, we’ve honed the platform’s content categories based on what’s performed well, appeals to the desired audience and based on what is relevant in culture. Our research at the time identified the current five verticals.
How does Lexus naturally integrate the brand into creative projects like this?
L/Studio is unique in that we purposefully do not incorporate Lexus vehicles into any of the channel’s content, unless it is the producer’s choice to do so. Lexus originally conceptualized L/Studio as a way to engage consumers outside of the traditional automotive encounter, featuring unique lifestyle and entertainment pieces rather than commercials. We wanted to create an evolving studio space that offers topics in line with our brand philosophy without being a long-form car commercial.
Lexus is committed to nurturing all forms of art and design, and Lexus Short Films is another example of our dedication to supporting emerging artists and giving them a chance to showcase their talents. These aspiring directors and writers have received a unique opportunity, supported by Lexus, to collaborate with the acclaimed film studio The Weinstein Company to produce and showcase their work on an international stage.
Do consumers have an appetite for branded content and entertainment? Have you noticed an uplift in brand retention and equity?
L/Studio was created as a platform for creative passion projects rather than a branded entertainment channel. The objective of L/Studio is to gain a shift in brand perception. Research has shown that viewers are positively influenced by our featured content, which helps position Lexus as an innovative, brave and thoughtful brand.
How do you amplify and distribute the film content?
Partnering with The Weinstein Company allowed us to attract top filmmaking talent as well as increase our distribution reach. We were also pleased to share our finalists’ work at last year’s Napa Valley Film Festival, which expanded our audience for this project and showcased all four films together for the first time.
Has Lexus done any influencer marketing in the past to promote these endeavors? What were the goals? Was it successful?
We frequently partner with the co-creators of our programming as well as the shows’ stars in order to help promote new content on L/Studio, via social media, public relations and more. We’ve found this helps amplify our reach and engages a broad, diverse audience.
Luc Besson and Lexus recently co-piloted the design on the Valerian Spacecraft, where unique fan experiences are to follow for the sci-fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. What kind of a role does Lexus want to play in movies and film going forward?
Lexus is always looking for unique ways to tap into pop culture. The Valerian SkyJet partnership allowed us to incorporate some of our innovations in design and technology into a highly anticipated film project, and we’ll continue to look at collaborations with movies, TV shows and other forms of entertainment in the future that align with the Lexus brand.
The free-to-play first-person shooter, Paladins rose to near instant success when it hit Early Access on Steam last fall. The game had 100,000 new account sign-ups within 24-hours, which grew to over a million within a week. Today, the game has over five million players worldwide while still in Early Access, prompting the developer, Hi-Rez Studios, to include it as part of the recent Hi-Rez Expo (formerly the Smite World Championships). There, eight teams from around the world competed in the Paladins Invitational for a $150,000 prize.
Todd Harris, co-founder and chief operating officer of Hi-Rez Studios, sat down with [a]listdaily at the Hi-Rez Expo to talk about the remarkable success Paladins has seen in just a few short months. He also details the company’s future plans for the game and how it intends to continue growing the game as an eSport.
Was there much promotion for Paladins before hitting Early Access?
It was first shown at Gamescom two years ago, and then we had a pretty quiet closed alpha period leading to the Early Access in September. Since Early Access on Steam, the population has been incredible—five million new players in a few months.
What do you think contributed the meteoric rise of Paladins while it is still in Early Access? It’s technically still in development.
Well, a Hi-Rez game never comes out of development—we’re very much games as a service. But really, it’s the fact that the game scratches the itch of both shooter and MOBA players. Those are two very dominant genres right now, particularly for the Steam audience.
How will you continue to grow Paladins?
Based on our experience with Smite, a multiplayer champion-based game gets more interesting with more champions. We’re now up to 20, and the rapid addition of new champions is our main priority going into 2017.
Our plan is to put in another 15 during the calendar year, which is going very fast. At that point, we think we’ll be in a good place—from a competitive and eSports standpoint—where there’s enough interest from players who want to play competitively, those who want to play in a pro scene, or watch. After that, we’ll probably take a pulse and slow down a bit, but we won’t stop.
Another big initiative for us in 2017 is bringing the game to consoles. We have a very small closed alpha population on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and we want to bring it to a more general audience this year.
With Paladins taking off so quickly in Early Access, when does the life cycle of a game officially start now?
I think the lines for milestones are blurred compared to the old days, where you cut a gold disc, shipped it to a retail store, and left it alone for a long time. Sometimes, there are more marketing milestones these days than something significantly changing in the game. For Paladins, having millions of registered accounts is pretty significant, whether we call it Early Access or not. I think we’re keeping that label on mainly because we know that there are still a few core systems that we haven’t put into the game yet. There’s also the champion number. Twenty is good, but we want more before we remove the tag. It’ll probably be spring or summer time before we take the tag off.
Since Paladins took off so quickly, without much marketing behind it, where do you go from here? How do you continue to promote the game?
For us, it’s continuing to keep the players that were attracted to the game engaged with it. Again, we think adding new champions is the best way to do that. We’re also doing new maps, and we’re showing a new castle-themed map called Stone Keep here at the Hi-Rez Expo. Then, we’ll be experimenting with new game modes throughout the year. It’s great to get an initial rush of players, but it’s even more important for us—as a free-to-play game—to keep them playing and interested. That means constant new content. We’re updating the PC version every two weeks, and most times, there are significant content additions in each patch.
What is the significance of hosting the Paladins Invitational at the Hi-Rez Expo so soon after hitting Early Access?
We did a Paladins tournament at Dreamhack over the summer, before the game was even in Early Access, because it was important to get input from competitive players. That’s kind of how we see this invitational. We know that if we do some prizing, we’ll get feedback from competitive players who will find every exploit and they’re going to help us with balance. It’s a great way to accelerate the balance and tuning of the game. It’s more that than coming out of the gate to declare that it’s an eSport.
We’ve announced some other products here at the show, and we want to have multiple games in different competitive genres. Even the branding of calling this the Hi-Rez Expo, compared to prior years of it being the Smite World Championship, is signaling to the community that this is the start of a multi-game and multi-platform event. So, we’ll continue to grow as long as there’s an audience that wants to play our games competitively.
When do you officially declare a game as an eSport?
The community declares a game as an eSport, not the developer. So, it’s just seeing when that appetite is there. There were three stages that we went through with Smite that we hope Paladins goes through. The first is community-organized tournaments, maybe with some support from the developer. The second is a series of invitationals that bring teams together. The third is when either Hi-Rez or a third party is running a regular league, so that teams can play on rotation. Then both spectators and players have some predictability for when teams play, and that shows a maturity in the competitive scene.
My expectation at this point is that we will continue to have significant competitions in the first half of 2017, and the back half of the year is the time to look at whether a league structure makes sense for Paladins. That structure would mirror things that we’ve done in the past for Smite. We certainly have aspirations for it to be played regularly and competitively, and we’ll keep talking to players and eSports organizations to identify when the time is right.
How different is the console eSports scene from PC right now?
The console eSports scene has typically been a little more about open brackets and open sign-ups. Players are finding their way there, and may have to pay for their own travel. There are different expectations there for how tournaments are run.
Does Hi-Rez’s reputation with PC gamers make it easier to bring games to consoles?
I think it was pretty separate with Smite. Many people knew Smite as a brand, but not so much Hi-Rez at that time. I think it’ll be more of a boost when we come out with Paladins because there are a significant number of people who enjoy free-to-play console games. With Smite, we hadn’t earned a reputation on consoles yet.
What is the key to maintaining long-term engagement for a game?
It’s two things. The first is going back and listening to a community. The second is frequent and meaningful content addition. Even though Smite has 80 gods, that team is continuing to release new characters and is making significant game updates. For example, at this event, we’re announcing a big update to Conquest, which is the primary competitive game mode [for Smite]. It’s this balance of listening to the community and understanding what they want, but also being daring—maybe more daring than the community may be comfortable with—to make sure the game doesn’t get stale.
Given the number of competitive shooters out now, is it risky to bring a new one to the market?
Yeah, but every game these days is risky—it’s a risky industry. I think maybe what is more risky is trying to do something that you’re not passionate about. Yes, the game industry is crowded and aspiring eSports is also crowded, but we feel that the types of games we enjoy playing and making is (at their core) the same as they were 11 years ago, when the company started. Those are action multiplayer games that can be played competitively. That was the thought going into Paladins, which is different enough so that it found an audience. Making something that’s exactly the same as what’s out there typically doesn’t work.
Todd Harris will be speaking at [a]list summit on 2/16/17. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.
Social media has a new look thanks to Snapchat Spectacles. These wearable cameras let anyone see through your eyes, inspiring creative spontaneity from Snapchat’s massive user base. The new, $130 camera glasses have quickly been adopted by users and brands alike to share memorable moments—from playing with the dog to concerts and everything in between.
Beauty brand, L’oreal, for example, took spectacles to the Golden Globes Awards, allowing fans to witness the red carpet first-hand. Worn by make-up artist, Sir John and two brand ambassadors, L’Oreal’s Snapchat followers were treated to behind the scenes clips like putting make-up onto celebrities’ faces.
“At L’Oréal Paris, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage our consumers,” said Kristen Comings, VP of integrated consumer communications. “Snapchat serves as a proven tool to engage audiences.”
Musicians are excited about Spectacles, too. Grammy award-winning artist, Ed Sheeran hid his new single within a sponsored Snapchat lens that overlays Spectacles on a user’s face. Using the filter with sound turned on plays his new song, “Shape of You.”
Now calling itself Snap, Inc., Snapchat’s future is looking so bright, it’s gotta wear shades.
Thank you for your continued support and readership.
-The AList Team
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