Ever since Netflix confirmed Season Two of its breakout hit, Stranger Things, fans have been dying to know when they will return to Hawkins, Indiana to continue their adventure. While last year’s promotional efforts were modest but effective, the streaming media service has been rather coy about plans for the next installment. An official premiere date has yet to be announced, but Netflix has been keeping the spirit alive with lessons learned from the previous season.
As soon as the show aired last summer, fans were paying tribute through art and handmade crafts. Stranger Things creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, were “blown away” by the response and expressed a desire for Netflix to get on the merchandising bandwagon. “They’re selling T-shirts,” Matt Duffer told IGN about the fan-made phenomenon. “It’s like, ‘[Netflix is] losing money!’ Let’s make some cool s**t!”
Netflix responded in kind with a line of official merchandise that debuted over the holidays. Pop culture retail chain, Hot Topic now carries officially branded Stranger Things goodies including shirts, figurines and even Eleven’s dress-and-jacket signature outfit. Charity retail site, BoxLunch has also partnered with Netflix, offering Christmas Light necklaces, key chains and shirts galore.
Because the show is set in the ’80s, fans had an affinity for creating tributes in 8-bit through art or games. Netflix has just released an “infinite runner” featuring the show’s protagonist, Mike Wheeler, as he runs away from the dreaded Demogorgon—jumping over government thugs and collecting frozen waffles along the way. Collecting enough Eggo waffles will summon Eleven to your aid, which I have yet to do because I’m terrible at this game. Don’t let the graphics fool you—the endless runner is rather challenging and will most likely kill all thoughts of productivity once you try it. Users can also choose other versions of the game related to Orange Is The New Black, Marco Polo or Narcos, although the 8-bit element makes the most sense for a show set in 1983.
While Stranger Things didn’t take home any Golden Globes this week, the show’s talented child stars made a big splash with a rap about being best friends and the revelation that “Barb lives,”during the cold open—although sadly she doesn’t. Sniff. Poor Barb.
Until the show returns, fans will just have to string their Christmas lights around the house, break out the Dungeons & Dragons and eat some frozen waffles. Netflix wants us to know that those kids will return . . . and friends don’t lie.
A boatload of brands, C-suite executives and celebrities from all walks of red carpet life were out in full force this year in Las Vegas to kick off the New Year by reveling in the fiftieth installment of CES.
The annual show offers a global stage for brands from all facets of tech who thrive on the business of consumer technologies by transcending industries and stimulating emerging markets.
[a]listdaily was on the scene (video above) interviewing brands from a bevy of industries to discuss emerging tech like artificial intelligence, wearables and the Internet of Things and also the trends marketers should be zeroing on this year.
The Hi-Rez Expo (formerly the Smite World Championship), held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia, concluded four days of intense competition across three world tournaments yesterday. The company’s flagship game, Smite, where players choose from a variety of gods battle against each other, was divided into PC and console tournaments. Meanwhile, Paladins, which released on Early Access last year, made its debut as an eSport at the event. There were plenty of close matches and big surprises, with the excitement enhanced by the announcement of a new mobile game, Smite Rivals, based in the highly successful competitive game.
Stewart Chisam, president of Hi-Rez Studios, sat down with [a]listdaily at the event to talk about how the Expo has grown over the years, and how having close ties to the community—along with a whole lot of godly eSports—help the company to continue to grow.
How has the Hi-Rez Expo (formerly the Smite World Championship) grown and changed?
It’s been amazing to see it continue to grow and expand. We continue to use the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center because we love it. Each year, we’re pressing the boundaries of how much we can take on in the facility. We add more to it each year—last year, we added the Smite console championship to the event and started the idea of a Hi-Rez Expo, using more of the expo and ballroom spaces here to introduce more new games. This year, we’ve made the full switch to a multi-game expo, but the constant has always been the amazing community. Thousands of our fans from around the world come to watch. It’s still a heavily eSports-focused event, especially this year with three world championships featuring 22 teams from 20 countries.
It’s been humbling to see how our fans have responded and how we’ve been able to grow year-over-year.
How does a location-based event like the Hi-Rez Expo help to engage with fans?
It gives us a point in the year where we can focus a lot of attention and marketing to re-engage fans with all the great things we’re doing. After the event, we tend to see a lot of people coming back to our games and checking us out again. Obviously, having a strong eSports title drives continued high engagement. There are all of those benefits, but some of the softer benefits are just as important for us. One of the reasons we hold the event in Atlanta is so our own people can come. It’s extraordinarily motivating for employees of the studio to come to events like this and talk to fans, see what they’re doing, and hear what’s on their minds. My favorite part is asking where people are from and finding out how far they’ve traveled and the circumstances they’ve come from to be here.
What would you say were some of the biggest lessons you learned from launching previous games?
I could write a novel [laughs]. I like to tell people that we’ve made every mistake possible, which I don’t think is an indictment of being bad. Some of the lessons that came from them are: keep your ear to the ground of your community; be in a position to react fast; and you have to believe in your ideas and vision, but don’t be so focused that you refuse to see your own flaws. There are a ton of lessons that come from each game and the learning curve hasn’t slowed down. I feel that every day we learn more about how to do this. I think it’s typical that, as you learn more about something, you grow more humble about what you don’t know, which is a good thing because that means there’s so much more potential for how we can take this further.
There appear to be two opposing strategies to creating competitive games: developing a variety of titles for a diverse portfolio, or putting all the company’s resources behind one game. What are the benefits of the former, and what are your thoughts on the latter?
Some of it is about how we started as a multi-game studio. Smite isn’t our first game, so we were always supporting multiple games. When Smite launched, we were a 45-person company and had around 15 people on each of our three games: Tribes: Ascend, Global Agenda and Smite. I don’t think either strategy is wrong, but in some ways, it’s part of our DNA to be a multi-game studio. We had developed processes and the infrastructure to support a multi-game foundation. The Smite team is bigger than it ever has been, but we’re passionate about making games, and we had a few other ideas for games, and people who really wanted to make them. We felt they had the potential to be great successes on the market, and that we could take it on, so I think it’s just how we evolved.
What have been some of the biggest benefits to having a game like Smite adopted as an eSport, and how do you continue to grow it?
It gives your fans and community something to focus on and gives them peers to live up to, admire and learn from. The eSports ecosystem combines with the streamer ecosystem. They (fans) watch Zapman (Steven Zapas) playing out here for Team Eager here on the stage, then he goes home to be a streamer. He interacts with the community to teach people how to play the game and encourages the next generation of competitive players. That’s a virtuous cycle for us.
Smite released for consoles last year, and Paladins is coming to consoles later this year. How do you grow games between the console and PC platforms? What about reaching eSports audiences compared to casual ones?
A lot of it carries over. For example, an event like the Hi-Rez Expo is great for us across all platforms around the world. But we’re learning more every year, and I think the eSports ecosystems and the player ecosystems between consoles and PC are a little different. We initially brought PC concepts to console, and we’re learning how to better serve the console player base each year.
Broadly speaking, all I can say is that free-to-play on console systems has been amazing for us. We think that’s an area that has been broadly underserved. The fan bases we’ve seen on consoles have been amazing and extremely responsive. The rate at which the eSports scene has been improving, across all the metrics (streaming, the level of competition, etc.) is above what Smite was in its first season on the PC. As a company that grew up as PC-only, we’re learning to love and embrace the console community.
What is your advice for getting more non-endemic sponsors involved with eSports?
I think a lot of it is happening naturally now. The biggest thing we’ve seen is that it’s an educational process. Those of us who are in the industry and see how passionate the fans are and their engagement levels don’t realize what a mystery that is to a lot people who aren’t involved in gaming. As an industry, we’re finding that as more non-endemic sponsors come to events like these and experience the fan base, they’re beginning to understand that the enthusiasm they might have had as children around football, basketball or baseball are just as strong with these fans around our games—and that this is the future. It’s happening naturally, but it’s a process. These things never happen overnight.
My general advice is to get people to events like this, sit with them, talk with them about how these fans are engaged with eSports.
What do you want people to think when imagining the Hi-Rez brand?
I think we want our brand to be a company that is extremely engaged with its community, isn’t afraid to experiment and do whacky things, and will occasionally make mistakes—but over the long haul, will always take care of its fans and do the right thing. We want to be close to the community and iterate fast, and when you’re moving fast, every once in a while we’ll try something that didn’t work as well as we had hoped. When that happens, we’ll correct it as fast as we can and we’ll keep growing and improving. That’s what we want our brand to be, and hopefully we’re on the way to get there.
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.
Visa was at CES to introduce a different kind of eSport to the world. The payment company is a presenting partner for the all-electric Formula E racing and it hosted the Visa Vegas eRace on January 7 at The Venetian Hotel. All 20 Formula E drivers competed in the race, along with 10 sim racers, with $1 million in cash prizes up for grabs. Gamer, Bono Huis, won the $200,000 top prize in the competition, which Twitch broadcast live and Turner featured highlights.
It was the culmination of a global gaming “Road to Vegas Challenge” with rounds in Long Beach, California; Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and London, England. The top 10 sim drivers, racing on rFactor software in PlaySeats with ThrustMaster wheels, were flown to Vegas for the Finals, which included the real Formula E drivers. It’s part of a bigger push by Formula E into gaming with virtual cars now available in Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 6 and Electronic Arts’ Real Racing 3 mobile game.
It’s also the latest expansion into eSports by Visa, which partnered with eSports team SK Gaming for 2017. This marks the first entry into traditional eSports by the non-endemic brand. Visa brought SK Gaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Epitacio “TACO” de Melo and lSK Gaming racer Danny “Husky” Engels to Las Vegas for a series of activities that were promoted across social media channels.
Lara Balazs, senior vice president and head of North American marketing at Visa, told [a]listdaily these endeavors into eSports and the Formula E are not short-term ventures. “Our European division of Visa has been engaged in eSports for a few years,” Balazs said. “We in North America and in other regions of our global footprint are starting to look at eSports and consider how it fits into our overall go-to-market approach.”
“Pro gaming has changed the way we see sports in recent years, opening access to people the world over and creating a surge in its popularity,” Gary Twelvetree, executive director of marketing at Visa, said. “We see huge potential for the industry and this deal sees Visa ideally placed to harness and drive that. We’re looking forward to a successful season supporting the next-gen athletes at SK Gaming to do what they do best: win.”
Balazs said pro gamers use their social and digital channels to connect with global audiences, which aligns well with the global Visa brand and how the company is connecting to that audience through its channels. “Visa equals trust and we are a trusted brand to consumers and millennials,” Balazs said. “By seeing us come to the eSports table with SK, millennials definitely look at this and think, ‘Wow, Visa is talking to me.’”
Balazs said that, just as Visa sponsors Team USA and athletes from traditional leagues like the NFL, eSports is the next step. “You have athletes that embody the brand, are digitally savvy, and they’re truly embodying entrepreneurship and taking it to the next level,” she surmises. “They’re a terrific addition to our marketing.”
Balazs added that SK Gaming is a great partner to launch into this new vertical. “We’re excited about the possibility of eSports given the interest by millennials and our target consumer,” Balazs said. “We’ll see how this SK Gaming partnership goes and then continue to see about leveraging more eSports teams and players.”
Visa was able to merge its two early entries into eSports with a marriage at CES in Las Vegas. SK Gaming was in Sin City to serve as global ambassadors of eSports and take in the virtual simulator eRacing activities at The Venetian on Saturday that Visa sponsored with Formula E.
“Formula E is completely tech-driven and we’re always looking to showcase that we’re a tech-driven brand looking to make things better, easier and safer and there are so many synergies with Formula E,” Balazs said.
Balazs explained how, as the world has gone digital with technology driving this growth, Visa is looking for partnerships that embody that. “ESports has a synergy there and offers a dynamic interactive platform for consumers to experience in a new way,” she said.
The other connection between eSports and the younger audience Visa is targeting is the actual events that are held in sold out arenas, including in Las Vegas. “Millennials care about experiences more than [material] things, and this Visa Vegas eRace truly provides an experiential way to interact with our brand so you’re not advertising to them,” said Balazs. “You’re allowing them to interact with an experience. That’s one of the things that is incredibly compelling about it.”
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.
It’s a brand new year and for video game fans, the clock is already counting down until the next big gaming event. From E3 to BlizzCon, each expo has its own following, flavor and line-up that continues to evolve with the high-tech industry. With a whole new line-up of games and consoles to unveil, these industry showcases will be here before you know it.
Electronic Arts broke off from the pack last year, surprising everyone by foregoing the E3 status quo in favor of its own event off campus. EA Play made its debut at the Novo Theater, where fans (press or not) could get their hands on the latest titles like Titanfall 2, FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1. A 64-player Battlefield 1 tournament drew in thousands of fans (with a little help from celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Zac Efron), and featured a number of live broadcasted interviews and gameplay videos.
This year, EA will no doubt bring a strong line-up of its pillar sports titles and everything Star Wars for fans to enjoy.
As the power of influencers continues to rise, consumers often wonder if the press-focused E3 is still relevant. Although the event has certainly evolved, industry professionals say that E3 is not only relevant, but alive and well. Publishers save their biggest announcements for the summer blowout, developers gain valuable networking and exposure, and everyone who attends keeps their finger on the pulse of the industry. As for influencers, E3 is the perfect place for streaming and creating updates for their own channels. The show generated more than seven million posts on Twitter last year, as well as over 500,000 likes from E3-related posts on Instagram.
Publishers and brands took advantage of E3 2016 to inspire fans across the world from Nintendo’s real-life Hyrule booth to Doritos’ #MixArcade, so there’s no reason to believe 2017 will be any different.
Open to the public, the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is famous for its hands-on video game demos, publisher displays, and (of course) a whole lot of cosplay. The yearly event continues to expand across the world with PAX Dev, East, West, South and AU—bringing fans and developers together before the holiday release season and reinforcing hype for titles announced during E3. Last year’s PAX West was a sold out event that showed how the industry get-together has become more tech-savvy, diverse and rooted in nostalgia.
These events aren’t just for gaming brands, either—last year, PAX East became a hub for fun marketing ideas like Totino’s bucking couch and Uber’s Overwatch-themed vehicles. Building on the hype that surrounds PAX is a great opportunity for brands to connect, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
The largest video game event of its kind, Gamecom takes place each year in Cologne, Germany where the press and video game fans gather for the latest announcements, hands-on demos and more. This year will mark Gamecom’s ninth year, and if it’s anything like last time, the event will favor influencers over press, and VR and mobile will make a big push. Much like EA’s decision to sit out E3, other publishers decided not to hold press conferences at Gamescom last year, including Microsoft and Sony. Instead, Microsoft celebrated the 15th anniversary of Xbox with Xbox Fan Fest, a community event where anyone could get hands-on demos of games like Gears of War 4.
With the launch of PSVR and Xbox One S, this year’s Gamescom is anticipated to host more virtual and 4K playing demos than ever before.
Paris Games Week
ESports was a major focus at Paris Games Week last year, with the Electronic Sports World Cup. The global competition featured the best players across Just Dance 17, CS:GO, Clash Royale and FIFA 17. As with Gamescom 2016, large publishers like Sony and Microsoft abandoned press conferences in favor of hands-on fan events with the hope of enticing influencers. Fans were surprised that Nintendo didn’t make an appearance, as the event would have been timed perfectly with the announcement of the new Switch console. That will most likely change in 2017, with the Switch hitting shelves this spring along with a number of launch titles to show off.
In its fourth year, this annual event held in Anaheim, California caters not to the press, but to the fans. In addition to letting fans get their hands on some of these upcoming titles, last year’s PlayStation Experience hosted developer panels and eSports events as well. The Capcom Cup Finals were hosted at the show, as well as the Call of Duty World League. Following the launch of PSVR and all those game announcements from last year’s show, 2017’s PlayStation Experience will once again put fans in the center of the action.
Last year’s Blizzcon attracted over 25,000 visitors from 60 countries and even more viewers across 70 broadcasts in 19 languages. This event marked three major anniversaries for Blizzard Entertainment: the company’s 25th anniversary, the 20th anniversary of Diablo and the 10th BlizzCon, which has grown more than six times since its inaugural year. Although this year probably won’t have the benefit of a new game launch to help get fans excited, the emphasis on eSports, marked by last year’s announcement of the Overwatch League, means 2017’s BlizzCon will no doubt feature big surprises to attract attendees.
At CES 2017, LiquidSky offered a hands-on with its new cloud-based gaming platform that allows high-end PC games to be played on any Android, Mac, Linux and Windows devices. The company also unveiled a new free-to-play model that launches worldwide in March 2017.
Ian McLoughlin, founder and CEO of LiquidSky, told [a]listdaily that this ad-supported model offers gamers access to a free gaming SkyComputer that can be used to access game libraries across Steam, Origin, Battle.net, UPlay, and Windows Store.
“This is the first time anyone has ever made a free gaming PC,” McLoughlin said. “You still need a thin client to access it, but so many devices can plug into a TV through thin client today that it’s very accessible.”
LiquidSky will be launching its own think client hardware later this year, offering gamers another way to connect with its SkyComputer.
The ad-based business model lets gamers earn Sky Credits currency by watching commercials and they can use those credits to purchase time to access a cloud-based gaming PC. It takes watching six minutes of ads to earn 60 Sky Credits, which equates to an hour of time on the base service. McLoughlin said the exact currency exchange is still being tweaked.
“We don’t want the user to have to watch a bunch of ads to earn an hour,” McLoughlin said.
Gamers can earn up to three hours of free access per day plus 100GB of SkyStorage to save games in the cloud. Any unused Sky Credits roll over.
Over 1.1 million gamers have already signed up for the beta with the majority of sign-ups (75 percent) from word-of-mouth referrals. League of Legends, Battlefield 1 and Overwatch are among the most popular games on the service today.
McLoughlin said the ad-supported model works because of the large number of gamers that can concurrently play on a single server, thanks to the company’s proprietary technology. This will enable a traditional ad-supported model with spots earning eCPMs for companies that advertise to this gaming audience.
Gamers can also choose a pay-as-they-go model that starts at $4.99 per hour with 100GB of storage and monthly subscriptions begin at $9.99 with one terabyte of storage.
Users can play online with nearly no latency, which allows for a smooth gameplay experience. LiquidSky has built 14 data centers in 13 regions around the world, which circumvents an issue that OnLive ran into when they tried cloud gaming.
“People have said OnLive would have succeeded if it had the right games, but they featured mostly indie games and then ‘AAA’ games a year after release. On top of that, latency was always an issue. They were ahead of their time.”
One of the main reasons LiquidSky will remain in beta is to continue to get all aspects of the system working, including the advertising model and a safe ecosystem for game publishers and developers to deliver content. After all, LiquidSky is renting out a gaming PC, not the games themselves.
“We had to find a way to bridge to existing gaming content out there like Netflix did with DVDs to prove people would stay at home and then have online streaming,” McLouglin said. “Our bridge is Windows Server 2016, so you can get access to the cloud. It’s a persistent computer for each user.”
LiquidSky has also created a container service for developers to upload their game and have it protected on the back-end.
“There hasn’t been a single traditional DRM game that hasn’t been cracked completely,” McLoughlin said. “We want to help game developers. Our container is drag and drop and no code is exchanged. The game can be built for Linux, Android or Windows and we automatically put the game in a LiquidSky application. There’s complete protection because users can never access the binaries of the game. It’s also great for game companies because they don’t need to worry about download costs.”
The platform also supports open API, allowing game developers to push out instantaneous updates to users with the need to download anything.
“We can make it seamless across one platform and allow a lot more people access to the game beyond people who have hardware to run the game on the PC,” McLoughlin said.
McLoughlin said a lot of beta users are college students and they’re using the service on MacBook Airs.
“While college kids are the current beta audience, moving forward we want this to be a way to an actual gaming platform by making it easier to use and driving the cost of using this service so low that it’s more affordable than an Xbox or gaming PC,” McLoughlin said. “People are going to say we’re being too ambitious, but we’re hopeful we can some day take on the traditional console makers.”
Samsung, Nvidia, Microsoft and IBM are strategic partners for LiquidSky.
It’s a New Year and time for a fresh start for these industry professionals.
Disney has promoted Dan’l Hewitt, UK managing director of Maker Studios and former head of Vice’s ad network, to the role of VP of non-linear programming. Hewitt assumes this position now that Courtney Holt has stepped down to assume the role of EVP of media and strategy.
Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe has promoted Simon Rutter to Chief Operating Officer and Tim Stokes to Senior VP of sales commercial and operations.
Retailer, John Lewis has named Becky Brock as its new director of marketing. In her new position, Brock will take on responsibility for all aspects of the the company’s marketing strategy and leadership of the CRM, digital, brand and category marketing teams.
Crowdfunding organization, GoFundMehas named John Coventry to lead its UK communications efforts. Coventry is the company’s first hire outside the US, with more hires expected across Europe this year. GoFundMe media director Kelsea Little will also join Coventry in the UK to assist with the company’s European expansion.
As a result of companyrestructure in Asia, Twitter‘s managing director for China, Kathy Chen, has left the company after just eight months. Twitter’s APAC team will now directly with Chinese advertisers following the restructure. Meanwhile, Twitter UK‘s senior director of media partnerships, Lewis Wiltshire, has announced he is to leave the social media platform and return to the sports industry.
Custom dog food company, Tails.com, has appointed Steve Spall as its new chief operating officer.
The Hi-Rez Expo kicked off yesterday at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to a sold out venue full of excited fans. The four-day event, sponsored by Twitch Prime and Coca-Cola, is hosting two separate championship tournaments on PC and consoles for the company’s flagship title, Smite, in addition to debuting the Paladins Invitational. Yesterday’s keynote also had some exciting announcements for fans, including the reveal of Smite Rivals, a new mobile game being developed by Hi-Rez Studios based on its hit game.
Brian Grayson, project lead for Smite Rivals, describes the game as a “real-time one-on-one collectible card arena game where players battle against each other using a god a combination of spells, minions and structures.” Similar to Smite, Rivals features three lanes where players go head-to-head to battle for control by using collectible cards to spawn units, build structures and cast spells, creating a kind of tug-of-war, push and pull competition, where one side wins by overpowering a lane and destroys the opponent’s base. The game will be available for mobile devices and PC with cross-platform gameplay.
Grayson spoke to [a]listdaily from the Hi-Rez Expo about Smite Rivals, the company’s second mobile game following last year’s Jetpack Fighter, how it could grow the mobile eSports scene, and why community engagement is the key to success.
Will there be any cross-promotional campaigns between Smite and Rivals?
Absolutely. We have plans for a lot of different content that, if you play Rivals, you will get inside of Smite. The way it works is, if you load up Rivals, you’ll get some kind of achievement. When you finish that achievement, you’ll get rewards in Rivals and rewards in your Smite account as long as you’ve linked them. This works on all the platforms. If you’re an Xbox player and a PC player, you’ll get them in both places. The cross-promotion content can be anything from skins to avatars. We have all kinds of things planned, but we aren’t going to do all of them unless we hit a sign-up milestone our website.
How are you engaging with fans at the Hi-Rez Expo?
We have a demo on the show floor, and it has about half the cards that we’ll have at release for players to try. There’s also a mix of gods, structures, spells and minions. You can play with your friends or against complete strangers in one-on-one competition, which is broadcast on a TV. After they’re done playing, we give them a card with a code that unlocks the Smite Rivals Loki skin for Smite on PC, Xbox and PS4.
People love it, and they’re really excited about it. They like the cute chibi art style that we’ve done with a lot of the characters. A lot have no idea what they’re doing, but they’re still able to play, complete a match, and have fun. I think they’re having a good time, and I hope they come back to discover the game’s extra depth.
What do you have to say to players that want to see a specific god featured?
I would say tweet me and tell me who you want to have in the game. We’re always listening. One of the things that I love about being part of the Hi-Rez team is that we have a lot of freedom to interact with the community, ask what they want, and put in almost everything that they want. We can engage and say that we know that there are these three or four characters that people really want, so let’s put it to a poll. The winner of the poll is who we go out and make. We don’t have to lead the vision for our fans. Our fans know what they want and they just need to tell us.
How are you going to get the word out about the game?
A lot of our initial marketing to help people find out that Rivals exists will be through cross-promotion. There’s a rotation of images in the Smite launcher that tells you about upcoming events inside of Smite or the latest merchandise we made with our partner, Hitpoint. We’ll use those same tools to tell people that Smite Rivals exists. We’ll also leverage social media and our video content to reach out to our core fan base. Separate from that is an audience that we really want to hit: people who play mobile games. Not just Hi-Rez fans, but anyone who plays mobile games. We think we’ve built something that’s fun and connects people on mobile and PC, and we want to build on that.
How will you be reaching audiences that might not be familiar with Smite? Were there any lessons learned from launching Jetpack Fighter?
We learned a few things. One was that there are some social media platforms that are stronger for mobile than they are for PC. That’s something to think about when putting together a marketing campaign and trying to reach the players that you want. Although they’re on all these social networks, the likelihood of getting them to convert and play a mobile game is different from converting them to play a PC game, and varies according to each platform. We found that there are some places that we didn’t pay much attention to on PC were very good places for mobile games, and it was almost a frictionless process of getting them to click on the App Store and install. It’s a different experience on PC. But I think there’s still going to be a lot of experimentation and learning for us because this is just our second mobile game.
Do you think the PC version will lead to adoption for the mobile experience?
I think it will. It’s funny, because at the Expo, I heard a guy ask his friend if he wanted to play the game. He said no because he didn’t play mobile games. There’s a weird stigma that’s hard to cross for some people, where they feel that mobile gaming isn’t real gaming. But it is, and as soon as you play your first mobile game, you realize it. I think on Steam, once people see Rivals there, they might not realize that it’s a mobile game. They’ll check it out, think it’s awesome, and find out that they can download it for mobile. Then when they have to go somewhere, they’ll be able to take it with them. That’s the kind of magic I think you’re going to see with Nintendo Switch, and anything that lets you take a hardcore gaming experience on the go.
Both the PC and mobile gaming spaces are very crowded. How will Hi-Rez make its games stand out?
There are two key things. The first is finding the fun quickly, and the second is working with the community. Finding the fun quickly means that we iterate at an incredible pace in our games. A game can feel totally new one or two months later. We try out a lot of different things, and once we find something that’s fun, we share it with our fans and they give us input, and then we react. We have an awesome fan base that’s growing all the time, and they know what they like. We want them to have a hand in what we’re building.
What are your thoughts on mobile eSports and how it could grow this year?
I think there are some great leaders there now. On mobile, the games that are becoming eSports are very different depending on the country you’re in. For example, eSports games in China are primarily RPGs (role-playing games). There are also some popular shooting games as well as MOBAs. Here in the US, you’ve got some card games that are doing very well as eSports.
So, I think two things will help push it forward. One is that even as people played PC games competitively, it didn’t become eSports overnight. So, I think mobile gamers are at the phase where they just really like playing games on their phones, while some are becoming more hardcore and want to play on a stage in front of people. That audience was smaller a year ago and it’s naturally growing. We don’t have to do anything because it will grow organically, but we can support it by creating more opportunities for people to compete. Creating small grassroots tournaments, giving people venues, and even giving tools within the game to play against their friend and cultivate that competitive atmosphere. I think that will help the most.
Ultimately, what pushes things forward is that a studio has to get behind a game to help set up a structure with great prizing. It doesn’t have to be excessive. The studio needs just to help players figure out what structure works for mobile. It could be as easy as including Smite Rivals as part of Hi-Rez Expo next year. I think if we let people know in advance and set a path for them, they’ll go down it and it’ll be awesome. I’ve already seen mobile eSports tournaments with huge viewership.
What is the key to keeping players engaged in the long-term?
One word: content. You have to always create new things for players to collect, conquer or try. Content is the most important thing, because you might think that players will take three months to get through it, and they’ll go through the whole thing in a week. When you love something and you’re passionate about it, you go through it. Everyone consumes content at a different pace, but it’s super important to make sure that the people who are who are moving very fast continue to have something new to try. Players moving at a slower pace will be comfortable investing their time because they see that there’s a long road ahead with fresh things to experience.
At CES 2017, Razer is showcasing two new prototype technologies that are set to change the way consumers game. Project Valerie is the world’s first portable laptop with three built-in monitors. And Project Aria expands Razer Chroma technology to the entire room. Both concepts are expected to become reality at retail later this year.
Project Valerie features three 17.3-inch 4K IGZO displays equipped with Nvidia G-Sync technology that Hilmar Hahn, manager of product marketing of Razer peripherals, told [a]listdaily is capable of producing the smoothest possible frame rates and expansive 180-degree Nvidia surround view gaming.
Project Valerie uses an automatic deployment mechanism designed by Razer. Each display mechanically slides out of the side of the main screen and adjusts into place, making it easy for users to deploy.
“The extended displays are built into the chassis and the laptop has been built from the ground up to offer an immersive experience previously only available on desktops,” Hahn said.
The laptop also declutters the traditional three display desktop environment by eliminating all of the cables. The laptop, which has no official release date or price yet, opens up new opportunities for PC pro gamers, as well as streamers.
“It’s a great system for gaming,” Hahn said. “We’re seeing a lot of pro gamers streaming and practicing and this is a great set-up for both that they can take with them as they travel to tournaments around the world.”
This laptop will join Razer’s 14-inch Razer Blade and the 12.5-inch Razer Blade Stealth.
Also being shown at the Razer booth at CES is the expansion of Razer Chroma lighting technology to third-party partners, which ties into Project Ariana, the world’s first video projection system designed for total immersion gaming. Razer Chroma is the largest RGB platform for gaming with more than five million devices sold to date.
Vincent Chen, associate product marketing manager of systems at Razer, told [a]listdaily that Razer Chroma spans the length and breadth of keyboards, mice, headsets and monitors and is the only technology where all devices communicate with each other in real time.
“Gamers can customize and personalize all products and they sync with each other,” Chen said. “Game developers have tapped into this with thousands of game and profile integrations.”
Games like Overwatch, Deus Ex, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Shadow Warrior 2 have already integrated Razer Chroma lighting technology.
Chen said developers have added flashes of light to devices if ammo is low to give a visual cue to games.
“Game developers have changed the way input devices interact with games,” Chen said. “When we add smart lighting, the entire room started to flash in sync with the keyboard to take immersion to the next level to tell you to do various things in your game.”
A growing number of hardware partners are leveraging the Razer Chroma platform, including Lenovo, NZXT, Antec, Lian Li, Philips Hue, Looking Glass, Wicked Lasers and Nanoleaf. Entry into the Razer Chroma platform ecosystem, which features a palette of 16.8 million colors, is given through the Razer Chroma Module, a single hardware and software API available to partners.
Chen said Project Ariana takes the concept of RGB lighting into room projection and brings a whole new dimension to gaming.
“This results in solutions for gamers that range from peripherals to smart lighting and video projection, all working as one to provide a totally immersive gaming experience,” Chen said.
Project Ariana is a high-definition video projector that uses an ultra-wide fish eye lens and advanced processing capabilities to extend the gaming experience into an entire room. The system adapts the projection of in-game elements to the dimensions and features of the physical environment. A pair of 3D depth sensing cameras together with proprietary calibration software automatically calibrates itself to detect environmental factors such as furniture and room lighting, to provide the perfect display for any room.
“Our SDK gives developers the ability to communicate with all of the other devices coming into the ecosystem like smart lighting to bring the entire room into the gaming experience,” Chen said. “The projector has not been designed to replace the PC monitor. It’s meant to extend the experience into the entire room.”
No price has been announced, but Project Ariana will become a reality later in 2017.
Virtual reality eSports, or vSports, have officially begun. Independent development studio VirZoom, which is made up of several former Harmonix developers, used CES 2017 to introduce vSports to approximately 50 media members in Las Vegas at the Venetian Spa Club on January 4.
The concept blends virtual reality and eSports in a new way. VirZoom has created its $400 exercise bike and developed VirZoom Arcade, a collection of games like Cycle, Tank and Pegasus that can be played with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR. VSports allows gamers to put on a headset (HTC Vive is the official vSports partner) and compete against others for prizes. The initial roll[o]ut of tournaments will focus on leaderboard competition, but online multiplayer will be added later this year.
VirZoom has created a nationwide network of vSports Centers, which will allow gamers to gather for competitions and get hands-on experience with both the VirZoom bike and the HTC Vive. Initial locations will span 18 VR arcades, LAN Centers and entertainment centers. And consumers will be able to purchase VirZoom bikes and Vives (separately) if they like.
Spencer Honeyman, director of business development at Virzoom, told [a]listdaily that this network of locations will grow across the country and eventually around the globe. Gamers will be able to compete across these locations, and even from the comfort of their own homes—as long as they own a VirZoom bike.
“Leveraging VirZoom technology and games with Life Fitness equipment harnesses the users’ emotional response in VR and motivates them to move,” Honeyman said. “Using the pedal stroke to operate a car, tank, Pegasus and more motivates exercisers to move like never before—and enjoy themselves while they get a workout.”
Honeyman envisions amateur tournaments and leagues sprouting up over time as VirZoom adds new VR games to the mix and more consumers get hands-on time with the bikes.
There’s also another component to the emergence of vSports. VirZoom has partnered with Life Fitness, a global leader in commercial fitness equipment, to add high-end Discover SE3 exercise bikes to vSports competition. Beginning in Q1 2017, the first health clubs in the U.S. will offer VirZoom Arcade games for offline and tournament play.
“Down the road we’d love to host eSports competitions for players competing on Life Fitness bikes,” Honeyman said.
Amad Amin, product director of digital experience at Life Fitness, told [a]listdaily that virtual reality is directly in line with the immersive experience they want to create on their machines.
“We want exercisers to know that there’s much more they can do than just getting on a machine and hitting the ‘go’ button,” Amin said. “Our goal is to provide an unparalleled experience when an exerciser uses our product. VR adds a new and exciting component that lets exercisers enter a completely different world and get lost in their workout—and the competitive gaming brings in that fun element that some exercisers prefer when they work out. The gaming element may incentivize people to work out harder and longer as their trying to win the game or reach a specific level—that’s a win-win for us and for the exerciser.”
Entertainment while working out has been a part of exercise for decades now, as it’s common to find TVs all over the gym. The evolution of that was TV screens that attached to the equipment so that each exerciser can choose their own programming.
“The latest products, like our Life Fitness Discover SE3 machines, have TVs built directly into the console, allow for streaming video content from popular content providers, and have 2D virtual reality courses built in,”
Amin believes vSports is a natural fit for guests who belong to health clubs and spas.
“VirZoom provides the ability for an exerciser to get lost in the excitement of being in a game while working out,” Amin said. “They’ve come up with solutions that keep you engaged, and let you have fun, all while getting you moving. The ability to partner with VirZoom speaks to our philosophy of having an open API environment. It allows us to partner with software/tech companies who can only enhance our exercisers experience. For example, we’re not experts in virtual reality, but we keep our doors open to those that are so we can collaborate and create great experiences on our products. VirZoom helps us bring the VR experience to Life Fitness.”
Over time, VirZoom will offer a wide array of VR games to compete in and different entry points into the leagues, tournaments and competition that Honeyman hopes will evolve in this vSports ecosystem. As that happens, there will be plenty of opportunities for brands to step in and sponsor competition and even target health clubs or other vSports Centers to reach different audiences of gamers and fitness buffs.
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.
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