After Making Crowdfunding History, ‘Torment: Tides of Numenera’ Prepares For Launch

Planescape: Torment released in 1999 and grew to become one of the greatest cult hits in video game history, and fans were overjoyed when a campaign for a follow-up, Torment: Tides of Numenera, was proposed on Kickstarter more than a decade later in 2013. The campaign quickly broke records by being the fastest game to reach $1 million, which is $100,000 past its initial $900,000 goal. Then it broke another record when it brought in over $4 million in funding, making it Kickstarter’s biggest video game campaign of all time.

It’s been a long journey from its Kickstarter origins, including a release on Steam Early Access last year, but the game is just a few weeks away from its official February 28 launch date. The developer, inXile Entertainment is well-versed in crowdfunding and producing top-quality role-playing games, having run a very successful Kickstarter campaign for Wasteland 2 while launching the one for Torment.

Brian Fargo, CEO of inXile Entertainment, spoke to [a]listdaily about bringing back a beloved franchise and what where a game can go after such a high-profile crowdfunding campaign.

Brian Fargo, CEO of inXile Entertainment
Brian Fargo, CEO of inXile Entertainment

What are some of the big lessons Torment: Tides of Numenera and Wasteland 2 taught you about crowdfunding?

Certainly, there are a number of lessons we can take away from a crowdfunding campaign. The first is that there is nothing as valuable as gameplay feedback from your audience. We can play the game internally for a thousand hours and apply our historical knowledge and instincts but we can never anticipate fully how the gamers will react to things. This has been critical in allowing us to make a better game.

We’ve also learned the need for strong communication. We make thousands of decisions during development that affect content and dates and we can lose track of the need to communicate these changes when they become solidified. I’ve often spoke to the difficulty of setting deadlines before the coding begins and the only way to buffer that risk is with communication.

How will you reach out past the initial audience of backers after the game launches? How does a game like Torment continue to grow after such a big and high-profile Kickstarter campaign?

Our games will only sell beyond our initial backers for the same reason that all games sell in greater numbers: quality. Crowdfunding gives us an opportunity, and making a game the way we want to make a game gives us awareness in a noisy field, but ultimately word-of-mouth is all you have after launch. Wasteland 2 sold well beyond the initial backers, as did games like Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity.

Has Early Access helped to further promote the game?

Early Access helps both with awareness and the audience feedback I spoke of earlier. The amount of game releases these days is staggering, and it could take reading about or seeing a game over 100 times before your brain starts to really register it, so awareness through things like Early Access can be paramount.

How do you balance between expectations from Planescape: Torment fans and those who haven’t played it?

I think the number one question I get is some version of how we bridge these older games with the next in the series. Our philosophy is to identify which elements people loved in the previous game and try to hit those points in a fresh, non-derivative way. For Torment, we knew it was the writing, the bizarre nature of the world, the lack of emphasis on combat and the philosophical tones it struck. We took those points and have presented them in a unique way in Torment: Tides of Numenera and the players who loved Planescape: Torment have strongly indicated that they are happy with the way we did it.

Torment TON Screen1

Which do you think had a greater impact on Torment: Tides of Numenera’s early success, nostalgia for old school style RPGs or the Torment brand name?

It was all those factors coming together that made Torment: Tides of Numenera break the world record on Kickstarter for fastest to $1 million. As a producer, I look to find the right team, elements and timing to fund our games and make them sell. With our success, we can continue making these wonderful games.

Why do you think so many people still love Torment-style RPGs, when there are so many action shooter role-playing games out now?

We believe that good writing, deep cause and effect and novel storytelling can transcend a more action-oriented approach to RPGs. The talented folks at Telltale Games have certainly proven that you can do really great things with narrative and still have success. And even folks that play more action-oriented RPGs may enjoy trying something that moves at a different pace. I’ve enjoyed experimenting and pushing the art form with these RPGs.

Akon Is Bringing His Energy Back To Music, All While Lighting Up Africa One Country At A Time

Akon’s accolades and ubiquitous vocals are unmistakable. Whether it be as a rapper, songwriter or a producer, the American-Senegalese singer is responsible for some of the biggest beats and dance floor bangers of the mid-2000s.

But then the synths suddenly stopped, and his name disappeared from the Top 40.

“Where have you gone, Akon?”

It’s been a question asked by so many ever since the five-time Grammy nominee silently slipped from the spotlight of the mainstream music sphere. So much so that his narrative should might as well be remixed into Simon & Garfunkel’s famous line in “Mrs. Robinson” when they wonder about Joe DiMaggio whereabouts.

But this time, it’s Akon who’s turned his lonely eyes to not only a nation, but an entire continent.

Over the last few years, the 43-year-old artist and man of the future suddenly shifted his motivation from mingling with music royalty to a commendable one toward philanthropy and working with world leaders and drastically changing the state of solar energy and climate change in his home continent.

By the end of this year, Akon Lighting Africa estimates that it will provide electricity to roughly 80 million impoverished Africans in rural areas with its solar energy program.

Although Akon has been away from the spotlight while the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd have commandeered the radio waves, he’s still lent his name to numerous hits as a writer and producer while working on his benevolent solar energy program.

In the midst of his newfound mission to provide access to clean and affordable electricity, the itch to sing as a star soloist still stayed.

Nine years have passed since Akon released his last album in “Freedom”—and that’s about to change.

After teasing it for the last two years, he soon will be releasing “Stadium,” a four-part concept album that’s each rooted in a different musical genre—hip-hop, reggae, deep house and pop. “Stadium” is going to be a collective of 40 songs and will be released through a special app.

“I see music and entertainment as a marketing tool for doing things that you really want to do, and have a passion for. Ultimately, for the last five years, I’ve been more focused on my energy projects in Africa by bringing renewable and solar technologies there,” Akon told [a]listdaily in an exclusive interview. “I know a lot of people want to know when the next album is coming. It’s a matter of what month we want to release it. When I come with new music, it come’s big. You don’t have to worry.”

Although a release date for his fourth studio LP has yet to be announced, Akon says he just finished mastering the album and a single should be dropping soon. The album will also be paired with an official music tour.

“It’s not something you can purchase through iTunes,” Akon alludes. “You have to download the ‘Stadium’ app to actually have access to the albums. It will have a game format where users will be able to unlock each song from each album. Our biggest challenge is ‘how do we market this to the music levels?’ But we decided to focus separately on the music level so they can understand it, and market it to the gamers the way they can understand it. ‘Stadium’ is really more of a streaming platform that will be eventually white labeled for other artists to use.”

The musician has the chops to once again contend for No. 1 hits on the charts in any genre, as he has before with such songs as “I Wanna Love You” and “Don’t Matter.”

He has a total of 45 Billboard Hot 100 songs—including the distinction of being the first solo artist to ever hold down both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots at the same time on Billboard.

“You’ll definitely be able to hear the growth,” Akon assures. “It depends on what you like to hear from me, because I have a vast audience. It’s music that people in different territories haven’t even heard of. The album is on a whole other level. I can’t wait.”

Whether starring in the upcoming film The American King, a movie with a script that’s a flipside of Coming to America with Akon going back to Africa, or taking on the chief creative officer role at Royole, he’s staying busy on many fronts, including keeping an ear out for emerging artists by relaunching his Konvict Muzik label as Konvict Kartel Label—previously home to the likes of T-Pain, French Montana, Red Café and Colby O’Donis, among others.

The under-the-radar moves he’s making are not ending up on today’s TMZ-like news cycle—unless he opines about Donald Trump.

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 3.13.55 PM

“When working on the energy side of things, it fuses you into the tech side of things as well because there have to be applications created to manage that energy,” Akon says. “Everything that I’m doing has to have a musical or visual and film component. Whether that be gaming, movies or video, whatever it is, the combination of that creates what entertainment becomes. That’s what I’m most interested in. I’m a movie buff. When you look at films, if the audio is whack, you’re not going to enjoy it. If there isn’t a great soundtrack, you’re not going to enjoy it. Video games are also geared toward how the audio feels, along with the game you are playing.”

The antidote to that collective problem comes by way of Royole’s special-edition Akon Moon, a 3D virtual mobile theater for movies and gaming that makes it feel as if you’re sitting in an IMAX theater.

“With all of that, visuals are the key. It’s only right to think about the future, and what that combination is going to look like, and that’s virtual reality. That’s the whole purpose of me wanting to get into that market with Royole so that I can engulf myself in it as it’s moving forward and be more cutting edge toward how things are going to be created. The biggest challenge we are going to face is moving forward too fast,” Akon warns about Royole, a “unicorn” company whose valuation grew to $3 billion this year.

The rapper who fortuitously signed one-time protégé Lady Gaga to his label in 2008 can rest financially off of that lottery ticket alone, but he chose to keep his fire burning with the benevolent project in Akon Lighting Africa.


There are currently 600 million Africans in need of energy infrastructures, and the fast-growing solar-powered electricity initiative spearheaded by the hip-hop artist is primed to be at the forefront of fixing that problem.

“We’re focusing on new ways to innovate and create energy sources that are not normally thought about,” Akon says. “It’s just coming up with new ideas—and I have crazy ones, like creating kinetic roads.”

Crazy ideas aside, Akon aims to provide a concrete response to Africa’s energy crisis and laying the foundation for future development. It has already materialized with a gamut of solutions in 14 African countries, and as a result, remote villages have been connected to electricity for the first time ever.

To circumnavigate the political powers that be with such an ambitious energy project, the “I’m So Paid” singer admitted to having a $1 billion credit line from a Chinese-government owned company to further pursue his passion in impacting people’s lives.

He says he finds this phase of his career more fulfilling than the previous one that led him to selling over 35 million albums worldwide as a multi-platinum recording artist.

Whether it be his upcoming album, new tech or acting, the best part for Akon is that he’s using his music mogul muscle as a bridge to fulfill his true dreams and passions to influence the future of Africa.

“I haven’t been gone. I just have been hiding,” he reminds his fans. “I don’t think I’ll ever retire from music itself. This is stage two for me. Stage three will be hopefully enjoying it.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Delaware North Latest Non-Endemic To Enter ESports

Global hospitality and food service company Delaware North has entered into a strategic partnership with eSports team, Splyce. Delaware North owns and operates TD Garden, home to the Boston Bruins. The company’s flagship subsidiary, Delaware North Sportservice, operates food, beverage and/or retail services in more than 50 professional sports venues, with clients in the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and MLS.

Splyce filed teams and players across the world, competing in League of Legends, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, Gears of War and Super Smash Bros. Melee. Splyce has won nine titles to date.

Todd Merry, chief marketing officer of Delaware North, told [a]listdaily that Delaware North and Splyce have found an opportunity to leverage each other’s strengths to build synergy across brands.

“Between the Bruins, TD Garden and the numerous other properties in the DN portfolio, they are able to provide solid infrastructure and support to a growing business in Splyce,” Merry said. “At the same time, we open up an audience demographic that is almost impossible to reach through traditional means—the coveted 18-34 age bracket, while also providing an emerging sponsorship sales property that many brands are hungry to activate with.”

Marty Strenczewilk, CEO and president of Splyce, told [a]listdaily that among other things, Delaware North will assist the team with identifying and mobilizing on monetization opportunities, providing access to state-of-the-art sports infrastructure and staff to open up advantages in competition, and bring sports management and leadership to help bring common sports practices to eSports.

Delaware North is one of the largest privately-held hospitality and food service companies in the world. Founded in 1915 and owned by the Jacobs family for over 100 years, Delaware North has global operations with 60,000 employees at high-profile places such as sports and entertainment venues, national and state parks, destination resorts and restaurants, airports, and regional casinos that serve more than 500 million guests annually. Delaware North has an annual revenue of about $3 billion in the sports, travel hospitality, restaurants and catering, parks, resorts, gaming and specialty retail industries.

Merry said that almost three years ago, chairman Jeremy Jacobs asked his team to work on a research project around the future of sports. They compiled two sets of research about a year apart and both included eSports as an important trend.

“We had been watching the industry for about 24 months and we saw the interest from fans growing in leaps and bounds and the landscape changing quickly,” Merry said. “We began to look more closely at the business side of eSports and became converts to the opportunity that it offered. Specifically for Delaware North, we feel there are a number of areas of synergy including sponsorship and marketing, events and content.”

This move comes on the same day that the NBA officially entered eSports through a partnership with 2K Sports to launch a 2018 NBA 2K eLeague. That move comes in the wake of teams like the Sixers and Heat acquiring eSports teams.

“Some of the early transactions helped validate what many had begun to believe—that there was opportunity here,” Merry said. “They also presented a number of different ways in which brands could integrate with an eSports organization. Almost every move to date has been slightly different. All credit to the teams that did make the early moves, some of them found good deals as first movers.”

Strenczewilk said Splyce is already working on a handful of projects, including: leveraging the Bruins/TD Garden’s sponsor relationships to begin looking at opportunities for Splyce, working with a Delaware North property to host a boot camp for one of its teams to allow them to better prepare for upcoming events, and helping its staff in areas like merchandizing, social media, and web development work with the experts at DN to trade best practices and enhance what they’re already working on.

“We provide a new perspective on how sports and media is delivered to the next generation of fans,” Strenczewilk said. “Traditional sports lives and thrives on TV, while eSports owns digital in a way that traditional sports is just scratching the surface of. Splyce will be able to help DN learn our best practices for reaching the younger audience, activating to that audience authentically in a digital space, and provide new property to monetize with that has access to an audience that they may not have reached as strongly before.”

Merry said Delware North chose Splyce because it’s a strong brand with very good management.

“While one of the relatively newer brands in the space when you look at what they have accomplished so far it says a lot about their potential when paired with a partner like Delaware North,” Merry said. “And it didn’t hurt that their founder was just down the road from our headquarters in Buffalo—we found a shared set of values in the team at Splyce.”

Merry sees this as an opportunity to get a seat at the table and begin to understand the event side of eSports better.

“That helps us serve our clients on the sports side more effectively as they add eSports events to their venues,” Merry said. “But more than just events, we see this simply as a great investment in a rapidly growing industry that will be around a long time. We firmly believe that the next generation won’t feel the need to call this eSports. League of Legends, DOTA 2 and the rest will simply be ‘sports’ to the Gen Z fans.”

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 for more info.

SuperData: Users Game On Smartphones More Often Than Streaming Video

One of the biggest challenges game developers may run into is marketing—specifically where and to whom. With today’s growing market and expanding definition of “gamer,” finding a target audience can be challenging, but not impossible. While 60 percent of gamers are male, females represent an increasing share, according to SuperData, thanks to the launch of new mobile titles such as Pokémon GO. Puzzle games, social casino games, simulation and RPGs all see higher ratios of women, as well.

Gamers gotta game, but if you think consoles or computers are the only way to go, think again. At 88 percent, players game on their smartphones more than they read books (66 percent), stream TV shows (72 percent) and browse the internet (86 percent), according to SuperData’s newly updated Player Profile dashboard. Facebook is the top social network for users to get their game on, with more than 66 percent using the site on a regular basis for gaming.

You’ll find more gamers in suburban areas and than anywhere else, at 47 percent, followed by urban gamers at 39 percent. The analytics firm attributes this to high-speed internet access gives both areas, which provides greater access to more content. In contrast, low internet penetration in rural areas bars players from online gaming. Internet access assists gamers in other ways, too. For example, more than 80 percent of gamers watch gaming video content on a regular basis. Gamers know where to look if they get stuck on the game or want to improve their skills—nearly 50 percent watch gameplay videos of “walkthroughs,” in which viewers can watch someone else play the game. In addition, 75 percent of eSports fans tune into tournament streams for the finals of major competitions.

It’s no wonder that virtual reality has taken off, thanks to early adoption by gamers. SuperData reports video games as the most requested VR experience, with more than 50 percent of gamers looking forward to playing more immersive titles.

Unless your game is called, “Pretty Pink Hair Salon,” you may be wondering where to find your target audience. If a game was designed with the hope that everyone will enjoy it, how do you find your niche?

“A target audience is a concept based on tons of factors that we work through specifically with clients based on what their game is, both through the Player Profile and other custom work,” Sam Barberie, VP of product and business development at SuperData Research told [a]listdaily. “That can include demographic insights like age, gender, income, but also vary widely based on market and the particular genre and mechanics of the game (e.g. Germans dislike pay-to-win strategies in MMO games, but US players are ok with it). There is a huge constellation of factors that goes into what makes a game successful and for whom. [That’s] exactly why we built this and work with everyone.”

3 Biggest Challenges Of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence—it’s the stuff of science fiction that is becoming more and more a part of our daily lives. Beyond the initial “coolness” factor, however, there are some very real questions to be asked and challenges to overcome for today’s marketer and beyond. Brace yourself, it’s about to get nerdy.

Feeding Your AI

Access to mass amounts of information is what puts the “intelligence” in AI—parsing and crunching massive volumes of data from disparate sources and inputs to find relationships, connect dots and make predictions in ways that are not humanly possible.

Market research and advisory firm Ovum estimates that the big data market will grow to $9.4 billion by 2020, comprising 10 percent of the overall market for information management tooling.

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.

Johnny Five Input
Johnny Five can’t get enough “input” in the film, Short Circuit. Source: TriStar Pictures

Ethics And Safety

Just because AI can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean it should. Machines are function-based, and thus may become dangerous or make mistakes as a means to a predetermined, programmable end. For example, a self-driving car might decide to strike a pedestrian to avoid a serious collision for its passenger, or while factory AI makes production more efficient, employment rates could plummet as fewer humans are required. Ethical dilemmas like these make experts wonder if implementing Isaac Asimov’s Three Rules Of Robotics may not be enough.

During a panel about AI ethics and education in San Francisco hosted by the Future of Life Institute, Illah Nourbakhsh, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said that educators need to teach computer science and robotics students a basic understanding of ethics.

This is because the technologies they are creating are so powerful that they “are actually changing society.” Citing the examples of drones used in warfare and AI technologies used in advertising, Nourbakhsh said that cutting-edge technology on a global scale is changing consumer behavior.

Although humans program AI-powered robots to accomplish a particular goal, these robots will typically make decisions on their own to reach the goal, explained Benjamin Kuipers, a computer science professor and AI researcher at the University of Michigan.

Having a basic understanding of ethics can help technologists better understand the potential ramifications of the AI-powered software and robotics they are creating, he explained.

A robot calculates the probability of saving one life over another in the film, i Am Robot.
A robot calculates the probability of saving one life over another in the film, i, Robot. Source: 20th Century Fox

Respecting Privacy

Let’s face it—AI assistants are pretty dang cool. Unfortunately for consumers, however, AI messages have to be unencrypted, which tears a big, gaping hole in privacy. Whenever you ask Siri, Google or Alexa where to eat or what the capital of Uruguay is, your query gets sent to a cloud server where it is analyzed before returning at ludicrous speed with an answer. These assistants amass a huge amount of personal interests, habits, visited places and preferences in order to make better choices and recommendations.

While these assistants are designed to begin listening at the sound of a “wake word”—”okay, Google,” for example—consumers put their privacy at risk by even owning a device armed with microphones that can be accessed by a third party.

“Now is the time for setting privacy expectations,” said Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer for Cisco and founding member of Voice Industry Privacy Group, a new organization designed to set voice privacy agendas for developers. “We don’t want to kill the innovation cycle, but I care about whether my TV is listening to me,” added Joyce Brocaglia of Alta Associates, an executive cybersecurity search firm that helped launch the group.

artificial intelligence marketing
In the film, Minority Report, personalized advertisements appear that reveal John Anderson’s identity to others. Source: 20th Century Fox

Until computer scientists can invent “searchable encryption,” Google offers state-of-the art encryption within its Allo messaging app—but if you turn it on, your fancy AI assistant can’t function.

Starting with iOS 10, Apple is using Differential Privacy technology to help discover the usage patterns of a large number of users without compromising individual privacy, according to a statement given to Wired.

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, stated in a press release that machine-learning algorithms able to understand personal data such as photos are being used only within the confines of a person’s iPhone, not on Apple’s cloud servers. “We believe you should have great features and great privacy,” he said.

There are other issues to consider as well, like whether data gathered for marketing could be subpoenaed by authorities for a criminal investigation or purchased by a third party.

AI is proving highly useful to human beings—especially marketers—and the industry is expected to grow significantly over the coming years.

Experts are hard at work finding solutions for these challenges as the technology becomes more integrated into life as we know it.

So far we’ve managed to avoid a robot uprising. It’s probably best to avoid any AI calling itself “Skynet” for now, though.

How Sennheiser Is Stepping Into A New Dimension Of Sound

Sennheiser is bringing its special binaural sounds to make you feel like as if you are really there with Ambeo Smart Surround, their new technology and consumer product that records immersive audio with smartphone simplicity.

The family owned, Germany-based brand, a manufacturer of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission systems with presence in more than 50 countries, is banking on reaching a sophisticated set of consumers clamoring to complement the 4K and 360-degree videos they capture with immersive and innovative solutions that’s all about recording sound the way ears actually are supposed to hear it.

The 71-year-old Sennheiser, which totaled $729 million in sales in 2015, will make Ambeo Smart Surround available in the second half of 2017.

Uwe Greunke, head of global marketing and brand marketing for Sennheiser, joined [a]listdaily to explain how they’re bringing their premium, consumer-grade binaural recording products to an international stage.

Ambeo Smart Surround

Sennheiser announced Ambeo Smart Surround last month. What is going to be your strategy in marketing this new technology and consumer product line?

Our overall goal as a brand is very simple—it’s to shape the future of audio. That’s the idea. It’s something that we’re very passionate about, but we’re always looking toward the next level. For us, it was always teasing to push audio forward. We as humans are visually oriented, and you see how the TV space is always progressing. But audio is a little bit behind. From our history to our high innovation approach, we are taking it very seriously to give audio the kick it needs. We started the big idea behind Ambeo last year. Going from mono to stereo is a big step. Ambeo is the next step after stereo. It’s the combination of ambient—the sound around you—and stereo. For us, Ambeo is the idea which covers the whole sphere of capturing, mixing, processing and listening. It’s not simply a listening device. It’s also an immersive listening experience and attitude for recording. It’s very simple, but it took us years of experimentation and technology to run it. The biggest message that separates us apart from the competition with Ambeo Smart Surround is that we are creating affordable and accessible audio by catering to both the consumer, and the professional.

How does the consumer appetite for Sennheiser differ on a North American level, and a global level?

We are a niche player in the space focusing on audio on a global level. The home turf is still Europe, but the Unites States is a highly attractive market. We are well-known brand on the pro level, but of course, there is competition. But big stars like Beyoncé and Pink are using our equipment. It’s a growing market. We also have high brand awareness and a significant market share in China and Japan. The global market is our key. But when it comes to modernity, and with companies coming up with new technologies like virtual reality, US is still the driver for it.

With Sennheiser having a footprint in VR as well, how are you trying to have ownership in the space?

That’s an important point. We as specialists are not big enough to re-drive the trend. The trend is driven by others, namely YouTube and Facebook. So we are partnering with them, instead. They are using our products for production, so that’s our way into the trend. And we give them special support, and we’ll as re-share their stories. And they help us update and optimize. Partnerships allow for smart products and new solutions.

Uwe Greinke, head of global marketing and brand marketing for Sennheiser
Uwe Greunke, head of global marketing and brand marketing for Sennheiser

With regard to the PC 373D headset, what opportunities are there for Sennheiser to be a part of eSports? With so much interest around the “next big sport,” how can Sennheiser become an authority in the competitive gaming arena?

Sennheiser has been active in the gaming headset market for more than 10 years. So we are not a ‘non-endemic brand,’ but due to the diversity of Sennheiser’s product portfolio, we’re not perceived 100 percent dedicated to gaming only. The PC 373D is not an eSports product, but focuses on gamers who we want to level up to a premium audio experience. Sennheiser sees significant potential in the eSports market. That is why we developed and introduced the new gaming audio amplifier GSX 1200 PRO. In combination with the Game Zero, a closed gaming headset, it is the perfect match for competitive eSports tournaments. With our engagement in eSports we increased our brand visibility via product placements and team and tournament sponsorships over the last few years. (Question answered by Tim Völker, Sennheiser’s director sales and marketing for gaming.)

Is there a new marketing strategy, whether it be social, influencer, or experiential, that you plan on testing this year?

I’ve been in marketing for over 20 years, and online is still a growing field. But PR is still very important. We work toward having great relationships with the press to get coverage. That’s our sounding board, per se. But as far as trends, we want to incorporate more with the user. The Ambeo Smart Surround is a very good example of that. At CES, we brought a product and campaign that was 80 percent ready, and an idea of how to market it, and we wanted to listen and incorporate feedback back into our strategy to develop things from there. I think this is a growing trend, to have help from the users, build the community, the use cases and proof pints, rather than leaving up to a community and spending a lot of money on paid media and run ads where people don’t get the idea. It’s always better to connect with the actual users, and give them an opportunity to tell a story as well from their perspective. That’s still a big strategy for us.

What are the insights and data that influence your marketing strategy?

We look at customer behavior, like click path, interest, social media posts and comments on YouTube, newsletter response, working with CRM data and trends analysis. We also look at market research, like feedback on product concepts, price and value proposition.


Is there a new product or service that you think will influence decisions?

Smartphones without headphone jacks—like the iPhone 7. A big trend for us in the industry is the changing ecosystem. Apple and Samsung are making the 3.5 millimeter headphone jack go away. There isn’t a simple way to plug-in to your media players. This is a challenge for a lot of companies. We’re also looking at augmented reality devices with the need for 3D audio, and products-on-demand—like renting rather than buying.

What are some of the tent pole events for you this year? Do you consider music-centric festivals like SXSW, Coachella and Lollapalooza?

This was one of the biggest things we changed last year that we go to shows like the ones you mentioned, and Art Basel and Prolight + Sound, too, and bringing the Sennheiser experience to the people. These are places where we don’t want to talk about the product. It’s all about the experience. If you’re convinced after the experience and idea, then we would love to talk to consumers about it. We’re all about personalizing to each individual. We have to find good answers with great products.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Why Gameband Will Be The Ultimate Smart Watch For Gamers

Although smart watches haven’t exactly taken off, particularly among gamers, FMTwo Game believes that it can buck that trend with a new device called Gameband, which began its Kickstarter campaign today. Developed by Matter Global (a studio with a portfolio that includes Samsung, Google, Sonos, and Logitech), the crowdfunded device promises to be the most powerful smart watch on the market, but will be more affordable than anything currently available. That’s because the company is focusing specifically on features that will appeal to gamers and forgoing things like heart rate and step monitors.

Additionally, FMTwo has partnered with Re-Logic, makers of the hit indie game, Terraria, and Atari to offer to special edition Gamebands to fans. Gamebands will also come pre-loaded with 20 mini-games that include classics such as Pong, Centipede, and Asteroids. The Gameband will expand its library of games following its launch, which will be complemented by a collection of interchangeable watch bands and digital watch faces.

Feargal Mac Conuladh, CEO and founder of FMTwo Game, said that: “What’s joyful about doing something on Kickstarter is building something that you yourself would get.” He talks to [a]listdaily about how gamers will get to have the most powerful smart watch in the world at an affordable price.

FeargalWhat is Gameband, and what inspired it?

We looked at smart watches in the world today, and they kind of all look the same and do the same things. I think the market hasn’t quite taken off yet because most of what’s out there is too generic. We also looked at different groups, and one that we know well is gamers. So, we said, “what if we make a smart watch for gamers, taking into account what they want, and make it outstanding with the stuff that’s important to them?”

So, rather than putting in heart rate and step monitors, we focus on what’s really important. What led to the Gameband was the belief that we could create a powerful smart watch for gamers and build functionality that speaks to them. Previously, we had worked on a product for Minecraft, which was a band with a drive on it that let you play the game anywhere, and we learned a lot from that experience. We learned that despite cloud technology, people like having their games close and being able to plug into any computer to continue playing. We wanted to bring that functionality to a smart watch.

How does the Gameband compare to existing smart watches made by Apple, Samsung and Razer?

They’re all great companies, but we think we stack up pretty well. When you look at gamers, they’re pretty demanding. They want the best computer, screen and headphones, so why should this be any different? One of the things we wanted from the beginning was to make sure the processor, display and connectivity that we built into this would be the best, and that led to our partnership with Qualcomm.

We also went for a square AMOLDED display. There are a lot of round devices on the market, and that’s because they’re watches that do more. We not looking at this as a watch that does more; we’re looking at it as another window—another screen—into your gaming life. So, it stacks up really well against the competition in terms of specs and size.

The area where we’ve added something extra is an upgradable micro SD card slot. A lot of devices will just give you notifications. We built in this gaming drive that runs our software, PixelFurnace, which is launch, backup and storage software. You could put a game (such as Terraria) on this, and plug the Gameband into any computer wherever you go to play it directly from the drive. Or you could put photos, music and other stuff on it and access them through Bluetooth. This drive, which can go up to hundreds of gigabytes, adds a layer of functionality—it’s not just buzzing notifications from your phone. It’s doing a lot more.

Apple and Samsung also have massive mobile phone businesses, which are highly profitable. As a result, I think a lot of these brands aren’t thinking about how to build the best smart watch in the world. They’re expanding product lines. We don’t have a phone business, so the only thing we think about is how to build the best smart watch that there is.

Is the Gameband more of a wearable console or a gaming companion device?

In some ways, it can do both. You can put a full PC game on the micro SD and play from it. But the games that will actually run on the watch itself—you need to be careful with that to make sure you do it right. We have mini-games that will play well on that smaller screen and companion apps are things that we’re looking very closely at. We want bigger games to have an opportunity to have an app on Gameband, and we’re talking to a number of big studios about it.

But the mini-games that we’re launching with are also very interesting. What a lot of people have done so far is try to shrink games down to a smaller screen, and that doesn’t work. So, we’re re-writing the retro games that we’re going to launch with from scratch. We’re taking into account the screen size and gestures that work the best: sliding, tapping, moving your arm and pushing buttons. We’ve got some really smart folks working on remaking the gaming experience to make them enjoyable. I wouldn’t call it a console, but I think we’re doing something interesting that people are really going to like.


People might imagine that it’s very awkward to play Terraria or Centipede on a tiny watch screen. How are you going to overcome this perception?

Re-Logic is a great company to work with, and they brought Terraria to multiple platforms. One of the reasons we have such a great relationship with them is because they quickly got how big this could be. But they also understood that this is a different tech and different context. I think a lot of people are waking up to that. If you look at Pokémon Go, you’ll find that there are a lot of different ways to game, and the physical and digital world are going to collide in ways they never have before.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff one can do so that it’s not just poking away at a small screen. It’s about what you’re doing in the world—the way you move your arm, and different gestures. The technology lets us bring in a lot of different stuff to how the games are going to play. We’re forming these relationships [with companies], doing a joint special edition approach like with Terraria and Atari, and we get a much closer relationship with them. They start bringing in their creativity on how to adapt their games to this technology. But ultimately, early adopters who talk about the Gameband will break the perception.

Gameband x AtariHow did you come to partner with Atari?

One trend we noticed about the gaming scene is that retro games are hugely popular. One of the things that attracted me to Atari was that you have huge audience that remembers it from the old days and has an affinity for that brand. It’s more than just gaming and it’s kind of like Apple. The brand transcends the product of the time. But the thing that blew me away about Atari was that younger players in their early teens know these games as well. That really opened my eyes. The level of education and knowledge that younger gamers have today about retro brands blew me away.

We went to Atari because they have affinity from all age groups, and we believe those games are going to play well on this format.

Given how mobile gaming is growing at such a significant pace, what audience are you trying to reach with the Gameband?

It’s pretty broad. One of the things about smart watches today is that they’re designed for an older demographic. People have said to me that teens and millennials don’t wear watches anymore. Well, we haven’t offered them anything that makes sense for them from a price, content and design standpoint. I also think that the younger demographic like to game, connect and message, but they don’t necessarily need the heart rate monitor or all this other stuff that people want to cram in. That’s why we went with two or three top-of-the-line components that let us come in with a price that’s more affordable than some of the other things on the market.

The target market we’re going after is gamers—a bit younger than what Apple or Samsung are going after.

How are you getting the word out about the Kickstarter campaign?

We already have a large base of people we’ve been reaching out to over email who are keen to get more information. We’re also active on social media, and partners such as Atari and Terraria (Re-Logic) are helping. The have a lot of fans and followers, and they’ve been putting out the message that something new is coming. Then, on Kickstarter, we’re offering the best deals we can. It’s really about getting to that fan base and driving through social media.


Starbreeze Details Opportunities VR Arcades Open For Hollywood

Lionsgate releases John Wick: Chapter 2 theatrically on February 10, but fans can step into the assassin’s shoes early via a pair of different virtual reality experiences from Starbreeze. The developer has created a highly-replayable, 90-minute first-person shooter game, John Wick Chronicles, for the HTC Vive. Additionally, it crafted a separate, shorter (7-12 minutes) and much more physical location-based game, John Wick Chronicles: Arcade Edition for IMAX VR Experience Centers (the Los Angeles location opens February 14).

Brooks Brown, global director of VR at Starbreeze, told [a]listdaily that virtual reality opens up experiences very different than classic console or PC games, where the player is disembodied from the character. “VR changes how you perceive the film world and characters,” Brown said. “We’ve been lucky working with Lionsgate to expand on the world and touch on story points from the film, dealing with Lance Reddick’s character, Charon.”

The game is set in the Continental Hotel from the films, offering players a non-stop wave of targets to eliminate. The game was created by Lionsgate and Starbreeze in collaboration with Grab  Games, Big Red Button and GameCo.

Brown said the development pipeline for this game was similar to a film pipeline. That opened the door to work directly with Reddick with voiceover. “VR is a nice bridge for people like Lance to flex their muscles in a place that’s comfortable,” said Brown. “It’s just far enough away from film, but not all the way to games.”

In this first Hollywood project for Starbreeze, it was a learning process for the team involved. The arcade-based version of the game was designed for a broader audience (players in LA have ranged from 8 to 90 years of age) and takes advantage of the advanced headset, which offers 5K resolution and a widescreen view that opens up more of the world. The arcade game also incorporates an MP5 gun, while the HTC Vive version uses that platform’s standard controllers.

The VR Arcade version also shares the same 12 x 12 base as the Vive room-scale set-up.

“We’re trying to establish a standard, but also give you some place to play,” Brown said. “I pride myself on thinking how in shape I am and then after 10 minutes of holding this MP5 and ducking, moving and shooting it becomes like cross fit. It’s a level of intensity that we found that both casual and core users are happy with, since location-based VR has to cater to everyone.”

While John Wick Chronicles was designed as a single player game, Brown said it features leaderboards and classic arcade tropes to encourage consumers at IMAX VR Centers to come back and try to beat their best scores.

With the films carrying an R-rating for violence, the game has been toned down to a Time Crisis-level of violence. That classic arcade shooter franchise from Namco received a Teen rating for its home console versions.

“We have guidelines letting people know about the violence,” Brown said. “We’re being watchful of things kids can play. Unlike Payday, our other major game franchise, even though he’s an assassin, John Wick is a good guy.”

Brown said Starbreeze has partnered with Lionsgate marketing to cross-promote the games and the new film globally. In certain territories, Starbreeze will have pop-up demos in movie theaters. In the US, HTC has selected John Wick Chronicles as a retail demo, allowing customers to play the rooftop level of the game in stores.

As more VR Arcades are rolled out around the globe, Brown sees a future in which there will always be a technology gap between what can be experienced in location-based environments and what gamers at home can play on HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

“Our partnership with Acer has given us access to ridiculous computers and our headsets go beyond anything available at home, which allows us to create amazing experiences with more lighting effects and particle effects.”

John Wick marks the first Hollywood collaboration for VR at home and in the arcades, but Brown said it’s just the beginning for the company.

Copy Cats! Social Networks Can’t Stop “Borrowing” Features From Fellow Competitors

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram must be blushing . . . or sharpening their axes, and plotting revenge.

All three social networks have made major changes, especially over the last year, that “borrowed” features from each respective prodigal social institution in order to improve their own product. Now, while all three platforms remain (mostly) unique, the lines are increasingly beginning to blur in terms of updates and ad options available to users and marketers alike.

In 2014, Instagram introduced direct video messages. In response, both Vine and Snapchat followed suit by enabling one-on-one texts, picture messaging and video chats. This turned a one-way conversation (i.e. “look at what posted today”) into a two-way conversation (i.e. “look what I’m doing”) and therefore, more engaging.

“There’s nothing like knowing you have the full attention of your friend while you’re chatting,” Snapchat said in a statement announcing the update.

Snapchat (left); Instagram (right) Source: Fashion Magazine

While Snapchat benefits from its raw, unpolished design—translating more easily into authentic posts—a lack of metrics, or perceived user-friendly interfaces, often prevented older generations and marketers from giving it a go.

Snapchat has had a lot of pressure to prove return on investment to marketers, something that Facebook excels at, although not without its mistakes. To hold its ground against the Goliath that is Facebook, Snapchat has introduced new targeted ad offerings, mid-roll ads and sponsored lenses to help brands stand out on the platform.

Its latest update includes programmatic ad spending, allowing agencies and brands to license its API to do their own buying. With the introduction of Spectacles, the disappearing photo-sharing app—and newly re-branded camera company—is on track to hit $935 million in ad revenue in 2017, according to eMarketer.

Facebook-owned Instagram took full advantage of its brand-friendly tracking systems by introducing “Stories,” a more track-able version of Snapchat’s disappearing messages. It wasn’t long before Snapchat creators took notice and headed over to Instagram for its features like privacy options, searches, pausing and the ability to view a Story without following the poster. Creators find that its easier for users to find or discover their channels, helping them grow an audience.

Until recently, Snapchat cornered the market on augmented reality filters for selfies and video—that is, until Facebook started rolling out lenses of its own in October.

Limited to verified users on Facebook Messenger and the Mentions App, the addition of animated filters will inevitably lead to brand-sponsored versions and the circle of social media copying will continue.

How Facebook Is Expanding Its Gaming Presence

With over a billion people on Facebook, the social network has become the ultimate go-to destination for killing time, and that includes playing video games. Facebook reports that across web and mobile, an average of 445 million people play Facebook-connected games every month, and over 250 million people play directly on the platform itself.

Aside from investing billions of dollars in game developers for its network, Facebook made a number of moves in 2016 that indicate a more active gaming presence from here on out—at least, that’s the idea. In addition to playing games from its website or logging in from the game’s app, Facebook introduced Instant Games this past November that are playable with friends on Messenger and via a user’s News Feed. This new way to play offers quick entertainment for those who don’t want to download or install another app, but want challenges such as leaderboards and turn-based games.

Facebook has also introduced live game streaming, allowing users to broadcast live gameplay from PC, mobile and console games directly to the social network. While the company has a long way to go before it rivals Twitch, Facebook’s partnership with Activision creates tremendous opportunities for brands venturing into eSports to reach the network’s one billion users. Activision acquired Major League Gaming (MLG) last year, and is enjoying a successful partnership with Blizzard through first-person shooter, Overwatch. Additionally, the rights to broadcast the collegiate Heroes of the Dorm tournament (featuring Heroes of the Storm) switched from ESPN to Facebook this year.

“ESports is an exciting space and continues to be a growing priority for us,” Dan Reed, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships said during its 2016 Digital Content NewFronts presentation. “With over 1.6 billion people on the platform and a growing suite of VOD and livestreaming products that partners can use to increase engagement, Facebook is uniquely positioned to help eSports fans connect around exciting moments and great eSports content.”


“Hardcore” titles may one day be more prevalent on Facebook, but for now, a majority of games being played on are casual titles like match-3 puzzles, time management and slots, all designed for quick and easy play sessions. Nearly 150 million active users are playing Candy Crush Saga on Facebook each month and 11 million play the game daily, if that’s any indication of popularity.

Of course, it would be foolish not to mention the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s huge virtual reality investment that launched last year in March (its Oculus Touch controllers launched in October). Its launch wasn’t what you’d call record-breaking, shipping a mere 250,000 units compared to PlayStation VR at 750,000 units in 2016. Combined with legal battles with ZeniMax, 2017 could be a rough year for Facebook’s VR dreams. However, Facebook’s support for 360-degree videos indicates a growing emphasis on VR content for the Oculus-powered mobile viewer, the Samsung Gear VR.

Someday, the Oculus Rift may transform how Facebook users work and play—but until then, there’s always Candy Crush.

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 for more info.