Why Brands, Athletes And Investors Say ESports Matters

Editor’s note: We gathered a compilation from our exclusive [a]listdaily interviews to showcase how eSports industry experts and non-endemic sponsors alike are expressing their views about the importance of competitive gaming, and its role in engaging with a young, growing audience.

“There is no reason to try to legitimize eSports to anyone. ESports is a real industry. People can choose whether to connect to it themselves. The participation numbers and the online viewership numbers speak for themselves. What matters is that people who love eSports really get into it. They watch clips and matches. They play the game. There is no need to try to convince those on the outside.”

— Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks Owner, Shark Tank star, investor in eSports startup Unikrn

“Once I walked into a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden, everything in those two days spoke to me as a professional athlete. I knew it was the next generation. Professional athletes and owners admire and appreciate the talent, dedication, discipline and mastery of their crafts. As a business model, eSports mirrors traditional sports with rapid growth. Professional gamers are athletes and deserve a seat at the table.”

— Rick Fox, three-time NBA champion, owner of eSports team Echo Fox

“We’re fully aware that this audience has incredibly high expectations from a user experience and brand perspective, and we’re taking extra steps to ensure any brand integration feels right for the audience and will be well received by the audience. We’re making sure that brands that do sign up resonate with this audience.”

— Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer at Yahoo.

“Community is the key of eSports, and what differentiates it from traditional sports—eSports is something that was born by community. It’s about taking a game beyond the session, and making it part of a lifestyle, building social connections, interactions and friendships. That’s how eSports basically grows. If you look at it from a game publisher or developer point of view, this is extremely important because it’s something that increases retention. Additionally, it’s an acquisition channel for them. ESports events are easy ways to attract large user bases.”

— Niccolò Maisto, co-founder and CEO of FaceIt

“ESports fans are dedicated and loyal, and delivering them great programming every day is an important endeavor for us. We are not Arbitron-rated and we don’t track listenership for individual shows. Our spectrum of content is designed to appeal to as many listeners as we can and keep our subscribers engaged and happy throughout the year. Simply put, if you produce great content you will find an audience and it will grow.”

— Steve Cohen, senior vice president of sports programming at SiriusXM

“We stand for sports no matter what field it’s played on. When we came into the eSports space, I think the biggest thing for us was looking at the fans. We’ve been in sports marketing for 25 years. We really understand that. The cool thing for eSports for us is that the fandom there is so passionate. It’s really cool that when you go to an event, it just clicks. They love the players. They love the sport. So for us, it was easy to understand that kind of passion.”

— Jesse Wofford, digital brand manager at Bud Light

“Are we reaching the audience we’re after? Yes. We’re watching engagement and how people are reacting to content on social media. We’ve learned from all of our brands that are working with gamers that you can’t just put something out there. Your content needs to be different and sharable and something that really draws them in. We don’t want to talk at them, but talk to them and make it engaging and fun to watch.”

— Scott Baldwin, director of marketing for cereal at General Mills

“This is a business that, in order to win, you need to go out and generate revenue, invest in players and create an environment where players want to play. The way to become and remain dominant in any sport is to attract the best players in the world. We’ll bring our sports background in health, hydration, nutrition and sleep to our eSports players.”

— Scott O’Neil, CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers

“Our partnership with Robert Morris University allows us to tell the stories of collegiate eSports athletes who are training to be the best they can, while also providing them with nutritional options that help them perform at their best. It’s a win-win for both sides.”

— Nick Robinson, chief marketing officer of Quest Nutrition

“Like a lot of things, eSports is just a component. It’s not the defining component. We don’t center everything around eSports. It’s simply one part of the puzzle, and there are a lot of things that have to go into promoting a title, marketing it, and making it a success. ESports is part of that, but it’s just a part.”

— Pete Hines, vice president of marketing at Bethesda Softworks

“Fans love that Coke is engaged with them and recognizes the popularity of eSports. They love being invited to live events, whether it’s through an activation in movie theaters for League of Legends or connecting with fans live at the League of Legends world Championship—which we see as the Super Bowl of eSports.”

— Alban Dechelotte, senior entertainment marketing manager at Coca-Cola

“For our partners at FIFA, NFL, NHL, NBA, UFC—every single one of them has eSports as one of their top three priorities—at least to understand it, then to be able to be able to leverage it. They recognize one thing: this is a demographic that’s coming through, that’s looking at sports in a different way, and all of our partners in the licensed sports space say, ‘We’ve got to have a position here, otherwise we’re going to be an aging demographic if we don’t get in here and do something with our games.’ They’re all very supportive, all very collaborative, and all working very hard with us to make it a reality.”

— Peter Moore, executive vice president and chief competition officer at EA Sports

“We’ve seen a lot of companies come out and say, ‘Hey guys, here’s the next great eSport.’ And the community is like, ‘Hang on a second. We’ll tell you when it’s a good enough game.’ So our focus from the beginning has been making a highly competitive game, engaging with our community because they’re going to tell us what works and what doesn’t, and eventually—if they ever bring us to eSports status—we’ll be thrilled to support them.”

— Steve Superville, creative director of Paragon at Epic Games

“This is our first time in eSports. Initially, the reaction has been good. We wanted to do a soft launch with the start of the season to make sure it looked good on the TVs. What we didn’t anticipate was how much demand there would be out of the gate. We missed the expectations of the guests. Overall, we’re comfortable with what we did with our first season.”

— Bob Ruhland, vice president of North America marketing at Buffalo Wild Wings, on sponsoring ELeague

“Gaming is the heart of eSports and the fans don’t spend a lot of time with other formats, traditional or otherwise. The challenge in connecting is the same in or outside of gaming: you have to be as much of a fan as they are and truly appreciate the experience.”

— Jeff Baker, vice president of brand experience at Arby’s

“Expanding eSports coverage is good for the entire industry, as well as for IEM. We want to strengthen the current community and reach new audiences to continue to push the growth of eSports, and ESL eSports TV will help with that. Creating unique eSports content to drive awareness and reach new audiences is the goal.”

— George Woo, worldwide marketing manager at Intel

“You know, a lot of people talk about competition in eSports. But, first and foremost, you’ve got to build a community around your game that people love and then eSports becomes a part of it.”

— Ryan Wyatt, director of content and partnerships at YouTube Gaming

ESports is quickly becoming an integral part of gaming culture. As instigators in this space, we want to push the boundaries of competitive gaming and enable everyone in this community to take part in the experiences. The Mountain Dew League is a deliberate entry into eSports, strategically aligning the brand in championing the narrative of aspiring amateur athletes and their journey to pro gamer.

— Sonika Patel, senior manager of marketing for Mountain Dew

“The eSports audience is younger. When you see all of the activity in the marketplace from more traditional companies, the allure of eSports is that they’re reaching some folks that are hard to reach.”

— John Lasker, vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN

“ESports is one of the fastest growing sports with viewership growing 100 percent over the past two years. However, it’s still somewhat uncharted territory, and brands are experimenting to see what resonates. Twitch is absolutely contributing to the growth of the sport.”

— Alexis Stoll, marketing manager at AMP Energy

“We’ve been around long enough to see the trends. There’s a lot of room for a lot of games to be successful in eSports. The key is how do we get to a sustainable business. What’s really important for me is celebrating the players and putting those personalities front and center.

— Mike Sepso, senior vice president of Activision Blizzard Media Networks

“ESports—just like concerts, trade shows and graduations—provide another opportunity for the community to engage with the arena and its benefits, and for Golden 1 Center to help bring more visitors and positive economic impact to downtown Sacramento. We see eSports and multiplayer game modes as the next step for fan engagement with the game of basketball, just as video games were before them.”

—  Ryan Montoya, chief technology officer of the Sacramento Kings

“I put myself out there, too, to use me and my following to help raise awareness of what eSports is, to try to get the NFL kind of involved, you can use me . . . you get eSports, you get the NFL and now we’re taking over. That’s the whole part of this; we’re taking over. We’re literally growing at an alarming rate—almost too hard to handle.”

— Rodger Saffold, Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman, owner of eSports team, Rise Nation

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.

How Brands Keep The Conversation Going With Chatbots

Chatbots are the “next big thing” for reaching consumers online, and with the rising sophistication of AI marketing could be great news for brands for a number of reasons.

Today’s consumers are tech-savvy, mobile and have zero patience for inconvenient shopping, much less customer support. In a world where 53 percent of mobile website visitors leave if a web page doesn’t load within three seconds and 51 percent of people say a business needs to be available 24/7, brands are turning to chatbots for the solution.

If you hate picking up the phone to reach customer service, you’re not alone. In fact, 38 percent of Americans would rather clean a toilet, according to the 2016 Aspect Consumer Experience Index. Forty-four percent of American consumers prefer chatbots to traditional customer service, “if the company gets it right” and 71 percent of participants want the ability to solve most customer service issues on their own. Millennials are the most confident when it comes to chatbots, with 70 percent saying they “feel good” about them. More than half (54 percent) prefer all customer interactions via electronic means and 49 percent feel that texting is the most effective communication for customer service.

While customer service and eCommerce are natural fits for chatbots, brands are also using this growing outlet for interactive promotion.

Mr. Robot got its own mobile app last year in which users had to interact with a character from the show by “chatting” with her through E-Corp’s messaging platform. To promote Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Activision did an amazing job of using a chatbot purely for interactive storytelling—resulting in over six million interactions within the first 24 hours.

Chatbots are still in their infancy, and developers are learning about what works and what doesn’t. Kiwi Inc. CEO and Sequel founder Omar Siddiqui predicts that while the technology is new, this will be a year of continued innovation.

“[In 2017] we’ll see continued improvements in the same interaction design supported by both platform improvements and technological progress on how best to utilize natural language as part of the bot experience,” he told [a]listdaily. “We’ll see the messaging apps continue to make improvements in bot discovery for consumers and more organic means by which bots can be surfaced to consumers at appropriate points in their work flows on these apps. We will also see the emergence of multimedia bots with audio and voice taking more of the mind-share as a complement to text-based experiences.”

Facebook, in particular, is a major driver in this new era of bot creation, claiming that “tens of thousands” of developers are building chatbots on their platform.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for developers is creating a bot that is friendly, efficient and intelligent without being creepy—as opposed to today’s automated phone systems that still can’t seem to understand a word being said.

It would also be rather unnerving to have a robot know everything about you, then share that information with others, with or without its knowledge. Today, users can pop over to Facebook Messenger to do anything from booking travel to ordering pizza, so security will become even more of a concern as eCommerce becomes more commonplace on the platform.

Super Bowl LI Just Part Of EA Sports’ ‘Madden’ ESports Plan

For decades you had to be a professional football player to compete in EA Sports’ Madden Bowl during Super Bowl week. But that changed this year at the Pro Bowl at Disney World and in Houston, Texas as the Madden Bowl became one of four Majors in the Madden NFL Championships Series.

Chris “Dubby” McFarland defeated Eric “Problem” Wright in the championship game on February 3 in Houston to take home $75,000 and bragging rights in front of a live audience on the NFL Network. Wright earned $45,000, which was part of a $250,000 prize pool awarded to the top 16 Madden players. The top four players were flown to Houston for the semi-finals and finals after competing in the quarterfinals at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex during Pro Bowl weekend.

The Madden Bowl marked McDonald’s first foray into competitive gaming. The fast food giant served as presenting partner of the competition with Xbox powering the entire Championship Series.

Madden Championship Commissioner Matt Marcou told [a]listdaily that McDonald’s entered the competition in January and the brand has been integrated into the virtual field that competitors played on during the competition. EA’s Tiburon studio created a special tournament environment with the Madden Bowl logo in the center of the field and McDonald’s featured in the game. McDonald’s signage was also featured in the real world throughout the competition.

The championship game was broadcast across Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Live, Univision Digital, Univision and NFL Network. The semi-finals were also broadcast on Univision, which previously covered the Madden Classic. Madden Bowl was the second NFL Network broadcast, following the Madden Classic in December.

The Madden Bowl is one of four Majors held throughout the season, which includes the aforementioned Madden Classic in December, the Madden Challenge in April and the Madden Championship in May. There’s a total of $1 million spread across these events, including $500,000 for the Madden Championship. The Madden Bowl is the only Major that connects competitive gamers directly with NFL events.

Madden offering $1 million is like CS:GO offering $5 million,” Marcou said. “We think this prize pot is competitive outside of the big three (CS:GO, League of Legends and Dota 2). It’s one of the most incentivizing prize pools out there.”

Marcou explained that EA has no desire to get into a marketing money war with prize pools to compete with something like Valve’s The International, which awarded over $18 million last summer.

“We calculated our prize pool to create an ecosystem where 10 guys make $50,000 a year playing Madden, and some more guys can earn $20,000 or $30,000 annually—which is the league stipend for Riot Games’ LCS (League of Legends Championship Series). We’re hoping to see these competitors start to attract individual sponsorship deals, as well.”

At a time when NFL TV ratings are down and the league admits that it’s losing millennial viewers, EA Sports is targeting that elusive demographic with its Competitive Gaming Division.

“The NFL shares our vision of Madden as a competitive game,” Marcou said. “They advertise with us on broadcasts and on site. It’s a natural partnership.”

Having worked with ESPN in the past on a televised Madden Nation competitive gaming show and run the Madden Challenge for years, eSports is not new to EA.

Madden has been a popular game in the US for a long time,” Marcou said. “I describe this competitive gaming transformation as similar to what the NFL did when the AFC and NFC merged and joined together for the Super Bowl. There have been Madden competitions for a long time, and many underground tournaments similar to fighting competitive gaming scene. Now we’re acting as the official governing body and providing stability in scheduling and structure and awareness. We feel we’re the sport of Madden evolving into the modern era.”

As the very long NFL off-season officially kicks off, football fans have nothing but playing Madden and watching ESPN or the NFL Network to keep them engaged with the sport.

“If you can’t get enough football, Madden is another outlet,” Marcou said.

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.

Inside IGN Entertainment’s Vigorous Video Strategy

Media outlet IGN Entertainment is a tour de force in video for games and geek culture across all screens.

They recently revamped their video strategy by appointing former executive producer and showrunner for ESPN’s SportsNation executive Wade Beckett as their chief programming officer and senior vice president of video.

Beckett, who’s worked in film, television and digital for over 15 years, will oversee the company’s cross-platform video initiatives, including original content, branded video production and partnerships from its Los Angeles studio.

Originally established in 1996 as an online gaming magazine and now a division of Ziff Davis, IGN programs games and entertainment content for 132 million monthly users across 12 platforms, highlighted by 20 million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, 9 million subscribers across multiple YouTube channels and a Snapchat Discover channel.

Beckett, who also worked at Fusion and six years at NBCUniversal’s now-defunct G4, joined [a]listdaily to dish details across a gamut of topics about the current state of video, as well as how he plans on cementing IGN’s position as a leader in the space.


What insights can you share about your recent XXX: Return of Xander Cage red carpet livestream? How did this video perform compared to previous ones on Facebook?

We had an amazing experience with the team at Paramount on the livestream. From what we were told it was far and away the most successful and highly engaged they’d ever seen from a red carpet livestream. We’ve seen a flurry of other studios reaching out after the event so I think it’s safe to say we’ll be doing more. The studios know that IGN can deliver the kind of dedicated fans that go to see movies on opening weekend.

Why should Facebook livestreaming become an essential part of a brand’s video strategy?

I think it’s smart to go to where the most eyeballs are—and that’s Facebook. The live platform offers brands an easy way to reach their fans in fun and creative ways. It’s not too hard to flip the switch and go live to millions of fans eager to interact.

Which social channels are you most interested in engaging with your audience? Are you looking to test any new emerging platforms?

We’re always looking at emerging platforms, distribution partners and ways to connect with our audience. Each channel and platform functions a little different than the next and I think that’s kind of the beauty of it. We program each channel for the way the audience consumes our programming on that platform—Snapchat Discover is a little different than our Twitch channel. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and our own IGN app all have a formula for what works best. I don’t necessarily care where our audience watches—I just want them to keep coming back for more. Authenticity is the key.

Will you be shifting your strategy on Snapchat this year by tailoring more content toward that specific platform? What’s the best way you’ve learned to use it? As a distribution vehicle for existing content? Or creating original content?

I say ‘you better know your platform, because your audiences does.’ Snapchat has been a great partner and we’re extremely happy with our Discover channel. When producing for the platform, we definitely create content with the Snapchat audience in mind. Anyone who’s tried to simply re-skin existing content and slap it up on Snapchat knows it’s not going to resonate with the audience. People see right through that stuff. Along that same line of thinking, I think it’s important to know that audiences don’t mind ‘branded content’ nowadays. I think any stigma is gone when it comes to this generation. If you make an incredible video that happens to have a brand component to it—all good. The audience is still going to share it if it’s the real deal.

Wade Beckett, IGN's chief programming officer and senior vice president of video
Wade Beckett, IGN’s chief programming officer and senior vice president of video

What is your plan to shift IGN’s strategy in the original content, branded video production and partnerships space?

I don’t think the plan is to necessarily shift our current strategy. I think it’s more along the lines of expanding some of the stuff we’re doing and making some bigger, calculated bets on new original programming that’s in line with what we know our audience loves. On the branded content side, IGN has built an awesome team that’s been incredibly successful. They meet the needs of top brands—all the while creating video that we’re proud to be a part of as a brand of our own.

How will virtual reality and 360-degree content impact online video moving forward? Is it critical for brands to implement immersive VR experiences in their current marketing campaigns?

Like most other media—games, movies, television—I think it’s all about the content. Content is king. If you have a crappy product . . . it’s going to stink in 360, on the big screen, desktop, or on your subscription video on demand. There’s quite a bit of cool experimentation going on right now, IGN included, and I think that as VR and 360 video becomes more widely adopted, we’ll start to see some groundbreaking storytelling experiences. As far as brands and VR, we’re seeing some great integrations at events where fans are dipping their toes in to the high-end experiences that advertisers love.

How are video games—specifically with the emergence of eSports—impacting, or shifting your video strategy? Why is eSports a perfect place for non-endemic brands to participate?

Right now it feels a little bit like the wild west when it comes to eSports. There’s a mad dash to figure out all of the various aspects of the sport. From league rights, to team ownership, gambling, regulatory oversight, mobile, and everything in between, it’s certainly explosive. The one thing not in question—whether there is an appetite for eSports. The fans and advertisers have answered that, and we hear them loud and clear. Non-endemic brands have the opportunity to reach a younger, far more diverse audience than ever before by getting into eSports. There’s a reason why you see so many owners of established sports franchises snatching up eSports teams at such a rapid pace.


How would you best assess the current digital video market?

Insatiable. As long as your video is compelling, there’s an appetite.

How is it being consumed? What needs to change?

Video is being consumed anywhere and everywhere. We all know that at this point. There will continue to be some fundamental changes roll out across the various digital platforms that allow both publishers and platforms to better serve up great video and hopefully helps both parties’ bottom line. The subscription video on demand marketing place and skinny bundle packages will see some new players—and that’s great, too. At the end of the day, our audience knows where to find IGN and our goal is to continue to give them what they want—cool new original video series and specials, trustworthy reviews and new trailers and footage before anyone else.

How many people work in the video team?

Not as many as I’d like. I think we’ll try to make even more cool video this year and that means fresh faces and hopefully even more production partners.

You joined IGN in November to grow its cross-platform video initiatives. What’s the one big thing you’ve learned on the job so far?

I thought I knew how massive and passionate IGN fans were—and was totally surprised that the scale was far greater than I’d originally suspected. They’re fantastic and so very loyal to the brand—and span the globe in 112 countries and more than 20 different languages.

What is one emerging trend marketers need to know about video this year?

I’d tell them to ask their kids—they are ahead of all of us.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

How ‘Final Fantasy Brave Exvius’ Teamed Up With Ariana Grande

Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, the first free-to-play game in the Final Fantasy franchise to be built from the ground up for mobile devices, finished a rather unexpected promotion last week. Popular singer and actress, Ariana Grande was featured as a playable character named “Dangerous Ariana.” The character could be added to players’ rosters by completing the “Dangerous Woman Tour” stage during the limited-time event. The promotion also featured a remixed version of Grande’s 2016 hit song, “Touch It.” The song, which was enhanced with a Final Fantasy style, played in the game’s background during the event.

The Final Fantasy Brave Exvius worldwide version producer, Hiroki Fujimoto, talked with [a]listdaily about how the partnership with the famed artist came together and how Grande is now an official part of the extensive universe.

Hiroki Fujimoto
Hiroki Fujimoto, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius worldwide version producer

How did Square Enix come to collaborate with Ariana Grande?

Historically, the Final Fantasy series has collaborated with a number of talented artists in various ways, including the production of theme songs. Ariana Grande is an extremely talented and popular artist with a strong worldwide following, and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius (FFBE) decided to collaborate with her in an effort to both enrich and add depth to the game’s universe. Furthermore, FFBE is a game that anyone can easily pick up since it is free-to-play and for mobile devices. We would be extremely happy if this collaboration with Ariana, who is known worldwide, motivates those who have never played Final Fantasy to get to know FFBE.

How does Grande’s brand fit in with Brave Exvius’s look and feel?

We arranged her song “Touch It” so it would fit within the FFBE universe, and recorded the track with a full orchestra to create “Touch ItFinal Fantasy Brave Exvius Remix“. The track plays as the battle theme of each of the stages for the in-game Ariana Grande event. Her powerful vocals provide a dramatic element that enliven the battles throughout the event. Furthermore, our new endeavor to incorporate her special pixel character in-game is very much in line with the Final Fantasy spirit of constantly taking on new challenges.

What could Grande’s character do in the game?

Ariana is represented in-game as a pixel character. Anyone could obtain her character by playing the “Dangerous Woman Tour” event. Thereafter, players could adventure with her by including her in their own party. She increases her party’s strength through support magic, and can also inflict damage on enemies with the power of song.

How much input did Grande have in designing her character?

Ariana reviewed the designs the development team produced of her character. She was extremely pleased with the flashy effects, the cute character animations, as well as the singing animations they made specifically for her character.

Are there other ways to obtain Grande’s character?

Players were only able to obtain Ariana’s character during this special event period. Once obtained, players can continue to use her in-game for all content.

Is Grande a Final Fantasy fan?

Ariana has a keen interest and love for Japanese culture which also encompasses Final Fantasy, among other things. She mentioned that she has been studying Japanese and wrote “daisuki” (love) in Japanese characters above her autograph. We were very surprised to see that she could write in Japanese.

How did you decide on “Touch It” as a song to remix and feature in the game?

After listening to Ariana’s songs, we felt the composition and tempo of “Touch It” would go well with the expansive universe that encompasses Final Fantasy Brave Exvius. This magnificent song initially starts quietly and builds up towards the end. Ariana’s wonderful voice and the new orchestral arrangement fully expresses FFBE’s dramatic story and continuously expanding world.


Square Enix Brand Messaging Says, ‘Let’s Leave A Legacy’

Square Enix has a rich history, which gives the publisher a lot of franchises and nostalgia to work with. Much like fellow 1980s gaming legend, Nintendo, the Japanese publisher taps into the emotions its fans feel for playing iconic titles from their childhood and introduce those titles to future generations. However, the company’s brand messaging strategy extends beyond recycled franchises, and it charts new territory into immersive gameplay, treating games as a service and even extending its brands into real world prosthetics.

Treasuring The Past, Embracing The Future

Tomb Raider celebrated its 20th anniversary last year with a multitude of events and releases including a survival training class, a Jeep giveaway, a specially composed music collection and concert, an art book and the Rise of the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Edition, which supports high-end hardware such as the PlayStation Pro and PlayStation VR. Not only has Square Enix rebooted the most iconic female video game character of all time, but it did it to critical acclaim and without abandoning the core of what made Lara Croft so beloved in the first place. With Rise of the Tomb Raider, fans can explore Croft Manor in virtual reality for the first time, but probably not the last. The game can also be played in its entirety using the PSVR’s theater mode, which creates a giant virtual 2D screen.

The publisher also took a big risk with a reboot for its Hitman series, released in episodic format, which transformed the game into a live, ongoing service. Developed by IO Interactive, the first season of Hitman just came to a close on January 31 with the launch of its retail game disc.


Also celebrating an anniversary this year is Square Enix’s magical mix of franchises, Kingdom Hearts. Combining characters from Final Fantasy, The World Ends With You and the Walt Disney universe, Kingdom Hearts turns 15 this March. As with many of the publisher’s flagship titles, this one comes with a large and loyal fan base from across the globe. Square Enix hosted a special exhibit and Kingdom Hearts clock giveaway at Tokyo Metro Marunochisen Shinjuku Station Promenade last month, getting fans even more excited about Kingdom Hearts III, which is currently in development.

Final Fantasy turns 30 this year, hot on the heels of its successful launch of Final Fantasy XV. A special event was held in Tokyo to kick off anniversary celebrations, including special DLC for the latest title, merchandise and an HD remake of Final Fantasy VII. This past fall, Square Enix invited game developers and fans to share how the franchise affected their lives using the hashtag, #FFLegacies. The Final Fantasy XV: New Legacy campaign culminated into a video that showcased these memories and ideas, while allowing a chosen few to preview the game for themselves and showing their reactions to the camera. “By having fans share their personal experience,” Square Enix says on the campaign website, “it serves as a reminder that much like how each Final Fantasy has a completely different story, world and characters, we all bring distinctive and new perspectives to the legacy that is Final Fantasy.”

Bringing Fantasy To Life

While the live-action trailer for Final Fantasy XV brought the series to life on screen, the publisher has teamed up with Open Bionics to make science fiction a reality. Inspired by its game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and prompted by consumer response to fictional advertisements, the publisher decided to develop a prosthetic arm inspired by the game’s main character, Adam Jensen. A prototype of the arm, controlled using the Razer Stargazer camera, was on display at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and San Diego Comic-Con to promote the game.

The real-life prosthetic was more than a publicity stunt, as the publisher teamed up with CNN’s Courageous Studio to host the Human By Design event last August. Livestreamed over Twitch, the event featured a number of experts and self-identifying cyborgs to create a forum for highlighting and discussing the real-life implications of cybernetic augmentation.

“Just sitting here today and listening to all these experts at Human by Design, and working with Deus Ex as long as I have, I can imagine that future, especially with prosthetics and the work the Open Bionics is doing,” Jon Grant, senior manager of product marketing at Square Enix told [a]listdaily at the event. “That future is closer than we think, and it might actually be here. If Deus Ex has a role in inspiring it, then I guess what they say about the franchise is true. We do have a way of predicting the future.”

By expanding its already massive Final Fantasy lore for future generations, remastering and retelling classic game stories, exploring fantasy worlds in VR or opening conversation about technological advances, Square Enix is creating a legacy for video game enthusiasts and beyond.

Beyond Merchandise: Eating, Wearing And Smelling Video Games

Video games have traditionally been accompanied by collectible merchandise like action figures and posters—but in recent years, publishers have been trying new ways to experience a game franchise. While movie adaptions are an obvious route, these activations allow(ed) fans to not only play a game, but eat it, wear it and smell like it, too.

Tastes Like Winning

Those who showed proof of purchase for Final Fantasy XV on either PlayStation 4 or Xbox One received a free bottle of Wiz’s Energizing Elixer at participating Target locations. The orange and cream soda-flavored Jones Soda was also available for separate purchase in-store. For fans in the UK with sophisticated tastes, renowned chef Jamie Oliver created a special menu for his restaurant to commemorate the game from November 22 to the 29.

Over the last several years, Capcom has combined its video game franchises with casual dining in Japan. Famous for its Street Fighter and Resident Evil series, the publisher once had a themed bar, Resident Evil-themed restaurant called the Biohazard Café and Grill STARS. More recently, the company opened up another themed café based on the Monster Hunter series.

Capcom Cafe

Playing In Style

To promote Gears of War 4, Microsoft made a special partnership with clothing brand, Undefeated to create an exclusive line of Gears-themed goods made available in a pop-up store in Los Angeles.

For the serious collector, Bandai Namco is now offering limited edition numbered, premium sukajan jackets that retail for $449. Designed by Carrie Sleutskaya of Project Runway fame, these jackets are highly-detailed with 440,000 stitches in its embroidery. “Our goal on the Bandai Namco Official Store is to develop merchandise for our most passionate fans,” Villegas told [a]listdaily, “so the creation of this kind of high fashion piece was also an opportunity for us to expand the messaging around our Tekken 7 campaign to acknowledge that Tekken is a lifestyle brand.”


Stomping The Competition

Nike joined forces with EA to promote FIFA 17 with a new cleat that celebrates the franchise’s history. “This collaboration came together rather organically,” Nathan Van Hook, senior design director for Nike Football told The Mirror“Our design team spends a lot of our free time playing football—both on the pitch and via video game—we’re pretty obsessed with both. We wanted to create something memorable that brings together the physical and virtual worlds.”

Last year, Vans powered up with Nintendo to offer officially-branded shoes featuring retro game controllers and icons like Mario, Link and Donkey Kong.


Eau De Undead

If you’ve ever secretly wanted to sniff a zombie, Capcom has you covered. Burning for between eight and 20 hours, the Resident Evil 7: Blood, Sweat And Fears candle will fill a room with the scents of terror to accompany your nightmare-inducing adventures. The candle may also evoke visions of “old timber and leather,” according to Merchoid, which sells the officially licensed product.

Last year, Capcom introduced a limited edition T-Virus Perfume with the Umbrella Corporation logo featured on the front. The perfume went on sale at the Capcom Café in Japan along with a Resident Evil-themed, “first aid” deodorant spray.

. . . But That’s Not All

Nintendo’s flagship store in New York, NY has been re-branded “Nintendo New York,” hinting at future retail locations in the future. Together with its partnership with Universal Studios, the company is in a strong position to develop and launch any number of merchandise possibilities across the world.

Activision Blizzard has just created a brand-new consumer products division, to be led by CEO and president, Tim Kilpin. Based on Kilpin’s previous experience overseeing major product lines for Mattel and Disney, the publisher has big plans for tie-in products that will no doubt include Overwatch.

Meanwhile, Rocket League has teamed up with Zag Toys to bring its Battle-Cars to life. The new line of mini pull-back racers will have additional tie-ins to the game, with special codes that consumers can redeem in-game.


Op-Ed: Super Bowl Video Game Ads Pass Audiences Back To Digital

The Super Bowl is one of the only events where crowds that tune in are almost as excited by the commercials as they are the Big Game. This year, Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas made history with a stunning 34-28 overtime victory by the New England Patriots. Although many probably began tuning out after the Atlanta Falcons established a major 28-3 lead early in the third quarter, the famous Super Bowl ads, which viewers often regard as 30-second mini-movies, may have been enough to keep some people around. But while ads for Budweiser, Honda and Skittles may have become a kind of mainstay for promotional entertainment, video game companies have gradually looked to take advantage of the huge audience over the past few years. Given how each 30-second ad costs $5 million dollars, the obvious question for game makers is whether the cost is worth the investment.

Fox announced that the history-making game drew in 111.3 million people to its broadcast channel, an average streaming audience of 1.7 million and another 650,000 on Fox Deportes. This shows a slight decline from last year’s TV viewing audience of 111.9 million and is still well below 2015’s record-breaking peak of 114.4 million. However, that’s still a tremendous audience by any standard, which is why some have argued that $5 million is still a bargain despite a decline in viewership and how returns from advertising are difficult to track.

According to surveys of Super Bowl audiences, between 80 and 90 percent of ads have no impact on their purchasing decisions. Studies have also shown that a brand such as Coca-Cola might see a lift in sales if it happens to be the only soda company to show a commercial, but that is negated if Pepsi also airs an ad during the game. On the other hand, Buick saw 50 percent increase in traffic to Buick.com on Game Day last year, and then had a 100 percent increase the day after, despite a multitude of car commercials.

So, what does this mean to the handful of video game companies that advertised during Super Bowl LI? Four video game brands had Game Day commercials: Nintendo, Mobile Strike, Battle for Evony and World of Tanks. Wargaming, which makes World of Tanks, decided to get the most for its money by airing two 15-second ads during the game and added two more on its digital channels. Meanwhile, the newcomer Evony made a huge impression with an epic commercial that paid tribute to historical kings and leaders from around the world, which is actually a shortened version of an amazing two-minute digital ad.

While a commercial for Nintendo’s upcoming Switch console might make sense, given how the company is looking to reach beyond the traditional gamers and recapture the casual audience that brought the Wii to success. What better way is there to advertise a gaming system designed for parties and gatherings than with one of the biggest party events of the year?

However, it’s a different story when it comes to games. Although Wargaming’s director of marketing, Erik Whiteford told [a]listdaily that the inspiration behind making the World of Tanks ads came from how past free-to-play games saw success with their Super Bowl ads, he also stated that “a lot of exposure comes from pre-game and post-game activities.”

Pre-game and post-game activity on social media discussing the featured commercials is what a lot of companies are banking on, whether they involve video games or not, which indicates that each ad is a $5 million way to draw viewers to digital channels. Additionally, “success” is a very relative term when it comes to Super Bowl advertising, given its high price tag. As observed by mNectar’s CEO, Wally Nguyen, TV is the “island of last resort” for high profile game publishers. These companies have already maxed out all the existing digital channels for reaching an audience, and so they turn to television advertising. In fact, being able to spend $5 million on a single ad suggests that companies such as SuperCell (Clash of Clans; Clash Royale) and MZ (formerly Machine Zone) had already found great success before airing their Super Bowl commercials.

Those observations were confirmed in an interview where MZ CEO, Gabe Leydon, told [a]listdaily that “we didn’t go to television because we were excited about television. We went to television because we had pretty much maxed out the mobile digital market. What we found is that television is really bad. Most people lose money on TV because it’s not trackable, the ratings are questionable whether they’re actually correct or not, and there’s a lot of confusion in the space just in general.”

Despite how Leydon considers TV an “immature market,” MZ still went ahead with a new Mobile Strike commercial starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which aired during Super Bowl LI.  That’s because the company is still relying on the effect television has on its digital channels.

“What we found is that while most of your television ads don’t do much, what they do have is a tremendous effect on your mobile digital ads,” Leydon said in the same interview. “When people see Arnold Schwarzenegger on television, and they look down at their Facebook app and they see Arnold Schwarzenegger on a video ad there, they make that emotional connection from what they’ve seen on TV and it legitimizes the product in a lot of ways.”

So, it appears most video game companies agree that TV advertising during the Super Bowl is a big and expensive way to draw viewers to digital channels. While Super Bowl ads continue to demonstrate how big free-to-play games, particularly on mobile, have become, there’s little doubt that the real audience more interested in sharing these ads online, where they have presumably always been.

FCA Welcomes Alfa Romeo Back To The United States With A Major Brand Rebirth

There is a whole generation of Americans that have never heard of Alfa Romeo.

On Super Bowl Sunday, that significantly changed because the Italian car manufacturer made an emphatic statement by capturing the attention of over 100 million viewers by airing three Super Bowl commercials. They also served as the presenting sponsor for the game’s halftime show on Fox.

Fiat Chrysler Group’s exotic niche subsidiary used the game as the ultimate conversation starter and sped up their reported $2.7 billion re-launch marketing plan with 120 seconds worth of commercials in the second, third and fourth quarters of the game promoting the Alfa Romeo brand and its premium mid-size SUV Stelvio and the mid-size sedan Giulia.

In an ambitious move, FCA dedicated all of its Super Bowl marketing budget to an unprofitable brand who’s largely an unknown for any American under the age of 35. According to FCA, just 516 Alfa Romeos were sold in the US last year, and sales were down by 22 percent.

Reid Bigland, head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati for FCA, told [a]listdaily that now was time for the European brand to be reintroduced to the North American marketplace in order to compete against the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

“We’re going to amp-up our marketing this year as the Alfa Romeo cars begin to arrive. We need to get it out there because Alfa Romeo has been out of the US market for the better part of 20 years,” Bigland says. “We’ve got multiple digital strategies throughout FCA. Right now, it’s about getting general awareness out with all segments of the targeted class. We have a digital approach, a TV approach and an out-of-home approach. We need to get our marketing spooled up and deliver on a unique value proposition. We’ve got a marketing plan ready to go for 2017 for creating awareness for what we offer. The underlying interest is there. It’s going to be something special.”

According to USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, Alfa Romeo’s 60-second spot “Riding Dragons” that traced its history from past-to-present had an average rating of 5.96, which ranked 18th out of 66 Super Bowl commercials.

The 30-second spot “Dear Predictable” touted its new Giulia as an antidote to predictable sedans and had an average rating of 5.11, which ranked 47th. The 30-second spot “Mozzafiato” introduced its new luxury sedan Giulia and had an average rating of 5.00, which ranked 51st. (FCA dedicated two minutes to its Jeep brand for last year’s Super Bowl.)

Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman also invited viewers to join the “Alfa Romeo Halftime Report” at the culmination of the second quarter.

Bigland says there is a stateside appetite for their proverbial pair of aces they hold in the Stelvio and Giulia to help FCA’s business, sales and profitability speed forward.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.49.15 AM
Alfa Romeo Stelvio

“Right now the mid-size sedan market is the largest premium sedan market in the US, although, it’s under a lot of attack. It’s been in decline. When you look at the fastest-growing segment in the US market, it’s in the mid-sized and full-size SUV segments. This trend has been going on strong for the past five years, and if anything, it’s continuing to accelerate. The SUV segment in China and US is red hot.” Bigland says. “We really don’t have to choose in putting our eggs in either one of the baskets. We’re putting our eggs in both of the baskets in between the Stelvio and Giulia. We think we’re very well positioned. We have phenomenal cars on our hands. We think consumers are looking for an alternative in the premium-performance segment market. We think Alfa Romeo offers that alternative.”

Bigland believes the Stelvio will outsell the Giulia, but first, they must hit the market, as they are targeting Europe in Q1, and North America for Q2. They currently have a small market share with 155 Alfa Romeo dealers in the US and 20 in Canada, and more of those dealers are being dueled with Maserati—a good fit from a product portfolio perspective.

The Giulia is the first of eight all-new Alfa Romeos debuting through 2020. Bigland says they plan to grow their distribution network over the next 12-to-24 months with their sights set on 250 dealers in North America.

“If you’re not listening to consumers and delivering cars that they want to buy you’re going to be missing the boat,” he says. “For us, moving into the SUV segment is really a response to the US market, where almost 60 percent is SUVs and pick-up trucks. So, you have to be there, or you’re really out. It’s where consumer preferences have shifted.”

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

According to car shopping and information platform Edmunds, traffic to its pages on their site for the Alfa Romeo Giulia was up 802 percent on Sunday. On the brand side, Alfa Romeo piqued the most curiosity among car brands with traffic up 785 percent during the course of the game.

“Using the Super Bowl to generate awareness for a new brand or product is a tried-and-true advertising tactic, and this year proved it still works,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds. “If you think about what it takes for someone to look away from an exciting game or halftime show to go online and research something, odds are it’s because it’s something they’ve never heard of and they’re compelled to find out more.

The majority of social engagement came from Alfa Romeo’s Instagram and Twitter channels. On Facebook, Alfa Romeo USA’s top post received 58,000 views, 1,400 likes and 707 shares. There were 5,800 social mentions under the hashtag #AwakenTheDrive, which was not very high compared to other brands, per Talkwalker.com.

All three of Alfa Romeo’s TV ads were devoid of humor, unity and politics—common themes from the series of Super Bowl spots this year. The European commodity instead used its rich Italian heritage to focus on scenic mountains and hair-pin turns as they chartered the largely unknown lands of the US in their quest for a brand rebirth.

“Alfa Romeo needs to be true to its 105 year-old roots with state-of-the-art-technology, incredible performance and gorgeous Italian design and style,” Bigland says. “If you don’t have some things going for you, you’re not going to last that long.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan



Fox Lets Super Bowl LI Live On In Virtual Reality

Super Bowl LI in Houston delivered a historic overtime thriller that many people missed because of the blowout 28-3 lead the Atlanta Falcons established early in the third quarter. But those who stuck it out watched the New England Patriots complete the greatest comeback victory (34-28) in Super Bowl history to earn its fifth world championship in 15 years.

Fox Sports partnered with LiveLike to take the highlights from the epic game and deliver them across virtual reality platforms using a virtual stadium suite. Michael Davies, senior vice president of field and technical operations at Fox Sports, told [a]listdaily that fans can choose from six different angles (two cart cams, two goal cams, two goal posts with one high/wide and one low slash).

Users can choose their vantage point from six 4K cameras spread across Houston’s NRG Stadium, including on-field perspectives that put viewer’s right on top of the action. The package of VR content includes the 20 most exciting Super Bowl highlights showcasing the four most important plays per quarter and a timeline for fans to choose amongst the game’s top plays.

“Also, we have been posting different 360 content from the week for people to enjoy while not working on highlights for the game,” Davies said.

Andre Lorenceau, CEO of LiveLike, told [a]listdaily that on top of the Big Game itself, users can view pre-game and post-game content via both 360-degree video and normal videos. “Our interfaces also still have plenty of information about the game so users can look up their favorite players and team stats,” said Lorenceau.

The Super Bowl VR experience was designed as a live complement to the actual game with new content uploaded after each quarter and epic plays being uploaded just a few moments after they happened on the field.

“We built a new push notification system so that whenever a key highlight becomes available, users will receive a notification letting them know that there is new content available,” Lorenceau said before the game. “We also built a new system to jump to a specific highlight, which we absolutely plan on reusing in the future, even in full games. This is particularly interesting since it’s immediately the best way to re-live any moment from the game, complete with the crowd going wild.”

Davies said Fox opted not to work with broadcasters for this content because for the highlights, the video and the natural sound are what is important. Fox Sports has been experimenting with VR content around football and other sports for a couple years now.

“We have found that certain camera positions work better than others,” Davies said. “The cameras that ride along with the cart are the great angles for football as they follow the action. The other thing we are doing with LiveLike is that this is the first time where all cameras will be encoded at Ultra High Definition (4K).”

The reality today is that many people will be checking out this VR content post-game, especially given the unexpected fourth quarter comeback. This first-ever Super Bowl VR experience does not feature any sponsors within the content or inside the virtual suites, but the suite was split between Falcons and Patriots content.

“In general, VR and 360-video is an amazing opportunity for advertisers,” Davies said. “Especially in the LiveLike environment. It is possible to incorporate branding and activations all over the experience in a variety of different ways.”

With more brands exploring 360 content, one potential future is 360-degree content developed in tandem with Super Bowl or other commercials, including making-of content that could take viewers onto the sets of those spots. With companies spending a record $5 million per 30-second ad during the Super Bowl, the cost of capturing some of that content in 360 is very small.

“Anyone who downloads the Fox Sports VR app can view this content without any need for an account, password, or otherwise,” Lorenceau said. “It is completely open.”

According to Neilsen, Fox’s Super Bowl LI drew a 48.8 household rating and a 72 share, which represents about 70 percent of the country. That’s slightly lower than CBS’ Super Bowl 50, which pulled in a 49.0 rating and a 73 share.