VR ESports: The Future Or A Pipe Dream?

It’s an understatement to say that there’s a lot riding on virtual reality. Billed as the next big thing across multiple verticals, according to analytics platform CB Insights, approximately $1.48 billion of venture capital was invested in VR/AR startups in 2016. Even taking Magic Leap’s $793.5 million series C out of the equation, we’re looking at a whopping $686.5 million in funding. Throughout the years, we’ve seen glimpses of what the marriage of virtual reality and gaming could look like and now the worlds of Tron and The Matrix don’t seem all that far away. A little over two years after Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, VR is at an inflection point. Early investors have made their bets and are waiting to see how the adoption trajectory further develops before diving even deeper and more conservative funds are in a holding pattern. All appear to agree on one thing—that VR is a killer use case away from the mainstream. Could VR eSports or competitive gaming be that use case? Let’s take a deeper look at why or why not.

Edward Chang
Edward Chang is the EIR for eSports/gaming at The Chernin Group and Founder at basikz.co.

The Case For

A New Experience: For the most part, PC and console gaming have essentially been played the same way for the past 30 years. VR represents a few departures from the status quo—it’s a truly immersive experience. Life-like visual and audio processing, movement and positional tracking, as well as haptic and integrated sensory feedback all contribute to an adventure that’s absolutely realistic, to the point that during certain Vive sessions I forget where I really am. VR also offers a unique blend of physical and digital. I’ve heard many times from those who don’t understand eSports that there’s no “sports” behind it. That can absolutely change with VR and awesome companies like Virtuix, offering a VR treadmill which allows users to truly explore the virtual world around them, and The Void, which puts you inside digital worlds layered over interactive environments on a theme park scale, provide a glimpse into what could be.

There’s also an opportunity to capture an entirely separate group of players from today’s gamers, ones that have never been PC or console gamers or stopped playing early on in their lives, VR arcades are coming! IMAX opened its first VR hub in LA in January and has plans to debut five more this year. Polygon also has the scoop on game publishers trying to reach these audiences:

Capcom runs a pop-up VR experience that has players strap Vive controller to their feet and then slip on the headset and hold two more controllers. Once inside the game, the player uses their hands and feet to wreak havoc on a city as a massive monster, stomping, batting their arms and belching lighting with the controllers. Bandai Namco has an experience that places players in an elevator jetting to the roof of a high rise. Once there, players have to walk across a real world wooden plank to try and save a virtual kitten depicted as mewling for help hundreds of floors above the ground.

Monetization Opportunities: There are plenty of financial incentives for VR eSports to become mainstream. The first is hardware and device sales. Being able to play the latest and greatest games have always been one of the biggest drivers for upgrading hardware. Combine that with manufacturers chomping at the bit to cash in on VR first-timers who that need to upgrade their graphics cards, phones and monitors and you have a very compelling monetary case.

On the publisher side, VR game pricing seems to be settling in between the mobile and PC markets, according to insights from Josh Farkas, founder of VR development studio Cubicle Ninjas:

This is in addition to the in-app purchase opportunity which hasn’t been prominent mainly due to the lack of depth in today’s VR games.

In addition to direct sales, marketers will have access to a brand new world of advertising. We have no idea what ad units and CPMs are going to look like in this brave new world, but early tests are promising. Sliver.tv, a 3D-livestreaming platform, is experimenting with in-game ads and the results are pretty cool, as seen in the screenshot below. Lucid Sight, a VR game dev and ad network, ran an activation with Lionsgate to promote the movie Divergent: Allegiant based around a 4-minute video ad in-game that users could skip after 10 seconds and saw completion rates (defined as watching the entirety of the ad) of close to 30 percent. What’s clear is that there’s revenue to be made across the board, and hardware companies, game publishers and advertisers alike are well incentivized to acquire users.

Sliver Katowice IEM
Sliver’s coverage of IEM Katowice 2017.

The Case Against

Proliferation of VR devices: The biggest knock on the overall potential of VR has been disappointing sales numbers. According to a Digitimes report,

Many research firms’ numbers also have shown that VR product sales in 2016 have been weaker than expected due to lack of content and high product costs. VR/AR technologies also require more improvement in order to stimulate demand from both the consumer and enterprise sectors.

Sony’s PSVR, Google’s Daydream View, HTC’s Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR have all achieved sales that are weaker than market expectations.

A strong eSport doesn’t only need top-level professional play, it needs large numbers of viewers. Looking at viewership:MAU ratios for popular titles (based on average professional league viewership), the numbers are extremely low—150,000:100,000,000 for League of Legends and 40,000:12,000,000 for CS:GO. If these ratios are any indicator, the player base needs to grow exponentially before any significant VR viewership takes place. In addition, device sales generally don’t take into account the fragmentation of hardware today. There’s already five “major” devices on the market today and standardization of devices is a must when it comes to competitive gaming. You’ll never see a Call of Duty tournament where OpTiC Gaming is on Xbox while EnVyUs is on Playstation, nor will you see an Overwatch match where Cloud9 is using PC’s while CLG is using Playstation 4’s.

Meaningful Content: Up until now the lion’s share of games have simply been demos of VR capabilities, “life simulators” or single-player games with very basic functionality. When a full-scale FPS, MOBA or Strategy game backed by a triple-A studio gets released, expect to see metrics like session length, in-app purchases and overall viewership trending upward, along with the infrastructure for competitive leagues. Watch for eSports tournament organizers like ESL, FaceIt, Beyond the Summit or NGE to be the first to test the market for VR competitive gaming tournaments.

Spectating: If VR games are this difficult to play, what can be said about viewing? ESports fans can watch content from anywhere today—their PC, phone, console, Apple TV and more! But with the VR-required hardware, will this be a moat too wide for the Average Jane to swim across? Companies like BoomTV, Genvid, Sliver and Valve are working on making this easier to do, and expect platforms like VREAL, YouTube and Twitch to leverage technology to make the transition more seamless. There’s also the ultimate question of who’s paying for the content—will these platforms be able to charge users for the service or will they be able to find brands willing to make a bet in the early days on VR livestreaming?

VR eSports coming to fruition or not is ultimately dependent on the parent industry. I’m of the mind that truly disruptive technologies take time to adopt and VR will reach the predicted trajectories that many of these exciting companies are working towards. I also believe that competitive gaming will be a huge driver for adoption as we see hardware costs lowering and content maturing.

NBA Using ESports To Broaden Basketball’s Fan Base

The NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software will launch the inaugural NBA 2K eLeague in 2018. The new professional competitive gaming league will bring together the best basketball gamers in the world. Matt Holt, vice president of global partnerships at the NBA, told [a]listdaily that approximately half of the current NBA teams will participate in the first season of this video game league.

“We’d been having a lot of conversations with our gaming partners and our owners have been interested in the [eSports] space, so when 2K began exploring this, all of those conversations converged,” Holt said. “It’s a basketball video game, which is core to the NBA brand, and we felt it was perfect timing to team up with 2K and launch this league.”

This marks the first official eSports league operated by a US professional sports league. The new league will consist of teams operated by actual NBA franchises and the founding teams (each composed of five professional eSports players with custom-created avatars) will be announced in the coming months. Additionally, the NBA 2K eLeague will follow a professional sports league format: competing head-to-head throughout a regular season, participating in a bracketed playoff system, and concluding with a championship matchup.

“You can expect our eSports league season to run in tandem with the NBA season and have some tie-ins with regular season games and other events like All-Star and the Finals,” Holt said. “We’ll have live events in our first season, some of those may be in NBA arenas and some may be in smaller studios or different venues better suited for this type of experience.”

While the overall eSports industry has seen significant activity in recent years, Holt said the sports game genre is still in its infancy when it comes to competitive gaming. “We felt this was a good place to dip our toe in the water,” Holt said. “We’re trying to become intelligent in this space by talking to all of those publishers involved in eSports and we’re bringing our knowledge of professional sports.”

Holt concedes that the eSports landscape currently has a lot of fracturing of governing bodies. “We bring pro league expertise and infrastructure to the table, along with our teams, which is another support element,” Holt said.

Of course, at the core of the NBA are its players. 2K recently held an exhibition video game match between Still Trill, the winners of the $250,000 NBA 2K17 All-Star Challenge, and NBA stars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, CJ McCollum, and Aaron Gordon in New Orleans. Still Trill beat the NBA stars 95-52.

“We know our players are big fans of the NBA 2K game and many of them work closely with the development,” Holt said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how we can connect our players with this eSports league.”

The NBA and 2K are looking at the long game as they develop NBA 2K eLeague, which means fans won’t see outrageous prize pools like the one Valve offers for The International with $18 million up for grabs for Dota 2 teams. “As we build out the structure for this eSports league, we’re looking more at developing and sustaining a real league through salaried positions for the pro gamers and some prize pools,” Holt said.

Gaming houses, which are common with traditional eSports games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, could be part of the NBA 2K eLeague. “We’re thinking about that concept and having teams located in local markets,” Holt said. “We’ll probably go that direction.”

The NBA and 2K are still figuring out details like what jerseys pro gamers will wear, and how traditional NBA logos will be featured. “We’re locking down team participation and then logically out of that we’ll take a deeper dive on branding,” Holt said.

Furthermore, the NBA is offering a sponsorship patch on real team jerseys beginning next season and the eSports world has followed the path of NASCAR with sponsors emblazoned across pro gamers’ jerseys and gear.

Holt said the NBA has received a ton of interest from both new and existing sponsors in the business community to have some form of jersey sponsorship for the pro gamers. In addition to reaching a potentially new (and younger) audience through eSports, eLeague will also open up sponsorship opportunities for each NBA team.

“Our teams have done a great job of working with local sponsors in their arenas and markets and this eSports league will mirror that as well,” Holt said.

Since eSports is a truly global digital sport, the NBA and 2K are open to expansion beyond North America. “We’re going to have teams in North America initially, but as we get into years 2 and 3 of this we’ll look to expand internationally,” Holt said. “It’s going to be a lot easier to expand into areas like Europe, China and Japan through this eSports league.”

Real Grass And Sniper Cats: This Week In Game Promotions

A legend returns and things get serious with the cartel this week in the world of video games. To help spread the word, fans were transported to a fantasy world, Die Hard‘s director came out of retirement and a few celebrity endorsements certainly didn’t hurt.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

After three decades, Nintendo’s classic franchise returns in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—exciting fans and helping to usher in the brand new Switch console. While nostalgia played a major role in creating this title’s hype, some interactive marketing did wonders to get the party started. For the first time, Nintendo dedicated its entire 30,000 square foot booth at E3 2016 to one game, transporting fans to a “living” world of Hyrule. The reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was met with great enthusiasm by the press and fans alike, and its dedicated booth became a star all on its own. The floor was covered in real grass against the background of a stunning mural. Expo attendees were surrounded by life-sized props, statues, ambient nature noises and every 24 minutes, the booth transitioned from day to night and vice versa—immersing explorers into matching colors, sounds and shadows.

Above: Nintendo's "Living Hyrule" booth at E3 2016.
Above: Nintendo’s “Living Hyrule” booth at E3 2016.

In addition to five new amiibo figures that include in-game bonuses, Nintendo has created offers for those who own figures from the original title, The Wind Walker, Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess. Use of these amiibo figures with Breath of the Wild will unlock special items or Wolf Link to help players on their way.

Fans were treated another glimpse of the new game when Nintendo aired its first Super Bowl ad for the Switch console. From there, the brand has benefited from the help of celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon and John Cena, who have played (and subsequently raved about) the game prior to launch.

The Nintendo Switch launched without game bundles or demos, something that will no doubt hinder its initial success. However, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild encouraged hardcore fans to pick up the console without delay, something that no doubt assisted in initial success. Those enjoying the game can take advantage of an expansion pass that grants immediate in-game bonuses plus access to both DLC add-ons scheduled for later this year.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

Ubisoft‘s latest entry in the Ghost Recon series involves some very serious dealings from within the cartel, which are illustrated through a live-action short film called War Within the Cartel. The 30-minute video stars rapper-turned-actor, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and features the Santa Blanca drug cartel as they seek to flush out a traitor within their ranks. Its events lead up to the opening moments of Ghost Recon Wildlands. As with Ubisoft’s previous live-action The Division shorts, War Within the Cartel premiered on Ubisoft’s Twitch channel and is now available to watch for free on Amazon for Prime subscribers.

Director John McTiernan (Die Hard) created a live-action trailer for the game featuring a cat and the red laser of a sniper’s rifle. For a healthy dose of back story, players can pick up a new novel called Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: Dark Waters by Richard Dansky. The story acts as a prequel to the events of the video game, focusing on each member of the operative and the mission that initially brought them all together.

Those who participated in the game’s beta through Ubisoft’s Uplay game service will get access to the Unidad Conspiracy reward, which includes three exclusive missions. The only catch is that to receive their reward, gamers must play the retail version of the game by March 31. Beta players also received exclusives for use in-game, such as skins and weapons.

In addition to airing its short film on Amazon, Ubisoft has also partnered to offer a War Within the Cartel items pack free for those with Amazon and Twitch Prime memberships. Those who sign up to receive rewards through the official website can earn points that can be redeemed for real prizes such as apparel, in-game items, consoles and experiences.

How Brands Are Using Instagram’s New Album Feature

Instagram’s newest feature—the ability to combine up to ten photos and/or videos in a single post—has been out for a week now, and to mixed reviews. Mashable has written not one but two articles bemoaning the latest feature and declaring the platform now dead, having betrayed its founding ideals. Whether the introduction of Albums will continue Instagram’s meteoric growth (from 400 million users in 2015 to 600 million by the end of 2016) or drive away users in droves remains to be seen, but savvy brands have seen the potential of Instagram’s latest upgrade. Below is a list of some of the more creative uses of albums in no particular order.


Hospitality giant Airbnb has innovated here by not innovating: they’re using albums on Instagram as, well, albums. Rather than pick one photo that sums up their travel experience, Airbnb has decided to embrace the vacation album aesthetic and packaged together a group of photos taken by one family during a stay in Hawaii. The album puts focus on the atmosphere of their patented brand of accommodation, rather than the one-off beauty shots you see elsewhere.


Levi’s has used the feature to take their followers on set for their latest photo shoots. Any of the images would have made a decent post on their own merits, but combining them allows for interested viewers to take a closer look at the styles on display. It’s giving followers more bang for their (admittedly free) buck, but without cluttering up their feeds.

charity: water

charity: water is giving Tasty a run for its money here, combining the concept of bite-sized visual recipes with an admirable cause. In honor of National Banana Bread Day, the charity showcased an African woman named Tencia’s home recipe, and along the way demonstrated the vital importance of access to clean water. charity: water is using Instagram’s albums to share stories untellable in another format.


Introducing our new line of Cheeodorants™

A post shared by dennysdiner (@dennysdiner) on

Denny’s continues their trademark strategy of surrealist advertising, but now in three dimensions! It’s unclear what “cheeoderant” has to do with all-night diners, but it’s heartwarming to see that their social media team wasn’t forced to pick just one cheese pun to publish. It may be bizarre—it certainly isn’t appetizing—but it is memorable.

Sneaker News

Sneaker News has made varied use of the new feature, but none so successfully as in the example above. It blends in with the rest of their content, but on closer inspection is not just a single photo, but a series of detail shots that in turn allows the viewer to inspect the shoe closer. By the end of the four-photo series, the only thing left to the imagination is the new shoe smell.


Take it for a spin. #AudiQ3

A post shared by Audi (@audi) on

Audi invites their followers to take the driver’s seat in their latest album post, letting viewers swipe left to get a 360-degree view of the Q3’s opulent interior as it sits in a very photogenic barren parking lot. It’s a marked difference from their usual Instagram fare of action shots of Audis in motion, and it gives the audience at least an inkling of what it might be like to drive one.



A post shared by vans (@vans) on

Vans takes an easy concept (lateral movement) and executes on it six times in a row. The result is a series of brief black-and-white videos of a man walking in snazzy new Vans. The scenes could easily have been lifted from a Wes Anderson commercial, and the act of swiping away from the direction of travel adds a neat bit of engagement to an otherwise simplistic ad.


The building that’s now home to WeWork Tower Place used to be a gym. We let that inspire the concept for the space, centering the design around vintage sports and giving a nod to the 1996 Olympics that were held in Atlanta. We wanted to maintain a gym-like atmosphere and energy through the use of industrial materials like perforated metal, but also keep it humble by using warm woods and wool. Incorporating bungee cords into the design of the stairs tied those back to the central theme. We turned the gym area into a functional workspace and kept the original running track (and scoreboard) on the mezzanine level to give members a well-lit space to sit or stroll. Another cool touch: basketball flooring repurposed as wall paneling for the phone booths. Our in-house graphic design team (@wearelunchmoney) designed custom wallcoverings to fit the overall concept: a cheering crowd for the pantry area outside of the gym; a unique step-by-step office workout for the conference rooms; and geometric swimmers for the restrooms. Designer @david.silverstein also worked his magic on a mural in the lounge area—another nod to the 1996 Olympics. Swipe through for photos and tap for project credits. #weworkdesign #wearewework

A post shared by WeWork (@wework) on

Co-working space rental service WeWork takes followers on a tour of one of their offices with their album post, showing off their aesthetic. It’s easy to get a sense of the environment from these 10 photos, especially since many of the focal points of the close-ups are visible in the wider shots. The album captures not just the physical features of the space, but the ambiance as well.

Peter Moore Moves On From EA; Ubisoft Plucks Four Fellows From Telltale Games

From video games to traditional sports, there was no shortage of career shuffling this week.

A visionary of the video game industry is moving on to a new challenge in the Premier league. Peter Moore, formerly the chief competition officer at Electronic Arts, is going from digital games to the real deal, as the 61-year-old was appointed as chief executive officer of Liverpool.

“Passion is essential for all of us at Electronic Arts. It’s what gets us up in the morning and drives us to do extraordinary things. And if you’ve ever met Peter Moore, you know that he quite literally wears his passion for Liverpool FC on his sleeve. So it’s with great excitement that we congratulate Peter on following his dream to become the next CEO of his beloved Liverpool Football Club,” wrote EA CEO Andrew Wilson. “Peter has been with us here at EA for nearly 10 years, and I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside him for that entire journey. If you’ve seen him on stage, or follow him on Twitter, or have ever read an interview with him, you will have a sense of Peter’s wit and charisma.”

Moore joined EA in 2007 to head up the company’s sports division. He has previously held senior roles with Microsoft, SEGA and Reebok.

Four fellows from Telltale Games veterans are joining Ubisoft’s San Francisco studio. Dennis Lenart, Nick HermanPierre Shorette and Adam Sarasohn have all been hired by the studio to expand its storytelling efforts for such titles as The Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands and Minecraft: Story Mode.

“We are excited to welcome these strong industry veterans to our skilled team at Ubisoft San Francisco,” says, François Pelland, executive producer at Ubisoft San Francisco. “As we continue to expand our portfolio of games, we look to hire the best talent in the industry and infuse team members with a shared passion for development.”

Another former EA executive has landed a new job, too. Farshid Almassizadeh, formerly the vice president and COO of EA Interactive, will join SPYR, a holding company with wholly owned subsidiaries in both the mobile game and app development and publishing industry, as its chief strategic advisor.

James R. Thompson, SPYR’s CEO and president, stated: “Everyone at SPYR is very excited to be working with Farshid.  His many years of experience and connections in the gaming industry are going to be invaluable to the company and we believe that he will help us cultivate all of the seeds we have planted over the last year to grow our games business and revenue.”

Former UFC chief content officer Marshall Zelaznik is joining Major League Gaming as its new global head of business development. At MLG.tv, Zelaznik will reportedly oversee maximizing the revenue opportunities around the distribution of MLG and Activision Blizzard’s eSports content, building and executing on the growth strategy for MLG’s proprietary content distribution platforms.

Pandora has appointed Naveen Chopra as chief financial officer. Chopra will be responsible for Pandora’s finance, corporate development and strategy, investor relations, facilities and CIO functions.

“Pandora fundamentally changed the way we listen to music and continues to lead the way in reshaping the future of music for listeners, music makers and advertisers,” said Chopra. “It’s an exciting time to join the team and a unique opportunity to combine my passion for world-class consumer services and strategic and operational experience to help guide Pandora’s growth and deliver shareholder value. I look forward to working closely with Tim, Mike and the entire Pandora team.”

Veteran media executive Mary Ann Turcke has been named president, digital media and NFL Network, per NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

“We are delighted to have an individual of Mary Ann’s talent and expertise joining the NFL to lead the NFL Network, NFL Films and our digital and technology groups across the organization,” said Goodell. “Mary Ann has distinguished herself throughout her career, not only managing the complicated broadcast operations of Bell Media, but also growing their media sales and leading their telecommunications and IT services. I am confident that our teams in Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York will greatly benefit from the breadth of her experience and her vision for the future.”

“I am thrilled to be joining the NFL, one of the greatest and most exciting brands in the world,” Turcke said. “I feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to lead this team and work closely with Brian to focus and grow the NFL Network, NFL Films, NFL.com and our digital and technology assets.”

Turner Sports has promoted Matt Hong to the newly created position of chief operating officer to oversee all aspects of Turner’s involvement in setting the strategic direction and leading day-to-day operations of NBA TV, NBA App, NBA League Pass and NBA.com.

Vevo has named Will Jackson as their new senior vice president of strategy and operations. Jackson formerly was the vice president of corporate strategy and international development at Pandora.

Amani Duncan has been named senior vice president of music for MTV.

Toyota announced a series of executive leadership appointments in North America, namely in marketing. The 14 new appointments can be seen here.

Paul Rittenberg, who led all TV and digital ad sales efforts for Fox News, is stepping down from his position of executive vice president of advertising sales.

In making the announcement, co-presidents Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine jointly said, “Throughout his 20 plus years at FOX News, Paul has developed powerful relationships with clients and built one of the most respected and successful teams in the industry. Coming off our most profitable year yet, we are tremendously grateful to him for his many contributions in making both FOX News Channel and FOX Business Network the most coveted marketing platforms in cable.”

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine Is Opening Enterprise Business Doors In Automotive, And Other Industries

Marc Petit, general manager of Unreal Engine enterprise business at Epic Games, previously spent his career at Autodesk building tools for content creators. Petit told [a]listdaily that moving to Epic was the next logical step for him.

Epic used the Game Developers Conference (GDC) this week to showcase non-gaming uses for Unreal technology. This year, Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic showed off scenes from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with K2-SO running on Unreal Engine 4. And The Mill and Chevrolet displayed an augmented reality Camaro race featuring real-time cars masked overtop a motion capture vehicle.

“The Epic brand is very strong and the technology is available to everyone—source code and and all,” Petit said. “We’re seeing a lot of adoption across different businesses. And we’re actually catching up on the customers who have adopted the technology. Ever since I’ve been here, every day we came across somebody doing something interesting with the technology.”

Petit said in the architecture industry, the high-quality money show used to be the video walkthrough of a new building. But now, people want interactive walkthroughs.

“They’ve been adding Unreal Engine to their pipeline to create this interactive content, mostly for VR,” Petit said. “A survey of the high-end architecture industry last October found that 10 percent of architects were using Unreal Engine to do this. And 30 percent of those surveyed said they’re evaluating it for use in production.”

Petit sees a lot of high-end work being done for the marketing of new real estate properties, like billion dollar towers in Mumbai or in New York. People now invest very large amounts of money creating immersive, interactive experiences to sell their condos.

Barbie vlog

“There are a lot of projects that require public approval, like transport for London where they want to create a highway for bicycles,” Petit said. “You have to market the idea to your constituents. In the past they would have done that with video, but now they create interactive content so that people can actually see what it will look like before any work has begun.”

Epic is seeing a parallel tract to the advent of computer graphics. Today, people are migrating and upgrading to real-time interactive and VR.

“The automotive industry was always an early adopter of computer graphic technology, and last year, we showed our work with McLaren on design validation at GDC,” Petit said. “We’re talking to all of the automobile manufacturers because with cheaper game technology and cheaper VR headsets, they want to deploy their interactive content much more deeply. They do this at several key places in their product development cycle: design, validation and approval. At the design stage, you can throw a car into an environment in real-time and get a good sense of what it’s going to be like.”

Today, McLaren is using UE4 in VR to enable collaborative reviews between team members in their design centers in California and around the world. This can span into manufacturing work, looking at individual parts and creating the tools for those parts.

Epic’s game engine is also at the heart of the revolution about how companies want to sell cars and the global appetite for built-to-order vehicles. GDC 2017 featured a prototype Chevrolet car configurator, but McLaren’s just launched an Unreal car configurator in New York City that runs on a 70-inch touch screen TV to help sell $300,000 cars. They also have a VR version, but Petit believes the social nature of selling a car will focus on the big screen for now.

“When you look at a movie screen from afar it’s very different than being next to the sales guy configuring your car,” Petit said. “You get to see the content, so the quality bar is very high.”

Another area car companies are turning to Unreal for is built-to-order workflows. Now that Tesla is selling cars online, other manufacturers are trying to follow suit to avoid pre-building cars and sending them to dealerships only to have them sit in the parking lot there for a long time.

“We’re seeing very similar trends in trains, in private jets, everywhere in transportation where you have built-to-order,” Petit said. “And it goes beyond the aesthetics. It’s about short-circuiting the old ordering process because they connect Unreal to their SAP system. So it’s actually a real built-to-order management system. When you buy a $50 million jet, I’m sure you have a lot of expectations ahead of time.”

Unreal has also been used by Mattel to make Barbie relevant to GenY girls. The engine was used with Faceware to create a weekly eight-minute-long Vlog series on YouTube. The series took off, attracting over 1.5 million subscribers. That helped Mattel increase sales of the doll by 11 perecent.

“Before Barbie was just a plastic doll that mom had, but when you see the new face generator we debuted at GDC, she feels like a Disney character talking to you in this setting,” Petit said.

Epic also worked with Hasbro at a press conference to debut the new Mr. Monopoly Live Facebook game. They brought Mr. Monopoly to life to interact with the audience on social media using a motion-capture actor feed into the Unreal Engine.

ESports Just Got More Social Thanks To ESL And Twitter

ESports are about to get a lot more social, thanks to a partnership between Twitter an ESports League (ESL). Twitter has been an eager adopter of livestream video, particularly in the realm of sporting events, and this agreement will grant streaming rights to the social network, along with an exclusive weekly show.

“Twitter is a very strong eSports platform, where many of our fans and followers already engage with DreamHack events,” Marcus Lindmark, CEO and president at DreamHack, said in a statement. “This will be a shortcut for fans, as they can both watch and engage on the platform at the same time.”

ESL’s partnership with Twitter kicks off right away with the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Katowice tournament on Friday, as well as DreamHack Austin this April. In addition to streaming live tournaments into the indefinite future, ESL will produce Twitter-exclusive highlights for a weekly, half-hour show that will cover eSports events and behind-the-scenes footage.

This news makes a lot of sense, considering ESL’s new partnership with with former Fox TV exec David Hill—who launched Fox Sports in the US—to give its video game competitions more TV-style production values.

The deal covers more than 15 events in the ESL One, Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) and DreamHack eSports circuits. According to ESL, the video streams will be available for free worldwide at esl.twitter.com, iem.twitter.com and dreamhack.twitter.com as well as on Twitter’s app for Apple TV, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.

IEM world championship events across League of Legends, StarCraft II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) have broken records each year with over 113,000 visitors to the IEM Expo and over 34 million livestream viewers tuning into the action last year. ESL has partnered with Sliver.tv to broadcast in virtual reality, a number of global TV broadcasts and online streams across multiple channels for maximum viewership.

Social media has become a strong ally in the world of eSports, as proven by the recent partnership between Facebook and Activision Blizzard. Ahead of its successful World of Warcraft: Legion expansion, Blizzard made it possible for fans to log in to the game launcher with a Facebook account and stream directly onto the social feed.

‘Minecraft,’ Mobile And Other Must-Read Marketing Stats

This week, Minecraft celebrates a major milestone, Nokia makes a comeback and we explore why each generation cares about what you post on social.

Mobile First . . . Or Not

best_decribes_organizations_mobile_strategy325pxMobile devices have become so much more than phones. With increased adoption worldwide, digital advertising spend for mobile devices has surpassed that of desktop. According to the 2017 Mobile-First Ecommerce Report from ROI Revolution, over $42 billion in digital advertising spend came from mobile in 2016—compared to just $25 billion on desktop—a 2,800 percent increase in mobile ad spend within just five years.

About one-third of that mobile-marketing spend is focused on driving acquisition, according to the Adobe Mobile Maturity Study. Marketers spend between $4 and $5 billion per year, placing an emphasis on mobile app and website development.

Despite an industry that is largely becoming “mobile first,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the company doesn’t design for mobile. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona he explained that the company is trying to make sure that all of its shows and movies look as good as possible on mobile devices, where bandwidth—and mobile device memory—are often limited.

Speaking of mobile, Nokia’s re-imagined 3310 model helped up the brand’s value by 62 percent, according to a list of the most valuable telecoms brands compiled by Brand Finance.


Love, Squared

Minecraft has officially surpassed 121 million copies sold and 55 million monthly players. Microsoft’s block-stacking, diamond-hunting, monster-fighting game has become a worldwide phenomenon for playing, streaming, modding, education and even competition. The brand is celebrating with a series of amusing infographics across its social channels.

Despite launching halfway through the year, Pokémon GO drove about 86 percent more revenue than any other game in 2016, according to data from Slice Intelligence. The top three games for in-game spending among Slice’s panel of 4.4 million online shoppers were Pokémon GOCandy Crush Saga and Clash Royale

The company also found that the average paying mobile customer spent $77.60 in 2016, with Game of War players shelling out an average $336, compared to an average $32 paid by Pokémon GO users. Slice found that mobile game buyers in 2016 were mostly male and 70 percent were under the age of 50.

Social Influence

A whole lot of people are on Facebook, which makes it an obvious choice for brands but creates challenges for those who want to stand out to consumers. Around half of millennials, GenX and baby boomers follow a brand on social media before purchasing a product, according to Sprout Social, at 58.9, 50.4 and 55 percent, respectively. While these numbers are similar, it is the reason for following a brand within each generation that is worth noting.

The report states that 38 percent of millennials follow brands for entertainment value and 42 percent seek information. Forty-one percent of Gen X consumers who follow brands on social media do so for contests, while 58 percent are looking for deals and promotions. Baby boomers, meanwhile, seem to appreciate a healthy mix of deals and promotions (60 percent) and information (53 percent).

FTC—What Now?

Influence marketing is on the rise as consumers value peer or online celebrity views to official ones. As the lines blur between a paid endorsement and personal opinion, however, the FTC is cracking down on labeling promotions accordingly. According to to a survey conducted by Lightspeed GMI and Research Now.

Only 11 percent of marketers reported being aware of or having an understanding FTC’s policies, while 56 percent said they were either not aware of, or not familiar with them. Influencers, perhaps because it is a major source of income, have educated themselves on the subject a bit more. The study found that 60 percent of US influencers said they’re aware of or understand the guidelines, and another 23 percent said they’re aware of or at least somewhat familiar with them.

The Ladies Love Band-Aid

In celebration of Women’s History Month, YouGov Brand Index released the top-ranked brands as perceived by US women. Points were given based on the question, “Do you have a general positive feeling about the brand?” This year’s results found that Band-Aid was at the top of a list dominated by shopping, home care and food brands beloved by women.

The top 10 are:

  1. Band-Aid
  2. Amazon.com
  3. Dawn
  4. Google
  5. M&M’S
  6. Clorox
  7. Cheerios
  8. Craftsman
  9. YouTube
  10. Dove

Of all the brands women were questioned about in the annual survey, Snapchat improved the most in perception—reaching an impression score of 6.9 versus 5.1 in 2015.

Mobile Game, ‘Power Rangers: Legacy Wars’ Kicks Up Movie Promotion

Power Rangers, the immensely popular martial arts kids’ TV franchise, will be hitting theaters on March 24 with an all-new movie, but its roots go back almost 24 years. It started in 1993 with the debut of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television show, featuring brightly-costumed heroes battling against threats from across galaxies and dimensions. Multiple spin-off shows have shown since then, with different Rangers, abilities and personalities. All of them, and the history they represent, will be captured in the upcoming mobile game, Power Rangers: Legacy Wars.

In essence, Legacy Wars is a brawler where players select from a roster of both Rangers and recognizable villains from the franchise to battle it out in short matches. To promote both the game and movie, Ludi Lin, who plays the Black Ranger in the Power Rangers movie and Jason David Frank (the Green and White Ranger from the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) took each other on at the Unity Keynote event from GDC 2017 in San Francisco, California. The short battle between the two represented a cross between generations, mediums and characters that fully embodies the spirit of the game. As an added promotion, attendees were treated to a free ticket to see the movie.

Steve Kuroki, creative director at nWay, talks to [a]listdaily about the upcoming brawling game for mobile devices, Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, which is being developed in partnership with Lionsgate and Power Rangers creator, Haim Saban (Saban Brand CEO) to coincide with the release of the upcoming movie.

“The gameplay is about collecting Rangers and villains, making teams of three to use against another player’s team,” explained Kuroki. nWay started with a Facebook game called ChronoBlade and moved to the Asian market when the social platform changed some of its gaming policies. ChronoBlade was turned into a mobile game and its competitive element was shown to Lionsgate and Saban, and they agreed to apply the Power Rangers brand on top of the fast-paced gameplay.

Steve Kuroki, creative director at nWay
Steve Kuroki, creative director at nWay

“The game is based around the movie,” said Kuroki, “but we have a special opportunity, working with Saban, to use every Ranger and villain from their universe. This is the first of its kind. They’ve never allowed Rangers and villains to team up, let alone have Rangers fight against each other.” However, Saban was impressed enough with the fighting engine and the multitude of Ranger mashup videos on YouTube to allow nWay this level of flexibility with the brand.

“Each one of those Rangers and villains have unique attacks,” said Kuroki while demonstrating the gameplay. “Nothing is shared except for their core animations.” This approach is sure to please fans of the show, who have favorite characters from specific shows. Players improve their characters by winning matches and earning in-game currency, and new characters are unlocked as they progress.

So, how do the new Rangers stack up against the classic ones? “We wanted to make sure the movie characters were strong, since the game is basically based on them,” said Kuroki. “But if we created Rangers and villains and put the strongest ones later, that would create an imbalance. We wanted it to be fair, so we think of them as being on equal footing as much as possible. When we think about rarity for fighters, we think about how technical those fighters become. We think about the mechanics to create value within some of the later warriors.”

Power Rangers: Legacy Wars will feature all the Rangers and characters from the movie in addition to having fighting locations inspired by the film. Kuroki also said that there is a way to feature certain warriors. “We’re hoping that the movie does well and that there will be many more to come,” he said. If so, then nWay can add them into Legacy Wars ahead of time to give fans a preview of what to expect. However, seeing the Rangers in full costume is just one part of the fun. The other half is in watching the actors play teenage students who are discovering their powers. So, do we ever see any of these Rangers without their helmets?

“We intentionally left all of the helmets on all of the movie Rangers,” said Kuroki. “Because there’s no facial animation, we didn’t want to have a lot of straight human faces on there. So, keeping the helmets eliminates that issue. Rita is based off the actress from the movie, and we’ve been going back-and-forth on how to design her. We decided to pull back a little bit so that it’s not really Elizabeth Banks’ likeness, but that could change closer to the movie release. When I was training Ludi on how to play the game, he wanted the helmets off–he wanted to see himself. So, that’s something that we’re considering and it could potentially be a feature later on.”

When asked for his thoughts about what kept the Power Rangers brand so strong after two decades, Kuroki said, “It’s a formula. You kind of get a sense of how the television show stories are going to unwind themselves. It’s also in the different Ranger costume upgrades, which keeps things fresh, and they’ve improved the visual effects along the way, and that gets folded in with the action. I think that as we get older, some of us will fall away from watching it, but there’s always that new generation.”

Perhaps the real power behind Power Rangers is that it spans generations, so watching the movie becomes a family event. “When I talk to my friends who have kids, they’re totally into the movie. I think it’s going to be good when the movie comes out because families are going to go and spark with that interest in Power Rangers again. Having the shows on Netflix is good timing, too. We’re watching them all to design some of these attacks.”

We asked Kuroki what type of audience the game was targeting. Was nWay playing up the nostalgia factor to attract old fans or was it focused on current and new ones? “It’s probably a cop-out to say, but we want to get as many players as possible. Our goal at nWay is to make a really good game first, so we’ve designed a fresh take on the fighting game. Mobile game players will be into Legacy Wars because it has some familiar mechanics, and competitive players will hopefully enjoy what we’ve created.”

nWay has been working with Lionsgate and Saban Brands to promote the game across their respective social channels. The company also plans to have streamers play the game to help further spread the word. “We’re slowly rolling out information, but the Unity Keynote was our big splash,” said Kuroki. Power Rangers: Legacy Wars launches on March 23, which is one day before the movie hits theaters.

VR, Playable Ads And Other Hot Announcements From GDC 2017

The annual Games Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco is a thriving hub for developers and others in the gaming industry to share knowledge, network and get hands-on with the latest development tools. Here are some announcements you might have missed.


It’s no surprise that virtual reality is the big star of show this year, with a number of hardware already available, and even more on the way. Unity’s latest update, Unity 5.6 will feature support for Google Daydream and Google Cardboard for Android and iOS starting March 31. AMD announced a partnership with Valve to support asynchronous reprojection—Valve’s own feature designed to improve the VR experience and eliminate judder.

LG has unveiled a prototype VR headset for Steam, becoming the second partner (after HTC) to develop for the platform. Although not many details were available to the public, the headset will be wired and runs on PC. LG has been using GDC to get feedback from developers as it continues the path toward a commercial product.

Microsoft was on-hand with a holographic VR headset that combines the mixed reality of HoloLens with the immersive worlds of VR. The internal prototype was available by invite only, and despite some initial concerns like a short chord and motion blur, the flip-up screen will definitely set this unit apart from its competitors.

Above: Mage's Tale
Above: Mage’s Tale

Oculus announced several new games during the conference designed for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR:

While special controllers tie into many of today’s VR headsets, Oculus VR vice president Jason Rubin doesn’t believe they will replace what people already use and enjoy.

“I believe that the magic of having your hands in VR is incredibly important for new users, and will be important forever,” Rubin told Gamasutra. “But there will be times, after VR matures, where people come home and go ‘I just came home from eight hours of work, and right now what I want to do is this [leans back in his chair and mimes holding a gamepad in his lap.]”

Epic announced that its VR shooter Robo Recall is now available for free on Oculus Touch, in addition to native mod editor for the game. Players can now add new maps, characters and weapons to create (and of course, stream) fully customizable experiences.

On stage, Epic presented a short film for Chevrolet called The Human Race. Filmed only with Mill Cyclops, a virtual production toolkit by post-production firm The Mill, vehicles and effects were rendered in real-time on stage, demonstrating the time-saving capabilities of being able to see CGI effects live on set or in post-production.

Gaming For The Viewers

Online streaming has become an integral part of video game success and enjoyment across the spectrum. It’s no surprise that Amazon expanded its GDC presence this year to include tutorials, demos and over 30 classes for its Lumberyard engine.

Twitch developers were also on-hand to answer questions, while Hi-Rez Studios demonstrated how it uses Twitch to engage its fans, while offering new experiences for viewers.

Twitch announced the ability to purchase games directly through a live stream on the site, beginning with partners Telltale and Ubisoft. Although a list of available games is not yet available, the streamer would receive a portion of the game sale when purchased through his/her page.

Making Ads Fun

Google is rolling out a series of tools to add playable ads for Android developers. This new feature would allow players to try a lightweight version of a game when it is advertised within a another title. The company is also expanding rewarded advertisement offerings to AdMob and auto-rotating ads between vertical and horizontal views for increased effectiveness.

Shiny New Tech

Nvidia finally unveiled its new graphics card, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, claiming an aggregate improvement of 35 percent over the GTX 1080. Facebook slashed prices for the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers to $500 and $100, respectively.

According to GDC’s annual “State of the Industry” survey, game developers are feeling optimistic about Nintendo’s upcoming Switch console, but are unsure about the prospects of mid-cycle console refreshes like the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox’s Project Scorpio.