How Fossil Is Pushing Fashion Forward With Hybrid Smartwatches

Fossil Group is joining forces with fashion brands to double down and deliver on a diverse product line of hybrid smartwatches this year to satisfy consumer lifestyles.

The watch brand is partnering with the likes of Emporio Armani, Armani Exchange, kate spade new york, Skagen, Misfit, Chaps, Diesel and Michael Kors to bring more than 300 diversified designs for wearable smartwatches.

With the consumer crave for connectivity ramping up, brands like Fossil are spearheading a fashion-first approach featuring wearable products like touchscreen smartwatches, hybrid smartwatches and activity trackers, all while underscoring a commitment to innovate. And partners are standing in line to play ball.

Armani Exchange entered the wearables market for the first time in January with a collection of hybrid smartwatches; Skagen is offering thinner case sizes that are appealing to a modern aesthetic; Misfit unveiled the brand’s first touchscreen smartwatch featuring heart rate, GPS and standalone music functionality.

Hannah Liu, director of wearables and corporate strategy at Fossil, joined [a]listdaily to share how the brand is keeping a close watch on their connected wristpiece strategy.

Photo of Fossil Gen 2 Q wander smartwatches alistdaily

How did Fossil delve into the world of wearable watches and IoT? What is your strategy in the space?

Last year was a very pivotal year for us, and we’re excited for all of this year’s launches, too. In 2016, we launched 142 SKUs across 40 countries in 20 languages across eight fashion brands. Now, we’re working toward 300. Honestly, last year was great in terms of finally being able to bring fashion style and design, along with wearable technology. A lot of our customers are actually finding a way to try to be more connected with their world and fashion accessories. This is one of the first times where we are saying ‘you don’t have to compromise on style.’ You actually get to have both together. What we’re really excited about is our hybrid smartwatches, which is a category that is not as well-known as touch-screen smartwatches or activity trackers, but it’s really important to have everything with key features and functionality of the traditional watch.

What are your eight partners looking for from the Fossil Group? What is the consumer pain point they are trying to solve?

With the fashion brands we’ve partnered with on a lot of our different styles and devices, they want to be seen as an innovator in the wearable space, because if you actually look at the fashion brands that are in wearables, there are not very many at all. So they are really being the first movers in engaging younger, more connected and ever increasing digital customer bases. That’s been really exciting. One of the big things we have learned, too, is how technology can cater to the brand identity and brand DNA. None of the devices look the same because each reflects the brand style and aesthetic for the customers they are trying to target.

What is the consumer appetite like for wearable fashion watches?

We’ve seen extremely strong sales when it comes to actually putting everything consumers care about wearables all in the beauty of a traditional smartwatch. That has been one of the most empowering things in terms of customers voting for our devices.

What are the marketing strategies that work best with the connected consumer?

We’ve tried a lot of the different marketing channels and activities over the last year, and we’ve learned a lot. The connected and wearable customer is all about online, social and digital marketing. They are young, and they are active. A lot of the traffic is driven there not only when researching and discovering products, but also purchasing products, too. So you can probably expect for our marketing strategies to leverage and deliver on strong digital campaigns, but still understand the branded, in-store experience, and point-of-sale. We’re also exploring options like livestreaming, especially as it becomes more of a burgeoning concept, and understanding how that catches on with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Livestreaming is actually a channel we’ll soon be looking at.

As watchmakers, are you leaning on any true tech companies to integrate tech into your watches? 

Our 2015 acquisition of Misfit was a big investment for us in putting a full foot forward into wearables. Having their world-class engineering talent and full hardware-software platform and capabilities has been very important in our innovation in technology and leveraging the opportunity to do what we are great at—which is making beautiful watches. They are a cornerstone for us to understand different trends and innovations. We’re constantly evaluating how to innovate and evolve our devices not only in our products, but user experiences as well. We also have really exciting partnerships with Google Android Wear and Qualcomm to help with display smartwatches.

What are the emerging trends you see developing in the near future?

We’re noticing things getting smaller, slimmer and generally having more battery life. That’s something that we’re currently delivering on. We’re doing that from a design and form factor. We’re also seeing the integration with third-party partnerships such as connected homes and connected cars in ways that can unlock the different parts of your life of which you care to be more connected. We’re evaluating plenty of IoT and connected partnerships. Fossil Group is fully into the wearables business. We’ve proven to be a leader in building up this category, and what we’re going to be doing in the future. We’ve invested a lot in building a new category in hybrid smartwatches. The reason it’s so exciting is that it’s burgeoning and you can quickly see it gain momentum and accelerating in growth.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney Discusses Unreal Opportunities Beyond Games

Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney received the GDC Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards in San Francisco this week. Sweeney has built his company into a powerhouse in the video game industry with franchises like Unreal Tournament (which has a new free-to-play game in development), Gears of War (which was sold to Microsoft in 2014) and Infinity Blade (from Chair Entertainment). GDC marks the debut of the company’s newest game, Battle Breakers.

But thanks to Unreal Engine 4, Epic has expanded its reach across many verticals, including Hollywood, the automobile industry and architecture through its internal Unreal Engine Enterprise division.

At GDC Epic is showcasing a new project with ad agency The Mill and Chevrolet that uses UE4 technology to augment reality for shooting car commercials. Unreal is also giving Chevy a new platform for customers to customize their vehicles in showrooms of the future.

Sweeney talks about the evolving business opportunities for UE4, as well as the growing virtual reality and augmented reality industries in this exclusive interview.

What opportunities does augmented reality open up for your game engine technology?

Augmented reality includes any combination of computer imagery with real-world objects in any form. Pokémon GO is augmented reality. There are different classes like HoloLens and Magic Leap. But there’s also a lot in between. It’s a huge factor in Hollywood cinematography to mix CG objects in with the real environment and the engine has to solve all these problems. Every aspect of the real-world scene has to be matched by the computer objects you see on top of them. The lighting, the motion blur, the overall appearance of the environment. There’s a lot to get right.

And one of the things we believe pretty strongly about and will be a big part of everybody’s future is how do you actually make things look real? How do you integrate with real light and real photography?

We’re going to be ahead of the game of solving these problems as the devices get more and more sophisticated. With augmented reality, at some point people will absolutely demand realism, so we just want to make sure that the engine’s ready to scale to that level. So it’s nice to do these very high-end AR projects with real cameras, as opposed to simple cell phone cameras.

It’s probably a $100,000 Arraiy camera that’s shooting that photography, and if we can scale all that way with high-end range photography with all the bells and whistles that the movie business demands, we know that we’re going to scale it down to much simpler use cases.

What does UE4 open up for the auto industry?

For more traditional businesses like GM, they have car configurators. Almost everybody nowadays, if you’re going to custom order a car, and not just get it off the dealer lot, you’re going to spend some time in a car configurator, choose your options and get some sort of simple visualization of it. This allows you to actually not only see an incredibly real version car that you want to have built for you, but it also allows you to see the car in a fantasy environment. You can go deeper with the car that you configured by seeing it race, or maybe driving it in a video game environment.

Did you have any idea when you first launched this game company that video game technology would be used across so many verticals?

No, it’s amazing we’ve gotten to this point. We’ve had a pretty good track record at Epic of seeing where things were heading, but there were a few things that caught me completely by surprise. I did not even envision that 3D graphics would be a practical reality until id Software shipped Wolfenstein 3D, for example. It seemed like some absurd, high-end feature that required quarter million dollar workstations, but now we’re right in the center of it. It is becoming increasingly straightforward now to see 10 years ahead what this is going to be like. With every smartphone, television, computer and tablet being replaced by augmented reality glasses which let you see a seamless combination of all of this. All of these computer images with real-world environment will be integrated with really advanced user interfaces on top, so you’re constantly immersed.

And engines are going to have to be at the center of the online reality revolution because everything is going to be 3D. It’s not like any previous platform, which was largely a 2D user interface with a few 3D apps on it.

Generations of kids have grown up customizing games and avatars and everything in their lives. What does this Chevy project foreshadow about the future?

Just think of the impact of this on commerce. Now you can configure thousands of options on a product like a car, but also because you have that configuration capability, the way that companies design customizable products can change. Now, if you can go on to Amazon and customize all the attributes of all these different objects you’re buying, then suddenly it’s going to open up a world of possibilities. It’s all going to be powered by real-time 3D graphics.

Chevy Unreal Engine

There have been billions poured into virtual reality and Epic Games has its Oculus Touch game, Robo Recall at GDC. How do you see the VR market growing moving forward?

VR is where the rubber is meeting the road in all of these applications. You have a highly dedicated audience of gamers buying VR hardware, playing VR games and spending money on VR products, which enables everybody to reinvest in building more.

It started very small. Unlike all of these previous revelations of smartphones and new console platforms, all VR apps have to be designed from the ground up for VR. So we’re really starting from zero. We will continue to see exponential growth on top of the base of hardcore VR hardware that’s out there today, so maybe next year there will be three or four or five million VR units out, and then the year after that maybe 10 million. The year after that maybe 20 million. At some point you’re talking about a VR install base across all these different platforms that is comparable to the console audience.

At each step, you’re going to see the economics for development teams improve, which will enable them to build bigger and better games. Right now it’s small. It’s experimental. We’re seeing teams of 25 people working on Robo Recall. That’s the state of it now. It’s going to be every bit as big as console gaming was in previous decades.

It seems like some investors in VR are getting antsy and they were expecting smartphone or tablet sales figures.

Judging by smartphone standards there aren’t a billion VR units out there, so it’s completely failed, right?

Remember the first generation of iPhone games when everybody portered their shooters to mobile and found the controls weren’t very good? There’s been some of that in VR, too. But now we’re seeing the emergence of integrity in these types of games that don’t even belong to existing genres. That’s where the innovation will really occur. Nobody’s first app in VR is going to be a killer app. It’s going to be the second and third tries for all these developers. So we need to give the market time to develop and be patient.

What Marketers Need To Know From Mobile World Congress 2017

Mobile World Congress is obviously about phones and tablets, but also encompasses the latest consumer technology on the move. Held from February 27 to March 2 in Barcelona, this year’s theme is “the next element”—a phrase that perfectly describes the quest to find what’s next for today’s consumers. While brands showed off the latest phones and tablets this week, a number of other technologies took center stage such as augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables and connected vehicles. Through all the flashy presentations and special announcements, here’s what marketers need to know from MWC 2017.

Mobile VR Is Growing Up

While those with HTC Vive or Oculus Rift may see mobile VR as “virtual reality light” in terms of interactivity, that won’t be the case for long. Samsung has unveiled a touchpad controller for its Gear headset that lets users point, drag and drop objects, tilt, shoot and more. The functionality is similar to that of the Google Daydream in that it’s designed for one-handed use, and smaller than controllers for HTC Vive.

“This much we can promise. Virtual reality is about to become more multi-sensory, more intuitive and even more enjoyable,” said David Lowes, CMO of Samsung Electronics Europe, during the company’s press conference.

Google announced that it has shipped over 10 million Google Cardboard units since its initial launch in 2014. In addition, there have been over 160 million downloads of Cardboard apps—with more than 30 being download over one million times. Augmented reality is another big focus for Google with apps coming soon to Google Cardboard—The Sims app, the Chelsea FC app “Chelsea Kicker,” and The Wall Street Journal app, “WSJ AR,” although availability has not yet been revealed.

As mobile VR becomes more accessible, marketing on these platforms will naturally follow suit. Adobe is already experimenting with VR advertising and presented a few prototypes at the conference. The ads appear in a simulated movie theater experience, with content playing on a virtual, 2D screen (similar to content made available by Netflix, HBO and Hulu).

These are by no means all examples of mobile VR represented at MWC—but announcements like these are a good sign that the medium is not just gaining popularity, but being taken seriously.

This Coke ad by Adobe isr a 2D VR viewing experience with interactive elements.
This Coke ad by Adobe is a 2D VR viewing experience with interactive elements. (Source: Adobe)

Connection Is Key

Remember when phones were just for making calls? There’s a reason why the platform is called “mobile devices” rather than “phones” these days—they have simply evolved into so much more. Now that our phones are entertainment centers, telecommunication devices, personal assistants and creative suites all in one, the next step is making sure these tasks can be performed quickly.

During its press conference, Samsung stressed the importance of investing in 5G, announcing its upcoming range of devices including a 5G home router. The company has been working closely with Verizon and testing its devices overseas in preparation for widespread availability over the next few years.

It’s not just phones that are being connected, however—5G’s low latency means faster connections for industrial services, autonomous cars and the IoT. Vodafone and Huawei performed a live demonstration at the world famous Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya race track, using cellular technology connecting cars to each other, to people and to roadside infrastructure. Passengers in an Audi vehicle fitted with C-V2X technology were able to experience connected features like warning mechanisms and a “see-through” video feed that offered views normally unseen.

Whether it’s 5G or whatever comes next, consumers are getting accustomed to instant or at least, very fast results. In the case of self-driving cars, lives could literally hinge on how fast a network is, but even a slow-loading website is enough to send consumers packing.

Never Stop Innovating

MWC has become a platform for all things technology and if there’s anything we’ve learned over the years, it’s that successful brands never stop innovating. Even small changes to a product or service based on consumer feedback or lessons learned can make a world of difference in the competitive marketplace.

Tech conventions like MWC can sometimes feel like the World’s Fair, filled with with gadgets that we once only read about in science-fiction novels.

Innovation can be a new way of approaching customer service or a complete overhaul of a product idea, but at the core of every great idea is the goal of improving the brand experience.

How Princess Cruises Is Wooing Consumers To Navigate New Waters

Princess Cruises kicked off the year in grand fashion by gamifying the cruise industry with a quarter-sized wearable pendant.

Dubbed the Ocean Medallion, the next-level platform technology is an engagement method and marketing ploy toward elevating the guest experience and keeping the brand in shipshape.

The innovation tactic was the latest in a series of IoT installations designed to help guests get the most out of their vacations; the moves are set on shaping new ways guests interact on ships—specifically among millennials—who have a perception of placing more value on personalization, customization and simplicity.

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest leisure travel brand and the parent company of Princess Cruises, among nine other cruise lines, is positioning itself with a boatload of marketing strategies to leverage the growing global demand for cruising, which grew 68 percent over the decade through 2014, according to a 2015 report by trade group Cruise Lines International Association.

The cutthroat hospitality industry is always in search of new ways to cater to younger, more tech-savvy consumers and travelers—especially since less than 4 percent of North Americans cruise each year—and the Ocean Medallion from Princess Cruises, which provides personalization through capabilities like streaming analytics, contextual awareness and machine learning, proves that positioning themselves with digital natives is the way the go.

Gordon Ho, senior vice president and head of global marketing for Princess Cruises, joined [a]listdaily to share how they are raising awareness of cruising and tapping into travelers with technology.


How is Princess Cruises catering to maturing millennial travelers who have common misconceptions about cruises? What is your marketing strategy toward this demographic?

The most influential way to convert someone to try a cruise is through word-of-mouth. We work with a variety of influencers, mostly new to cruise, to tell the story authentically and to their trusted audience—such as our work with Cat Greenleaf from New York’s The Stoop for a full series in Cat’s First Cruise.

Carnival Cruise Line also has been using Instagram influencer Zach King with a number of new 360-degree experiences. What is Princess Cruises doing with influencers today? How do you gauge the success of your influencer activations?

We value influencer partnerships as a way to introduce new cruisers to the authentic cruise experience. We work with a diverse group of influencers year-round, including YouTube creators, Instagrammers and bloggers. For example, we recently wrapped a series of Instagram takeovers with notable foodies, including Recipe Girl and Let Me Eat Cake, that showcased must-try dishes both onboard, and in the destinations we sail. We measure the success of our influencer activations through lift in brand awareness and sentiment, website referrals and social engagements. And our favorite measure of success is when a guest books a Princess vacation after seeing her favorite blogger’s adventures on a cruise. And, we know it’s working as referrals and word-of-mouth continue to be the top source for driving new to cruise.

How are you marketing to combat the recent downward trend in attracting new-to-cruise guests on their first vacation at sea?     

I would disagree that there’s a downward trend; our data supports that cruising continues to be the fastest-growing vacation category globally, and new-to-cruise is a big reason for this growth. Again, I think the best way to drive first timers is through positive stories through trusted sources. For example, we know that people want to spend more time experiencing the local cultures, people and cuisines of the ports we visit—so we launched ‘More Ashore’ where we stay later in ports (at least till 9 p.m.) or overnight across many destinations so that guests can experience what the port city has to offer. And with the launch of our Ocean Medallion platform, we can provide better personalized invitations to activities and shore excursions that they will love.

Princess Cruises announced a fourth ship to debut Medallion Class Ocean Vacations
Princess Cruises announced a fourth ship to debut Medallion Class Ocean Vacations

Do you believe cruising is growing faster than land-based vacations? If so, why?

Yes. A 2015 report from the United Nations World Travel Organization shows growth in the cruise market between 2004 and 2014 as percentage-wise the fastest growing segment of the global vacation industry, outpacing land-based vacations by 23 percent. In 2016, nearly 25 million people worldwide are expected to go on a cruise vacation. Why do I think it’s growing?  It’s easy—it’s a great value, and there’s variety and something for everyone. People don’t have a lot of time, but they want to see and do a lot; with cruising, they can visit many ports on one itinerary, sleeping while they get to the next port/adventure. Those traveling with family and friends can find something for everyone—someone wants to try local eats, but the family also has a picky eater—no worries. One person wants to relax and rejuvenate while another wants activities like entertainment, gambling, shopping—we have it all.

How are you bracing for the impact of virtual reality and “virtual tourism” potentially impacting business? On the flipside, how are you using the immersive technology for marketing purposes to connect with consumers?

Virtual reality is actually a great way to better sample cruising and to help debunk the myths of cruising by showing people what it’s really like onboard. That they won’t be bored, that there’s lots of open spaces and comfortable staterooms. We’re using drones, VR and 360-degree footage to showcase Princess moments of family, adventure, relaxation and more in key destinations around the world.

Looking at the current marketing technology landscape and all that is currently available, what sort of tech and services do you think marketers are lacking?

It’s not just about technology, because having the right tools and data won’t go far without the right people. The key is to have the right balance of resources so you’re always able to be continually testing, optimizing and learning.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

How Augmented Reality Is Driving Today’s Automotive Industry

We may not have flying cars yet, but the vehicle buying and manufacturing process is becoming the stuff of science fiction. Augmented and virtual reality are bringing the automotive showroom floor to consumers, visualizing concepts for engineers and training employees like never before.

Last year, BMW became the first car manufacturer to introduce a mixed reality system into vehicle development, devised entirely using components from the computer games industry (Unreal Engine 4). “Virtual reality applications are a good way of making our innovations something to experience and of illustrating our technology in clear terms. We use it both for our employees in training courses and for our customers at dealers,” Niklas Drechsler, who handles corporate and governmental affairs for BMW Group, told [a]listdaily.

Volvo’s partnership with HoloLens is a strategic move that introduces emerging technology into the manufacturing and purchasing journey. “Brands need to do more than just be at the forefront. We, as creators, need to make good experiences and initiatives—period,” Bruno Renhult, Volvo’s senior manager of artificial reality, told [a]listdaily.

If you’re not looking forward to spending days off work to visit multiple dealers or buy online and hope for the best, adding AR/VR to the mix can be a welcome change in the buying journey.

US car dealers spend $2.75 billion annually on interest to keep new vehicles on their lots, per Bloombergso allowing consumers to visualize different models and options is not only forward-thinking, but practical. Gartner believes that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality due its ability to help visualize purchases.

BMW, for example, launched a visualization tool on Google Play that allows users to explore different options on its latest models. Hyundai created an augmented reality app that acts as a user’s manual—identifying components of the vehicle and instructing the user on how to perform maintenance. Mercedes-Benz even offers a rescue assist app that tells first responders about the vehicle—especially where it is safe or not safe to cut.

An October study says that the automotive AR market will grow steadily at a compound annual growth rate of almost 18 percent by 2020. This may be attributed to an increased use of heads-up display (HUD) in a variety of vehicles. An August report by ABI Research indicates that by 2025, more than 15 million AR HUDs will ship, with more than 11 million to be embedded solutions.

Car manufacturers are increasingly using AR and VR muscle for training and development, and the technology will not be driving into the sunset anytime soon.

Unity CMO Discusses Power Behind Gaming Success

The four hallmarks of Unity 5 include increased emphasis on graphics, quality and stability, efficiency, and platform growth. The company made some major strides towards its goals of democratizing development, solving hard problems, and enabling success for developers over the past year, as shown by Unity’s CEO John Riccitiello (pictured above) at the company’s GDC presentation keynote. Riccitiello stated that 38 percent of the top 1,000 mobile games around the world were developed using Unity, up 34 percent from 2015. Unity games were downloaded 16 billion times in 2016, showing a 31 percent growth from the previous year. Lastly, Unity games were installed onto 2.6 billion unique devices, which is two billion more than 2015.

Things are looking bright for the game development technology company, especially given its partnership with Facebook to help build a computer gaming presence on the social platform. Facebook announced that it will be including a digital store in its Gameroom platform so that a targeted audience can purchase games directly. The company also further emphasized its commitment to expanding its platform support, specifically in VR, by officially including Google Daydream and Cardboard into its development suite. Additionally, the company will be helping to bring Western games into the massive, but difficult to enter, Chinese market through a partnership with Xiaomi, which was announced during the keynote.

Clive Downie, chief marketing officer at Unity Technologies, spoke to [a]listdaily at GDC to talk about some of the company’s exciting endeavors and how it continues to grow. He said that, “Unity is only as awesome as the people who use it. That is the God’s honest truth, and that is the power that Unity has.” That power shows across numerous platforms that include mobile, VR, PC and console gaming.

Clive Downie, chief marketing officer, Unity Technologies
Clive Downie, chief marketing officer, Unity Technologies

How do you achieve your goals, particularly in the areas of graphics, stability and performance, on the notoriously fragmented Android market?

By working from top to bottom with all of the incumbents you need to in order to understand the majority of challenges. Chip manufacturers, handset manufacturers and the OS developers. You need a multidimensional partnership with all of those three to ensure that you understand the stack rank of challenges and how they impact the developer audience.

The second thing you do is invest in it. There isn’t an easy path. You have to invest in the best engineers tackling the problems, and have lots of them. We’ve invested in our engineering teams substantially over the Unity 5 cycle, in all areas. You use a combination of those two strategies. It’s not magic, it’s just hard work.

Another thing that augments those two is our Unity analytics solution. If you enable Unity analytics and hardware intelligence in your product, we’re able to see the performance of your game on the widest range of hardware. We can use that to pinpoint the challenges that exist and go after them.

Unity presented impressive growth numbers for the past year. What is the approach toward further growing that success?

One of the things that we didn’t touch today [at the keynote] was that we have a lot of 2D and mobile technology in development. When I think about how we go about growing our share, I think it’s in continuing to make great technology that makes making games on mobile easier. Also, I think there’s going to be ongoing continued adoption of Unity by the mobile developer ecosystem because they realize that there’s proof that making games on Unity and launching them on mobile leads to success. I think we’ll see continued organic growth that is accelerated by some of the new technologies we’re making for mobile.

How do you think mobile VR will grow, and is there a competitive difference between the Google Daydream platform and the Samsung Gear VR, backed by Oculus?

I believe in mobile VR, and I think it will be continue to be adopted. Like any platform, it needs great content to grow. I’ve played a lot of the Daydream products, desperately hoping for a killer app. It’s a personal opinion, but I don’t think there is one yet. However, I know that Google has invested in partnering with content creators and there’s a lot that’s in production. So, I’m hopeful that we’ll see killer apps and content come out. That, plus the addition of Daydream hardware from different vendors is going increase the accessibility. So, 2018 is going to be an interesting year for Daydream.

Samsung and Gear VR were pioneers in that area. They have a good position and foundation to work off of. I think they faltered somewhat with the Galaxy Note 7’s battery challenges, but they’ve picked themselves up well and it appears that they’ve solved them. So, I think they’ll capitalize on their Gear VR head start and will also continue to grow as good content comes in. We’re seeing a lot of people come in to develop for mobile VR across the Unity ecosystem. There’s a sign there that content is coming, and content is king. So, as content comes in, both Daydream and Gear VR are going to grow.

How did the partnership with Xiaomi come together?

We have a really good country team in China, all the way from the leadership to the marketing and ad team. They fostered relationships with the key partners in China. We talked to Xiaomi and understood their aspirations and they understood ours. It felt like there was an opportunity for us to do something exciting for developers, so we did. It’s very exciting, and we’ll see what comes from that, but I think it will only be good things for Western developers.

Many people probably still relate Facebook games to the Flash games of the past. What would you say Facebook gaming is now?

I think what Facebook gaming now is the ability for you to take your PC executable product and put it in front of Facebook’s audience in a targeted way through its Gameroom product. This isn’t the Flash game past of Unity on Facebook. These are PC executable, standalone products that Facebook will distribute into its audience through Gameroom. It’s a way for developers to take sophisticated PC products and get them in front of a very scaled audience in a targeted way.

What do you think will be the biggest things consumers and marketers have to look forward to in gaming in 2017?

I think consumers can look forward to killer apps coming to mobile VR. Every platform goes through an early moment where the pioneers come in to experiment and learn, then make the next generation of content, which is supremely polished and immersive. They can also look forward to a richness in graphics and therefore a new kind of experience that hasn’t been seen on mobile. Mobile has generally been about one-and-a-half or two cycles behind consoles in terms of visuals, but it’s catching up. That means that customers will have a new type of immersion on mobile.

The PC gaming market is blossoming because of indie game developers. The experimentation happening on PC and the new kinds of games, both with business models and mechanics, is really where innovation is happening. I think it’s going to be another great year for PC gamers.

Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aimé Optimistic Switch Demand Will Be Met

Nintendo launches its $300 Switch hybrid console/tablet on March 3 and gamers around the globe are excited about at least one launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo finds itself in the challenging position of trying to stay relevant in the console wars at a time when PC and mobile gaming (including Nintendo games co-published by DeNA) dominate the landscape, while Sony holds an insurmountable lead with PlayStation 4.

Nintendo’s strategy of diversifying with its Nintendo 2DS/3DS business and entry into the mobile games business with titles like Pokémon GO, Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes means that the company doesn’t need to replicate the Wii’s mainstream success to continue developing hardware and publishing games.

Reggie Fils-Aimé, president and CEO of Nintendo of America, joined [a]listdaily to talk about the Nintendo Switch and the evolution of the company that introduced Mario to the world in this exclusive interview.

What were some of the lessons learned from Wii U and Nintendo 2DS/3DS that have been applied to Nintendo Switch?

Our goal with any console launch is to deliver an entirely new game experience for players. With a platform like Wii, the appeal was obvious. You move the controller like you would a tennis racquet, or a sword, and the payoff is instant. With Wii U, the value of a second screen in gameplay was not instantly recognized, and often problematic for developers to fully take advantage of in terms of what the system could do. However, with Nintendo Switch, the unique appeal of our ‘anywhere, anytime, anyway’ approach is readily apparent. So we think consumers will get the appeal right away, and developers will embrace how it can bring their ideas to life. The concept of ‘constant engagement’ was also built into our Nintendo Switch planning. You’ll be seeing this in a number of ways, but most importantly to gamers, it means a steady flow of big first-and-third-party franchises becoming available to play on the system in 2017. These games will launch starting on March 3 alongside the Nintendo Switch hardware and will continue through the holiday.

Many gamers are familiar with the Nintendo Wii, which crossed many generations of gamers and introduced many new and older audiences to gaming. How do you see Switch connecting with this broad audience?

The clearest early example of this at launch is the game 1-2 Switch. It contains more than two dozen activities like quick draw, sword fighting, copy dance and one called ‘Ball Count,’ which takes real advantage of the advanced HD Rumble feature of the Joy Con controller. This game is going to resonate with anyone who played Wii Sports—or for that matter, even if you didn’t. The difference, of course, is this. With Wii, you could invite your aunts and uncles and grandparents to join in the fun when they were over to your house. But with Nintendo Switch, you can take that multiplayer fun to them, wherever they are, due to the portability of the system. So the opportunities to experience a new kind of gaming fun are dramatically increased.

Nintendo is also now reaching a broader mobile audience through mobile games like Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes (and the upcoming Animal Crossing). How do you see those games introducing new consumers to these characters and potentially driving them to Switch without cannibalizing the console audience?

Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aimé

Well, I don’t have to answer this hypothetically—I can simply point to what’s already happening. Last summer, something called Pokémon GO exploded into pop culture. Of course, veteran Pokémon fans were quick to begin playing. But with over a half billion downloads globally in just the first couple of months, it’s obvious that a lot of those new players didn’t know a Pikachu from a Charmander. For them, everything about Pokémon was new. We suddenly started seeing sales for legacy Pokémon titles begin to spike. And then, when Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon launched, they became the fastest-selling Pokémon titles ever, and the fastest-selling games of any kind in the history of Nintendo 3DS. In the last quarter of 2016, here in America, we sold more games for Nintendo 3DS than any other quarter in its five years on the market. And the impact carried over to Nintendo 3DS hardware, too. Six million more systems sold at the end of 2016 than during the same period a year before. In the US, year-on-year sales of Nintendo 3DS hardware increased for seven consecutive months. So to us, it’s clear that our strategy of using mobile titles to build interest in our dedicated platforms certainly can work. In fact, it is working.

Creatively, what has the new gaming audience on smartphones and tablets opened up for Nintendo developers as they work on Switch titles?

A typical Mario or Zelda game can literally eat up hours of your attention during a sitting. But sometimes everyday life gets in the way, and you can’t always play the games you want to play in long uninterrupted stretches. What the mobile space has proved is that there’s a huge audience for ‘bite-sized’ games that fit into a busy schedule. So in a sense, this is a liberating experience for developers, including those working on an advanced platform like Nintendo Switch. And you can see evidence of that with 1-2 Switch. It applies a bite-sized approach to local multiplayer entertainment. You can play for a very short amount of time . . . and either demand a rematch, or turn the Joy Con controllers over to someone else to take a turn.

Can you explain how Shigeru Miyamoto was involved in the development of this console and its games, and what he brings to the table?

At our global simulcast unveiling of Nintendo Switch last month, you saw many new developers introduced. They have been with Nintendo for many years, but maybe they weren’t as well known to the public as Mr. Miyamoto. They included the overall producer and director for the platform and the lead directors for individual games. So they were the key developers that Nintendo put center stage to explain the Nintendo Switch, and to showcase their game creations that bring it to life. Mr. Miyamoto holds the title of Creative Fellow for all of Nintendo. He is central to Nintendo Switch in terms of advising the developers that were featured in the global simulcast, and his decades of gaming experience is shared with all of those carrying the torch forward for Nintendo when it comes to the Nintendo Switch launch.

Some mini-games within 1-2 Switch don’t even use the screen to play. Can you explain what Switch has opened up in terms of new ways to interact, especially with family friendly multiplayer?

Our first home system ever, the Nintendo Entertainment System, came packaged with two controllers. That’s the same thing with Nintendo Switch. People having fun together is part of our DNA. But that group fun always occurred the same way—with multiple players looking at a common screen.

NES Classic Edition remains very hard to find at retail today. How challenging will it be for gamers to actually find a Switch at retail this year?

Well, the market will decide that answer in the short term. We hope it’s very popular. But the fact that Nintendo Switch arrives in March . . . rather than a typical Thanksgiving launch window . . . means that many of the first-year purchases will occur over the course of many months, rather than just several weeks. So we’re optimistic we’ll meet demand.

Snapchat Lens Games Take Marketing To A New Level

Snapchat lenses are a proven way for users to literally become “the face” of a marketing campaign thanks to augmented reality, but the social king of selfies is taking it a step further by making filters into a game.

In November, Snapchat introduced World Lenses—a way to add virtual elements to a user’s environment such as sparkles, colors, a virtual flashlight and clouds puking rainbows. Perhaps inspired by the success of Pokémon GO (and its many business partnerships), this update laid the groundwork for what would become playable lenses.

Snapchat's new "Princess and Queen" lens upgrade game (Source: Social Media Today)
Snapchat’s new “Princess and Queen” lens upgrade game (Source: Social Media Today)

The games kicked off with a sponsored Kraft Macaroni and Cheese filter in December that challenged users to catch animated noodles in their mouth. Shortly thereafter, Snapchatters got into the holiday spirit with Santa’s Helper—a game that superimposed the user’s face onto an elf that had to be navigated down a snowy mountain. While the holiday game wasn’t sponsored, it certainly inspired users to share both activations online, and not just on Snapchat. YouTube screen captures and Twitter screenshots began to appear as well, ensuring that nobody’s friends missed out on the goofy antics.

Most recently, a new game has surfaced on Snapchat within its “Princess and Queen” lens. Now when a user selects the lens, a prompt appears inviting them to “double tap to upgrade.” Doing so changes the camera to outward view and collectible gems appear in the environment, similar to Pokémon GOCollecting all five gems unlocks a second version of the “Princess and Queen” selfie filter and demonstrates the possibilities of AR in the platform.

Over the past year, marketers have created innovative ways to engage Snapchat fans through playable games like Gatorade’s Serena Williams Match Point and Under Armour’s It Comes From Below. Endemic brands like Microsoft and Activision have mastered the art of the sponsored Snapchat lens, transforming users into characters from the latest triple-A games. The popularity of both game-inspired lenses and playable ads shows that Snapchat users welcome the idea of these interactive experiences.

The photo-sharing “ghost” attracts a young, active fan base of 100 million users who watch over 10 billion videos per day. Rebranded as Snap Inc., the camera company will soon be offering shares—so it has been hard at work proving value to potential investors through new ad offerings and original content.

Sponsored lens games could potentially be paired with geographical locations (such as retailers) or be triggered by Snapchat’s new image-recognition-triggered ad offerings for a fun, shareable experience.

Now that Snapchat Spectacles are available for purchase online, the timing is perfect for brands to create interactive, first-person lens games for mass consumption and sharing. While Snapchat’s first few games are simple, they fit right into the raw and wacky stories that the platform is famous for.