Let’s Talk Shopping: ShopChat, The First Mobile Shopping Keyboard

I’m not what you’d call a “girly” girl, but sometimes you’ve just got to text your friend, “OMG LOOK AT THESE SHOES!” While the brands we talk about in private chat conversations may be great news for marketers, it’s only helpful if there is some way to track it. Enter ShopChat—a new chat commerce app that not only makes it easier to discover and share product ideas with friends, but finally offers those “dark” metrics that marketers have so desperately craved.

ShopChat is an app that works inside existing messaging platforms so that consumers don’t have to change their favorite methods of chatting. Think of it as a kind of Pinterest, but in a private setting like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line or wherever you’d already be hanging out. The app simply inserts images and links from brand partners like Sephora, Guess and Foot Locker that users can browse, share and react to. (Because OMG, shoes.)

“We started as a platform around dark social—that is, an easy way for people to share products directly via chat,” Zephrin Lasker, CEO and co-founder of ShopChat told [a]listdaily. “We are planning new features that will allow people to publish those shares and likes to their social graph, but they will also have the option to keep these shares private and dark. This makes sense, as some items people want to share with their larger community and some are well, private. So basically, ShopChat is the first platform that originated around dark social and is building on that power to evolve into something broader.”

Zephron Lasker, CEO and co-founder of ShopChat
Zephrin Lasker, CEO and co-founder of ShopChat

In a report titled “The Dark Side of Mobile Sharing,” enterprise advertising platform, RadiumOne says that a whopping 84 percent of worldwide shares are dark—that is, made in private conversation. Using ShopChat allows brands to track anonymous data like which items were shared and on which messenger, without saving any text messages—tracking only the brand images, themselves. Users are able to “like” and adorn these images with a number of emoji—a feature that more than 50 percent of users take advantage of, Lasker said, adding that the app has become a form of self-expression.

The US beta has drawn over 100,000 users to date and its demographic is primarily females under the age of 24. Right now, the app features a handful of brand partners but users are able to request brands to be added. Beta users are sharing products at a current rate of 32 percent on average. I wasn’t kidding about the shoes, either—Lasker told us that the top three most-shared products to date have been shoes, makeup and hoodies.

As a serial entrepreneur with a background in research and development, Lasker saw a need to bridge the gap between private conversations and brand awareness. The company is made up of only six people, but their idea has caught the attention (and checkbooks) of angel investors who see tremendous potential for consumers and brands alike. The company’s biggest investor is online retail giant, Rakuten—so it’s pretty safe to say that a ton of products will be available for sharing in the near future.

Lasker explained that ShopChat appeals to the “mouth of the funnel” in a buyer’s journey. It’s a discovery tool more than it is a purchasing tool, he explained, although users are able to follow associated links to the product or brand page from inside their messages. In the future, the company hopes to offer direct in-app purchasing, as well as conversion tracking for brands. While consumers who know what they want go to a site like Amazon, these same users browse and share ideas the rest of the time . . . and that’s where ShopChat comes in handy.

“We will be doing co-marketing with brands,” Lasker explained. “For instance, they might launch a new product or offering and we will sneak preview it to our users (especially those we know to have an affinity for the brand). In addition, brands will also have the ability to drive people to their page/section on ShopChat which helps drive exposure for ShopChat and the brand. We also track every share and like down to the brand and product—so that’s very useful for brands.”

In a recent study, 83 percent of women agreed that they “couldn’t get nearly as much accomplished in life” without a smartphone and 80 percent seek peer opinions before making a purchase. Recent tests of Facebook chatbots revealed that 70 percent of requests could not be fulfilled without human intervention. ShopChat hopes to bypass the middle man, so the speak, by just letting friends and family do the talking. ShopChat is available now in the US App Store, with Android and additional regions being added in the near future.

How The ‘Incorporated’ VR Promotion Blended Reality With The Virtual

The Syfy show Incorporated is a thriller set in the year 2074, where corporations have unlimited power. The series follows a young executive named Ben Larson (played by Sean Teale), who must infiltrate this dangerous world by climbing the corporate ladder to save the love of his life. In doing so, he must compromise his position on the entire corporate system.

Aruna Inversin, creative director and visual effects supervisor of virtual/augmented reality, Digital Domain
Aruna Inversin, creative director and visual effects supervisor of virtual/augmented reality, Digital Domain

The show premiered last fall, and its early promotion included a pop-up VR experience developed by Digital Domain that was shown at the San Diego Comic Con. Aruna Inversin, the creative director and visual effects supervisor of virtual/augmented reality at Digital Domain, spoke about the technical details of the Incorporated VR experience, called Welcome to the Quiet Room, at the Game Developers Conference. Inversin also sat down with [a]listdaily at the conference to discuss how Syfy wanted to create a memorable activation that would leave people wanting more.

Welcome to the Quiet Room involves a soundproofed room where the corporation test recording equipment along with its interrogation techniques. Dennis Haysbert, who plays Julian Morse on the show, interrogates the user (who is tied to a chair) with various torture devices. In the real-life activation, users were asked to keep their hands behind their backs, leaving them free to look around, but limiting their movement.

“The project takes place in a room and in real-time using the HTC Vive and we shot it with plate photography,” said Inversin, explaining how the VR experience was made. “We went on location and shot Dennis Haysbert live on a green screen stage and then used our internal system to make a narrative in the real-time space. You’re actually watching the performance, but you have the position of ability to move your head. I don’t think anybody has done it to the extent that we have yet—putting in moving plate photography into a real-time environment. Most of the time, I think it has been about capturing a 360 video and putting it in a sphere. This is a more game-centric approach toward building a narrative.”

Inversin said that fans were ecstatic about the experience. “We were able to make magic and pull the wool over people’s eyes, in a sense,” he said. “It was a defining project in the sense that not a lot of people have been able to overcome using live-action photography, and we did this on a small budget and time frame. I think people liked it, but I wish more people had been able to see it.

According to Inversin, the activation was held at a Hard Rock Café, where Syfy set up a booth near the convention. As a result, there wasn’t as much foot traffic as they would have gotten if they had a show floor presence. However, there was significant word-of-mouth promotion, which kept the lines going down the block.

A consumer-facing experience, in the form of a downloadable game on Steam, was discussed but never went forward because of costs. But Inversin is fine with that, stating: “It was always meant to be an activation that people went to in order to experience it.” However, Digital Domain did make a 360-degree video version of the experience for YouTube and Facebook when the series premiered. Unlike the VR activation, people can see the experience but can’t interact by moving their heads around.


When asked why Syfy decided on a pop-up activation instead of appealing to the largest group from the start with a video, Inversin explained that “often, when we have clients come in and they talk about what they want in a VR experience, they usually go to their staples, like a 360 video to put on YouTube. We’ve done that in the past, but it’s not pushing the envelope of VR forward.”

He continued by stating that, “the future of VR isn’t necessarily with monoscopic video, even though I think there might be a need for it for broadcasts and livestreams. In terms of the interactive narrative and storytelling, you’ll get a much more impactful presence on the consumer marketplace with positional tracking. Even the ability to move your head just an inch gives you that nuance like you’re there.”

Inversin also stated that Syfy had partnered with HTC to develop the experience for the Vive, so it didn’t make much sense to settle for a 360 video. “We wanted to cater to the hardcore people who understood the technology,” he said.

We asked Inversin about the relationship between VR and actual reality, since the activation included a real-life recreation of the quiet room, and participants make an agreement with the presenter to keep their hands behind their backs. He said that being in a real-life space “helps to get your mind used to those textures in real life. We did a pretty good mimicry of that room, so when you put on the headset it still looks like you’re in the same place. We worked regularly with the set crew and we built our room based on their dimensions and used the same textures for the soundproofed walls. So, I think it makes a big impact and it gets you prepped for the experience.”

In discussing whether a home experience might have had the same impact, Inversin said: “I don’t think so. One of the reasons why is because, at a pop-up activation like that, you have control over the viewing environment. With VR, you have no control over what the user does and sees. So, if we were to release it as a kind of stand-alone experience, you would be able to see the gags of how we did it right away.

The user would be able to get up, walk around, and see the magic behind the trick, which is what we were trying to prevent. In the experience, in addition to having users keep their hands behind their backs, we had a ‘safe zone.’ If the user got out of that safe zone to peek around, we made some post-processing effects to make it nauseating. Your vision gets wavy, as if you were drugged, which helps steer the person back into the safe zone of seeing everything clearly. That’s part of the experience too, because you’ve been drugged when Dennis Haysbert interrogates you.”

With television shows such as Westworld and movies such as John Wick 2, we’re seeing an increased use of VR as a part of their promotion. We asked Inversin for his thoughts about Hollywood’s increased use of VR.

“I think VR gives the user a chance to experience a world that you can’t do with a traditional film,” said Inversin. The mythology and richness of some of these movies makes you want to see another one, or get inside the character’s head to see how that world ticks. Something like that can only be done in VR, where the users create their own narrative.

John Wick and Westworld put you into these worlds that are engaging and let the users define that. It’s another step forward into tying VR into the traditional film and television schedule. There is a marketing push that will keep engagement going in between films, like with the game Star Wars Battlefront. People are engaging with that world while the movies are still in production. But the caveat is that if it’s all game-based graphics, then it’s not as photorealistic like the film. With Incorporated, we were trying to create a live-action VR experience that’s a narrative but isn’t part of the show.”

Since the line that separates a VR promotion from a video game is becoming increasingly blurred (or in the case of John Wick, non-existent), we asked Inversin if he thought increased interactivity would be part of future promotions—beyond users moving their heads around.

“With every increase in interactivity, you have to have a failsafe,” Inversin said. “What if they don’t follow your rules? What if they decide to jump out a window or go in a different direction? A lot of traditional directors want to do a narrative that’s directable but not necessarily interactive. They like the VR immersion but they want people to follow their vision.” The resulting compromise is a 360-degree video.

“There also needs to be a specific beginning and end to the experience with a specific time spent with it,” Inversin continued. “A lot of these activations need to get people in and out. But as consumers become more knowledgeable, they’ll want to do more, like move their heads around. So, I think that’s the next big step—positional narrative. That hasn’t really been done before except with games.”

Disney’s Magical ‘Beauty And The Beast’ Marketing

It’s a tale as old as time—consumers are drawn to brands that make them feel nostalgic, and Disney is the master of childhood memories. Beauty and the Beast has been re-imagined in live action and will dance its way to the big screen this weekend alongside a massive marketing effort. The film, starring Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) and Luke Evans (The Hobbit) retells the 1991 animated classic with a few creative changes and additional songs.

Excited fans can spread the magic with the help of special iMessage stickers as well as exclusive Twitter stickers that can be added to photos. All-new merchandise from the live-action adaptation is already available, from little girls’ dresses to a limited edition set of fine china (yes, that includes Mrs. Potts and her son, Chip).

The official social accounts have been hard at work spreading the hype, especially on Valentine’s Day, with the official Twitter account rewarding lucky hashtag users with rose deliveries and Luke Evans (who plays Gaston) answering fan questions from the set.

While Beauty and the Beast isn’t the first of Disney’s animated films to be adapted into live-action, it was the first at many things, including the first animated film to earn $100 million in the US box office, the first animated film nominated for three “Best Song” Academy Awards and the first Disney film adapted for Broadway. For Disney fans, the film holds a dear place in their hearts—a feeling that can be shared with the next generation. Live action movies are enjoyed across generations, bridging the gap between fans old and new.

Thanks to the success of previously reimagined films like 101 DalmatiansThe Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland, other films are reportedly in the works including The Sword in the StonePeter Pan, Alladin and Mulan.

Miami Heat And Misfits Find Synergy Between Basketball And ESports

The Miami Heat was the second NBA team to go all-in with eSports. After the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Team Dignitas and Apex, the Heat invested in Misfits. It just so happened that the first match of the Heroes of the Storm season was Misfits vs. Dignitas, so both NBA teams and both eSports teams extended the rivalry to include a Heat vs. Sixers match-up in the digital world. Fast forward to the NBA season, when the Heat and Sixers played on the hardwood, their eSports counterparts drummed up support for each team with their gaming audiences.

These are the types of synergies that marrying traditional sports with eSports open up for both parties, as well as basketball and eSports fans, according to Michael McCullough, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Heat.

“We had been watching the eSports space for a while like everyone else and we noticed some of the other moves teams and owners were taking,” McCullough said. “The opportunity was the fact that the eSports audience is, for the most part, younger and digital and social media savvy. We were interested in finding out if there was any crossover with their audience and ours, and how we could access that youthfulness for the benefit of the Miami Heat. We’ve been pleasantly surprised on both fronts since engaging with Misfits.”

McCullough has seen Misfit fans who are Heat fans and are excited they have an NBA team they can root for, and Heat fans who are eSports fans come to the forefront. “We’ve seen potential business partners who are either involved in the eSports world or want to be involved and are excited we partnered with Misfits and are looking to do things with both of us,” said McCullough. “That’s been the most eye-opening thing in this experience so far. We didn’t expect that.”

Ben Spoont, CEO of Misfits, told [a]listdaily that the Heat are handling the sponsorships, sales and activation and marketing for the team directly. He added that one benefit of having the Heat handle that business is that brands that are non-endemics to eSports are endemic to basketball. The professional service an NBA team can provide is unparalleled.

“One of the incredible things about this partnership is that we’re working with key stakeholders,” Spoont said. “Anything that touches off-the-court basketball operations or logos comes under Michael. We talk two or three times a week. Having that direct interaction with the Heat folks at a high level is incredible.”

McCullough said that when this Misfits partnership first launched, all of the Heat avatars were changed to Misfits.

“We have players wearing Misfits gear, we’re always chatting on Heat properties about Misfits, and we’re trying to make that connection to the broad audience,” McCullough said. “This connection can even be seen in the logo design. If you take a close look at the Misfits redesign, the ‘T’ has a little flame from the Heat logo. A lot of people don’t catch it, but it’s a nice little Easter Egg to make that connection.”

McCullough said the Heat are creating an entire line of Misfits clothing by its in-house creative team for the Heat-specific brand Court Culture, which is the number two brand at all Heat stores. “It’s very localized and we can react to things quickly on the court with player-specific shirts that resonate with fans,” he said. “I just saw a bunch of items in the Misfits line. We’re implementing the same process we use for Court Culture, where it’s all locally designed and created and we have local distribution through the Heat store channel. We’re going full out with this, and I think there will be crossover because the gear looks cool and the logo looks fantastic. We’ll continue to make the connection and put it on our talent and in our Heat environment.”

Spoont said having the Heat on board helps Misfits look at expansion. “We’ve always been very aggressive in expansion, acquiring Team SoloMid’s CS:GO team and Super Smash Bros. player Larry Lurr,” he said. “We’re poised and ready to go wherever we want. We can write our own way. The Heat have provided a tremendous brand lift and cache. It’s the Miami Heat, not just the owners. This is the basketball team deeply integrating and involving themselves in the business of eSports.”

The Heat have 22 million followers on social media and the bulk of that audience doesn’t live in the US. “The global aspect of eSports makes a lot of sense and gives us the opportunity to grow our global brand through Misfits,” McCullough said. “We’re looking to continue to grow our domestic and global brand and take advantage of the followers we have.”

How Olay Is Using AI To Make Beauty Recommendations

Beauty may only be skin deep, but that doesn’t mean you have to be confused when trying to care for that skin. Olay is helping consumers learn which products are best for them with a new AI-powered tool called Olay Skin Advisor. The first deep learning application in the beauty industry, Olay Skin Advisor is a web-based experience that uses selfies and customer concerns to recommend a personalized skin care regimen.

The beauty industry is an early adopter of consumer technology, utilizing augmented and virtual reality to help consumers visualize the latest trends—but Olay has always been ahead of the curve and it revealed the AI tool during Mobile World Congress 2017.

Olay Skin Advisor was inspired by decades of research into skin measurements and image analysis,” Dr. Frauke Neuser, Olay principal scientist told [a]lisdaily. “Many people don’t realize that it was Olay scientists who developed the technology behind the portable facial imaging systems most commonly found today in department stores and dermatologist offices. These systems are great tools to provide a personalized skin analysis—but the technology behind it is linked to feature-based image analysis and is therefore hardware based. In order to make this type of consultation mobile and available to many more women, we knew we had to come up with a different, ‘smarter’ approach. AI was the perfect fit to provide an extremely accurate, yet educational and engaging user experience.”

Users who visit the Olay Skin Advisor website from any smartphone or tablet are prompted to answer a few questions about their existing skin regimen, age and areas of concern such as wrinkles, dark spots, acne, etc. After snapping a selfie, the tool identifies the user’s “skin age,” the best skin areas and the areas that need the most improvement. The program learns from “hundreds of thousands of selfies” in its database—but don’t worry, the company won’t hold your no makeup selfie for ransom.

“The first selfies originated from research specifically aimed to collect enough selfies to train Olay Skin Advisor’s VizIDTM deep learning algorithm,” explained Dr. Neuser. “Additional selfies are now coming in from the hundreds of thousands of women who have used Olay Skin Advisor to date. The images collected from each upload are used to make the tool ‘smarter with every use’ by strengthening the algorithm to analyze and identify each woman’s skin age even more accurately. These images will also be used in research over the next 10 years, to ultimately improve skin understanding and deep learning model development. No other personally identifiable information is stored with the images.”

Naturally, users will receive recommendations from Olay’s line of skin care products based on the AI’s analysis, along with instructions on how to apply, when and in which order. Consumers are shown pictures of these products along with descriptions, reviews and a link to buy. Club Olay members can save their recommendations and newcomers quickly sign up for free when prompted.

I can say from experience that the beauty isle is downright saturated with skin care products, so having any idea where to start is extremely helpful.

“There are several advantages of using AI over a live consultant,” Dr. Neuser said. “One is accuracy, as Olay Skin Advisor uses AI to more precisely calculate the user’s skin age and pinpoint their best and improvement areas. Like a real-life beauty advisor, the more faces it sees, the more it will understand about skin, and the more it will be able to make the most personalized recommendations for skincare regimens. However, unlike a live consultant, AI is unbiased. In addition, Olay Skin Advisor can be used anywhere, anytime.”

‘Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days’ Celebrates Movie’s 25th Anniversary By Rewinding Time

Rez_Dogs_25AnniversaryAlthough Quentin Tarantino’s suspense action movie, Reservoir Dogs didn’t become a cult favorite until the director’s breakout success, Pulp Fiction, hit theaters two years later in 1994, the movie is seen today as a kind of masterpiece of cinema. The movie is beloved for a long list of reasons, including its nonlinear storytelling from multiple perspectives and flashbacks, where the story reveals itself over time. Then there’s the witty dialogue (marked by an explicit three-minute monologue about Madonna’s song, Like a Virgin at its start) and unforgettable performances by Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and Tim Roth. And yes, let’s not forget about the violence, which includes Mexican standoffs, a character bleeding out from a bullet wound throughout much of the film, and another who has a body part cut off while being tortured.

However, cult success doesn’t always translate into great video games, as demonstrated by ill-received PlayStation 2 era third-person shooter game based on Reservoir Dogs. But the Barcelona-based studio, Big Star Games—with members who have worked on blockbuster hits such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Payday, and Split/Second (along with the independently developed Biblical zombie beat-em-up comedy, Fist of Jesus)—is looking to change that up with Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days.

The game is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the movie by launching for the PC later this year with an Xbox One version to follow sometime after, and it has an unexpected twist: it’s neither a first- nor third-person shooter. Instead, it uses a top-down perspective, where players look down on the action and control Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White on a series of heists that precede the big jewelry store robbery depicted in the movie. Furthermore, the game plays with the movie’s sense of nonlinear time with the “Time Back” mechanic, which rewinds time to the start of the previous turn when the point-of-view switches to a different character. The new character is then tasked with changing the outcome before the time limit runs out. So, a character that initially gets gunned down may end up surviving without a scratch after his teammates make their moves.

Liam Patton, CEO of Big Star Games, sat down with [a]listdaily after a live demonstration of the game at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and said that making the game came from a tremendous love of the film. He then talked about making a tactical shooter based on the famous Lionsgate movie, with an emphasis on innovation to give gamers and fans a new experience.

What are the challenges of working with an IP as well-known as Reservoir Dogs?

It’s definitely not straightforward. We’ve spent many hours working with Lionsgate on a weekly basis. They’ve been super supportive, but the challenge is in not making a derivative story out of the game because there are rights that we need to look out for. So, we need to be super communicative with our licensor and be disciplined so that we don’t fall out of the legalities of the property. But it is a very positive challenge.

How do you keep a sense of freshness to a game based on such a popular movie?

What we always have in mind is: who is our target audience? Our audience could be a 20-year-old gamer or it could be a 40-year-old gamer, who both love the movie and playing with the six criminals who don’t know each other very well as they complete the missions that Joe Cabot is giving to them. Part of the freshness is through the art style, which is stylized with a touch of anime. We integrated a lot of the dialogue and the style that Tarantino put into Reservoir Dogs and I think the word “fuck” is in there about 85 times. These are not “white glove” criminals. These guys are rough. We use random heists in the Los Angeles area with scenarios from the movie. We keep things fresh through innovative gameplay, but we have all the atmosphere that you expect from Reservoir Dogs.

How will the movie’s signature dialogue be represented?

We have quotes from the movie, but we try not to force the dialogue into the game if it doesn’t make sense. But the characters bark to each other in character during each mission. They’re always arguing between themselves. Many of the movie’s situations will be reflected, but this is not a narrative game—it’s an action game with a strategic layer. Also, there are some surprise references to the movie, but even if you haven’t seen the movie, we believe you’ll still have a lot of fun.


How do you think fans will take to the styled characters, especially since they’ve gotten used to the looks of the actors?

We do not have the rights to the likenesses of the actors, but we’ve run through more than a hundred interviews showing the art style that was approved by Lionsgate, and it’s not a nuisance toward enjoying the game. Fans will understand that there are limits to everything, and they will definitely have fun playing with Mr. Blonde, Pink and Orange and their personalities. We’ll put their personalities into the dialogue and character skill sets. We try to be very close to the movie but there are limits that the fans will understand.

The previous attempt at a Reservoir Dogs game wasn’t received well. Do you think that there’s still a stigma against movie-inspired video games?

We are gamers, and we’ve played the Star Wars games along with Mad Max, which is a great example of a good game made out of a movie, in addition to Shadow of Mordor. There are very good games made from movies, but our approach has been to be gamers first. This is a game. This is an interactive experience where you can take control of your actions. This is not a passive consumption of content.

I cannot comment on other games or the previous game made from this property, but I can comment on our experience as a studio making games out of licenses. If you think specifically about your target user, you will be more successful than forcing several scenes from a movie together. Our first target for this product is gamers, who love and enjoy it. If you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll appreciate all the references, but you have to be a gamer first. That’s how we’ve approached the innovative gameplay with this product.

How are you getting the word out to gamers and movie fans about the game?

First, we’re doing interviews like this one. We also believe that this game will help YouTubers (influencers) enjoy the experience because the way you resolve the heists in the game is very unique. Every single game will play in a different way because of the layer of strategy. There’s no one single way of solving a level. We’ve seen people play for hours and hours and they’ve solved every single scene in different ways. So, we believe that YouTubers will brag about showing off their choreographic moves as they switch between characters to the solve levels. You could be cautious and go step-by-step or you can be very courageous. The game allows for a lot of showing off.

We also have a media plan in the works, and as an independent developer, we’ve reserved some money for that. Here at GDC, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, which will help us over the next few months. We’re also getting support from Lionsgate and their social networks as soon as we have more to show and get closer to the launch.

Lionsgate is very proud and happy with the product. They’ve been giving us a lot of support since we gave them to the concept a couple of years ago. They’ve remained a great partner, and as we get closer to launch, they’ll be supporting us with their channels to communicate that this product is out.

NRG ESports President Explains New Opportunities ESports Opens For City Tourism

Although it’s not officially a city, the District of Columbia is the first of what could be a new wave of local, city and state convention and tourism involvement in the burgeoning business of professional video gaming, commonly referred to as eSports. Events DC, which represents the US capital’s convention and sports authority, has officially stepped in to sponsor NRG ESports, an electronic sports team owned by NBA veterans such as Andy Miller.

While Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins are the more famous investors in NRG ESports, team president Brett Lautenbach told [a]listdaily that it was early investor Justin Siegel who made the introduction to DC. “We knew DC had interest in getting involved in eSports,” said Lautenbach. “They saw that the power of eSports was something to harness and there was a benefit to working together. Conversations moved very fast with the goal to help drive tourism interest into the DC area. There’s a lot of cool stuff we can do with them.”

Lautenbach explained how Washington, DC will have logos on the team jerseys, player streams and the NRG website. It will also serve as the host city for upcoming NRG boot camps to help players prepare for big competitions across games like OverwatchCounter-Strike: Global OffensiveHearthstoneSuper Smash Bros. and Rocket League. Local WNBA team, the Washington Mystics, will get a new $65 million 4,200-seat arena by late 2018, which will be wired for eSports as well as basketball. NRG ESports co-owner Andy Miller believes this sports and concert facility will also open up DC to future eSports events. Red Bull has hosted a couple of eSports events at local DC theaters over the past few years, but having a state-of-the-art arena certainly opens up more opportunities as leagues and tournament organizers like ESL, IEM, DreamHack and MLG look to expand.

We’ll see this trend more with new arenas outfitted with eSports in mind,”  Lautenbach said. “ESports has proven that it can fill arenas like Barclay’s Center, KeyArena, MSG and Staples Center by having the assets and facilities to engage the eSports fans,” Lautenbach said. “DC has its eyes set on hosting some major events, and hopefully our seven rosters of teams could be part of that.”

DC was also home to the first-ever White House Twitch livestreaming gaming event, which was organized by the Obama administration to educate gamers about health care reform. NRG ESports was part of that event, thanks to O’Neal’s connections. According to Lautenbach, it was there that Events DC was able to get to know NRG ESports better, stating that, “DC is looking at eSports and how to tackle that at every level because they see the massive amount of fans showing up at events like MLG Columbus and ESL One New York at Barclay’s Center.”

While no current NRG ESports team is based in DC, Lautenbach said that they’d love to send players there to practice and do boot camps. “When you’re a pro player at boot camp, you scrim for eight hours a day, but there has to be a moment when you walk away from the PC and do something else with your brain,” Lautenbach explained. “The ability to take in everything DC has to offer with its history is compelling.”

Lautenbach also sees the potential to have a gaming house in DC in the future. “We could have some players stationed there for a seasonal or year-round experience,” Lautenbach said. “I’m more fond of gaming facilities, where players can come and go for practices. I see that happening in the near future and it’s the obvious way for guys to interact.”

In addition to integrating DC across all of NRG ESports’ branding, the team’s video crews will shoot segments with players in the city to delve into its history. “We’ll raise awareness that DC is a great place to go,” Lautenbach said. “I’d be stunned if we didn’t see other cities jump into eSports. Teams and tournaments have so much to offer for the eSports community. Fans are excited and they’ll support any brand or organization that gets involved. We see this every time a new brand comes into the space. They’re welcomed by the fans.”

DC is the latest non-endemic to jump into eSports, but there are still a lot of brands sitting on the sideline.

“A lot of brands have jumped in and done amazing activations, but there are always parties that are a little hesitant,” said Lautenbach. “They should jump in now rather than later. ESports has been around a long time, but it’s still early days for these brands getting involved. It’s almost always about the community more than anything else. The only reason eSports is where it is today is because of those fans. They’re so rabid and dedicated at these eSports events. If you don’t see the value of that, I can’t convince you.”

PAX East: Reaching Fans With Creative VR, Gaming And Movie Experiences

PAX East is a bustling crowd of game developers, fans, online streamers and a whole lot of cosplay in Boston, inspiring creativity across the board. The annual gathering serves as a perfect opportunity for brands to reach the passionate gamer audience on a personal level. This year, the cosplay was on point, the reality was virtual and developers know that fans have a whole lot of fun watching games in addition to playing them.

Now Playing . . .

Immersing fans into the world of a franchise is why video games and movies make such great bedfellows. PAX is a gathering for fans and creators alike, so filmmakers took advantage of the event to keep their respective hype trains chugging along.

Transformers: Forged to Fight: “Autobots . . . roll out!” Hasbro’s iconic robot characters continue their never-ending war in the upcoming film, Transformers: The Last Knight, and the battle continues in a new mobile game this spring. Transformers: Forged to Fight is a free-to-play fighting RPG game for mobile devices by Kabam, a company known for other licensed titles from Marvel and Star Wars. A brand-new trailer was unveiled during PAX highlighting additional gameplay that got the internet talking and ready for the film that debuts this June.

Guardians of the Galaxy—The Telltale Series: A teaser trailer for Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy was revealed during the Game Awards three months ago, and new details have finally emerged at PAX East. The five-part series will feature a whole-new adventure for Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Drax and Groot, voiced by a cast of celebrated talent actors, including Nolan North (Uncharted) and Emily O’Brien (The Young and the Restless). Telltale hosted a panel on Friday to talk more about the series, creative process and more. The game will certainly help get fans excited for the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 when it hits theaters in May.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Assassin’s Creed: The game-inspired film starring Michael Fassbender leaped its way onto DVD and Blu-ray March 10, so Ubisoft brought some movie love to attendees of PAX East. A panel offered additional creative insight and a deleted scene was shown. Meanwhile, Ubisoft hosted several contests over the course of the event, along with interactive activities like a green screen and tons of movie props and costumes on display at the front of the convention hall. The publisher even hosted a blood drive for the Red Cross and rewarded those that participated, touting the Assassin’s Creed line, “your blood is not your own.”

Playing To The Audience

If Twitch and YouTube have taught us anything, it’s that video games can be a fascinating spectator pastime. Developers and forward-thinking brands are embracing this phenomenon and creating games that are as fun to watch as they are to play. PAX East saw some great examples of this concept, in which titles were developed from the ground up to include spectators in the experience. Of course, Twitch had an impressive presence at the show—livestreaming throughout the weekend, hosting competitions, partner meet-ups and offering a spacious lounge in which to take a load off.

The Darwin Project: Yo Dawg, we heard you liked games so we made a game out of watching people play a game about a game. Scavenger Studios unveiled The Darwin Project, a new title that has been described as “The Hunger Games meets Twitch.” Set in the Canadian Rockies in a world on the verge of another ice age, a group of inmates are thrust into a scientific experiment and TV show to see who can survive. In addition to the “players” who must gather resources, manage their stats and kill their opponents, the game’s “show director” acts as a sort of dungeon master who controls the action along with those watching the livestream. The result is a spectator-driven event with many parts to play.

“We wanted to create a game that heightened the tension and engaged players—and the spectators, in a new way,” Simon Darveau, co-founder of Scavengers Studios told IGN“Our unique gameplay dynamic and addition of a Show Director mode results in a battle royale game closer to the Hunger Games fantasy than ever before. With the show director and audience influencing the outcome, it goes well beyond what’s possible with AI alone.”

The Darwin Project will launch on Steam Greenlight sometime this fall.

Darwin Project

Bobby Throne Saves The World: From the minds who brought us Soda Drinker Pro comes a new challenge that seems more of an improv party game than a traditional one, but Snowrunner isn’t exactly known for its conformity. Bobby Throne Saves The World casts users in the role of a cult leader who must deliver a moving sermon—about coins, apparently—to whomever is watching. Although Twitch integration has been confirmed, no other details have yet emerged. Users will be scored based on things like body language and cadence. No release date has been announced yet.

“Virtual” Is Our Reality Now

The virtual reality gaming push is in full swing, and what better place to let fans try it out than at PAX? PlayStation was on hand with its latest PSVR offerings, including Ancient AmuletorPsychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin and Farpoint. Additionally, Owlchemy Labs brought its Adult Swim Rick and Morty VR game, Virtual Rick-ality to the attending mass of fans.

Hoping for a successful Kickstarter campaign to assure its completion, Starfighter, Inc. is described as a “hardcore space combat simulator set in the solar system 200 years in the future.” Developer Impeller Studios featured its creation inside the Kickstarter Castle, where a vision of VR multiplayer was described to would-be backers.

This is not even close to a full recap of the VR titles on display—a good sign that developers are confident about the platform.

PAX: A Place For Creators

Creativity can be seen anywhere you look at PAX East, not limited whatsoever to the world’s largest game publishers. The expo is also a welcome home to many indie developers, who received their own “mega-booths” to show off their wares. The aforementioned Kickstarter Castle allowed developers the rare opportunity to inspire backers in person, and Twitch nurtured its community of partners with a private lounge and meet-up. Cosplay contests were aplenty and publishers big and small could mingle, network and share ideas.

Less Trust, More IoT And Other Must-Read Marketing Stats

This week, it’s all about technology—what matters to marketers, consumers and retailers from smart watches to programmatic ad spending.

Getting Social

Programmatic advertising is at an all-time high, with more than half of marketers dedicating a majority of budgets to it, according to a new report by AdRoll. Seventy-seven percent of marketers surveyed ran programmatic ads on social media in 2016, while 53 percent did so on mobile and 37 percent ran programmatic ads in video. More than half—54 percent—reported paid social media to be the most successful channel for marketers to attract new customers, followed by organic social media (35 percent), and programmatic display advertising (32 percent).

Wearables Look To The Future

Are consumers worn out with wearable technology? Apple Watch shipments dropped a staggering 71 percent in the third quarter of 2016, while Microsoft killed the Band 2 and Jawbone reportedly halted production last year. While the current state of wearable tech looks bleak, AYTM Market Research suggests that these products will regain their popularity in about five years.

A poll of 1,000 US internet users ages 18 and older in February 2017 asked if they had ever purchased smart clothing or wearable devices. While nearly three-quarters had never purchased such an item, nearly half indicated that they indicated that they planned to in the next five years.

Twenty-six percent of those surveyed weren’t sure if they planned to do buy a wearable device or article of smart clothing, and another 27.6 percent said they were at least somewhat unlikely to within the next five years.


Trust No One

These days, the internet is an endless sea of conspiracy theorists, haters from all sides and blissfully unaware folks hitting the “share” button before actually reading, much less fact-checking an article. All this strife is making us all a bit jaded, but it’s especially troubling to women, according to a study by SheSpeaks. More than 80 percent of women surveyed claim to distrust the news media, citing “inadequate fact-checking” and “political bias” as the primary causes. Advertising didn’t fare any better, with 80 percent claiming they don’t trust ads, either, and 61 percent don’t trust brands to live up to their promises. Women were four times more likely to trust information from friends and family over advertising.

Internet Of Buying Things

The retail industry is preparing for the Internet of Things (IoT) in a big way, according to a study by Research Now and Qualtrics for Zebra Technologies. A global survey of 1,700 executives across multiple retail segments found that 67 percent have already implemented IoT capabilities in some form, while 96 percent said they are ready to make changes needed to adopt the technology. In-store tracking is an obvious and popular use for the technology, with 35 percent saying that they currently have the ability to know when specific customers are in their stores. Seventy-five said they plan to have that capability by 2021.

Seventy-eight percent of retail executives said integrating eCommerce and in-store experiences are important or critical to business, while 76 percent said the same about connecting the online activities of a customer with their in-store actions. More than a quarter (26 percent) said they plan to roll out an IoT initiative within the year.

Viacom Appoints New Paramount Network Marketing Chief; Rovio Founder Starts Kaiken Entertainment

Viacom continues to restructure its cable networks this week while Rovio’s former CEO starts a new entertainment studio. Here are some of the week’s most prominent job moves.

Niels Schuurmans, a Viacom veteran, has been named as the marketing chief for the Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT. As part of this role, Schuurmans will oversee the rebranding of Spike TV to the Paramount Network.

Additionally, Dario Spina was named chief marketing officer of Viacom Velocity, a division that creates marketing programs and content for advertisers.

Viacom is also continuing to consolidate its MTV and VH1 programming teams with the promotion of Lily Neumeyer to head of development for MTV and VH1. Neumeyer is charged with overseeing the development of unscripted programming for both networks.

MGM is also reportedly in talks with Viacom and Lionsgate Entertainment to acquire all of Epix, a premium cable network. Nothing is official yet, but the deal is could be valued between $1 billion and $2 billion.

Focus Features hired Dani Weinstein as its executive vice president of publicity. In this role, Weinstein will oversee all of the company’s theatrical publicity efforts.

Veteran film executive, Jennifer Peterson has joined 20th Century Fox as executive vice president of global theatrical publicity. Peterson previously worked at Lionsgate and oversaw the publicity campaigns for La La Land and all four Hunger Games movies. In this newly created position, she will lead the studio’s publicity team on a global basis. Her appointment begins on March 13.

Hershey Entertainment announced that it has hired Leslie Ferraro as its new vice president and chief marketing officer, filling a role that has been open since 2014.

Nickelodeon Group appointed Shelly Sumpter Gillyard to the role of executive VP of talent, music and events. Sumpter Gillyard has been with the company for 19 years, and will oversee talent relations across live television, music and live-action programming for all Nickelodeon brands in her new role.

The VR studio, Here Be Dragons (formerly known as VRSE.works), has brought on former Tumblr president, John Maloney as its new networks producer. Maloney will be tasked with

Similarly, the virtual reality production company, Mandt VR, announced that it has expanded its executive team adding the Emmy Award-winning director, Brian Cavallaro, as the company’s chief creative officer. In this role, Cavallaro will oversee the creative team and direct its artistic design strategy. Cavallaro also serves as the director of development and vice president of production for Mandt Bros. Production, and his most recent film, Dog Years, stars Burt Reynolds and will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Mikael Hed, the founder and former CEO of Rovio Entertainment has formed a new company called Kaiken Entertainment. Its focus will be on animation, publishing and apps, and it’s already off to a good start. Rovio agreed to sell its Vancouver-based TV animation department and its publishing unit in Helsinki to Kaiken.

In a statement, Hed said that this is a natural progression for both companies. “Over the past few years, mobile gaming has transitioned entirely to free-to-play, but the paying audience there is much older than what we see as our audience, which is the family audience. So, there is already a natural split between who we’re targeting,” explained Hed.  “We already had this type of organization in the past, and now we’re taking a step further, making it a separate company.”

Louis Castle, co-founder of Westwood Studios (makers of the Command & Conquer franchise), has been hired as the new head of Amazon Game Studios, Seattle.

Christophe Balestr, co-president of Naughty Dog (famous for the Uncharted video game series) announced on a blog post that he is departing the company after 15 years to pursue “personal ambitions and projects.” Balestr will officially embark on his new adventure starting April 3.

Sega and Creative Assembly have agreed to acquire Crytek’s Black Sea Studio. Under the new ownership, the Bulgaria-based studio will operate as Creative Assembly Sofia.