Skydance Interactive President Sees Huge Potential For VR Arcades

Skydance Media acquired The Workshop in May 2016 and rebranded the virtual reality game company Skydance Interactive, and the studio went to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) to showcase its first original VR project, Archangel. The company will also debut Life VR on March 24 in conjunction with the Jake Gyllenhaal feature film release and Archangel in July.

Skydance Interactive president, Peter Akemann, told [a]listdaily that this has been a fantastic opportunity to bring his studio’s experience as lifelong console developers and combine it with the film powers of the Skydance film and television crew to bring big ticket experiences to the new medium. He said, “the insights both from gaming and cinema are going to be key to shaping the kind of quality entertainment that’s really going to drive the platform and help create the next generation of VR content.”

The film-driven Life VR experience will bring players onto the International Space Station command module to fight against a rapidly evolving life form from Mars. After launching for mobile platforms like Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream, Life VR will ship on Oculus Rift, Steam, HTC Viveport and PlayStation VR.

The original game, Archangel drops players into the cockpit of a six-story-high war-machine that must stop a tyrannical corporation from taking over a post-apocalyptic America. The game will be released on Oculus Rift, Steam, HTC Viveport and PlayStation VR.

“One might expect that a Hollywood company’s main interest in VR would be making products to support its film slate, however that’s not Skydance’s strategy,” Akemann said. “Our fundamental strategy at Skydance Interactive is to create original games and original IP in the medium. That’s what you’re seeing here with our debut product Archangel. When film opportunities come up, and they certainly will, we definitely want to take advantage of that. Skydance has a lot of great properties that would work very well in games, but it’s very important that the interactive vision stand on its own creatively as an originator of IP on par with the film and television wings of the company.”

Akemann said the mechanized war machines of Archangel allowed the studio to go beyond one-to-one VR. “When we first conceived of Archangel, we were already seeing some very successful products in the market that delivered convincing one-to-one experiences, and yet one-to-one experiences are intrinsically a bit limiting with the hands and the body doing exactly what I’m doing,” Akemann said. “The magic of a gaming has always been to take you somewhere else to let you be something bigger and more awesome than yourself. We wanted a level of abstraction that put you in command of something that projected yourself. In our case, we chose to be this big awesome dude. Our vision statement for Archangel very early in the first hours of conception was whether we could capture a sense of me and the huge thing that I’m commanding. When we achieved it, we knew we had something special.”

Akemann said his team, which has worked on games like Brothers, The Evil Within, Armored Warfare, Sorcery and Rekoil over the years, embraces the VR gaming concept.

“I take issue with the use of the word ‘VR experiences,’” Akemann said. “We’re making games. I feel like ‘experience’ is a word for people that don’t want to call it a game for fear of generating an expectation. We embrace that expectation. Seeing and realizing that VR was ready to be treated as a serious gaming platform was one of the principle reasons for creating the company in the first place. It’s our thesis to prove. We’re trying to do that with Archangel.”

Akemann said it takes some time to develop a AAA VR game. The team has been working on the Unreal Engine 4 title for 10 months and has another five months before release. “That’s a pretty short time to deliver something that feels AAA,” Akemann said. “The fact we’re doing it is something I’m very proud of. I’m very proud of the team for pulling this off. In the future, we’d love to have more time, but you know it’s a fast moving train. We had to jump in and get on, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Skydance Interactive’s main effort was to target a platform space that would exist in every major commercial high-end rig, and they chose only to focus on the headset and the two hand controllers as the principle mode of playing a game, which exists on Vive, Rift and PlayStation VR. The game also supports controller gameplay, but Akemann prefers the two-handed gameplay because that was the inception for gameplay. Archangel will also be available at VR arcades like the IMAX VR Centres that are opening across the country.

“The VR arcade location-based experiences are creating a portal with a $10 barrier to entry, where you’re looking at a $600 to $2,000 barrier to entry every other place,” Akemann said. “VR is unique in that it’s so hard to share. Almost the only way to experience it is for someone to tell you how awesome it is and then to go play it yourself. It’s almost a philosophical problem in communicating it to you. So, we believe the location-based centers are going to perform in a central role in doing that.”

Akemann said that location-based centers typically deliver a higher-end hardware than what you can expect from the consumer level, and his team is able to take advantage of that technology to add some premium touch to the VR games. In some ways, the VR industry is replicating the classic arcades of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the home gaming industry that grew out of that.

“I’m hoping the same happens here in that VR arcades will bootstrap the home markets so that in 20 years if location-based has finally run its course and home is where it’s at, that would be awesome,” Akemann said. “But I don’t think that will happen because there are certain things you can do in location-based that you’ll never be able to do at home, like have a lot of space. There’s no limit to how fancy the hardware you can have, but you can’t create space when you’ve got some of the experiences that the Vive makes possible at room-scale. There’s always going to be a very important place for location-based for that.”

Twitch To Host ‘Power Rangers’ Marathon, Morphs Into A Social Network

Twitch may be known for its mighty gaming prowess, but the streaming platform continues to diversify its content with TwitchPresents—a dedicated channel for programmatic TV marathons. A number of TV programs have aired on Twitch to positive community reception, from single episodes of Silicon Valley and Mr. Robot to marathons of classic shows such as Julia Child’s The French Chef, Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting, and the Pokémon animated series.

It’s Morphin Time!

Beginning on March 14, TwitchPresents will host a 17-hour marathon of the iconic Saban’s Power Rangers TV series, spanning 23 seasons and featuring all 831 episodes. Viewers will have a multitude of options for enjoying the show, which include co-streaming on their own channels. Those who subscribe to the TwitchPresents channel will receive access to exclusive Power Rangers-themed emotes for use in the chat, and the livestream is timed to get fans excited for the Saban’s Power Rangers film headed to theaters March 24.

“Guided by feedback from our community, Twitch has been focusing on content beyond gaming that nurtures the culture around their interests, whether it be anime, art, cooking or pop culture, in general,” said Annie Berrones, product marketing director at Twitch in a statement. “As an iconic sci-fi, superhero franchise that achieved legacy status over the past two decades, Power Rangers fits right into our community’s wheelhouse.”

In a different part of the digital world, the relationship between interactive livestreaming and television has been a happy one thus far, as proven by some eight million Game of Thrones fans working together to reveal the season seven premiere date on Facebook Live Wednesday. The premiere date was placed inside a block of ice and viewers could blow fire at it by following instructions, such as typing keywords into the chat and attracted over 100,000 viewers at any given time. While livestreams tap into a fear of missing out, the other side of the coin is that anything can go wrong. After about 15 minutes, the stream went dark and HBO ended up revealing the date (July 16) after failed attempts at bringing the stream back online. It was a cool idea, anyway.

Twitch Gets More Social


Twitch is definitely trying to keep viewers glued to their screens forever, from TV marathons to a new social media network called Pulse. Now streamers and viewers can interact outside of livestreams, share content and more from the Twitch site or mobile app. To further bring its community together, the company has rebranded its Curse communication app as an all-new Twitch desktop app that includes community servers, voice and video messaging as well as game content distribution. The public beta for this new desktop app will begin on March 16.

“Since the Twitch community thrives on building solid and meaningful connections with each other, we have been hard at work building products that address this need,” said Emmett Shear, CEO of Twitch in a statement. “The Twitch Desktop App—which features all of the elements people love about the Curse app, such as screen sharing, voice and video calling, and community server creation—is now bolstered by Twitch features. This includes Friends, Whispers, activity sharing, and will soon serve as a game library for purchases fulfilled by Twitch. The result is a one-stop shop for connecting members of our community.”

Hasbro And Harmonix Are Bringing The Party With ‘DropMix’

Harmonix and Hasbro are bringing the party this fall with the release of DropMix, a music-themed mobile game where players collect physical cards to play against each other. The cards, each representing a music sample from a variety of different artists and genres, are read by the DropMix board, which connects to devices. Players have the option to turn up the music by connecting their mobile devices to a Bluetooth speaker.

The game will feature multiple modes, but the main one is called Clash, and it involves players replacing each other’s cards on the board to be the first to reach 15 points. As each card is put down and replaced, a new song is created and modified, meaning that a rock guitar can potentially be combined with a hip hop beat, and both may be brought together with vocals from a pop song. DropMix will feature music from Afrojack, Bruno Mars, The Chainsmokers, Ed Sheeran, Fall Out Boy, The Jackson 5, Meghan Trainor and Sam Hunt, just to name a few. The potential combinations are endless as players create decks based on their music tastes and discover new ways to appreciate their favorite genres.

DropMix is pioneering a new path for mobile gaming by requiring both an external device and physical cards to play, but Harmonix has experience with the transformative power of music on gaming and being social, having created the Rock Band series and others. The DropMix starter pack will cost $99.99 when it launches in the fall for both iOS and Android, and it will include the DropMix board, 60 cards and four themed playlist decks. Hasbro plans to release themed playlist packs ($14.99) and discover packs ($4.99) for players to collect. The DropMix app, which connects devices with the board, will be a free download.

Jonathan Mintz, creative lead for DropMix at Harmonix, sat down with [a]listdaily to throw down some beats and talk about the unique game that will let players bring the party virtually anywhere.

Jonathan Mintz, creative lead for DropMix at Harmonix,
Jonathan Mintz, creative lead for DropMix at Harmonix

How would you describe DropMix?

DropMix is a fast-paced music making game that runs on an iOS or Android device and allows you to mix music with your friends with no skill required. It allows you to create your own playlists, with music and samples that you love, and use them to dominate the mix and show off for your friends.

What inspired the creation of a music-themed collectible card game?

A big part of it is that I’ve always been a music collector and a card collector. So, at Harmonix, we’re always looking at new ways to create music-based gameplay. That was part of my inspiration on the game design side of it—thinking of ways to combine these two things that I’m really into with the idea of, “what if a card could make music?”

We developed some technology that allowed us to do that in software. Then, working with Hasbro, we were able to build them into physical cards, which takes things to a whole other level. You’re magically able to pick up a card, put it down on this board, and hear music come to life. Then you can combine it with lots of different music, mix music on the fly, and create an original mix just by playing the game.

How did the partnership with Hasbro come together?

We had developed a software version of this concept, and we’ve been in touch with Hasbro for a while, looking for opportunities to partner on. We approached them with this game concept, and in working with them, we developed the software idea into this super fun, original, physical play pattern that takes advantage of Bluetooth and a wireless card sensing technology that they had been looking at. We put those pieces together to create this whole new magical experience that brought the whole thing to life.

Why go with a physical card format instead of sticking with a digital card collection game?

At Harmonix, a lot of what we’re about is making music with your friends. When people have Rock Band parties, they all get together and they’re in a band cooperating to make music. While it’s cool to make this as a digital experience, we thought that was a way to bring this concept out to the world and make the most magic for the most people. It would be incredibly fun to hold the physical card in your hand and bring it to life. I’m still one of the people who goes out and buys records. There’s a lot of joy for me in discovering new music and being able to pick it up and hold it. DropMix brings that feeling of excitement in a whole new way. Not only can I hold the music that I love, but I can also transform it and create a whole new sound with it, which is fun.

TheJackson5_IWantYouBack_loopWhat audience demographic would you say DropMix is geared toward?

The people that we are trying to reach out toward certainly start with music fans, although the game is accessible to anybody, whether you have any music skill or not. I’d say probably people in their twenties—folks who are in the music festival crowd, but anybody who is into music can pick it up and play. Obviously, it’s for people who are fans of some of the artists in the game. It’s great to discover different parts of music that you might not have heard before by mixing up the different samples from the artists you love.

How will you convince a mobile audience to pick up the DropMix board?

We found that Rock Band instruments transformed the console experience from sitting on the couch with a controller to a different sort of party atmosphere around the console. One of the things that we’ve long wanted to do was to be able to take that party anywhere. So, this is a little bit more portable of an experience. Anywhere where you have your board and your phone, and maybe a Bluetooth speaker, you’ll be able to break out a party and mix music. We’ve had testers come in who were excited about being able to take it out and play it by the pool in the summertime, bring it to parties, and things like that. What we’re psyched about is that it’s this whole new way to play. If you’re trying to play a game with your friends, it’s tough to do that around the single device. But because the DropMix app keeps track of all the gameplay action and all the music mixing on the fly, you don’t really need to worry about it. You just connect it to the board and go, focusing on the game and music.

How many genres will there be at launch?

At launch, we’re trying to go pretty broad. There’s a core mix of genres in the starter pack that’s mostly focused around rock, pop, hip hop, and some electronic. But there’s also a little bit of extra flavor in there, with a few Latin and country cards to mix things up and go along with the playlists and discover packs. One of our goals is to bring in music from all across the spectrum because we’ve done experiences that have been focused on specific styles—Rock Band being one, and Dance Central focuses on party dance music. But here, one of the great things is discovering combinations that don’t seem like they should work, but surprisingly come to life when you put the cards together. So, we really want to broaden the music library as much as we can to discover what’s out there and let people experiment for themselves.

So, DropMix will become a platform for music discovery?

Absolutely. At Harmonix, one of the things that we love is empowering people to create and discover music. The studio was founded with this goal of giving the joy of music making to everybody, and this is a whole new frontier for that because it gives us a creative output. But we also work with our music partners all the time to not only find out about new acts that are up-and-coming, but also classic acts that people might not have heard of.

I’m psyched that we have cards from Run DMC and A Tribe Called Quest—people who were doing sampling and mixing back in the ‘80s and ‘90s—so there might be a whole generation out there that will play this game that haven’t heard about those artists before, but they’re grabbing cards from them. Grab a Run DMC beat and drop a Carly Rae Jepsen vocal on top of that—it’s super surprising and fun, and hopefully it will introduce people to music that they haven’t heard before. Hearing surprising combinations can be transformative, whether you’re a big music fan or whether you think you like a genre or not, this can change your perception of that.

EdSheeran_Sing_leadDo you think Harmonix’s reputation with console games will help with the popularity and discoverability of DropMix?

I certainly hope so. This is kind of a new frontier for mobile gaming because it has a connected accessory, but it’s also trying to create a new kind of social play that’s a little more like a console experience. So, we’re hoping that people who are familiar with our other games and our reputation for bringing the party to your living room will be interested in this as a result. We see this as a new way to make music with friends.

Is there any chance of DropMix coming to consoles or PC?

It’s definitely something that we’re looking at in the future. Harmonix is very much a multi-platform studio, so working with Hasbro, we have an eye on that. But for this fall, we’re focused on the iOS and Android releases.

What would you say is the key to standing out in both the saturated mobile and collectible card game markets right now?

I think what’s distinct about this game is the approachability of it and the magic of mixing music. We really tried to make a card game that anybody can get into, but even more than that, if you just walk up to it and start putting down cards to mix music, there’s a joy and a magic that comes from that. That’s something that we hope that players will be as excited about as we are and will want to go out there to discover new music, collect new cards, and explore the content that way.

For a more core gamer audience that will want to customize their playlists, find the perfect sound, and the perfect play style, that will be available for them as well. But because it is physical, you’re not just posting a deck list or playlist and sharing with friends; you can actually show it off, play it live, and have that fun of making music in real-time.

G Fuel CEO Explains How The Brand Became Endemic To ESports Fans

G Fuel has etched a couple of firsts in eSports recently, becoming the official energy drink of Turner and WME/IMG’s ELeague, as well as acquiring the sponsorship naming rights to ELeague’s Atlanta-based studio, now identified as the G Fuel ELeague Arena. Also, all of the competitors and casters have G Fuel cups next to them during the broadcasts as part of the product integration.

Cliff Morgan, CEO of Gamma Labs, told [a]listdaily that while the naming rights for the G Fuel ELeague Arena was closer to the price of a smaller US stadium rights, in reality, that stadium holds a few million people because of the reach of eSports across the global landscape.

“We felt this was the spot to take,” Morgan said. He referenced similarities to the Ultimate Fighter reality show that helped turn UFC into a mainstream sport. He believes what Turner is doing with ELeague will have similar results in pushing eSports into the mainstream.

“With ELeague on Turner, this exposes our brand to a lot of new people on TV at the same time as the core eSports fans who watch on Twitch,” Morgan said. “Over the first two seasons, Turner has managed to get viewership up. We decided to become the official energy drink of eSports because if we want to be synergetic, we need to defend our first mover advantage.”

Morgan previously worked with Turner in 2008 on the World Series of Poker. He said that having the ELeague commercial spots on Twitter are a great way to target the eSports audience, but getting on TBS is even better.

G Fuel was also prominently displayed across the 11th annual Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) tour, which included promotions at the IEM Expo in Katowice, Poland over the past two weekends.

Morgan said that G Fuel and Gamma Labs have risen up in tandem with eSports. “G Fuel has become endemic to the eSports space as a beverage company,” Morgan said. “We’re so much more than a beverage company.”

Case in point, Morgan said fans at the IEM Expo bought up all of the company’s collectible G Fuel shaker cups and tubs. In addition, they drank 60,000 sample cups of different G Fuel flavored drinks. There are 17 flavors available in the market today.

“IEM seemed like the right spot a year ago when we committed to season 11 because we were expanding so much globally and this tournament gave us an opportunity to tour South Korea and embed ourselves in other cultures,” Morgan said. “We opened an office in Seoul, Korea recently and have three guys working there full-time to build out our brand.”

Of course, South Korea is the birthplace of eSports and that country has a rabid fan base. “We feel we can emulate our business in South Korea because we have a lead-in with IEM,” Morgan said. “The young Millennial Koreans understand our business and they love eSports. And the pro gamers are like rock stars in that country. They’re definitely ahead of the U.S. in that respect.”

Morgan feels there are two things that differentiate G Fuel from energy drinks like Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar. G Fuel gets 95 percent of its business from online orders, and fans love the brand integration. “Every day on Twitter they’re seeing photos of people building out shelves and saving G Fuel tubs,” Morgan said. “That brand attraction is what everybody searches for. When we drop a new shaker cup, it’s like Nike launching a new shoe. We’ll sell 15,000 in three minutes.”

G Fuel also works directly with eSports teams and pro gamers with its flavors. For example, Faze has its own drink, FazeBerry and the team’s pro gamer, Nordan “Faze Rain” Shat has his own flavor called Tropical Rain.

“They all want their own flavors,” Morgan said. Saqib Zahid, the number one streamer on Twitch, who’s known as Lirik, is a G Fuel ambassador and will be getting a Peach Iced Tea flavor coming out in the next 60 days.

“We have a host of other famous pro gamers and influencers who will be getting flavors,” Morgan said. “It works really well for us.”

For parents who don’t want their kids to be consuming so much caffeine, Morgan said two additional caffeine-free and stimulant-free drinks will be added in the second quarter of this year—joining the current orange flavor.

The company is also launching a 24K drink on March 22 that will include 2 milligrams of real gold, which Morgan said is good for joints, muscles and the heart. “We’ve combined the gold flakes with some high-level ingredients,” Morgan said. “This product hasn’t been designed for sitting and playing video games like G Fuel. This has been formulated for physical activity and fitness.”

4 Ways Brands Use Facebook Video For Maximum Effectiveness

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg sees video as the next “mega trend” but just in case, the social media giant has invested millions of dollars for content to help things along. “We’re making progress putting video first across our apps and executing our 10-year technology roadmap,” Zuckerberg said in a call regarding the company’s fourth quarter 2016 earnings. So far so good, as Facebook users watch 100 million hours of video per day. For brands, utilizing the world’s top social platform is a given—but among 1.7 billion users, it’s easy to get lost.

Here are four ways brands are finding success through Facebook’s video offerings.

Traditional Video

The most obvious use of Facebook video is to upload something, but sometimes the most simple solution is the best. Facebook may be rolling out fancy new options to post video across its platform, but a video of Taylor Swift falling on a treadmill earned Apple Music 18 million views. So there’s that.

Among the top 30 brands on Facebook (based on likes), a study by social analytics firm, Quintly found that more videos were posted than photos, at 54.9 percent and 45.1 percent, respectively. “The fact of there being more video posts relates to a general trend of brands having incorporated videos into their marketing strategy as one of the most engaging forms of content, thus benefiting from users experiencing the brand in a more exciting way than via a picture or simple text,” Quintly noted in the report.

Sometimes the most effective message doesn’t come from the brand, itself but from a creator. According to July 2016 research by SheSpeaks, 32 percent of US creators who currently work with brands cite Facebook as the best platform for influence marketing, followed by Instagram at 24 percent.


Facebook Live

Since its inception a few years ago, brands have experimented with new and interesting ways to engage audiences in real time. Food brands have found particular success among hungry viewers, from how-to guides to creating food-based works of art and tours of company kitchens.

For Hershey’s Chocolate World, the company wanted to inspire chocolate lovers to visit their attraction in Pennsylvania. To commemorate the first Hershey Chocolate Tour last May, they decided to bring Facebook users along for the ride. The result of the brand’s very first Facebook Live stream was 118,000 viewers tuning in throughout the day.

“Not every social media tool is applicable for every brand, but Facebook Live truly hit our ‘sweet spot’ for engagement at Hershey’s Chocolate World. After 18 livestreams, we have generated over 240,000 viewers—and we’re just scratching the surface of the potential this tool has to offer,” said Matt George, marketing associate for Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction on the company’s blog.

For The New York Times, Facebook Live has become an invaluable source for covering news and interacting with viewers at the same time, helping the news outlet reach 100 million views in December.

“We’re calling this live interactive journalism,” Louise Story, New York Times executive producer of live interactive journalism, told WAN-IFRA. “We’re not calling it video, because it’s inherently different from a produced video. In live interactive journalism what’s happening onscreen is affected by the audience in real-time. This is as much about the audience as it is about journalism.”

Facebook is investing in short-form, original content that will help establish the site as a source for entertainment, as evidenced by its new Facebook TV app. Launching April 5 is Facebook’s first livestream talk programNever Settle Show—that will not only feature interactions from those watching on Facebook, but other social networks as well. “We’ll have a live, interactive video wall on the set so people will be able to see themselves actually on the show which I think is really different—really compelling,” Never Settle Show host, Mario Armstrong told [a]listdaily.


360 Video

Interactive video offers new ways to experience otherwise static, although highly interesting video. Last April, HBO released a 360-degree version of the opening credits for Game of Thrones, which became the most-viewed 360 video within the first 24 hours, according to Facebook. For the release of Deadpool, viewers on Facebook could watch their favorite “merc with a mouth” doing everything from playing pool to dancing on the bar, resulting in over 11 million views. If you ever wanted to step onto a photo shoot with Derick Zoolander, you’re in luck—over eight million viewers did just that in a 360-degree promotion for Zoolander 2.

Those with Samsung Gear VR headsets can now browse 360-degree videos on Facebook through a new app, making immersion and discovery more convenient.

Video Ads

Video ads are another way for brands to reach their audiences, but with the added help of targeting metrics. Since Facebook videos automatically play without sound, grabbing a viewer’s attention, as well as optimizing for mobile viewership will be key. As of September, around 93 percent of Facebook users accessed the site through a mobile device.

During the company’s 2015 earnings release, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg shared a case study for Microsoft. For the launch of Halo 5, the team at Microsoft Xbox optimized video for Facebook and Instagram by creating content that captured the viewer’s attention in the first 3 seconds—even if that viewer watched without sound. This tactic drove over 380 million impressions and 49 million video views, and “increased purchase intent by 10 points in the US.”

Facebook is currently testing mid-roll ads for its live videos, encouraging creators to upload videos of at least a 90-second duration. The ads only appear once a viewer has watched a clip for at least 20 seconds, which may be less intrusive than a pre-roll ad. Should these tests be successful, brands will be able to engage with viewers who are more likely to pay attention.

“Mid-roll ads are a powerful opportunity for brands to insert their message in a (seemingly) seamless way, without annoying the viewer from the get-go. People will likely be more tolerant of ads because when they’re already engaged in the content. Whereas, with pre-roll, the engagement has yet to begin, which gives viewers an immediate ‘out’,” said Lindsey Buchanan, director of content strategy for ION.

Why ‘Robo Recall’ Is The Best Reason To Own An Oculus VR Setup

Oculus fans had some good reasons to rejoice last week. Firstly, the Facebook-owned company announced a $200 price reduction, bringing the Oculus Rift headset and Oculus Touch controller bundle cost down to $598. Now, picking up a high-quality VR headset is more affordable than ever. Secondly, Robo Recall (developed by Epic Games) released, giving VR enthusiasts a frenetic, off-the-wall action game to dig into.

The free-to-play first-person VR game puts players in the role of an agent tasked with “recalling” rogue robots. That means destroying these malfunctioning droids by whatever means possible while discovering and upgrading weapons along the way. The game, which is a spirtual successor to the Bullet Train tech demo (which is also available for free on the Oculus Store), is a near-perfect VR shooter. Game sessions are usually about 10-15 minutes, and players return to a hub to upgrade their weapons, check their stats and prepare for their next mission.

Nick Donaldson, the lead designer for Robo Recall, told [a]listdaily that one of the aims in designing the game was to make one of the best reasons to own an Oculus Touch. He was joined by the game’s art director, Jerome Platteaux, who said that they were inspired by arcade games, where players could play for as long as they like while taking intermittent breaks. The two then discuss how mass robot destruction could help the VR industry grow and further popularize the Unreal Engine as the go-to game development tool.

In your words, what is Robo Recall about?

[Donaldson]: Robo Recall is a fun action shooter game that was built from the ground up for the Oculus Touch controller. We took advantage of as many of those features as possible. You can grab robots, throw them in the air, tear off their limbs and beat them to death. It’s ridiculous, over-the-top, and a lot of fun.

[Platteaux]: We want to make you feel as badass as possible—like a very well trained agent with a lot of skill and combos based on those skills.

This is a spiritual successor to the Bullet Train VR demo. Why create a whole new game instead of sticking to the established Bullet Train name?

[Donaldson]: With Bullet Train, we had a grand total of 10 weeks [to develop the game] from start to finish. We use the whole bunch of assets that we already had floating around in the [Unreal] engine. It was thrown together as quickly as possible, and we were just throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick. But we wanted to take what we learned from that and make something that was uniquely ours. We took the same idea and the same things learned from Bullet Train and built them into something that we actually wanted to make rather than something that was sewn together.

[Platteaux]: Even the name came from us saying, “okay, we’re at a train station and we’re shooting bullets. Let’s call it Bullet Train.” There wasn’t a lot of thought that went into it, and we didn’t think about creating an IP. Now [with Robo Recall] we have a little bit more time and we can own it (the game) a little more and not have any licensing issues—there’s already a Bullet Train in Japan.

Would you consider Robo Recall as a starting point to having a full first-person shooter like Unreal Tournament in VR?

[Donaldson]: Robo Recall was built from the ground up for the Oculus. I kind of compare it to the early days of mobile, where if you asked gamers what they wanted, they said they wanted Skyrim on their phones. They would tell you that they wanted to play 40 hours in eight-hour sessions on their phones, when that’s not really what the mobile market wants or what works well on a mobile phone. Making a direct comparison between what a VR game should be to a PC game and genre that’s been around for decades is not something that needs to be done.

[Platteaux]: With VR, we still don’t know how long people like to play. We assume an hour or two will be fine, but I don’t know if people will play more than that. We don’t have a lot of numbers out there, but that’s one of the things that we’ll discover with the release of the game. All experiences will vary, depending on whether it’s a high-energy game that require a lot of movement. We think of it as a sprint—you play for about fifteen minutes, then go back to the hub to relax, then come back.

Why offer Robo Recall for free?

[Donaldson]: The VR market is not a place where a company can release a high-quality AAA product, funded by yourself, and make a whole bunch of money off of it right now. It’s still a very early, maturing market. Oculus gave us an opportunity by funding the development of Robo Recall. Since there isn’t a massive amount of money to be made, we saw more value in spreading those ideas and increasing the value of the VR market in general.

[Platteaux]: The game shows off what we can do with the Unreal Engine and a small team. Everybody can learn how to make their own game, and we’ve been making a lot of improvements, so the licensing of the Unreal Engine can reap those benefits.

How does launching and promoting a VR game compare to a traditional one?

[Donaldson]: It’s not too different. Stuff comes down to the wire, and we have to make the hard calls about what works and what doesn’t. As usual, we’re optimizing performance to get everything running properly right up to the line.

How have you been getting the word out about Robo Recall?

[Platteaux]: We put the Bullet Train demo on the Oculus Store for free with a small spot at the end that said, “look out for Robo Recall.” We also demoed it at Oculus Connect. It was a good demo and we got a lot of feedback.

[Donaldson]: We made a big splash there. We also put out some digital video documentaries, developer diaries, about the development of the game, and we showed the game at GDC.

Robo Recall-screen1Besides being featured on the Oculus Store, what do you think is the best way to promote a VR game right now?

[Donaldson]: Having one of the big hitters like Oculus behind you and promoting the game is the absolute best way. It’s a pretty big trump card that we’re playing and we think that people who are into VR right now are pretty savvy about what’s out there and they’re hungry for content. So, putting this on the front page of the Oculus Store is going to get it in the hands of every single Oculus Rift owner out there.

Word-of-mouth is very valuable to VR at the moment. All of my neighbors know that I’m working on VR things, and they get super excited every time I want to show them something. These are not people who aren’t necessarily gamers in their college years, but they’ve heard about virtual reality, heard that it’s awesome, and they want to check it out. So, word-of-mouth is very powerful in that regard.

[Platteaux]: We’re probably also going to do a lot of livestreaming on our channels to talk about how we did the game. So, if people don’t know about it, they’ll see how we did it and maybe they’ll play after.

Oculus has separate PC game mobile VR divisions. Do you think a game like Robo Recall could be played on mobile platforms one day?

[Donaldson]: That’s the dream, isn’t it? The best thing about mobile VR is that you put it on your head and you’re in it. You don’t have cords to wrapped up in and you don’t have to worry about which way you’re facing. But the trickiest thing about mobile is that it doesn’t do positional tracking yet, and you don’t have the motion controllers in the same way. When the benefits of both of these converge, and Oculus announces its (wireless) standalone device—that’s the ultimate dream of VR. We’ll get to build whatever games we want.

[Platteaux]: That all depends on the mobile devices and how powerful they get. Of course, someday we’re going to have the same quality of graphics. The question is, what will the input be? What will be the controller? We’ll adapt the gameplay based on that.

What are your thoughts on how VR has grown so far and how do you see things progressing in the coming year?

[Donaldson]: It’s been an interesting year. We’ve seen a handful of developers do some really interesting things and we’ve been pretty shameless in checking out every game that comes out, taking all the ideas that we think are great and making them work in our game. The industry is still in a phase of learning what makes a great VR game. We’re all trying to solve the same problems at the same time. The development community is still very young and is ripe for fresh and new ideas.

[Platteaux]: The same thing goes for the content side. We’re starting to see what works and what doesn’t work in VR. What is the proportion that feels good? What is the most important thing to have?

Top 5 Video Games Of 2017 With ESports Potential

This year is already shaping up to be a significant one for eSports through brand partnershipsVR integration, new livestreaming possibilities and lucky for us, some exciting new games to watch and play.

Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) game that allows players to control the battlefield from above. Blitz mode, in particular, holds great potential as an eSport, combining the card power of Hearthstone with the large-scale action of Starcraft.

“You’ve probably noticed our commitment to eSports through all the things we do with Halo 5,” Dan Ayoub, studio head of strategy games development at 343 Industries told Redbull Esports. “That absolutely extends to Halo Wars 2. You always develop with [eSports] a little bit in mind. The way we’re approaching it is demand will come from the community, and if it’s there, we’re going to have all of the tools to be able to support it.”


Epic Games is best known for its shooter titles such as Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. When the company decided to take a different direction, it created a massive online battle arena (MOBA)—a popular eSport genre made popular by League of Legends and SmiteParagon brings something new to the table, in that it’s viewed in third-person, and is therefore more accessible to viewers. Despite this, Epic doesn’t believe that Paragon will become the next big eSports title unless the fans make that call.

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

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

Fighting games have been natural contenders for competition from its early days in the arcade, but adding heroes and villains from the ever-popular Marvel franchises to Capcom’s stable of characters takes things to whole new level. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite also brings something new to the table: Infinity Stones—powerful gems featured in the Marvel comics and films. Between these stones and the tagging system, the possible outcomes for a battle could be endless. There is already significant support behind promoting Street Fighter V as an eSport, and this could become a natural extension of that.

“[Infinity Stones] expands on the possibilities and offer final effects,” Peter “ComboFiend” Rosas told Yahoo Esports. “When activated, they break a rule within the engine. If the rule is a character can’t cancel their attacks, the appropriate stone breaks that rule. If a character isn’t hitting hard enough, the appropriate stone magnifies each hit.”

Quake Champions

Quake has been at the heart of eSports since the very beginning, so it’s no wonder that id Software will continue that legacy through Quake Champions.

“Id has a long tradition of supporting competitive tournaments and that continues with Quake Champions,” id Software studio director, Tim Willits said during the Bethesda E3 press conference. “The game is designed for world-class eSports play at every level, from the world’s greatest Quake players to anyone willing to test their skills in the arena. So as part of the launch plan for Quake Champions, Bethesda will be supporting and expanding competitive tournaments and leagues beyond QuakeCon.”

The highly-anticipated title is now entering its closed beta stage on PC, but those brave enough to try should know it won’t be easy.

“To be an eSports game, to be competitive, you have to run fast,” Willits said. “And pro players expect 120Hz, they expect lightning-fast response. And we want to make a game with unlocked frame rates that will run as fast as you can throw hardware at it.”

Injustice 2

Similar to Marvel vs. CapcomInjustice 2 features comic book characters, but inspired by the DC Comics Universe. Iconic heroes and villains such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman will battle it out in this high anticipated sequel. The game will further shake things up with the ability to collect and equip gear that modifies gameplay, thus giving the game infinite possible outcomes depending on strategy and luck. The latest fighter game by Netherrealm (makers of the Mortal Kombat franchise) releases in May, and we’ll soon learn if the popularity of the first game, combined with the characters and gameplay variety, helps to draw and eSports audience.

Injustice 2 will be a featured game during The Evolution Championship Series (Evo) in Las Vegas this July. Evo is a long-standing tournament series that focuses exclusively on fighting games like TekkenMortal Kombat and Street Fighter.

Knott’s Berry Farm Is Bridging VR And Competitive Gaming With America’s First Free-Roaming Virtual Experience

Almost one year ago to the day, Six Flags and Samsung struck a strategic partnership that brought virtual reality roller coasters to amusement parks in North America for the first time.

Disneyland, Universal Studios and SeaWorld quickly followed suit with a suite of immersive VR installations of their own. In fact, the Six Flags-Samsung deal was such a smashing success that last month they added a new a layer to their offerings with complex gameplay and two mixed reality experiences.

VR attractions continue to gain popularity amongst consumers; its great potential is helping theme parks build their brand by offering a variety of rides and experiences—with no end in sight to both the adventures being introduced, and the lines that accompany them.

Cedar Fair Entertainment, the parent company of Knott’s Berry Farm, is now joining the fray in a new way by upping the ante with another first in “VR Showdown in Ghost Town,” the only permanent, free-roaming VR experience at a US theme park.

The custom VR attraction, which aims at allowing for guests to be the stars of their own show by combining VR with a realm of competitive gaming, will have consumers embarking on a time travel adventure as they’re transported to a futuristic version of the Knott’s western town of Calico.

Multiple players will be equipped with wireless VR headsets and futuristic blasters as they go on a mission with other groups to defend the town against robotic creations. Made collaboratively with the Bay Area-based VRstudios, the one-of-a-kind adventure will open in April in the Knott’s Berry Farm Boardwalk Arcade.

Christian Dieckmann, vice president of strategic growth for Cedar Fair Entertainment, the parent company of Knott’s Berry Farm, and Kevin Vitale, president of VRstudios, joined [a]listdaily for a joint interview to discuss their one-of-a-kind experience, and the future of “techtainment” in theme parks.

VR Showdown In Ghost Town at Knott's Berry Farm Poster High-Res

Why is Knott’s pursuing immersive and unique experiential technology and getting into VR? What led you to this decision?

Christian: We’re always looking for new and exciting ways to entertain our guests. VR can enable a true sense of presence in a virtual world, and allows each user a chance to interact directly with their digital environment. It’s really a limitless canvas in many ways, which is why it’s attractive to location-based entertainment operators such as amusement parks. Also, a vast majority of people still have not experienced VR; we think there will be a lot of interest from our guests to have their first taste at our parks. Purchasing a high-end VR system is not a cheap endeavor, so we can provide access at a fraction of the cost to our guests.

Why did you decide to go with a free-roaming installation, rather than an actual ride?

Christian: VR-enhanced rides are a very exciting concept, but we wanted to go in a different direction in this case. This will be more game than ride. By using a free-roaming system, we can take full advantage of the capabilities of VR and let our guests be the stars of the show. Players will be able to freely move around within the virtual world. They will see the digital avatars of other players in the game, creating a social element, as they compete for individual high scores while striving toward shared team goals.

Why is VR all the rage in theme parks nowadays?

Kevin: The advancement of VR technology has reached a point where we can provide exciting, specialized and compelling experiences for the needs of location-based entertainment venues and their guests. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in experiencing VR. Price points and other system requirements for in-home VR still make the barrier too high for most consumers, other than the avid enthusiast. In addition, theme parks can offer much more elaborate and rich experiences, incorporating high-quality creative material, haptics and other sensory elements, and in some cases props and live actors. Therefore, we believe that out-of-home entertainment venues, like theme parks and Knott’s, will enable more consumers to try VR with a high-quality experience, which will in turn help to encourage the adoption of VR/AR across all segments.

VRStudios focuses on completely wireless walk-around systems. Why do you think this works better than an actual ride? 

Kevin: Freedom of movement and interacting directly with the VR environment both enhances the immersive experience for the participant, and opens up the range of options in the experience such as the ability to simultaneously compete or collaborate with multiple other players. Amongst the benefits of the VRstudios system is the flexibility to offer a range of content and VR experiences that will keep participants coming back for more. Depending on the experience, this could be offering different levels of competitiveness or reward, solving new parts of a puzzle or rotating in completely new themed experiences. As you can imagine, our customers are experiencing economic, operational, competitive and marketing benefits from the application of our VR systems, technology and content.

Why is there a growing appetite for gaming-like experiences in theme parks? Is it possible for VR to one day have its own category?

Christian: As we move from the ‘information age’ to the ‘experience age,’ consumers expect to be able to interact with their environments directly, and don’t necessarily want to be passive participants the entire time. Theme parks are no different in that regard. Gaming, VR, AR and other forms of interactivity—both digital and non-digital—directly address those needs. In terms of standalone VR centers, there are a number of firms, both established companies and start-ups, that are trying to crack that nut, with many planning to open shop over the next one-to-two years. There will be a number of challenges, including figuring out the Rubik’s Cube of pricing, capacity, utilization and capital investment that can generate attractive economic returns. Regardless, I anticipate that we will witness a wave of innovation at the intersection of technology and location-based entertainment over the next several years. As for VR at Knott’s Berry Farm, we think being able to leverage our existing foot-traffic patterns in the park gives us a huge advantage in terms of achieving success and a strong return on investment.

What market research led you to deciding that people would pay extra to have this VR experience? How much will the extra fee be?

Christian: We have done some studies on past VR projects and have seen high overall guest satisfaction, and confirmed a willingness to pay. We also view this VR experience as being similar in many ways to a laser tag installation from a pricing perspective. ‘VR Showdown in Ghost Town’ is one of the many exciting new experiences coming to Knott’s in 2017 and will be available to guests at an introductory price of $6, in addition to park admission.

What have you learned from your competitors who have activated with VR in their theme parks while watching from afar? 

Christian: At Cedar Fair we have actually been quite active ourselves in the category of which we are calling ‘techtainment.’ That includes interactive and immersive media-based attractions, VR and AR. We have learned a lot from our own projects across multiple amusement parks, as well as from those of our direct and indirect competitors. At a basic level, we have to make sure the experience is fun. It doesn’t matter how amazing the technology is if the guest isn’t smiling on the way out. We also have to make the user interface as frictionless as possible, including streamlining how people get in and out of the attraction, making sure they know what they are doing once they’re in the virtual world and keeping everything glitch free the entire way.

VR technology can be reprogrammed to give riders different experiences on the same ride. Is this a critical element for marketing a ride for return visits? 

Kevin: With VR, variety is important; however, the quality of the user’s overall immersive experience and easy logistics for theme park operators will also be the strong factors influencing repeat visits.

Do you plan on giving VR another crack for Knott’s Scary Farm after last year’s miscue? If so, what can you share?

Christian: At a general level, we do believe that VR and AR have strong potential for the Halloween season. We haven’t made a decision yet about what we’re doing this year at Knott’s Scary Farm, but we are kicking around some ideas internally.

How will you be ramping up marketing as you prepare for the launch with VRStudios next month? What is going to be your integrated, cross-channel strategy?

Christian: There will be a coordinated PR effort and social media support in the weeks ahead. We think our guests, including our season pass holders who make multiple visits to Knott’s, will be very excited to try out this cutting-edge new virtual attraction. 

What have you learned from the Universal Studios attraction you spearheaded that will help you advance the theme park VR experience? What are consumers clamoring for? 

Kevin: People love anything new—to be thrilled and scared, experience action and fantasy. It was amazing to watch how collaboration, combined with innovation and the years of entertainment skills of Universal, allowed visitors to experience a culmination of narrative engagement seamlessly blended with the physical and virtual worlds. Guests could be social, puzzle solve and compete in VR gaming—all in one orchestrated experience. We now look forward to unveiling the one-of-a-kind VR experience developed by the collaboration, entertainment skills and depth of experience between Cedar Fair, Knott’s and VRstudios. For the industry, it’s early in the game and innovation continues at a rapid pace. As good as these experiences are today, we are just scratching the surface of creating amazing new VR-based amusements and attractions that can never be experienced at home.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

How Social Is Walking The Straight Line Toward Transparency

Measuring return on investment for social networks can be hard enough without having to worry about whether or not your analytics are correct. In an attempt to better serve marketers—and their own reputations—the top social networks are working hard to instill faith in how data is obtained.

After owning up to a number of accidentally inflated metrics, Facebook has been hard at work assuring brands that going forward, Facebook will be more transparent than ever.

“As a partner to over four million advertisers across a wide range of organizations and objectives, we want to provide transparency, choice and accountability,” the company said on its blog last month. “Transparency through verified data that shows which campaigns drive measurable results, choice in how advertisers run campaigns across our platforms, and accountability through an audit and third-party verification.”

Over the coming year, Facebook will get incredibly specific on ad impression data—down to the millisecond. The company is also committing to an audit by the Media Rating Council (MRC) to ensure accurate information is provided to clients.

“Measurement allows marketers to understand the effectiveness of their advertising,” Facebook said in September. “But measurement across different devices, channels and platforms is tough without a consistent denominator. That denominator should be real people. When real people aren’t at the center of your digital measurement campaigns, up to 66 percent of digital conversion events can go unrecognized. People-based measurement tells a better story about how your ads are really performing.”

Although Google denies taking inspiration from Facebook, the company announced in February that it too would be audited to receive MRC accreditation.

“Committing to measurement is critical, but just the first step,” Google said. “We believe that that the industry needs metrics that are trusted, transparent and easily verified. Today, we’re pleased to share several updates on the work we’re doing with third party verification and audit partners to ensure that the metrics available from Google are objective and accurate.”

Despite its popularity, Snapchat does not currently offer on-board analytics for marketers, and very little for users—something that its top creators take issue with. One thing it does regularly disclose are reports detailing when user information was requested and/or provided to government officials.

Twitter has followed suit with its own transparency report and went a step further to break down this data by agency, country, type of request and more.

Social media users love to share every detail about their lives—especially what they ate for lunch—but it’s always good to know what can legally be done with that information, and that goes for businesses, too. Particularly in light of the nation’s political strife, transparency by social networks we use and trust can go a long way—from video views to why the FBI wants your lasagna recipe.

‘Transformers: Forged To Fight’ Calls Out To Extensive Fan Base

Kabam, makers of Marvel: Contest of Champions is rolling out with Transformers: Forged to Fight in a huge way. The mobile game reaches across generations of fans by having “robots in disguise” appear from a multitude of different media. That includes everything from the original (Generation 1) 1980s television show, to the comic books, to the toy lines and Michael Bay’s explosive movies from the past decade. Players are challenged to assemble and strengthen the ultimate team of Transformers using Autobot and Decepticon characters from almost every part of the franchise’s extensive history to battle corrupted robots and their villainous overlord using a variety of attacks and transformations.

Cuz Parry, creative director at Kabam, describes Forged to Fight as “an action fighting RPG game with deep strategic systems and a wide variety of modes and social features available to keep the game fresh and engaging for all types of Transformers fans.”

Parry also talked to [a]listdaily about how Kabam worked with Hasbro to develop the game’s story. “We’ve been lucky to partner with Hasbro to create a completely original story where characters from various Transformers realities collide on a decidedly hostile planet,” he said. “You are a battle commander who joins with Optimus Prime and the Earth Defense Command to unravel the mysteries of the planet and ascertain who’s really behind the chaos that is happening. Along the way, you’ll collect and level up a team of your favorite Transformers from Generations, the movies, and Beast Wars to start.”


Players will encounter over 25 characters when the game launches this spring, and they’ll have a chance to play through various story missions, arenas and special events.

When asked how characters from the ‘80s and ‘90s compared with more recent depictions, Parry said: “Visually, our artists have been working with Hasbro to create a look that allows all the characters to exist aesthetically in the same world. Obviously, classic ‘80s animation characters look quite different than the ‘90s Beasties (Beast Wars) and the recent cinematic bots, but we think we’ve updated and added our own flair to make them work together. In terms of gameplay, we have to make sure that everyone’s favorite characters are capable of competing (and beating) any other character depending on your skills and the strategy you employ in composing and leveling up your team. Lots of early players and previewers are pretty stoked to live out some cross-generational battles they’ve long dreamed of.”

In addition to revealing a new trailer at the New York Toy Fair last month, Parry said the game has been reaching out to Transformers fans by ramping up community engagement. “We just presented at Google’s keynote speech during GDC, and we’re getting ready for a big trailer reveal and hands-on booth presence at PAX East March 10-12. As Optimus might say, we’re really starting to roll things out!”

With Transformers: The Last Knight hitting theaters this summer, we asked Parry if there were any cross-promotional plans. He said, “although we are not a ‘movie game,’ there definitely will be some surprises from The Last Knight entering into Forged to Fight. We’ve had tremendous success with Marvel: Contest of Champions in giving fans of all aspects of the Marvel Universe fun and relevant content, and with Forged we’ll continue that tradition. Characters, environments, unique events . . . who knows?”


Parry also discussed the lessons learned from developing Marvel: Contest of Champions and how they applied to Forged to Fight. “From a technical standpoint, there were some things we wanted to do that technology has now allowed for,” he said. “You’ll see it in the effects, destructible environments with physics applied to objects and in other places.”

He also added that the Base Raids feature differs greatly from Contest of Champions. “We realized that in Marvel, as you play over the months, you accumulate lots of heroes that don’t really have a purpose anymore,” said Parry. “We addressed that by adding lots more things you can do with your bots. Away team missions, forging characters to strengthen other bots, and base defense all add depth and strategy to what you can do with your favorite bots. Base Raids are a big departure from Marvel and proving to be very popular with early players. It gives you a chance to place a gauntlet of your favorite bots on your base to defend your HQ and resources.”

The Transformers brand spans almost 33 years of television shows, movies, comic books, toys and more. We asked Parry about his thoughts on why these battling robots make for such an enduring franchise. “Wow, so many things contribute to the enduring love for the franchise,” he responded. “Classic stories of good versus evil resonate with the fan base. Bots with unique personalities that have developed into iconic and beloved characters helps. I think part of it is the point of entry for many is on the toy collecting level. The relationship and imagination that the toys spark truly touches people and pushes them on to other media to explore the stories and lore.”

Parry then added, “And, I guess there’s just something about giant robots that can transform into all sorts of cool things, waging a never-ending battle of right versus wrong, that is at the core of a lot of fans’ love of Transformers.”