Gaming Video Content (GVC) has become mainstream thanks to outlets like YouTube, Twitch and now Facebook. This content can range from livestreams to walkthroughs, trailers, comedy and more. Just how popular is this gaming content?
SuperData predicts that the worldwide audience for GVC will reach 665 million in 2017, more than double the population of the US.
The global audience will experience a 21 percent increase in viewership from 2017 to 2021, SuperData says in its latest report, “Gaming Video Content and the New Essential Audience.” Females now make up 46 percent of the GVC audience and viewers have a higher average income than traditional gamers, the company reported Thursday.
Big Views, Big Revenue
GVC is on track to generate $4.6 billion in revenue in 2017 through advertising and direct spending, a level that would outpace revenue generated by sports. To put that in perspective, the top soccer leagues in Spain and Germany earned $3.2 billion and $3.5 billion respectively in the 2015-2016 season.
Of the revenue generated from GVC, $3.2 billion will be from ads and sponsorships, SuperData predicted. The remaining 31 percent of revenue will be direct to the streamers, with nearly half of all US GVC viewers paying for a subscription or making a voluntary donation. GVC viewers are highly loyal to the streamers they follow and pay to have access to ad-free streams or to earn on-air shout outs.
Amazon’s Twitch earns 37 percent of GVC revenue despite only having 16 percent of the viewers. In addition, 51 percent of Twitch revenue comes from direct spending, versus 31 percent for the industry overall. Amazon recently launched the ability to purchase digital PC games directly from Twitch streams.
According to SuperData’s research, 51 percent of GVC viewers have purchased a game directly after seeing it featured in a stream. PC and console players who watch this content spend over $70 a month on digital games and in-game content, 56 percent more than their non-viewer counterparts.
Gaming Is The New TV
SuperData found that these audiences are less likely to engage with mainstream platforms like cable TV, with 20 percent of US GVC streamers being “cord-cutters,” compared to eight percent of the general US population. Twenty-seven percent of livestream viewers watching most often during weekday evenings, often replacing primetime TV. Between YouTube’s 517 million users and Twitch’s 185 million, the GVC audience surpasses mainstream channels like ESPN and HBO.
“Gaming Video Content represents a highly desirable market to advertisers due to the fact that its audience is young, tech-savvy and willing to spend money,” Carter Rogers, research manager at SuperData Research, said in a statement. “Companies who do not advertise to GVC viewers risk missing potential customers as they turn to streams over legacy media. With a global audience that reaches more viewers than HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined, brands could be losing out on the next primetime viewing activity—not unlike TV or sports viewing at their peaks.”
Over 40 percent of US GVC viewers watch walkthroughs, trailers and humor videos. These genres appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers whereas livestreams, peer-to-peer and esports content disproportionately attract hardcore gamers, SuperData noted.
Viewers watched nearly 100 million hours of League of Legends gameplay on Twitch in February of 2017, followed by Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), with viewers watching 40 million hours.
SuperData’s study found that esports and livestream viewers watch more than four hours of content per week, and these types of content have become appointment viewing, much like primetime TV or real-life sporting events.
These days, there’s not much Twitch doesn’t do. The gaming livestreaming service that was a spinoff of Justin.tv back in June 2011 now hosts its own annual TwitchCon event, allows partnered streamers to earn money by selling PC games and in-game content, and even helps parent company Amazon decide which Hollywood pilots will get the greenlight for Amazon Prime.
That’s a far cry from the early days of 2007, when Justin.tv launched and managed to survive the recession that ended the decade. That’s when video games emerged as a new opportunity for the company in 2010. “Justin (Kan) and I had been researching gaming stuff for a year and we had talked to Blizzard and MLG, but it was too soon,” Kevin Lin, co-founder and COO of Twitch, told AListDaily.
That changed when Blizzard released beta keys of StarCraft II and people started watching YouTube videos by gamers like Sean “Day9” Plott. “We thought, ‘Why don’t people use us?’” said Lin. “So, we started talking to creators and applied their feedback to add commercial breaks, subscriptions, live transcodes and all the things needed to build a platform for gaming.”
It’s that creator-first philosophy that led to the start of the Twitch brand in 2011. Lin said the company didn’t build anything that the creators didn’t say they wanted, and that helped the social video platform to flourish, beating its six-month projections in the first two months. But coming up with the name of the channel was a bit more complicated.
“We spent months wracking our brains trying to find a five- to six-letter word with one syllable,” Lin explained. “We built a crawler to find domains that were available. Twitch muscles came up as a gaming skill that was needed, but that wasn’t in the crawler. After trying to come up with names around ‘game,’ ‘live,’ ‘broadcast’ and ‘stream,’ Twitch stuck out for us and we created a logo around it and everyone just called it Twitch internally. It took three or four months to get that name.”
According to Lin, the core of the Twitch brand as it was built over the last six years is “gamer lifestyle.”
“Twitch is the celebration of our love for games,” he said. “But games only define one piece of who we are. Over time, a lot of streamers were also artists and musicians and IRL became a thing because creators wanted to be able to talk about life philosophies and shoot the breeze. As you see people get together at TwitchCon and people meeting together for the first time or viewers and broadcaster relationships, Twitch is about sharing commonalities. It’s also seen through our team and staff, which have a strong relationship with partners, broadcasters and viewers.”
Since Amazon acquired Twitch in August 2015 for $970 million, the parent company has allowed Twitch to move more boldly into big ideas like commerce. “We wanted to do this for a long time, and game companies had been asking us to do this for a long time, but we had to make sure we had everything ready,” said Lin. “It’s an excellent new revenue stream for streamers.”
Twitch is also working with Amazon Game Studios to help develop new PC games that are being designed for streaming. “It allows us to think about how to build a game that’s not only a Twitch play style of game, but has a great ecosystem on Twitch and allows for promotion and allows different paradigms to grow,” Lin said.
Since Twitch gamers also listen to music, watch TV shows and read comics, Amazon also opened up a lot of different ways to bring things to the Twitch audience that they’re interested in. “With the Power Rangers marathon, we wanted to know if this content that a lot of our audience has grown up with since 1993 and is fun, campy and has a good message would resonate today,” Lin said. “And sure enough it did. Can a more mainstream-style show work? We’ll continue experimenting with that stuff.”
Experimentation is part of Twitch’s DNA. The company has livestreamed everything from poker to Julia Childs to Bob Ross in recent years. Twitch also launched its own music library, and along the way, it has helped entertainment companies like Netflix promote Stranger Things and HBO market Game of Thrones directly to its active community.
However, Twitch isn’t the only game in town, nor is it the largest community, with giants like YouTube and Facebook also focusing on games.
“The thing that differentiates us is we are our community internally as staff,” Lin said. “We engage with and many of us are creators. We lean on creators to get feedback and ideas on tools they need for promotion and to generate revenue and to connect better with fans and with each other as creators. That helps us build the right projects. We try to build for the broad creator base as much as possible. We have these communities—a word a lot of people use, but we take it very seriously.”
While other companies will build discovery based on a game or event, Lin said Twitch builds discovery around communities that are self-organized and self-identified. “We’re also building a platform to connect a global community and not siloing off regions,” Lin said. “While we’re extending to new categories, but gaming is always core for us. We’re not a broad generalist platform—we started with a smaller group of gamers, grew them to a large group, and then expanded from there.”
Lin said Twitch has opened up different paradigms of developers to integrate as they build new games, including interactive components where the audience can impact the game as well as new ways to engage with the audience socially to connect broadcasting or content creation with rewards for people watching the game.
“We’re seeing a lot of experimentation in mobile development today and we’ll see that in PC as well,” Lin said. “Twitch audience engagement opens up a whole different type of transactional ecosystem. Now, game companies are working on different types of economies that encourage the audience to interact and transact. A new paradigm will happen.”
Amazon is offering new ways for game makers to tap into these evolving trends through its free Lumberyard game engine technology. Breakaway, the four vs. four MOBA, is the first amazon game built for spectating.
“We talk to a lot of game developers about how to build a great game that’s also a great game for Twitch creators and our audience,” Lin said. “We’re doing a lot of testing and experimenting to find out how to build new economics that both players and streamers can participate in this new world of audience interaction and spectating games using Twitch as this great megaphone.”
US mobile game revenue continues to grow, according to a new report by Sega Networks and Sensor Tower. Annual revenue of mobile games grew by seven percent from $5.75 billion in 2015 to $6.15 billion in 2016.
Knowing Is Downloading
While original IP games accounted for 63 percent of total revenue in December, branded IP games are expected to surpass original IP-based games in revenue in 2018. The original IP category (such as Candy Crush or Clash of Clans) experienced 30 percent growth throughout the year, while branded or licensed games like Pokémon GO and Madden NFL Mobile experienced massive growth of 139 percent. This trend indicates a shift and rising interest for known licensed and branded IP among the consumer market.
In fact, seven of the top 10 games released in 2016 were licensed brand or expansion game IPs, which accounted for 93 percent of revenue ($614 million) and 68 percent (40 million) of downloads.
The top-grossing title for 2016 in the US was Game of War, which made an average of $43.2 million per month on iOS and Google Play. The top-200-grossing titles of 2016 in the US generated a total of $6.6 billion. The top five grossing mobile games generated 28 percent of total market revenue compared with 40 percent for 2015, however, indicating significant revenue distribution away from the top of the charts.
The top categories were Strategy, Casino, and Puzzle which accounted for $4.3 billion in combined revenue and 70.2 percent of the overall market. Strategy accounted for $2.1 billion of that total, as well as four of the top five games in terms of revenue.
2016 Top 10 Mobile Publishers In The US By Revenue:
Brands that act as content creators need to rethink their message.
Like . . . six-seconds quick.
Google chaperoned a new age of storytelling last year by constraining creativity with six-second YouTube bumper ads. Adoption is currently taking place on the platform before the phase-out of unskippable 30-second ads fully takes place.
Short attentions spans call for short-form content and even shorter messaging—which could be complex if it’s not navigated correctly.
YouTube showed their own chops last month by crunching classic books like “Romeo and Juliet,” “On the Origin of Species” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” into vignettes by sharing the absolute storytelling essentials.
Google creative director Ben Jones joined AListDaily to explain how marketers need to rethink their messaging.
How are you advising brands and marketers to rethink their storytelling and messages with the six-second ad?
The fun thing about six-second ads is that I think of it as quantum video. When it was 15 seconds, you could cut your 30-second spot, and it would work. But you can’t cut a 30 into six seconds. It’s too much. The rules have to change. The storytelling has to change at that size. What we’re seeing with the brands that are embracing is really fresh and interesting storytelling built for six seconds. I think the two creative opportunities that people are seeing is that it’s a sort of painless opportunity to tell a story, so you can do a lot of experimentation. Also, no one is making just one. So it’s not just one six-second ad—it’s three-four-and-five six-second ads, and people are playing with the fact that there are these little bits that are related.
Will success translate in this new setting for brands who have had previous hits with short-form storytelling?
I think there are a lot of commonalities between those formats, and the idea of that kind of storytelling. Although I feel like part of the peculiar magic of Vine was the looping, a story that’s so funny and interesting that you can watch it several times. Certainly with Snapchat, there’s immediacy and authenticity, which are very related to what people want to see in six seconds.
If you’re to answer the following question in under six seconds … how do you tell a story in six seconds?
Nobody knows! So let’s find out! (laughs)
What do brands need to do in order to become better storytellers?
The storytelling bar has gotten so high. We’re now at a billion hours per day of watch time on YouTube. There are 400 new scripted shows being launched in the next 12 months. So that’s what people are spending their time with. If you’re going to tell a story that anyone is going to pay attention to, or remember, you have to do it a lot better. I think it’s an exciting time because the safe space is disappearing. You can’t just put out a basic product. You’ll drown. People pay attention to brands who tell great stories. They’ll seek them out. They’ll spend time with them. One of the surprising learnings of Unskippable Labs has been that people don’t hate ads. They hate bad ads. And they sure love the great ones.
Can you take us through your latest initiative in the Unskippable Labs. What’s that about?
Unskippable Labs is a scientific method to see how ads affect consumers. It’s an experimentation we create for deliberate hypothesis, like, “how should storytelling change for mobile?” We craft assets that are not about “what’s the best ad that I can make?” but “what will reveal something about this hypothesis?” We run the stuff in-market, so it’s behavior in the wild. Through that, we understand a little bit more about how stories should be told. We did about 25 experiments in the last year—mobile, editing, length, story structure—and it’s revealing surprising things about how our behaviors are changing, what kind of new behaviors are emerging and what it means for brands. . . . What pushed us in that direction was me pushing our own team to make content ourselves, and test it ourselves. The whole program started internally. I said “let’s shoot some stuff on a phone and put it up on YouTube. We’ll run it on my credit card as ads. We got such surprising results—like if people will pay attention to a “face” longer, or a “place” longer. . . . It really showed me there’s a lot we don’t understand about how stories unfold. So we started experimenting more, and it just showed me that consumer behavior is running faster than what our sense of what consumer behavior is. So we needed to do experimentation with Unskippable Labs to catch up.
Is it also a workaround to ad-blocking?
You know, it’s interesting. I feel like if the stories are good, then you don’t need a workaround to ad-blocking. Ad-blocking is just a frustration with the ad value that you’re getting. Tell better stories, and people will pay attention.
What kind of insight can you share on a user’s “skipping” culture of YouTube ads?
Here’s what I would say—first, I think all media is skippable, whether a “skip” button comes up, or not. We did some eye-tracking research and found that the majority of Americans that watch TV with a phone in their hand are not even watching the first five seconds of a TV ad. What we’re exploring through media that has a skip button is “what’s the nature of attention? What do you choose to give your time to? What’s the data behind it?” The benchmark skip rate is around 28 percent. Almost 30 percent of the people are choosing to watch at least some of the ads. If they choose to watch, the longer they watch, the better it is for brands. If you’re telling a great story, there is plenty of opportunities to get the word out.
Will Unskippable Labs be weaved into YouTube TV? Is this where it will be headed?
It’s not. Not right now. We’re going to do experiments that are on TV, and about TV, but not specifically for YouTube TV. But we’re exploring how the patterns of optimization for digital and mobile may be effective on TV as well. If it’s about attention, and my TV ad is skippable, should I be thinking about the same strategies that work digitally for my TV ads?
Will there be an ad strategy for brands to take on YouTube TV?
The ad strategy is no different on YouTube TV. It’s a pipe of content via YouTube, but it’s not changing. It’s going to be the same ads. The ads or content that you see from the networks on your TV will be the same ones that you get on YouTube TV. Everything is the same.
What are some of the marketing trends YouTube is paying attention to in order to further innovate the brand?
We are super interested in virtual-and-augmented reality, 360-degree video and up to Daydream. We as human beings, every time we’ve had the opportunity to have a more immersive experience, we’ve always gone toward that direction. I don’t think VR is at scale, but it’s going to be amazing and transformative and we’re interested to see evolution there. I also think the connection of data to the creative side of storytelling is coming. The programmatic world has exploded, but we haven’t evolved creative at the same rate. So how does creative evolve for programmatic is a big question for us, and I’m super interested to see where that goes. The technology exists to dynamically shape your creative. But we don’t know what the stories are that will be most affected there.
I think that it’s certainly emerging. Is there is a relentless appetite for 360 videos? No. But there’s also not an endless supply of excellent 360 videos. The biggest thing that we see is shooting it like a video. You have to take advantage of the fact that it’s 360 and have different axis of action for people to look at. Think about the experience of not cutting too quickly because the cadence of cutting from a flat video is totally different with 360 video. I just don’t think we have our brains around that kind of storytelling yet. And users—what’s going to be amazing and enveloping of an environment for a user to take advantage of it?
How is the world of mobile advertising changing?
It’s interesting. I think that for mobile video, in particular, the screen is changing. We’ve been very focused on horizontal-versus-vertical video. But there are all of these other elements like pacing, framing and color correction, which are different in the mobile world. Story structure is also more different in the mobile world than we think. We’re not paying enough attention to those elements. Mobile storytelling is changing more, and faster. We don’t quite have our eye on the ball there yet.
Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
I feel that it’s an exciting and amazing time to be doing this, because people have never spent more time with media and content, and never been more engaged in it, never been hungrier for it. So if you’re a storyteller, it should be a great time. People want to know what you’re selling. Just be amazing at it.
Snoopy Pop, an all-new bubble popper game, is floating its way onto mobile devices this summer. The game features classic characters from Charles Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic including Charlie Brown, Woodstock, Lucy and Snoopy, of course, as well as his alter egos.
With titles like Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff, Jam City, the publisher behind Snoopy Pop, is no stranger to iconic franchises. Its other game Panda Pop has been the No. 1 bubble popper in revenue over the past 12 months in the US and worldwide. So, why Peanuts?
“When we think about new partners for our fun, accessible, global games, we need brands that have the same type of reach that our games have across all ages around the world,” Jam City co-founder, president and COO Josh Yguado told AListDaily. “Snoopy is both nostalgic (decades of comic strips and holiday specials), and contemporary (Gucci, Versace, etc). Every generation has a relationship with the brand. And it’s global—as big in Japan as it is in the US and UK. We are honored to be working with one of the most iconic and beloved characters in the world. And for this title in particular, which is about Snoopy solving levels to save his friend Woodstock, the playful and loving relationship between the two main characters was absolutely perfect for the gameplay.”
The publisher could very easily clone its existing bubble poppers like Smurfs Bubble Story or Panda Pop, but Shultz’s characters lend themselves to a unique story, as well.
“First, the bubble-popping mechanic in this game actually has a purpose,” Yguado explained. “It’s all about Snoopy doing whatever it takes to save his friends. Second, we’ve woven all the most beloved Peanuts characters into the narrative and gameplay in unique and innovative ways. Each character has a unique power up that you earn in-game and helps to solve challenging bubble-popping puzzles. We believe that no other bubble popper game has integrated the characters and story into the game in such a fun and innovative way. Last, the game has a deep collection system that allows you to share the items and postcards from your adventure with real-world friends across social media.”
Marketing with nostalgia is a double-edged sword. While fond memories will have consumers seeking out a product in droves, failure to respect or accurately represent those fond memories can lead to disaster. Yguado is confident that Peanuts fans will not be disappointed.
“We’ve spared no expense to make sure that this game is true to the original artistic vision of Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz,” he explained. “The team has spent time with the core Peanuts creative team on the Schulz Campus in Santa Rosa. All creative was developed in collaboration with the Peanuts team. More broadly, we think crafting a challenging, fun, wholesome game with the Peanuts characters, that enables more people and new generations to discover and enjoy the world of Peanuts, is something that fulfills the vision and spirit of the brand. This game is all about authenticity, brought to a new medium and platform.”
For those unfamiliar with Snoopy, he has a very vivid imagination, which creates multiple alter egos such as a WWI flying ace going up against the Red Baron. Fans will also recognize a number of famous scenes, such as Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.
“Not only are many of the iconic scenes there now, but we are going to be releasing new content every week with both well-known and all-new scenes,” said Yguado. “I can tell you that there are entire gameplay modes featuring both Snoopy and the Red Baron and Snoopy and the Beagle Scouts. This is a great game for both super fans and people just getting into the franchise.
As for the story, players will just have to find out this summer, but can pre-register on iOS and Android so they can download this free title right away.
“We don’t want to give too much away,” Yguado said when asked about the game’s story. “At the core of it, the story is that there was a bubble catastrophe, and it’s up to Snoopy to travel the globe, solve puzzles and rescue Woodstock and the rest of his little yellow friends. Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Pigpen and all the gang are there to help out in unique ways.”
Baobab Studios has been on a roll since debuting its VR short, Invasion! at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. In just a short time, the company raised $25 million in funding from multiple investors, debuted Asteroids! (the sequel to Invasion!), and it is now ready to premiere the first episode of its latest project, Rainbow Crow, at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.
Rainbow Crow is a multi-chapter narrative based on a Native American myth involving a beautiful multicolored bird with a mellifluous singing voice who embarks on an adventure to save the world and its creatures—a friendly but excitable skunk in particular—from freezing in a long winter. The VR experience features the voice of singer John Legend, who plays the title character and is also a producer for the series.
The series is currently in production with a launch on all major VR platforms expected later this year. Similar to Asteroids!, viewers will be able to interact with the experience, such as shaking a pair of branches using touch controllers to add snow flurries to a scene.
Baobab CEO, Maureen Fan, and chief creative officer and studio co-founder, Eric Darnell (who also directed the Madagascar movies), sat down with AListDaily to talk about how Rainbow Crow came together and how John Legend became involved. The two also go in-depth on how they’re treating VR as a new storytelling medium and why celebrities seem to be so attracted to it.
How has Baobab been evolving its content?
Fan: Following the success of Invasion!, we premiered Asteroids! at the Sundance Film Festival. Asteroids! takes place in the same universe as Invasion! and stars Elizabeth Banks. Invasion! is one of the top VR experiences across all platforms. Back when it launched, people thought that VR was just about hardcore games, and it was surprising to everyone that our piece shot to the top. We discovered that narrative VR is something that people want, and not just that, but specifically things that are lighthearted and comedic. Rainbow Crow is somewhat comedic, but it’s more dramatic than Invasion!, however it still proves that people want narrative experiences in VR.
The important thing about Invasion! was because it was the first time we made you a character in VR. You were a bunny and nobody had done that before. Now everyone is trying to do that. The second thing that Eric figured out how to do was to direct the viewer’s eyes using another bunny. When she looked to the right, you look there too to see what she’s looking at.
But the big thing we learned from Invasion! was how much people loved that bunny. People tried to pet her, and they waved at her and tried to play with her because they were sure that she was real. In film, you don’t really believe a person is real when they break the fourth wall and look at you. But in VR, you believe that things are there with you. So, with Asteroids! we wanted to take that feeling of caring and turn it into action. Now you can use controllers and help the characters and do tasks. Asteroids! is about Mac and Cheese, the two aliens from Invasion!, and you’re aboard their spaceship. You’re a menial task robot, and your job is to help them and earn their approval.
We like to say that if a little girl was crying on a park bench in a film, you’d feel bad for her but do nothing. If it’s in a game, you’d go talk to her, but you’re doing it to get information to reach the next level. If it’s in real life, you would probably talk to her because you care about her. Our creative vision is to get the empathy of films with the agency of games but the motivation of real life, where you interact with these characters because you care about them. We think VR allows you to do what no other medium allows: care about those characters more than in film or television.
How would you describe Rainbow Crow?
Darnell: The background is based on a Lenni Lenape Tribe Native American legend. The story has been passed down orally for generations. So, we’ve taken this story, which is the origin story about why crows are the way they are today, and expanded on it by adding detail and depth that digs deeper into some of the thematic components and makes things more contemporary for modern audiences. It’s almost like a storybook that you can imagine someone telling around the campfire, so we’re approaching it like a storybook with chapters.
John is very excited about it, and one of the reasons he wanted to do it was because of the themes of self-sacrifice, giving back, bringing light to darkness and self-acceptance.
How did John Legend become involved?
Fan: In general, Eric is very pure. He doesn’t do things based off how much of a celebrity someone is. So, we come up with a list of people, and he closes his eyes while we play YouTube videos. Then he figures out which voice sounds most like the character he’s envisioning. John Legend was one of the voices Eric really liked, so we approached him, and he has apparently been looking into the VR industry for quite some time. He has been approached by many people, but he specifically loved the themes in Rainbow Crow. John is a huge social activist, so it’s always important for him to always be giving back to the community. He’s interested in VR because it’s another platform for him to share his values with people. He’s an artist—a singer—but he was also an actor and an executive producer for La La Land. It was just a perfect match for us.
It’s been amazing that we’ve been able to attract so much star power. Usually, it’s Hollywood putting their stuff into new technologies. But these artists are doing it because they’re so creatively excited by this medium. We’re really honored because they have so many people they can choose to work with, and they’ve chosen us because we’re similarly minded. John isn’t just a voice, he’s creatively involved and he has helped us come up with ideas. But it’s also from a business perspective in terms of our relationships, our distributors and the success of Invasion!
Why make Rainbow Crow an episodic series instead of another short?
Fan: It’s about length. All of our episodes will be between five to twelve minutes long, and we do this because we know that people don’t necessarily want to be in the headsets for extended periods of time. We’re going to have a minimum of three episodes, and it’s a matter of figuring out where the natural breaking points are. Then people can decide whether they want to binge watch them all or experience them in short chunks. Right now, what’s important is experimenting, and working with shorter chunks allows us to experiment more.
Darnell: This is a magical story that exists outside of reality. Perhaps it will remind you of some of the storybooks you read as a kid. We were thinking about what it would be like if you could step into a page from your favorite storybook. We’re thinking of it like a book with chapters, and thinking of the world as one that’s not trying to be photoreal—but it will feel real because it’s virtual reality. [Chapters] are also part of the experimentation. If people are leaning into a moment, thematic component, or character—that’s great for us to know. Then we can look at our chapters down the road and think about how we can leverage off the things people are responding positively to.
Ethan Hawke is a voice in Invasion!, Elizabeth Banks is in Asteroids! and now John Legend is in Rainbow Crow. Are you surprised that so many celebrities want to be involved in VR?
Fan: I think it makes sense. It doesn’t necessarily make sense for studios to get deeply involved yet, because VR is still experimental and they don’t know if it will ever monetize. So, it makes sense that they use VR more as a marketing budget for other things. But actors and actresses are creatively minded. They want to do what is exciting to them. So, it’s no surprise that VR is exciting to them, because it’s magic. For John, he doesn’t just get to be a part of it, he gets to drive it.
What audience are you targeting with your VR projects?
Fan: Definitely families. We were told that one of the reasons that Invasion! took off is because most VR caters to a very specific audience with hardcore games or documentaries about Syria. Samsung told us that one of the reasons they liked using us as their main demo was because it brought delight and smiles to everybody’s faces, from children to grandmas. When you can do a story very well, audiences will like it. Rainbow Crow is more dramatic than Invasion!, so it may be more appealing to certain audiences. We’re going after VR enthusiasts while hoping that we’ll bring more audiences to the medium.
Darnell: It was very encouraging for us because when we came out, most of the audience was early adopters. In the sea of games and more mature content—or at least content that was targeted for adults—we were able to leap to the top of the charts with our cute little bunny. That meant that there were a lot of twenty-something-year-old gamers who were responding to our stuff. If we can have a great story and tell it well with characters that people can connect with, then I think that opens up a broad audience for us. That includes children, grandparents, teens, adults and anybody who is excited about VR.
Facebook kicked off its annual F8 developer conference on Tuesday, sharing the latest trends and updates that affect brands and users alike.
Say It With AR
“We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in the keynote.
Facebook’s new Camera Effects Platform turns smartphone cameras into an open augmented reality (AR) platform, allowing artists and developers to create effects for the Facebook camera. Users will have access to thousands of effects and backgrounds from all over the world, Zuckerberg explained. The Camera Effects Platform launched Tuesday in beta. Early AR Studio beta partners include Electronic Arts’ Mass Effect: Andromeda, GIPHY, Manchester United, Nike, Real Madrid, TripIt and Warner Bros’ Justice League.
Users will immediately notice the similarities to Snapchat features, to which Zuckerberg told critics, “I guess I’m not that worried about that . . . the first chapter that made sense was to release products that people were familiar with . . . but the unique thing that we’re going to do is we’re not just going to build basic cameras, we’re going to build the first mainstream augmented reality platform.”
The open platform is an opportunity for brands to create custom frames and AR effects, but the availability for millions of users to create them could make discovery a bit more difficult. This is where influence marketing may prove ideal for showing off branded AR on Facebook.
“Since AR on mobile is a budding technology that a lot of people are excited about, and there is a high likelihood Apple will soon show AR capabilities on their newest models, Facebook is marching forward on that front,” Stephanie Llamas, vice president of SuperData, said in a statement. “This is a particularly poignant space for them as they continue to make a mark in the mobile space.”
VR Finally Gets Social
One of the major hurdles in VR adoption by consumers has been a lack of social features. While multiplayer is available on a number of games, watching someone else put on the headset isn’t quite as fun as wearing one yourself. When Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014, people wondered what the heck a social network was going to do with virtual reality . . . until now.
Last year at Facebook’s Oculus Connect, Zuckerberg demonstrated a VR conference call which has now been unveiled as Facebook Spaces—a virtual hangout for friends and co-workers to goof off or collaborate on projects. The Oculus app uses Facebook account credentials to access photos, friends and other info you might want to share or create an avatar out of. The app is currently in beta for Oculus Rift and Touch.
For brands and game developers, Facebook Spaces may someday expand to interacting with game worlds or characters, or having a virtual conversation with a customer service rep.
“Transporting to new worlds is something VR users are expressing a significant interest in—be able to do it with friends is even better. Facebook isn’t just allowing people to share social experiences, they are allowing experiences to be social,” Llamas noted.
A Great Time For Game Time
Instant Games are already a big hit for Facebook, who reported that more than 1.5 billion games have been played across Messenger and the Facebook News Feed within the last 90 days. Developers can now customize their own start-and-end screens and integrate new APIs that can help drive share and connected gameplay, Facebook announced.
Gameroom, meanwhile, is Facebook’s new PC desktop gaming platform launching with more than a thousand titles. Designed for games built in HTML5, WebGL or Flash, developers are now able to port games to the Gameroom APK that are built in a variety of engines including Unreal Engine, Cocos2d and more.
A new games tab will help make it easier for players to discover titles on Facebook. Additionally, developers will be able to leverage game bots to create engaging ways for players to connect to their games through actions they take directly within a Messenger chat.
“We are also in the early stages of rolling out the new Games Feed in Gameroom that offers players a continuously updating list of stories that are 100 percent focused on games-related content,” Facebook noted on its blog. “We want to improve discovery for game developers by helping people find out about different games they may enjoy, featuring studio-created posts, videos like producers’ chats and general games news.”
Bots Join The Conversation
Say a group of Facebook users are chatting with friends over Messenger when one of them mentions dinner. M, Facebook’s virtual assistant, may now appear in the style of Microsoft’s “Clippy”—suggesting a restaurant and allowing everyone to make an order directly from the app. Chat extensions will allow users to contextually invite bots into a group chat for other functions, including listening to music and playing games.
For brands who have or plan on developing a chatbot, a new Discover feature allows users to browse and find them easier within Messenger. Consumers can engage with a specific bot by scanning a special QR code. In addition, businesses can generate multiple QR codes for their bots and see which ones are being scanned the most.
Facebook says 1.2 billion people use Messenger every month and “tens of thousands” of developers are building chatbots on the platform. The latest updates are telling of a desire to make Messenger the only app people need. A recent study by Aspect found that 70 percent of millennials “feel good” about chatbots. In addition, 54 percent prefer all customer interactions via electronic means and 49 percent feel that texting is the most effective communication for customer service.
Aside from buying a house, purchasing a new car is the single-highest expense a consumer will ever make.
Mazda is trying to make that experience as enjoyable as possible—all while making sure that car buyers are getting into their line of vehicles for entirely the right reasons.
The first step in the process for the 97-year-old manufacturer was acknowledging that Mazda is not for everybody. The second was to start sharing a dynamic story around design and driving. The brand’s repositioned efforts are fueling a marketing strategy that aims at building on their less than 2 percent share of global auto sales.
A focal point in their quest to creating separation between them and mass-market brands—and growing the right way—is by transforming from company-centric marketing to consumer-centric marketing, and being more of an experience provider as they embark on acquiring 15 percent of the 17 million new-car buyers.
Their “Driving Matters” dubbed campaigns stress the stories behind design to draw in new buyers, all while reshaping the brand’s perception among consumers.
Russell Wager, Mazda’s vice president of marketing, oversees all aspects of US marketing for the company, which includes electronic advertising, social media, brand experience and auto shows, among other verticals. The 20-year auto industry marketing veteran joined AListDaily to share the car company’s refined approached to consumer engagement.
Overall, we’re trying to make sure we have dialogue as opposed to one-way conversations with our customers. We’re seeing a little bit more engagement both on social channels, and on our ride-and-drive programs around the country. In addition to the press and journalists who cover the industry, we’re now inviting loyal owners to come to our events to hear from our engineers, designers and research and development teams first-hand about the latest in Mazda’s products, and the stories behind them. We are seeing huge engagement, not only from the people that are attending, but from their friends and followers, too, on how we’re giving them a chance for one-to-one dialogues with our teams.
What is Mazda’s marketing strategy with millennials and digital natives?
We’re definitely about driving pleasure. People who purchase Mazda are not the ones going from point A to point B. They are going from point A to point C to point B because driving in a Mazda reenergizes and rejuvenates them. Whether it’s millennials, or anyone else, there is big room in each demographic. We’re just being core to our messaging in what we build, design and engineer in every single one of our cars. At the same time, we are starting to show that our vehicles are for people that are willing to pay a little bit more to get the right technology and design. In our studies, we’re now seeing that millennials, and all the way up to the baby boomers, that education, income and loyalty repurchase are all trending upward. We’re still behind the industry average, but it’s made significant growth from under 30 percent to an almost 40 percent loyalty rate in just the last three years.
How is Mazda repositioning the company as a brand of the future?
Our overall global strategy is very simple—we want to put smiles on people’s faces. At the end of the day, we make vehicles that will hopefully contribute to that. But everything we do is definitely trying to find ways of enjoyment in the car, enabling people to feel safe and secure, delivering experiences, like at SXSW earlier this year. All of that is what we’re trying to do as we ultimately move toward our seventh generation product, which will be coming here in a few years.
When we look at who our target audience is, it’s highly educated, affluent people who are definitely looking to be on the cutting edge of film, music and technology. SXSW serves to be a logical partnership for us over the last years. The results in engagement on social and on-site activations have far exceeded what we’ve set out to do. Besides getting exposure, we want to simplify people’s lives with our Mazda Express service, which is one thing we’ve seen grow. We had four-to-five thousand people use it the first year. Last year we had 11,000. This year, our pre-registration was at 5,000. It’s a mutual benefit because we get people to experience the ride of a Mazda, which is great. We also shifted our strategy from telling our Mazda story at our Empire Studio, as opposed to the Austin Convention Center.
How are you using social data to better connect with consumers?
Unfortunately, we were a little late to the game, so in July we deployed test cases to see if it’s working. We already have started to see a decreased range between 50 and 75 percent on responses based on modeling for the right targets. As much as we’d like everyone to purchase a Mazda, Mazda is not for everybody. Before, we had a little too much of what I’ll call a “shotgun” approach. We’re now seeing it be more “rifle-like” because it’s getting more refined each and every time we deploy campaigns. Data is a big effort. We have the data, but some people have purchased Mazda vehicles because it was a great deal at the time. Some people may have purchased it because of the style or technology. We’re now finding which one of these people are more likely to repurchase and stay within the Mazda family as opposed to being a one-and-done. It’s about understanding and recognizing if customers might be purchasing Mazda for the wrong reasons we stand for. So we’re refining our messaging to make sure everyone knows what they’re buying into.
What are the insights and data that influence your marketing strategy? Is there a new product or service that you think will influence decisions?
We use analytics on a regular basis for our media planning. We utilize analytics that helps us look at over 1,900 different input variables, like media spend, inventories, competitive spend, weather, economy, housing, and the like. All of these things help us determine media mix elements from two perspectives. One, what will help us drive a retail sale? And two, what will help increase favorable opinion of Mazda? This helps us decide where we put our funds into markets—like national versus local.
What emerging trends and platforms are you looking to explore in order to innovate the Mazda brand?
Everyone is saying how digital is becoming more prevalent—and that’s true. I think it’s the combination of data and digital to deliver one-to-one experiences. More than 40 percent of the budget today is in digital. At the end of the day, there is enough information about people out there that you should be able to customize dialogue, conversation or communication with them, whether you’re online or offline. It needs to be personalized to them. That’s ultimately to where I think we’ll get to. It’s increasingly happening on social channels. That will allow for a customer to get a little more in-depth knowledge than just a broad, mass swath of communication. They actually get the things that are relevant to them.
What is one element of your marketing that you are trying to improve on?
We want to tell more of our design, engineering and heritage stories. It’s our overall challenge as we move forward with our communications into 2017. On the surface, it sounds like it’s easy to do. Like, “just do it!” It’s about telling people of the background of Mazda, and its roots in Hiroshima, Japan, and the company’s never-give-up attitude. We want people to understand that designers are crafting creative works of art. The same goes from a technology standpoint. We try to look at tech that will help customers in their everyday lives. That is the story that we are going to tell.
This week, a classic adventure returns and a beloved franchise gets immortalized by its fans.
Full Throttle Remastered
Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions continues its revitalization of LucasArts classic games through Full Throttle Remastered. Twenty-two years after its original release, the game features all new hand-drawn and 3D high-resolution artwork with 4K support and remastered audio and music. As with previous remastered games from the studio, players can switch back and forth between classic and remastered modes, view concept art and listen to a commentary track with the game’s original creators.
A special behind-the-scenes look was given to IGN in December to illustrate (literally) how this classic adventure came to life. Tim Schafer later joined IGN and PC Gamer to To show off the first 30 minutes of gameplay to old school fans and newcomers alike.
Dragon Quest Heroes II
Released in Japan last year, Square Enix’ hack-n-slash RPG has finally been released for PlayStation 4, Steam and Nintendo Switch worldwide. To gear up for the momentous occasion, the publisher’s social media team kept fans engaged through social media in new and creative ways.
Reddit conducted an experiment called “Place,” in which users were allowed to place one pixel of color onto a canvas every five minutes. Users had just 72 hours to create images or messages individually or as a group and the undertaking resulted in a social experiment of conflict resolution, treaties, debates and more. Among the images were memorials, flags, logos and characters from pop culture. Square Enix worked with fans to get its Dragon Quest slime mascot into the piece and was successful—a testament to the dedication of its followers.
The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off this week, and one of its main showcases includes Tribeca Immersive, which debuted as two separate exhibits (The VR Arcade and Storyscapes) last year. This time around, the two exhibits are being brought together into one event, which will run from April 21 to 29, and features multiple worldwide premieres on a variety of virtual reality platforms. Sponsored by AT&T, Storyscapes will include six virtual reality projects from four countries. At the same time, The VR Arcade will showcase 23 experiences from six countries, with 17 of them being world premieres.
AListDaily talks to Loren Hammonds, programmer and live events producer at Tribeca Film Festival, about the event’s second annual VR showcase and how the medium continues to grow.
“VR has grown in a major way over the past year, mainly due to the way the creators have led the charge,” said Hammonds. “We’re now seeing VR move beyond the demo phase and into an age in which a lot of creators are putting story front-and-center as they acknowledge the storytelling benefits that the technology offers.”
When asked about how this year’s Tribeca Film Festival VR exhibit compared to last year, Hammonds said that, “this year’s showcase is different in a few ways. First is the fact that The Virtual Arcade now also houses the Storyscapes selections. Now that both programs are running concurrently under the Tribeca Immersive banner, which allows for a larger and more varied exhibition while also allowing the work to be available for a longer period of time during the festival (April 21st-29th). Next, in terms of content curation, we had such amazing submissions this year, along with new work from creators that we have wonderful relationships with. This made curating the program a bit more difficult but also more exciting. I think that there are some remarkable breakthroughs in the program that reflect not just where VR is at the moment, but also where it can go in the future.”
This year’s VR Arcade features a number of world premieres. We asked Hammonds for his thoughts on how creators have taken to VR. “Creators are definitely taking to VR very enthusiastically, and many are still coming from different disciplines to build the grammar around this new medium,” he said. “This year alone, we have Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow collaborating with Imraan Ismail for their piece, The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes. Steven Schardt, who is an accomplished indie film producer, has his debut VR experience Auto premiering in the Arcade, which is a beautiful piece of storytelling in VR. We also continue to have established pioneers like Chris Milk & Aaron Koblin, Gabo Arora & Ari Palitz, Felix & Paul and more, who are all showcasing or premiering their remarkable new work. It’s an embarrassment of riches, which means that they are all doing something very right to be able to continue creating at this level.”
When asked whether the majority of experiences used premium headsets or mobile devices, Hammonds said, “we have a fair split between mobile and premium or room scale-capable devices this year. Surprisingly, the amount of room scale experiences has actually grown this season. I think this is mainly due to the excitement and innovation of developers and creators to build experiences that allow for richer interactivity and fuller immersion.”
Hammonds believes that artists adopt mobile or premium VR platforms depending on the stories that they are trying to tell. “We have many different types of experiences in the program, and some are just more suited to mobile as opposed to premium and vice versa,” said Hammonds. “That said, mobile experiences are definitely improving as adoption has begun to take root with the evolution of the mobile headset. Right now, these are the most easily distributed forms of VR content, so I think we’ll continue to see improvement along these lines.”
So how fast is VR becoming a mainstream form of entertainment? “It remains to be seen how quickly VR will become a mainstream form of entertainment, but there are a lot of factors that are helping to shepherd it along,” said Hammonds. “The fact that a lot of larger film studios are now creating VR content that are not just marketing pieces, but fully realized standalone experiences will definitely help to open the medium to the mainstream. Exhibition is also a really important component of mainstreaming VR. The more often we have these opportunities to show this work to the public who have yet to purchase headsets of their own, the more likely they are to seek out VR independently. That’s my hope for the immediate future.”
Thank you for your continued support and readership.
-The AList Team
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