Growing The ‘Smite’ Franchise With A Collectible Card And Strategy Game

Hi-Rez Studios, makers of the popular competitive games Smite and Paladins, is steadily expanding its portfolio. Earlier this year, the company hosted the Hi-Rez Expo—a convention that now features multiple esports tournaments. There, attendees got first looks at two spin-off games based on Hi-Rez’s flagship title, Smite, a MOBA game where gods from different pantheons battle each other. The first game, Smite Rivalsbrings these gods to the mobile gaming space, while the second game—titled Hand of the Gods: Smite Tactics—takes an altogether different approach with the IP by being a turn-based tactical strategy game with collectible card game (CCG) elements.

Smite Tactics is currently in beta and its featured pantheons include Greek, Egyptian, Norse and Chinese mythologies, which are the main staples of Smite. Players control the movements of these gods while using cards to summon creatures and cast spells to battle their opponents. It’s a game that demands slower pacing than the action game that inspired it, but it also marks a bold move for the company by entering into the CCG space. According to findings from SuperData, digital collectible card games will earn $1.4 billion in 2017, led by Hearthstone.

Scott Zier, executive producer for Hand of the Gods: Smite Tactics, Hi-Rez Studios

Scott Zier, executive producer for Hand of the Gods: Smite Tactics, describes the game as “a turn-based collectible card game that’s based in the Smite universe. Really, it’s a game that’s about building decks, deploying units on the battlefield, and fighting.”

AListDaily sat down with Zier to talk about why Hi-Rez is making a strategy game out of Smite and how these gods might compete in the crowded CCG market.

Changing Genres

When asked about what led to the development of a tactical strategy CCG game, Zier said, “I think there are a lot of inspirations. For me and Scott Lussier, the lead designer, we’ve wanted to do a turn-based game for a while. We play a lot of turn-based games and he has a lot of history with CCGs, I have history games like Civilization, and we were playing a lot of different games at the time. So, we thought it would be cool to do something like that with the Smite characters.”

The game started as a paper prototype, created in Zier and Lussier’s free time, and the two ended up enjoying it so much that they pitched it as a full game. In talking about whether they thought making a strategy game from an action game was a risky move for the IP, Zier said “It was definitely stretching our boundaries, since we’ve only done action-based games for the most part. But the development team plays all kinds of games from different genres, and we’re all avid gamers.”

Zier also admitted that, having made so many action games, creating Smite Tactics was more of a technical challenge than a design one. But “a lot of the pieces came together very well,” he added. “With us using the gods on the battlefield and each of them having an ability, we were able to draw from Smite and bring in the powers that players know about and have used. Bringing that flavor to the characters in Tactics was something that naturally flowed.”

We asked Zier how promoting a strategy game compared to action titles like Smite. “I guess the main difference is that, because it’s a Smite title, there are already a lot of fans interested in it,” said Zier. “That probably made things a lot easier. From a marketing standpoint, we’ve approached it the same way we have previous games. We engage a lot on social media and moved very quickly to bring our players into a closed beta so we could get feedback.” The game launched a promotion in March, where subscribing to the game’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels earned players free card packs.

Zier said that fans responded very positively to Tactics at the Hi-Rez Expo and that they were quickly taking to the different style of gameplay. “Fans have an immediate connection when they see their favorite characters from Smite appear in Tactics,” he explained. “I also think that gamers tend to spread out to a lot of different genres. There are a lot of strategy fans who are interested in seeing what they can do with these characters.”

Tactfully Spreading The Word Of Gods

Tactics kicked off its cross-promotion with Smite by offering people who purchased a Founder’s Pack (a premium pack of digital items) an Enyo skin for the Smite goddess Bellona. “Enyo is Bellona’s Greek counterpart,” said Zier, explaining the significance of the item. “A long time ago, we decided to go with Bellona in Smite because we thought it was the version that fit best at the time. But with Tactics, we’re using the goddess Enyo, so there’s a fun little trade there.”

But what will convince non-Smite players to give Tactics a try? “We’re not borrowing the MOBA mechanics [from Smite],” said Zier. “We’re borrowing the characters and the lore, and they extend beyond Smite because they’re actual mythological characters. So, I’d say that if you like tactical games, mythology, gods and supernatural creatures, then that’s a good reason to give Smite Tactics a try.”

We then asked if there was a different approach to growing a strategy game compared to an action MOBA or first-person shooter. “We’ve talked about that,” Zier replied, “because with Smite and Paladins, we’ve gotten into a steady rhythm of patching every two weeks and releasing a new character almost every month. But when you’re doing a strategy game, you have to be a little more careful about constantly releasing content that would change meta and strategies. I wouldn’t say that we’ve settled on anything yet, but we’re looking at how frequently we want to do content updates. Updates will have the same amount of content as our other games, but it might make more sense to release them once every two months or maybe once a season. We’re still seeing how our players feel about it.”

Growing The Competitive Scene

With the success of both Smite and Paladins in the competitive scene, we asked Zier if he thought there was a good chance Tactics would be adopted as an esport. “We definitely love esports and we’re all about promoting it,” he said. “I think that we’ll put in an initial push for esports and see if the community gravitates to it. We did that with Paladins and Smite very early on, and both saw a very good and growing esports scene. So, that’s why I think we’ll do the same thing with Tactics, and we’ll probably host a few tournaments to see how the players feel about it and continue to more if it makes sense.”

In early May, the game announced that it was hosting a weekly tournament series while still in beta and competitors have a chance at winning a $100 first-place prize. However, even with esports in mind, Zier understands where the game’s priorities are.

“We don’t deliberately make sacrifices to fun in order to make a good esports game,” said Zier. “We’re always looking for the fun first. I think that to be a good esports game, you need to have a healthy population of people that enjoy the game. But I also think that every designer wonders, in the back of their heads, how it’s going to look on stage.”

Entering The CCG Space

Card collection can be found in some of the world’s most popular games, including Clash Royale, and Smite Tactics’ monetization relies heavily on card collection. We asked Zier for his thoughts on why CCGs were so popular.

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “Maybe it feeds into our need to collect? I’ve been playing card games for a long time, and there’s something nice about not only collecting, but building different decks and accounting for the things you’re missing as you build them. You want to try different strategies, and then you get a new card that modifies them. It’s that learning process and trying out different things is very enjoyable.

“When we started Tactics, we weren’t pushing too much on the cards—we just wanted to make a fun turn-based tactical game. But the cards came in naturally as we played it more and more because they brought in an element that we thought was missing.”

With the CCG space being as crowded as it is, what is key to standing out? Zier believes that a little godly intervention and smart tactics go a long way. “We’re a bit different in that we have the tactical board, so there’s an extra layer of complexity and strategy,” said Zier. “I think that’s a strength for us, especially when doing a single player campaign, because we can do different setups that are very visual and visceral. That’s our main approach. Beyond that, we’re just looking to make a fun game. If our Smite fans like it, then that’s good enough for us.”

‘Wonder Woman’ Marketing Swells Momentum On Strength And Subtlety

Wonder Woman could lasso herself a cool $175 million box office weekend—$75 million in the US and $100 internationally. If predictions are correct, this would be the top-grossing female superhero movie of all time—not bad for a marketing campaign that relied on subtlety—albeit at an estimated total between $125 million to $150 million in spending.

Compared to other DC films such as Suicide Squad, fans and marketers wondered if Warner Bros. was skimping on Gal Gadot’s full-length super debut. When speaking at Oracle’s Modern Marketing Experience in Las Vegas last month, Time Warner’s chief marketing officer Kristen O’Hara explained that the company has planned very carefully for Wonder Woman.

“We want the release of Wonder Woman in June to be a heroic moment for our company, but I think in a data-driven world the heroic marketing moments aren’t those big, huge moments,” O’Hara explained. “They’re an aggregate of tiny little moments that happen over a long period of time that help us get smarter and smarter about our customers [and] their behavior . . . in the case of Wonder Woman, this is a release that we started talking about two years ago . . . the collection of data across the entire DC franchise—whether it was video games, comic book releases, TV shows, or theatrical releases—every moment mattered to us.”

According to Fandango’s summer movies survey, Wonder Woman was selected by film fans as the season’s most anticipated blockbuster. The digital network for all things movies said that 92 percent of people polled are excited to see a standalone female superhero movie, 87 percent wish Hollywood would make more movies featuring female superheroes and 73 percent watched the Wonder Woman TV show when they were kids.

Despite actually spending more than they did on Suicide Squad, Warner Bros.’ marketing for the film has certainly relied on those “tiny little moments.” from teaser trailers to movie posters that held Wonder Woman front and center without a long list of celebrity names. Gal Gadot, the Israeli supermodel who portrays Diana Prince in Wonder Woman, has personally marketed the character since she was cast in Batman vs. Supermanspeaking about the character’s strengths and how she has prepared for the role. She even gave late-night host Conan O’Brien a few workout tips.

Lynda Carter, the actress who portrayed Wonder Woman on TV in the seventies celebrated the heroine’s return with a tie-in promo for Super Girl—another DC Comics franchise—in which she plays President Olivia Marsdin.

The world premiere was broadcast live from iHeartMusic’s Facebook page and special women-only screenings were hosted across the country by Alamo Drafthouse. Those attending the US premiere in Wonder Woman costumes had a chance to receive special seating on the carpet.

Wonder Woman‘s premiere coincides with the 75th anniversary of DC Comic’s most iconic heroine. The publisher celebrated with comics, articles, videos, merchandise and a US Forever postage stamp, just to name a few.

The premiere also coincides with the release of Injustice 2, the fighter game that pits DC comic book heroes against one another. Warner Bros. has introduced Wonder Woman events in the game, including her costume as it appears in the film.

Speaking of games, a new 16-bit game on Snapchat allows players to control Diana on the battlefield and unlock a Wonder Woman lens.

Warner Bros. kept the celebration going through a fan art sweepstakes and sponsored hashtag.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Warner Bros. is also “teaming with brands and retailers for clothes and accessories such as Betsey Johnson backpacks, Alex & Ani charm bracelets and Nanette Lepore watches featuring the famed double W insignia. Pieces from designers such as Louis Vuitton and Versace will be displayed and auctioned for charity at a June 7 event in Paris.”

“There is a pent-up appetite for seeing a female hero with the strength that Wonder Woman has,” Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment told the newspaper. “People are ready for it.”

NCsoft Grows Global Esports Presence With ‘MXM’ And ‘Blade And Soul’ Games

NCsoft is doubling down on esports. The Korean game publisher has worked with developer ArenaNet to turn Guild Wars 2 into an esports title. Internally, the company is expanding the Western scope of its esports fighting game, Blade & Soul and it’s also launching the new MOBA game Master X Master (MXM), designed with esports in mind.

Julianne Harty, esports manager at NCsoft, told AListDaily that Blade & Soul has been evolving as an esport since 2012, and over $250,000 has been awarded to the top teams with huge followings for the game across China, Japan and Taiwan. In Korea, the last two world championships have aired on television and were livestreamed from the global game exhibition, G-Star in November. This year, which marks the fifth annual world championship, is the first time Western teams have been invited. There will be a pair of teams from North America and a pair from Europe invited to compete at the world championship in Seoul, South Korea.

“We have a pretty solid PVP scene,” Harty said. “We have a lot of people who are really keen on it because it’s completely equalized. Your gear and your level don’t matter. Your skill selection is probably the only thing that has a little bit of an effect depending on your build, but it’s truly just the skill of the two players. Our 3-vs-3 tag teams allow players to switch out, so they can create team compositions that are meant to try and counter the other team’s compositions. It’s very dynamic and very exciting. We’re very excited to actually have this kind of variety in world championships, whereas before it used to be just purely 1-vs-1 all the way through.”

While the fighting game esports scene remains largely focused on console games, Blade & Soul differentiates itself as a PC-based 3D game. Past world championships have attracted big Korean sponsors, including the city of Buson. Harty said there are opportunities for big name sponsors with the new Western expansion.

Blade & Soul is in a very unique position in the esports environment because it’s an MMORPG, but it has fighting game elements. It fits that nice sweet spot where it’s not quite a fighting game, it’s not quite an MMO, but it has a lot of exciting elements and gameplay that you don’t see in other esports titles,” Harty said. “Having that cross-ocean appeal, especially given how popular it is in Korea, China and Japan, there are a lot of people who will watch it.”

While Blade & Soul doesn’t pull in League of Legends streaming numbers, Harty said there is a strong audience that follows the game. The Korean Season 1 Finals recently made it on the front page of Twitch in the US at two in the morning.

On June 21, NCsoft is launching a new multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, Master X Master (MXM), that’s being designed for esports.

“It has proven itself to be very versatile and very appealing to a lot of pro players,” Harty explained. “We had a lot of former League of Legends pro players come in and play it in the very early stages of the game through the closed betas, and they loved it. HotShot GG compared the game to League of Legends in its early days and he couldn’t stop playing it. That’s important because the community has to build up an esport. We had MXM tournaments during our closed beta, which was a great sign that the community wants esports.”

Harty said that once the game officially launches in June, NCsoft will lay the foundation to turn the game into a bigger esports endeavor and start encouraging people to build teams, have tournaments, and figure out the meta game.

“My goal is by the end of the year to have something very serious in place,” Harty said.

MXM esports will debut with a Western focus, since this territory will be the first to launch the game. That’s the exact opposite of how past NCsoft esports games have evolved.

“We’re in a good spot to lead the way with this particular title,” Harty said. “We will have something set up by the end of the year into next year. It will probably be just Western-focused, but having said that my counterparts in Korea also have indicated an interest in being part of whatever it is that we end up setting up as well, so I’m hoping to have more of a global footprint into esports in contrast to Blade & Soul esports, where each territory does their own thing to select their champions and move to worlds. For this one, I’m hoping for a universal rule set that makes it clear for everyone how they can move on and what the ultimate goals are going to be on the horizon.”

‘Street Fighter’ And Skillz Tag Team For Mobile Esports

Street Fighter is one of Capcom’s most beloved franchises, and fans will soon be literally able to challenge one another on the street—using their phones, that is. Skillz has partnered with Capcom’s Beeline Interactive to develop a dedicated, competitive mobile version of Street Fighter complete with a native streaming engine.

The Skillz platform allows typical mobile games such as Bejeweled to be turned into esports, where players compete for prizes that include virtual currency or cash. A subsidiary of Capcom, Beeline Interactive specializes in mobile game development and has adapted existing franchises like Ghostbusters for a casual mobile audience.

“Not everyone is able to afford the latest console, and a lot of fans aren’t able to participate in the larger hosted tournaments like Evo and the ELeague Invitationals,” Skillz co-founder and CEO Andrew Paradise told AListDaily. “Through this partnership, we’ll deliver fans a more accessible avenue for gameplay, and enable new fans to get a competitive taste of this classic franchise.”

Capcom isn’t alone in its strategy to make its arcade and console titles more accessible to the US’s 192 million mobile gamers. In addition to companion apps, video game publishers like Warner Bros. are creating unique mobile experiences to compliment their main titles and promote competition. While the best of the best compete in Street Fighter tournaments around the world, a competitive mobile version aims to be less intimidating and maybe even profitable for the player.

Skillz has run more than 100 million mobile esports tournaments to date and now hosts over 500,000 tournaments every day, awarding over $5 million in cash prizes to players every month. According to research from IHS Markit, esports is expected to become a $1 billion advertising industry by 2021, with video driving the lion’s share of revenues along with influencer marketing and sponsorship.

“Adding Street Fighter to the Skillz platform enables mobile gamers to play and stream one of the most popular fighting games in a competitive environment with our full-feature tournament system,” said Paradise. “This will be the first time a native streaming engine is built into a Street Fighter version.”

Competition aside, game video content is a growing market—on track to generate $4.6 billion in revenue in 2017 through advertising and direct spending, according to SuperData. While console and PC gaming are still popular sources for video game streams, mobile is also proving itself. Last year on Twitch, the most popular clip was of streamer Avaail playing Pokémon GO.

“The new mobile title will further Street Fighter’s reach into the world of competitive mobile gaming, including the potential to grow the already impressive fan base by accessing the world’s 2.6 billion mobile [users],” Paradise added. “This partnership will further Skillz’ mission of making competition available to all gamers at every level of skill.”

“Our new partnership with the iconic Street Fighter franchise is a further testament to the growing appetite for competitive mobile gaming,” said Paradise.

How Corporations And Start-Ups Can Collaborate To Cohabitate

Story written by Ruth Yomtoubian, director of the AT&T Foundry

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Ruth Yomtoubian, director of the AT&T Foundry

Corporations face the challenge of generating their own disruption to boost their core business, or expand into a new business. Part of the disruption process entails engaging with start-ups to drive the next growth phase.

The opportunities for start-ups to run hard are greater and increasingly complicated. While every city, accelerator, conglomerate and non-profit is looking for their next demo participants, or proof-of-concept partner, start-up founders are heads down building their businesses, so they must navigate the multitude of hack-a-thons and corporate outposts jumping on the innovation bandwagon.

The balance of power appears to be tipping toward agile startups, and away from corporations. Creating the conditions for ideas and start-up collaborations to flourish is certainly nuanced and dynamic—but it can be done.

Last year, I met Levi Ware, founder of The Melodic Caring Project (MCP), a non-profit start-up that streams live concerts to children in hospitals. Levi was open to how MCP could collaborate with the AT&T Foundry.

With a mission to take the viewing experience to the next level, a collaboration was created between MCP, Quantum Interface, AT&T Foundry and Ericsson. The team of partners crafted a vision to livestream a concert in fully immersive 360-degree video to kids in their hospital beds. That vision came to life during singer Amos Lee’s performance in Austin’s famous Moody Theater earlier this March.

So how do corporations approach collaborations with start-ups in order for ideas—and results—to flourish?

Set Expectations

Expectations are key when working across the corporate and start-up divide. Start-ups are often ready to jump into action after one positive meeting with a potential corporate partner. On the corporate side, that one positive meeting usually means crafting a plan to facilitate alignment and buy-in across several teams, and potentially requiring dozens of additional meetings to reach a final. Engaging in a proof of concept or quick test can minimize the uncertainty—but not always the timeline. It’s important to be transparent and set upfront expectations. Give visibility to the process for key stakeholders to develop a trusting relationship. If working together is not a fit, don’t be afraid to say no or provide feedback about the value of the solution to your company. For example, whether their pitch is a unique idea or the tenth monitoring solution for an application. Open upfront feedback resonates in the tech ecosystem.

Start-ups are fast moving and if they are “A” players, they’re usually impatient and have other “suitors.” Setting expectations is important, but timelines are also critical. We’ve seen corporates hesitate a couple of months and they’ve lost the opportunity with the start-up because their valuation has increased so much as to put them out of budget.

Display Empathy And Openness

Either party coming to the table with chests puffed out too wide more often than not will result in a missed opportunity. Start-ups inadvertently bring the swagger meant for venture capitalists into the corporate boardroom, which falls flat with companies grappling with disruption. Likewise, any complacency on the corporate side can be a turn off to millennial founders who value transparency and embody a non-hierarchical style. They operate in a community of shared ideas in which peer reviews are ubiquitous, including the review of your ability and willingness to collaborate. In a multigenerational environment, all sides need to have the confidence to learn, accept and adapt to new things.

Start-ups born out of addressing a problem subscribe to the approach that it’s not what your business is—it’s what your customers need. Corporates on the other hand talk a lot about customer centricity but don’t always know how to do it. They want to take on the start-up’s drive and speed. But when the rubber meets the road, the “not invented here” syndrome can rear its head. Be mindful of what corporate leaders may need to keep their teams inspired. Don’t put anyone in a position to admit inadequacy by belaboring the framing of the problem when you have an opportunity to share a solution.

Align Incentives

The current context of innovation requires the vendor-customer model be utilized in new ways. Companies should resist the inclination to apply the vendor procurement framework to start-up partnerships. The zero-sum game strips the potential to maximize a win-win partnership with a startup where much benefit can be gained in the byproducts of a collaboration. Creating a mutually beneficial relationship starts with reducing assumptions with transparent conversations about each other’s needs. If you’re on the corporate side, ask start-ups directly about their main focus—is it better understanding of their customers, promoting their brand or gearing for additional rounds of funding? Identifying areas of alignment might reveal that a proof of concept is not the only opportunity for collaboration.

Be A Platform For Meaningful Exchanges

Corporate leaders shouldn’t fall into the comfort of soley consulting peers at the top. They must be intentional about getting information in creative ways. For instance, our Futurecast series is thought leadership aimed at generating conversation around bleeding-edge debates in the tech ecosystem. It’s one way we creatively capture insights from disruptors across the ecosystem to enable our business leaders to look at problems and technology use cases through a different lens. Likewise, it’s a platform for start-ups to gain visibility under our global brand.

Bridge The Gaps

There is a cultural divide between start-ups and corporations that can’t be ignored. Bringing parties to the table with context and understanding can bridge the culture gaps and rid the initial interaction of assumptions and misunderstanding. Start-ups should also understand how decisions are made across the corporation, if their technology is competing with projects in motion and connect their solutions values with the internal rhetoric/messaging in the company. If the corporate initiative is “digital first,” use that term to help everyone quickly connect the dots.

Positioning internal champions and catchers on the inside can help play the role of translator and guide. They can manage how a collaboration might fit into the overall structure. Don’t expect different outcomes under the same structure. Make sure start-ups weigh in on the fit of their technology to the space and path you’ve provided. Don’t silo the start-up from the realities within the company. Be a good host organization through transparency and translation.

Go Unconventional, Get Creative And Don’t Forget Empathy

This past year AT&T Foundry launched a series of Futurist Reports to synthesize the context, make bold projections about the future and delve into ways our company can collaborate with external partners. When it comes down to it, we’re all businesspeople operating in different environments. Start-ups should have empathy for C-suite executives steering big ships, and corporates must respect the lean resources of a start-up. A transactional pitch could be replaced by utilizing those on the frontline of disruption as advisors to a business unit leader. Get creative around forming these collaborations.

Ruth Yomtoubian is a full spectrum strategist and cross-cultural executive based in San Francisco, with experience running programs at the cusp of large brands and start-ups. As a director at the AT&T Foundry, she identifies business needs that can leverage innovation within the enterprise and evaluates startups in the tech ecosystem for strategic partnership with AT&T; positioning companies and developing their solution message. Yomtoubian is also an executive producer of both the broadcast thought leadership series Futurecast and the AT&T Foundry Futurist Reports to synthesize forward-looking insights, identify transformative trends and be a catalyst for innovation projection. Yomtoubian has helped establish the AT&T Foundry as a model for corporate innovation, bringing deep understanding to new approaches companies apply to their most compelling problems.

Brands Who Use Augmented Reality To Pursue Real Success

Around for many years but popularized by Pokémon GOaugmented reality (AR) technology has been embraced by pioneering brands around the world. AR combines real life with virtual objects for an interactive experience and its practical uses extend far beyond video games. Gartner believes that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality.

According to a report from DigitalBridge, there is an increasing “imagination gap” impacting purchasing decisions in the UK. The research found that a third of consumers delayed or decided against buying items when they couldn’t visualize how they would look like in real life. The majority of consumers revealed they would use a visualization tool if it was offered, and more than 55 percent believe it would make them more likely to make a purchase.

Ikea has embraced this challenge by allowing users of its mobile app to place AR furniture inside a room. Using the physical Ikea catalog and the official app, shoppers can visualize and play around with styles before purchasing.

Visualization is especially important in the cosmetics industry, since opened products cannot be returned and bad hair cuts don’t grow back overnight. L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius and Style My Hair apps let consumers experiment with new looks, styles and “try on” the latest trends risk-free.

According to a Demandware study, 72 percent of US beauty brands are testing a form of “guided selling” to push sales—like Snapchat lenses and augmented reality—and L’Oreal isn’t the only beauty brand to embrace an age of social media.

The fashion industry has been an eager adopter of new technology such as VR, AR and social media. During Fashion Week, designer Lindsay Freimond presented her latest styles with a first-of-its-kind AR fashion show. Through their mobile devices, the audience was able to view real-time digital effects alongside the models, along with information about the models and clothes.

Mars celebrated the launch of M&Ms Caramel by hosting an AR experience in Times Square. The “ARcade” featured real-life games, photo ops and interactive AR games courtesy of the Blippar app. Hungry fans can access these games by pointing the Blippar app at a bag of M&Ms Caramel.

Disney has filed a patent for a projector-based AR system that would allow park visitors to interact with virtual objects without a headset. Like many patents, there’s never a guarantee that this idea will ever come to fruition, but never put anything past the Mouse House.

‘DomiNations’ Developer Reveals Strategy For Growing Mobile Games For A Decade And Beyond

Since its launch in 2015, DomiNations has been quietly making history in the mobile gaming space. The strategy title, where players grow their civilizations across different ages throughout world history, has surpassed $100 million in lifetime revenue. Nexon acquired developer Big Huge Games in March of last year, and DomiNations has become a prime example of the game publisher’s vision of having mobile games with 10-year service lives.

Tim Train, CEO at Big Huge Games and project lead for DomiNations, sat down with AListDaily to discuss how the game has managed to become so successful after two years, and how it plans to maintain that same growth and engagement over the next eight.

Tim Train, Big Huge Games CEO; project lead for DomiNations.

What has been the key factor in DomiNations’ success over the past two years?

We like to think that the core of it is having a fun game design. We have a team that’s done a lot of work on strategy games, going back a quarter-century now, and a lot of those games have been history titles. So, a lot of it comes down to the quality of a game, but I also think that the historical subject matter is something that is also very important for its success. We’ve always bet big on how history is a really compelling subject matter for games, even when marketing department doesn’t think that history is all that sexy.

A lot of times, people may think of history as a subject that you learn in school, and maybe one people don’t pay a lot of attention to. But we know that history, for a big segment of the market, is very compelling as a kind of player fantasy. You get to play as an emperor or a queen that’s commanding troops and building out a nation—giving that sense that you’re the person who is the guiding hand behind its development. There just aren’t a lot of games that are like that out on the mobile market—reminiscent of Civilization, Age of Empires, Rise of Nations and so on. So, I think subject matter has a lot to do with it.

How does DomiNations distinguish itself from other mobile strategy games like Civilization?

Civilization Revolution is a different kind of beast because it’s a more traditional type of game where you can play through to the end, which could take an hour-and-a-half. For us, we love the feel of a mobile game that’s always there and continues to engage with players for years—always improving your city, beating up on people whenever you want, and being able to play in five-minute increments throughout your day, as opposed feeling like you have to sit down for 90-minute gameplay sessions.

I really like that play style, especially as I grow older and my time seems more fragmented. I want to fit my gaming sessions into the nooks and crannies of my day. So I think that’s the main difference between our presentation of a history game versus other products out there. Part of the reason for the success of DomiNations is that you can dictate what your gameplay session looks like. You can make meaningful progress in the game with a 30-second log in or longer. I have had hour and hour-and-a-half-long gameplay sessions when I’m trying to raid for resources or searching for that next big upgrade.

How has DomiNations grown since its launch two years ago?

It has grown in both the terms of the content that we’ve put into it and our community. We’ve added three new ages since launch: the Industrial Age, Global Age and the Atomic Age, which all have new toys for people to play with. Our community has continued to grow with people who have stuck with us for two years or longer. They’re our hardest core fans that run their alliances and try to make their way up the leaderboards. We’re very pleased to see the growth of people who have been with us over the years.

We love adding social features and ways for players to interact with each other. Alliances, where players can join an alliance of up to 50 people, is the core system for that. In late 2015, we added the World War feature, where people can gang up on other alliances, and we continue to add new features. For instance, our latest update includes Friendly Battles, which allows you to post your home city in the alliance chat for a mock attack. That way, they can help you better defend your base by pointing out weaknesses.

Considering how many mobile players quickly move on from one game to another, do you find that multi-year engagement is surprising?

We don’t think of it as much as a surprise because we had a lot of conviction in that—if we put together great strategy game set in a historical subject matter—it would find an audience. But we definitely feel as though the game has defied expectations. There certainly have been a lot of competing strategy games out there with different subject matters, and for us to have the kind of longevity and success that we’ve had is something that validates the core sense that historical subject matter is great for gamers to play with.

What has been the strategy for creating a game that engages players for multiple years?

We’re really inspired by Sid Meier’s “just one more turn” design ethos, where you’re always trying to be sure that players have something interesting to look forward to when they are playing the game. So, you’re always looking to see what’s just beyond the horizon—when you get the next upgrade or unlock the next unit. We think that’s something that keeps players coming back throughout the day and week. They want to see what’s happening with their civilization and what they can do to next to advance their home cities.

I should also highlight the role of our live ops team. They’ve done a great job at providing users with new events, troop tactics and sales so that when player log in, they always know that there’s something new in the world of DomiNations to check out.

Do you have a map for the next eight years?

Yes, we have a years-long road map for DomiNations. One of the things that’s fun about human history is that you’ve always got new ages to add on to the game, so you can bring in new content and have that sense of a civilization progressing through time. We have several new ages mapped out, and we’ll see how long it takes to get them into players’ hands.

How do you engage with players outside of the game so that people continue to spread the word and grow the audience?

We’re really happy with how word-of-mouth seems to drive DomiNations’ continued success. Obviously, we do traditional marketing and user acquisition on mobile, but we have a very high ratio of people who are installing from word-of-mouth. We continue to support that with Facebook posts and our forum community, chatting with players through those channels.

What would you say attracts players to historically-themed games?

One of the great things about history—and people oftentimes don’t think about it this way—is that history is its own intellectual property, just like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or any other major movie. History contains characters, events and backstory—and the best part is that everyone in the world has some connection to that IP, as opposed to films. Everyone knows what a catapult is and they understand what they’re good for. Everyone knows the name Cleopatra and the other famous generals we have in our game.

When we run our weekly events, we like to find interesting characters or units from history you might not have heard about, but may be interested in learning more about. We just did an event with a unit called the Night Witch, which was a squadron of female Russian aviators from World War II that gave the Germans fits even though they were flying obsolete airplanes. We love highlighting different areas of history people might not know about.

What will be the key factor for DomiNations’ continued growth for the next eight years?

We’re always looking at what players want to add to the game. For example, Friendly Battles was one of our most requested features. We love talking to our community, hearing what they want to do, and trying to accommodate them whenever possible. New ages have a built-in sense of aspiration with their sense of progression through history and civilization, so we’re excited to continue adding those on.

I also think that we’re getting much better at adding new kinds of events and designing different ways to play the game, putting the focus on features that players might not have seen or have gone into depth with. By doing that, you can showcase the depth of the game and keep people coming back every single day.

We’re super excited about how DomiNations has found an ongoing audience with people who love the game. We look forward to continuing to tell the story of human history throughout the ages.

Brand Sponsors Take Notice As ‘Rocket League’ Sets New Esports Standard

  • Rocket League, a game where sports meet cars, is holding the third season of its championship series June 2-4 in Los Angeles.
  • Rocket League developer Psyonix is attracting non-endemic brands like Brisk, Mobil 1, 7-Eleven and Old Spice to esports.
  • Twitch partnership has solidified Rocket League as a legitimate esport.

Over the past three years, developer Psyonix and Twitch have partnered to bring brands like Brisk, Mobil 1, 7-Eleven and Old Spice into the Rocket League, which is holding the third season of its championship series June 2-4 at The Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

“Our non-endemic sponsors have been excellent partners during the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS), with Mobil 1 joining this season for its second consecutive year and 7-Eleven, Brisk and Old Spice jumping in for their first year,” Robin Allemand, Rocket League program manager at Twitch, told AListDaily. “7-Eleven and Brisk are giving fans exactly what they want—more RLCS-level gameplay—by creating three one-off $5,000 tournaments during the summer. Beyond their attractive prize pools, the tournaments will act as a connector between Seasons 3 and 4 (one per month in June, July and August) so that fans can track their favorite teams’ progress heading into the qualifiers for Season 4.”

Allemand said RLCS attracts an audience comprised of all ages, from kids under the age of 10 to adults 50 and above. However, the core age range is between 15 to 29 years old. “The quick games, exciting gameplay and easy-to-understand rules make Rocket League especially accessible for all ages,” Allemand said.

Josh Watson, head of esports at Psyonix, believes Rocket League is the perfect property for brands and sponsors interested in entering the esports market.

“For even the most casual viewer the game is exciting, fast-paced, and easy to understand,” Watson said. “You couple this with the non-violent gameplay and community focus and it is a great fit for our partners. We are very excited that we have seen so much interest in the game from brands outside of the traditional esports sponsors.”

Watson has watched Rocket League rapidly evolve into one of the most exciting new properties in esports. “We’ve seen the sport grow exponentially over the last year, and it is only getting bigger from here,” Watson told AListDaily. “Our goal for the Rocket League Championship Series has been to set the standard for new esports properties, and we think we’re on the right track. With the addition of a new region, more teams and more stability this season, we are looking to continue pushing the property forward. Outside of the premier league, we have a lot of other Rocket League esports initiatives on the way, including collegiate esports and more major events for our players.”

One reason for this growth is the addition of an esports button in the game, something other publishers are having success with, like Activision with Call of Dutyare using with success.

“Attracting the audience is one thing, but engaging viewers is something that is often forgotten,” Watson added. “We’ve always tried new and innovative ways to engage our viewers, like the community-driven Midseason Mayhem in the RLCS, where the viewers get to decide how the best players in the world compete. This season we’ve also created RLCS Overtime, a new weekly talk show that goes in-depth into the action and analyzes the sport as a whole. We also have some new exciting things coming up to continue to engage our growing fan base, so keep an eye out for more on that in the coming weeks and months.”

This year’s World Championship has expanded thanks to the new Oceania region, which has resulted in a larger three-day event featuring ten of the best Rocket League teams in the world. Aside from all the added match-ups and content, Psyonix has added some surprises like an exclusive first-look at Rocket League’s next big update and an appearance from WWE Superstar Xavier Woods.

As Psyonix creates new game modes for Rocket League, new opportunities arise for esports. “In many ways, we allow the community to help lead the esports side of the game,” Watson explained. “With the introduction of modes like Rumble and Dropshot, we have seen new competitions enter the grassroots esports community and that is really exciting. We want our players to be able to have a place to play competitively and experience tournaments no matter which modes they prefer.”

Watson said fan feedback is crucial in all things Psyonix does for Rocket League. At the end of every season, the studio gathers feedback from players and viewers and tries to improve on everything from broadcast to the rules. “Their feedback was instrumental in some of the changes we are making to provide more stability in the coming season,” Watson said.

With the introduction of the new auto-qualification for Season 4, Psyonix has seen a big influx of interest from established esports teams. Watson believe changes like this not only help the players, but add some stability for incoming esports teams who are interested in Rocket League. He’s watched Rocket League transition from the budding sport it was a year ago to an established presence in the esports space.

Just as how Electronic Arts’ Madden Championship Series has created new esports teams dedicated to that specific game, new teams have emerged around Rocket League. “Since the beginning, new teams like Cosmic Aftershock dominated the sport,” Watson said. “Even in Season 3, we are still seeing new teams cause a stir in the league, most notably the fan-favorite team, The Leftovers from the European region. It is always exciting having new blood join the tournament, and these teams are really important to tell an interesting story.”

New esports teams and new fans open up new opportunities for both endemic and non-endemic brands as this motorized soccer game continues to evolve as a global esport.

James Cameron And Disney World Bring ‘Avatar’ Brand To Life


  • Disney Parks will help 20th Century Fox market four future sequels through a must-see attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.
  • The cast and creators of the Avatar films spent time speaking to global media representatives to get the marketing message out to the world about Pandora: The World of Avatar.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom attracts over 10,000 visitors a day and 10.9 million visitors a year, who will bring home Avatar merchandise to cities and towns around the globe.

Director James Cameron and many principals from the cast of Avatar, including Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Joel David Moore and Stephen Lang, made the trek to the planet of Pandora this week. More precisely, they jetted to Orlando, Florida to christen the realization of an alien world first conjured by Cameron at age 19. Pandora: The World of Avatar, officially opens on May 27 and is the largest expansion in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

The new 12-acre land offers 20th Century Fox a permanent promotional vehicle for Avatar, which will continue with four sequels that will roll out between December 2020 and December 2025. For Disney Parks, Avatar adds a must-see land for the youngest of the Walt Disney World parks. While the alien world itself is the main attraction, there are two rides located inside Pandora. Na’vi River Journey is a family-friendly boat ride through the bioluminescent world from the films featuring the most advanced audio-animatronic character (the Na’vi shaman) ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). The tranquil, and very dark, four-and-a-half-minute ride also features creatures from the film brought to life via cutting-edge technology.

“It started as dream images I had at 19 that I drew and painted, and eventually that turned into a story and that turned into a movie,” Cameron said. “Everything for the movie was created digitally—even though it looked real in the film. But now it’s been physically manifested, you can walk through it and smell it and even fly a banshee. It’s a pretty amazing place.”

Flight of Passage will be the most talked-about attraction in this new land, and Disney knows it. The queue line was designed to contain (and entertain) visitors for a five-hour wait. Before being connected with a banshee for a wild flight through the Valley of Mo’ara, visitors will come face-to-face with a life-sized Na’vi in an underground science lab once run by the RDA and now operated by Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE). Eight visitors per ante-room will sit on the back of a motorcycle-style seat, grasp the handles, and then “fly” through the world courtesy of 3D glasses, a giant screen and real effects like wind and water. The seat even pulsates to the rhythm of the banshee’s heartbeat.

At the conclusion of the Flight of Passage ride, guests exit through the gift shop, where they can order a customized $80 Na’vi action figure. That price includes a two-part immersive experience that begins with the customer sitting inside the Avatar Maker machine. A member of ACE serves as both guide and technician while doing a thumbprint collection and 180-degree head scan of the visitor before offering a tablet to choose from a variety of eye colors, facial markings and hair styles to personalize the Na’vi. All of this data is recorded on an ACE digital card, which is used once again 30 minutes later when a thumb scan reveals the human face and then the packaged Na’vi in a wall-based ACE machine (which is similar to a futuristic vending machine). This item is part of a huge line of merchandise designed exclusively for the theme park, which will promote the Avatar brand to visitors from around the globe.

Joe Rohde, Walt Disney Imagineering portfolio creative executive, told AListDaily that this Pandora story takes place a generation after the events in the original film (and the four sequels Cameron has written). This has opened up a peaceful setting for guests (who are on safari with ACE within the land’s fiction, as well as created a backdrop for conservation “call to action,” which is a theme at Animal Kingdom. There’s even a Pandora Conservation Initiative with cast members on hand throughout the world (in character) to explain the importance of things like water purification. This theme is also evident in the ride queue for Flight of Passage.

“It’s not the movie Avatar that we are portraying,” Rohde said. “It is the planet Pandora where you can come, you can visit, and have your own unique adventure. Rather than reliving the adventures of characters from the film, you’re going to come to the planet where those things happened—and have your own set of adventures you can own.”

In a departure from any other Disney “land,” there are no signs for the two rides inside Pandora. The fiction and queue lines blend in with the themed environment. That holds true for the bar, the Pongu Pongu Lounge, which features an old RDA mech vehicle from the battles featured in the original film. And also the quick service restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, which features sustainable fish and an assortment of “healthy” and customizable protein-based meals. Even the restrooms are set within the fiction of this evolved planet landscape. Spread throughout the land are cast members from the different factions living on the planet, including ex-Patriots who’ve fallen in love with the planet and relocated from Earth.

“I never thought I’d see the day when the Pandora I imagined could be made physically real,” Cameron said during the Opening Dedication. “Working with Disney to bring this world to life has been an amazing experience, and the result is something I think everyone will love for generations to come. It really feels like you’re stepping into a dream.”

Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment worked with WDI to create the fiction of this new story, as well as push the technology of the two rides forward. Rohde said Cameron would have been a great Imagineer given his love for engineering and tech.

“Anyone can visit Pandora in all its majesty. And when they do, they can learn about the Na’vi culture and all their values. The Na’vi have a spiritual connection with their world,” Cameron said. “Pandora and Disney’s Animal Kingdom both inspire us to understand and respect the natural world and our place in it.”

In keeping with that theme of restoration, Disney has created new ways for smartphone-equipped guests to help save animals on planet Earth. While waiting in line for Flight of Passage, guests can use Facebook Messenger and speak with a Pandora Conservation Initiative scientist to unlock a $5 donation that Disney will contribute to the Wildlife Habitat Restoration through a new Connect to Protect program. These interactions, as well as others inside Pandora, are expected to raise over $1 million this summer alone.

“I’m blown away (by this place),” Cameron said. “I never got to see the movie the first time because I’d seen every part of the movie 10,000 times during production. When I walk through here and go on the Flight of Passage, it’s like seeing it all for the first time.”

Augmented Reality Could Revolutionize How People Shop And Engage With Brands

Imagine taking the hassle and guesswork out of clothing shopping. Instead of picking out several pieces of clothing, trying them on in a dressing room, and repeating everything if they don’t fit or look good, you could see exactly how clothing fits while shopping. That’s the task that character creation platform Morph3D, took on in developing the Virtual Dressing Room—a technology demonstration that could potentially change up how consumers shop.

Augmented reality has been used in shopping for products like furniture and art, but this is the first step in offering a high level of customization by fusing technology with something as dynamic as clothes. The Microsoft HoloLens app is developed in partnership with software technology company, Bold Metrics. The two companies came together when the demo was shown at Shoptalk, one of the largest retail conventions in the world, and the two then decided to approach the Dutch designer clothing company G-Star to provide the fashion featured in the Dressing Room.

Berk Frei, VP of innovation and strategy at Morph3D

“The goal of this collaboration was to present the future of retail,” Berk Frei, VP of innovation and strategy at Morph3D, told AListDaily, describing how the app came together. “Our mission as a company is to make the creation of virtual identities easy, meaningful and affordable across different verticals. We see virtual identities [being used] in a lot of places. For instance, we have a lot of traction in social VR, partnering with companies like High Fidelity. There are many companies interested in helping people create digital characters (avatars) in business, education and retail. So, we wanted to demonstrate our vision of where we think virtual identities are going.”

Frei then talked about partnering with Bold Metrics and G-Star to bring the Virtual Dressing Room to life. “Bold Metrics has an algorithm and body scanning technology that uses machine learning and AI,” he explained. “Using some basic questions, it is able to accurately predict 90 measurements of your body and physique. They had a similar vision as ours—virtual figures for retail. Together, we found an innovative brand partner with G-Star, which was also interested in exploring this proof of concept.”

The Augmented Reality Shopping Experience

After putting on a HoloLens, users will see a blank figure surrounded by a virtual wardrobe comprised of G-Star clothing, and this virtual mannequin can be controlled and changed using voice commands. Users can change its position, have it put its hands on its hips, or take various other poses. The figure can even be told to perform actions like running or boxing so that users can see how the clothing looks when in action. Users can also get up close and examine the clothes before gazing at an article of clothing and pinching their fingers on it in the augmented reality space to put them onto the virtual model.

But the real magic is creating the custom avatar. Users are presented with a series of questions that ask about their age, height, weight, waist size and shoe sizes (women are asked for their bra sizes instead of waists). With those answers, the program configures the mannequin to match the user’s body measurements without having to break out the measuring tape.

Frei remarked on how Bold Metrics’ method compares to having people scanned in-store. “Scanning technology is still esoteric, hard to find, bulky and expensive,” he said. “What’s cool about this is that you can quickly answer these questions and get a figure that proportionately looks like you and is dynamic. Scanned data can’t initially be used in this context—it can’t be moved, changed, positioned or posed. What we’re proposing should be very approachable to a mainstream audience. Also, because it’s not a body scan, you could use it shop for your friends and family.”

Morph3D brought G-Star’s brand of fashion into the app by having 3D artists design the clothing using reference materials provided by the company. It also used a scanning solution that took in data and brought it into the app. Using these methods, companies could fill the Virtual Dressing Room app with their entire selection of clothing.

When asked how he imagined the Virtual Dressing Room might be used by stores, Frei said, “We talked about a couple phases of where this might be interesting as the technology matures. Our partners saw a lot of opportunity in the in brick-and-mortar space for creating compelling and interesting experiences that will bring people to stores, giving them a reason to come out. There’s something really cool about having a virtual dressing room in a store. We imagine a scenario where someone could use the Virtual Dressing Room to blast through the entire catalog to come up with looks that they’re interested in. Not only are they having a novel, one-of-a-kind experience, but it’s something that could help them come to a purchase decision sooner.”

Frei imagines that the entire shopping experience could be as easy as swiping left or right to quickly sort through a clothing catalog, which could potentially connect to online offerings, expanding the shopping experience past the in-store selection.

“We see opportunities to create unique store experiences with the Virtual Dressing Room,” said Frei. “We demonstrated it as a location-based experience, but we can see it being used more broadly for online shopping. It could be an engine that helps drive retail.”

Retail, Online Or Mobile?

Frei doesn’t think the technology should necessarily be limited to AR headsets like the HoloLens. “The HoloLens is incidental to the demonstration—it’s not something we highlight when we talk to vendors,” said Frei. “There aren’t many of them out there, but it’s really cool when you see one. We saw it as a cool way to present this experience, but it can be used with phones, web pages and virtual reality headsets. It doesn’t matter what hardware you use.”

That being said, we asked Frei if he thought the app might be better suited for online shopping. “I’ve wrestled with that for a little bit because I’m intrigued by both possibilities,” he answered. “I don’t shop for clothing or shoes online because I don’t have a way to associate with the product, but that’s essentially what we’re solving. With our technology, we can associate any product with people’s body types. That isn’t limited to fashion, it could extend to furniture, bicycles and so on. I would love to feel confident about purchasing items in those categories online, but I don’t think anything can replace trying things on and feeling their texture. There’s something about experiencing something in a physical way.” Frei then explained that the Virtual Dressing Room is meant to streamline the shopping experience, not replace it, by helping users pick out the clothes that they are almost certain that they want before actually putting it on.

Frei also noted how there isn’t the same kind of “magical” experience when using the app on screened devices such as smartphones. This observation includes Google Tango, which is designed specifically for augmented reality applications. Although Frei supports handheld devices, he states: “[Headsets have] true scale and you’re not looking through a window. There’s something disconnecting when you’re looking through the screen of a phone. We wanted people to be intrigued by the experience.”

So why should retailers turn to augmented reality? “You hear people talking about how companies like Apple, Magic Leap and Meta are investing heavily in the technology, but I don’t think people understand why these tech companies are chasing augmented reality,” Frei explained. “Until you experience something like this demonstration, you don’t realize the incredible utility that AR has to offer—and seeing things in AR is such a cool experience. We firmly believe that augmented reality is an amazing technology that is developing and we want to be pioneers in that space.

“This demo demonstrates why AR matters to everyday people. Augmented reality is going to be important in helping you interact with data in a way that has never been experienced before. I think this could be a very interesting experience to put in stores to help drive interest in the store, brand and products.”

Digitally Connecting People With Brands

Frei then expanded on the topic of avatars by talking about how it could be used more broadly to connect individuals with brands using virtual personas. “We see a future where people have virtual identities that are used in different contexts,” he said. “You’ll pull up an avatar that is a realistic representation of yourself that can be used in retail, education and business. Then you can have identities that are more playful, such as a troll or elf. That’s the ecosystem that we’re trying to create with our technology, platform and brand partners. We do this because we think it matters and we want to be leaders in this space. Persistent virtual identities and personas are going to be used in so many different ways, and we wanted to lead the way with this demonstration.”