Top Apps, Top Games; No Phone For A Day? 74 Percent Say ‘No Way’

Studies show that when it comes to watching TV, comedy is part of a complete breakfast. Digital video game sales are up, retailers see AI in their future, AR use is on the rise and being without a phone makes a lot of people nervous.

TV App-etite

Fifty-two percent of Americans watch streaming content on their TV, according to findings by Ipsos for TLC. The nationwide survey confirmed not only the trend of cutting ties with cable providers, but engaging with a wide variety of TV apps. A sample of 4,024 U.S. adults ages 18 and over was interviewed online including 2,115 adults who say they use apps—either on their TV or via a smart device—to watch streaming content on their TV.

“Chillin'” at the top of the list is Netflix, used by 73 percent of respondents. Rounding out the top 10 are YouTube (51 percent), Amazon Instant Video (36 percent), Pandora (32 percent), Hulu (30 percent), HBO Go/HBO Now (27 percent), Spotify (24 percent), Watch ESPN (17 percent), Disney Channel (17 percent) and NBC (16 percent).

What are people watching on Netflix, you ask? It depends on the time of day, the company reported on Tuesday. Viewers rise and shine for comedies, Netflix found—around 6AM, its members are 34 percent more likely to watch comedy compared to the rest of the day. Across the world, drama accounts for nearly half (47 percent) of viewing between noon and 2PM and an additional 27 percent by 9PM. From 11PM to midnight, however, it’s back to unwinding with comedy. After midnight, Netflix found, the wee hours are for learning—documentaries see a 24 percent increase in viewing during this time, including titles like Abstract, Making a Murderer and Planet Earth.

Game On

According to SuperData Research, the global games software market’s total digital revenue in April 2017 increased by nine percent from 2016 to $7.7 billion. Bluehole Studio’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, while still in Early Access, made an estimated $34 million in gross digital revenue in April. GTA V is still going strong thanks to the “Tiny Racers” update.

The top games by total digital games sales in April were League of Legends (PC), FIFA 17 (Console) and Clash Royale (Mobile).

Hands Off The Phone

If your eyes are constantly glued to a smartphone, you’re not alone. A recent study by B2X found that about half of millennials spend at least three hours per day on their phone and 25 percent of Baby Boomers do the same. According to the company’s Smartphone and IoT Consumer Trends 2017 report, about 25 percent of millennials spend at least five hours each day using their smartphone.

The study also found that 74 percent of respondents worldwide wouldn’t give up their cell phone for a full day, even to spend that day with a favorite celebrity.
About one-quarter feels stressed, lost or sad when disconnected from their phones. Eighty-five percent of all smartphone users who participated in the study have their cell phone within reach at all times.

Cell phones aren’t the only screens catching eyes. The average household has 7.3 screens, according to findings by ReportLinker. Although 93 percent of survey respondents said they had a TV, 79 percent mentioned smartphones, laptops (78 percent) and tablets (68 percent). Sixty-two percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours using a smartphone, compared to 57 percent who say their children spend more than three hours a day playing video games.

Watch And Learn

There are several forms of video advertisements, but pre-roll was found to be the least interruptive, according to a study by YuMe. Only 17 percent of mobile device users felt that the ad interrupts the content compared with 60 percent on outstream and 72 percent on mid-roll.

A separate Yume study found that multiple exposures to a video ad increases brand awareness. On average, for purchase intent and brand favorability, these ads are most effective at a minimum of nine exposures.

From AI To AR

Could artificial intelligence (AI) be the way of the retail future? According to a new report from BRP, 45 percent plan to use AI within three years to enhance the customer experience. Social media is another focus for retailers, with 92 percent of retailers using it as a tool for customer research.

Aside from organic use of social media accounts, 80 percent of marketers use paid social ads, according to a new report by Target Marketing. Budgets for social media marketing have changed dramatically over the last six years, from more than 50 percent not using social media in 2013 to nearly 50 percent increasing spending on it in 2016.

This year, 12.3 percent of the US population will engage with some form of AR content, according to a new forecast by eMarketer. Forty million people in the US will engage with some form of augmented reality (AR) at least monthly, up 30.2 percent over last year, fueled by Snapchat Lenses and Facebook Stories, while VR usage will be driven by 360-degree videos on social networks. By the end of 2019, eMarketer projects AR users will top 54.4 million, accounting for 16.4 percent of the US population, or nearly one in five internet users.


Mobile First-Person Shooters Aren’t Servicing The Market

There is no doubt that first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty are immensely popular on console and PC platforms, but the same can’t be said for mobile, particularly in the Western market—in contrast to Asia, where shooters such as WeFire have done exceptionally well. Hothead Games, creator of the popular Kill Shot series on mobile devices, understands the difficulties shooters face and explains how they start with identifying and understanding the market.

Mike Inglehart, creative director at Hothead Games

AListDaily spoke with Mike Inglehart, creative director at Hothead Games, about why first-person shooters are struggling on mobile devices, having launched Kill Shot Virus in May—a zombie-themed game that is a great departure from the more realistic military-style action of the other Kill Shot titles.

“Understanding how genres have different themes, we identified the military vacancy with the first Kill Shot, and now we see the same opportunity with the zombie theme,” said Inglehart, explaining the change from a military shooter to a zombie action game. Bravo had zombie-themed events, and Hothead recognized that players were taking to them. Kill Shot Virus is the first in the series to completely focus on zombies, taking all the benchmarks the previous games set and translating them into a zombie shooting experience. For example, instead of engaging with enemies from a distance, players get up-close and personal with zombie hordes, which calls for faster gameplay than other games in the series.

Despite the major shift in tone, Kill Shot fans have reacted well, especially after Hothead assured them that games such as Kill Shot Bravo would still be supported. But Inglehart expressed that a there was a bigger lesson here. “One of the interesting things we’ve learned is that there are players coming to Virus that have never played Bravo or Kill Shot,” said Inglehart. “What’s been exciting for us is finding a niche in the market where Virus players are new to the series. That doesn’t mean there won’t be people who straddle the products, but the goal of this game was to expand the brand further and try to find a new market of players. We’ve attracted a new type of shooter fan that is getting its first taste of the Kill Shot series.”

Bringing in a new audience might also work to grow other Kill Shot games. “Anytime you have a multitude of games, people may look into them,” said Inglehart. “Having a name attached to it will help legitimize the product. Even if you’ve never played Kill Shot or Bravo, you can see that this is the next game in a series.” However, he also cautions that “you can’t just rely on where you come from if you’re trying to appeal to a different audience. While we might have some brand awareness that helps bring players to the game, we put our foot forward with different kinds of marketing campaigns. Our announcement trailer for this game is vastly different from how we positioned our military games in the past. You still have to do the work in getting the name out there. We’ve [also] expanded our marketing efforts quite a bit. Our community manager did weekly streams as part of the announcement, and more dedicated video efforts have happened internally.”

Ideally, Hothead would prefer that players take to both Bravo and Virus but the company puts effort into individually appealing to both types of players. Ultimately, the key to popularizing first-person shooters in the mobile space is in identifying the markets and properly servicing that demand.

“With video games, it’s all about finding that blue ocean,” said Inglehart. “We’ve been doing mobile games for six years, and this is obviously a very different market than console games and the opportunities on mobile are far greater than on consoles. What I mean is that the number of people who have smartphones or tablets outweighs consoles by an incredible ratio, so you have a much bigger consumer base to chase after. The trick is thinking about your target customer.”

Beyond identifying market demands, games also have to gauge what that particular audience is ready for. “Players on mobile, especially in the Western markets, are a very different style of player than what the seasoned console player is,” explained Inglehart. “You really need to understand who the player is with any product, service or game that you’re making. I think the reason why mobile shooters haven’t hit the levels they have on consoles is because people tend to make the wrong experiences for this market. You need to make the right experience for the right market.”

Inglehart suggests examining the habits of mobile players, how they consume content and where they do it. “A phone is something that’s with you everywhere,” said Inglehart. “When you have small pockets of time to play during the day, you want take advantage of those opportunities. Turning on a PlayStation will take more time than doing something in an app, so console players will have a dedicated block of time for gaming sessions. We’re amazed by how many hours mobile players will put into a product, but you still need to think about game experiences that fit into those small pockets of time during the day.”

Developers and publishers also need to consider capabilities of both the mobile players and their devices. “You can’t take something that works somewhere else and port it to a new device and market, expecting it to work,” said Inglehart. “I think people are still getting used to understanding who these players are. When you figure out who that mobile player is, and you start crafting an experience for them, you can start to make a dent. The Western market still needs to become more sophisticated, and you’re seeing people who are playing games for the first time. Smartphones brought video games to a mass market for the first time and you have to consider that capacity.”

Although controls—the differences between touchscreens compared to gamepads—do play a role, Inglehart believes that market sophistication plays a bigger part in the popularity of shooters. He compares a typical Overwatch player to the average mobile game player and notes that there is a significantly disproportionate difference in skill. “Typically, what we think works on consoles is not what works on mobile, especially in relation to the capacity or skill of the players in that market. If you throw too much at [mobile] players at once, it’s going to be a deterrent. You have to provide a balance. When you think of a game like Call of Duty or Overwatch, there’s a lot of stuff going on, and you can’t just throw that at a new market.”

However, the market is constantly evolving as mobile games grow in sophistication, and a company’s approach will need to change with it. “Kids are growing up and playing on phones more predominantly than console systems,” Inglehart observed. He also noted how consoles grew from single-button controls to the complex gamepads we see today and suggested the mobile games may follow a similar path.

Inglehart then detailed Hothead’s approach for engaging with the mobile shooter market. “We really try to sell the excitement of our products,” he said. “We give our game away for free—in fact, we pay to get players into our games—and from a marketing standpoint . . . it’s kind of like a movie trailer. You’ve got to do something to grab audiences and pull them in to get them to download the product. Once they’re in, the game has to quickly do its best to show that it’s fun, new and has staying power. We sell people on the over-the-top excitement and the power fantasies that serve shooter products well, then let the game speak for itself.”

So, what makes for the perfect mobile shooter? “I think there’s a collection of different ideal shooters for different experiences,” said Inglehart. “Mobile has interesting trends with products that stand out among the rest, but there are also different versions of similar products. For example, Mobile Strike and Game of War are in the same family as Clash of Clans, but at the same time, are very different. They’re going after different players. While the shooter market is still maturing, I think there will be a collection of different experiences.

“[Examining] our zombie game has been very interesting, and our intuition about these players being different from our Bravo players is true. We feel that Kill Shot Virus is the ideal shooter for that market right now, but the market is always changing and evolving.”

Inglehart also stated that social elements will play a big role in popularizing shooters like Kill Shot Bravo. “Players want to be connected, playing against and with each other,” he explained. “A massive aspect of our company is focused on cooperation, connection and competition. Mobile and console have a lot of similarities in terms of what people want, it’s just that the translation of those experiences for each respective platform is different. You have to figure out the right recipe to understand the right experience for mobile players.”

With Tekken World Tour, Twitch Provides For Grassroots Community

This June, Tekken 7 will fight its way from Japanese arcades to worldwide consoles then onward to the esports arena. Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment and Twitch have formed an exclusive partnership to create the Tekken World Tour—a six-month season with a total prize pool of over $200,000.

Twitch will be the exclusive broadcasting platform for this competitive gaming league while managing league operations, circuit events and content on a global scale. Tekken World Tour (literally) kicks things into gear June 16 – 18 at the CEO Fighting Game Championships, with additional US stops in Florida, Texas, California and more.

“We’ve been big fans of the Tekken series for years and collaborated with Bandai Namco on last year’s nationwide King of Iron Fist Tournament,” Twitch program manager Richard Thiher told AListDaily. “With Tekken 7 releasing this year officially for consoles, Bandai Namco wanted to see how they could take their community to the next level with an official esports circuit. Twitch has always been the home of fighting game esports, so it was a natural fit.”

Tekken World Tour has been announced during a time when players are already thinking about fighting games on a competitive level—Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment just announced the Injustice 2 Championship Series beginning May 26.

“Fighting games offer a tremendous amount of replayability, as they are built on the premise of competition,” Thiher explained. “Players invest hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of hours into honing their skills and mastering their characters. With the Tekken World Tour, we are able to provide a concrete structure to the grassroots tournament scene—and a clear path for players to aspire to. This will only help invigorate the existing Tekken community to train harder, as well as inspire new fans to join the scene. Whether you sign up for a tournament or tune in to the live broadcasts, the Tekken World Tour has something to offer for all esports fans to enjoy.”

Twitch is no stranger to esports partnerships, including a collaboration with Psyonix last year for the Rocket League Championship series. When it comes to esports, Thiher said that every game community is different.

Tekken has a storied history of over 20 years and an incredibly passionate hardcore player base. With Tekken World Tour, we wanted to respect what the community had already built and create an official league that was authentic to what fans had experienced for years in the tournament scene,” he explained. “That is why we chose to partner with existing grassroots community tournaments and bring their events into the overarching structure of our tour. With Bandai Namco and Twitch working together on this circuit, we hope to grow the Tekken community for years to come!”

Twitch knows how much people love to watch game video content. An impressive 262 billion minutes of video were watched on Twitch last year across 2.2 million unique streamers. Meanwhile, game video content is on track to generate $4.6 billion in revenue in 2017 through advertising and direct spending, SuperData predicts, a level that would outpace revenue generated by sports.

‘Best Fiends’ Mobile Game Franchise Follows ‘Angry Birds’ Path For Expansion

With a pair of hit free-to-play mobile games under the Best Fiends brand and a third on the way later this summer, game maker Seriously is taking another step in the same direction as Rovio Entertainment with the launch of its first animated short.

Best Fiends Boot Camp features an all-star voice cast of Kate Walsh (13 Reasons Why), Mark Hamill (Star Wars), Pamela Adlon (Better Things), David Herman (Office Space), Billy West (Futurama) and Alan Oppenheimer (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe). The short features full 3D computer animation production by Reel FX, the studio behind The Book of Life and some recent Looney Tunes shorts. Boot Camp’s music is composed by Heitor Pereira (Despicable Me), and is written by Emmy Award-winning producer and writer J. Stewart Burns (The Simpsons) and produced by veteran animation producer, Claudia De La Roca (Futurama). 

Andrew Stalbow, co-founder and CEO of Seriously, told AListDaily that the company has created an entertainment franchise built on mobile first. Seriously is building out games, animations and consumer products based on the Best Fiends property.

Best Fiends Boot Camp is our first attempt to share the world of Best Fiends in animated form, and given how we’re connected to a large audience in the Best Fiends game, we’ll be using the app to promote it,” Stalbow explained. “To round out the mobile experience, a live Boot Camp event will simultaneously be released inside the Best Fiends games, where Hank and Roger, the stars of the short, will make a special guest appearance.”

The three-and-a-half-minute-long short introduces female lead JoJo, voiced by Walsh, and Temper, voiced by Hamill. It took nine months of development in Hollywood and it’s part of an ongoing series. The second short film, List Minutia, will launch later this summer and introduce Billy Dee Williams (Empire Strikes Back) as Pilot Slug and Maurice Lemarche (Pinky and the Brain) as Howie. Stalbow said production on the next two shorts has just begun and the plan is to release many more humorous shorts in the future.

“We set a vision to create a short that had the quality to play in movie theaters before a feature like Despicable Me 3, and worked really hard to assemble an incredibly talented team to help us achieve that,” Stalbow said. “We always try to differentiate our apps by trying to build a gorgeous, rich experience that stands out because of the care we put into every detail. Having been lucky enough to work with some wonderful brands at Rovio and at Fox, the number one thing we’ve learned is that you have to love and sweat every single element, and I think that shows in both our games and now in our first animated short too.”

Stalbow said Seriously wanted to go after animation that felt “subversive yet sweet” and could appeal to the whole family. Claudia de la Roca, who has worked with Matt Groening, became part of the core creative team that assembled the rest of the talent.

This marks a continuation of Seriously’s work with Kate Walsh, who partnered with the game company last year on the Don’t Download Best Fiends video, which was viewed over 8.5 million times. Stalbow said the actress was a fan of the game franchise and wanted to continue to work with the team on these animate shorts. Walsh worked with YouTubers Joey Graceffa and Rosanna Pansino on the viral video, which was part of a strategic marketing approach the company has taken for this brand.

“We have a roster of influencers we are working with to introduce the animated short to a wide audience from the opening weekend, primarily focusing on YouTube and Instagram,” Stalbow said. “We’re also buying a little bit of outdoor media in major cities in the US to promote the short a little bit like a movie, even though it’s available in the app. We think that’s a fun way to differentiate ourselves and spread the message that we’re building a ‘World on your Mobile,’ and then we’ll also promote the animation through various Google channels.”

Seriously’s app has more than 70 million downloads and approximately two million daily players. The company reaches an additional seven million fans across its branded YouTube channel, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, VK, Weibo, the Best Fiends website and its newsletter.

These animated shorts are part of a long-term plan to use the game and its audience as a delivery platform, like Rovio does with Angry Birds.

“We feel like the direct connection with our audience through mobile differentiates us from other entertainment brands,” Stalbow said. “We think that Hollywood will ultimately make a transition over the next few years to focus on building direct relationships with audiences through the content itself. Right now, Hollywood makes most of its money creating content and then distributing it through third-party platforms. Suddenly with mobile, a small content creator like Seriously can build and distribute content directly to the audience, and we want to lean into that opportunity.”

Stalbow said Best Fiends was built as an entertainment brand that can appeal to everyone. There are over 200 characters within the world, which is spread across multiple games and now animated shorts. He said there’s an over-arching theme that focuses on “small things can make a big difference,” which ties into the transformation each of the Fiend characters go through as they level up from cute to fiendish while battling against the Slugs to restore their world (Minutia) to harmony.

“This theme is also reflected in our attention to all the little details in our games and animations,” Stalbow said.

He added that long-term, the hope is to bring Best Fiends to the big screen, which is also something Rovio did successfully with Angry Birds.

Jam City: ‘Cookie Jam’ Franchise Will Be Around Forever

Released in 2013, Cookie Jam is one of the most popular puzzles games in the world and once had as many as five million daily active users. Jam City—the game’s creator—announced on Wednesday that the game, which features match-3 puzzles and cute characters, has been downloaded 100 million times worldwide. This news also coincides with the launch of its sequel, Cookie Jam Blast.

The sequel marks a major step for the company because it is Jam City’s first original franchise. Although its gameplay is heavily inspired by its predecessor, the company is taking match-3 gameplay to the next level with expansive content, backed by regular and frequent updates, and a role-playing element where players seek to become world-class chefs by visiting lands like Sherbet Forest and collecting recipes to complete challenges. There will also be plenty of fun and memorable characters, including a sassy gingerbread man.

“The Cookie Jam brand is defined by its deep graphics, story and fun characters. There is a [near] endless number of levels that you can play, and you can pick up and play it whenever you want,” Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City told AListDaily before going into detail about the potential paths the Cookie Jam brand could take as the company looks to turn it into a multi-billion dollar business.

Cookie Jam Blast is the first of many additional mediums that we’re going to extending this brand to,” said DeWolf. “So, you may see plush toys, food brands, or a TV show—we don’t know. But Cookie Jam Blast is something that we’re really excited about and we think it’s a great game.”

Josh Yguado, Jam City co-founder, president and COO

The sentiment was echoed by Josh Yguado, co-founder, president and COO of Jam City, who told AListDaily, “We think of Cookie Jam as a franchise that is evergreen and will be around forever. This is our first opportunity to build on the franchise and there will be more Cookie Jam branded games in the future. This one happens to be also be match-3, but there will be other puzzle genres that we will attach to the Cookie Jam brand. We’re excited to continue building out this world and make it a franchise that our kids and their kids will be talking about many years from now.”

Yguado talks in-depth about the launch of Cookie Jam Blast and Jam City’s strategy for keeping a four-year-old brand sweet and fresh well into the future.

What is Cookie Jam Blast, and how does it differ from the original Cookie Jam?

Cookie Jam Blast is our first franchise, taking all that we’ve learned the original Cookie Jam to make a game that has many more modes, characters and high-end graphics for a next-level match-3 experience. It has all the characters you know and love from the original game, but they’re in new worlds and we believe that it’s a lot more fun.

Is Jam City hoping that players will migrate from Cookie Jam to Blast?

I think some players will, but the two games provide a pretty different experience. Cookie Jam Blast has a lot more variation in game modes, it requires more strategy, and it’s more of a “lean forward” than a “lean back” kind of puzzle game. It will probably attract a different player [type], but people have come to love the Cookie Jam IP and its characters over the years, and we hope that they’ll play both. Cookie Jam Blast might not be for everyone, but we think fans will love it.

What inspired Jam City to develop a new Cookie Jam game and why is now the right time to launch it?

The original Cookie Jam is played by over 100 million mobile gamers worldwide. It has become one of the biggest casual game brands [in the world]. But frankly, you’re somewhat limited in the original game in terms of trying new things because of that big install base. No matter what you change, however small, there’s always going to be blowback. So, we asked the folks who design, manage and work on Cookie Jam on a day-to-day basis, “If the sky were the limit, and you could create the perfect Cookie Jam game—putting aside the fact that the original players may be hesitant to try something new—what would you think would be the best game in the world with this IP?”

We gave them that challenge and they came up with this game. I think launching a separate title gave them more ability to take risks. We knew the IP was something that really resonated with people, and we felt that the gameplay needed to evolve in order to take advantage of how much this genre has changed over the years.

What did the original Cookie Jam teach you about standing out in the crowded mobile market?

Number one, you can’t put a game out and rest on your laurels. Games are about a constantly evolving experience. At the beginning, with the original Cookie Jam, we updated levels and provided new content once a month. Those days have passed, and now we have a whole new chapter with different characters, different modes and new 20 levels every Tuesday. The bar has risen in terms of providing a gaming experience that offers something fresh and new every week.

Number two, you always have to focus on the player. The second you focus too much on monetization or KPI, you might miss the fun factor. This team, which created the original Cookie Jam, is all about immersing themselves in what players want and creating a world-class puzzle experience. These are the games they and their families play, and they are all-in on this genre.

What are some of the social features in Cookie Jam Blast?

There are a couple of innovative features that you haven’t seen before in puzzle games. One is the “Bee a buddy” booster—where friends can give you one cute little bumblebee per day. You’ll be able to send these bees off to collect pieces that you need to help you solve levels. Also, besides the leaderboards in each level, we have “chef of the island.” If you’re the most advanced player in any of the island chapters, you get the recognition that you can share with friends. There’s a good mix of helping and competition in this game.

What is the strategy for getting the word out for Cookie Jam Blast and getting fans of the original game to try it out?

We absolutely will be cross promoting the new game from within the existing game. Cookie Jam players will have an opportunity to experience both games and choose which one they prefer. We’re also going to be doing fun and extensive digital and television campaigns, similar to what we did with Dr. Ken (Ken Jeong).

Will Ken Jeong be making a comeback?

No, he won’t. We’re focusing on a different concept.

In your opinion, what has helped Cookie Jam stand out amid other match-3 mobile games for so long?

I think it starts with quality. People have come to know that Cookie Jam stands for fun, playable and high-quality gameplay—you can’t fake that. From the outside, it may seem as though a lot of these puzzle games are very similar, but each level and each twist and turn on a mode is original and different. Our commitment to having this kind of daily innovation and high-quality from some of the best puzzle designers in the world has led to people associating the brand with quality.

I also think that people often turn to puzzle games for a very particular experience—a mix of relaxation, challenge and fun. You don’t necessarily want aggression and anger. You want a positive, constructive and challenging but playful experience. I think that Cookie Jam, with its cute characters and imaginative worlds, has resulted in a brand that resonates with people.

Has there been any discussion about having cross-game events using Jam City’s different games, such as having Family Guy characters show up in Cookie Jam?

That’s fun and we’ve talked about it lightly. The trick is, once you’re in that Cookie Jam world, you’re really in there. Having Peter Griffin or Iron Man show up will take you out of that world. We’d have to do it naturally, so people don’t feel like we’re forcing a cross-platform experience or cross promotion on them. We’d want it to feel natural and as an honest part of the gaming experience. We do some cross promotion, but we don’t typically have storylines intersect or characters interact with each across our games.

With over 100 million downloads, how do you top a game that’s as popular as Cookie Jam?

It’s not really about creating something that’s bigger. As game makers, we feel a duty to our users and ourselves to provide a better experience than we have before. We’re very happy with what we’ve created, and there’s a desire to feel like we’ve served our players well. Cookie Jam has been out for four years and there are such wonderful and dedicated fans. If we just slapped a game together that was low-quality and tried to ride the wave of the brand, we wouldn’t feel good about ourselves. We’ve created something here that we’re proud of and we feel that it’s a step forward from the original game. However big it is, we just want our players to feel like we’ve delivered something that is just as special and groundbreaking as the original.

Ne-Yo Tunes Up With ‘World of Dance,’ Tech And Evolving Music Industry

Shaffer Chimere Smith never gave himself a Plan B. It was either breaking through with Billboard hits as the internationally acclaimed entertainer Ne-Yo, or homelessness.

Those are extreme ends of life’s success spectrum, but sometimes such is the self-imposed hand creatives deal themselves when the passion for arts and expression means more than just about everything else.

The three-time Grammy Award-winning R&B singer is now looking to change the life of a burgeoning star with the same make-it-or-break-it attitude he once had by serving as a judge for NBC’s high-stakes talent show World of Dance, a reality competition that brings skilled performers from all ages and corners of the globe under one roof and awards a lucky sensation with a $1 million grand prize.

World of Dance premieres May 30 and is complemented with a standalone Snapchat series ahead of the NBC debut. Ne-Yo will be joined by judges, including Jennifer Lopez and choreographer Derek Hough. Actress Jenna Dewan Tatum will play as the 10-episode TV show’s host and dancer mentor.

“I jumped on World of Dance because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to the guy behind the guy, and make sure that dancers start earning the proper compensation that they deserve,” Ne-Yo told AListDaily in an exclusive interview. “Most of the time, dancers are working just as hard as the artists—if not harder. A lot of people don’t know that they rarely make the amount that they should be earning—especially for what they do. World of Dance gives them the opportunity to be in the spotlight, and in the best way possible. With NBC’s production quality at their disposal, the dancers will have their time under the sun.”

Ne-Yo says the show, made in partnership with the World of Dance Federation, is marketable because it brings universal appeal and intrigue to the screen. Viewers don’t need to know anything about dancing to tune in—it is expression without words, people painting pictures with their bodies, vividly, with more color.

World of Dance is also tapping into a social community by inviting fans to join in at home and gyrate to J-Lo’s “On the Floor” as part of the #WorldofDanceChallenge.

“The show is definitely spectator friendly,” Ne-Yo says. “These cats can do amazing things with their bodies. You almost can’t even look away. It’s infectious. You watch them, and you want to get up and do the same thing.”

But here’s a warning shot—the 37-year-old will be playing more heel than face when judging the freestyle dance-offs in genres such as hip hop, krump, pop, lock, tap, ballet, ballroom, clogg, stomp and more.

“I didn’t get on the show to make friends and be nice. I’m trying to change somebody’s life. I’m the difficult judge. Everyone feels that I am hard. I kind of am, I won’t lie. But there’s a reason,” he explains. “You literally have to be the best of the best to even be a part of the discussion for this Olympics-of-dance-like show. I’m not going to just give away a shot at a $1 million. They’re going to have to earn it.”

Ne-Yo knows all about earning his keep. Before blowing up into the mainstream, he was working as a composer and producer under the limelight penning hits for the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Carrie Underwood and Celine Dion, among others, at the turn of the millennium.

In 2006, Jay-Z changed Ne-Yo’s life forever when he signed the Arkansas-born, Las Vegas-raised artist to Def Jam Recordings. All Ne-Yo needed was a chance to break from the background and into the forefront, and he made the most of it by since recording three No. 1 albums and selling over 10 million LPs worldwide.

Ne-Yo with the Holberton School founders Sylvain Kalache and Julien Barbier and Trinity Partner Dan Scholnick / Holberton School

And much like he’ll soon be playing an integral role in changing the life of a talented dancer, he’s doing the same in tech by taking on an active role in attracting underrepresented groups—particularly African-Americans and Hispanics—to software engineering.

Last month, Ne-Yo expanded his personal brand and portfolio by announcing his part in a $2.3 million investment in the Holberton School, a radical Silicon Valley coding college that charges no upfront tuition. It’s the singer’s first foray into tech, and he’s promising that he’s not just slapping his name behind it for marketing or financial gain. He wants to be hands on and help shape future generations.

“When you think about coding and software engineering, it’s not realistic for cats coming out of the hood to aspire to be working on apps and video games,” Ne-Yo says, now a member of the school’s Board of Trustees. “The technology space is very one-sided right now. No offense to anybody else, but not a lot of people look like me in the tech space. That’s just the reality of it. I did this as an opportunity to try and diversify the playing field with more minorities, and women. The world is changing around us. And only rich people should not be shaping the world.”

The Holberton School, named after Betty Holberton, one of the first computer programmers, is a two-year alternative to college for full-stack software engineers that uses a progressive curriculum concept of project-based learning, and peer learning. Their disruptive approach to diversity does not require students to have any previous qualifications—just the desire to learn the trade. Instead of paying for school, assuming that you land a job, Holberton charges 17 percent of internship or salary earnings over three years once a student finds a gig. The first graduating class for 2018 has already been hired or interned at Apple, NASA, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Docker.

“My passion for the Holberton School came from using my platform to empower and educate the underrepresented groups in society,” Ne-Yo notes. “I’m trying to lead by example for anyone who looks in my direction. . . . I’m trying to promote an option, and an alternative, to not being on the one-trick pony that everybody is kind of on right now.”

The “pony” Ne-Yo alludes to are his peers in the rap, hip-hop and R&B scene—and the overall flavor and tone of the industry—which has shifted to churning out music at a fast-food-restaurant rate.

Whereas Ne-Yo’s soulful vocals hit you right in the feels and tug at your heartstrings, ears for the current consumer—and how they are actually getting to content—are always adapting and evolving.

Ne-Yo came into the industry right at the tail end of when people still bought CDs and artists could make some good cash solely of off album sales. Those days are long gone in a mobile-first world. But he’s trying to make a change.

“There is more music being consumed nowadays than ever before. The only thing is the way that they’re getting to it—because they’re not buying it. Now it’s all about the streaming and downloading part of the game,” he says. “The laws for that are still iffy and messed up. I’ve actually been to Congress with ASCAP several times just trying to get the government to look at the music laws because they are over 100 years old. They need to be updated. It’s an ongoing battle. The money that we used to make off of publishing and album sales is crumbs compared to what it was.

“It’s a good time for music. But it’s also a bad time for music. As much as people’s appetite for music has grown, I feel like their appreciation has not. That’s a little disappointing, but it is what it is. You can sit back and complain about the evolution, or you can be a part of it. You have to stick with the times or you get left behind. I commend the young cats who have already figured it out, and applaud them. Now, I’m just trying to figure my place out.”

It shouldn’t be too difficult. The self-described “gentleman” is a triple-threat singer, performer and songwriter with retro style and sharp swag, and he plans on bringing a combination of that entertainer flavor with a reintroduction and new album slated to drop later this year, his first since his sixth studio album “Non-Fiction” in 2015.

The harmonious crooner with such party-starting hits like “Let’s Go” and “Time Of Our Lives” to his credit has already delivered a steady diet of new appetizers this month. The upbeat single “Another Love Song” marked the musician’s first original melody since his last LP. He also collaborated with protégées Candice Boyd and RaVaughn Brown for a sensual audio soap opera, and added his own flair by remixing Kendrick Lamar’s hit song “Humble” to reflect on his Grammy-winning career and rise to fame. He also stormed the stage for Spike TV’s Lip Sync Battle in April to show off his cover skills with Cameo’s “Candy.”

“Everything is sex, drugs and rock and roll these days, which I’m a fan of all three, too,” Ne-Yo says. “However, I’m just trying to show others that there is more in life that you can get into. The world needs a love overhaul right now, and I’m trying to be a part of that movement by spreading the love. And I can do that in a number of ways.”

Love has always been a common theme in Ne-Yo’s songs—and should be even more so now that he married Crystal Smith Renay last year, who gave birth to Shaffer Jr., his third child.

“The things that were important to me before I got married have completely shifted,” he says. “My priorities have changed, and I am in a different place. At times, it can prove to be a little difficult as you’re trying to relate to the world. I can’t write solely about myself because everyone is not in my position. I want to make sure my music is relatable, and music that everybody could get into. I don’t make music for the sake of throwing it out there. A lot has changed since my first album. Heck, a lot has changed since my last album. I’m just making sure that whatever I have to say is worthy to my fans.”

If he’s not using his music to speak with admirers, he’s doing so directly with social media. He’s even previously allowed fans to be a part of the creative process of his songs. Ne-Yo knows that brands are closely paying attention to how artists engage with their audiences, and he thinks experiential brand relationships with musicians are going to be more important in the coming years—especially from a financial standpoint—as the industry evolves.

“You’re going to see this a lot, where one hand in the brand washes the other in the artist,” says Ne-Yo, who previously has collaborated with the likes of Hennessy for a concert series, wrote jingles for brands like Fruttare, and has spoken at Cannes on the matter of brand relationships. “That’s been a part of the business since the beginning. But it’s gotten to the point where, whether they’re deserving of it or not, the number of followers an artist has on social media has translated into opportunities. Now you have companies connecting with artists solely based on followers. The hell if they think you can do the job or not. They just care about the number of eyes they can turn toward a certain direction. And I don’t agree with that.”

He says the same social follower count plague has hit the dancing world, and some of his friends and business acquaintances with proven track records are having a hard time getting booked because they just don’t have the numbers social celebrities do. It’s all the reason more why he really wants to reward the best performer in World of Dance solely on the merits of talent with the grand prize.

“I hope this doesn’t sound egotistic, but I always knew that I’d get here. I always had a little voice in the back of my head saying, ‘Just keep going—don’t stop.’ That voice was God bringing me to this opportunity. I want the lucky winner to fulfill that dream too,” he says.

“After World of Dance, I’m still me, doing what I do with music. I’m never not working. I’m in a good place mentally, spiritually and physically. I want to spread positivity, and love. When it’s all said and done, and Ne-Yo is gone, I want people to say, ‘he was an uplifting dude, a good person who always had a smile on his face, and he could write the hell out of a song.’”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

On ‘Overwatch’ Anniversary, Data Shows Global Impact

Activision Blizzard’s first shooter game has come a long way in its first year of existence, from Game of the Year to making esports dreams come true. Overwatch has taken the world by storm with a player base of over 30 million—appealing not just to a core group of shooter game fans, but attracting new demographics, as well.

Overwatch League has proven popular across the globe not just for playing, but viewing, as well. In terms of global reach, Overwatch comes in third place in North America and Western Europe, according to Newzoo. While the game boasts a large player base on both console and PC, a “sizable” group of people watch Overwatch esports exclusively.

IEM Gyeonggi’s Overwatch tournament finals attracted close to 100,000 peak concurrent viewers on Twitch and the official Overwatch League announcement has over 19 million views on YouTube. The city-based franchise approach presented by Activision/Blizzard seems to have materialized, Newzoo observed, as it’s rumored that the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are among the first traditional sports teams to claim a spot in the Overwatch League.

Overwatch succeeded where Heroes of the Storm failed—in offering a broad variety in gameplay and a new, original aesthetic,” SuperData CEO Joost van Dreunen told AListDaily. “By starting the franchise from scratch and building characters and environments from the ground up rather than relying on their tried-and-true formulas, Blizzard managed to release a title that is an antidote to the dominance of military shooter games. Without sacrificing any frivolity, Overwatch explores a broad range of social and cultural topics that have clearly resonated with audiences, making it a favorite among streamers and players.”

SuperData predicts that the worldwide audience for overall game video content (GVC) will reach 665 million in 2017, more than double the population of the US. Overwatch is certainly holding its own in this arena, averaging 23,515 Twitch viewers per hour in 2016 according to calculations by GitHyp.

The colorful shooter has also changed views on consumer habits in China, the world’s largest gaming market. It has often been thought that Chinese gamers, who typically pay for MMOs by the hour, would not be willing to pay for a video game upfront. That outlook has changed, thanks to Overwatch. Up to 40 percent of full game downloads of Overwatch in August 2016 can be attributed to Chinese sales, SuperData reported.

Activision Blizzard has much to celebrate and is passing on the rewards to its fans. Overwatch: Game of the Year Edition, a digital re-release that includes cosmetic items for Overwatch and other Blizzard games, is available now on PlayStation 4, Windows PC via and Xbox One.

Players on PS4, Windows PC and Xbox One will also be able to try out Overwatch with a free weekend. The game will be free to download and play May 26-29.

‘Twin Peaks’ Returns With Some Damn Good Marketing

Twin Peaks returned to Showtime on Sunday, and fans got a head start on the excitement thanks to some clever and equally mysterious marketing.

David Lynch’s original show first aired in 1990—telling the story of eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper, who arrives in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington to solve the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. There, he encounters a colorful cast of residents, dark secrets and surrealistic adventures. A sequel was announced in 2014, but as development hit one snag after another, fans had to wait until until 2017.

A few months ago, residents of Australia began noticing missing posters for Palmer. The posters say that Laura has been missing for 25 years. When dialing the listed phone number, the show’s iconic theme music begins to play, followed by a recording of a backward voice that says, “It is happening again,” when played the other way. It provided hope for Twin Peaks fans who missed out on the original airing in their region. Luckily for them, the new show is broadcast in Australia as well as Canada, Scandinavia, the UK and US.

Cryptic billboards also started to appear around strategic locations in the US—depicting either a cherry pie with a piece missing or a single slice. Savvy fans quickly figured out that the crust pattern matches Twin Peaks‘ infamous Red Room floor, and the billboard locations correspond to important events in the first series, as well as creator David Lynch’s home town.

Special Agent Dale Cooper loves his coffee, cherry pie and donuts, so it wouldn’t be a Twin Peaks marketing campaign without some “damn good” eats. At SXSW, Showtime brought two locations from the original show—Black Lodge and RR Diner—complete with easter eggs from the show, souvenirs and, of course, doughnuts. Cooper himself (actor Kyle MacLachlan) even made an appearance, much to the fans’ delight.

Showtime partnered with 3D anamorphic sidewalk artists Leon Keer and Nate Baranowski to recreate the iconic Red Room on the streets of Brooklyn, Portland and Los Angeles.

Commuters in New York City were surprised yet delighted to find two limited-edition Twin Peaks MetroCards available at select subway stations. The back side of the cards featured key art with either Cooper or Palmer along with the “It is happening again” tagline.

The New York promotions continued through a partnership with Grub Street, who offered cherry pie and coffee from its food trucks ahead of the show’s premiere.

VooDoo Doughnuts, who provided the breakfast confections for Twin Peaks‘ SXSW experiential marketing, offered free limited-edition treats.

The official Twin Peaks premiere event had social media buzzing with photos, celebrities and footage from the red carpet celebration May 19. Fans could show their love for the series with an official Facebook profile frame and Showtime hosted a Facebook Live pre-show for the premiere. Actor Kyle MacLachlan made a special appearance on the official Entertainment Weekly Instagram account, while actress Mädchen Amick took over the official Twin Peaks Twitter account. While not everyone could be invited to the premiere itself, Showtime didn’t forget the fans—going as far as to sponsor an official viewing party at Pie Hole in Los Angeles.

Fans can also show their love for the franchise through merchandise from Hot Topic, including RR Diner, buttons and more.

It’s been a long journey from the Twin Peaks finale more than 25 years ago, but allowing fans to celebrate as a community before and during the show’s return is nostalgia marketing at its best. All that hard work paid off, as Sunday’s premiere became Showtime’s single biggest day and weekend of signups ever.

“In the world that we live in now, offering original programming that attracts new subscribers is our primary business objective,” Showtime Networks president and CEO David Nevins told Deadline Hollywood. “By that standard, the Twin Peaks premiere is the biggest single-night driver we’ve ever had.”

‘Animal Kingdom’ Is Big Priority For Turner As Show Embarks On Second Season

Turner presented at Upfront last week with one underlying message evidently clear—the television network is aiming to attract a slew of cord-cutting binge-watchers in the ether with a slate of programming that is highlighted with comedies for TBS, and dramas for TNT.

One series in particular that has struck a chord with consumers is Animal Kingdom, a drama that dives into a Southern California family whose excessive lifestyle is fueled by their criminal activities.

The show’s second season comprises 13 episodes and continues May 30. The serialized nature of the series is a huge segment of a Turner roster—one that is expected to churn out nearly 17,000 hours of original content this season.

Turner prepped Animal Kingdom fans with a bingable crash course by partnering with Amazon Prime in March for an exclusive VOD streaming deal of its 10-episode first season.

That same month, they doubled down on their marketing with an experiential, gritty SoCal-beach installation at SXSW that featured a surf simulator and wave pool, a custom sneaker bar with Vans, an Eater-curated beer garden and a live graffiti wall.

Telmo Tabuas, vice president of marketing for TNT and TBS, joined AListDaily to share their marketing methods for Animal Kingdom.

What are the learnings from season one of Animal Kingdom that you’re applying to your marketing strategy now?

Our talent has gotten so much traction across social platforms. The women viewers in particular love the Cody boys because they’re charismatic and passionate about the show, and their characters. We want to bring consumers more interaction with the talent. So for us, it’s about bringing them to the forefront. The show has intense action elements of crime and family. These are drivers for consumers. We want to play up everything so they can interact with the elements.

What was the strategy behind that Amazon Prime partnership?

We’re excited now that we partnered with Amazon Prime because it’s a great opportunity to get new fans hooked on the show. The first season of Animal Kingdom was a huge success for us. What we learned was that as the season progressed, people were catching up by binging on the show, and ratings grew. Another thing we saw was large consumptions when we were marathoning the series. They weren’t necessarily waiting week-after-week to catch up; they were watching in bulk, as most consumers do with shows that lend themselves to that.

Can you take us through your SXSW activation?

We wanted to bring the Southern California vibe from the show to consumers in a very experiential way. We looked at our opportunities to where we could launch a large-scale activation, and we thought SXSW was the perfect place and time because it kicked off our marketing campaign. It was a way for us to reach both consumers, press and influencers all in the same space. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t just about what was happening on the ground.

How are you approaching influencer marketing?

It’s really about creating advocates for our brands and shows. We look for people who organically love the programming and can talk about it in a very genuine way. They end up becoming our megaphones to get new consumers interested in the programs. At SXSW, we worked with a lot of media partners like Eater and Complex. It was the right place for us to be. As we made our way into the launch of the series, we ramped up our work with social influencers to get the word out.

Animal Kingdom is an adaptation of a 2010 Australian original film. Is recreating shows from original movies a trend you see networks moving toward?

With TNT, our big brand push is for storytelling. Good storytelling can come from a variety of places. We’re about to head into a big summer on the network in terms of launching new programming. The first one is the launch of the second season of Animal Kingdom, which is based on a movie. But we’re also launching Claws, which is an original idea. It’s Florida-noir with an all-female cast. Will is the original story of William Shakespeare. We’re also adapting The New York Times bestselling book The Alienist. TNT is embracing storytelling—and different storytellers—to bring their vision to life in a compelling way.

How would you classify the pecking order of your programming marketing?

Animal Kingdom is a big priority for us. We saw in season one that it was gaining a lot of traction. The fan community was growing; the audience was growing. You typically don’t see that with a lot of shows. Oftentimes shows launch big and then sort of peter out. Now, we see Animal Kingdom as a huge opportunity for us to bolster the show even further while making sure that the fans we recruited along the way stay with us, too. . . . We’re charged with everything with the media plans, to experiential marketing activations like the one at SXSW. We’re really charged with bringing the campaigns to life. Anything that reaches consumers falls into our wheelhouse. There is the bulk of your media, which are promos, key art, print ads and radio, but then there is the fun stuff like our one-to-one activation in Austin. That’s where they can have experiences with us in an organic way in unexpected environments.

What are some new verticals and platforms you plan on experimenting with?

The next thing that we’re dipping our toes into and embracing is the notion of virtual reality. That’s the new buzz. We’re trying VR in ways that are true to the shows. That’s where we see the next iteration of experiences heading into. It’s different. We’re filming 360-degree content on set to then bring that to viewers in their own homes in a new and compelling way. We’re interested in exploring 360 video and VR because it’s bringing a world that our storytellers are creating for consumers in a fresh way. There are some big ideas coming down the pike.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

The Strategy Behind ‘Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds” Runaway Success

Brendan “Playerunknown” Greene didn’t start as an avid gamer or programmer. In fact, he spent most of his life as a photographer and graphic designer who never played classic titles such as The Legend of Zelda and has stated in interviews that games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed didn’t appeal to him. Then one day, after playing Arma and DayZ, he set out to make a one that did, starting with a game mod called Battle Royale, which would later become the name of a genre he helped originate. That led to a drastic career change, as he went on to work on high-profile games such as Arma 3 and H1Z1, which both helped to build a strong fan following.

Brendan “Playerunknown” Greene, creative director at Bluehole Inc.

Greene is now a creative director at Bluehole Inc., the South Korean development studio behind the MMO game Tera, working on Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds—a game that has sold over two million copies in under two months on Steam Early Access despite still being in development. The concept behind a battle royale game is fairly straightforward: a group of players are dropped onto a giant map with no weapons or armor. They then have to gather resources in an effort to outwit, outmaneuver and outgun the competition until only one survivor remains. The concept was integrated into games such as H1Z1, which spun its battle royale mode off into a standalone title called King of the Kill.

Speaking with AListDaily, Greene differentiated Battlegrounds from other games in the battle royale genre (some like DayZ and H1Z1: King of the Kill, he helped develop) by stating: “[Battlegrounds] is more than just a battle royale game—it is a platform for both that game-mode and many others, official and those created by content creators! Our game provides the player with a rich tactical battlefield, and the freedom to have a lot of fun while playing. Along with our custom game feature, we provide content creators and players the ability to create new experiences using our game as the platform.”

Much like the tactics behind battle royale games, Battlegrounds seemed to come out of nowhere to grab success, and it may even become a big esports hit. Greene recounted the events that led to a tremendous Early Access launch period.

“From the outset of development, we wanted to enter Early Access with a stable product,” said Greene. “We also wanted to be very open about the development of the game, and had multiple month-long alpha and beta tests, alongside weekly dev blog updates about what we had been working on. This allowed us to launch into Early Access with a great deal of confidence, as we had upwards of 50,000 players that helped us test the game before the public got their hands on it, which enabled us to have a stable server infrastructure in place to handle the demand.”

As for the impressive sales, Greene admitted that “we are a little shocked ourselves at the tremendous support the gaming community at large has shown our title. Though, I think this is a testament to the hard work our team has put in over the past year. We have an excellent EP in Changhan Kim, and his planning and production have ensured we had a great game to bring to market.”

When it came to getting the word about the game before releasing on Early Access, Greene received a lot of support from the gaming community. “During our alpha and beta periods, we had a lot of interest from content creators and players that were fans of my work in Arma 3 and H1Z1,” he said. “Via platforms like Twitch, the game also received a lot of interest from players looking for something new in the battle royale genre.”

However, success in Early Access isn’t without its challenges. Many players tend to lose interest in Early Access games as development continues. We asked Greene how he intended to keep players engaged while working to further refine his vision for the game and its gameplay.

“We have always been very open about our development, and this won’t change now that we are in Early Access,” Greene replied. “We believe as a team that a solid stream of updates published on a daily, weekly and monthly basis is the key to both continued player engagement and success at full launch.”

How will Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds continue to grow its audience after such a meteoric start? “We are aiming to create a great platform for our players,” said Greene. “With two new maps in production, custom games, 3D replays and modding in the future, I believe that giving tools to content creators will help grow our player base.”