Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 blasted its way to the top of the box office with $427 million in global box office sales for its opening weekend. Long before millions flocked to theaters to get their Baby Groot fix, marketers were hard at work with a galaxy’s worth of brand partnerships and sneak peaks galore.
Ever since the sequel’s teaser was revealed in October, Marvel has been slowly ramping up the hype with a Super Bowl commercial and mix tape poster reveal that announced Kurt Russell’s involvement with the film. Since then, director James Gunn has generously shared behind-the-scenes photos from his social media accounts leading up to the movie’s premiere.
It’s no coincidence that a video game, Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series, was released last month, too, just a little over a couple of weeks before the film’s premiere. Although the game features different actors than those appearing on the big screen, the characters are designed after the 2014 film interpretation.
One of the most iconic elements for the Guardians of the Galaxy films is the soundtracks, and Marvel shared the tunes from Vol. 2 in a rather . . . creatively crunchy way. Marvel teamed up with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division and its Doritos brand to create a bag of chips with a built-in music player.
Just like Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, hungry fans can plug a pair of headphones into the bag’s 3.5 mm jack and enjoy the entire soundtrack of the film. The bags, initially available on Amazon’s website, sold out quickly but you can find them on eBay . . . marked up considerably.
The bags were part of Marvel and Doritos’ “Rock Out Loud” campaign. Entering codes from specially marked bags, the “Choose Your Guardian” activation offers fans a chance to win prizes ranging from tote bags to a Samsung Gear VR headset or a trip to London to live like a rock star.
Ford received a cameo appearance in the film with its all-new EcoSport compact SUV that goes on sale early next year. The car manufacturer teamed up with Marvel not only for product placement but a sweepstakes where entrants get a chance to win an EcoSport, a hometown screening of the movie, one of 150 custom illustrations by a Marvel artist depicting the fan as a galactic hero and “plenty of swag.”
In addition to the contest, the EcoSport will star alongside Groot, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Rocket in a limited 500 print run comic book that will also be published digitally online for a short time.
Geico Insurance had a bit of fun with the help of Baby Groot in a TV commercial.
M&Ms characters Red and Yellow teamed up with the raccoon in their very own commercial, then took over a New York subway train to create a “cosmic wonderland” for passengers. In honor of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s premiere, the confectioner made portraits of the film’s main characters out of candy across its social media channels.
On Twitter, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has six sponsored hashtag images for fans to play with: #GotGVol2, #Gamora, #Starlord, #Drax, #Rocketraccoon and #Groot. The conversation keeps on going, especially as the intergalactic sequel nears $450 million globally.
3D cinema platform and visual technology company RealD Inc. announced Sunday that the film generated 41 percent of its worldwide gross to date ($174 million) from 3D performances of the film.
Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment is most known for its bestselling The Walking Dead comic book series, which has expanded into two popular AMC television series, video games and merchandise. But Skybound creates content for all platforms, including virtual reality. The company was early into 360-degree storytelling with Gone, which was created for the Samsung Gear VR in 2015.
Now Skybound has turned creator Jon Braver’s live Los Angeles haunted horror series Delusion into a VR experience. The first 360-degree story is based on the 2014 haunted play Lies Within, written and directed by Braver and produced by Skybound and Witty Acronym. Set in 1947 North Carolina, the story follows a pair of rabid fans in search of a missing novelist Elena Fitzgerald, whose literary nightmares have come to life.
Rachel Skidmore, director of media development at Skybound, told AListDaily that translating Delusion from a live action play that occurred within a real house into episodic VR was aided by having Braver on board. She said the director understands how to use the full 360-degree sphere of space.
“We took the 2014 script and hired some of the cast from the play,” Skidmore said. “We invented some new characters and amped up the production design and added a lot of cool monsters, taking the experience to the next level.”
Skybound filmed Delusion in the same Los Angeles historic mansions in West Adams where the live plays were held. Braver rigged some of the same stunts and choreography for the VR experience.
The experience will offer viewers a third-person perspective as they explore the house and interact with different characters from Fitzgerald’s novels. VR allows the user to be immersed in the Southern Gothic setting, which Skidmore said has a looming feeling of the swampy humid setting for the macabre.
“It’s more interactive and immersive as you move through house guided by characters and different people might be pulled into closets or you may be asked to hide, and the whole time you’re following the story,” Skidmore said.
Delusion is comprised of four 10-minute chapters for season one of Lies Within.
“The length had more to do with how much of the story we put into each chapter to introduce characters or give the audience a sweet cliffhanger,” Skidmore explained.
Skidmore said 360-degree filming gave Skybound more room to freak people out with horror storytelling.
“I love playing with the orientation,” Skidmore explained. “You can put people in facing one direction and guide them through sound design that gets you going and builds the suspense and tension, and then force people (or not) to turn all the way around and face something scary.”
Just as it does with The Walking Dead TV show, Skybound employed practical effects over CGI to bring the story to life.
“The key to the zombies is those awesome make-up effects,” Skidmore said. “One of our creatures [in Delusion] we built this mechanical suit with light features, and we’ll amplify it with some CGI to enhance the experience.”
Skidmore said there are more stories to be told down the line, just as there are multiple plays that explore different stories within this universe created by the fictional Fitzgerald (and the real-life Braver).
Skybound also plans on turning the Delusion IP into a multiplatform brand. While it’s well-known within LA because of the plays, VR opens up a global audience.
“We can take it out and make it a more widely known property,” Skidmore said. “Whether it’s expanding it out as a VR experience that takes place in homes or other experiential storytelling within the brand, we have a lot of ideas.”
One potential direction could be to create a room-scale version of Delusion for VR arcades–something Skybound partner Starbreeze VR is doing with The Walking Dead.
“While this isn’t built for room-scale, we could give people an opportunity to view it in a VR arcade with a more robust soundscape experience,” Skidmore said. “You don’t have hands in this iteration, but for future seasons, we’d love to give people room-scale and have hands, and a more first-person experience.”
Skidmore also envisions a future live action iteration that combines mixed reality with immersive theater, which would harken back to Delusion’s roots and be set in an actual haunted house that people would walk through with actors.
“We could also adapt this for comics,” Skidmore added. “I think there’s room for some kind of mixed reality reading experiences.”
When the first Sins of a Solar Empire game launched in 2008, it was regarded by many as a creative breakthrough in gameplay. The space empire strategy title combined elements from turn-based games such as Civilization and Master of Orion with real-time action, making for faster pacing in an expansive 3D galaxy. That original game established a reputation for Ironclad games, which followed-up with Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion in 2012, growing the concept’s size and scope.
Despite hitting its five-year anniversary recently, support for Rebellion continues and the most recent premium DLC expansion, Outlaw Sectors, launched last summer. Digital sales remain strong on Steam, and the game has a thriving community of players and modders. Ironclad helped to mark the anniversary by releasing a “modernization update” for Rebellion, which improves the game’s graphical quality to support today’s powerful computer systems.
Blair Fraser, producer, co-owner and director at Ironclad Games spoke with AListDaily about engaging with a player community to keep a game going for half a decade and more.
How are you celebrating the five-year anniversary?
With a lot of big changes. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was bring it up to speed with what a lot of computers are capable of now, and the community is always asking for different features and changes. I wanted to put it all into one package and say, “Look at this! Even after five years, we still have awesome new stuff coming, and it looks and runs better than it ever has before.”
Is the Rebellion community still growing?
Yes, amazingly enough. I certainly didn’t foresee it, but we still sell very well, and we still get a lot of community engagements. I get emails and private messages all the time telling me that the game is cool, that their friends still play it, and it would be nice to add this or that. There’s always a vibrancy to the community and engagement.
What is the key to engaging with an audience for half a decade, especially for a real-time 4X sci-fi strategy game?
Well, there certainly aren’t many of them, so we’ve got some default engagement there. But more than that—they wouldn’t stick around if the game was crap. To maintain it, we’re always adding new stuff and improving things. If you look at the five years of Rebellion and the ten years of the original Sins, we’ve constantly supported it through both free updates and decently priced DLC expansion that we release now and then.
Five years, in PC gaming terms, is an eternity. Why continue releasing updates and expansions instead of moving to a sequel?
If a product continues to do well, you want to continue to support it. That’s just a simple business thing for us. It still makes money, so we still put resources into it. Personally, I’m obsessed with perfection, responding to what the community is asking for, and fixing things that bug me. I do most of the work on this project on my own free time, and I enjoy doing it. We are going to release other projects at some point, and we want to be known as a company that puts the time and effort into continuing to support the games we work on. It’s not a waste because people are going to say the next thing is worth buying because Ironclad is backing it for as long as they possibly can.
Did you consider futureproofing the game for the next five years as you were putting together the modernization update?
Actually, it’s a mirror of what we were thinking in the early 2000s, when we were developing the technology, which would become the game that’s still selling now. We thought we were futureproof then, and boy were we wrong. But it was a different mindset because retail was still dominant, so our version of futureproofing was, “how long will the game last on the shelf at Walmart?” So, we looked about two or three years in advance, plus the game would be on the shelf for a few months, and then the game would never be heard of again. That was the typical life of a PC game prior to digital sales.
How else have digital sales impacted the life of the game?
The fact that you can buy it at all is a huge difference from the days of old because it got pulled off the shelf once it passed its sales threshold. Now it’s always available. Every day, I check the Steam reviews, the Steam forums, our Sins of a Solar Empire forums and reports from Facebook, and I can see people are still playing and what the feedback is. I can also see them feeding each other by recommending the game.
The mod community has been instrumental in extending the life of Rebellion. What is it like to constantly update a game that players are changing up?
I love it, and that’s kind of how I got into games in the first place—just messing around with stuff, pushing boundaries, and changing things to the ways I wanted. I like any form of creative play, whether it’s Legos, modding or painting. I know some people say, “Don’t screw around with my baby,” but I think that’s too restrictive. Look at what music has come through remixes. Look at any artform. I’d be crazy to put the hammer down.
So, what are the steps for the next five years?
I’m still going to support Rebellion and the original Sins in my spare time, but my normal work hours are dominated by other things. You’ll hear more about that within the next five years—hopefully a lot less than that, but I’m not promising anything [laughs].
YouTube Red has expanded its original family line-up with Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force, a title based on the popular fruit-slicing video game. Premiering Friday on YouTube and the YouTube Kids App, Frenzy Force is a 13-episode series produced by the game’s developer, Halfbrick Studios.
This animated series follows the humble beginnings of Seb, Niya, Peng and Ralph, four fruit ninjas who run a juice stand as a front for their secret ninja dojo. These youngsters have been training to unlock the ancient secrets of Juice-Jitsu but will put their skills to the test when a time portal opens, transporting a 10,000-year-old ninja bent on destruction into the modern world.
Fans of the show will be able to hone their Juice-Jitsu skills against these new heroes when they debut in the original mobile game. Likewise, the show will feature several familiar characters from the game as well.
Ahead the show’s launch, YouTube released several bonus trailers to introduce characters, tease the main story and take fans behind-the-scenes. Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force is Halfbrick Studios’ first foray into TV and—if successful—will help solidify the company’s vision of cross-over entertainment.
Last March, fans learned of a live-action Fruit Ninja movie in the works with NewLine Cinema to be written by J.P. Lavin and Chad Damiani. The two writers recently adapted How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack for the big screen, which is currently in development.
Fruit Ninja, a game downloaded over a billion times, joins a growing trend of adapting popular video games for TV and film (although we’re still not sure how a “big science fiction” trilogy based on Tetris is going to work).
Clash-A-Rama!, also created for YouTube, is a series of shorts and full-length episodes from Supercell featuring characters from both Clash of Clans and Clash Royale. Last year, The Angry Birds Movie became the second-highest grossing video game film of all time and the most successful international Finnish film to boot.
Although not exactly based on a video game, another YouTube Red Original series includes Kings of Atlantis—inspired by Minecraft gameplay videos by popular YouTube creators, TheAtlanticCraft. The computer animated show features original characters and scenarios, while paying homage to Minecraft by retaining a square-headed character design.
Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force is the latest program to debut as part of YouTube Red’s slate of original programs for families alongside DanTDM Creates A Big Scene and Kings of Atlantis. YouTube Red is a paid membership currently available in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Korea that gives viewers ad-free access to YouTube, YouTube Music, YouTube Gaming and YouTube Kids. Shows created exclusively for YouTube Red are included in this membership. As the world’s second-most visited website, YouTube plans to expand its line-up throughout the year and create value as an OTT video service.
This week in our marketing statistics round-up, we compare display ad spend to digital video and mobile, consumers share their trust (or lack thereof) for advertising, and casino games hit the jackpot with mobile players.
Smartphones And Smart Devices
Amazon Echo and Google Home will account for 192 million of the four billion smart home devices in use by 2021, according to a new study by Ovum. The number of connected smart devices in use will nearly double from eight billion in 2016 to 15 billion in 2021, the company predicts. Smartphone adoption, however, is finally slowing . . . a lot.
In four years, annual growth of smartphones sold will have slowed from 30 percent in 2014 to only four percent.
According to IAB’s fourth annual “Digital Content NewFronts: Video Ad Spend Study,” US marketers anticipate spending more than $9 million on their brand’s digital and mobile video advertising this year—67 percent more than 2015. The study polled 358 US agency and marketing professionals from a variety of industries. Eighty-eight percent said that they increased their original digital video budget as a result of attending the 2016 NewFronts. In addition, 77 percent agreed that the 2016 NewFronts encouraged them to investigate ways to incorporate VR or 360-degree video advertising into their marketing strategy.
Display ad spending isn’t enjoying the same growth however. Forrester predicts a potential decrease in display spending as high as $2.9 billion in 2018. The report explains this shift as a combination of ad ineffectiveness and the consumer’s ability to obtain what they want without interruptions, among others.
Trust And Transparency
Consumers love to hate ads, and a survey conducted by Choozle found that 41 percent of respondents rarely trust the ads they’re shown. In fact, 54 percent believe that less than half the ads they see are accurate. Half of the respondents reported having “negative” feelings toward mobile ads and 81 percent would rather be shown ads on their computer than their smartphone. Why the hate? Choozle’s survey identified the top three reasons people dislike online ads—they slow down web pages (28 percent), the same ad is shown multiple times regardless of someone’s interest (26 percent) and they take up too much space on a web page (22 percent).
Marketers rely on trustworthy data to serve relevant ads, and are demanding better transparency. A new survey by Metamarkets found that about 75 percent of marketers are concerned about the lack of data transparency in programmatic advertising. Nearly half of all brands (49 percent) said they can’t trust one-fifth or more of the data upon which they base media-buying decisions. Sixteen percent of all marketers (brands, agencies and publishers) participating in the survey distrusted at least 30 percent of their data and 41 percent said they wouldn’t significantly increase their programmatic budgets until there was better transparency.
Google Plays A Good Game
Google Play continued to lead in worldwide downloads over iOS in the first quarter, according to insights by App Annie. It saw both the greatest absolute growth and the fastest growth rate year over year out of the two stores, the site reported. Google Play grew 20 percent year over year, fueled largely by growth in emerging markets like India and Indonesia. Where iOS fell short on numbers, it certainly made up for in revenue—increasing its lead to 100 percent in consumer spend over Google Play in the first quarter.
Social Spend And Snapchat Exclusivity
Facebook’s revenue is up 51 percent, according to the company’s first quarter results. Total monthly active users were up 17 percent year-over-year reaching 1.94 billion, with advertising revenues hitting $7.9 billion—85 percent of which generated by ads.
While Facebook can boast big numbers, Snapchat still has something over the social media giant—exclusivity. App Annie recently measured behavior during Q4 of 2016 and found that on an average day, 35 percent of Snapchat’s daily users in the US aren’t reachable on Facebook that same day. Meanwhile, 46 percent who used Snapchat daily weren’t on Instagram and about 61 percent of Snapchat’s fans didn’t watch YouTube the same day.
Mobile Casinos And Virtual Race Tracks
Social casino games are finding a new home on mobile devices, according to insights provided by SuperData. Eighty-five percent of social casino gamers now play on smartphones, while PC has fallen to its lowest market share at 49 percent. Given the choice of one or the other, mobile is where it’s at, with 27 percent of gamers playing exclusively on a mobile device, and PC-only has dropped to six percent. An impressive 74 percent of smartphone users and 72 percent of tablet users play slots, SuperData reported.
It seems that Nintendo has a winner with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch. With more than 459,000 combined packaged and digital sales in the US on launch day alone, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the fastest-selling game in the long-running Mario Kart series—a record previously held by Mario Kart Wii. Nintendo reports that solid sales numbers for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe equate to an attach rate of 45 percent, meaning that nearly one in two Nintendo Switch owners in the US purchased a copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the first day it was available.
It’s Star War Day! To spread the joyful message of “May the Fourth Be With You,” the world is celebrating this beloved franchise with movie marathons, cosplay, special deals and some very cool social activations.
Entertainment Weekly delved into Luke’s exile in the upcoming film The Last Jedi, as well as some behind-the-scenes with writer-director Rian Johnson.
The official mobile game, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, is celebrating Star Wars Day with a rare event called “The Daring Droid,” giving players the ability to unlock and battle with R2-D2.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) celebrated with a new trailer called “Build Your Legacy.”
NASA is inspiring star gazers on Tumblr by comparing real-life exoplanets with those found in the Star Wars universe.
“From Luke Skywalker’s home world Tatooine, you can stand in the orange glow of a double sunset,” NASA writes. “The same could said for Kepler-16b, a cold gas giant roughly the size of Saturn, that orbits two stars. Kepler-16b was the Kepler telescopes’s first discovery of a planet in a ‘circumbinary’ orbit (that is, circling both stars, as opposed to just one, in a double star system).”
Seventeen NBA teams have committed to the first season of the NBA 2K ELeague, a partnership between Take-Two Interactive Software and the NBA. Among the inaugural teams are all of the teams active in esports, including the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, and Sacramento Kings. Some of the elite teams in the NBA are going virtual with five-man video game teams, including the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Other teams participating are the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards.
In September 2016 the Sixers became the first professional sports team in North America to acquire and manage an esports franchise, Team Dignitas, which fields six teams in five of esports most popular games, including League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.
“Under the Philadelphia 76ers’ leadership and guidance, Team Dignitas has solidified its place as one of the most accessible and compelling brands in the esports space today,” Team Dignitas CEO Jonathan Kemp said in a statement. “The NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers, Team Dignitas and NBA 2K are storied, global brands with massive international fan bases eager for player access, original content, live events, and more. The Team Dignitas roster includes players spanning over 15 countries and speaking more than 10 languages. The NBA and forward-thinking franchises like the Sixers are the most innovative entities in the sports industry today. When you combine that industry experience and desire to grow the game of basketball, with the esport fan’s insatiable appetite for content and unparalleled expectation for player access, the result will be a league of epic proportions and opportunities for partnership and growth.”
Chad Biggs, Philadelphia 76ers’ senior vice president of corporate partnership and activation, added that the team’s experience with Team Dignitas over the past few months gives the Sixers an incredible advantage as they launch this new league.
“Our ability to pull esports expertise and industry acumen from our Team Dignitas executives and best practices in organizational infrastructure, branding and marketing, corporate partnerships and fan engagement from our Sixers front office will make this new league the quintessential combination of esports and sports,” Biggs said. “In only a few months we’ve created strong relationships with game developers, come to a better understanding of the training and development needs of the esports athletes today, and generated corporate partnerships that give brands a direct portal into this burgeoning market. In addition to the new livestreaming opportunities our Facebook partnership will provide fans and partners, we look forward to announcing three new corporate partnerships with dynamic activation elements in the next four months.”
“Utilizing technology to grow the game of basketball is core to our organizational mission,” Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We’re excited to join the league from the beginning, work with the NBA to reach new audiences around the globe, and provide our voice to the conversation about the future of sports.”
Team play within the league will consist of five players utilizing original avatars. Additional details on player selection, team branding and league structure will be announced over the following months. Matt Holt, vice president of global partnerships at the NBA, told AListDaily that esports came onto the league’s radar a long time ago.
“We’ve been having competitive gaming tournaments for years, but not under the esports title,” Holt explained. “2K has run a couple of competitive gaming events at last year’s Finals and this year’s All-Star, and we’ve had some learnings through those tournaments.”
Holt said the NBA 2K ELeague was a natural convergence of events, given that many current owners and players (Jonas Jerebko, Andy Miller) and teams (Sixers and Heat) and past greats (Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Rick Fox) had already invested in esports. “One of main reasons we want to launch this league is to expose basketball to the esports world and the broader gaming community,” Holt said. “Esports is standing on its own with League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO. We’ll see what kind of expertise we can bring to the space with the NBA brand and 2K.”
Holt isn’t afraid of esports taking the younger audience away from traditional NBA games. He even foresees the potential to host esports competitions at NBA arenas before an NBA game to encourage new fans to experience real NBA basketball action after taking in a virtual competition. “There’s a lot of crossover between traditional sports fans and esports fans,” Holt said. “We’re selling millions of NBA games a year, so there’s a large audience out there that’s young and tech savvy and interested in our products.”
The NBA 2K ELeague will debut in 2018, and details on the league structure will be announced later. The relationship between NBA and Take-Two dates back to 1999, with the NBA 2K franchise selling over 68 million units worldwide. The most recent release, NBA 2K17, is the highest-rated annual sports game of the current console generation and the highest-rated title in the history of the series. To date, NBA 2K17 has sold-in nearly 7 million units, and is poised to become 2K’s highest-selling sports title ever.
Ralf Reichert, CEO of ESL told AListDaily that traditional sports leagues and federations getting involved esports will make the whole sport more popular and more accepted.
“It’s a new kind of content that wasn’t there in the last couple of years,” said Reichert. “The teams and the leagues with their brand power, and the games with their big fellowships, should be able to create a cool ecosystem, which then maybe ties in with what we’re doing. But mostly, it will help general esports grow.”
Pitching agency executives and marketers on the depth and breadth of their pursuit of truth, The New York Times was the first media company to present at the annual Digital Content NewFronts on Monday, making a case for the importance their journalism plays at a global level.
The New York Times reported adding 308,000 net digital news subscriptions, making it the single best quarter for subscriber growth in their history, according to a Q1 earnings report released on Wednesday. While total revenues forin Q1 increased 5.1 percent to $398.8 million and with circulation driving that growth, total ad revenues fell by 6.9 percent despite digital advertising increasing by 19 percent year-over-year.
This particular NewFronts was a key platform for the media organization, who in a time of fake news proliferation, reemphasized their century-long message of building trust with readers and seeking the facts.
Focusing less on video (a common theme from this year’s presentations so far), company executives used the NewFronts stage for a two-hour presentation to showcase their journalists, produce a live podcast, discuss service journalism and flaunt T Brand Studio’s forthcoming films, virtual and augmented reality projects and Snapchat strategy. The underlying message “dared” marketers to co-create content with them.
Sebastian Tomich, senior vice president of advertising and innovation at The New York Times, joined AListDaily to detail how they are going to carry the NewFronts momentum throughout the rest of the year and use their newsroom as a launching point for branded campaigns.
Why is NewFronts such an imperative event for TheNew York Times?
We’re all-in on the ideas business. We’re putting our chips in for winning these “winner-take-all” briefs that we see come across our desk more and more. We want to win all of them . . . For the first half of the show, we talked about our journalism and our brand broadly to get people excited. In the back half, it was more about packages, formats and case studies that we’ve done on the advertising side.
In light of the public back-and-forth with President Donald Trump, how is your strategy and message different this time from the past?
I would like to think that our NewFronts presentation was completely independent of anything to do with Donald Trump. You can say that he’s contributed to a moment right now for journalism and high-quality publishing brands like never before. We definitely want to take advantage of that. Our “The Truth Is Hard” campaign had elements that would appeal to the controversy around Trump. That’s something we also leaned in on for NewFronts in a way that we haven’t before. The “Truth+Dare” tagline was more about us saying there is value in truth. There is value in high-quality journalism. It’s about what you can do with that in a daring fashion, and what makes the things that we do with advertisers special. Those were themes that we kept reiterating throughout the entire show—we don’t market ourselves as a transactional media business, where you come to us just to make a generic VR film, video or podcast. You come to us because you want to do groundbreaking work. If you look back at the last four years, all of our investments have planted us in that direction. We believe the future of our ad business will live and die on our ability to get groundbreaking ideas off the ground. We’ve invested in the teams and capabilities for all of these new businesses, like VR and audio, in order to do that.
What are some key categories in which you’re looking to earn brand trust and advertiser spending money?
The magic of The Times is that we get to play in so many key categories. We have a sizable Broadway and live entertainment business just as much as we do in auto. That’s exciting because you get to play in so many different verticals . . . Legacy lifestyle categories, like fine arts, live entertainment, travel, luxury and fashion skew more toward our editorial pillars, like a Sunday Travel section, versus custom. The broad message of innovation applies to everyone with big, creative ideas. In terms of the programs that we’ll launch, I think they’ll probably skew more toward auto, tech, finance and consumer packaged goods categories.
How are you positioning the T Brand Studio? Why are brands increasingly leaning toward branded content? How do you see the branded storytelling space developing?
It continues to grow significantly again this year. The advertisers that we work with continually lean on T Brand Studio to do high-quality work. By taking a premium position, we’ve been able to carve out a unique space for us. We’re not commoditized content in any way, shape or form. For some marketers that we work with, I’ve seen a trend of them having in-house studios, but they still tend to lean on us for content strategy, scripting and talent. So we still play a role and co-create together. We might just not handle the end production. The big headlines for T Brand Studio are our expansion into new lines of business like social influencers, experiential, VR and AR production, and beginning to dabble in content strategy work where we’re being engaged as a consultant to help brands think more like a newsroom. I’m really excited about that. There is so much room to grow. At NewFronts, we presented some of our best programs of the year with Tiffany, IBM and Kia, and how they took advantage of everything we have at our disposal. It’s a huge part and driver of our business.
How are you leveraging brand safety positioning in light of YouTube and Facebook’s ad issues and platform miscues?
We did a session on brand safety at NewFronts for the audience. We spoke about how JPMorgan Chase shifted from running on 400,000 sites to 5,000, and they still managed to keep performance consistent. We also talked about Facebook and Google’s earnings, and even in light of the brand safety issues, their earnings are still strong. I and many others in the industry believe Facebook and Google will be fine. They’ll continue to be facilitators for the majority of the ad business—brand safety issues or not. When we do go to market, we always talk about the power of our brand, and the fact that it’s a quality environment. But brands always knew they were already going to get that. The only place where there’s a real, tangible impact on brand safety on investment is in the programmatic space. Brands are either reaching out to work with us directly in programmatic by carving out specific pieces of inventory, or section-specific buys. The other is having some brands go out publicly and saying that “we’re not going to work with Google or Facebook on programmatic buys until they sort out some of their issues.” That’s a place where we don’t necessarily benefit from, but we have to react and work with others.
It’s a place where we can take a leadership position. Lisa Tobin, The Times’s executive producer for audio, said that the challenging part of the audio space is just finding stories. We have an incredible newsroom not only today but back to the first day we started, with a trove of stories. We can lead in the space. So when we think about the audio business, Sam Dolnick, the assistant masthead editor, said at NewFronts that “when we go into a new medium, we go in to tell the same quality of stories—and we want to go big and reach millions of people.” The success of our The Daily podcast [27 million downloads], which was just expanded from five days to seven and is now available on Spotify, has galvanized the newsroom to realize the opportunities of how many other types of podcasts we can do as well. You will see more from us in the next 12-to-18 months. You’ll see it across many verticals [like S-Town and Serial podcasts] and not just news.
Why are brands, like your launch partner in BMW and Samsung too, interested in sponsoring podcasts? Is it a successful move for them?
There is a lot of interest for sure. We only have two models. You either advertise in our podcast, or we create a custom one for you. There is no such thing as product placement at The Times. There is a good amount of advertisers that just want to try the medium because there is so much interest. The founder of Spotify, Daniel Ek, said that the opportunity of getting into someone’s ear is better than the opportunity of getting in front of someone’s eyes. It’s a huge engagement opportunity. The brand-led podcast space in generally immature. Who knows where that’s going to end up. I know brands like General Electric have had success with the message, but I haven’t seen a whole lot after that. For us, most of the work we have is tried and true audio spots around our newsroom podcasts.
It’s like the same theme as audio—we want to tell mission-driven stories in new ways like we always have. If you look at VR, it’s almost like a variation of the same playbook. We want to scale and go big. We launched the app, and I believe we are the largest publisher VR app there is in media. The newsroom continues to do about one film a month. The next evolution for us is how to blend VR into bigger stories that we’re reporting on so that VR becomes an add-on and allows readers to experience a 1,500 story differently. You’ll see that with our upcoming piece that we’re working on about Antarctica. And then, our work with platforms. I don’t have anything to announce right now, but you can imagine that we’re going to have growing presence on VR platforms by the end of the year.
How do you plan to keep building your presence on Snapchat?
Snapchat is more unique because it’s a contained platform. It’s a walled garden, where you’re only creating content specific to that platform. Our relationship with them is a little bit more unique, where we’re actually creating a Snapchat-specific publication that runs once a day for the entire year. We saw it as a great opportunity to reach new audiences and experiment with new formats, and in some cases, tell new stories. That’s an exciting thing for us—to reach new, younger readers. I would say the biggest motivation is for our New York Times brand and just making sure that we’re in the hands of all of our future subscribers.
Mobile gaming is often seen as being dominated by the same handful of experiences, but Turbo Studios (a New York-based company comprised of video game industry veterans from Riot, SuperCell, Nintendo, PlayStation, Square Enix, Ketchapp and more) is looking to change that up in a big way with its debut game, Super Senso. Yohei Ishii, founder and CEO at Turbo Studios, explained that the GungHo published turn-based strategy game is inspired by the Advance Wars franchise (from the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and DS handheld consoles) and is built for mobile devices. Essentially, players create armies using a variety of unit types and move them strategically to destroy the opposing player’s base. Taken together, that’s a recipe for an incredible new experience on the mobile market.
Speaking with AListDaily, Ishii describes Super Senso as “a strategy game where you compete with other people on a global scale. The more time that you put into the game, the more that it rewards you. It is not a twitchy, bash-em-up kind of game, nor is it the kind of game where you zone out and lose yourself for 30 minutes at a time. If you like strategy and competing with others, this game is right down your alley.” Ishii also emphasized the fun of creating armies from disparate characters and having them battle it out like in Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo consoles.
Turbo is working with over 15 livestreamers to spread the word, show what Super Senso is all about, and grow the community. “This is our beginning,” said Ishii. “Community building is our function.” He then explained how Super Senso isn’t like any of your other mobile games.
What led to the formation of Turbo Studios?
I’ve been very fortunate to have worked at Square Enix on some great franchises like the Dragon Quest series and Final Fantasy—not just on the console side, but also the MMOs. Before Turbo, I worked at CCP with EVE Online and its incredibly passionate group of players. The experience that I drew from that was that community is paramount. As long as you connect and resonate with players by communicating with them, and ultimately make them happy, they will continue to be great players and loyal fans. What I felt was lacking in the mobile space was that sense of focus and real value to building and nurturing a community.
On a more granular level, I’m a big fan of Advance Wars. When I had the opportunity to start my own company, the catalyst was: what if someone took what made Advance Wars fun, brought it to the modern era (from a platform standpoint) and made it more accessible? We are making more of an homage than a carbon copy. In some ways, it’s similar to what Riot did with the Dota community by elevating that gameplay to a more modern era.
We wanted to take that turn-based strategy gameplay and optimize it for mobile devices by taking advantage of how they’re always present and connected. The smartphone is the most intimate device that I own. I’m constantly checking it, and it’s where I go to interact with the rest of the world. So, how do we tap into that kind of power and create a great game experience around that with a focus on competitive gameplay? That’s what we’ve been doing at Turbo for about three-and-a-half years.
Turbo employs industry veterans from prominent video game companies. With that expertise, why put the focus on a mobile game instead of PC or consoles?
We have a great roster of veterans from the console and PC space, and I think what brought us all together was the love of creating great game experiences at the highest quality possible. But at the same time, developing these projects and franchises on PC and console has become larger. The team sizes have become enormous. A large team might have been 200 people years ago, but now you can count them in the thousands, depending on the project. The amount of time it takes to develop a AAA game has continued to expand.
With our goal of defining a new game experience—something that’s innovative and focused on competitive gameplay—we thought mobile was the ideal place to do that. Not only is it more accessible, but there’s the ability to have a different form of interaction with the player base while breaking the barrier to entry. You don’t have to buy a $400 console or a dedicated gaming PC. We want the game experience to speak for itself. That’s also why we decided to go down the free-to-play route.
What has that collective experience taught you about standing out in the mobile game market?
It’s been incredibly humbling, to be honest. Again, I’ve been quite fortunate to have worked with some of the best publishers and studios out there, and I was fairly prepared to dig into the mobile space. But the reality is—if you want to make a derivative game, that’s pretty straightforward, but it’s not a function of how good your game is. It becomes a function of how good your marketing is and how big your war chest is for advertising.
What we set out to do was to create a truly innovative game, which is easier said than done. We found that the types of gameplay that worked on handhelds and consoles didn’t work for mobile. So, we spent a lot of time making sure the play experience was tailor-made for mobile. After creating a great game experience, we went to work on the monetization framework and a core loop experience so that doesn’t feel tacked on. We had to make sure that players felt that there was a fair chance to win and advance in Super Senso or any Turbo game.
So, what we learned was to take our time, not rush a product out to market, and listen to the players. We worked very closely with content creators and professional teams, took all that community input, and folded it back into the game. I don’t think that the hundreds of mobile games that come out every year have gone through that process and have that North Star.
How are you working with GungHo to get the word out about Super Senso?
We started about a year ago by having a presence at PAX events. Those were great opportunities to see how the player community reacted to Super Senso on the show floor next to Puzzle and Dragons and Let It Die. It was very enlightening to see how players were engaging. Beyond that, we’ve been eliciting feedback with many of the influential voices in the content creator community and professional teams. We’ve established a great group of evangelists that will be walking people through the game, explaining what Super Senso is about, and highlighting the magical moments while offering tips and tricks.
It’s not about flashy marketing—that’s not who we are. The way to stand out is to work with people who are sincere to the market. The people that we’ve connected with, and garnered the support of, didn’t come because we have GungHo with us. I think it’s because they truly believe that what we’re trying to do with Super Senso is good for the overall space. A lot of these content creators are hungry for something new. We aren’t another card-battler, we aren’t another mobile MOBA, and we’re not another tower defense game—that’s not our thing.
Statistics show that most mobile gamers delete games within one week of downloading them. What do you think is the key to continued engagement?
That’s the other side of the coin for mobile. It’s incredibly accessible, but at the same time, games are a tap away from being deleted. There is no sense of investment because you haven’t paid anything to download most of these games. I would say that once we’ve gotten players to download Super Senso and have that first experience, it’ll come down to whether the game feels different and if it’s fun. There’s also the aspect of how the game is built from the ground up to focus on a social connection, being a competitive game.
We also pride ourselves on the production quality of the game and its aesthetic, which comes from a former Nintendo artist, and gives our game a unique style. There’s a lot to be said for the art and how it motivates players to get that beautiful or cool looking unit. There are over 40 units to collect, and players could really want that baby dragon or the cat knight. It differentiates the game and showcases enough of it so that players will hopefully put the time in. It isn’t like any mobile game they’ve played before, and I hope people recognize that as they get into it.
Facebook is trying to curb the proliferation of fake news by promotingAlex Hardiman, formerly of The New York Times, to lead its head of news products role. Hardiman previously was leading the social network’s pages team since leaving NYT last summer.
“As a part of the Facebook Journalism Project, my colleagues and I will work collaboratively with news organizations across the spectrum to build new storytelling formats, local news communities, monetization options, and more,” Hardiman wrote. “We will spend time building better products and tools for journalists, working hand-in-hand with Campbell Brown and her team to strengthen the relationships and value exchange between Facebook and news providers. We will also partner with teams in Facebook to continue curbing the spread of false news.
Former Disney executive Paul Brown has been appointed as general manager for HTC Vive Europe. Brown, who will be based in London, will oversee the company’s VR content business across the continent.
Comedy Central has named Josh Line as their new executive vice president of marketing and creative. Line will oversee consumer marketing and brand development for the Viacom-owned cable network.
Jeffrey L. Harmening will take over as chief executive for General Mills next month, replacing the retiring Ken Powell. Harmening is a 23-year veteran of the packaged food giant.
Chris Hewish has been named executive vice president of interactive for Skydance. In the newly created position, Hewish will be responsible for executing the overall strategy for Skydance Interactive, as well as oversee development, partnerships and new business opportunities.
Nancy Pearson, a former senior IBM executive, has been named as the new chief marketing officer for software solutions company OpenLink.
James Levitt has been promoted to senior vice president of national ad sales in the US for Discovery Communications.
Fox News Channel co-president Bill Shine has resigned and will leave the company, Rupert Murdoch announced.
2K Games president Christoph Hartmann announced that he is leaving the post after working at Take-Two Interactive for 20 years. Hartmann was instrumental in creating the 2K Games label in 2005, and no reason has been given for the departure, but the company has provided the following statement:
“We can confirm that there has been a management change at the leadership level of 2K. For more than a decade, Christoph Hartmann has helped 2K to become an industry leader and we are grateful for his contributions and wish him well on his future endeavors. This change in leadership will have no impact on 2K’s current pipeline of titles in development, and we look forward to this new chapter in the history of our label.”
Craig Sullivan is joining Amazon as a creative director for their games division. Sullivan previously was a creative director at Ghost Games, which worked on the Need for Speed series at Electronic Arts.
(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, May 5. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at email@example.com.)
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-The AList Team
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