Executives Dish Intel About Their Approach To E3

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the preeminent platform for game publishers and hardware hawkers to present their lineup of products to consumers for the coming year ahead.

Now in its twenty-second consecutive annual installment, video game brands are front-and-center in Los Angeles this week—for the first time ever this year directly with consumers—to showcase and market their catalog of games, merchandise and consoles.

AListDaily surveyed executives from the showroom floor to better understand their strategy and approach for the expo, and whether they still consider it a tentpole event for their respective businesses.

“Every single E3 is different than the previous one. And it’s because we literally start from zero and look at every aspect of the event to ensure that we’re still hitting our marks for our attendees and our exhibitors. Press conferences have long been a staple feature of E3. It’s a great way to kick-off the show. It’s a great way to unveil new products this year, and next. We expect 60,000 to 65,000 attendees this year. E3 is all about what’s new, exciting and experimental. We have more than 250 companies on the floor marketing to their consumers in different ways. What we do is provide them a platform that they can successfully reach their consumers, and their fans. That’s our role. I think it was definitely a good move for us to open the doors and bring the public in. The response has been very positive. If you go down to the floor, it’s very accessible. The lines are very manageable. And I think that the response we’re getting from our exhibitors is only positive. The entire world is focused on Los Angeles right now with E3 and video games. That just underscores E3’s dominance as the global event for computer and video games, whether that’s games on consoles, PC or mobile. It’s all on the floor. And there really is a great diversity not only in terms of the number of our attendees but also in terms of the exhibitors that are in the hall.”

– Dan Hewitt, vice president of media relations and event management for the Entertainment Software Association, the organizing body of E3

“It’s just fantastic to have everyone in gaming in one place. That’s what we use E3 more than anything. Dice is more social. GDC is more about meetings and seeing what’s out there. We’re a fairly new studio, so our main focus is meetings right now. We are still in a pre-launch phase, but we have five games in development right now. The second half of this year will be busy with announcements. At E3, we’re greasing the wheels, per se, and getting everyone ready for our new products. That’s our main focus right now. But we love to see what’s new with all the games. To see it all in one place is fun. We’re also trying to see what’s happening in virtual reality, where the industry is headed and who is doing innovative stuff. I love seeing have indie games are tackling problems like locomotion mechanics and teleporting. That’s my favorite part of E3, and not necessarily seeing the new big game.”

– John Linden, president of Seismic Games

“E3 is always about sharing new trends and technologies and how brands are designing new, and high-quality games. It gives us a chance to work with new titles and ideas while reworking our own strategy for our communities. Although Tencent as a brand does not have presence there, our games do, and Tencent executives are there to meet with other companies to carry on discussions—like how the future of AR and VR will look like in the next two-to-three years. There are still big challenges to make VR more popular to the common gamer. It’s not very easy. We must care about the user, and how to make the process easier.”

– Mars Hou, vice general manager of marketing for Tencent Interactive Entertainment

“For me, E3 is always about touchpoints and connecting with fans, publishers and the gaming community, and checking on what’s coming up on the horizon. We’re getting ready to be a part of some pretty cool announcements with Echo Fox. The fan and gamer in me enjoys it, too, and spending time with my son. We’ve been doing it for years.”

– Rick Fox, former NBA star and owner of esports organization Echo Fox

“We are a passionate team that wants to share with the world that now the coffee standards are changing and we believe the E3 event is a great platform for us to broadcast it and partner with a community of technology lovers. E3 participants are tech savvy and make the most of their lives everyday. In Nescafé Dolce Gusto we share these values.”

– Berta Cruz Corominas, marketing director for Nescafé Dolce Gusto

“We don’t participate inside the show mostly because we’re always focused on independent developers. E3 is not a show that is welcoming to indies. It’s cost-prohibitive on our side of the business. There is a lot of noise from big companies inside the building—and even they come back scratching their heads because of the big budgets they spent. We prefer the vibe and one-to-one approach of doing our own thing and projecting our own image in a controlled environment than yelling over everyone inside. You can put up huge signs and keep turning your music up to compete with the booth next to you, but at the end of the day games like ours have no business being next to a title like Call of Duty. But I’ll still go to check it out and give myself no more than 30 minutes and leave before I self-destruct. A lot of people seem to love it though.”

– Mike Wilson, co-founder of Devolver Digital

“It’s interesting to us to see the platform shifts and where innovation is happening: VR, AR, MR and within the PC and console space. The real pull of esports and the ability to engage large crowds in gameplay voyeurism. We are really taken with the ability to engage communities. We are looking to maximize community involvement in our game build, we look at community build and game build synonymously.”

– Mark Murphy, partner and creative director for Space Media Ventures

“The executive in me will be looking at all of the announcements from our competitors to see how they’re using gaming audio—and how they’re announcing it, like through social media activations and influencers. For us, E3 is a platform to announce new products, and show them off. It is brand driven. We didn’t change gears too much this year with the show open to the public. We dabbled with the idea of trying to sell products, but as much as that sounds neat, it’s not one of those shows where we would move enough volume to justify shipping product. I liked it not being open to the public, and it being an industry exclusive event. But the flip side of the coin, with fans paying their way to come in, they’re the core gamers. We’re looking at it that way from a branding and marketing perspective. I’m also excited that our booth is located near Nintendo. I’m playing a lot of Zelda now, so I want to see what else they’re doing with titles for the Switch beyond Mario Kart. In general, it’s just a cool year for E3 with Microsoft announcing the Scorpio, and how the Xbox Windows Sonic for headphones, which basically makes any headset that connects with Xbox a full, surround sound one.”

– Mac Marshall, ‎senior director of brand, PR and communications for Turtle Beach

“We’re delighted to be at E3. I believe it’s the most important show on the gaming calendar. There are other gaming shows internationally, but E3 still resonates as the destination point to do business and announce new products. E3 is also important to LucidSound, and this year, we’re doubling down by appealing to the core gaming community with our official licensing agreement with Microsoft for the Xbox One and the Xbox One X platforms. E3 is the perfect event that allows us to do just that. We’ll also be looking at new technologies and innovation, which is very important to us. We’ll be monitoring how other companies are trying innovate, what kind of spaces they’re trying to move into and what others are doing in the lifestyle space.”

– Alex Verrey, director of global public relations and communications for LucidSound

Inside Under Armour’s Omnichannel Strategy

A retail wreck ensued earlier this month when over a thousand stores from brands like Radio Shack and Michael Kors closed their doors for good.

The retail apocalypse seems real with no signs of stopping soon. Wall Street firm Credit Suisse expects 25 percent of US malls to shutter by 2022.

With the retail industry contributing more than $5 trillion in economic impact per year, brick-and-mortar retailers are rapidly reshuffling their business decks to keep their piece of the pie by optimizing customer experiences and creating cohesive experiences with an omnichannel strategy.

New brand strategy shifts include everything from experiential retail pop-up shops to introducing artificial intelligence, augmented reality and IoT in order to enhance the shopping journey and further harvest customer loyalty.

Under Armour (UA) is one of the brands feeling the retail reverberation. Earlier this year, the athletic apparel company reported their first quarterly loss since going public in 2006.

Sid Jatia, vice president of omnichannel digital at Under Armour, joined AListDaily to share how the Baltimore-bred company is tapping into data-backed health and fitness tracking insights and influencers to satisfy online and offline consumer expectations.

Sid Jatia, VP of omnichannel digital at UA

Why is it critical for UA to have a digital-first sensibility in retail?

With the size of UA’s digital community, currently more than 200 million members worldwide, and a large part which is primarily interacting with us in digital, we have the responsibility to think digital-first. The UA Shop app is one example of how we’re leveraging our large community on the Connected Fitness Platform and providing an elevated personalized shopping experience. When it comes to commerce, we’re using digital as our backbone—how we understand the customer cross-channel and having a better understanding of what they want, their interests and then connecting the dots to experiences in a physical retail store and on digital commerce channels such as UA.com and our health and fitness apps. As we think about the role of the storefront evolving, we realize the opportunity to make these locations more of an experience center—making sure our customers see content that is relevant and products that are contextual to their needs, all still possible because our data backbone.

How is UA cultivating desire and engaging in a way that culminates into a transaction?

What our team strives to deliver is truly understanding customer motivations and mindsets through the information we have—a treasure trove of data. Through our Connected Fitness communities, we can think strategically about how to sell them shirts and shoes as an interaction of mutual value. An example of this would be to look at a consumer who’s using MyFitnessPal to chronicle their weight loss journey—they might not be interested at first in buying UA products or be engaged with the brand at all. We have to understand their motivations; possibly new workout clothes once they have hit a milestone, or new shoes if we know they’re running and have achieved a replenishment threshold. We don’t want to intercept at the wrong time. We use our data to make sure it’s the right time, and the appetite is there to have a commerce conversation. We have also found the best ways to communicate to these communities is through triggered rewards—reaching out to people once they’ve hit milestones or specific thresholds in their health and fitness journey. This type of communication has seen four-to-six times more responsiveness, leading to higher conversion rates.  

What are some of the major industry shifts you’re focusing on to combat the e-commerce effect that companies like Amazon are forcing onto the industry?

We’re excited about what Amazon is doing in the retail innovation space, as they’re a strategic partner of ours. However, our team in the direct channel is focused on creating a more elevated experience, perhaps the best the brand can offer across touchpoints. Our customers come back to UA’s channels because of the rich content we can offer that portrays our brand in a way that is relatable—whether it’s through exclusive drops of our Stephen Curry basketball shoes, or a studio collection from our women’s line. We have an extensive product line and unique storytelling capabilities that differentiate us from retail channels like Amazon. At the end of the day it’s about personalized experiences, extensive product choices, deeper content and elevated conversation being the reward for shopping in the direct UA channel.

How is UA tackling omnichannel communication internally to ensure that content creation is consistent across all channels?

As an organization we excel at joining all of our teams together and making sure everyone is aligned around the opportunity, medium and channel to distribute the message and outcome we expect. There is a lot of collaboration cross-functionally, whether it’s product, design, creative, e-commerce or marketing, to make sure our strategies are in sync and focused on both consumer and business goals. One example is the collaboration between the UA Shop app and UA.com teams, who on a weekly basis jointly decide on merchandising, launch strategies and experiences they want to deliver to the audiences in the two channels. We believe in access for all, but at the same time, recognize that users who’ve volunteered to download the UA Shop app have raised their hand as brand fans and it’s our responsibility to make sure to provide them distinctly incremental value.

How are you using retail and social data from the UA apps to better connect with consumers?

Over the past two years, UA has heavily invested in technology that will better allow us to connect the dots between our customers and their digital behaviors. We have partnered with SAP to create a single view of the customer (SVOC) to amplify our ability to recognize, acknowledge and have tailored conversations with our customers across a variety of touchpoints. We now have the platforms to bridge retail purchases, Connected Fitness activity and other purchasing behaviors, giving us the ability to make each interaction more valuable for the customer.

How are you marketing to the elevated levels of newness and customization that are expected from today’s consumer? How do personalized products come into play?

Customization is an important strategy for us and something that consumers have now come to expect. Customizations can be about products—but equally important is experience customization. Specifically looking at digital though, UA Shop is wholly about customization. By utilizing the data we have available, we’re able to curate content and recommend products specifically based on your wants and needs. We can use this information to produce content through our athletes, campaigns and new collections based on your interests. Every consumer will have a different experience.

What are the omnichannel growth opportunities for UA in the next 12 months?

As our Connected Fitness community continues to grow, we have the opportunity to tap into this data to make stronger merchandising decisions. We will also be investing in the retail experiences, particularly in our brand houses, to ensure customers are really connected to who UA is as a company. UA Play is a perfect example of this. Customers can download the UA Play application, where they can scan bar codes across the store to learn about product details and seek artist information from the various artist graphics. We want to find ways to keep people engaged in our product in a fun way. In terms of building more foundational connections between our channels to drive improved productivity, we will keep our focus on initiatives which help drive efficiency in fulfillment and supply chain side while also keeping a focus on changing consumer landscape to provide elevated customer experiences.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Study: 79 Percent Of Mobile Gamers Prefer Rewarded Ads Over Pre-Roll

Fifty-four percent of mobile gamers prefer the “freemium” business model, according to a report released by rewarded ad provider, Tapjoy. The Modern Mobile Gamer: Advertising Preferences Revealed explores the ways in which US consumers interact with mobile advertising within a gaming app. Out of the 2,615 survey participants, 21 percent said they preferred free, ad-supported games while only 14 percent preferred a paid business model without ads.

So does this mean that mobile gamers love advertising? Well, sort of—it’s more like consumers are willing to support the developer in exchange for in-game goodies.

Rewarded ads offer an interactive way for users to “pay” for use of an app without being intrusive like a pop-up ad or flashing banner. In fact, a recent study by NPD revealed that a majority of mobile game users prefer to earn in-game currency over paying real money.

Thanks For Watching

Tapjoy found that 79 percent of US consumers surveyed prefer opt-in ads that offer rewards such as in-app currency over mandatory ads such as pre-roll videos. This number is even higher—83 percent—for those who play at least 12 hours per week.

“It’s natural that consumers want to be rewarded for their engagement and attention,” Shannon Jessup, chief revenue officer at Tapjoy told AListDaily. “They shouldn’t have to suffer through disruptive and annoying pre-rolls or pop-ups that offer zero value when they could instead choose to engage with ads that actually offer some type of in-app reward.”

Video, Please

Survey respondents who interact with rewarded ads in exchange for virtual currency or in-game content prefer to watch videos, the study found, at 63 percent. This was far and away the most popular type, followed by installing apps at 10 percent, playable ads at nine percent and filling out a survey at eight percent. The least favorite type of rewarded ad comes in the form of subscribing to a service, at only one percent.

Rewarded video ads are not only the most preferred method for consumers, but 51 percent are willing to watch four or more such videos per day. This trend holds true across a broad mix of demographic backgrounds, Tapjoy reported.

Moved By Movies

Survey respondents prefer video ads that pertain to Movies and Entertainment more than any other category provided, at 55 percent. Food and Restaurants came in second at 46 percent, followed by Retailers (25 percent), Fitness and Healthcare (22 percent) and Local Services (19 percent).

At 44 percent, humor is the best medicine for consumers watching a video ad, followed by storytelling at 27 percent. Common assumptions about ad preferences may not as true as once thought—ads with sex appeal and famous celebrities were the least popular genres among the options provided at 13 percent each.

5 Facts That Prove Marketing Is More Complicated Than Ever

Let’s face it—great marketing that moves the needle can be difficult. If you’ve ever stared at your campaign results in bewilderment, or pulled your hair trying to keep up with what young consumers want, you’re not alone. The media ecosystem has now reached “peak complexity,” according to Media2020: Refresh, a new report from media consultancy firm, MediaSense, and CMOs are shifting priorities to keep up. Here are some statistics that prove that marketing is more complicated than ever.

46 Percent Of Teens Distrust Ads; 58 Percent Are Influenced By Them

Say what, now? Teenagers are hard enough to understand, but this next figure will make matters worse. Apparently teens are split on whether or not to trust the ads they see, but admit to be influenced by them, according to new data from YouGov. While 47 percent of US internet users ages 13-to-17 found ads to be at least somewhat trustworthy, 46 percent felt the opposite way and six percent had not formed an opinion on the matter. Despite these concerns, 58 percent of American teens agree that advertising helps guide their desires and purchase decisions.

Ad Fraud Cost Marketers $7.4 Billion In 2016

A report by Forrester says that programmatic media and video are the primary causes of ad fraud spending “wastage.” If the problem is not addressed, that number may grow to $10.9 billion by 2021, the company warns. The report describes a digital advertising supply chain “riddled with problems, most directly connected to the lack of transparency in ad tech. The result is wasted time, effort, and money and lackluster ROI.”

58 Percent Of Consumers Dislike When Brands Get Political, But Millennials Love It

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t? In this turbulent political and social climate, brands may want to assure their followers that they hold certain views and are doing what they feel to be right. Unfortunately, doing so seems to anger about half of consumers no matter which way you stand.

A consumer study fielded by SSRS found that 58 percent dislike when brands get political and are more likely to avoid brands that take a position contrary to their beliefs—for example, brands perceived to be racist, anti-LGBTQ or sexist.

Multicultural millennials don’t mind at all, however. A study by Buzz Marketing Group found that 83 percent like it when brands make a public stand for or against issues they believe in.

68 Percent Of Consumers Tolerate Ads

According to a report from Kantar Media, 68 percent of connected consumers either tolerate or like advertising and 36 percent feel that advertising is changing for the better. However, the same survey found that over 40 percent had no idea that messages from brands in printed media form is advertising.

Young consumers have an especially hard time identifying ads, too. Eighty-two percent of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study.

Just 11 Percent Of Marketers Understand FTC Policies

The FTC has been cracking down on ad transparency, but if you’ve never been in trouble, or consider your brand to be honest, you may not have taken the time to keep up with the latest regulations.

According to a survey conducted by Lightspeed GMI and Research Now, only 11 percent of marketers reported being aware of or having an understanding FTC’s policies, while 56 percent said they were either not aware of, or not familiar with them.

Influencers—perhaps because it’s a major source of income—have educated themselves on the subject a bit more. The study found that 60 percent of US influencers said they’re aware of or understand the guidelines, and another 23 percent said they’re aware of or at least somewhat familiar with them.

Astro Gaming Aims To Be The Nike Of Headset Makers

The history of Astro Gaming is born out of esports.

Thaddeus Cooper, director of community at Astro Gaming

“For us, the pinnacle of design is designing for the top one percent of users—the people who are going to use the headset for eight to ten hours a day,” Thaddeus Cooper, director of community at Astro Gaming, told AListDaily while demonstrating its newest headset, the A10. “For them, it’s more like performance enhancing equipment than just wanting to game. The idea is that when you design for the pinnacle, then it’s kind of like when Nike designs shoes for long distance runners and Olympians, they learn about ergonomics, and that makes it into your daily streetwear.”

It was taking into the consideration of pro and high-end gamers that led to the development of the A50 headset by trimming away the pro features that most home users probably don’t need. That philosophy continues with the development of the $60 A10, which priced considerably lower than Astro’s other professional grade headsets that range from $150 to $300.

Cooper has been a part of the A10’s development from the beginning, and he explained how the company is very community-driven, marked by its large social media presence. Astro has over one million followers on YouTube and close to a million followers on Instagram. The company is very active on the social space, and its fans are very engaged and vocal. In fact, they’re enthusiastic enough to fill out lengthy annual surveys that revealed how roughly 80 percent of the people who follow Astro on social media don’t own any of the company’s products.

That led Astro to conclude that there was a large audience that wanted to join the “Astro family,” but couldn’t because the premium price points gated them off. Astro took that as a challenge to design something so that the larger gaming community will have access to its products. To that end, the A10 is being officially revealed today at E3 this week, where it is being shown alongside the A40 and A50 headsets. Afterward, it will be shown at other conventions, including PAX and Gamescom in addition to being featured at listening stations at stores such as Best Buy and Gamestop.

Building A More Inclusive Audience

“We felt that it was time for Astro Gaming to be more accessible to its larger audience base,” said Cooper. “My team, the marketing team, and a few others in the company decided that it was time for us to branch out and do more to have a much more inclusive audience base.”

Millenial Male Gamer using Astro A10 headset while gamingHowever, developing a budget-minded pro-level headset created its own problems within the company. Cooper said that they had to ask themselves, “How do we defend our brand as a premium brand while at the same time giving people a more accessibly priced product?” The answer was to address the four issues that players want most from a gaming headset so that they won’t stick to using the cheap speakers built into their televisions. Those features are comfort, durability, audio quality and compatibility.

Cooper reiterated how Astro is famous for making headsets that people can wear for long periods of time, even with glasses, so it already had the comfort issue covered. The A10s are designed to be worn for six to eight hours by pro gamers during practice, and they’re also made to fit over VR headsets.

Durability was the second most important factor for gamers. Cooper recounted how reviews for headsets that cost under $100 usually complain about how they break within a year or two, forcing them to buy new ones. Cooper explained that Astro designed the A10 so that first-time consumers wouldn’t feel forced to buy an A40 or A50 because it broke.

“We want it to be a choice,” said Cooper. “We want you to say, ‘I bought an A10 and it lasted for two years. It’s great and I love it, but I’m ready for A50. I want wireless and I want to go to the next level in Astro Gaming.’ We wanted to do this right because we wanted to protect our brand.”

Nobody buys a more expensive version of a headset that breaks easily, and Cooper proceeded to demonstrate the A10’s durability by twisting and bending the headband around, far past the point where many budget headsets would break. He also tossed the headset across the room onto the floor to show how it wouldn’t break or lose sound quality.

Astro aimed to have a very similar audio quality experience to that of the A40s. “The reason for that is because we want young players and aspiring pros to take these to an MLG tournament, the same way they can take A40s.” The A10 can also be plugged into Astro’s Mixamps to take advantage of a variety of different features, which ties the headset’s near universal compatibility.

“People don’t want to buy a $100 headset for their Xbox, then have to buy another one for their PlayStation,” Cooper explained. “With the current ecosystem of consoles, we felt it was the perfect time to launch something like this.”

He explained how both Microsoft and PlayStation deliver high-quality audio wirelessly through their respective controllers, and Microsoft in particular launched its Sonic 3D audio platform for free on Windows 10 and will soon bring it to Xbox One. The technology produces 3D sound with headphones that support Dolby sound.

Although the A10 headset comes in three different colors to denote platform (green for Xbox, blue for PlayStation and orange for PC), those distinctions are mainly to fit retail and licensing requirements. All versions work universally using the 3.5mm audio connector, however only the Xbox One version offers an optional bundle that includes a gamepad adapter. The adapter has a set of controls that lets users can change the volume or mute the mic without having to let go of the controller or drop out of a game to adjust settings.

Xbox console with Astro connector

Every Headset Is A Starting Point

Given how the A10 delivers a high level of audio quality, we asked Cooper how Astro would convince users to take their experience to the next level with a more expensive headset like the A50. He maintained that all of Astro’s headsets are designed for a high standard of audio. He then said that changing headsets was “more about your overall experience. The build quality and comfort will be in all headsets, but the A50 will give you a [truly] wireless experience.” The A50 also doesn’t draw power from the controller, and it has a number of other features that the A10 doesn’t, such as 7.1 surround sound and software audio tuning. “There are more quality of life features with the A50,” Cooper explained.

The A10 also has a noticeably different look from Astro’s usual style. For example, it lacks the signature bars that are found on both the A40 and A50 headsets. We asked Cooper how people would recognize the A10 as being part of the Astro family of products.

“Silhouette is one of the most important things we try to design for,” Cooper replied. “We try to make an iconic look with our headsets, and we want everything you wear from Astro Gaming to be recognizable because one of the things people love about a prestige brand is being recognized. So, we feel that in designing this headset, we kept an Astro aesthetic that makes a noticeable silhouette that sets it apart from other headsets. If you look at the way design aesthetic are going right now, a lot of our competitors are trying to create Beats-style headphones with a circular look and could be worn on the street. We went for more of an iconic and tech-driven look for these headsets.”

Just don’t describe the A10 as a starter headset. “The term ‘entry level headset’ gets tossed around a lot, especially at certain price points,” said Cooper. “As a marketer, semantics means a lot to me, so I have a really hard time with the term. I think everyone has their own level that they enter the game at.

“If you come to me as a pro gamer or streamer for a headset recommendation, I’m going to steer you toward an A40 and that would be your entry level headset. If you’re looking for the best wireless experience you can get in your home, then the A50 is going to be the headset for you. If you’re a young gamer trying Astro for the first time, but don’t have $300 to spend on a headset, I’m going to steer you towards the A10. Every headset we make is an entry point into what Astro does. It just depends on what your skillset is and what you need.”

Staying With Core Philosophy

Finally, we asked Cooper if Astro would spend less time focused on the small percentage of high-performance gamers to address the broader audience moving forward.

“Not at all,” replied Cooper. “We’re always going to be focused on designing for that top one percent of users—people who will need features that those playing in their living rooms don’t. As long as we are always focused on the pinnacle use case scenario, and everything we learn can be used in new designs, I don’t think we’ll ever change the philosophy of making pro gaming hardware for enhancing esports, professional gaming, streaming, and audio design. I feel that losing that focus would send us down [the wrong] road, where companies treat their products like commodities, instead of engineering and designing them to solve problems.”

All The Game Trailers From E3 2017

Amid press conferences, experiential marketing and hands-on-demos, E3 is a major showcase for the latest video game trailers. To help you navigate this parade of gaming goodness, here is a round-up of this year’s E3 trailers from consoles to services and new games to sequels.

Electronic Arts


Bandai Namco







Emerging E3 Themes You Need To Know

Each year, millions of fans across the globe tune in to E3 press conferences to see what’s next in the world of gaming. Leaders in the video game industry take the stage to present their wares, convey each year’s theme and relay messages they most want consumers to remember. Three themes have been the most prominent at E3 this year so far.

Nurturing Player Communities

For the first time in the show’s history, E3 offers public access to the biggest gaming event of the year. This development illustrates a rising shift toward speaking directly to the consumer instead of the press alone. Together with online influencers, the biggest video game publishers are sending a message that they value gamers—whether that be through rewards, community or implementing ideas from the fans.

EA forewent their usual, massive show floor presence last year, opting instead to hold its EA Play event and inviting the public to try the latest titles for themselves. They pursued the same process this year with weekend festivities of debuting and demoing games at EA Play at the Hollywood Palladium.

“Last year we went out on a limb to do something a little different with a view to change the way you interact with products before they launch,” Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson explained during the company’s E3 press conference. “We wanted to do something that put the games in your hands earlier and it showed us how much further we could go . . . playing, creating and sharing with the rest of the world. We built [EA Play] this way for a very simple reason—we want more of you to experience this moment.”

Microsoft’s streaming service—recently named Mixer—was promoted aplenty during the company’s press briefing, offering rewards for watching E3 coverage through the platform. Those who link their Xbox account to Mixer by June 16 will receive the Mixpot—three free games and DLC content for three others.

Xbox president Phil Spencer said during his presentation that Mixer is their response to evolving gamer communities.

“At Xbox, we’ve always believed in the power of games to unite us all,” explained Spencer. “Today, communities of gamers not only play together, they create together and watch together. A whole new genre of games is emerging, designed for both the player and the community. With Mixer, we’re innovating new features to make these experiences even better.”

Bethesda stressed how large and active its communities are, especially when it comes to modding. To keep players coming back for more, the company introduced its new Creation Club for Skyrim Special Edition and Fallout 4. The service, coming this summer, features new weapons, armor, environments and more, made by Bethesda and development partners.

Embracing New Technology

Project Scorpio is now officially called Xbox One X—what Microsoft calls “the world’s most powerful console.” With six teraflops of memory and true 4K graphical fidelity, the new console’s fancy graphics are just the tip of the technological iceberg at this year’s E3.

Sony reminded fans that its PS4 Pro is already on the market, which features 4K graphical fidelity and VR capabilities. All games in the Sony E3 booth will be played on a 4K TV so consumers can physically see the difference. When the PS4 Pro was introduced last year, Sony found it more difficult than they imagined to illustrate the differences between HD graphics and 4K.

“As 4K TV adoption rates are up and PS4 Pro is on the market, it’s getting much easier to communicate improvements in the game experience,” PS4 pro architect Mark Cerny explained in a recorded interview played during the PlayStation Live broadcast. “Undoubtedly the best way we have to demonstrate that leap in graphics capability with [PS4] Pro is for people to see and play it for themselves.”

Microsoft is continuing its push for cross-play with its Play Anywhere games, and the Xbox One X will feature backward-compatibility with games going back to the original Xbox.

Surprisingly, VR wasn’t one of the many features Microsoft touted during its conference, but Bethesda was ready to pick up the slack. Fallout 4 VR will hit consoles this year, as well as a Doom VR port that features a unique dash/teleportation mechanic. Sony, armed with its PSVR, debuted trailers for new titles including Red Hot VR, Sparc and Star Child.

Bethesda also showed its support for new console technology with Skyrim Switchincluding The Legend of Zelda-themed in-game items and amiibo support. Ubisoft unveiled its crossover Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle that is also headed to the Nintendo Switch later this fall.

While new technology is all the rage, publishers are creating ways to make video games more accessible by utilizing existing technology—smartphones. Sony highlighted its new PlayLink collection that uses phones instead of controllers and is meant to be played with others. Titles introduced in the collection include That’s You, a quiz game by Wish Studios, Hidden Agenda, a game by Until Dawn developer Supermassive Games, and three other titles called Frantics, SingStar Celebration and Knowledge is Power.

The Power Of Storytelling

4K and HD graphics aside, each video game trailer placed emphasis on the story, whether that be a continuation such as Life Is Strange: Before the Storm or a new IP like Anthem, each publisher wanted the audience to know how much thought and care went into telling a unique interactive story.

This message was especially true for EA with its presentation of FIFA 18. The game’s story mode—”The Journey“—will continue the fictional story of Alex Hunter and his quest at football stardom. Madden will debuting a similar version now dubbed “Longshot.”

In real life, publishers are encouraging gamers to tell their own stories through competition. Bethesda extended its closed Quake Champions beta access to 24/7 showed a trailer promoting the Quake World Championships.

Meanwhile, EA announced its biggest esports event ever coming this fall, inviting both professionals and others who aspire to be the best. “FIFA is the world’s game,” the company says on its website. “This will be the world’s competition.”

NRG President Discusses Amazon Appstore Partnership And Attracting Esports Sponsors

NRG Esports is backed by some of the most recognizable names in sports, including Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins. The company continues to forge partnerships with non-endemic brands such as Events DC and BioSteel across its eight competitive gaming teams. Most recently, the esports brand signed a sponsorship deal with Amazon to help the e-commerce giant promote its Appstore and Coins.

The first of multiple events that NRG will be working with on Amazon is the Mobile Masters Invitational (M2) June 23-24 at the Prudential Center in New York, and August 18-20 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in conjunction with KCON, the world’s largest Korean pop culture festival. Following Amazon’s Champions of Fire casual games tournament last year, M2 is a new tournament series featuring top competitors of popular mobile games available on the Amazon Appstore including Summoners War, Vainglory and Hearthstone.

Top professional players and teams from around the world will be participating in all three M2 tournaments. The Vainglory tournament will feature world champion Invincible Armada and top North American teams like NRG, Tempo Storm, and Cloud 9. The Hearthstone tournament will feature popular streamers paired with expert players like William “Amnesia_sc” Barton and Johnnie “Ratsmah” Lee. In addition, Summoners War will feature popular streamers Rinriona and ShreddedPuzzle.

Brett Lautenbach, president at NRG Esports, told AListDaily that this first tournament will be influencer and pro gamer-based, but the concept will expand beyond that. “Amazon’s new and interesting style of doing tournaments will open up original ways to integrate fans into these experiences,” Lautenbach said.

Lautenbach said that the initial focus will be on mobile titles, but the plan is to expand across all of NRG’s esports titles. “Much like our Events DC involvement, we’re focused on event activations with the Amazon Appstore,” Lautenbach said.

There will also be more traditional exclusive video content as part of this sponsorship. “You’ll be seeing some video content we shot behind-the-scenes,” Lautenbach added. “The big focus is on content and live activations, and the links from social media will be secondary.”

NRG is currently working with Amazon on the content generation plans, which will include pop-ups and other events. Lautenbach said the format for these tournaments introduces fresh new takes on mobile gaming, which he believes will connect with fans across the three titles. “Amazon has used creativity with different tournament styles and they’ve been able to find cool new ways to challenge players and the fans still love it,” Lautenbach said.

NRG has also partnered with Asus’ Republic of Gamers brand as a sponsor, which Lautenbach said has been good for the team in securing the best PCs possible to practice and scrimmage for competition. The team is working with Asus to attend big esports and consumer events like DreamHack Austin, where players sign autographs and play games with fans.

Last week in Los Angeles, NRG’s Rocket League team placed third in the world championship. The NRG match received 197,000 concurrent viewers. “Twitch and Psyonix have done a great job of growing this community and esports base in just two years,” Lautenbach said. “It’s a game that’s growing fast as an esport and that’s partly because it’s a concept anyone can understand—it’s like soccer with cars.”

One of the owners of NRG Esports is Andy Miller, who’s also a co-owner of the Sacramento Kings. With the advent of the NBA 2K ELeague, which launches next year, Lautenbach believes the NBA’s entry into esports could be good for traditional esports as well.

“To see the NBA support esports is a step in the right direction,” Lautenbach said. “The Kings are involved, and 2K has built a great community to connect with across NBA 2K.”

How much the NBA (or even the NFL with Madden competitive gaming) will help games such as Super Smash Bros. or Rocket League remains to be seen. Lautenbach said much like any esport title, not every fan crosses over.

Smash fans don’t watch other esports, for example,” Lautenbach said. “But it would be awesome to see 2K fans come over to other esports that we’re involved with. The more we get gaming out there in the public so they can understand it better, the better it is for the whole esports community.”

Although NRG doesn’t have a League of Legends team, Lautenbach believes the new structure for LCS next year is good for esports.

“There are a certain amount of developers out there that can help build a strong community if they can do things differently,” Lautenbach explained. “All the power to Riot if they can do a permanent partnership—or as Blizzard calls it with Overwatch, ‘franchising.’ I’m excited to see who, if anyone else, picks up on that and moves in that direction. It opens teams up to new revenue sources and it’s great for developers who can work with the team owners they want to work with long-term.”

IMAX VR Experience Centre Debuts Inside AMC Multiplex

After unveiling its flagship Los Angeles VR Centre in February, IMAX is bringing the experience across the country to New York City. The IMAX VR experience at AMC Kips Bay 15 soft launched on Memorial Day weekend and brought in over $2,000 in admissions by its second weekend, which is more than the LA location had taken in by its fifth weekend. Unlike the Centre in LA, which is a standalone complex, this one is located in the lobby of a Manhattan-based AMC multiplex theater, which is almost certain to attract moviegoers.

Thursday marked an official unveiling for the new location, which was attended by AMC CEO Adam Aron and IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond, who discussed their partnership and the future of these VR arcades.

“We are terrifically excited about the potential of virtual reality as an experience to make a movie theater a better place to visit,” said Aron during the opening remarks. “As consumers—especially younger consumers—see what we have to offer, we think they’re going to be very excited.”

The AMC Kips Bay 15 is the first of many theaters across the US to feature an IMAX VR Centre. Although IMAX will not be working exclusively with AMC, Gelfond said that AMC remains IMAX’s biggest partner in the world and the two companies have a very close partnership. Gelfond expanded on the point by saying that both companies see things the same way.

“[With millennials], we need to keep evolving the experience in order to create something that they want to come back to—something that will bring them into the multiplex, and this is one example of that,” said Gelfond. “We’re very proud to be partnering with AMC on it.” In the same way IMAX offers a movie experience that gets people off the couch to see, IMAX is using VR is a means to bring more millenials to movie theaters.

The New York IMAX VR Centre is comprised of several 11-foot rooms (referred to as pods) that can be divided into smaller parts for multiplayer events. Experiences include video games such as Eagle Flight and the frenetic shooter Raw Data, while Raising a Ruckus is more of an animated VR movie that is enhanced by seats that tilt and rumble in sync with the experience.

Movie tie-ins include The Walk, where users can tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, and The Mummy: Prodigium Strike, developed by Starbreeze (John Wick Chronicles). Prodigium Strike, which is presented using Starbreeze’s own StarVR platform (others were on the HTC Vive), is a shooting game where players are equipped with a plastic VR rifle and are challenged to repel the zombie horde. The experience debuts alongside the movie and it complements the free pop-up Zero Gravity Stunt VR Experience that was shown at Rockefeller Center.

AListDaily sat down with Rob Lister, chief business development officer at IMAX, at the showcase event to talk about how the company was working to grow its VR Centres.

Rob Lister, chief business development officer, IMAX

How would you describe the IMAX VR experience?

IMAX VR is an immersive new platform on which to experience the most interactive content available for virtual reality.

What led to choosing the AMC Loews Kips Bay 15 for its New York debut?

We have a standalone location in Los Angeles, which we own and operate, but our model is based upon working with our multiplex partners around the world to install VR Centres in lobbies or auditoriums. This is our first opportunity to pilot that model and see how it works when we inhabit a space within a multiplex and we look to attract not only multiplex audiences, but incremental bodies into our Centres. Particularly, millennials and Generation Z.

What is the long-term goal for location-based VR experiences like this one?

Location-based Centres need to offer premium experiences that you can’t get in your home. Even when the home experience becomes more ubiquitous, location-based experiences need to offer something that’s really compelling. In the same way an IMAX movie gets you off your couch and into a multiplex, an IMAX VR Centre needs to be different and better, with premium content that’s highly interactive.

How do you select some of the experiences that are featured at the IMAX VR Centres?

I’d say the first criterion is probably interactivity. People are paying for this experience, so you don’t want it to just be a trailer for a movie. You want people to feel truly immersed and have them interacting with their environment rather than passively watching a 360-degree video.

How often will these experiences be rotated out for new ones?

We consider this to be a pilot period, where we’re trying and testing lots of different types of content to understand what consumers like best. One of the things we’re looking to understand is how often we need to refresh the content. For example, right now in our Los Angeles Centre, almost 70 percent of the people coming in are first-time VR users. They haven’t experienced anything. Unlike the movies, I don’t think you need to take a really good piece of content off screen simply because it’s been on for a few months if people haven’t experienced it yet.

With that said, content continues to evolve and get better. So, we always want to be on the cutting edge in terms of having the best content out there.

Does that philosophy also apply to the VR technology itself as it advances?

We want to aggregate best in class premium technology together, so we’re constantly looking at what’s next. With our deals with Starbreeze and HTC, we’re working with them on not only their current technology, but what their next generation technology is going to be: 4K HMDs (head mounted displays) along with next generation hand controllers and haptics.

It’s important for us that location-based experiences always be premium, and part of that is understanding what the next great technology development is.

Will there be limited engagement experiences?

We are already building into our deals with content developers an exclusive window for IMAX location-based releases that could be two, three or four weeks before it moves to other platforms. Maybe one day, if the IMAX VR platform is big enough, we can develop exclusive content. But right now, we’re focused on optimizing content and making it special for IMAX VR before having it move across platforms because there isn’t a big enough network for exclusive content yet.

How do you balance between seated experiences such as Raising a Ruckus or Eagle Flight and fully interactive ones like The Mummy and Raw Data?

I don’t think that there is a hard and fast rule of thumb, but I will say that we lean much more toward interactive experiences. You can have interactive experiences that are seated, as you can have one moving around. I think room-scale VR is a terrific platform for being very immersive and interacting with the environment. What we’re trying to stay away from is very passive 360 video.

These VR pods can be subdivided for multiplayer experiences. Will IMAX VR Centres someday support multiplayer events, competitions and esports?

We think that it’s an awesome idea, and we’re already looking at it with Eagle Flight. With that game, you can play in three-on-three teams, and the technology exists where three people here in New York can play against a team in Los Angeles. That is a true social experience and differentiated from anything you can get in your home. It’s esports-ish and we love it. When we have a bigger network, we’d love to have people playing against each other from location to location.

With IMAX VR Centres in multiplexes, will there be overlap between the VR experiences and the movies being shown?

The Mummy is a good example of that. The movie and the VR experience are debuting at the same time. The advantage to that is that the VR experience is leveraging off the movie’s giant marketing campaign. So, people are aware of the movie and they can become aware of the VR content. That’s the optimal way of doing it for consumer awareness. However, there’s so much VR content being created by independent producers outside of the big IPs that we also need to be able to market things locally so people know about cool content like Eagle Flight and Raw Data.

With so much content coming out, what are some of the titles that IMAX is looking at for the future or at other locations?

Within the next month or so, we’ll have Chris Milk’s experience, Life of Us. We’ll have Star Trek: Bridge Crew from Ubisoft, and the early word on that is that it’s an extremely compelling game. We’ll also have Archangel from Skydance Interactive and a game called Mindshow. With our $50 million fund, we just signed our first co-investment deal with a company called Bullit VR, which has the Russo Brothers (who directed some of the Marvel movies) and Justin Lin to create an escape room in virtual reality. It’s room scale VR, which we’re really excited about.

What do you think is the relationship between movies and VR?

Here’s an interesting fact that I’ve learned from meeting with some of the studios: their VR business can reside in any number of places within a studio. Some run VR through their marketing division, some through their theatrical division, and others through their technology group. So, they don’t yet know exactly where VR fits. A lot of the VR you see coming out of movie studios are kind of like trailers for big movies.

We’re still waiting for narrative, longer-form pieces to come out of the studios. Fox did The Martian last year, which was a 10-minute experience based on the movie and had its own narrative. There was a piece done by Kathryn Bigelow (The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes) and Jon Favreau is doing a VR piece (Gnomes and Goblins). So, you’re seeing more filmmakers get into the space, but what we need to see is content that is more narrative-driven and not just driven by a trailer made by a studio marketing department.

How do you get audiences that don’t know much about virtual reality to come into an IMAX VR Centre?

I consider the LA Centre to be a success story when it comes to that because it’s not a multiplex. So, there’s no audience moving through the building—it’s purely pulling people off the street. We’re now generating around $15,000 a week from the LA Centre, which extrapolates to $700,000 a year, which is a very healthy business model. That’s with no existing customer base to draw from. In this multiplex, you have about a million people coming through each year. So, if you can pull a certain percentage of those people and then—through social media and mobile marketing—pull people in from the catchment area and the DMA (Designated Market Area), you’ll have a very successful business.

As more IMAX VR Centres open, how do you see them all interacting with each other?

First is the natural connection between them, which will be that a number will be owned by the same partner. Our US multiplex partners are Regal, AMC and Cinemark. So, it’s logical that there would be a number of Centres opened by each one of those chains connected by common ownership. That’s good in terms of training the staff, understanding operating efficiencies, and teaching our partners how to run these Centres with us. I also mentioned before that I think esports is a great way to connect these Centres together by having people compete against other people.

Being a global brand—I think 85 percent of all our new theaters are opening internationally—gives us so many opportunities to expand beyond the US. Also, don’t forget that every pilot that we open gives us more customer data—more information about what customers prefer to see and what the price elasticity should be—that we can use toward the next location that opens.

Internet Ads Will Reach $116B; VR Awareness Up To 51% in US

This week in marketing news, virtual reality is more of a household name, internet advertising spend will reach new highs, and while consumers prefer to research online, they don’t always want to purchase that way.

Video Gets Social

When it comes to apps, consumers sure love to watch videos on social media, and don’t seem to mind marketing videos. Sixty-four percent of consumers made a purchase after watching a marketing video on Facebook in the last month, according to findings by Animoto. Four percent of consumers reported watching social video content on mobile devices and 81 percent of marketers reported optimizing social videos for mobile including using tactics like planning for views with the sound off.

Vertical video is the preferred among mobile users, according to Yume, who found that 79 percent of first-time vertical-video viewers seeing the format as a more engaging content experience. In addition, 85 percent of both new and experienced viewers appreciate it as an option.

Speaking of vertical viewing, Snapchat’s most successful series, E!’s The Rundown, averages more than seven million viewers per weekly episode, according to the company. That’s about half of what the number one show brings in— CBS’ The Big Bang Theory—which averaged 14.03 million viewers per episode, according to calculations by CNBC.

Virtual Awareness

While not everyone has hopped on board the VR train, awareness for AR and VR devices nearly doubled year-over-year, according to Nielsen. Fifty-one percent of the general US population is aware of such devices, compared to just 28 percent in 2016. Intent to buy AR/VR skews more male (69 percent) and younger, with 44 percent of interested consumers being millennials.

In the first quarter, more than two million AR/VR headsets were shipped globally, according to new data from IDC. VR is still the most popular immersive headset, with 98 percent of shipments. Smaller brands comprised 43 percent of the market and 22 percent of devices shipped were from Samsung, followed by Sony (19 percent) and HTC (eight percent).

Tolerating Ads

According to Kantar Media, 68 percent of connected consumers either tolerate or like advertising, and 36 percent think advertising is changing for the better. On mobile, 35 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to provide more data to brands in return for more relevant ads.

Internet advertising revenue in the US reached $72.5 billion in 2016, the largest market in the world, PwC reported. This figure is forecast to reach $116.2 billion in 2021, rising at a CAGR of 9.9 percent. Global entertainment and media revenues are expected to rise from $1.8 trillion in 2016 to $2.2 trillion in 2021, the firm predicts.


While 62 percent of consumers prefer to research electronics and computers online, only 43 percent are comfortable making that purchase online as well, according to an infographic released by Chargebacks911. Thirty percent of shoppers did all or most of their shopping for household appliances online, the company found, but 53 percent preferred to research online before purchasing.

Is Esports An Actual Sport?

Earlier this month, esports company ESL announced a partnership with Facebook to stream exclusive gaming content and it will be an official medal sport at the 2022 Olympic Asia games. A new study from Peanut Labs showed that two in five gamers don’t see esports as “real sports” or its players as “legitimate athletes,” however. The survey focused on 1,020 players from League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty and Minecraft. Whether they think it’s “real sports” or not, people sure love to watch game competitions. Watch time of esports videos has grown by over 90 percent in the past year, Google reports.

App Dreams

Developers watching Planet of the Apps may dream of making millions on their next idea, but how often does that actually happen? Mobile app intelligence provider Priori Data found that 4,648 app developers made more than $1 million in 2016. Of those, 81 percent of the publishers were in games. The study found that 1,077 earned more than $1 million from apps that were only on iOS, while 964 made more than $1 million from apps that were only on Google Play. Diversifying seems to be a key to success, with 2,607 making more than $1 million from apps that were on both platforms.