How Marketers Are Accommodating The Gender Spectrum

As the lines blur between gender roles in today’s society, marketers are changing their approach to accommodate. Some men wear makeup, some women are the bread winners and other revelations are shaping the way consumers relate to advertising.

Adapting to changing world views on gender roles has become a priority for many brands, as illustrated during this year’s Cannes Lions. The Unstereotype Alliance, for example, was founded to eradicate outdated stereotypes in advertising.

Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever said, “We’ve seen true progress in our industry, but it doesn’t go far enough. Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society. We want to work with our peers across the industry to develop new ways of working, to share knowledge and approaches so that we can scale the Unstereotype commitments. We believe cross-sector collaboration will lead to sustained transformation. This is no longer just a social imperative but a business one, progressive ads have been found to be 25 percent more effective and deliver better-branded impact.”

Madefire Motion Books Build Deeper Connections With Video Game IPs

With Madefire, digital comic book readers have a chance to delve into stories like never before. In addition to standard comics and graphic novels, Madefire offers a series of titles that use its signature Motion Books. These comics are enhanced with animations, music and sound in addition to letting users pan around certain scenes. It’s almost like a cross between an animated movie and a comic book with a little bit of a game-like interaction added as users tap through a motion comic. Furthermore, Madefire’s motion comics have been brought to the Samsung Gear VR, making it the first comic book platform to step into virtual reality with 3D scenes, and the company said that will support additional VR headsets in the future.

All taken together, Madefire is becoming the perfect platform for cross media comic book titles, particularly those from video game IPs—which was underscored by the recent hiring of Jon Middleton, who became Madefire’s chief revenue officer in July. Middleton is a longtime video game industry veteran who has handled everything from development to in-game advertising. Now he is working to broaden the relationship between the video game industry and Madefire by bringing more IPs on board with the motion comics platform.

Jon Middleton, chief revenue officer at Madefire

There is a deep connection between video game audiences and comic books, evidenced by how 2K Games owns an in-house comic book publisher Double Take and how Wargaming partnered with Dark Horse Comics to create a comic book series based on World of Tanks. Media giant Warner Bros. owns DC Comics, which publishes the Injustice: Gods Among Us series to complement the hit fighting game that launched its sequel in May. Telltale Games hit new heights by making adventure titles based on comic book IPs like The Walking Dead, Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy and the list goes on.

Injustice has motion comics on Madefire, but another series that has gotten some serious attention in recent months is Overwatch, based on the best-selling first-person shooter from Blizzard entertainment. Although fans can read the standard comics almost anywhere physically or digitally to learn more about the game world, they can turn to Madefire for one that is fully enhanced through motion comics.

AListDaily sat down with Middleton to talk in-depth about Madefire’s Motion Books, the relationship between games and comics, and how Overwatch could help attract more video game IPs to the platform.

What prompted the move from the video game industry to comics?

I don’t look at the work I do as being based in two different industries. The world of entertainment is converging and you’re seeing media crossing over into adjacent industries every day. It’s simply a natural extension for me. Comics and games have always been a closely-knit fandom and the industries work in a not too dissimilar way. In the past, I’ve worked across film, TV and music. For me, comics and games are culturally very similar.

That being said, I’ve watched for some time as Madefire tackled the challenge of bringing comics into the digital age with innovative tech and original IP and strongly believed that I could add value to the brand through strategic partnerships. The potential for comics to thrive on digital platforms has yet to be realized. It’s not simply alternative distribution, we believe digital can and should offer so much more to the consumer. It needs to make a case to exist in such a format and offer a totally different experience to what has come before.

There appear to be a lot of video game IPs getting involved with comic books. What is the relationship between games and comics?

I think it’s a symbiotic relationship. There’s a lot of crossover, and popularity on comics has never been higher, thanks in part to the high quality of comic book movies and TV currently being delivered to audiences. These days, it’s a safe bet to assume that if you love comics you also love games. This fact hasn’t been lost on the gaming publishers and bringing their product to comics allows them to build deeper storytelling into their IP creation arc and forge a closer relationship with the fans by giving their communities more of what they love. In turn, the comic book world gets to expose its art form to a huge gaming audience and open up obvious new revenue streams.

How do digital comics in particular and Madefire’s platform strengthen that relationship?

Madefire has set out to build the definitive storytelling platform for the new millennia. Our Motion Books add animation and sound into the experience, and the end result is something very unique and not easily replicated elsewhere. It’s more than a great read, it’s a new way to consume media, and our audience loves it. We’ve seen impressive success with our gaming partners, and Blizzard in particular has done a superb job enriching the Overwatch story with comics and Motion Books which adds depth and flavor to the universe.

Why focus on video game IPs specifically compared to media such as movies, television, books etc.?

That’s a great question and to be clear, we’re working on all manner of content partnerships. We’ve got some very cool projects across film, TV, books—even music, and we’re truly excited to be working with some of the most prestigious names in pop culture. Madefire’s platform is an ideal fit with gaming communities, and we’ve had some very positive meetings, exploring the use of our original IP in gaming and partnering with developers and publishers to make it happen. A couple of decades in the gaming industry allows me to explore a lot of interesting avenues for Madefire in this space, resulting in an invigorated focus towards gaming.

What led to Overwatch being featured on the Madefire platform and do the comics cross over with game releases and events?

Blizzard is really doing a phenomenal job in expanding the Overwatch universe and delivering great content to the community. Beyond delivering a world class successful new IP—no easy feat in today’s gaming climate—they’ve embraced story as a core element of the game. The comics, Motion Books and animated shorts released post launch of the game were anything but an afterthought, and they were delivered with intelligence and passion for the franchise. It’s part of their ongoing effort to build the fiction and universe of Overwatch and it has worked.

It’s helped that they’ve hired talented staff with a long history in comics to create the books and bring the universe to life. Our relationship with Blizzard has certainly been a high point for Madefire and we look forward to continuing to work with them for many years ahead.

How have fans been reacting to the Overwatch motion comic?

In the case of Overwatch, fans are devouring the books as fast as we can deliver them. It’s incredible to track and witness first-hand the passion and enthusiasm the community has for this series. They love the story Blizzard is telling and watching the story unfold. It’s also exciting to see the overwhelmingly positive feedback for Madefire and our platform. We’re seeing the community embrace our Motion Book concept and one of the coolest things we have stumbled upon are fans recording their own voiceovers for Motion Books and releasing them on social media as videos. It validates the hard work we’re doing and shows we are on the right track. Best of all, it’s all grass roots activity, led by the fans themselves. Madefire supply the tools to make it happen and the community runs with the idea.

Does Overwatch make it easier to bring other video game IPs on board with Madefire?

Sure! It’s always a pleasure working with a company like Blizzard. They make some of the finest software in the world and wrote the book on being a leader in building gamer communities. It certainly helps lend credibility when you have proven success with a partner. Other game developers are looking at using our platform in their own unique ways. I can’t share more at this point, but suffice to say, there will be more to come. Madefire’s Motion Books and gamers are match made in heaven.

In addition to bringing more video game IPs on board, what is the key to continuing Madefire’s growth as a platform?

From a tech perspective, we’re investing a lot of time and energy into expanding the platform to VR and AR. It’s an exciting area of growth and the community are responding well to what we’re delivering so far. In addition, we continue to work with leading partners in media as third party creative companies, but our original IP catalog is the growth path forward.

Madefire was founded to tell stories in a new and unique way, delivering a seamless and unique experience not easily replicated on other platforms. Our Motion Book tools, app, marketplace and back-end technology were built specifically to deliver myths and heroes to the digital generation and we’re excited to where the future is taking us. We have lots of wide-open room to grow; it’s going to be an exciting ride!

Marketing AI Driving With An Emotional Connection

Although companies such as Google, Tesla, Volvo and others are researching autonomous driving technologies, the idea hasn’t quite taken hold with mainstream drivers yet. Roborace is looking to change that while accelerating development of the individual technologies involved with an autonomous electric race car called the Robocar, which was recently made its US debut in New York City’s Times Square to help kick off the inaugural FIA Formula E Qualcomm NYC ePrix Championship in Brooklyn. Passersby could check out the robotic car and take photographs with it.

Denis Sverdlov, Roborace CEO

Speaking with AListDaily from Times Square, Roborace CEO Denis Sverdlov described the company as a “technology and marketing platform.” Roborace is partnered with different companies to develop driving and collision avoidance software and hardware for real-world autonomous cars. Developing in a competitive environment with extreme conditions will create knowledge that can be applied to consumer vehicles directly.

In terms of marketing, the company is working to promote the future of an electric, driverless and connected vehicles. According to Sverdlov, most people don’t want robotic cars on their roads today, but they’ll become more accepting once they see how they behave in extreme conditions.

First introduced in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Robocar is a level 5 autonomous car, meaning that it can go anywhere without the need for human engagement. The AI driver can handle all conditions across all environments, and it’s self-aware enough to handle any onboard issues that might arise with minimal risk to occupants and traffic.

In testing, the Robocar has shown speeds of over 200 miles per hour, with the primary limitation for the vehicle being battery life. The Robocar includes technologies from companies such as Charge, Nvidia, and Michelin tires, which are extremely important for autonomous driving. Sverdlov describes the Robocar as the ultimate technology platform with the flexibility to do many things. Roborace won’t be limited to traditional seasons, so the company is free to add new technologies as they come out. Therefore, the Robocar will always remain on the cutting edge of technology.

Racing Ahead With Autonomous Technology

A racing series is critical to realizing an electric and driverless car future, and when discussing the design of the Robocar, the company determined that the car needed to be attractive and that the event shouldn’t be the same as traditional motorsports.

Daniel Simon, Roborace CDO

“Everything has to be wrapped in a layer of entertainment, and part of that is an attractive vehicle that gets you emotionally connected,” said Daniel Simon, chief design officer for Roborace. “Just seeing the reaction in Times Square is an indication of how much looks matter. That’s important to us at every single step.”

The intention of Roborace is to promote the racing series and provide each team with its own Robocar to work with. The teams are tasked with developing the software algorithms that will drive the vehicle in races. Sverdlov added that it’s not necessarily about the racing, it’s about creating an entertainment and development platform.

“We’re in the process of hiring teams, and my expectation is that we’ll see 10 cars racing within the next two years. That time will be used to help the teams develop their software. It will be a flexible format [that will start] with different types of challenges, including two cars competing against each other. We’ll try to simplify things a little bit because the hardware and software aren’t quite ready for extreme conditions yet, but we believe that or format and platform will help to develop it.” The Roborace showcase is in line with the current Formula E season right now, and we’ll likely see the first official Roborace challenge held in Hong Kong this December.

The event will be broadcast in partnership with Formula E racing, however, Sverdlov stated that Roborace will be putting extra emphasis on digital platforms because they believe that their biggest fans probably don’t watch television. The Robocar’s reveal in Barcelona had a reach of 1.7 billion people, according to Sverdlov, who said that the company will look to continue to engage with its audience through social media.

Event sponsors include Allianz, Michelin, Nvidia, Lego and DHL, although Sverdlov said, “We don’t call them sponsors—they are all partners for us. Even if they’re not in the automotive industry, a company like Lego helps us appeal to young kids.”

“Lego is also a good example of how this bridges generations,” Simon added. “Two-year-olds play with Lego and so do adults. Engineers test stuff with Lego bricks. That’s exactly what we want to be—we want a wider-ranging audience than traditional motorsports. Also, we deliver a chassis, so we’re attractive to more people than car companies and motorsport teams.”

Bridging The Gap Between Man And Machine

When asked whether Roborace has considered a man versus machine competition, Sverdlov confirmed that the event series will be completely comprised of autonomous cars. “Everyone asks for man versus machine, but what we need to remember is that this car is a hundred times faster than a human in making decisions. In reality, a human does not have a chance against this type of machine. The G-forces this car creates can’t support a human being inside.”

Simon also pointed out that robotic cars could potentially take more risks, which could increase the excitement factors for viewers. “We don’t know the future, we’re just shaping it,” he said. “Along the way, we’re trying to modify our ideas for what the racing form could be. We don’t want to copy the classic conventional racing formats—we think that’s a rather boring racing setup. We have opportunities to mix this up with entertainment challenges and it doesn’t necessarily need to be perfectly tied into seasons and we could potentially have something every other week. This is a level 5 autonomous car, so we can do things outside of the race track and we’re not tied to a Monza or New York track. We could put the car on Pikes Peak and participate in a hill climb. This is such a flexible format, which excites me.

Neither could reveal who the Roborace participants will be yet, but Sverdlov hinted that they include companies from traditional car manufacturing industry, motorsport teams, universities and technology companies. Roborace has over 100 requests that they are considering by first putting their driving software through simulations. If it works in the simulation, then the team gets a real Robocar to work with.

While talking about the engineering teams behind the Robocar, Simon said the series will put emphasis on how humans are working on the technologies. “We want to always put the human factor into it as much as we can.” But what about how traditional race car drivers show feats of human skill? Wouldn’t autonomous cars drive perfectly robotic races?

“Not necessarily,” said Sverdlov, “because in the end, those algorithms were created by humans. They can use different strategies and approaches, so we see a lot of the human factor in this series. In the end, it’s humans creating those technologies. The difference is, we don’t risk the lives of people sitting inside the car.”

Simon disagreed with the question, stating, “the human part in today’s racing is actually shockingly small in a cockpit. A Formula 1 team is probably 90 percent of what they prepped in the garage and 10 percent what the driver does on the track.

“Also, programs have character. Just go back to the rise of personal computers. You would think that they’re all the same, but then you have Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who are so different in character. They created different operating systems that draw you to one or the other. These operating systems are characters in a sense, which will also be reflected in the coding of these cars. You can have a really aggressive programmer who always goes after the first turn, or one that lets all the other cars get in trouble first and then takes it all the way to the end.”

Adding to the computer analogy, Sverdlov explained that in the future, the main differentiator between cars will be the driverless software. “Which car will have the best AI driver? This competition will see which AI driver is the best,” he said.

Driving Forward

However, there’s still a way from getting robots to drive cars in high-speed races to having them take to the streets of New York City. When asked how Roborace will work to bridge the two worlds, Sverdlov said, “We’ll probably see two types of applications for this kind of technology, and one is level 5 autonomous driving, where there is no driver at all. But brands that are focused on drivers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and others see completely driverless cars as an impossibility. But we believe that technologies like 360-degree awareness may give drivers new skills and even save them in risky conditions. This platform helps develop both aspects of this technology, whether it’s completely autonomous or they’re safety algorithms, which acts like an angel watching over the human driver. We believe that this racing series is more relevant to the world’s cars than anything else on the market.”

Simon takes the consumer market potential a step further by imagining, “you can take the luxury high-performance market with a sports car that will drive you around a track by an AI that mimics a famous race car driver. So, for the first time, you’ll be able to see what Mark Webber can do with your car. This will open up a stronger passion for real driving, but it’s fueled by AI technology. It’ll be quite the opposite of taking you out of the seat, and that will trickle down to public transportation and city cars. People will say that they put their child into an autonomous car because they saw a demo run or race where these cars do incredible things. We want to build up a trust level with the technology.”

So, what remains the challenge of building up trust with autonomous vehicles?

“I think people just need to see how smart they are and how they behave in impossible situations. This technology is being developed for two reasons: to make driving safer—90 percent of accidents happen because of the human factor—and to make the cost of traveling per mile lower. But safety is the biggest part of that.”

Looking down at an afternoon traffic jam in Times Square, Simon added that “it’s hard to believe that we accept that this is the way traffic flows—or actually doesn’t flow. If you broaden your perspective and think back to the elevator, they were originally staffed by a guy who pressed the buttons for you. In fact, when these people disappeared and elevators became automated, people were scared that these automated elevators wouldn’t keep them safe. We’re trying to see a much bigger picture, and we also tend to be so impatient these days. People get anxious if we announce a technology and it doesn’t happen within months. But this is a monumental shift, so even a year’s time goes by fast.”

“Time will help us address many issues we have as a society,” said Sverdlov. “If all cars are robotic, you will not have traffic jams and you will not need traffic lights. We’re moving to this future much faster than we think.”

‘Game Of Thrones’ Global Promotions Packed With Popsicles, Snapchat And Valyrian Lessons

Like the harsh winter in Westeros, the seventh season of Game of Thrones is finally here. Luckily, fans had plenty of time to prepare thanks to no shortage of previews, trivia and brand partnerships as HBO anticipates its highest-viewed season to date.

The premium cable network is encouraging fans to share their excitement with friends through branded digital stickers across social media with the help of a sponsored hashtag (#GoTS7). A new Snapchat filter makes users’ eyes glow blue like deadly White Walkers from the show. The Game of Thrones cast shared season seven insights through Instagram stories on the official HBO account and the star-studded premiere was shared across Twitter using a special, snowy photo filter.

Fans can also “prepare for winter” with an official collection of animated GIFs.

Feast Like A King

Deliveroo UK opened a Game of Thrones-inspired pop-up bakery on July 17 called “You Know Nothing, Jon Dough.” Actor Ben Hawkey, who plays Hot Pie on the show, will serve real-life versions of his character’s “dire wolf bread.”

Meanwhile, Deliveroo Singapore teamed up with over 12 restaurants including Outback Steakhouse and The Hard Rock Cafe to create special-edition menu items inspired by the show. Examples of items on the“Feast for a King” menu include Theon Greyjoy Sausage Roll, Joffrey’s Wedding Slice, Dragon’s Breath, Little Finger’s Big Fingers and The Hound’s Chicken Dinner.

HBO isn’t the only brand using the season seven premiere to reach an engaged fan base. KFC UK and Ireland teamed up with Northern Irish actor Kristian Nairn, better known to fans as Hodor on Game of Thrones. The spot parodies a key scene in season six in which Hodor struggles against hordes of white walkers behind a door. Playing a cashier during the lunch rush, Nairn is bombarded with requests for chicken with fries. Overwhelmed, he turns his back to the mob and anxiously chants, “chicken with fries” until it morphs into “chicken with rice,” promoting the KFC Rice Box.

Even Coca-Cola got in on the fun on Twitter, running a promoted ad during the US premiere.

Say It With Style

If you’ve ever wanted to learn High Valyrian, get ready to command some dragons because language learning app Duolingo has launched a web-based High Valyrian language course. The course is taught by David J. Peterson—linguist and creator of Game of Thrones’ fictional language.

Soon you’ll be shouting such useful phrases at the laundromat as, “Skoriot ñuhyz zaldrīzesse ilzi?” (Where is my dragon?) and “Vīlībāzmosa iderennī emilun!” (I would like trial by combat!)

Ice, Ice, Baby

White Walkers play an important role in the new season, so it’s no wonder that HBO is using these iconic creatures to promote the show worldwide. In London, actors dressed as the Night King and four other White Walkers were spotted at Oxford Circus, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London and Buckingham Palace among others.

In Singapore, fans were given photo opportunities with a life-sized ice sculpture of the Iron Throne and chance to win limited edition prizes, which were frozen in blocks of ice.

Fans in Hong Kong who like the HBO Asia Facebook page or follow them on Instagram received a free, limited-edition Night King frozen yogurt from Yo Mama. The event runs from July 29 to 30 and is limited to 1,000 cups of frozen yogurt.

HBO Asia transformed Taiwanese ice dessert outlet Ice Monster into a Game of Thrones-themed pop-up for three weeks. Over 100 limited-edition Night King popsicles were given out to fans who uploaded a photo of the store’s White Walker on Facebook or Instagram, using the #GoTS7TW hashtag.

“It may be summer in the UK but after six seasons, winter has finally arrived in Westeros,” said Zai Bennett, director of programs for Sky Entertainment UK and Ireland, per The Hollywood Reporter.

In Rome, Sky Entertainment organized an actual marathon, or “marathrone,” to mirror its Game of Thrones TV marathon. Runners chased a giant truck screening the first six seasons of the hit show from Rome to Milan.

Season six broke all records for the show, averaging 23 million viewers per episode. With just two seasons to go, fans are more than ready to see who will sit on the Iron Throne.

Disney World Is Developing A ‘Star Wars’ Hotel, Their “Most Experiential Concept Ever”

Walt Disney Imagineers has hired video game developers over the years to help their line of theme parks, resorts and cruise ships directly connect with millennials and younger guests.

Imagineers has integrated video games into the queues of rides like “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” and the exit experience of “Test Track,” created interactive treasure hunts using Encharted Art on Disney cruise ships and designed the collectible card game “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom,” which unlocks battles with villains from Disney’s animated films throughout the theme park.

Now, Walt Disney World is building the first Disney 360 vacation concept into a hotel. The Star Wars-themed resort will be located near the just-named “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” land, which is under construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. While the Galaxy’s Edge park will open first in Disneyland and later at Hollywood Studios—both in 2019—no opening date for the Florida-exclusive Star Wars hotel was announced.

Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks And Resorts, revealed a first look at this new resort at the D23 Expo in Anaheim this weekend. The Disney 360 vacation resort will be like entering a role-playing game (RPG), completely enveloping guests into an original Star Wars story.

“We’re working on our most experiential concept ever,” Chapek told a crowd of 7,000 at the Anaheim Convention Center. “It combines a luxury resort with immersion in an authentic environment.”

The resort will be designed to look like a giant starship from the Star Wars universe.

“It’s unlike anything that exists today,” said Chapek. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story. You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”

Unlike traditional Disney-themed resorts, this new hotel will essentially serve as a real-life RPG—complete with costumes that guests will wear as they interact with aliens, droids and other Disney cast members. For Disney, this will further expand Lucasfilm’s Star Wars brand beyond the endless merchandising options and steady stream of films and TV projects. Much like the recent Avatar land, Disney will be able to immerse tourists from around the globe in the rich Star Wars universe. These two new theme parks will act as evergreen marketing opportunities for the brand, while also serving as another must-visit destination inside of the parks.

“It will invite you to live your own dedicated, multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away,” Chapek explained.

When guests look outside the hotel windows, they’ll see outer space. Disney already has employed this type of technology on its cruise ships, creating Magic Portals for inside cabins that use projection technology to make passengers feel like they have a balcony view (with the added magical touch of different animated and CGI Disney characters making random cameos).

In April, unofficial Disney blog Walt Disney World News Today reported that Disney sent guest surveys detailing a two-day story set in the Star Wars universe that would cost between $900-to-$1,000 per guest. For those who haven’t visited Disney World recently, current top-tier themed resorts like “Animal Kingdom Lodge” and “Polynesian Village” can cost over $500 per night.

These surveys implied the Star Wars starship would replicate the all-inclusive cruise ship experience with buffet breakfasts, lunches and signature evening dining all baked into the price—along with shows and entertainment, as well as theme park tickets to Galaxy’s Edge. The “luxury” accommodations will also include access to a pool area and water garden, fitness area, cantina and robotic droid butlers.

The concept would be that guests, or passengers, would have personal interactions with Star Wars characters and live performers throughout the starship with the option of interacting first-hand or just observing others. The RPG elements will really come alive through programs such as flight training (which is sure to integrate video game elements, and possible augmented reality gaming), ship exploration, lightsaber training and personalized secret missions both on the starship and throughout the Galaxy’s Edge.

Chapek also revealed new details about the 14-acre Star Wars-themed lands. The land is set on an unoriginal planet (the name of which has not yet been revealed) that sits on the outer rim of the galaxy.

Chris Beatty, the Disney Imagineer serving as executive director of the new lands, told the D23 crowd that this “smuggler’s planet” will blend Star Wars characters like BB-8, Chewbacca, Rex and Kylo Ren with new characters.

“It’s kind of forgotten about,” Beatty explained. “People in the know like Han and Chewie, they knew of this place.”

But the story will be completely original, as Imagineers (working with Lucasfilm writers) decided to create something original rather than tying anything directly to the films. This same storytelling concept was employed in the just-opened “Pandora: The World of Avatar” land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

“When you step into the world, you’re the hero,” Beatty said.

There will be two anchor attractions at Galaxy’s edge, including one that puts guests right in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance where guests will feel like they’re inside a hangar bay on a Star Destroyer—built to scale. Visitors will also have the chance to fly the Millennium Falcon in a multi-person experience where each guest is critical to the mission’s success taking on roles like pilot, co-pilot and gunners on a critical mission. Disney built a scale version of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit and common area on the Disney Dream ship, but this new ride promises to take interactivity to another level.

The RPG elements from the new Star Wars hotel will also be integrated into these new theme parks, and operate independently for guests who aren’t staying at the resort. Each guest will be assigned a “role” before boarding the Millennium Falcon, and how they perform those tasks will earn galactic credits. No details have been revealed yet, but Disney World already uses RFID-powered Magic Bands at its Florida theme parks to connect smartphones, credit cards and even room keys together for a frictionless experience. The potential of connecting this technology with the hotel and Galaxy’s Edge is endless.

Another announcement at D23 that completes the Star Wars offerings will be available at Best Buy later this year. Disney partnered with Lenovo for a new consumer augmented reality headset that works with your smartphone, which will launch with Jedi Challenges. This compilation will include a variety of games, including a Holochess game and a lightsaber training experience—just like the challenges Luke Skywalker faced in the original film 40 years ago.

Marketers Invest In Machine Learning; VR Users Say Video Is The Future

This week in marketing statistics, brands feel good about machine learning, watching video in VR could be the future and Siri has some serious competition.

Machine (And Marketer) Learning

Machine learning is already assisting marketers to process big data, according to a recent survey conducted by MIT Technology Review Custom for Google Cloud. Among the 375 business and IT leaders surveyed, 95 percent have already embraced some form of big data technology, or plan to do so.

Respondents were confident in machine learning, with 50 percent able to quantify ROI from their investment and 26 percent saying they’ve already gained a competitive edge from machine learning. As a result, those surveyed are continuing to invest—26 percent of respondents commit more than 15 percent of their IT budgets to machine-learning projects.

Meanwhile, 78 percent of executives planned to spend at least five percent more on AI marketing technologies in the next 12 months, according to new data by Forrester. Of the 700 business leaders working for retail and ecommerce brands with revenue of at least $50 million, 54 percent said they’re already using AI marketing to better personalize the customer experience. However, 70 percent of respondents cited technical skills as a barrier to mainstream adoption of AI marketing technology.

Voice-Activated Rivalries

Virtual assistants are a common form of AI used by consumers daily, and Siri is still the most popular. Apple’s “it-girl,” however, is starting to feel the heat from rival assistants Cortana and Alexa. According to a new report by Verto Analytics, Siri usage has declined by 15 percent from May 2016 to May 2017. Amazon Alexa usage, meanwhile, has jumped 12 percent in the same time frame and Microsoft Cortana usage tripled from 19 to 60 percent.

Alexa got some help on Prime Day, which was Amazon’s biggest ever—surpassing Black Friday and Cyber Monday in terms of spend. The best-selling item during the annual sale event was the Echo Dot speaker, which was discounted by 30 percent.

The Future Of Video

Can watching video in VR be social? About half of existing users say yes, according to Ericsson. A study of VR device users worldwide found that 51 percent think video in VR will become popular because it will combine with social networking.

Fifty-four percent of respondents agreed that VR devices will be the new screens for video and 53 percent said video will be one of the most popular uses of VR.

Consumers may be torn on whether to watch video in VR, but watching in 4K resolution is an entirely different story. The global4K TV market is expected to reach $380 billion by 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. Declining prices and increased penetration of ultra-high-speed internet are expected to contribute to this growth.

Advertising: Direct, Organic And TV

When a business advertises locally, many choose to stick with tried and true methods like direct mail. In fact, at $37.1 billion, direct mail contributes 25 percent of US spending in local markets this year, according to BIA/Kelsey’s Local Advertising Forecast.

Rounding out the top five types of media advertising are local TV ($20.9 billion), online and interactive ($18.6 billion), newspapers, and mobile ($16 billion each). Local radio dropped to number six from BIA/Kelsey’s last forecast, with $15.6 billion in revenue.

You have to spend money to make money, but organic views can be just as—if not more—beneficial to a brand campaign. According to L2’s 2017 Intelligence Report, Activewear brands enjoy the highest organic view rate on YouTube at 24 percent, followed by consumer electronics (23 percent), retail (19 percent) and luxury brands (17 percent). Nike’s February Equality campaign earned a 57 percent organic view rate across digital platforms, including nearly four million organic views on Facebook in the days and weeks following the initial paid post.

Brands with multiple locations are receiving 25 times more impressions on individual location Facebook pages as opposed to the brand’s official Facebook page. MomentFeed did an analysis of aggregated customer data from “more than 50 clients from October 2016 through April 2017.” The social media management platform reported that 84.8 percent of all consumer impressions happened on assets that represented individual stores, showrooms and restaurants, while just 15.2 percent of impressions happened on brand or corporate assets.”

Addressable TV ad expenditures will grow 65.8 percent to reach $1.26 billion this year, according to new forecasts by eMarketer. The company’s predictions includes broadcast and cable TV in its TV ad spending forecasts, but excludes digital. Meanwhile, programmatic TV ad spending will grow 75.7 percent to $1.13 billion in 2017—representing 1.6 percent of total US TV ad spend.

Game Brands Expand Their Reach By Creating Original Content

Gaming households have enjoyed access to TV through apps on their favorite consoles for years, so it makes sense that console manufacturers would take the leap into show business. OTT and original programming create additional value for those investing in gaming hardware, as well as revenue streams for game brands through subscriptions and advertising.

Nielsen recently found that 42 percent of TV households in the US own a video game console, compared to enabled smart TVs (28.9 percent) and streaming devices like AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV or Chromecast (23.3 percent).

Cord-cutting is on the rise as consumers forego cable to watch content when and wherever they please. PlayStation Vue was Sony’s answer to this movement.

“We’re going after the PlayStation user who is today not watching TV, driving a large ratings decline and is at high risk [for abandoning the pay-TV ecosystem],” Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO Andrew House told The Wall Street Journal when PlayStation Vue was announced in 2015.

PlayStation Vue has since expanded to include HBO, Cinemax and a 24/7 ESL esports channel.

Video game enthusiasts are less likely to engage with mainstream platforms like cable TV, according to recent findings by analyst firm SuperData. Twenty-seven percent of video game livestream viewers watch most often during weekday evenings, often replacing primetime TV; 20 percent of US gaming video content (GVC) streamers are “cord-cutters,” SuperData found, compared to eight percent of the general US population.

In addition to offering OTT services, Sony keeps trying its hand at original programming, but PlayStation shows have yet to find their stride. It all began with The Tester in 2010 and then Powers in 2015. Powers, a series based on a comic of the same name, was a haven for product placement—gaining partners like Rolex, Dos Equis, and of course, Sony products galore. The show was canceled after two seasons, despite outperforming all other shows on PSN at the time.

Sony isn’t giving up, however, and is on the lookout for up-and-coming filmmakers to try again.

But what kind of an audience will they be serving to? Forty percent of Gen Z and 38 percent of millennials who subscribe to cable or satellite say they have plans to cancel their service in favor of an online-only option, according to Nielsen. Game consoles make it easy to make the switch, and PwC predicts that OTT and streaming subscription VOD revenue will grow to $10.4 billion by 2020.

Xbox found success with the documentary Atari: Game Over in 2014 and soon announced plans for Xbox Originals—a series of original programming exclusive to the gaming console. Since Every Street United, a documentary about aspiring football players premiered in 2015, however, all other announced projects have been stuck in “production hell,” as it were.

Apple, while not a console in the traditional sense, is certainly a gaming platform that has found success with its first original show, Planet of the Apps. Apple’s first step into branded content gives developers a shot at winning $10 million in funding and a top spot on the app store.

Excited app developers mean more apps, and more apps mean more shared revenue for Apple.

‘Moss’ Introduces A Tiny Hero To Grow VR In A Big Way

Developers continue to get on board with PlayStation VR, which was fully illustrated at this year’s E3, where the company announced that it was partnering with CCP to make its headset the launch platform for the upcoming virtual sport Sparq. A montage of VR game announcements was shown at the PlayStation pre-E3 presentation amid gameplay demonstrations for core franchises such as God of War and Horizon: Zero Dawn, and attendees were able to go hands-on with PSVR games on the show floor.

One game that stood out in the VR game montage was Moss, an action puzzle adventure game currently in development by Polyarc. The debut showing was unique because it wasn’t a high-action shooter. Instead, players—who take the role of a spirit-like figure called “The Reader”—are invited to step into a storybook world to help a cute little anthropomorphic mouse named Quill as she embarks on an adventure to save a loved one. Players help Quill on her quest by manipulating objects in the world to solve 3D puzzles.

Tam Armstrong, Polyarc CEO, co-founder and studio head

Speaking with AlistDaily, Tam Armstrong, CEO, studio director and co-founder of Polyarc, said that Moss came from determining VR’s strengths and building a game around it.

“The thing that everybody talks about first is the sense of presence and realism being in a [VR] location,” said Armstrong. “So, we knew we wanted to make a game that took you to fantastical places. The second thing we wanted to leverage was interaction. We wanted to make sure you were physically interacting with the game, and that’s where the puzzle part came from. We imagined how much fun it would be to move pieces around and manipulate the environment.”

Polyarc has had an ongoing relationship with Sony, according to Armstrong, who said that the company was very impressed with early prototypes of the game. Sony has been supportive of the game ever since, which culminated into bringing Polyarc to E3 and having the debut trailer shown at the PlayStation presentation.

Armstrong stated that the partnership was the main reason why Polyarc chose to launch Moss for the PSVR first, in addition to how the technology fit nicely with the gameplay. He also looks forward to working further with Sony to promote Moss as they approach the game’s launch this winter.

Fans appeared to have taken very well to Moss and its tiny protagonist.

“We’re very excited with the response,” said Armstrong. “We think it’s a cool game, but you’re always nervous when you’re showing something to a wider audience for the first time, and it was nice to see people responding so well. It was also nice to see people picking up on some of the thematic things we were hoping they’d appreciate, like your relationship with Quill and your role in helping her succeed. It was cool to see people gravitate towards that.”

Being a spirit-like character in a storybook VR game might be a lot to take in, but Armstrong sees spreading awareness however possible as a big win for the game, technology and industry.

“We try not to overly focus on all of those elements,” Armstrong explained. “If someone saw or played our game and all they took away was that it was Quill’s adventure in trying to rescue her loved one, then we would be absolutely thrilled. We would be fine with that, but we’re sure there will be players who will appreciate the depth and we want something for everybody.

“As far as marketing goes, the biggest challenge is with VR in general. It’s hard to display that medium in the same way that it’s hard to sell a TV on radio. It’s not impossible, it’s just hard until everyone can visualize a TV in their heads. We have the same challenge now with VR—it’s hard to sell the experience of being in VR through watching a video. The more players become familiar with what VR feels like, the more they’ll be able to project themselves into what they’re seeing. That’s really hard to do right now, so we’re focusing on very apparent things by showing people the richness of our world and characters. Hopefully, they’ll find those things intriguing enough to find out more.”

Having an adorable mouse as the main character probably helps quite a bit in having a game be accepted.

“We came up with Quill as a matter of scale,” said Armstrong. “We knew that we wanted a puzzle game where you interacted with the environment, and that meant that we were either going to make the player a giant to reach a meaningful amount of the space, or make a tiny hero to make the player feel big. We shied away from making the player large because we didn’t think that would feel very realistic. Your brain reminds you that you’re not actually a giant. So, we made a tiny hero and scaled the world to suspend disbelief.

“The matter of theming came from discussing ways to make a tiny hero—[we had] toys, aliens or little animals—and we settled on the mouse protagonist. As far as Quill’s cuteness goes, we would like people to perceive her as self-sufficient, strong and confident, although she does need your help on a journey. If audiences pull out the fact that she’s cute, we have no objection to that. More than anything else, having a tiny being that you have a relationship with and you believe is alive is very powerful in VR because your head and hands are in the experience. There’s a more direct connection with those characters than there would be through a TV screen. If the side effect of that is that it gets people interested in our game, then that’s great. Our goal is to capitalize on VR’s strengths.”

Games like Moss are critical to the success of VR, and Armstrong believes that it will take some time for VR to be adopted as more software comes out.

“None of us buy a console or platform without having a few games we want to play, and all of that takes time. We’re not worried right now because this is the expected outcome, and we want to use our experience to help bring new software to the VR platform. Hopefully, we’ll be on the list of reasons why people get excited about VR and want to buy it.”

Exploring experiences that aren’t possible through traditional means is the whole reason Polyarc decided to create Moss. Armstrong said, “Moss isn’t Moss unless you can reach in and grab things and move them around. It’s not Moss unless Quill can look you in the eyes. This is our chance to go after something new and exciting to establish ourselves.”

That being the case, he isn’t put off by the limited install base. “Polyarc’s mark of success is an appreciation from our players, irrespective of scale. In terms of the limited install base, that’s just the business problem of not spending too much money making a game so you have a chance to make more. Independent of that, we just want people to appreciate it. To me, it doesn’t matter if there are 10 million or 1 million customers. Just knowing that a portion of those customers are really excited about what you’re doing—that’s the creative mark of success.”

Success for both the game and VR lies in getting them in the hands of players. “The key is being hands-on,” said Armstrong. “You have to get people to play and try it because it’s very difficult for people to imagine if a VR game is fun or not from a description, and that’s true for everyone. So, experiencing games is the key.”

To this end, Polyarc will be taking the game to shows and is engaging with audiences both in-person and through social media to spread the word about Moss.

“Promotion will rely a lot on word-of-mouth, like in the early-console days before there were a lot of advertisements,” said Armstrong “There needs to be people trying VR then talking to their friends about it.”

Wargaming Helps Hollywood Market ‘Dunkirk’ And Other WWII Films

In conjunction with Warner Bros. and alongside Christopher Nolan’s WWII action thriller Dunkirk, Wargaming is kicking off a commemoration of the historic event with a series of history-based activities and bundles. The “Remember Dunkirk” content will be available across World of Tanks, World of Warships and World of Warplanes beginning July 14.

Erik Whiteford, head of marketing at Wargaming America, told AListDaily that the game maker’s previous partnership with Sony Pictures on Fury helped reinforce the audience’s connection with the World War II genre and games.

“This not only helped with our existing player-base, which have a very strong identification with World War II-themed properties, but it also exposes World of Tanks to a broader audience who may not have heard of World of Tanks through other channels,” Whiteford explained. “Fury was perfect, given the nature of the story, wherein the tank itself was one of the lead characters. The tank battle footage is very engaging, and it was in many ways indicative of the kind of action a player experiences in World of Tanks. It also never hurts to be associated with global icons such as star Brad Pitt and acclaimed director David Ayer.”

Wargaming also learned that its brand and gaming audience is very attractive to Hollywood filmmakers and marketers.

“We have a daily relationship with millions of players globally, which provides an incredibly effective platform for filmmakers and marketers who want to tap into the core World War II audience,” Whiteford said. “The filmmakers were also able to leverage our knowledge about tanks and battles tactics to ensure accuracy when making the film. We’re also able to incorporate elements from the film into our game, which provides another relevant and timely touch point for our players and a unique way for the film to connect with our audience.”

Wargaming is launching a full series of “Remember Dunkirk” themed missions on July 14 that will take over the battlefields of World of Tanks and the combat-filled skies of World of Warplanes. Players can compete to earn “Remember Dunkirk”-themed vehicles and accumulate experience points that are redeemable for in-game gear, including special camouflage and more.

The battles will expand in the coming weeks with a series of World of Warships missions that will give commanders the opportunity to earn Dunkirk-themed containers and flags, as well as a Dunkirk themed ship commander.

Dunkirk is an epic WWII action-thriller film,” Whiteford said. “Our games are epic WWII action games in which we are able to provide compelling land, sea and air WWII experiences. Partnering with Dunkirk allows us to talk about all of our games and the experiences they offer. It has become a perfect platform to promote the Wargaming Battle Trilogy, versus focusing on one property or the other.”

Whiteford explained that Wargaming’s in-game experiences are not so much “play the movie,” than they are about extending the film experience through its games.

“Dunkirk was one of the pivotal points of WWII, one that, had it turned out differently, would have altered the course of the war significantly,” said Whiteford. “Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will bring these events to the big screen in a way that underscores the human drama and the thousands of individual stories that were a part of this harrowing event. While our games are not story-driven per se, they do deliver the intensity and drama of WWII battles.

Whiteford said films like Fury and Dunkirk reignite people’s interest in WWII. These films allow Wargaming to tap into a wave of renewed interest in the genre.

“We are able to communicate to potential players in the context of a shared passion for this era,” Whiteford added. “Wargaming is obsessed with WWII and we welcome any mass market property that joins the party.”

Wargaming is supporting the entire trilogy with a Dunkirk-themed, cross-media marketing campaign that will run on TV, online video, social, and digital platforms. Most of the creative will contain assets from both the Dunkirk film and Wargaming online games.

“We’ll be running community events that will allow our players to see pre-release screenings of the film,” Whiteford said. “Our games will also be featured on Dunkirk’s web portal and social media sites.”

Wargaming also produced a series of documentaries that tell the story of The Miracle of Dunkirk from the perspective of tanks, warships, and warplanes. The game maker also created two 360-degree videos that take the viewer into the cockpit of the iconic RAF Spitfire, an aircraft that played a key role in the evacuation. The videos emulate the path of the evacuation, flying from the southern coast of England to the northern coast of France toward Dunkirk. More installments will be released episodically in the coming weeks.

“Our players index heavily in World War II interest, so films focused on this period in history are high on their priority list,” Whiteford said. “These films bring back to life the stories and the era that mean a lot to our players. We look at these films as an extension of what our games provide and our games are extensions of the films. Either way, they help reinforce the impact and importance of this era which we at Wargaming are so passionate about.”

Ubisoft Evolves ‘Far Cry’ Brand By Bringing It To Montana

The Far Cry series is famous for featuring far-off and exotic locations, where players are challenged to rise up against crazed villains. However, that seemed to take a sharp turn in the opposite direction when Far Cry was announced in May, with a location set in a place called Hope County, Montana.

As Dan Hay, executive producer for the Far Cry brand and creative director for Far Cry 5, explained at his E3 presentation, Hope used to be an idyllic area, but it has been overrun by a fanatical cult and there is no access to emergency services. Therefore, players must find ways to build up a resistance movement to take down the cult. This includes taking computer controlled characters and animals with you on your journey using the newly announced Guns for Hire and Fangs for Hire systems. Although the game got a strong reception at E3, it also received quite a bit of controversy, especially given the current political climate.

Speaking with AListDaily, Hay describes the “anecdote factory,” a world where systems collide with each other, as being at the heart of the Far Cry franchise. Players walk into a world, meet its characters, and deal with them however they choose, often with unexpected results. According to Hay, players essentially craft their own story and the Far Cry experience is about “freedom, opportunity and surprise.”

Hay compared Far Cry 5 to previous games by saying that the development team wanted to give players an open world first-person shooter experience that was both familiar yet uniquely different from previous games such as Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal. In those games, players followed a somewhat linear path to meet new characters and complete the story.

Why Montana?

Previous Far Cry games took place in fictional far-off locations such as a tropical island in the South Pacific and a fictional country in the Himalayan Mountains, so it came to a shock for many when it was revealed that Far Cry 5 would take place in a fictional county set in the real state of Montana, which is neither far off nor exotic (at least to Americans).

Dan Hay, executive producer for the Far Cry brand and creative director for Far Cry 5; Ubisoft

When asked why the game is set in a real-life state, Hay responded by saying that the team had wanted to do a Far Cry set in the United States for a very long time, dating back to around 2012 when Far Cry 3 released. However, no idea seemed to work at the time, so it was shelved until the release of Far Cry 4 in 2014, when the developers were considering locations for the next game. Actually settling on the location is a story in itself.

Hay recounted when he lived in the US for nine years and how he observed a general sense of dissatisfaction and unease that came after the subprime mortgage collapse. It reminded him of the sense of unease he felt as a child during the final years of the Cold War, and how people felt that things could end at any moment and that they had no control over their futures.

“With the subprime mortgage collapse, people felt frustrated that their future wasn’t safe, and the same type of feeling came back from when I was a kid of not having control over my future and someone could just take it away,” said Hay, and that was one of the reasons why the US was now the ideal setting for a new Far Cry game. However, the team wouldn’t have run with the idea if the issue was limited to the United States. Then the surprise of the Brexit vote occurred in 2016, indicating that there was a global sense of discontent and fear.

“The language began to change from the global village to one of ‘us and them,’” said Hay. That feeling was fully realized when Hay was walking through downtown Toronto one day and saw someone wearing a sandwich board with a “The End is Nigh” type message and he thought that the guy was probably right. That was how they came to the idea of having a magnetic leader named Father Joseph, who heads a doomsday cult, as the main antagonist of the game.

In researching locations for where such a character could establish control, the team discovered that Montana was the perfect location. “It became clear that it was the place that people go to when they want to be left alone from the prying eyes of the government or others. Also, Montana has a history of self-reliance, and that was very Far Cry.

Hay made it clear that although it was Montana’s rugged, frontier atmosphere that made it appealing as a setting, this is very much the Far Cry version of the state. “We wanted to give it that sort of Twilight Zone feel, where the picture was slightly off and a bit askew,” he said, describing the fictional area of Hope County.

Nevertheless, the setting sparked controversy among a subset of conservative gamers, which took shape around the Memorial Day holiday when the game debuted its first trailer. Some have called it a “white genocide simulator,” because many of the cult’s followers in the trailer are white. A (likely fake) petition was created on, demanding that Ubisoft either make changes to the game—such as moving the setting to Canada, making the enemies to Islamic fundamentalists or turning the cult into a group of misguided American patriots—or cancel the game.

Hay responded to the controversy by stating, “We know that there are different views out there, but think about what the film and television industries have explored. Those industries have been around for a lot longer, but I think the games industry has come of age, and now there’s an opportunity for games to explore different aspects of storytelling. That may be controversial for some folks—and we may step on some things that are unique or different—but since games have come of age, that’s ok. We’re just focused on making a great game. The key thing for us is that, at the end of the day, we can’t forget about the fun. We have to make sure that you’re able to explore the anecdote factory and do it in a uniquely American setting.”

Far Cry: The Ultimate Bar Story

With a wide variety of settings and characters, including the Stone Age for Far Cry Primal, we asked Hay what he thought made for a Far Cry game. He described a Far Cry story as a kind of urban legend that stretches the limits of believability. When listening to ideas, Hay imagines himself sitting in a bar as he overhears someone tell a story about being kidnapped in the South Pacific or surviving a violent far off nation in the Himalayas. Even Primal has a tall-tale-like quality to it, as it deals with what it was like to survive 12,000 years ago.

Imagining Far Cry 5 in this way has left a permanent impression on Hay. He said that, “In talking about the game, the bar I imagine has become an actual bar in Montana, which has changed the way I think about the futures of Far Cry.”

It appears as though fans were eager to be told the story as they lined up to play the game at E3.

“We’re really proud with what we did with the E3 announcement, where a lot of people looked at the game and got to play the game and gave us feedback,” said Hay, explaining how public showing set the tone for future promotions as we draw closer to the February 27, 2018 release date. “People were loving it, so I think it’s a matter of building on that. We have to make sure we allow people to play the game at upcoming industry events and that consumers who really want to play it can get their hands on it. We also have to make sure that we aren’t distracted moving forward. Making games is not easy. You want to execute a vision while making sure you don’t get pulled in a million different directions. While we’re getting the game in the hands of consumers, we have to make sure the Guns for Hire, Fangs for Hire and multiplayer systems are great and that the game is generous.

“E3 can be a good barometer for how you’re doing, testing things, and getting an idea of where you’re going. We feel really good about the response and we know that people are hungry to more about the game and we want to bring it to them.”