Leveraging Apple’s App Store Redesign

Apple hosted its annual Wordwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, where it made several announcements pertaining to upcoming hardware, AR/VR support and new features. However, amid showing the new iMac and Macbook systems, the HomePod smart speaker and the iPad Pro 10.5, one announcement in particular drew a great deal of attention from the mobile games industry, and that was the major redesign of App Store when iOS 11 launches in the fall. The redesign will completely change the look and feel of the App Store, which is sure to have both major and subtle impacts on how users discover and interact with games.

Glu Mobile’s chief revenue officer Chris Akhavan spoke with AListDaily about what some of the upcoming changes are and how the gaming industry can take advantage of them to further promote titles such as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Restaurant DASH with Gordon Ramsay and MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017.

What are some of the most significant changes coming to the Apple App Store?

First, I think it’s beautiful, and there’s definitely a big upgrade in its design. It is much cleaner and bolder, but biggest change is in how apps and games are now separated into two different sections. Previously, they were merchandised similarly on one page and were mixed in with each other in the charts.

Also, from a featuring perspective, Apple is moving toward a daily cadence that’s built around telling stories. If you go to the Featured tab on the current App Store, you’ll see a lot of apps featured every day. There’s a big list with a lot of small icons that you can scroll through. It’s an effective place to discover content, but there’s a lot coming at you with the layout. But Apple is moving toward a more editorialized featuring of fewer things—a fewer, bigger approach. The Today tab will prominently feature stories around apps. Users will not only find out about cool games, but they’ll also learn the stories behind those games. They’ll find out why the game is culturally relevant, whether it’s pushing the boundaries of the hardware, and how might be doing something graphically innovative. It’s much more like a magazine experience where you get these rich stories around the apps being featured—and that will be combined with a more frequent cadence.

The current App Store has a weekly cadence, while the new one will have a more frequent refresh. Hopefully, that means consumers will be coming to it every day to see what the featured app is, in the same way they check the news every day. Overall, I think it’s going to be very positive for the industry.

Do these changes primarily help established games or will new games see benefits?

I think they’ll benefit both, but there’s going to be an increasing benefit to games that are truly innovative. As Apple is looking to tell stories and feature compelling content that has something new to offer. Developers that are taking risks and innovating by creating something new are going to benefit from that. If you release something that’s a retread of something that has been done before, that might not make for a very compelling story. Apple also does a very good job of balancing and doesn’t just feature big developers or already successful games. The spend time looking at the indie community and highlight smaller studios with innovative products. So, the onus will be on developers to step up their innovation to be feature worthy.

How will these changes impact discovery?

I would call out what’s changing on the game page itself. There are going to be some interesting changes coming to the pages where you download your games. First, it will allow you to have multiple video assets there. Currently, we’re only allowed to have one trailer, so there’s going to be increased importance on video, and developers will have to learn to tell stories across multiple video assets instead of one single trailer.

Also, Apple is going to more prominently feature things like how games are ranking in various categories, and whether it has received Editor’s Choice or some of the other accolades. So, there’s a lot for developers to think about, particularly telling stories through videos.

The move to bigger and fewer does present some challenges, since the amount of games being featured each day will be dramatically reduced. But if you have one of those compelling stories, then I think you’ll see significantly higher downloads if you can make it onto the featured page.

What kind of video content is Glu looking to produce to tell these stories?

We are ramping up our investment in creative services both internally and externally. We’re also figuring out how we can tell compelling stories through multiple assets instead of the traditional model of stuffing a lot of cool things into one great trailer. Now we’re going to have to think about how we can put together three separate video clips that will both stand on their own and tell a story about why the game is compelling. That will probably mean going deeper into certain aspects of the game. One clip may emphasize the social aspects while another will talk about the core gameplay or graphics. We’re going to be separating key themes through multiple assets.

From an editorial perspective, we’re going to need to ramp up our efforts. As for pure execution, the amount of video content we produce needs to scale up in this new environment.

Users will also be allowed to make in-app purchases from the game pages. Will this be beneficial for mobile games?

That’s something that we’re looking into. To be honest, that doesn’t jump out to me as an immediate opportunity because generally, when people are making purchases in our games, they’re buying virtual currency to spend on various in-game items. Those purchase decisions are driven by how they want a particular outfit or furniture item, so it’s very contextual to being in the experience. It’s not immediately obvious to us why you would want to just go to the App Store without being in the game to buy game coins. So, maybe we need to think about new models where there are different types of purchases that users might want to make from the browser.

Are there any other changes that the mobile game industry should keep an eye on?

The Top Grossing chart is no longer in the App Store itself, and that may have an impact. Only Apple knows how many users click on the Top Grossing chart to discover new content, but obviously we in the industry are obsessed with it to see which games are making the most revenue.

Having it no longer be a consumer-facing chart is a pretty big change, although it ultimately won’t change anything for us. We’re still going to be focused on delivering hit games that that generate significant revenue whether or not consumers see a top grossing chart or not. But it will be interesting to see if there will be any changes from the user’s perspective when they can no longer click on that chart to see which games are making the most money.

Do you think Apple’s redesign will significantly impact the Android app stores, particularly Google Play?

I’m sure Google is always looking to improve and innovate with its own app store. I have to imagine that they’re looking at the big redesign on iOS and thinking about what the next move is for them. But one thing that I’ll say is different between the two is that Google has always taken a more algorithmic approach to serving content. I expect that they’ll continue to invest in making better recommendations based on users’ histories and the types of apps they normally engage with. Apple has leaned more toward the editorial side, with a team that looks over all the content and serves what they think is the most compelling. To me, that’s the biggest philosophical difference between the two stores.

Why Podcasts Are More Relevant Than Ever

Since the days when families gathered together around the radio, brands have played a vital role in audio entertainment—a tradition that continues with podcasts. While host-read ads or pre-recorded commercials are common, an increasing amount of brands are creating their own podcasts as well.

US podcast advertising revenues are forecasted to skyrocket to more than $220 million this year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau—an impressive 85 percent over the $119 million recorded in 2016. Branded content made its revenue-earning debut in 2016, earning two percent of total podcast advertising revenue. While that doesn’t seem like much compared to 73 percent from direct response ads, branded content still accounted for nearly $2.4 million.

Those branded podcasts tended to focus on the spirit of the product or service, such as entrepreneurship (eBay: Open For Business) or money management (Umqua Bank: Open Account).

The Message is an eight-part science-fiction thriller series by General Electric (GE) about cryptographers who try to decipher a message from an alien. GE’s two shows, The Message and LifeAfter, combined, have had their episodes downloaded over six million times. “That’s a big audience that is saying, ‘I elect to listen to 20 minutes of branded entertainment.’ That’s a huge opportunity for a brand,” Alexa Christon, the head of media innovation at GE told Digiday. “This is one of the most direct ways of reaching a consumer.”

Other shows go deeper into a television program like Investigation Discovery: Detective or the just-added TNT’s Will Podcast.

Approximately 46 million Americans ages 12 and over are now listening to podcasts each month, according to a report by Edison Research and Triton Digital. Thanks to voice assistants like Amazon Echo, listening to podcasts is as easy as requesting it aloud. That’s a massive audience that brands are hoping to reach, and traditional advertising won’t go away anytime soon—but podcasts have a way of speaking to millennials in a way that other mediums do not.

According to podcast advertising platform Midroll Media, the best podcast ads are voiced live by hosts in their own words.

“Because podcasts rely on the intimacy of the medium, and the long-cultivated relationship between hosts and their listeners, the ad impact is significant,” Midroll Media’s chief revenue officer Lex Friedman told AListDaily. “We are especially good at reaching the unreachables—millennials who fast-forward through ads on their DVR, run ad blockers, jab at the radio preset buttons in their cars when an ad comes on. When they listen to podcasts, the host-reads feel like a natural extension of the show, so listeners remain attentive.”

This statement is backed by IAB’s study, which revealed that host-read ads accounted for 60 percent of podcast revenue in 2016, compared to pre-produced ads at 40 percent.

In a study from Westwood One in partnership with Advertiser Perceptions, 21 percent of marketers and agencies surveyed reported advertising in podcasts, up from 15 percent in a similar study conducted 9 months earlier. Not far from IAB’s predictions, Bridge Ratings forecasts $207 million in podcast ad revenue for 2017. One thing is for certain—regardless of the subject matter or method of advertising, brands clearly like the sound of podcast marketing.

Acura’s Real-Life Augmented Reality Race Is Inspired By Video Games

Acura created the first-ever, live, augmented reality race, which the car manufacturer livestreamed on Facebook on Monday. The “What A Race” marketing activation was designed to showcase the performance of the 2018 TLX A-Spec sedan.

Jessica Fini, social media manager for American Honda Motor Company, told AListDaily that while 360-degree video and virtual reality are great immersive technologies, they still simulate everything the spectator sees and hears.

“Acura is a premium car brand, and that means we have a number of very real, physical, tangible products we want our audience to experience,” Fini said. “No matter how good a VR simulation is, it’s never going to be as good as actually sitting behind the wheel.”

Fini said AR makes it possible for the brand to combine the premium experience of sitting in and driving an Acura TLX via the immersive worlds and experiences created with real-time gaming engines. The AR technology makes it so the driver can go from Antarctica to the Amazon jungle to erupting volcanoes in the Pacific Rim all in one sitting. At the same time, the smell of a new car, the feeling of being pushed back in the seat when accelerating and the roar of an engine are not simulated sensations—they’re real because they’re created by actually driving the TLX.

Acura enlisted Chuck actor Zachary Levi and technology influencers Sam Gorski, Dom Esposito, Maude Garrett and hosts NSX GT3 racecar driver Ryan Eversley and online personality Bradley Hasemeyer to partake in the livestreamed event.

The car brand leveraged targeted paid media and organic tactics to connect with audiences interested in its brand, as well as those interested in subjects like emerging technology and video gaming. Acura also partnered with a series of influencers who further amplified the experience with their audiences, specifically within Twitter and YouTube. On Facebook Live, Acura allowed viewers to influence the racetrack, connecting the crowd and driver. Through Facebook reactions and comments, viewers opened shortcuts and offered support to drivers while they’re on the tracks. Prompts encouraged fans to use reaction emoji throughout the race, revealing shortcuts and clearing obstacles to influence the course’s landscape.

“Our four competing drivers were not professional drivers, and they didn’t know what they’re getting into,” Fini said. “We had full confidence that all of them would have a great time as they go through the race of a lifetime.”

The idea for “What A Race” came from Acura’s newest feature—super handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD)—which Fini said enhances the driving experience through a series of advanced, real-time calculations of individual wheel velocity, steering angle, engine torque, transmission gear and lateral acceleration to apply the optimal torque distribution at any time during the drive.

“To tell that story, we wanted to combine the precise nature of SH-AWD with the unpredictable nature of an ever-changing racecourse, one where regular drivers get to drive the car in a race consisting of three totally different and uniquely challenging environments,” Fini said.

Acura looked no further than the video game culture to create this real-life AR race.

“Video games had a tremendous influence on this project,” Fini said. “Video game technology is also what enabled Acura to bring this idea to life in the first place. Modern, real-time 3D game engines and the hardware that runs them have become incredibly powerful in recent years, and this gives us great potential for innovative, technology-powered creative work.”

Acura teamed up with AR production firm Current Studios to concept and execute the “What A Race” experience, where drivers wore custom-built race helmets with AR technology embedded in the extra-wide visor, allowing for a full-color high definition, 80-degree viewing experience.

The helmets are connected to a computer in the rear seats that provides the high performance rendering capacity needed to keep the experience running smoothly and visually sharp at high speeds—all powered by the Acura TLX.

“The cutting-edge piece of technology allowed Acura to integrate the real and virtual worlds in a completely new way,” Fini said. “Creatively, that meant the sky was the limit in deciding which environments we wanted to bring the TLX into and how we wanted to test the car in these different environments. We were able to play around with an infinite number of variables when designing the landscape, road layout and driving challenges for each of these worlds.

The Current Studios team patched into the TLX’s ABS system to accurately track the vehicle’s wheel speed and direction. To further mitigate any potential technical snafus during the race, the team custom fabricated a device attached to the undercarriage of the vehicle, allowing the location of the car in the AR world to be automatically reset remotely and quickly, as needed.

“A main pillar of this project was authenticity,” Fini said. “Technology enabled us in bringing the race to the world live, in a way that allowed our audience to interact with the virtual world, without smoke and mirrors. With Facebook Live, overlayed the AR world on top of the racetrack, and suddenly the live audience saw everything the driver was seeing. . . . This made it a truly unique and first-time experience for our audience.”

Square Enix Celebrates ‘Final Fantasy XII’ With Moogle Watch

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a high-definition remaster of the game Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System, originally released in 2007. To celebrate the return of its award-winning title, Square Enix brought fans behind-the-scenes with developer interactions and even adopted some rabbits.

A decade after its initial release, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is available now exclusively on PlayStation 4. In addition to updated graphics, the remastered title now includes trophy support, a newly recorded and arranged soundtrack, new music tracks and improved technical performance. The remastered version also allows players to assign up to two jobs per character for the first time.

Leading up to the game’s release, Square Enix has been active on social media—Twitter and Twitch, especially—to get the fans excited. Final Fantasy fans and newcomers alike have been treated to behind-the-scenes looks at the development, character profiles and weekly excerpts from the newly-recorded soundtrack.

Moogles (aka mogs)—creatures that resemble rabbits with bat wings—are iconic creatures that appear throughout the Final Fantasy universe. Square Enix enlisted the help of fans to welcome five “real life” moogles (rabbits) to their family . . . well, to a rabbit rescue farm, at any rate. The promotion featured a week-long “Moogle Watch” on Twitch, during which fans could watch a livestream of Square Enix’s rabbits doing cute little rabbit things inside a branded enclosure. Viewers at home were encouraged to vote on topics like rabbit names and what to feed them. The campaign has garnered over 2.6 million views as fans tweeted #MoogleWatch and #MoogleName across Twitter to share their delight, especially when rabbits stuck their heads through the moogle cutout.

Final Fantasy is a huge world, and Zodiac Age has a collector’s edition to match. Available only on the Square Enix online store, the Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age Collector’s Edition includes an exclusive Judge Magisters mini bust set, selection of soundtrack music, six art cards, a collectible steelbook and more. Those who pre-ordered the regular version of the game through Amazon received an exclusive Prima digital mini-guide.

Leading up to the launch, Square Enix took fan questions, which were answered by game developers—ranging from the game’s new treasure chests to how to have a social life once the game is finished.

Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age arrives just in time for the franchise’s 30-year anniversary celebration. Square Enix maintained a large presence at Anime Expo, where it hosted autograph sessions, giveaways, a party and a charity auction. Fans were invited to stop by the Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary Lounge to record a message that will be included in a special tribute video.

A special anniversary portal site has been created to keep fans abreast of events and announcements as they take place throughout the year, such as real-life escape challenges and the 68th annual Sapporo Snow Festival, during which an impressive scene from Final Fantasy VII was created featuring characters Cloud and Sephiroth.

‘Total War: Arena’ And Wargaming Alliance Make History Cool

The Total War series is best known for recreating epic-sized historic battles while Wargaming specializes in high-action vehicle combat with games such as World of Tanks. The two come together for the first time to produce a free-to-play multiplayer game Total War: Arena, where 20 players battle each other in 10v10 combat.

Total War: Arena is the first game to be published under the Wargaming Alliance label, which officially launched last fall with the goal of bringing Wargaming’s knowledge and player network to third-party developers that are looking to break into the free-to-play space.

Although previous Total War games included multiplayer, that was not their focus. So, a lot of fans cried out for a multiplayer-only game, and that’s where Total War: Arena came from. “We thought it was a good partnership—joining up with Wargaming—with their free-to-play knowledge and the expertise in that market,” Rob Farrell, Creative Assembly’s lead artist for Total War Arena, told AListDaily. “Since we’re in the historical strategy genre, we thought it would be a great fit.”

Arena will include three factions at launch: Romans, Greeks and Barbarians, with each featuring one of history’s greatest commanders that players can customize to suit their style of play. At E3, Creative Assembly announced Boudica, queen of the Iceni tribe, who wants to get revenge on the Romans. Each player controls three units, and many maps based on historical events. To win, teams must either wipe out the opposing army or capture their enemy base, which is much more difficult than it might sound. Players have to keep in mind multiple strategic variables, flanking positions, terrain and their army’s morale among other aspects. These are some of the features that have made up the core Total War experience in the past, and now they’re being translated to a free-to-play audience.

“There are many differences between a [traditional] Total War title and Total War: Arena,” explained Elliott Lock, the lead battle designer, emphasizing how traditional Total War games focus on the grand campaign, while Arena does away with the campaign altogether. “Total War, as a boxed product, is about the single-player experience, while Total War: Arena is about how you work as a team with everyone else to defeat the enemy.”

Given the relative complexity Total War games are known for, how Arena only lets players control three units each, and that there’s no campaign, we asked Creative Assembly what audience it was trying to reach with Arena.

“To be honest, we really want to make sure the game is accessible,” replied Farrell. “When you come in as a new player, strategy games—never mind Total War games—are a lot for some people to take on, especially if they’re casual players. Even if you’re coming from World of Tanks—that’s a point-and-click game with a first-person perspective. So, we’re looking at ways to introduce people and make the game more accessible with a gentle learning curve. We want to bring more people into Total War and make history cool. That’s kind of our thing. We don’t want it to be a lecture about history.

“It’s like when you see heroes in other games. Commanders were heroes. It’s all there, and we want to bring it out. History is our lore.”

“It’s one of the reasons we joined with Wargaming,” Lock added. “It’s free for everyone. Total War is technically kind of niche, but we still want to keep our fans happy, which is why we have a lot of depth. At the same time, partnering with Wargaming allows us to hit a free-to-play market where more people can enjoy Total War, understand history, and enjoy it. That’s what we’re about.”

Farrell also commented on how difficult it is to control three different units in a multiplayer game, thus keeping with Total War’s reputation for challenging strategic gameplay. As the game grows, competitors will truly see players’ cunning come into play. “You’ll start to see player skill—and I feel like it’s the first time Total War has player skill that you can genuinely see,” he said. “We’ve lowered the floor in terms of accessibility, but we’ve raised the ceiling in terms of skill.”

The game will focus on Ancient Rome at launch, and Creative Assembly plans to focus on this era for the time being. However, Farrell said that other factions and eras aren’t being ruled out. Furthermore, the development team is finishing out the core gameplay before focusing on aspects such as monetization.

“[Monetization] isn’t something that we’re focusing on now because we’re in alpha and we’ve got a great group of core players called the Praetorians, who we listen to for feedback to make sure the game and the abilities are bang-on,” said Farrell. “It’s all about the game right now.”

“It’s about servicing the game, getting feedback, and collaborating with the Praetorians,” Lock added. “We’re seeing what people don’t understand and don’t like, but we’re still making a game that we want to make.”

Creative Assembly relies heavily on its forums to communicate with its community, in addition to releasing developer diaries on YouTube. “The game is powered by the community,” said Lock. “They’re very important to us, and it will continue to be driven by them. What they say matters and we do tell them that. They can be very honest with us, which is great because we listen to them and make changes.”

As for the transition from single release games to developing a Total War game as a 24/7 service, Lock said that “it’s definitely been an interesting challenge. With Total War: Arena, it’s not necessarily about becoming a service, but it’s about producing a game that everyone can enjoy. But with a 24-hour service, one of the difficulties is how we can listen and get everyone on board. That’s what Wargaming is there for. The partnership allows us to collaborate in those difficult moments players have so we can fix their problems and get them back playing.”

Lock explained how the Total War brand was all about epic-scale infantry battles, historical warfare and historical authenticity, which echoes much of what Wargaming sought to accomplish with vehicular combat games such as World of Tanks. In other words, it would be difficult to find two brands that complement each other so well. He also said that Wargaming’s experience running its games a service will be invaluable to developing Total War: Arena.

But in addition to its free-to-play expertise, Wargaming is also known for big esports events such as the World of Tanks Grand Finals, which took place in Moscow in May. Although Lock described Total War: Arena as a kind of “slower MOBA,” in the same way Counter-Strike might be considered a slower-paced shooter compared to Unreal Tournament, he stated that fostering esports isn’t an immediate priority.

“We’re interested in competitive gaming, but at the moment, we’re focused on getting enjoyable battles,” said Lock. “Esports could be a possibility in the future, but it’s not at the top of our list right now. We want to make sure we’re producing a game that people enjoy.”

‘Castlevania’ Sinks Its Teeth Into A Lucrative Cross-Over Market

The Castlevania animated series has officially premiered on Netflix. Although only four episodes long, this R-rated tale of man versus vampire has garnered enough approval from the fans that Netflix immediately ordered a season two.

Inspired by Konami’s classic video game series, Castlevania is a dark medieval fantasy following the last surviving member of the disgraced Belmont clan who must save Eastern Europe from extinction at the hand of Dracula.

In May, Netflix teased the new series with a trailer—the beginning of which was created on an original Nintendo cartridge.

The show’s producer, Adi Shanker, will also bring an Assassin’s Creed animated series to Netflix soon. As a gamer, Shanker feels that video game adaptations tend to be poorly received because those who make them don’t understand the “language” of games.

“Video games are a new and fairly complex language,” Shanker told Mic. “You have to organically have learned the language and if you’re a gamer, then the language comes second nature to you. Older people who have in the past adapted games play the games as research, but you can’t learn the appeal.”

Other game publishers like Microsoft and EA have released films in the Japanese anime style such as Halo: Legends, Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno to promote their IPs. 3D animation is another popular style employed by publishers like Square Enix (Final Fantasy) and Capcom (Resident Evil). In fact, Capcom released Biohazard: Vendetta this summer—the third in a series that, unlike the live-action films, takes place within the Resident Evil/Biohazard video game universe. Additionally, Square Enix released the computer animated movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV to coincide with the launch of the Final Fantasy XV game last year, with both taking place in the same setting and story. Some editions of Final Fantasy XV had the film bundled with it.

Perhaps it is because so many classic games originated in Japan that anime and video games often cross over well. Final Fantasy, Persona, Pokémon, Yo Kai Watch and Naruto are all examples of a Japanese aesthetic that carries over from one genre to another with relative ease.

Rapidly growing distribution platforms such as Crunchyroll, Daisuki, Amazon’s Anime Strike and Netflix resulted in a phenomenal rise of anime distribution in markets beyond Japan—especially the United States—throughout 2016.

The Japanese animation industry is experiencing its fourth “Anime Boom,” according to The Association of Japanese Animations. This boom can be attributed to increases in market channels including internet distribution over the past decade.

The global anime market reached ¥1.8 trillion ($15.9 billion) in 2016, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, the video game market reached $99.6 billion last year, so the Japanese animation industry is probably more than happy to share an engaged and passionate fan base.

Nintendo Discusses Importance Of Brand Touchpoints

Nintendo is on a roll with its Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS consoles. Although some in the industry had counted the Japanese game maker out after Wii U failed to build on the Wii’s global success, they’re singing a different tune now that the company can’t keep up with demand for the Switch.

Nintendo was one of the first game companies to successfully expand its game franchises to merchandise, which has helped the company attract new gamers. Doug Bowser, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, explains to AListDaily how the company continues to market games through multiple touchpoints.

Who is Nintendo targeting today when marketing the Switch?

We continue to target a couple of audiences. We have our Nintendo fans, the active gaming group, and then we have kids and parents. If you look at the copy that we’ve created thus far, the spots have a different tonality and a different look and feel. Some will incorporate more kids and family-oriented games like Arms and Mario Kart together as an example, and others will include more active or core gaming. We’re trying to balance the messaging that way because we believe Nintendo Switch can appeal to a broad audience. If you look at the software that’s coming onto the platform, it runs the gamut in terms of genres. Now our job, from a marketing perspective, is to make sure that each one of those key audiences understands how those titles fits their needs.

What opportunities have social media platforms and livestreaming opened up as marketing vehicles for Nintendo?

We’re still very active in television, but we also have used things like the Directs as a powerful medium. Then we use our social media space to amplify those messages. They become really beneficial for the amplification of the other messages. What you can do with that draw consumers back in to spend more time watching one of those Directs or one of those feeds and learning more about the content itself.

When so many people know Mario, Link and other Nintendo characters, what are the challenges of getting audiences to pick up a Switch?

First of all, the content, even if they know a Mario, it’s got to be a unique Mario experience on Switch. You can see what we’ve done with Super Mario Odyssey—it’s very, different Mario game than we’ve seen in the last few iterations.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great example. People knew Link and the core came quickly, but what’s been amazing is the word-of-mouth perspective of people who have played the game and engaged. The word-of-mouth has expanded so people that have never played a Zelda game before, myself included, are now diving in and embracing the gameplay. There’s always a chance to engage and bring new consumers into your franchises.

How do older generations, who grew up playing Nintendo consoles and now have kids themselves, impact your marketing?

When I talked about the kids and parents campaigns, some of the communications we have is to parents that may not have gamed before. But there’s a bit of nostalgia in some of our advertising for those parents that grew up gaming and now want to introduce it to their kids. It’s another great catalyst to get them to jump in and start bringing their kids to games. What we love about our properties is that so many of them are family and kid friendly, and it’s a great place for parents to engage in gaming with their kids.

How have you seen the success of Nintendo games on mobile devices impact the business, especially since some people thought mobile releases would cannibalize Nintendo 3DS sales?

The 3DS business continues to be strong. It was the only platform last year that grew year-over-year across all platform developers. What we’ve seen is that they’re complementary. When we launched Pokémon GO with Niantic, there was a direct impact on Pokémon hardware and software sales increasing. Mobile games actually bring new players into the franchises. They engaged in that content and wanted more of that experience, so their next purchase was more of the dedicated handheld and software side.

It seems like there’s more Nintendo merchandise out now than ever before. What role does retail merchandizing featuring Nintendo characters play for the brand today?

There’s a bit more. We’re making a conscious effort at retail right now to really improve our footprint overall because that’s a great touchpoint. For us, it’s a marketing touchpoint. It’s a chance for consumers to learn more about Nintendo properties and help our retailers sell Nintendo content. One thing we are trying to do when you say you see more is we are trying to bring together hardware, software, our accessories and even other licensed goods, because there are other licensed goods in the stores. Products like t-shirts, backpacks and other properties that we’re trying to bring into that section allow people to experience more of Nintendo and it exposes the brand a little bit better at retail.

The last few Nintendo E3 booths have been like theme parks. What impact do you see the Universal Studios Nintendo theme parks having on the brand?

One of our goals is to increase the amount of touchpoints that consumers have with Nintendo. That’s how you drive and grow the franchise and bring more people into our various forms of gaming. Universal is going to be a great example of that with the number of people that walk through a Universal theme park every year. A lot of them are younger kids who may not have picked up a 3DS yet, may not have a Switch at home, or may not have played on the mobile device. It introduces that IP and those characters to them and they embrace that. Then it helps us to expand that ecosystem, so they start coming more into our dedicated gaming business or into our mobile business.

Crytek Aims To Keep Players On Edge With ‘Hunt: Showdown’

In 2014, Crytek first announced Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age as a four-person cooperative shooter set in the 1880s where players come together to hunt monsters. But the company suffered financial difficulties, and the project was moved from Crytek Austin to the main studio in Frankfurt, Germany where it appeared to be forgotten.

Dennis Schwarz, lead designer for Hunt: Showdown; Crytek

However, looks are deceiving. In May, Crytek revealed that it was reviving the game, but renamed to Hunt: Showdown, and it would no longer be a cooperative third-person shooter. Instead, two players band together in an arena-like competition with other teams (up to 10 players per match) to track down a monster, defeat it, and escape with its loot. Alternatively, players can decide to skip the monster altogether and either hunt other players or interfere with their plans to steal the loot for themselves.

It’s a major departure from the original concept, but one that fits in nicely with the current trend of battle royale survival games such as Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Hunt: Showdown mixes genres by being both a horror game and a survival game.

Hunt leans toward different genres,” Dennis Schwarz, lead designer for Hunt: Showdown, told AListDaily. “We tried to marry the feeling of an open world survival sandbox game with the match-based structure of other titles. We brought these two worlds together to bring you the sensation of 360-degrees of danger, but there’s also directional focus as you go out and find the clues that will lead you to the target.”

Crytek showcased early gameplay to select members of the press during E3, which was the first major debut for the revamped game. The giant map is comprised of one square kilometer, set in the swamps of Louisiana. Target creatures can be found almost anywhere in this space, and a contract might even include multiple targets. However, players need to be careful with their actions, because the sound of gunfire might give away your location, attracting both rival hunters and nearby monsters. Players that die will lose their gear, but they will pass on genetic traits that will benefit successive characters.

Schwarz pointed out that although players can attack each other, they won’t be able to loot each other for gear, since the emphasis should be on hunting monsters and not necessarily each other. That being the case, new players will encounter veteran ones while exploring the swamps so that they can aspire to become great hunters themselves. Furthermore, players can strategically follow other teams around and steal the bounty after they’ve done all the work.

While discussing the radical shift from being a cooperative game to a competitive one, Schwarz said, “Originally, the game started in our Austin studio as a third-person four-player co-op game. We’ve taken it to the Frankfurt studio, where all the veterans of the Crysis series is located, and we thought it would help tremendously to put it into the first-person. It’s more engaging and puts you down in the action. Also, we thought that putting in PvP (Player-vs-Player) would add the thrill of survival games with an unpredictable element. By combining the PvP with the monsters, we end up with some really interesting gameplay. In our testing, very few matches play out in the same way because of the unpredictability that the players bring.”

Schwarz added that the sense of permanent death (permadeath) in a match is essential to the new format because it keeps players on their toes. “There needs to be a fear of loss because you play very differently if you’re about to lose something, and you have to gamble with your character,” he said.

According to Schwarz, the reception to the new gameplay format has been very good. The press was given a detailed presentation about how Hunt has evolved and Crytek made sure people understood how the game was unique. It also helps that battle royale-style survival games are very popular right now.

“Survival games are kind of in vogue right now, with a lot of great games out there,” Schwarz observed. “It seems like we’re hitting a nerve there. We’re positioning ourselves very closely to some of these games, which wasn’t planned, but it’s great to see that there’s strong potential for these types of games.”

No launch window has been announced for Hunt: Showdown, as Crytek is working to iron out the gameplay. However, Schwarz did confirm that the game would be releasing for the PC platform first and it won’t be a free-to-play game.

Crytek is already working to build up a community for Hunt, which will play a critical role in developing the game. “We want to work closely with the community in order to drive this game forward,” said Schwarz. “We want to see how people respond to it, and it will be a very open and active relationship with our community.”

Uber Is Still In The Driver’s Seat Among Millennials; Email Marketing With Emoji

This week in marketing statistics, we take a look at cord-cutting behavior, artificial intelligence as it relates to marketing and how an emoji can affect email open rates.

Uber Remains Über

Despite a string of company controversies, Uber’s public opinion among millennials has improved the most, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex. The new report ranks brands that saw the biggest gains in converting millennial consumers into current customers. (“Customer” is defined as one who has bought a product or visited the brand’s website within the last 30 days.) Rounding out the top five are Instagram, Lyft, Snapchat and TLC.

The Emoji Email Effect

Emoji may be a fun tool to communicate with friends and family, but email marketing consultant Return Path found that certain emoji result in higher email open rates. The firm reviewed using global consumer data consisting of over 17,000 commercial senders, two million consumer panelists and 5.4 billion commercial email messages sent to Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and AOL users between March 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017 to determine which emoji were most effective, if at all.

Adding a hamburger emoji to marketing emails for Independence Day resulted in a read rate of 25 percent, compared to an American flag and fireworks at 21 percent each.

Virtual Barriers

Entry-level augmented-and-virtual reality is available and affordable, so what is the biggest barrier to consumer adoption? According to a study of 3,000 consumers across the US, UK and Germany by marketing firm Vibrant Media, the biggest barrier is the need for additional software, apps and hardware.

The second biggest barrier, according to the study, is lack of awareness of where to find AR/VR content. Fear of drain on a user’s internet allowance was the third-biggest concern among respondents. If they were to experience AR/VR, exploring travel and holiday destinations came out on top of the respondent wish list, followed by events such as concerts or sporting events.

Spending Time With OTT

OTT programming is changing the way consumers watch television. ComScore’s “State of OTT” report reveals that half of US wi-fi households stream an average of one hour and 40 minutes per day of OTT content like Netflix. In fact, Netflix accounts for 40 percent of this activity, comScore reports, followed by YouTube (18 percent), Hulu (14 percent) and Amazon Video (seven percent).

Making An AI Impact

More than half of marketers agree that AI will have a substantial effect on their efforts over the next five years, according to a study by CRM technology provider SalesForce. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they expect AI will improve the efficiency of campaign analytics, digital asset management and the collection of business insights across data and systems.

US: Home Of The Smart Home

According to Futuresource, the United States has the highest smart home penetration, with 38 percent of survey respondents saying they had at least one. The firm’s survey of more than 4,000 people across the US, UK, France and Germany also found that home security devices are the most popular type for first-time installers.

Political Distraction

If you noticed a surge of fake or inflammatory news appearing alongside President Trump’s visit to Poland Thursday, you’re not alone. Major news days are a haven for such content. In March, digital media authentication service DoubleVerify blocked over 85 million ads from serving adjacent to inflammatory news—a 250 percent increase from January 2017. The company works with sites like Facebook and Snapchat to moderate the viewability of questionable content.

DoubleVerify reports that the volume of fake news more than doubled in France during its 2017 presidential election, and Italy saw a 75 percent increase in fake news around major political or terrorist-related events.

Promotion Or Piracy? Brand Awareness Through Fan-Made Games

Fan-made games help build awareness around IPs, but publishers must draw the line between free promotion and piracy. Sixty-nine percent of millennials named brand recognition as the most important driver of brand loyalty, according to a study by NewsCred, so learning about a brand through its fans couldn’t hurt . . . could it?

Halo certainly doesn’t need help with brand awareness, but that didn’t stop developer 343 Industries from allowing a fan game to continue undaunted.

Installation 01 is an “artistic tribute” to Halo that aims to recreate classic multiplayer experiences for Windows, Mac, and Linux players. The creative team behind the project has been especially careful to follow Halo‘s Game Content Usage Rules to the letter—something that, for now, has garnered legal approval from 343 Industries.

“We’re going to say that [343 Industries] support[s] us as potential fans just as you all support the project right now,” the Installation 01 team shared on the project website. “They like what they see from the project, and they are certainly open to playing with us.”

While Half-Life fans dream of a third installment to the series, Valve has approved an unofficial spin-off called Prospekt in the meantime. Developed first as a job application by fan Richard Seabrook, the project was officially green-lit by Half-Life developer and Steam proprietor Valve for publication last year. But unlike Installation 01, however, Seabrook and his team are allowed to earn money.

“They said, yep, this is all yours,” Seabrook told Wired. “The only thing I couldn’t use was the voice acting. But they said, yep, go for it, you can use all the IPs, you can take stuff from multiple IPs, you can do whatever you want.”

Video games inspire fans to express themselves in a myriad of ways from cosplay to fan art, music, film and (of course) games. While publishers appreciate and encourage most tributes, playable games fall into a legal area that may promote and threaten an IP at the same time.

Nintendo will not hesitate to defend its famous games and characters, as it did with Project AM2R, a fan-created remake of Metroid 2. After working on the title for eight years, a cease and desist letter brought the project to a grinding halt.

During E3 this year, Nintendo announced an official remake of Metroid 2 called Metroid: Samus Returns. When asked about the since-canceled fan project, Nintendo president, Reggie Fils-Aimé explained the company’s reasoning.

“I think there needs to be clarity in what the line is, and, in our view, the line is when an initiative crosses from being an homage to something that is monetizing our IP,” Fils-Aimé told Vice. We allow homages to exist in a variety of different ways. And, for me personally—as a fan before I was an executive, I understand the attraction that you could have to our IP. But, when it transitions to something that . . . you’re trying to profit off of, that is what broaches or breaks through that line for us, where we have to claim our IP protection.”

Similarly, Square Enix pulled the plug on a number of Chrono Trigger fan projects, and Activision Blizzard issued a cease and desist letter to one fan over a Starcraft MMO mod.

Modifications, or “mods,” use an existing game’s framework to change elements or even create a whole new game. Some of the most popular games fans have modified and shown on livestreams include Grand Theft Auto V, Minecraft and Unreal Tournament.

Epic Games, the developer behind Unreal Engine 4 and Unreal Tournament, the engine’s namesake, not only allows modding but encourages it.

“There is no limit to what you can do,” Stacey Conley, community manager for Unreal Tournament told AlistDaily. “Modding also offers a sense of community to those who love games, and are interested in how they are made, learning by using actual development tools like Unreal Engine 4. Teams form, and some go on to create their own games.” To underscore the point, some of today’s most prominent games, particularly Counter-StrikeDota and even PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds started as mods.

Analyst Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData, agrees in the value of allowing fan creativity.

“Fan-created video games are a key component in the way that an IP-holder will create value today,” he told AListaily. “If you look at titles like Minecraft, it is immediately clear that ‘opening’ things up to players and fans ultimately benefits everyone. However, the traditional mindset among publishers has been to aggressively protect their IP from dilution, and in the traditional capital intensive product-based business that made sense. But that has changed with the popularization of games as a service.”