Global Ad Spending Forecast Shrinks; Engagement On Instagram Increasing Dramatically

Zenith has lowered its global ad-spending forecast for 2017 and 2018, reducing their growth prediction from 4.2 percent to a flat 4 percent.

“Advertising expenditure grew ahead of the wider economy for the third consecutive year in 2016, but we expect it to fall behind over the next three years,” Zenith stated.

GroupM has also released a more conservative estimate, dropping their expected growth from 4.4 percent to just 3 percent.

User engagement with Instagram videos is growing faster than with photos, according data from NewsWhip, increasing 53 percent from 2016, as compared to 46 percent for photos.

This year saw a flattening of growth for mobile video consumption, per the Global Video Index. Additionally, long-form (20 minutes or more) video content now represents the most-consumed segment across all platforms, with mobile devices leading the trend.

“Much of that is due to the increasing amount of premium content that services are now making available to all devices,” the report notes, adding: “As longer content becomes more prevalent, an increasing number of users—across all demographics—are as comfortable watching longer form content on smaller screens as they are watching it on big screens. And they’re simply watching more content in general.”

Biometric technology will be fully integrated into the smartphone market in the near future, according to research by Acuity Market Intelligence. Their data reveals that by 2019, 100 percent of smartphones, 96 percent of wearables and 83 percent of tablets will integrate biometrics in some way. Acuity also predicts that all three categories will reach full saturation by 2020.

Consumers are not yet ready to rely on fingerprinting or facial recognition to replace current payment options. A survey by Paysafe found that 40 percent of consumers think biometric solutions are unsafe in their current state. This is not a death blow to payment innovation, however: 54 percent responded that they will not need to carry cash by 2020 and 57 percent reported that they use mobile wallets “much more” than they did two years ago.

Research by Forrester indicates that half of all online shopping goes through marketplaces like Amazon, Alibaba and eBay. Forrester further predicts this figure to rise to two-thirds in the next five years.

Millennials value sales associates much more than baby boomers, a study by ChargeItSpot found. Of the 600 shoppers surveyed, 66 percent of millennials found interaction with employees “extremely important,” while 22 percent of baby boomers claimed it was “extremely unimportant.”

PwC has released a new report on digital advertising toward children, forecasting the market to grow to $1.2 billion by 2019, accounting for 28 percent of all kid-directed advertising. The report attributes the rapid growth to shrinking TV watching among young children.

“Today kids are spending time on apps, games, online video, [streaming video on demand],” Dylan Collins, SuperAwesome’s CEO, told The Drum. “Virtually any free content producer (e.g., most game developers) survives by including ads in their games.”

Research by New Yes Lifestyle Marketing indicates that consumers are 50 percent more likely to open emails with a personalized subject line than one without. The report defined personalization as subject lines including the recipient’s name or a previously purchased or browsed item, and went on to state that only 2 percent of marketing emails include such personalization. Their report also concluded that subject lines shorter than 20 characters drive a 31 percent higher-than-average open rate.

Public relations firm MWW released a report on “corpsumers,” which it defined as consumers that value a company’s values, actions and reputations as much as its products. These brand activists make up 33 percent of the adult American population, and are more likely to be well-educated, high-income millennials or Gen Z. Of the corpsumers MWW identified, 89 percent claimed that they would share positive news about companies, and 79 percent reported they would share negative news.

The GSMA has released revenue projections for the IoT, and they are astronomical. According to their report, global earnings for the IoT will reach $1.8 trillion by 2026. Of that number, $534 billion is projected to come from the Americas region. Their research also predicts that mobile IoT networks will reach 862 million connections by 2022.

Podcast industry revenues will hit $220 million this year, according to PwC research, an 85 percent growth from last year. Income last year was a relatively modest $119 million.

Millennials are moving away from live TV, according to a study by the Consumer Technology Association, 55 percent of respondents reported a preference for self-recorded and on-demand TV, compared to 45 percent who enjoyed live broadcasts. This number drops off dramatically for those outside the age bracket, with only 35 percent of those 35-years-and-over preferring time-shifted content.

eMarketer has revised its predictions for the growth of cord-cutters in 2017, increasing the number from 15.4 million to 22.2 million. Additionally, it estimates that the amount of people who have never had a cable subscription will grow by 5.8 percent to 34.4 million.

As a result, eMarketer has lowered its estimate for US TV ad spending by more than $1 billion, from $72.72 to $71.65 billion for the 2017 fiscal year.

According to a new report by Deloitte, a full 80 percent of shoppers have researched grocery products online, accounting for 51 percent of all grocery purchases last year. Additionally, almost 30 percent of survey respondents claimed to trying products based on online recommendations and reviews.

Marketing technology accounts for 16 percent of marketing budgets this year, per market analysis by WARC. The market currently is currently worth $34.3 billion annually.

A new report by MMGY Global revealed that road trip-style vacations have increased by 77 percent from last year, and have jumped from 22 percent of all domestic travel in 2016 to 39 percent in 2017. Furthermore, expenditures during road trip travel have increased in the past year from $66 billion to $113 billion.

Jobs requiring social skills have been the least affected by automation, as found by a study in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Between 1980 and 2012, jobs requiring high levels of social skills grew by 11.8 percent, while fields requiring high math and low social skills shrank by 3.3 percent over the same period.

Word-of-mouth influence is much more common among millennial men, a study by Engagement Labs found. Members of the demographic group have, on average, 12 brand-related conversations per day, as compared to 6 for men ages 40–69 and 10 for millennial women. The study also found that millennial men were 26 percent more likely to talk about ads they’d seen than millennial women.

The gulf between mobile and desktop searches is widening, according to a report by BrightEdge Research. Mobile devices and tablets accounted for 57 percent of all Google searches in 2017. The study also revealed that users’ search goals differ greatly across platforms: 79 percent of search queries ranked differently between mobile and desktop.

The National Retail Federation has lowered its sales forecast for the year, dropping their growth projection from 3.7–4.2 to 3.2–3.8 percent. The prediction applies only to retail stores, excluding car, gas station and restaurant sales from the figure.

MediaRadar has released a new report on digital video ads, revealing that 60 percent of sites autoplay the majority of their video ads, despite recent efforts by Google to punish sites that use the tactic.

Reports by Journalist’s Resource that streaming services don’t actually combat piracy: college students that stream music are 11.4 percent more likely to illegally download music. The largest factors impacting the results are beliefs that the practice is not risky and that it does not harm the original artist. Demographic factors such as gender, income and college major had no significance on piracy rates.


How Beefing Is The Secret Sauce For Wendy’s On Social Media

The Twittersphere loves following someone whose feed is filled with scorching hot takes—not you, Donald!

More times than not, that doesn’t include brands—whose lukewarm tone from corporate bots shilling products and services tend to turn users away with a one-way ticket straight toward the unfollow button.

But not Wendy’s, who’ve been bringing the beef through a menu of fearless manners—namely through a fresh and tasty persona on Twitter that borders between cheekily entertaining and trolling.

James Bennett, senior director of media and social for Wendy’s, told AListDaily that its celebrated online brand image was born a few years ago when its leadership team and agency partners decided that it was time to not to take themselves too seriously anymore. So, they realigned the quick service restaurant’s tone and voice into something more sharp and playful.

“Wendy’s was founded on a commitment to serve fresh, quality food, but that’s not to say that Wendy’s doesn’t like to share its personality,” Bennett said. “Wendy’s definitely has a witty sense of humor, but we try and keep our interactions lighthearted. If something feels like it’s veering too far away from that, we step back and reevaluate the communications.”

Bennett says the brand has put plenty of work into its flame-throwing voice, identifying what and how it should grill—er—communicate with fans.

“When it comes to our products, we banter in the spirit of food quality and try to keep our focus around that,” he says. “Social media is a learning ground for our team and we’re always challenging ourselves to be true to the Wendy’s voice. We try and inspire two things on social media—awareness on what Wendy’s was founded on, and genuine relationships and interactions with fans.”

Having a relevant voice on social media is just a fraction of the work quick service restaurants are putting into reinventing their images for younger consumers who have deviated away from the drive-thru for more healthier, hip and more Instagrammable options.

Earlier this spring, when 16-year-old Carter Wilkerson asked the restaurant how many retweets it would take to earn him a year’s supply of free chicken nuggets, Wendy’s gave him a seemingly impossible number: 18 million. In short order, #NuggsForCarter was born, and the saucy story went viral.

“No one could have predicted the phenomenon that was #NuggsForCarter,” Bennett says. “But we feel part of the secret to why it got so big was that we let go of the reigns and let Carter do his thing without us getting in the way or commercializing it. He’s a great kid, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know his entire family. We enjoy seeing our customers’ passion for the brand and that’s just not something we can put a dollar value behind.”

Analysts calculated that the #NuggsForCarter Twitterstorm meant over $7 million in earned media value for Wendy’s.

Of course, not all back-and-forth banter with Wendy’s, named after the daughter of chain founder David Thomas, ends with a sweet story. Quick service brethren have felt the fiery wrath and the no-punches-pulled burns that Red has brutally brought.

“With the infinite number of conversations taking place on social, there’s some risk determining which space to play in,” Bennett says. “There’s definitely a line of what is right for Wendy’s brand and voice. Our job is to ensure we’re going after the right subject matter, and that our tone and words contribute to a unified voice.”

With all of the highs, there are lows as well—the brand has fumbled interactions from time-to-time with its salty zingers. In response to a customer earlier this year, the company posted a meme of Pepe the Frog, a reaction meme that was adopted as a white nationalist symbol and was deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.

Bennett says the brand’s foremost lesson since evolving with its overall voice and direction—which is, as the cool kids say, “savage AF”—is learning that they’re comfortable in their own skin as being purpose-driven and confident with their social interactions.

“It’s important to our team that Wendy’s interjects when appropriate and contributes to conversations that we can authentically be a part of,” Bennett says. “There are a variety of cultural interests and passions on the team that allow us to be relevant on lots of topics. But what it really comes down to is that we trust each other and have fun together—that’s what makes our campaigns successful.”

Marketers are increasingly using feedback from their communities to influence their products, and Wendy’s says that’s definitely true for the restaurant chain, as it frequently take cues from the over two million fans they engage with on Twitter.

“It’s one of the reasons we’re so concerned with how we approach our fans,” Bennett says. “We’ve found success by engaging with our customers in a very human way—finding out their likes, dislikes and genuine interests. This means we listen to fans to foster an interactive connection.”

In the past, Wendy’s has even created spots based off of fan engagement from tweets by tapping the likes of Nick Lachey to croon, “Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger Love Songs.”

“We’ve had to find the right balance of talking about our brand while respecting customers’ space and engaging them in conversations they actually want to have with us,” Bennett says. “Our team tries to keep the momentum building from within. With so much content out there, of course there’s inspiration everywhere, but it’s Wendy’s hint of sass that we compete against. It’s like we’re constantly trying to one-up our last witty remark.”

‘Best Fiends’ Animated Shorts Boost Emotional Engagement For Games

The relationship between games and animated films and videos has always had a close relationship, and animated shorts have proved to be an incredibly effective way to engage fans with their favorite game characters, as evidenced by Blizzard’s Overwatch shorts.

Mobile game developer Seriously, which makes the Best Fiends puzzle game series, has taken advantage of that trend and released two original animated shorts on YouTube over the past months to extend the Best Fiends world, where cute little Fiends battle against Slugs.

Matt McMahon, SVP of business development at Seriously Digital Entertainment

“At Seriously, we try to create worlds on mobile,” Matt McMahon, senior vice president of business development at Seriously Digital Entertainment, told AListDaily. “What that means is that we are trying to create intellectual properties and entertainment brands that have great characters, stories and worlds that happen to come to life first as mobile phone games.”

The first short is “Boot Camp,” which involves two Slug army cadets named Hank and Roger, who end up getting a lesson in defeat. The video took in over 6.4 million views when it released in May, and it boosted profits for Seriously in the months following the launch.

The second one was “Visit Minutia” and features an all-star voice cast that includes Pamela Adlon (Better Things, Californication), Mark Hamill (Star Wars), David Herman (Office Space), Maurice LaMarche (Futurama, Zootopia), Kate Walsh (13 Reasons Why, Grey’s Anatomy) and Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars, Batman). In it, the Fiends go on a vacation and discover that Slugs are the worst tourists in the world. “Visit Minutia” got over one million views within two weeks of launching.

McMahon explained how Seriously loves the direct connection mobile games have with their players, and the company fosters engagement through frequent updates, push notifications and social media. Seriously puts a great deal of focus on the characters from its games, and it decided to extend that theme beyond mobile games to original scripted videos—giving the characters a chance to come to life and speak while showing more of the world.

“We have a lot of stories to tell in Best Fiends,” said McMahon, describing how the company decided to produce an animated series to deepen the experience with the brand and its characters. “The game is only the tip of the iceberg, and you can only tell so much with it, and we think there’s a ton more to tell with the epic struggle between the Fiends and the Slugs on Minutia. There’s a lot more material behind it that underpins the games but are hard to express there. Videos are great because we can introduce new characters, new parts of the world and hopefully make you laugh.”

The series is being released on YouTube, but players are made aware of them through the Best Fiends games. McMahon said that partnering with animation studio Reel FX to make high-quality shorts helps these animations stand out against competing content. Seriously has even promoted them like movie premieres, complete with teaser videos on social media. Quality also encourages players to share the videos on social media, extending awareness of the brand, and McMahon confirmed that the videos successfully brought in new players.

“We’ve had over 1.2 million shares from the game to users’ Facebook pages via the YouTube link,” said McMahon. “That’s phenomenal. That’s our fans telling their friends that this is something that they’re passionate about, and it’s recommended content because it’s on their Facebook pages.”

According to McMahon, there was a huge spike in both engagement and monetization during the months of June and July following “Boot Camp,” which released just before Memorial Day. Even though he admitted that it’s hard to directly attribute that rise to the video, the developers know that—based on fan reception, comments and shares—the video was driving new people to the game while re-engaging old fans through corresponding in-game events that were timed with the video release.

Meanwhile, the related in-game events help drive monetization. For example, players who play the “Boot Camp” event have an extra emotional connection if they do so right after watching the video.

“I think there’s an emotional connection when you watch a video that’s of feature quality and looks like it could be a movie. You say to yourself, ‘all this time and love I’ve put into this little mobile phone game—there could be something more there. The people who make that game love their property as much as I do. They love it enough to make these great videos, and clearly invest a lot of time, effort and love into them.’ I think it just makes our core fan base feel really good about the whole experience, which might lead them to spend a little more time and money.”

McMahon said that these in-game events can pay for the production of videos, which was the case for “Boot Camp,” which brought in revenue that exceeded the budget of the short. Given their success, Seriously will continue to release more videos on a regular basis, although the exact details such as the release schedule, how they relate to each other and their overall length, are still being worked out.

“Suffice it to say, we’re going to take video as seriously as we take games,” McMahon explained. “We see it as a great channel to build out the IP, complement the game and tell more stories.”

One of the lessons Seriously learned from the first videos is that story needs to come first. McMahon said that the company will be ambitious with its video plans, but it needs to ensure that the stories are right first—featuring subversive comedy that’s appropriate for families from around the world to enjoy.

Although Seriously plans on sticking to short-form animations for the foreseeable future, it is exploring the possibility of longer-form animations and different distribution channels.

“I think now is a time in Hollywood where that’s a very fertile ground,” said McMahon. “There are a lot of dynamic players in that space and there are a lot of folks looking for new content, and we think our content, world and IP stack up very well to a lot of what’s out there. Like I said, we want to take the video business as seriously as we take the games business, and we think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

McMahon commented on whether Seriously saw itself competing against Angry Birds creator Rovio—which launched its IPO in September and also has roots in Helsinki, Finland—in becoming a full media company. He acknowledged the similarities between the two companies, but there are key differences as to how Seriously approaches its stories and how the animated shorts tie in with the game.

“I think we’ve always seen ourselves as a media company,” said McMahon. “IP, brand and story creation has always been at the heart [of what we do], and that’s been in the DNA of the company from the start. Mobile games are the ways to get our properties out first and foremost—it’s where we have great expertise, and we have world-class people. We have world-class people now attacking the video business, doing our brand marketing and our influencer marketing, but games will always be the core hub of opportunities for the brand.”

Mountain Dew, Doritos Are Hosting Xbox One X Online Auctions

Mountain Dew and Doritos are teaming up to help Microsoft market the Xbox One X console this fall ahead of the November 7 launch.

The two brands have launched a promotion that offers gamers the ability to collect codes on specially marked Doritos snacks and Mountain Dew flavors, including two new limited edition flavors of Game Fuel—Arctic Burst and Tropical Smash. The “Every 60 Seconds” promotion features an online auction program that will give gamers the opportunity to win one of thousands of Xbox One X consoles.

Chauncey Hamlett, senior director of marketing at Mountain Dew

The contest kicks off September 25, allowing customers to bank codes. Starting October 23, each code enters the player into a sweepstake to win an Xbox One X. Then between November 6 and December 15, those points can be used in daily online auctions to win the new console, games and other Xbox prizes.

Chauncey Hamlett, senior director of marketing at Mountain Dew, told AListDaily that the brand saw a lot of success last time it collaborated on an online auction. That promotion gave fans a chance to win an Xbox One in 2013.

“We got over eight million bids from consumers across the country during the ‘Every 2 Minutes’ program,” Hamlett recalled. “It was a campaign that stood out to us because our fans loved it—and we’re looking forward to bringing it back to give them access to one of the most anticipated gaming consoles of the decade. It was an easy decision for us.”

Millions of Mountain Dew products, including Game Fuel, and specially marked bags of Doritos, will include codes at retail.

“Today’s gamers are looking for exciting moments and access to the hottest releases, which is exactly what we’re providing them with through our ‘Every 60 Seconds’ program,” Hamlett said. “It’s fast-paced and provides a ton of opportunity for fans to get their hands on the new Xbox One X. We’ll also have the addition of some exciting offline ways to win an Xbox One X that taps into our fans’ competitive spirits.”

Hamlett said there will be a 360 campaign that connects with gamers across a variety of touchpoints, including in-store, social and digital media and experiential activation. In addition to the “Every 60 Seconds” program, the brand will be announcing other ways for consumers to get their hands on the new Xbox One X in the coming weeks.

Mountain Dew officially teased the campaign this past weekend at the NASCAR race in Richmond, where driver Chase Elliott drove his No. 24 Chevrolet SS with a custom “Every 60 Seconds” paint scheme.

“It’s always exciting when we see natural overlap between the platforms we support—NASCAR and gaming,” Hamlett explained. “In this case, we knew Chase had a history with gaming and saw a natural opportunity for him to be part of the program.”

Hamlett said the Dew and Doritos brands have always looked to make strong connections and drive awareness behind each of their programs with the core gaming community and mainstream consumers.

“Microsoft has been able to generate incredible demand for their Xbox console over the years from a similar type of audience, and we’re excited to be offering consumers a chance to get their hands on the new Xbox One X,” Hamlett added.

Since 2009, Mountain Dew has been active in the marketing of key games, which are typically featured on new Game Fuel flavors. Past games include Titanfall 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Halo 4. The 20oz bottles and 12-packs of 12oz cans of Mountain Dew Game Fuel for this year will feature imagery from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s upcoming game Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Turn Ten Studios’ Forza Motorsport 7.

“As in years past, we want to make sure that the titles featured on Game Fuel flavors resonate with our gamers, and these are certainly two of the most highly anticipated games,” Hamlett said. “Mountain Dew Game Fuel and Doritos are the products gamers turn to most during the heat of competition and will continue to do so during the ‘Every 60 Seconds’ program. As we look to the future, we have some really exciting innovations planned for the Game Fuel line that will be a game changer for our fans.”

Earlier this year, Mountain Dew announced the sponsorship of three global esports powerhouses—Dignitas, Splyce and SK—and launched the second season of the Mountain Dew League, giving amateur esports competitors a chance to become pros.

“For more than a decade, our gaming fans have known that they can always expect the latest and greatest from Dew and Doritos, and we’ve been able to build a strong relationship with them throughout the years,” Hamlett said. “We were successful with the ‘Every 2 Minutes’ program in 2013, and look forward to even better success through the ‘Every 60 Seconds’ campaign in 2017.”

Apple’s iOS 11 Update Fuels Competition For Augmented Reality Gaming

Apple’s annual keynote placed a heavy focus on the integration of augmented reality (AR) that begins with its big software update on September 19. IOS 11 will introduce ARKit and AR capabilities to hundreds of millions of iPhones worldwide—creating a race for developers to create and market the next Pokémon GO.

Demonstrations during the Apple Event included other uses for AR, such as enhancing a baseball game with stats or identifying constellations in real-time. However, it was in mobile AR gaming that the demonstration really shines.

Directive Games’ upcoming real-time strategy game The Machines renders a digital battlefield on top of any real table, where players control the action through an iPhone camera. Players will be able to battle one another in the same room or in online multiplayer. Even the sound is location-based—adapting sound levels and clarity based on where the player is standing in relation to the virtual action.

Games currently account for 82 percent of the mobile AR market’s total revenue, SuperData reports, so Apple is well-positioned to profit from iOS 11’s new features.

“By bringing AR to 400 million devices with the release of iOS 11, Apple’s phones will contribute a hefty chunk of this year’s mobile AR revenue of almost $1 billion,” predicted Stephanie Llamas, VP of research and strategy for SuperData Research in a statement. “Games will be a major driver for growth to start since they have the most obvious monetization model (free-to-play microtransactions versus upfront premium purchases).”

The mobile AR market is projected to grow from $1.01 billion in 2017 to $18.69 billion by 2020, according to SuperData. By 2020, games will account for 18 percent of the mobile AR market’s total revenue.

Apple’s focus on AR is fueling a sort of “space race” to bring the best AR game technology to market. Google showed off its ARCore developer tool mere weeks ahead of Apple’s keynote. ARCore enables augmented reality features on regular smartphones as opposed to high-end devices such as the Asus ZenFone AR, which uses Google Tango hardware. The tools also support Unreal Engine and Unity, two of the top game engines in use today.

A mixed reality Halo experience is in the works from Microsoft, along with other game-related AR/VR projects, to accompany the launch of new mixed reality headsets such as the Dell Visor. In addition, Windows Mixed Reality PCs will hit retailers this holiday season to “support today’s immersive video and gaming experiences.”

“Mixed Reality is the future, and we want everyone on the journey with us,” Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman wrote on the company blog.

Since December, Snapchat has hosted a number of AR games, beginning with sponsored activations and holiday-themed challenges. Snapchat Lenses led the way in terms of AR engagement, but the company will have to keep up if they are to remain competitive—especially against its biggest rival, Facebook.

Facebook’s new Camera Effects Platform allows anyone to create AR filters for fun or profit. While silly masks are always a popular choice for such effects, the gaming implications are obvious. In fact, gaming giant Electronic Arts—one of the top three game companies this year—is among the first Facebook camera effects platform beta partners.

Competition often yields bigger and better products for consumers to enjoy, and the race is on. The video game industry can only profit from the advancement of AR technology—and according to SuperData, games revenue is predicted to increase from $0.83 billion in 2017 to $3.4 billion in 2020.

‘Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night’ Grows Past Its ‘Castlevania’ Legacy

Koji Igarashi (who is often referred to as “Iga”) made a name for himself at Konami in the 1990s as a programmer, writer and assistant director for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night before becoming lead producer for the series until 2011’s Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.

Although there have been numerous Castlevania games since then have abandoned the side-scrolling style, his name is still closely associated with the classic series and original gameplay design. So much so that he often brings a leather whip (the signature weapon of the Castlevania series) with him to events.

Koji Igarashi, ArtPlay co-founder and producer for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

When Igarashi left Konami in 2014 to found ArtPlay, the company’s first project was Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which was brought to Kickstarter in 2015 as a spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night. The Kickstarter campaign was meant to demonstrate how there was still a high demand for classic side scrolling “metroidvania” (a term that combines the game Metroid with Castlevania) action games, which was proven by how it raised over $5.5 million from backers (more than 11 times the original $500,000 goal).

Bloodstained became the most funded video game in Kickstarter’s history until it was dethroned a month later by Shenmue III.

Speaking with AListDaily, Igarashi described Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as “an old-school 2D exploration-based action side scroller.” The horror game, set in 18th century England, is expected to release next year. Players will be able to take the role of Miriam—a girl who fights demons summoned by a man named Gebel, who was once her dear friend. While she’s fighting demons, Miriam must also overcome a curse that is slowly turning her skin into crystal.

“The gameplay is 2D with 3D graphics. We’re aiming to create rich music and art for the game,” said Igarashi, who is producing Bloodstained. “I am hoping to deliver a game that promises a reassuring and consistent gameplay that defines this genre.”

Although Bloodstained is largely crowdfunded, Igarashi announced last fall that 505 Games would handle the game’s marketing and publishing.

“505 Games believes in our work and lets us develop freely,” said Igarashi, discussing whether or not publisher involvement put backers’ minds at ease. “Honestly, I don’t know if having a publisher reassures the backers, but it’s greatly appreciated on our end because with their help, we know for a fact that we can deliver this game 100 percent.”

Igarashi explained that ArtPlay has been engaging with fans using a variety of social platforms that include the Bloodstained community forums, Twitter, Facebook and the voice application Discord through its communication manager and 505 Games’ brand staff. But once the game comes out next year, both the developer and publisher will be faced with the challenge of growing the audience past the initial group of backers and classic Castlevania fans.

“I think it’s very important for more people to know about this kind of game,” Igarashi said, explaining how he hoped the game would continue to grow. “When people think of side-scrolling action games, they tend to believe they’re very difficult. That image leads people to avoid the game when, in reality, it’s not as difficult [as they think]. That’s why it’s important to be informed about it.”

Bloodstained will face the additional task of having to stand out in a genre that the Castlevania series helped originate at a time when metroidvania-style games are becoming more popular in the indie game community.

“[At] this time, we [are prioritizing] traditional gameplay,” Igarashi explained. “We weren’t very conscious of other similar games. We believe it’s important to create and deliver the game we envision first. Of course, we will add new elements that would differentiate Bloodstained from other games, but first we need to deliver a well-made, fun game.”

Things seem to be in Bloodstained’s favor, as the Castlevania name got a renewed boost in July when the animated Castlevania TV show premiered on Netflix to high acclaim.

“The series is very well made,” Igarashi said. “If it increases the interest for Bloodstained, that would make us really happy.”

The game designer also said that he thinks one of the reasons why the classic Castlevania games have inspired such a strong following is because the series provides solid gameplay.

“The gothic world and narrative also enhances the appeal for many people,” Igarashi added. “It makes me remember how important it is to build a good concept.”

Instagram Stories Expands Engagement, Reach Options For Brands

In another move to make Instagram Stories more attractive to advertisers, Facebook has unveiled a suite of new tools available for businesses using the platform.

The update focuses primarily on ease of use, allowing brands to use Facebook’s Canvas ad platform and seamlessly convert their existing Stories into ads.

By enabling the mobile-focused Canvas format on Instagram, Facebook has made it easier for brands to create engagement with flashy, interactive ads. More importantly, the move allows advertisers to quickly and easily produce content they can port to Facebook and Instagram News Feed ads as well.

“Marketers are able to use the creative versatility of Canvas to tell compelling brand and product stories,” the social platform wrote on its site. “This seamless extension of the fullscreen experience allows advertisers to capture the attention of customers with just a single ad.”

Alongside this is the announcement that Facebook will allow brands to unite their campaigns on Stories with existing campaigns on Facebook, Instagram and Audience Network. A split-test by Procter and Gamble’s SK-II brand found that they achieved a 30 percent increase in reach among its target audience through a cohesive campaign using Stories, as opposed to Instagram and Facebook feeds alone. User engagement with Instagram videos is growing quickly this year increasing 53 percent from 2016, as compared to 46 percent for photos.

Facebook is also expanding creative tools for advertisers by allowing them to use Instagram’s native image and video editing tools in Stories ads. According to the company’s internal data, more than half of businesses on Instagram have taken advantage of the Stories feature to post their own content, and the latest update permits them to upload their existing content onto the platform directly—a boon to smaller businesses.

“This uploading tool has made it easier for us to create ads that feel native to the platform, and allows us to more easily repurpose assets that we create for our organic content,” Angela Hanks, Sugarfina’s social media manager, said in the post.

At 250 million daily users, Instagram Stories is proving to be a powerful platform for businesses of all sizes to expand their audience, and the newly released tools are only further democratizing access for up-and-coming brands.

SteelSeries’ Sponsorship Of North Brings Traditional And Esports Together

Gaming peripheral giant SteelSeries has partnered with North, Denmark’s top CS:GO esports team, for both sponsorship and collaboration.

SteelSeries esports manager Tony Trubridge joined AListDaily to discuss the partnership and why North’s traditional sporting roots set it apart from other teams.

Having separately founded esports team Immunity, Trubridge is in a unique position to oversee the competitive aspects of SteelSeries’ operations. He recalled starting “when esports wasn’t esports,” and everyone assumed competitive gaming meant casino gambling.

“I got to see it go from playing video games and everyone would look at you funny . . . to today, where a lot of people understand what esports is,” Trubridge said.

He says this grassroots upbringing, paired with rapid growth, is why you still see a lack of structure and oversight in the competitive gaming arena today.

North was founded by football club FC Copenhagen and Nordisk Film—two non-endemic brands from industries with strict oversight—and Trubridge felt these companies were approaching esports from a unique but respectful perspective.

“The thing that really appealed to us was their ability to tie the existing heritage of esports and bring traditional sports into it, and not the other way around,” explained Trubridge. “They were bringing the presence, the awareness, [and] the knowledge that these guys have from many years of working with sporting super stars and athletes into the realm of esports. [They’re] not pushing it from, ‘this is how you have to work and this is the only way it works.’

“[FC Copenhagen] put together a team of staff that obviously have vast experience in traditional sports as well as in esports. That, to me, meant that they really understood the growth of esports and what they needed to do with the players. They were bringing traditional sports to esports, not the other way around. That means they’re going to give the players and teams all the facilities [and] support that they need and apply all the dietary, psychology, etc.—all the different facets to what can really make a great sporting person to esports. That was the real catalyst for me,” Trubridge said, using an example of North players eating a banana during games as opposed to sugary energy drinks.

Treating pro gamers like traditional athletes seems to be paying off. This past weekend, North took home first place at DreamHack Montreal and is now headed to ELeague in Austin with eyes on the $1 million prize purse.

One other aspect of North appealed to the very heart of SteelSeries as well—where they come from.

“SteelSeries is a Danish company. Esports is in our DNA and it was very important that we reconnected with our roots,” he said.

The team lives and practices close to the SteelSeries headquarters in Copenhagen, making it easy for them to visit and play-test new products created just for them.

“We’re going to be working very closely with the North guys,” said Trubridge. “The trick is going to be taking their feedback and turning it into something bigger.”

SteelSeries has a long history of collaborating with professional gamers to integrate features into their products. The Sensei mouse, for example, utilized feedback from over 20 esports players before hitting the retail market.

“We tailor our products for the pros,” Trubridge said, “then we also look at the commercial aspect. We need to make products that really work for all these different usage models. The cool thing we can do as a company is we can separate that into a pro line and more of a mainstream line.”

Creating custom products that are made to last and appeal to a wide range of players is important to the company.

“It’s really important that we connect with our users. It’s always a challenge to make sure we stay on top in terms of the connectivity that we have with our consumers, fans and players. Every facet of the product [is focused] on that message of ‘hey, we’re gamers and we’re here to support your hobby, your passion and we want you to have a great time doing it.’”

When it comes to sponsoring an esports team, Trubridge says that he focuses on the players themselves as opposed to followers on social media or performance alone.

“You don’t always have to look at the team that has the biggest social media following,” he advised. “I know how much a team’s image can grow in a short period of time if you do the right things. When there’s a really good synergy and see the players connect professionally, you can really see it in some players and in others, you see them thinking, ‘this is still a game to me.’ I could see the difference that these players had—the determination they had. There’s no point getting a star player if he doesn’t get along with everyone and doesn’t take everything seriously.”

Ikea Capitalizes On AR Shopping Trend With New App

Ikea has launched Ikea Place, an augmented reality application that lets customers see what furniture will look like in their home or office before they purchase it. The iPhone app was designed by the global retailer using Apple’s new ARKit technology, and all of the products in Ikea Place are 3D and true-to-scale.

Michael Valdsgaard, Ikea’s head of digital transformation, told AListDaily the app automatically scales products—based on room dimensions—with 98 percent accuracy. The AR technology is so precise that customers will be able to see the texture of the fabric, as well as how light and shadows are rendered on furnishings.

“Ikea Place helps us continue a commitment [to democratic design] in new ways,” Valdsgaard said. “The online experience partly addresses accessibility, but it still struggles to close the gap completely. Ikea Place closes the gap between imagination and reality to let everyone, everywhere, confidently experience how good design transforms their everyday lives.”

In addition to digitally placing Ikea products in a room, the app allows people to capture the setting in the app and share as an image or video with friends. They can then purchase the products directly through their local Ikea website.

Ikea Place

More than 2,000 Ikea products will be available in the app at launch, and in the future, the app will play a key role in the launch of new product lines. The products in the first release will focus on larger furniture products for the living room: sofas, armchairs, footstools, coffee tables and top-selling storage solutions that can be placed on the floor.

Ikea operates 389 stores around the world and caters to over 783 million customers, according to Statista.

The retailer built the app internally using Apple’s AR technology. Valdsgaard said Ikea and Apple are now taking the next step together to further develop AR.

“It is too early to talk about future app functions, but the purpose of Ikea Place is to give people choices,” Valdsgaard explained. “We see Ikea Place as a step on the journey to purchase, allowing people to experiment with our products in their space before they make a purchase, whether it’s online or in a store.”

Through internal customer research, Ikea found that nearly 40 percent of people have put off home furnishing purchases because of an imagination gap. AR virtually places furniture in any room to close that gap, and brands like Wayfair are leveraging the opportunities AR presents.

Many Ikea customers got their first taste of AR through Niantic’s Pokémon GO mobile game sensation last year. Apple’s unveiling of ARKit a few months ago at its worldwide developer conference further promoted the technology. And now Ikea is marketing the new app to its global audience.

“While there have been some recent successes in AR applications, we believe that this offers the greatest opportunity to cement adoption,” Valdsgaard said. “With Apple’s hardware and software platforms providing the stability needed to create a great AR experience, they have solved critical technical hurdles that help make AR a more accessible tool for real-life decision making.”

Valdsgaard said the Ikea Place app marks an important milestone in Ikea’s digital transformation journey.

“By taking away the uncertainty that can accompany furniture buying, Ikea Place will allow people to make confident decisions about how they transform their home,” Valdsgaard added. “We believe it will change furniture retail forever.”

Ikea has been selling furniture since 1943. The company has emerged in recent years as the most valuable furniture retailer brand in the world, according to BrandZ’s Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2016. Valued at $18 billion, Ikea ranks as the fifth most valuable retailer in the world, according to Statista.

Now the company’s Scandinavian design has a new marketing angle to target the millennial and younger customer base looking for affordable yet stylish furniture, according to Valdsgaard.

Ikea also taps into the massive marketing push by Apple for its new iPhone 8 and iPhone X smartphones, which will support AR with even deeper technology integration.

The Top 25 Game Companies By Revenue So Far In 2017

Newzoo has revealed the top 25 public companies by game revenues and Tencent still reigns supreme for the first half of 2017. At $7.4 billion, the Chinese giant experienced impressive 50 percent growth year-over-year. This figure doesn’t even include the additional $1 billion or so from Supercell—which, despite being acquired by Tencent, remains a private company.

“Tencent’s robust growth was driven by the popularity of Honor of Kings, with 200 million players in China alone,” Newzoo said alongside its findings. “Tencent is looking to sustain its growth in several ways—the release of Honor of Kings in Europe and the United States, the launch of a WeGame platform that will compete with mobile app stores in China and the launch of a free-to-play version of Rocket League in China.”

Coming in at number two in the world is Sony with $4.3 billion in game revenue, growing 25 percent over the same period last year. Newzoo attributes this growth to an increase in sales through the PlayStation Network.

The top 25 public companies generated $41.4 billion in the first half of the year—an increase of 20 percent compared to the same period in 2016. A majority of this game revenue was generated by the top 10 companies, increasing 24 percent year over year to $31.4 billion. Mobile gaming accounted for 42 percent of all revenues generated by the top 10 companies, up from 40 percent in the first half of 2016.

The popularity of the Nintendo Switch has helped rejuvenate the brand, resulting in a 49 percent revenue increase and rising four spots in the top 25 list over last year. Newzoo predicts that on its current revenue trajectory, Nintendo could very well make the top 10 by the end of 2017.

Take-Two Interactive rose three spots on the list over the same period last year. The continued success of GTA V along with the revenues gained from GTA Online earned the company 44 percent growth in revenue.

Korean mobile game company Netmarble comes in at number 12, after completing a successful IPO in May. The company reported a revenue growth of 81 percent compared to the first half 2016, but the celebration may be short-lived.

“Netmarble benefitted from the release of Lineage2 Revolution in Q1, but now that Lineage’s IP owner NCSoft has released its own mobile version of the game (Lineage M), we expect Netmarble’s revenue growth to slow down significantly,” said Newzoo.

Sega regained momentum during the first half of 2017 but ultimately fell just short of the top 25 list. Zynga also fell short by a small margin, despite a strong second quarter thanks to its focus on mobile games.

The only company in the top 25 to report a double-digit decline in earnings was GungHo Entertainment. According to Newzoo, GungHo lost 20 percent of its revenues as it struggled to replicate the success of Puzzles & Dragons.