NCsoft Grows Global Esports Presence With ‘MXM’ And ‘Blade And Soul’ Games

NCsoft is doubling down on esports. The Korean game publisher has worked with developer ArenaNet to turn Guild Wars 2 into an esports title. Internally, the company is expanding the Western scope of its esports fighting game, Blade & Soul and it’s also launching the new MOBA game Master X Master (MXM), designed with esports in mind.

Julianne Harty, esports manager at NCsoft, told AListDaily that Blade & Soul has been evolving as an esport since 2012, and over $250,000 has been awarded to the top teams with huge followings for the game across China, Japan and Taiwan. In Korea, the last two world championships have aired on television and were livestreamed from the global game exhibition, G-Star in November. This year, which marks the fifth annual world championship, is the first time Western teams have been invited. There will be a pair of teams from North America and a pair from Europe invited to compete at the world championship in Seoul, South Korea.

“We have a pretty solid PVP scene,” Harty said. “We have a lot of people who are really keen on it because it’s completely equalized. Your gear and your level don’t matter. Your skill selection is probably the only thing that has a little bit of an effect depending on your build, but it’s truly just the skill of the two players. Our 3-vs-3 tag teams allow players to switch out, so they can create team compositions that are meant to try and counter the other team’s compositions. It’s very dynamic and very exciting. We’re very excited to actually have this kind of variety in world championships, whereas before it used to be just purely 1-vs-1 all the way through.”

While the fighting game esports scene remains largely focused on console games, Blade & Soul differentiates itself as a PC-based 3D game. Past world championships have attracted big Korean sponsors, including the city of Buson. Harty said there are opportunities for big name sponsors with the new Western expansion.

Blade & Soul is in a very unique position in the esports environment because it’s an MMORPG, but it has fighting game elements. It fits that nice sweet spot where it’s not quite a fighting game, it’s not quite an MMO, but it has a lot of exciting elements and gameplay that you don’t see in other esports titles,” Harty said. “Having that cross-ocean appeal, especially given how popular it is in Korea, China and Japan, there are a lot of people who will watch it.”

While Blade & Soul doesn’t pull in League of Legends streaming numbers, Harty said there is a strong audience that follows the game. The Korean Season 1 Finals recently made it on the front page of Twitch in the US at two in the morning.

On June 21, NCsoft is launching a new multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, Master X Master (MXM), that’s being designed for esports.

“It has proven itself to be very versatile and very appealing to a lot of pro players,” Harty explained. “We had a lot of former League of Legends pro players come in and play it in the very early stages of the game through the closed betas, and they loved it. HotShot GG compared the game to League of Legends in its early days and he couldn’t stop playing it. That’s important because the community has to build up an esport. We had MXM tournaments during our closed beta, which was a great sign that the community wants esports.”

Harty said that once the game officially launches in June, NCsoft will lay the foundation to turn the game into a bigger esports endeavor and start encouraging people to build teams, have tournaments, and figure out the meta game.

“My goal is by the end of the year to have something very serious in place,” Harty said.

MXM esports will debut with a Western focus, since this territory will be the first to launch the game. That’s the exact opposite of how past NCsoft esports games have evolved.

“We’re in a good spot to lead the way with this particular title,” Harty said. “We will have something set up by the end of the year into next year. It will probably be just Western-focused, but having said that my counterparts in Korea also have indicated an interest in being part of whatever it is that we end up setting up as well, so I’m hoping to have more of a global footprint into esports in contrast to Blade & Soul esports, where each territory does their own thing to select their champions and move to worlds. For this one, I’m hoping for a universal rule set that makes it clear for everyone how they can move on and what the ultimate goals are going to be on the horizon.”

‘Street Fighter’ And Skillz Tag Team For Mobile Esports

Street Fighter is one of Capcom’s most beloved franchises, and fans will soon be literally able to challenge one another on the street—using their phones, that is. Skillz has partnered with Capcom’s Beeline Interactive to develop a dedicated, competitive mobile version of Street Fighter complete with a native streaming engine.

The Skillz platform allows typical mobile games such as Bejeweled to be turned into esports, where players compete for prizes that include virtual currency or cash. A subsidiary of Capcom, Beeline Interactive specializes in mobile game development and has adapted existing franchises like Ghostbusters for a casual mobile audience.

“Not everyone is able to afford the latest console, and a lot of fans aren’t able to participate in the larger hosted tournaments like Evo and the ELeague Invitationals,” Skillz co-founder and CEO Andrew Paradise told AListDaily. “Through this partnership, we’ll deliver fans a more accessible avenue for gameplay, and enable new fans to get a competitive taste of this classic franchise.”

Capcom isn’t alone in its strategy to make its arcade and console titles more accessible to the US’s 192 million mobile gamers. In addition to companion apps, video game publishers like Warner Bros. are creating unique mobile experiences to compliment their main titles and promote competition. While the best of the best compete in Street Fighter tournaments around the world, a competitive mobile version aims to be less intimidating and maybe even profitable for the player.

Skillz has run more than 100 million mobile esports tournaments to date and now hosts over 500,000 tournaments every day, awarding over $5 million in cash prizes to players every month. According to research from IHS Markit, esports is expected to become a $1 billion advertising industry by 2021, with video driving the lion’s share of revenues along with influencer marketing and sponsorship.

“Adding Street Fighter to the Skillz platform enables mobile gamers to play and stream one of the most popular fighting games in a competitive environment with our full-feature tournament system,” said Paradise. “This will be the first time a native streaming engine is built into a Street Fighter version.”

Competition aside, game video content is a growing market—on track to generate $4.6 billion in revenue in 2017 through advertising and direct spending, according to SuperData. While console and PC gaming are still popular sources for video game streams, mobile is also proving itself. Last year on Twitch, the most popular clip was of streamer Avaail playing Pokémon GO.

“The new mobile title will further Street Fighter’s reach into the world of competitive mobile gaming, including the potential to grow the already impressive fan base by accessing the world’s 2.6 billion mobile [users],” Paradise added. “This partnership will further Skillz’ mission of making competition available to all gamers at every level of skill.”

“Our new partnership with the iconic Street Fighter franchise is a further testament to the growing appetite for competitive mobile gaming,” said Paradise.

Augmented Reality Could Revolutionize How People Shop And Engage With Brands

Imagine taking the hassle and guesswork out of clothing shopping. Instead of picking out several pieces of clothing, trying them on in a dressing room, and repeating everything if they don’t fit or look good, you could see exactly how clothing fits while shopping. That’s the task that character creation platform Morph3D, took on in developing the Virtual Dressing Room—a technology demonstration that could potentially change up how consumers shop.

Augmented reality has been used in shopping for products like furniture and art, but this is the first step in offering a high level of customization by fusing technology with something as dynamic as clothes. The Microsoft HoloLens app is developed in partnership with software technology company, Bold Metrics. The two companies came together when the demo was shown at Shoptalk, one of the largest retail conventions in the world, and the two then decided to approach the Dutch designer clothing company G-Star to provide the fashion featured in the Dressing Room.

Berk Frei, VP of innovation and strategy at Morph3D

“The goal of this collaboration was to present the future of retail,” Berk Frei, VP of innovation and strategy at Morph3D, told AListDaily, describing how the app came together. “Our mission as a company is to make the creation of virtual identities easy, meaningful and affordable across different verticals. We see virtual identities [being used] in a lot of places. For instance, we have a lot of traction in social VR, partnering with companies like High Fidelity. There are many companies interested in helping people create digital characters (avatars) in business, education and retail. So, we wanted to demonstrate our vision of where we think virtual identities are going.”

Frei then talked about partnering with Bold Metrics and G-Star to bring the Virtual Dressing Room to life. “Bold Metrics has an algorithm and body scanning technology that uses machine learning and AI,” he explained. “Using some basic questions, it is able to accurately predict 90 measurements of your body and physique. They had a similar vision as ours—virtual figures for retail. Together, we found an innovative brand partner with G-Star, which was also interested in exploring this proof of concept.”

The Augmented Reality Shopping Experience

After putting on a HoloLens, users will see a blank figure surrounded by a virtual wardrobe comprised of G-Star clothing, and this virtual mannequin can be controlled and changed using voice commands. Users can change its position, have it put its hands on its hips, or take various other poses. The figure can even be told to perform actions like running or boxing so that users can see how the clothing looks when in action. Users can also get up close and examine the clothes before gazing at an article of clothing and pinching their fingers on it in the augmented reality space to put them onto the virtual model.

But the real magic is creating the custom avatar. Users are presented with a series of questions that ask about their age, height, weight, waist size and shoe sizes (women are asked for their bra sizes instead of waists). With those answers, the program configures the mannequin to match the user’s body measurements without having to break out the measuring tape.

Frei remarked on how Bold Metrics’ method compares to having people scanned in-store. “Scanning technology is still esoteric, hard to find, bulky and expensive,” he said. “What’s cool about this is that you can quickly answer these questions and get a figure that proportionately looks like you and is dynamic. Scanned data can’t initially be used in this context—it can’t be moved, changed, positioned or posed. What we’re proposing should be very approachable to a mainstream audience. Also, because it’s not a body scan, you could use it shop for your friends and family.”

Morph3D brought G-Star’s brand of fashion into the app by having 3D artists design the clothing using reference materials provided by the company. It also used a scanning solution that took in data and brought it into the app. Using these methods, companies could fill the Virtual Dressing Room app with their entire selection of clothing.

When asked how he imagined the Virtual Dressing Room might be used by stores, Frei said, “We talked about a couple phases of where this might be interesting as the technology matures. Our partners saw a lot of opportunity in the in brick-and-mortar space for creating compelling and interesting experiences that will bring people to stores, giving them a reason to come out. There’s something really cool about having a virtual dressing room in a store. We imagine a scenario where someone could use the Virtual Dressing Room to blast through the entire catalog to come up with looks that they’re interested in. Not only are they having a novel, one-of-a-kind experience, but it’s something that could help them come to a purchase decision sooner.”

Frei imagines that the entire shopping experience could be as easy as swiping left or right to quickly sort through a clothing catalog, which could potentially connect to online offerings, expanding the shopping experience past the in-store selection.

“We see opportunities to create unique store experiences with the Virtual Dressing Room,” said Frei. “We demonstrated it as a location-based experience, but we can see it being used more broadly for online shopping. It could be an engine that helps drive retail.”

Retail, Online Or Mobile?

Frei doesn’t think the technology should necessarily be limited to AR headsets like the HoloLens. “The HoloLens is incidental to the demonstration—it’s not something we highlight when we talk to vendors,” said Frei. “There aren’t many of them out there, but it’s really cool when you see one. We saw it as a cool way to present this experience, but it can be used with phones, web pages and virtual reality headsets. It doesn’t matter what hardware you use.”

That being said, we asked Frei if he thought the app might be better suited for online shopping. “I’ve wrestled with that for a little bit because I’m intrigued by both possibilities,” he answered. “I don’t shop for clothing or shoes online because I don’t have a way to associate with the product, but that’s essentially what we’re solving. With our technology, we can associate any product with people’s body types. That isn’t limited to fashion, it could extend to furniture, bicycles and so on. I would love to feel confident about purchasing items in those categories online, but I don’t think anything can replace trying things on and feeling their texture. There’s something about experiencing something in a physical way.” Frei then explained that the Virtual Dressing Room is meant to streamline the shopping experience, not replace it, by helping users pick out the clothes that they are almost certain that they want before actually putting it on.

Frei also noted how there isn’t the same kind of “magical” experience when using the app on screened devices such as smartphones. This observation includes Google Tango, which is designed specifically for augmented reality applications. Although Frei supports handheld devices, he states: “[Headsets have] true scale and you’re not looking through a window. There’s something disconnecting when you’re looking through the screen of a phone. We wanted people to be intrigued by the experience.”

So why should retailers turn to augmented reality? “You hear people talking about how companies like Apple, Magic Leap and Meta are investing heavily in the technology, but I don’t think people understand why these tech companies are chasing augmented reality,” Frei explained. “Until you experience something like this demonstration, you don’t realize the incredible utility that AR has to offer—and seeing things in AR is such a cool experience. We firmly believe that augmented reality is an amazing technology that is developing and we want to be pioneers in that space.

“This demo demonstrates why AR matters to everyday people. Augmented reality is going to be important in helping you interact with data in a way that has never been experienced before. I think this could be a very interesting experience to put in stores to help drive interest in the store, brand and products.”

Digitally Connecting People With Brands

Frei then expanded on the topic of avatars by talking about how it could be used more broadly to connect individuals with brands using virtual personas. “We see a future where people have virtual identities that are used in different contexts,” he said. “You’ll pull up an avatar that is a realistic representation of yourself that can be used in retail, education and business. Then you can have identities that are more playful, such as a troll or elf. That’s the ecosystem that we’re trying to create with our technology, platform and brand partners. We do this because we think it matters and we want to be leaders in this space. Persistent virtual identities and personas are going to be used in so many different ways, and we wanted to lead the way with this demonstration.”

Trust, Security And Other Key Themes From Newfronts 2017

Digital Content Newfronts is notorious for its live concerts, celebrity partnerships and sizzle reels galore, but beneath the “sexy,” brands got serious about a few key messages for would-be investors.


In a time when fake news is a very real problem, The New York Times stood by its century-old commitment to seeking the truth and “dared” brands to partner with them with the slogan, “Truth+Dare.”

“There is value in high-quality journalism,” Sebastian Tomich, senior vice president of advertising and innovation at The New York Times told AListDaily. “It’s about what you can do with that in a daring fashion, and what makes the things that we do with advertisers special. Those were themes that we kept reiterating throughout the entire show—we don’t market ourselves as a transactional media business, where you come to us just to make a generic VR film, video or podcast. You come to us because you want to do groundbreaking work.”


It’s no secret that YouTube has lost quite a few advertisers who cite a lack of control over what messages are being displayed next to their brand. Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, was quick to address concerns during the company’s Newfronts presentation.

“The last several weeks have been challenging for some of you, and you’ve told us to do better when it comes to ad placement,” she told the audience. “I want you to know that we have taken your feedback to heart. We work hard every day to earn our advertisers’ and agencies’ trust, and we apologize for letting some of you down. I’m here to say that we can and we will do better.”

Security has been a common thread among presenters at Newfronts this year who are taking advantage of the situation to assure potential investors of their trustworthiness.

“Who you trust your brands with is more important than ever,” Andrew Sugerman, an executive VP with Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, noted during Disney’s presentation.

Connected To Young Audiences

Disney has traditionally been a hit with the kiddies, but it’s so much more than toys and cartoons these days, especially with a digital-first generation. Much of Disney’s new digital content is family-friendly, with the overall goal of appealing to connected young consumers. Along with the sheer volume of major brands under the Disney mantle–including Marvel and Star Wars—the company includes more than 300 social media channels, reaching more than one billion followers combined.

“This extends our stories to the platforms Gen Z and millennial audiences are on every day, with diverse editorial voices that integrate top creators and influencers,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media in the pitch to marketers and agency execs.

Many brands are ramping up their social media video presence across the board, especially with livestream content. This connection to young audiences became a frequent talking point from brands as they assured marketers of their understanding in this demographic.

“Condé Nast was one of the first companies to invest in premium digital video at real scale, and as we’ve built our next-gen network, we’ve gained deep insight into millennial and Gen Z audiences,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of Condé Nast Entertainment during her presentation. “As mobile has become the new primetime among younger audiences, our digital video network now outperforms some traditional television networks.”

Improving The World

Whether it’s improving our own lives or the lives of others, personal empowerment—especially among women and minorities—was a hot topic at Newfronts this year.

The Never Settle Show, hosted by Mario Armstrong, is a program for and about entrepreneurs, airing live each week from eight different platforms allowing audiences to comment and ask questions in real-time.

Popsugar, also appealing to entrepreneurs, is hosting a new show called Failing Forward in which women share difficult moments that helped propel them forward.

Meanwhile, Awesomeness outlined plans to launch Awesomeness News, focused on “socially conscious” issues, such as politics, the environment and social justice, through a lens for Gen Z viewers. Awesomeness News will be available on all AwesomenessTV platforms.

At Newfronts, Female Empowerment Is On The Program

Women make 85 percent of all purchasing decisions and this year’s collection of Digital Content Newfronts announcements were certainly full of girl power. While lifestyle and beauty programming are popular topics and the bread and butter of some of the top publishing brands, other trends emerged during Newfronts such as activism and empowering women of color.

Political and societal strife are at an emotional high, spurring debates across the world on gender equality, racial harmony and personal identity. As a result, solidarity, entrepreneurship and self-love were especially strong themes across all female-oriented presentations.

Aligned under the theme, “We Rise. We Shine,” Popsugar announced several new projects including Failing Forwarda documentary series in which female entrepreneurs share moments when things went wrong and how overcoming it helped them move on to greater heights. Honored, the first feature film out of Popsugar Films, will tell the emotional story of friendship and loss.

“Popsugar has always helped women celebrate themselves and others,” said Lisa Sugar, Popsugar’s cofounder and president in a statement. “In a world where we need to come together, our mission is more relevant than ever. We continue to be committed to igniting optimism while driving change and building communities; in fact, making women’s lives easier, more meaningful and beautiful is our motivation for storytelling.”

Refinery29 appealed to its active audience of millennial and Gen Z women and girls with the theme, “Our Party is Women.” The female-centric brand announced a slate of new programming in collaboration with Willow Smith, Zosia Mamet, Rashida Jones, Chloe x Halle, Evan Rachel Wood and her band Rebel and a Basketcase, and comedian/actor Sasheer Zamata.

Women of color were a prominent presence at this year’s Newfronts, empowering them with everything from life advice to social activism. Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence, announced a live video partnership with Twitter to broadcast Essence Now, the first live show on Twitter targeting black women. In addition, Cosmopolitan is launching a new 10-episode Snapchat series with actress Yara Shahidi (Blackish) called Keep Calm & Yara On. The company’s Snapchat channel boasts over 11 million subscribers.

Hulu is riding the success of its female-empowerment series, A Handmaid’s Tale and renewed the show for a second season. The video-streaming service acquired exclusive SVOD rights to The Golden Girls earlier this year, a series popular with not only women but the LGBT community—a demographic with nearly $1 trillion in purchasing power.

Verizon Fios Finds Gamers A Natural Audience For Gigabit Internet

Verizon wants to take internet users to the next level the Fios Gigabit Connection. The service, which launched in April, provides download speeds up to 940 Mbps (megabits per second) and uploads up to 880 Mbps and is available in select parts of the Northeast United States, from the Boston, Massachusetts to the Richmond, Virginia areas including New York City and Philadelphia.

inline imageTo demonstrate the power of gigabit speeds, Verizon built the Fios Connected Home inside of its New York headquarters, which is a mock apartment space filled with smart devices. Yet, even with this impressive demonstration, there is one issue with marketing the service: average users don’t require this kind of speed. However, Verizon quickly discovered that there is one type of user that can’t get enough speed, and that’s gamers—particularly esports competitors. That realization led to a shift from strictly marketing the service to the general public to putting an increased focus on the gaming community.

Ray McConville, a Verizon spokesperson representing the consumer business unit for Fios
Ray McConville, Verizon spokesperson representing the consumer business unit for Fios

Speaking with AListDaily, Ray McConville, a Verizon spokesperson representing the consumer business unit for Fios, recounted how Fios became involved with gaming.

“It started at the beginning of this year, when we came out with a new flagship internet product called Instant Internet, which we’ve upgraded to be called Fios Gigabit Connection, which offers near gigabit per second speeds in both directions,” McConville explained. “We were trying to figure out how to best position the use case for something like this—but honestly, if you’re just using the internet in normal ways such as browsing the web, checking email and streaming video as a single user, it’s not going feel all that different from a 50 Mbps connection. A lot of web applications don’t require speeds like that.

“We had been positioning the use case as people having an explosion of connected devices in their homes, and when they use them all at once, they add up and put a big strain on the home network—that’s why we’re coming out with super-fast speeds. But one of the exceptions to that rule is the gaming community. That is a prime example of a singular application where you can never give the end user enough speed. That little bit of difference in lag can make the difference between winning and losing in online gaming competitions.”

McConville then went into detail about why gamers are the perfect audience. “Gamers—even if they are the only ones using that internet connection—can never get enough speed,” he said. “They have a very high demand for it, and it’s a very knowledgeable group of people. They’re very passionate, and if you can reach them, they’ll advocate on behalf of you. We got into this as a means of reaching a vocal community that has a strong demand for a service like this.”

Verizon is just getting started with its video game and esports-related marketing, and it is still exploring opportunities. One of its biggest activations so far was for the launch of Halo Wars 2, done in partnership with Microsoft and professional esports player Arturo Sanchez. At the time, the service was still called Instant Internet and featured a 750 Mbps connection, but it could achieve near gigabit speeds.

“We hosted a group of professional gamers at our demo center in lower Manhattan, and the night before, we did an instant drop where we gave away 750 free digital downloads of the game,” said McConville, describing the event. “Five or six of those winners got to square-off against the pros, who were also trying out the game for the first time. There was a big social media play and it was all streamed live over Twitch. It took place on a Friday night, and even though Fridays aren’t always the best nights, it was successful because Fios was the number one trending topic on Twitter in New York City that night.”

Sanchez and his viewers were impressed by the speed, and the activation was so successful that the gamer was invited back to the Fios Connected Home demo center to host more livestreaming events, including a two-hour training session in preparation for DreamHack Austin.

Verizon connected with Sanchez through Twitter, as he was one of the first people to respond when Fios Instant Internet launched. He hosts local New York esports competitions every Wednesday, sometimes collaborating with other brands and influencers, and needs the fast bandwidth for these livestreamed events. However, the gigabit service hadn’t launched yet, so Verizon invited Sanchez to the Connected Home to try the service out and that’s how the relationship began.

While Verizon considers the possibly of expanding its relationships, the company will likely seek out more opportunities to reach gamers and partner with esports players using the Fios Connected Home. The Connected Home was built to showcase the ideal smart home using a multitude of connected devices, since (outside of gaming) there is no singular application that requires gigabit speeds. Features include a doorbell, security camera and front porch lights that are all connected to a smartphone. Inside, there are six 4K televisions simultaneously streaming different content from multiple services, along with about a dozen Philips Hue lights that can all be controlled via smartphone or Google Home. In addition to multiple tablets, a smart fridge and even a connected coffee pot, there is a desktop computer and two Xbox One gaming consoles hooked into the internet. McConville emphasized how by themselves, these devices don’t take up much bandwidth, but they all add up to a massive drain on the household’s internet bandwidth.

The Connected Home demonstrates how the Gigabit Connection might benefit real world use, allowing people to see why speed matters. McConville stated that competing ISPs have demonstrated speed in nonsensical ways such as downloading X number of photos a second. “Why is that exciting, and does it even happen that way?” McConville asked rhetorically. “In the real world, there are multiple speed bumps before that content reaches your network. That’s why we never positioned this as, ‘You can do this in X amount of time.’ Those are all theoretical, perfect world scenarios. What’s meaningful to customers is when they see all these connected devices.”

Although McConville admits that the Connected Home might be a bit over-the-top with all its devices, people who have toured the space have responded well, as many had about twenty devices hooked up to their networks. “When they saw how everything worked at the same time, compared to what they were used to at home, they were impressed,” said McConville.

Verizon is still making plans for how it will make further use of the Fios Connected Home and how it will continue promoting the Gigabit Connection service, but gaming (specifically, esports) could be a big part of it. “It’s a natural fit for us to be involved in the esports space, given how it’s one of those areas where—as they say—latency kills,” said McConville. “It makes a huge difference between winning and losing. Esports is a fast-growing space, a very social space that’s active online, and we think it makes a lot of sense for us to be involved with it. We feel that we offer the best internet service there is, and we have a very natural tie-in with the esports community.”

Here’s How Marketers Are Benefiting From Beacons

Consumers have an intimate relationship with smartphones—we rely on them for everything from communication to research, productivity to shopping and hours of heads-down entertainment to avoid human contact.

Newzoo forecasts 2.6 billion people in the world will have a smartphone this year, with China and India alone accounting for more than one billion users. To connect with these consumers, more and more brands are turning to beacons—proximity marketing—that beam information directly to a mobile app once within range.

What Are Beacons?

Unlike the GPS-or-FourSquare-using Pokémon GO—which uses its own proprietary system—beacons are small, Bluetooth radio transmitters that emit specific information once a device (like a smartphone) is nearby. Mobile apps designed to recognize the specific beacon signals then relay that information to the user and this technology works especially well for detecting consumers inside buildings.

IBeacon is Apple’s technology standard, which allows mobile apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world, and react accordingly. When a consumer using a discount shopping app, for example, approaches a beacon inside a department store, they may receive push notifications offering exclusive deals or provide additional information about a product.

Who Uses Beacons?

Right now, beacons are everywhere. In fact, Android devices pull more than 40 billion queries for beacon-related content from Google services every year. More than four million beacons are already installed in retail locations, and last year proximity marketers Proxbook predicted that at least a million more would be installed in the US alone. Major retailers currently using beacons include Rite Aid, Barnes & Noble, Macy’s and Target.

13570805343_e6deb57644_z“We just see a great upside in using beacons to enrich the one-to-one experience with our customers,” said Gerard Babitts, Rite Aid’s senior director of digital marketing, during a panel at Toshiba’s Retail Innovation & Shopper Expertise Symposium (RISE), per GeoMarketing. “And if they’re in our stores, our customers don’t browse: they are very purposeful about what they want. The dwell time isn’t that great and it’s not the point. When someone is in our store, we want to make it as great an experience as possible, which means getting them directly what they want as quickly as possible. Beacons can help us do that.”

Measurable Data

Every marketer knows that without data, appealing to consumers and measuring a campaign’s success would be a mystery. One of the great benefits to using proximity marketing through beacons is measurable data. Either a consumer interacts with the beacon or they don’t, eliminating guess work.

To promote the company’s partnership with the James Bond film Spectre, Heineken used beacons that communicated with apps like Checkpoints that raised awareness and verified when consumers were inside a retail location. The campaign through inMarket produced 200,000 in-store and point-of-sale engagements and an estimated $320,000 in direct revenue.

Swirl, a proximity marketing platform, found that over the holiday season last year, mall-based specialty retailers saw a 41 percent increase in average basket size, and a 36 percent increase in mall-to-store traffic conversion rates.

Thinking Outside Retail

Beyond working well in a retail environment, proximity marketing provides valuable information to consumers. Bluetooth Facebook beacons allow visitors to learn more about a local business on the social network, prompting them to “like” and check-in, view or make recommendations and more.

Thirty-five percent of the top 20 American airports have deployed beacons offering information to travelers, such as in-flight entertainment, navigation and shopping experiences.

For the game BattlekastersArtifact Technologies uses Bluetooth beacons strategically placed around fan conventions. Users search for certain locations to collect cards, set traps and be the first to achieve an objective.

The Nearby function on Android devices uses beacons to recommend helpful apps based on location. For example, users can access an audio tour while at The Broad museum in Los Angeles, print photos from a phone at a nearby CVS pharmacy or access free in-flight entertainment before boarding United Airlines.

Whether you call it geomarketing, proximity marketing or just plain “beacons,” the industry is worth an estimated $40 billion, according to Proxbook, and it will continue to grow as long as consumers seek instant information about the worlds around them.

Funcom Delves Into ‘The Secret World’ Relaunch And Free-To-Play Model

The Secret World, Funcom’s supernatural-themed MMORPG, takes players to a realm where anything is possible. They must combat menacing Lovecraft-inspired creatures in an effort to defeat, repel or exploit them. Released in 2012, the game currently uses a “buy-to-play” model, where players make a one-time purchase and can then play without additional costs, but paying subscribers enjoy extra benefits. But that and more will change on June 26, when the game relaunches as The Secret World Legends.

AListDaily spoke with Scott Junior, executive producer at Funcom, to delve deeper into what The Secret World Legends has to offer, why Funcom decided to rebrand and relaunch the game, and what the company hopes to achieve with these changes.

Scott Junior, executive producer at Funcom
Scott Junior, executive producer at Funcom

The beta is currently underway, and Junior discussed the goals for the relaunch. “The main goal is to allow new players to experience the acclaimed storytelling and unique quest design of The Secret World in full,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to make some major changes to the gameplay and progression in line with how modern action RPGs have evolved to make the game feel more accessible and intuitive for both newcomers and long-time fans.”

So, apart from the name, how does Legends differ from the original Secret World? “The most immediate difference is that the game is free-to-play for everyone,” said Junior. “There are no pay-gates on well over 100 hours of story-driven content, and all future story content will also be free. In addition, we have updated the control scheme to facilitate more action-oriented combat, revamped the game’s character progression design, and improved the pacing and flow of missions to make the overall adventure more enjoyable to dive into.”

Junior then went into detail about how the relaunch hopes to attract new players to the five-year-old game. “Secret World Legends offers a fresh start for every player, new and old alike,” he said. “We’ve built a fantastic story-driven universe that is a blast to explore, and everything we’re doing now with this dedicated relaunch is about getting out of the player’s way and letting them experience that journey in full. Making the game free-to-play is a critical part of that vision, but so too have been the updates to gameplay, character development and quest progression, making systems that are more natural and satisfying to interact with.”

We asked Junior how existing fans are reacting to the gameplay changes and having the game is going free-to-play. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the interest in the relaunch,” Junior explained. “We had over 40,000 people register for the beta in the first 24 hours, and we’re well over 80,000 already. I think it’s, first and foremost, a testament to the strength of the IP—it’s clear The Secret World and Secret World Legends is still offering something to players that’s hard to find anywhere else, and we’re committed to making that experience more accessible for everyone.

I also think it’s helped that the community has been so vocal over the years about their enthusiasm for this universe, making sure The Secret World stays alive in public memory. We know not every fan is immediately on board with the coming changes, and we want to make it clear that their characters and investments will continue to live on their existing servers. Secret World Legends represents a new path forward for the franchise, and we know that announcing the relaunch was just the first step. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to communicate to new and veteran players what to expect in the future.”

It is the perhaps the longstanding strength of the IP that most stands out about The Secret World, no matter what the title is. Junior revealed the secret behind engaging with players for half a decade and more.

The Secret World offered a very unique setting and story that attracted a fantastic community,” said Junior. “We’ve taken this moment to give the series an honest look at where it stands in today’s gaming landscape and what it still has to offer to fans of shared worlds and action RPGs. We hope that with the improvements we are making in Secret World Legends and the free-to-play engagement model, this world will continue to grow for years to come.”

‘Star Stable Online’ Goes Riding Free With Spirit

Star Stable Online is a fast-growing multiplayer game that caters to an often overlooked demographic: girls. The average age of its core audience is about nine- to fourteen-years-old, but players include older teens. Many parents encourage their kids to play because they learn to read through the game. They may also find the games freemium model appealing, where the first five levels are free and then players have the option to purchase either a monthly or one-time “lifetime” subscription. Regardless of the reason, the game’s user base is expanding by 400,000 new users each month, despite how it’s a PC-only game.

Taina Malén, global chief marketing officer at Star Stable Entertainment, describes Star Stable simply as “the world’s most fun game for girls,” and fans are getting a special visitor thanks to a partnership with DreamWorks Animation. Spirit, the mustang from the 2002 Oscar-nominated film, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, will be making his way into the game as a horse players can meet and befriend. This partnership coincides with the launch of the animated show, Spirit Riding Free, on Netflix.

Malén sat down with AListDaily to talk about bringing Spirit into Star Stable and how girls just want to have fun.

Taina Malén, chief marketing officer, Star Stable Entertainment
Taina Malén, chief marketing officer, Star Stable Entertainment

What is Star Stable Online about?

It’s an MMORPG game built on a story about girls, with four heroic Soul Riders on the island of Jorvik. It’s an adventure game where you ride on a horse to complete quests and challenges for gear while helping your friends survive—using the powers of the island to keep the bad people who want to come in and drill for oil out.

What led to the development of an online game that appeals mainly to girls?

Marcus Thorell, the game creator and head of the studio, came together with a couple of other programmers. They had produced CD ROM games way back with some other developers built on the same IP. One day, they were surfing the internet and found out that there was still a lot of movement around this IP. There were groups of people building communities, and they started to think about bringing it into an online game.

So, they went to one of the big conferences in San Francisco or LA and participated in a presentation where someone said, “You cannot make games for girls. You cannot make games that are not on mobile.” That’s when they decided that that was exactly what they were going to do.

Are girls an overlooked market when it comes to video games?

Historically, yes. I helped found a company in esports before Star Stable, and what was surprising to me was that there were a lot of girls in gaming and esports, but you didn’t really see them. I feel that, generally, there have been a lot of games for the male audience and we see that males have been visualized in the industry. The industry leans heavily toward male-oriented games with boy characters. But I think that’s changing with mobile games. These days, it’s a natural thing for girls to play games.

What is the key to reaching the girl gamer demographic as Star Stable grows in the US?

Our game has been built by our community, which was there before we were. We helped them to help us build our game. The US is one of our biggest markets, and it has one of our biggest communities. I would also say that it’s one of our most active communities. The game and community drive so much interest and traffic, and the better the game is, the more we grow, no matter what market we talk about.

The US is a busier market, perhaps more so than some of the European countries. There are a lot of entertainment, lots of TV channels, and a lot of other things. Some European countries don’t have half that entertainment.

How does a PC MMORPG built for girls stand out in that kind of crowded market?

I think we stand out using our core business, which is producing a really good MMORPG for this target audience. We’ve stuck to our core and what we know how to do. Obviously, time will be competition for all of us in this market, and any market that has to do with entertainment. We believe that as long as we do what we passionately think is the most fun for this this audience, we will have them. We’ve also produced apps—there’s a Star Stable companion app right now, along with a foal app, where you can raise your own horse that can be moved into the game.

How does the audience discover Star Stable?

We have a lot of organic growth. It’s all about word-of-mouth—things you see on YouTube—especially with a tween audience. We have about 1.2 million pieces of content on YouTube produced by our fans. That sort of thing is very shareable, and the do so between each other. That’s typically how our audience grows. They talk to each other and invite each other to play.

We’ve also done some general advertising online, and we’ve done some TV campaigns. We’ve worked a lot with Nickelodeon throughout both the US and Europe along with Disney.

Spirit ImageHow did the partnership with DreamWorks come together?

We were approached by DreamWorks through our licensing department. They were looking for opportunities in the gaming environment and we looked like the perfect partner to collaborate with. We looked at different ways of collaborating, and discussions eventually grew to including Spirit in our game. We were reluctant to have other IPs in our game. Although we’ve done a few equestrian campaigns with different celebrities who have appeared as in-game characters, this is the furthest we’ve gone in collaborating with another IP.

How is Spirit presented in the game?

Spirit appears in different places, so players see him as a teaser at first. Our players are fans, so they know what’s happening every second. If a player spots Spirit, that will be the news of the day on social media. Then, slowly but surely, we’ll move him into the game so that you can make friends with him if you complete certain quests. You’ll never be able to buy him, but you can get him a gift so that he becomes your friend and part of your stable. He differs from all the other horses because he is a free horse. You won’t be able ride on him with a saddle, but you’ll have a blanket. It will be very clear what Spirit is about so that we keep true to the nature of that IP and story.

Will there be cross-promotion between the game and the Netflix show?

We’re not doing a promotion with Netflix, but we will be promoting the show. For example, we’ll be promoting the Spirit horse on our YouTube channel, and in doing so, mention the Netflix series.

Why use a freemium model for Star Stable?

The freemium model is just one of those things that has been there since day one. We launched that way, it worked very well, and we never had reason to reevaluate it. We’re trying out different models in different countries, but we don’t see a reason to change something that works well. When we first decided on this business model, we wanted it to be something that people could feel secure about. You’re not playing for free while getting all different offers to buy this and that. You have to buy things to survive in the game, but you get a weekly allowance and you know what you get when you pay the fee.

What is the strategy for engaging with an audience that may outgrow the game one day?

First of all, our lifetime players are very dedicated. About 80 percent of our users have been playing for more than three years. I wanted to mention that because it’s very unique. These players need to have logged into the game within the past two months to count.

We keep players engaged with the game with weekly updates, which gives them new content, quests and things to do. It’s also very important for us to be very engaged on social media, community channels and customer service. We want our players engaged with us, our content, our personalities, our YouTube videos and so on. It’s like a boy band, in a way. We want to keep that dialogue going, and a lot of passion goes into the work.

Most of all, you have to continue producing a fantastic product for a unique and loving audience. Don’t lose track and keep up the passion. Our culture is very important, as a startup growing into a mid-size company, and we try to keep that spirit up and focus on producing the best game that we can while keeping up the community engagement. Listen to the community and let them be them. You also need to be modern and be aware of how the community behaves.

Nielsen: Mobile Gamers Leveling Off; PS4 Purchase Intention Grows

Nielsen Games has released its annual report on the state of the US video game industry, exploring how Americans consume and feel about gaming in general.

Games 360 2017 states that 64 percent of the US population for people ages 13-and-over are gamers—a slight increase over last year’s count of 63 percent.

Platform Preferences

Despite all the gaming platforms available these days, Nielsen found that consumers favor one type over all others. The percentage of those who play on only one device type (console, mobile/tablet or computer) has risen year-over-year to 46 percent. Of the three device types, 47 percent prefer to play on consoles, compared to computers and mobile/tablets at 27 and 26 percent, respectively.

After several years of sustained growth, playing on mobile and tablet appears to have leveled off, Nielsen observed. Sixty-two percent of console players now play games on mobile or tablet, compared to 66 percent a year ago.

Whether Americans play games or not, a majority of those surveyed for Nielsen Games’ report were aware of the PlayStation 4. From the general population ages 13-and-up, 67 percent said they were aware of the PS4, compared to 77 percent of gamers and 52 percent of non-gamers. Xbox One and Xbox One S were not far behind in brand awareness, with 61 percent (general population), 72 percent (gamers) and 41 percent (non-gamers).

This trend carried over to purchase intention, where more respondents intended to buy a PlayStation 4 (or another one, if already owned) than any other console listed.

Physical Or Digital?

While digital purchases have become far more commonplace in recent years, the choice to buy a physical copy of a game or digital one depends greatly on which platform that gamer prefers. For example, Nielsen found that console gamers prefer physical copies to add to their collections (69 percent compared to 31 percent preferring digital). On the other hand, 75 percent of PC gamers prefer digital downloads compared to 25 percent who prefer physical copies.

The report notes an interesting correlation between these choices—those who prefer digital copies spend more time each week gaming. PC gamers who prefer digital copies of a game spend, on average, 8.1 hours of leisure time per week playing, and like-minded console players spend around 7.1 hours a week compared to 5.5 hours per week (PC gamers who prefer physical copies) and 6.1 hours were week (console gamers who prefer physical copies).

Esports Enthusiasts

Ninety-four percent of esports fans are also gamers, Nielsen observed, noting that 77 percent are male and 23 percent are female. Those who have become a fan of esports within the last year listed “friends and family” as the top reason for the sudden interest, followed by “social media.” For those who have been esports fans four years or longer, “family and friends” is also a big reason, second only to “interest in a specific game that led to esports.”

As esports becomes more mainstream, 17 percent of respondents say they use ESPN to watch game-related video, compared to 12 percent in 2016.