Vertebrae Platform Brings Native Advertising To VR

Putting the right kind of advertising into VR experiences is one of the keys to helping the technology grow over the long-term, and that’s what Vertebrae (which made the Blair Witch VR Experience) is enabling for developers. The advertising platform released a new SDK on Wednesday, allowing VR developers to add branded placements into their experiences. These could be simple product placements or the interaction could lead to an event, like a pop-out 360-degree video. The system then tracks the engagement for these placements.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae, told AListDaily that the SDK currently supports the Unity Engine, since it is used so prevalently in mobile development, but Unreal Engine support will come in the future as the tool becomes platform agnostic. He then went into detail about how the Vertebrae platform will help drive the growth of VR by connecting content creators with advertisers to build placements that fit in naturally with the experience.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae
Vince Cacace, Vertebrae founder and CEO

How does the new SDK and Vertebrae platform work?

It allows VR content creators an alternative to a paywall or transactional model. Developers can implement our SDK and natively advertise with what’s in their VR environments. They can do so with product placement and 360 video, and those placements can add to the realism of the content without detracting from the end user experience. We have a good pipeline of brands, and now we have a more of a fully shaped platform with all the features needed for bigger campaigns.

Say there’s a tabletop that in a scene. You would create a 3D object on the tabletop, such a beverage or a consumer electronic, and categorize some information about it within the publisher portal so we have some context into what that placement is. What we do on the other side is work with brands. Through the campaign manager, we can target lists of those placements throughout the network and bring live ads into that environment. The ad could also be a 360 video, which could show up before or during the experience—whatever the publisher chooses—and we pay publishers at the end of the month.

How does the Vertebrae platform differ from what developers already do?

We spent a lot of time working on the user experience. We’re a founding member of the IAB Tech Lab, focused on AR and VR ad units and formats. That’s what we’ve devoted a lot of R&D to over the past year-and-a-half. Providing a native option is a differentiator in terms of both the ability to insert an ad and to have a more refined user experience than just throwing something into a piece of content. On the 360 video side, we have a good user experience that’s built for VR. We’re not just putting 2D videos into a VR environment.

The other differentiator is that we have a good base of brands and agencies in a pipeline of advertisers that are interested in VR content. Technology aside, that’s another missing link. It’s not easy to find the right advertiser for a specific piece of content, and that’s what we’ve built our business around.

Do you still believe that gaze-based interaction is important to the branded VR experience?

Definitely. There’s still a lot of questions in the traditional ad industry about verification and how we know whether somebody saw an ad. We found that gaze is a good indicator, and we’re able to tell exactly how many times people saw an ad, how long they looked at it, and how close they were to it. All those things start to come into play, and we’ve noticed a good reception because there isn’t really a concept of fraud. We have exact data.

Is there a difference between how the platform works with mobile VR headsets compared to premium ones?

We’re very focused on mobile VR—we see a lot of our scale coming from mobile. From a tracking perspective, it’s very similar, except you don’t have the distance metrics. You can do a lot more in a premium room scale environment with 360 degrees of freedom. With mobile VR, it’s more gaze-based.

Do you think the platform will drive the creation of more free-to-play VR games?

I think the answer is yes. What I realize is that—especially on mobile platforms—people don’t want to pay for every experience. They don’t want to pay to watch 360 videos. We definitely see a free-to-play ecosystem that is ready to emerge in mobile VR, and we think that this will help support that. On the other side, we also think that it’s possible for premium developers to double-dip, in terms of doing product placement within their experiences, if it fits the context and the narrative.


Can this SDK benefit VR livestreaming events?

Yes, we’ve done some tests with that. Supporting 360 livestreams of sports, music and other events is something that we’re very interested in. We’ve seen the integration work in a couple of different ways. Imagine a skybox environment when you’re watching a sporting event, or a branded skybox behind you. At the same time, you could have 360 ads come in during a commercial break. At music events, you could have a menu screen takeover with some placed products, and maybe a virtual merchandise booth with branded products while there’s branding on the stage. I definitely see a lot of opportunities in that space.

What are your long-term goals with the platform?

The ultimate goal is to add a monetization layer that doesn’t suck for developers. We think that VR is the perfect medium—providing a happy balance between advertisers, content creators and consumers. We’ve built a piece of technology that we’re very proud of and we want to further distribute it out into the ecosystem. Our long-term focus will probably change according to how the market reacts to VR in two or three years, but the goal will always be to continue to find ways to cleverly insert ads in ways that benefit consumers, creators and advertisers.

‘Stellaris’ Celebrates Anniversary By Packing All Expansions Together

Next to Cities Skylines, Stellaris is one of the most popular games Paradox Interactive publishes. The turn-based sci-fi strategy game, which lets players explore the reaches of space while competing with other aliens to build an empire, celebrated its one-year anniversary on Tuesday by releasing a set of free alien portraits that players can use as avatars alongside the Digital Anniversary Edition. The Anniversary Edition collects the core game, the Leviathans Story Pack, the Plantoids Species Pack, and April’s big premium expansion, Utopia in one package.

While previous expansions added story elements and aliens to the game, Utopia was the first premium add-on to emphasize Stellaris‘ core strengths by focusing on the customized development of the player’s empire. With it, players can decide on the kind of utopia they’d like to strive toward. Whether it’s a species of psychically linked citizens, a cybernetic race that’s out to conquer the galaxy (similar to the Borg from Star Trek), or something in-between, your utopia is out there. The expansion includes three different ascension paths to build toward along with megastructures like the Dyson Sphere (a structure built around a star to capture all its energy) to help players realize their dreams.

Martin Anward, game director for Stellaris, Paradox Development Studio
Martin Anward, game director for Stellaris, Paradox Development Studio

AListDaily sat down with Martin Anward, game director for Stellaris, to talk about what goes into making the perfect empire. “Utopia is an expansion where you can build the empire of your dreams,” he said.

Paradox named the expansion Utopia because it expanded on the ways the game could be played. “We wanted to add more play styles, since the game is very focused on expansion, which is very traditional for a 4X strategy game,” said Anward. “There has been a desire among the players for different ways to play. Some want to play as a fanatic pacifist, claim their space, and build a little utopia. This is what we wanted to focus on: ‘What is your view of your empire?’ This is one of the big strengths of Stellaris—the customization and imagining your empire whenever you play. We gave players more tools to do that with.

“You can have the vision [for an empire], but maybe it’s limited by the game mechanics. So, this was something that we wanted to build on, because it is the core strength of Stellaris. You don’t always want to just work on the weaknesses. You also want to take what works and make it even better.”

We asked Anward if it was difficult to re-engage with the player base when a new expansion released. “I think, generally speaking, we have generally good reception to our expansions,” said Anward. “There was a lot of excitement about Utopia, as there was with Leviathans. I think people know that the way we work is to launch free updates along with an expansion. So, even if you don’t pay more money, you get a better game. We put a lot of interesting and cool things into the expansions, but they’re optional. I think our fans appreciate that model and they really seem to be psyched about them as we keep expanding and building our game.”

Anward then detailed Paradox’s approach for spreading awareness of new expansions. “We typically keep up a high degree of communication with our fan base,” said Anward. “Obviously, we have social media, and we have our forums. We post weekly dev diaries where we go into detail about the mechanics that are coming. Generally, I think we have a pretty good reach with our gamers and we try to always have ongoing and honest communication with them about where the game is going, what we’re doing next, and what we’re focusing on.”

Is there any concern about expansions splitting players up? “One thing we have in Stellaris multiplayer is that you’ll always have access to all of the expansions that the host has,” he said. “That effectively means that there’s no splitting of the player base. If you’re playing multiplayer, you’ll have whatever the host has, and if you’re in single player, then it doesn’t really matter.”

Then there was the matter of how Paradox convinced players to pick up expansions on launch day instead of waiting for collected versions like the Digital Anniversary Edition to come out. “This might sound a little old fashioned, but you convince people by making a really good expansion,” said Anward. “If the features are, ‘holy shit, I’ve always wanted to do this!’ then you’re not going to wait. You’re not going to want to wait to get it.”

If some of the themes found in Stellaris seem a bit familiar, it’s not your imagination: Anward said popular sci-fi influenced the game a lot. “Our approach with Stellaris is kind of like taking every single sci-fi film and gathering them. For instance, we have something called Citizen Service in our civics options, where military service guarantees citizenship—a reference to Starship Troopers. We like to do that sort of thing because a lot of the people who play this game imagine their empire through the lens of pop culture. It might not be exactly like those empires, but someone might want to play in a republic where you have to fight to vote. If we give them that feature, they will be happy because they’ll be able to build that utopia.”

With the game officially celebrating its first anniversary, we asked Anward why he thought turn-based strategy games remained so popular when there were so many action titles on the market. “I think a lot of it is the sense of progression,” he said. “You start with this one little planet and one little settler. Then you explore, you discover, and you found your first city and encounter someone else. As you keep playing, the game sort of keeps playing with you. Things keep happening and you pass milestones. Then you sit there at the end of the game and look at your enormous, prosperous, wonderful empire and you know that all of it came from one little planet. That is a really good feeling.”

So, what’s Anward’s favorite ascension path from Utopia? “I actually like the psionic one the most, but I love all of them,” he said. “I really like turning my people into robots, and I love what you can do with the biological paths, where you can mold a species so that they no longer have feelings or have them live a very long time—completely mess with every single species in the galaxy. But I like the psionic one because once you complete the second stage, you contact this thing called The Shroud, which is another dimension where psionics come from. Then you can explore it and speak with the things there. You can even sign a deal with the devil—one of the spirits living there—and get all the benefits that may or may not turn out badly in the end.”

The Utopia expansion has loads of features, but what’s left to do after building the perfect empire? “Isn’t that the thing about utopia?” asked Anward. “It’s an unreachable goal. No matter how amazing your empire is, there’s probably always another place you want to go and another thing you want to achieve. That’s another reason why we called the expansion Utopia; we don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect empire. There’s always something more to achieve.”

Foursquare: “Location Is The Cookie Of The Real World”

For many, the original promise of location-based marketing was to serve up advertisements for a particular store—say a sandwich chain—when someone was near the physical location. Now, that same sandwich chain owner can not only choose to serve ads to people in the area, they can build consumer segments based on historic visit data. For example, they can run ads to groups of people who frequent particular competitive sandwich shops, or sandwich shops in general. Or if they have new healthy menu offerings, they can target people who regularly visit gyms, health food stores or smoothie shops.

The above scenario that just played out is part of the evolution of data-infused, location-based marketing and intelligence as explained by Michael Rosen, vice president of sales for Foursquare, who joined AListDaily to detail the importance of using data to identify and capture on consumers’ real-time offline purchase intent and convert that into additional revenue.

“Location is the cookie of the real world, and as a location intelligence company, Foursquare has a unique first-party consumer dataset that marketers can leverage to better understand and reach potential customers,” Rosen says. “We’re firm believers that where you go is the best indicator of who you are. By incorporating location data, marketers are developing new strategies around learnings that were previously unavailable.”

Foursquare’s location data company launched in 2009 as an app that had the interests of consumers intertwined in their DNA—check-in at the local coffee shop. Now you’re at the gym. Then the diner, and the bar, and so forth.

During its formative years, they used GPS and other location signals to collect a treasure trove of data, and because they had intel on consumer interests and specific businesses, leadership started to reposition the company as a location intelligence enterprise offering a new tool for the disposal of marketers across a gamut of industries.

The transition took some time, but they’re now seeing results from the repositioning. Last year was Foursquare’s biggest revenue-generating year to date with a 74 percent year-over-year growth in income.

“Understanding foot traffic doesn’t need to be a mystery for marketers anymore and it’s a huge game changer on the measurement side,” Rosen says. “Now marketers can understand the entire consumer journey from ad exposure, to foot traffic measurement to purchase data.”

A study last year by Forbes Insights indicated that location-based marketing is becoming essential for brands to remain competitive. Yes, long gone are the days of just search and social. Consumer patterns and needs now need to be met in real-time by using relevant and contextual messaging.

Rosen says that location intelligence bridges the gap between online and offline by informing marketers about media mix and measurement models at every step—from content creation to targeting to measurement, all based on where people go in the real world.

According to a Location Based Marketing Association report from March, over 50 percent of companies are currently using location-based data to target their customers, and 25 percent of marketing budgets are allocated to location-based marketing.

The next step in the evolving process came in March when Foursquare partnered with brands like Taco Bell, Lowe’s, H&M and Equinox, among others, to provide them with deep analytics based around real-world foot traffic—think of the tool as a living, breathing Google Analytics-like data-spitting organism that aims at eliminating blind spots in marketers’ metrics. 

“Not all data is created equal and marketers at Fortune 500 companies need to consider what data they’re using, and where it is derived from. But when it comes to location data, any major company with a physical footprint can no longer afford to overlook the capabilities and opportunities that location intelligence can open up for them,” Rosen says. “I think the biggest challenge is that some companies think location should be a ‘check-the-box’ strategy, but I’d like to challenge marketers to go beyond the idea of just location data and instead use location to make deep, meaningful business decisions that can result in better outcomes.”

In addition to working with over 100,000 developers for their Places database and API, as well as 150 million devices for their media business via Pinpoint by Foursquare, the company is piling up partnerships with the likes of Snapchat to fine-tune specific location-based advertising. Rosen says they don’t get data back from all of their partners, which also include Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Twitter, Uber, among others, but some help them improve their machine learning and understanding of venues and place shapes to further train and strengthen their database.

“In the past, marketers had to wait months to get data back on whether or not their ad campaigns were successful, but at that point, it was too late for them to course correct if something wasn’t resonating,” Rosen says. “Being able to measure brick-and-mortar foot traffic results of digital ads offers a much quicker turnaround and allows marketers to change their campaigns and strategies while their ads are still running. That’s been tremendous for driving business results and we’ve seen it time and again with our media and attribution partners spanning QSR, retail, auto, entertainment and more.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Skybound Brings Horror To Life With ‘Delusion’ VR Experience

Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment is most known for its bestselling The Walking Dead comic book series, which has expanded into two popular AMC television series, video games and merchandise. But Skybound creates content for all platforms, including virtual reality. The company was early into 360-degree storytelling with Gone, which was created for the Samsung Gear VR in 2015.

Now Skybound has turned creator Jon Braver’s live Los Angeles haunted horror series Delusion into a VR experience. The first 360-degree story is based on the 2014 haunted play Lies Within, written and directed by Braver and produced by Skybound and Witty Acronym. Set in 1947 North Carolina, the story follows a pair of rabid fans in search of a missing novelist Elena Fitzgerald, whose literary nightmares have come to life.

Rachel Skidmore, director of media development at Skybound, told AListDaily that translating Delusion from a live action play that occurred within a real house into episodic VR was aided by having Braver on board. She said the director understands how to use the full 360-degree sphere of space.

“We took the 2014 script and hired some of the cast from the play,” Skidmore said. “We invented some new characters and amped up the production design and added a lot of cool monsters, taking the experience to the next level.”

Characters from Skybound's 'Delusion' Play

Skybound filmed Delusion in the same Los Angeles historic mansions in West Adams where the live plays were held. Braver rigged some of the same stunts and choreography for the VR experience.

The experience will offer viewers a third-person perspective as they explore the house and interact with different characters from Fitzgerald’s novels. VR allows the user to be immersed in the Southern Gothic setting, which Skidmore said has a looming feeling of the swampy humid setting for the macabre.

“It’s more interactive and immersive as you move through house guided by characters and different people might be pulled into closets or you may be asked to hide, and the whole time you’re following the story,” Skidmore said.

Delusion is comprised of four 10-minute chapters for season one of Lies Within.

“The length had more to do with how much of the story we put into each chapter to introduce characters or give the audience a sweet cliffhanger,” Skidmore explained.

Skidmore said 360-degree filming gave Skybound more room to freak people out with horror storytelling.

“I love playing with the orientation,” Skidmore explained. “You can put people in facing one direction and guide them through sound design that gets you going and builds the suspense and tension, and then force people (or not) to turn all the way around and face something scary.”

Just as it does with The Walking Dead TV show, Skybound employed practical effects over CGI to bring the story to life.

“The key to the zombies is those awesome make-up effects,” Skidmore said. “One of our creatures [in Delusion] we built this mechanical suit with light features, and we’ll amplify it with some CGI to enhance the experience.”

Skidmore said there are more stories to be told down the line, just as there are multiple plays that explore different stories within this universe created by the fictional Fitzgerald (and the real-life Braver).

Skybound also plans on turning the Delusion IP into a multiplatform brand. While it’s well-known within LA because of the plays, VR opens up a global audience.

“We can take it out and make it a more widely known property,” Skidmore said. “Whether it’s expanding it out as a VR experience that takes place in homes or other experiential storytelling within the brand, we have a lot of ideas.”

One potential direction could be to create a room-scale version of Delusion for VR arcades–something Skybound partner Starbreeze VR is doing with The Walking Dead.

“While this isn’t built for room-scale, we could give people an opportunity to view it in a VR arcade with a more robust soundscape experience,” Skidmore said. “You don’t have hands in this iteration, but for future seasons, we’d love to give people room-scale and have hands, and a more first-person experience.”

Skidmore also envisions a future live action iteration that combines mixed reality with immersive theater, which would harken back to Delusion’s roots and be set in an actual haunted house that people would walk through with actors.

“We could also adapt this for comics,” Skidmore added. “I think there’s room for some kind of mixed reality reading experiences.”

Adults Spend 12 Hours A Day Consuming Media, Rarely Trust Ads

This week in our marketing statistics round-up, we compare display ad spend to digital video and mobile, consumers share their trust (or lack thereof) for advertising, and casino games hit the jackpot with mobile players.

Smartphones And Smart Devices

Amazon Echo and Google Home will account for 192 million of the four billion smart home devices in use by 2021, according to a new study by Ovum. The number of connected smart devices in use will nearly double from eight billion in 2016 to 15 billion in 2021, the company predicts. Smartphone adoption, however, is finally slowing . . . a lot.

In four years, annual growth of smartphones sold will have slowed from 30 percent in 2014 to only four percent.

Speaking of smartphones, US adults will spend two hours and 42 minutes each day consuming major media on smartphones by 2019, eMarketer predicts. The average daily time spent with major media for US adults will slightly exceed 12 hours this year, according to the company’s latest report “US Time Spent with Media: eMarketer’s Updated Estimates and Forecast for 2014-2019.”

Digital Up; Display Down

According to IAB’s fourth annual “Digital Content NewFronts: Video Ad Spend Study,” US marketers anticipate spending more than $9 million on their brand’s digital and mobile video advertising this year—67 percent more than 2015. The study polled 358 US agency and marketing professionals from a variety of industries. Eighty-eight percent said that they increased their original digital video budget as a result of attending the 2016 NewFronts. In addition, 77 percent agreed that the 2016 NewFronts encouraged them to investigate ways to incorporate VR or 360-degree video advertising into their marketing strategy.

Display ad spending isn’t enjoying the same growth however. Forrester predicts a potential decrease in display spending as high as $2.9 billion in 2018. The report explains this shift as a combination of ad ineffectiveness and the consumer’s ability to obtain what they want without interruptions, among others.


Trust And Transparency

Consumers love to hate ads, and a survey conducted by Choozle found that 41 percent of respondents rarely trust the ads they’re shown. In fact, 54 percent believe that less than half the ads they see are accurate. Half of the respondents reported having “negative” feelings toward mobile ads and 81 percent would rather be shown ads on their computer than their smartphone. Why the hate? Choozle’s survey identified the top three reasons people dislike online ads—they slow down web pages (28 percent), the same ad is shown multiple times regardless of someone’s interest (26 percent) and they take up too much space on a web page (22 percent).

Marketers rely on trustworthy data to serve relevant ads, and are demanding better transparency. A new survey by Metamarkets found that about 75 percent of marketers are concerned about the lack of data transparency in programmatic advertising. Nearly half of all brands (49 percent) said they can’t trust one-fifth or more of the data upon which they base media-buying decisions. Sixteen percent of all marketers (brands, agencies and publishers) participating in the survey distrusted at least 30 percent of their data and 41 percent said they wouldn’t significantly increase their programmatic budgets until there was better transparency.

Google Plays A Good Game

Google Play continued to lead in worldwide downloads over iOS in the first quarter, according to insights by App Annie. It saw both the greatest absolute growth and the fastest growth rate year over year out of the two stores, the site reported. Google Play grew 20 percent year over year, fueled largely by growth in emerging markets like India and Indonesia. Where iOS fell short on numbers, it certainly made up for in revenue—increasing its lead to 100 percent in consumer spend over Google Play in the first quarter.

Social Spend And Snapchat Exclusivity

Facebook’s revenue is up 51 percent, according to the company’s first quarter results. Total monthly active users were up 17 percent year-over-year reaching 1.94 billion, with advertising revenues hitting $7.9 billion—85 percent of which generated by ads.

While Facebook can boast big numbers, Snapchat still has something over the social media giant—exclusivity. App Annie recently measured behavior during Q4 of 2016 and found that on an average day, 35 percent of Snapchat’s daily users in the US aren’t reachable on Facebook that same day. Meanwhile, 46 percent who used Snapchat daily weren’t on Instagram and about 61 percent of Snapchat’s fans didn’t watch YouTube the same day.

Mobile Casinos And Virtual Race Tracks

Social casino games are finding a new home on mobile devices, according to insights provided by SuperData. Eighty-five percent of social casino gamers now play on smartphones, while PC has fallen to its lowest market share at 49 percent. Given the choice of one or the other, mobile is where it’s at, with 27 percent of gamers playing exclusively on a mobile device, and PC-only has dropped to six percent. An impressive 74 percent of smartphone users and 72 percent of tablet users play slots, SuperData reported.

It seems that Nintendo has a winner with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch. With more than 459,000 combined packaged and digital sales in the US on launch day alone, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the fastest-selling game in the long-running Mario Kart series—a record previously held by Mario Kart Wii. Nintendo reports that solid sales numbers for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe equate to an attach rate of 45 percent, meaning that nearly one in two Nintendo Switch owners in the US purchased a copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the first day it was available.

NBA ELeague Takes Shape With 17 Teams

Seventeen NBA teams have committed to the first season of the NBA 2K ELeague, a partnership between Take-Two Interactive Software and the NBA. Among the inaugural teams are all of the teams active in esports, including the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, and Sacramento Kings. Some of the elite teams in the NBA are going virtual with five-man video game teams, including the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Other teams participating are the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards.

In September 2016 the Sixers became the first professional sports team in North America to acquire and manage an esports franchise, Team Dignitas, which fields six teams in five of esports most popular games, including League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.

“Under the Philadelphia 76ers’ leadership and guidance, Team Dignitas has solidified its place as one of the most accessible and compelling brands in the esports space today,” Team Dignitas CEO Jonathan Kemp said in a statement. “The NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers, Team Dignitas and NBA 2K are storied, global brands with massive international fan bases eager for player access, original content, live events, and more. The Team Dignitas roster includes players spanning over 15 countries and speaking more than 10 languages. The NBA and forward-thinking franchises like the Sixers are the most innovative entities in the sports industry today. When you combine that industry experience and desire to grow the game of basketball, with the esport fan’s insatiable appetite for content and unparalleled expectation for player access, the result will be a league of epic proportions and opportunities for partnership and growth.”

Chad Biggs, Philadelphia 76ers’ senior vice president of corporate partnership and activation, added that the team’s experience with Team Dignitas over the past few months gives the Sixers an incredible advantage as they launch this new league.

“Our ability to pull esports expertise and industry acumen from our Team Dignitas executives and best practices in organizational infrastructure, branding and marketing, corporate partnerships and fan engagement from our Sixers front office will make this new league the quintessential combination of esports and sports,” Biggs said. “In only a few months we’ve created strong relationships with game developers, come to a better understanding of the training and development needs of the esports athletes today, and generated corporate partnerships that give brands a direct portal into this burgeoning market. In addition to the new livestreaming opportunities our Facebook partnership will provide fans and partners, we look forward to announcing three new corporate partnerships with dynamic activation elements in the next four months.”

“Utilizing technology to grow the game of basketball is core to our organizational mission,” Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We’re excited to join the league from the beginning, work with the NBA to reach new audiences around the globe, and provide our voice to the conversation about the future of sports.”

Team play within the league will consist of five players utilizing original avatars. Additional details on player selection, team branding and league structure will be announced over the following months. Matt Holt, vice president of global partnerships at the NBA, told AListDaily that esports came onto the league’s radar a long time ago.

“We’ve been having competitive gaming tournaments for years, but not under the esports title,” Holt explained. “2K has run a couple of competitive gaming events at last year’s Finals and this year’s All-Star, and we’ve had some learnings through those tournaments.”

Holt said the NBA 2K ELeague was a natural convergence of events, given that many current owners and players (Jonas Jerebko, Andy Miller) and teams (Sixers and Heat) and past greats (Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Rick Fox) had already invested in esports. “One of main reasons we want to launch this league is to expose basketball to the esports world and the broader gaming community,” Holt said. “Esports is standing on its own with League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO. We’ll see what kind of expertise we can bring to the space with the NBA brand and 2K.”

Holt isn’t afraid of esports taking the younger audience away from traditional NBA games. He even foresees the potential to host esports competitions at NBA arenas before an NBA game to encourage new fans to experience real NBA basketball action after taking in a virtual competition. “There’s a lot of crossover between traditional sports fans and esports fans,” Holt said. “We’re selling millions of NBA games a year, so there’s a large audience out there that’s young and tech savvy and interested in our products.”

The NBA 2K ELeague will debut in 2018, and details on the league structure will be announced later. The relationship between NBA and Take-Two dates back to 1999, with the NBA 2K franchise selling over 68 million units worldwide. The most recent release, NBA 2K17, is the highest-rated annual sports game of the current console generation and the highest-rated title in the history of the series. To date, NBA 2K17 has sold-in nearly 7 million units, and is poised to become 2K’s highest-selling sports title ever.

Ralf Reichert, CEO of ESL told AListDaily that traditional sports leagues and federations getting involved esports will make the whole sport more popular and more accepted.

“It’s a new kind of content that wasn’t there in the last couple of years,” said Reichert. “The teams and the leagues with their brand power, and the games with their big fellowships, should be able to create a cool ecosystem, which then maybe ties in with what we’re doing. But mostly, it will help general esports grow.”

Turbo Studio CEO Explains How ‘Super Senso’ Innovates Mobile Gaming Experience

Mobile gaming is often seen as being dominated by the same handful of experiences, but Turbo Studios (a New York-based company comprised of video game industry veterans from Riot, SuperCell, Nintendo, PlayStation, Square Enix, Ketchapp and more) is looking to change that up in a big way with its debut game, Super Senso. Yohei Ishii, founder and CEO at Turbo Studios, explained that the GungHo published turn-based strategy game is inspired by the Advance Wars franchise (from the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and DS handheld consoles) and is built for mobile devices. Essentially, players create armies using a variety of unit types and move them strategically to destroy the opposing player’s base. Taken together, that’s a recipe for an incredible new experience on the mobile market.

Speaking with AListDaily, Ishii describes Super Senso as “a strategy game where you compete with other people on a global scale. The more time that you put into the game, the more that it rewards you. It is not a twitchy, bash-em-up kind of game, nor is it the kind of game where you zone out and lose yourself for 30 minutes at a time. If you like strategy and competing with others, this game is right down your alley.” Ishii also emphasized the fun of creating armies from disparate characters and having them battle it out like in Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo consoles.

Turbo is working with over 15 livestreamers to spread the word, show what Super Senso is all about, and grow the community. “This is our beginning,” said Ishii. “Community building is our function.” He then explained how Super Senso isn’t like any of your other mobile games.

Yohei Ishii, Turbo Studios founder and CEO
Yohei Ishii, Turbo Studios founder and CEO

What led to the formation of Turbo Studios?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked at Square Enix on some great franchises like the Dragon Quest series and Final Fantasy—not just on the console side, but also the MMOs. Before Turbo, I worked at CCP with EVE Online and its incredibly passionate group of players. The experience that I drew from that was that community is paramount. As long as you connect and resonate with players by communicating with them, and ultimately make them happy, they will continue to be great players and loyal fans. What I felt was lacking in the mobile space was that sense of focus and real value to building and nurturing a community.

On a more granular level, I’m a big fan of Advance Wars. When I had the opportunity to start my own company, the catalyst was: what if someone took what made Advance Wars fun, brought it to the modern era (from a platform standpoint) and made it more accessible? We are making more of an homage than a carbon copy. In some ways, it’s similar to what Riot did with the Dota community by elevating that gameplay to a more modern era.

We wanted to take that turn-based strategy gameplay and optimize it for mobile devices by taking advantage of how they’re always present and connected. The smartphone is the most intimate device that I own. I’m constantly checking it, and it’s where I go to interact with the rest of the world. So, how do we tap into that kind of power and create a great game experience around that with a focus on competitive gameplay? That’s what we’ve been doing at Turbo for about three-and-a-half years.

Turbo employs industry veterans from prominent video game companies. With that expertise, why put the focus on a mobile game instead of PC or consoles?

We have a great roster of veterans from the console and PC space, and I think what brought us all together was the love of creating great game experiences at the highest quality possible. But at the same time, developing these projects and franchises on PC and console has become larger. The team sizes have become enormous. A large team might have been 200 people years ago, but now you can count them in the thousands, depending on the project. The amount of time it takes to develop a AAA game has continued to expand.

With our goal of defining a new game experience—something that’s innovative and focused on competitive gameplay—we thought mobile was the ideal place to do that. Not only is it more accessible, but there’s the ability to have a different form of interaction with the player base while breaking the barrier to entry. You don’t have to buy a $400 console or a dedicated gaming PC. We want the game experience to speak for itself. That’s also why we decided to go down the free-to-play route.

What has that collective experience taught you about standing out in the mobile game market?

It’s been incredibly humbling, to be honest. Again, I’ve been quite fortunate to have worked with some of the best publishers and studios out there, and I was fairly prepared to dig into the mobile space. But the reality is—if you want to make a derivative game, that’s pretty straightforward, but it’s not a function of how good your game is. It becomes a function of how good your marketing is and how big your war chest is for advertising.

What we set out to do was to create a truly innovative game, which is easier said than done. We found that the types of gameplay that worked on handhelds and consoles didn’t work for mobile. So, we spent a lot of time making sure the play experience was tailor-made for mobile. After creating a great game experience, we went to work on the monetization framework and a core loop experience so that doesn’t feel tacked on. We had to make sure that players felt that there was a fair chance to win and advance in Super Senso or any Turbo game.

So, what we learned was to take our time, not rush a product out to market, and listen to the players. We worked very closely with content creators and professional teams, took all that community input, and folded it back into the game. I don’t think that the hundreds of mobile games that come out every year have gone through that process and have that North Star.

How are you working with GungHo to get the word out about Super Senso?

We started about a year ago by having a presence at PAX events. Those were great opportunities to see how the player community reacted to Super Senso on the show floor next to Puzzle and Dragons and Let It Die. It was very enlightening to see how players were engaging. Beyond that, we’ve been eliciting feedback with many of the influential voices in the content creator community and professional teams. We’ve established a great group of evangelists that will be walking people through the game, explaining what Super Senso is about, and highlighting the magical moments while offering tips and tricks.

It’s not about flashy marketing—that’s not who we are. The way to stand out is to work with people who are sincere to the market. The people that we’ve connected with, and garnered the support of, didn’t come because we have GungHo with us. I think it’s because they truly believe that what we’re trying to do with Super Senso is good for the overall space. A lot of these content creators are hungry for something new. We aren’t another card-battler, we aren’t another mobile MOBA, and we’re not another tower defense game—that’s not our thing.

Statistics show that most mobile gamers delete games within one week of downloading them. What do you think is the key to continued engagement?

That’s the other side of the coin for mobile. It’s incredibly accessible, but at the same time, games are a tap away from being deleted. There is no sense of investment because you haven’t paid anything to download most of these games. I would say that once we’ve gotten players to download Super Senso and have that first experience, it’ll come down to whether the game feels different and if it’s fun. There’s also the aspect of how the game is built from the ground up to focus on a social connection, being a competitive game.

We also pride ourselves on the production quality of the game and its aesthetic, which comes from a former Nintendo artist, and gives our game a unique style. There’s a lot to be said for the art and how it motivates players to get that beautiful or cool looking unit. There are over 40 units to collect, and players could really want that baby dragon or the cat knight. It differentiates the game and showcases enough of it so that players will hopefully put the time in. It isn’t like any mobile game they’ve played before, and I hope people recognize that as they get into it.

How Intel Uses VR To Drive Innovation For The PGA Tour

The Intel Sports Group has teamed up with the PGA Tour to offer new ways for existing fans to experience golf through virtual reality and help attract new fans to the sport. Intel Sports will offer fans four different camera angles at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL from May 11 to 14.

The live VR experience can be viewed on Samsung Gear VR headsets on a global basis through the PGA Tour VR Live app available on the Oculus store. In addition, the 360 video stream will be available exclusively on Twitter and Periscope during all four days of the event.

David Aufhauser, Intel Sports Group managing director, told AListDaily from a big picture perspective that the company is using the latest technology to create a brand new way to experience golf content.

“Golf is a unique sport because of the way the courses work and the integration of data into the experience,” Aufhauser explained. “Being able to transport the viewer so you feel like you’re there and enabling fans to choose their own camera angle is just the beginning. We’ll also have a VR Cast for a produced experience for fans that don’t want to control the experience.”

While Fox Sports and NextVR have brought the US Open to VR headsets the past few years, Aufhauser said what differentiates this Intel Sports VR experience is full stereoscopic 3D viewing.

“We add the whole element of depth through stereoscopic cameras, which mimics the human head and allows you to feel like you’re there on the 17th hole,” Aufhauser said.

Data is also important for the sport of golf, as well as fans watching at home—many of whom are trying to improve their own game.

“VR allows us to integrate, visualize and create new experiences that match data to video,” Aufhauser explained. “Now you have a 360-degree canvas to work with to integrate leaderboard data, traditional broadcast graphics overlay and make use of the landscape when you look up or down to gain additional information.”

The introduction of controllers for the Google Daydream and new Samsung Gear VR is also unlocking more opportunities for mobile VR as Intel Sports looks to the future. Fans will be able to jump around the four camera perspectives without needing to hit a button on the headset.

“Anything that allows for a more natural navigation and engagement with the content is something we embrace,” Aufhauser said.

After this initial activation, Aufhauser said it will be up to the PGA to decide how future events are covered in VR. And part of that decision will be dictated by how fans embrace this technology at TPC Sawgrass.

“We have the technology to cover all 18 holes, but it’s about how you do each green or fairway or tee and optimize each hole for each of these cameras,” Aufhauser said. “We’re starting with some cool targeted experiences and the growth will come from how fans interact with that.”

Aufhauser said the intent is to continue with the PGA on additional Tour stops.

“One of the reasons the PGA is becoming early adopters with these alternate experiences is that they’re playing to a younger crowd and tapping into the up-and-coming golfers that are entering the Tour,” Aufhauser explained. “They also have a very tech-savvy fan base, in general, and VR is important for them.”

Intel is also opening up the VR experience for those who don’t have a headset through a multiplatform distribution plan.

“While the main rich experience is the app for Gear VR, we can also stream live to Twitter 360,” Aufhauser said. “That allows the Tour to get a much broader audience and it’s a stepping stone for that audience into VR.”

The Intel Sports Group is a new brand under the tech giant that’s currently working with the NBA through Voke VR (which Intel acquired in November 2016) and now the PGA Tour.

“Anytime we have more events under our belt with the NBA with 360 technology or the PGA Tour with VR technology, the processes and learnings of working with these leagues get translated,” Aufhauser said. “While one technology is integrated into a broadcast and the other is integrated into an app, the understanding of things like what the fans want and how we work with their production translates to building out a better experience.”

The model at Intel Sports is to allow the NBA and Turner and the PGA Tour and its broadcast partners to build these experiences for their specific audiences, according to Aufhauser.

“Having everyone under one roof in this new business unit is important,” Aufhauser said.

The Current State Of OTT Video Content

As marketers, you may see the term “OTT” quite a bit lately, especially during Digital Newfronts. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, OTT stands for “over-the-top” content—audio, video, and other media content delivered over the internet without the direct involvement of a provider. While internet service is required, this content may be accessed over free Wi-Fi as well and puts the user in control of what he or she watches at what time. Examples of OTT video are YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and AppleTV.

A Growing Audience

The digital video audience will grow 8.2 percent in 2017 according to eMarketer, and PwC predicts that OTT/streaming subscription video on demand revenue will grow to $10.4 billion by 2020.

Today, 78 percent of US consumers subscribe to at least one OTT service, according to PwC. Although most viewers currently add OTT to their pay-TV subscriptions, its disruptive potential is becoming more apparent. In 2014, 91 percent of US consumers said they could see themselves subscribing to cable in the following year but in 2015, that number had fallen to 79 percent.

Seventy-one percent of Gen Z has a Netflix subscription—more than any other generation, according to a report by VisionCritical, while only 45 percent of them watch cable TV on a television. A report by TiVo reveals that 91 percent of millennials pay for at least one subscription streaming service, 73 percent have streaming devices at home.

Revenue “Streaming”

The rise of OTT video services is changing advertising, especially in an age where ad blocking has become more popular. Each Netflix subscriber saves him or herself about 160 hours of commercials per year, according to calculations by Chord Cutting. As viewers migrate from traditional networks to digital alternatives, advertisers will follow—driving broadcast TV advertising’s share of US total TV advertising down from 95 percent in 2014 to 91.6 percent by 2019.

Netflix added 5 million members globally in the first quarter of 2017, bringing its total subscriber base to just shy of 99 million users and exceeding 100 million not long after. That comes on the heels of Netflix’s biggest quarter for new subscribers ever and the company is on track to meet or exceed 2015 eMarketer predictions.

As mobile devices become more sophisticated, OTT video is often viewed on the go. In response, digital ad revenue grew to $72.5 billion in 2016, up 22 percent from the year before. For the first time, mobile ads accounted for more than half of that spending—51 percent. Video advertising grew to to $9.1 billion, social media spending grew more than 50 percent to $16.3 billion and search grew 19 percent to nearly $35 billion.

Take A Closer Look: ‘Now You See Me’ Reappears As Mobile VR Game

It’s been almost a year since Now You See Me 2 (starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Radcliffe) hit the theaters, but the magic of the franchise hasn’t yet faded—as evidenced by the new mobile VR game, Now You See Me: Back to Macau, developed by Sidekick VR. Like many great magic tricks, the game appears to be a relatively straightforward puzzle game where you are challenged to find a series of hidden objects, but things become more complex as you progress through its story.

Back to Macau debuted on the Samsung Gear VR on Wednesday, and players can try the first two cases for free with an option to purchase the rest of the game. It is the first hidden object game to come to virtual reality, and Sidekick plans to follow it up with similar games based on Hollywood IPs. Guy Bendov, co-founder and CEO of Sidekick VR, invited AListDaily to take a closer look at the magic of mobile VR to see what we could find.

Guy Bendov, co-founder and CEO of Sidekick VR
Guy Bendov, co-founder and CEO of Sidekick VR

What is Now You See Me: Back To Macau about?

Now You See Me: Back To Macau is a game that’s tied into the two successful movies from Lionsgate, Now You See Me and Now You See Me 2. The game itself is one of the first hidden object games in VR, and we’re very excited about it. Instead of doing some sort of movie tie-in promotion, we’ve created a full hidden object puzzle game that’s part of the Now You See Me universe. We’re launching on Gear VR and will have Google Cardboard and other platforms later, and you’ll be able to download the app to try for free.

You’re playing the role of a new FBI agent who has been tasked with finding the Four Horsemen, who have escaped again. You’ll go through a very deep storyline by uncovering items that will help you solve the mystery. You do that using hidden object mechanics (looking at items for a time or using a controller to select them) in scenarios where there are multiple items that you need to find, and you keep going until you find the one object that lets you continue the story. There’s a progression that starts with three or four items, but it becomes more complex toward the end. We’ve created about 70-100 different items per scene, so you’ll have a slightly different puzzle each time you play.

What’s nice about VR is that you’re able to immerse yourself in those environments instead of having them in a framed window, which is what games have been until now. With a 360-degree environment, you can look around and feel as though you’re part of the scene.

The first movie released in 2013 and its sequel came out last summer. Why launch a game based on the franchise now?

We were very excited about the universe but didn’t want to tie into the promotion of the movie because we want the game to stand out by itself. While some things are influenced by some of the second movie’s scenes, the story itself is separate and allows for the expansion of the universe. A lot of what we’ll do around the creating and marketing content is in expanding that universe rather than repeating a story that’s already been seen. You’ll be familiar with the characters and concepts of this world, but what excites us is using a hidden object game in VR as a platform to tell additional stories using different brands and IPs.

Since the game takes place in the world of Now You See Me, is any magic involved?

We’ve tried to add a few magic tricks, and we’ve integrated the card throwing as a mini-game. We are looking to introduce more magic in VR, which we might be doing in the future.

The Four Horsemen are the stars of the films. Will players get to interact with them in the game?

The characters we introduce are entirely new, and they’re from the FBI and The Eye organization from the magicians. The Four Horsemen and other characters are mentioned, but we’re using new characters to expand the universe.

Why develop a mobile VR game instead of a traditional mobile game or premium VR experience?

Mobile VR creates great accessibility. You can download the game and play on pretty much any smartphone you have. The game itself doesn’t require a lot of processing power, it’s very easy on the eyes, and I think it’s a great introduction to VR overall. In testing, 100 percent of our users commented on the quality of the visuals, the environments and the storylines, which focus on the gameplay rather than trying to be a movie promotion app. You can very quickly immerse yourself—whether it be for twenty minutes or half-an-hour—into the world of Now You See Me.

It’s important to note that with the Cardboard version, you’ll be able to play without a headset. You can enjoy the 360 environments by rotating your phone and looking around.

Will Lionsgate be helping to promote the game, even though it’s not a movie tie-in?

Yes, Lionsgate is very particular about its brands and IPs. We worked hand-in-hand, practically on a weekly basis, to make sure the storylines, characters, environments and music are in line with how they see the world of Now You See Me. We’ll also have Lionsgate’s support during the launch. They’re reaching out to their fan base in showing the game.

How are you getting the word out about the game and how it’s not a movie tie-in?

A lot of our promotion focuses on how it’s a separate storyline that’s expanding the world instead of repeating the first or second movie. We found that Lionsgate has a very strong fan base for all of its movies, and we’re promoting the game as a way for people to continue enjoying the world—that the world doesn’t stop after the second movie is done.

NYSMBTM Screen_1

Why the emphasis on hidden object gameplay?

The hidden object game genre is very successful on multiple platforms, including the Game Boy. Unlike shooters, they are truly family-oriented with worldwide appeal. In VR, it made sense that people would look for these kinds of experiences in addition to shooting zombies and so on. VR is a great platform for telling stories because it immerses players into them as they go in to find objects. To be honest, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more hidden object games come to market.

We’ve very happy and proud to be the first to bring that genre to VR. There’s a wide market on mobile VR that’s looking for something that’s easy on the eyes and not a rollercoaster experience or a flight simulator—experiences that let players enjoy being transported to an environment without having a lot of craziness going on. Hidden object games are perfect for that, and Now You See Me: Back to Macau is the first in a line of stories that we plan to bring to market.

Out of all of Lionsgate’s properties, what drew you to Now You See Me?

We actually sat down and looked at their entire portfolio, and they have an amazing back catalog of movies, and great ones are coming out all the time. We felt that Now You See Me was perfect because we saw the second movie as it was being edited. There are rich environments in every scene and a complex storyline with multiple characters, which made for a very strong base for content. Having the second movie come out fairly quickly after the first one was in line with our strategy for expanding the world.

Why do you think the Now You See Me franchise remains so popular and engaging?

The movies were great because of the stories and magic, but I think it was mainly the interaction between the many characters. We tried to keep that type interaction and dialogue in Back to Macau. We tried to make a game that would continue the excitement for the fan base, and I hope we’ve done a great job doing that.