At GDC 2018, Virtual Takes A Back Seat To Augmented Reality

Meeting in San Francisco all this week, the Game Developers Conference has been a sort of vitals-taking by the games industry as a whole, reflecting on where it has been this year, and, ideally, where it will be in the coming years. GDC 2018 brought a number of interesting announcements, trends and aspirations for developers and consumers alike.

Virtual Reality Pushes Forward

That VR featured prominently at GDC 2018 should come as a surprise to few, given its many applications in the gaming field.

A number of non-gaming properties have dipped their toes into the virtual reality waters, attempting to bridge the gap between video game worlds and reality.

Survios showcased Creed: Rise to Glory, a virtual reality boxing tie-in to 2015’s critically acclaimed Rocky film that hopes to train its players to box rather than just showcase events from the movie. On a less action-packed note, contemporary board game sensation Catan received a VR adaptation, recreating the experience of playing the game, but with strangers wearing masks.

But outside of the hardcore gaming space, VR has had little luck finding popular adoption among a more casual crowd. Facebook and Oculus are attempting to find a mainstream audience with the Oculus Go, a $200 wireless headset that needn’t be tied to a phone or PC. Disney has also invested in virtual reality, creating a tool to automatically create three-dimensional storyboards from film scripts, that, ideally, will ease the burden of turning flat text into VR imagery.

Wider use cases for VR could not come at a better time, as a January survey of game developers administered by GDC revealed that interest in making VR games is steadily waning.

“I just don’t think the install base in most cases has been quite there for them to make their investments back, unfortunately,” said Simon Carless, a GDC 2018organizer, to Mashable. “People will continue to work in VR, I just think it will potentially be more indie studios, or maybe more things funded by hardware companies who want examples of the games to showcase.”

This waning developer interest showed itself in the “Best VR Game” award GDC presented: Superhot VR took the grand prize, despite having been originally released (and considered for the same award) in 2016.

The State Of Mobile Games

Google dominated much of the conversation around augmented reality at GDC 2018, announcing that it would be releasing its Google Maps geographic data for developers using the Unity platform. Instead of painstakingly recreating environments by hand, a gargantuan task for outdoor games such as Pokemon Go or the upcoming Ghostbusters World, developers will be able to use the same satellite maps many consumers trust sight unseen.

“We help you design gameplay around real-world locations so you can choose places that are appropriate, unique, and fun to play, no matter where your players are,” said Google product manager Clementine Jacoby.

This data will make it easier for smaller developers to jump on the Pokemon Go bandwagon, offering the potential for lower-budget titles that aren’t tethered to existing properties.

On the non-AR front, Facebook Games has been facing difficulties in drawing users because of recent privacy issues on the platform at large.

“Thinking about the context of where we are and saying, ‘Look, obviously privacy is extremely important, not only to Facebook but to the developers we’re working with,’” Leo Olebe, Facebook’s global director of games partnerships, told Polygon. “It’s mostly about our mission on the games team and that’s to try and build incredible experiences for people and help developers be successful.”

Additionally, HBO revealed another promotional tie-in to Westworld Season Two at GDC 2018, though one slightly less immersive than its presence at SXSW. Described by Polygon as an “economic strategy sim,” the game lets players take control of the shadowy corporation running the theme park, letting them experience the same difficulties in managing potentially sentient robots that the show’s characters do.

Social Responsibility And Player Behavior

Game developers at GDC took special note of its effects on the world at large, especially relevant after recent comments by world leaders on the dangers of video game violence.

“As a veteran, I routinely find that people have a deep appreciation for the military, but a shallow understanding of what war is and does,” Andrew Barron, a game writer and veteran, said at a GDC 2018 talk.

Which is a problem, as, according to Barron, video games have become “society’s teachers when it comes to war.” Its greatest problems come from its erasure of the consequences for civilians in armed conflict, something Barron urged developers to change.

Inclusion likewise featured heavily, with events focused on the representation and treatment of both Muslim and Black people.

“Solely portraying us as victims justifies the wars that make us victims,” said Osama Dorias, game designer and GDC 2018 speaker. ““Muslims have a public image problem. And it’s sometimes dangerous to be Muslim. So we need help addressing the public image problem.”

Similarly, the Blacks in Gaming mixer addressed a variety of issues regarding inclusion both in game characters, game developers and game players, addressing not just the need for more representation but better tools to address toxic, racist players.

Online-only games have brought the issue of toxicity to the forefront of many discussions, with League of Legends, Fortnite and Sea of Thieves developers all discussing the importance of preventing other players from ruining the fun they spent so long trying to create.

“There’s always going to be the one percent that’s out there and disruptive,” Kimberly Voll, a senior technical designer at Riot Games, told Polygon. “Our first goal is to the player that’s being hurt by them. The problem with one disruptive player, and a severely disruptive player, is that they’re potentially affecting nine other people. It doesn’t take very long for that to explode.”

 

HBO Lets ‘Silicon Valley’ Fans Interact With Characters In VR

Alongside the Season 5 premiere of Silicon Valley, HBO is releasing a VR experience called Inside the Hacker Hostel that lets users explore—and trash—the show’s infamous home and workspace.

HBO’s comedy series Silicon Valley follows the antics of five tech entrepreneurs as they attempt to build a decentralized internet. Much of the action takes place in the “Hacker Hostel,” where the main characters work and play.

Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel takes users into a 3D recreation of the house, which has been filled with 750 interactive items. Video challenges from the show’s characters Dinesh and Gilfoyle send users on missions ranging from destroying old hard drives to solving a code crisis.

Users can follow a series of tasks or have free reign to do whatever they like in the virtual environment, such as playing Foosball, making toast or hitting a virtual bong.

The interactive VR experience launches March 25 for HTC Vive and was developed by Rewind, a studio that has created branded VR experiences for Red Bull, Jaguar, Lexus, Paramount and others. According to Fast Company, Rewind recreated the Hacker Hostel using 360-degree imagery of the show’s actual set, as well as set blueprints.

HBO has integrated VR into its marketing strategy before, beginning with Westworld. Presented at Disrupt 2016, the app combines interactive VR—allowing users to handle objects in the virtual world—and passive, 360-degree video.

“We recognized the role that technology was going to play for our service and how we tell stories,” Ryan Wilkerson, vice president of experience design at HBO told Digital Trends. “As a result, we made the decision to make a substantial human capital investment by assembling a best-in-class technology team.”

The network launched HBO Go VR in 2016 for Google Daydream devices, allowing users to view its programming in a virtual environment. The app will reportedly be available for the new Oculus Go headset, as well.

Entertainment IPs Putting More Energy Into Virtual Reality Activations

This March has proven to be a major month for virtual reality entertainment, with multiple experiences launched to engage audiences and expand related brands. The new wave shows film and TV brands deepening their VR approach.

A quick recap:

  • Earlier this month, Nickelodeon launched the SlimeZone multiplayer VR experience at select IMAX VR Centres across the US as part of a broader effort to engage families with its television shows, which is crucial at a time when more kids are turning to YouTube, Netflix and other online platforms for entertainment.
  • Arcturus Studios, the first incubated company to come out of the DMG VR umbrella, launched its debut game, The Way of Kings: Escape the Shattered Plains on Steam. DMG Entertainment, the Hollywood studio behind Iron Man 3, expanded into the VR development last year with the goal of creating interactive narrative experiences based on its IP licenses.
  • While not yet officially launched, VR game studio Survios announced it is making Creed: Rise to Glory for MGM. The game is being demoed it at the Games Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this month using stations made to look like boxing rings.

Reasons for developing VR content are as varied as the experiences themselves. For Survios, it was to solve a technical challenge of creating a realistic boxing game that’s wrapped in the Creed universe.

“What sets us apart [from other boxing games] is the Hollywood spectacle,” explained Survios VP of marketing Michael Domaguing, speaking with AListDaily. “When you look around in the headset, you’ll see 10 million fans cheering you on, shouting your name, giving you the feeling of what it’s like to be a fight champion.”

Similarly, Chris Young, SVP at Nickelodeon’s Entertainment Lab, said that SlimeZone started as a tech exploration of cooperative network play that grew into a multiplayer slime arena where players can dress as their favorite cartoon characters. Offered exclusively as a location-based experience, SlimeZone lets attendees play games, watch cartoons and create art together in VR featuring shows such as The Loud House and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Arcturus wants VR to be seen as more than a marketing tool, but Escape the Shattered Plains was originally conceived as a means to pitch the movie to production studios.

“It seemed to us that it couldn’t just be a character experience or a way to look around the environment,” said Piotr Uzarowicz, marketing director at Arcturus Studios. “As we developed it, we realized it was much bigger than a pitch tool. There was a lot more here that we desperately wanted to show fans.”

Escape the Shattered Plains is designed to be a standalone experience, created in coordination with author Brandon Sanderson and Chris Cowles, creative producer for the film adaptation, to ensure the look and feel of the VR experience matches that of the book and movie. It showcases the fantasy world, introduces key characters and lets users cast spells while fighting off enemies.

But unlike Survios and Nickelodeon, Arcturus doesn’t regard Escape the Shattered Plains as a VR game, even though it has distinct gameplay elements. In fact, DMG separates virtual reality from its film and gaming divisions, treating VR as a new medium that can enhance engagement with a brand.

“Our goal with this piece was to show that narrative and interactivity can merge in this new medium, and that film tie-ins in VR can be more than a marketing gimmick,” said a DMG Entertainment spokesperson. “VR provides an opportunity to create a new entertainment format, and this new medium works in conjunction with film and game productions, allowing us to expand the universe of entertainment.

“We believe that in the expansive world of entertainment, each medium—TV, film, VR and others—work in conjunction to develop different viewpoints and moments within the larger universe. This cross-platform approach increases the depth of the world and allows fans to experience it in the medium they most enjoy.”

However, having a new category of entertainment is distinction that is likely lost on Steam users who primarily come to the digital platform to purchase PC games. To that end, Survios wants Rise to Glory to be seen primarily as a quality VR, and it believes a positive reception by gamers will elevate the Creed franchise as a whole.

“For marketing purposes, I think it’s important to create a solid product,” said Domaguing. “That enhances the authenticity and the brand that it’s associated with.”

Although both Escape the Shattered Plains and Rise to Glory will both be commercially available, the developers are presenting their experiences at public venues to give fans a chance to try them out, take videos and spread awareness of VR through word-of-mouth.

“Trial is an important piece when it comes to getting people to understand and experience VR,” said Domaguing. “We do everything we can to get everyone through it, understand it and then evangelize for us.”

Warner Bros. Promotes ‘Rampage’ With AR App And Contest

Warner Bros. continues its strategy of AR/VR film marketing with the Rampage: AR Unleashed mobile app.

Rampage: AR Unleashed allows users to insert one of three raging monsters from the film into everyday surroundings and record the “encounter.”

The AR app launched on Android and iOS devices Wednesday as part of Warner Bros.’ Monster Week with a push on social media and a contest for app users. Running through March 23, the Rampage Monsters Unleashed contest offers a trip for two to meet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at the film’s premiere in either London or Los Angeles.

Users can upload up to three video entries to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, which will be judged on relevance to the Rampage movie, creativity, technical execution and overall impression. Within a few hours of the contest announcement, dozens of entries began appearing on social media.

Capitalizing on Johnson’s sports background as a professional wrestler, Warner Bros. teamed up with sports news site 90min to promote the contest in France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Johnson personally invited fans to enter the contest through pre-recorded videos shared on 90min as well as posts on his social accounts.

Warner Bros. has actively used AR and VR to promote its film releases over the past few years, and the studio doesn’t appear to be slowing down. VR experiences for Ready Player One were on display at SXSW and the company is testing marker-based AR with the Facebook camera.

Just last month, “Lara’s Escape” was launched for Oculus Rift to promote Tomb Raider. Previous Warner Bros. VR experiences include tie-ins for Suicide Squad, Justice League, Blade Runner 2049 and IT.

Warner Bros. appears to have long-term plans for AR and VR, as well. The entertainment giant filed a patent recently that integrates AR and VR headsets into a theater viewing experience, both inside and outside the home.

AR and VR have become popular means of film promotion for other studios, ranging from 360-degree experiences to interactive VR.

Sony is an active player in the space, releasing AR experiences for Insidious: The Last Key and VR experiences for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Ghostbusters and others.

Lionsgate, too, released a series of VR experiences that tied into Jigsaw and John Wick. Twentieth Century Fox created “Alien: Covenant in Utero” in 360-degree VR, and Universal turned to VR to promote The Mummy.

‘Sony Music Experience’ In NYC Continues Brand’s Interactive Strategy

From March 14 to April 22, the Sony Square NYC location will host an interactive exhibit called The Sony Music Experience. The experiential campaign invites guests to step into the shoes of a rock star by posing for album covers, dancing in a music video or recording a vocal track.

While the installation is designed to promote Sony’s musical artists, the company says it’s not concerned about resulting purchases.

“The purpose of SSNYC is absolutely not to direct sales—it’s about the larger picture,” Steven Fuld, SVP of corporate marketing for Sony Corporation of America told AListDaily.

Fuld likened Sony’s marketing strategy to kando—a Japanese term that refers to emotional involvement. For that reason, The Sony Music Experience, as with all the company’s revolving installations, was designed to elicit an emotional response rather than a financial one.

Launched in 2016, SSNYC is a gallery and event center as opposed to an outlet store. Every six-to-eight weeks, Sony redesigns the space to highlight activities, products or launches. The continuously shifting space ensures that Sony is “always on,” as Fuld explained.

“Historically, I think we’ve focused a little too much on large tentpole events and did some really great things, but we were kind of too quiet during those in between periods,” said Fuld. “Consumers never turn off. We want to have awareness in the consumers’ mind of Sony—who we are and what we stand for. We want to share a bigger story than just electronics or the next piece of content coming out.”

Each interactive option at The Sony Music Experience is designed to create souvenirs and fond memories associated with the Sony brand. Participants walk away with audio recordings, videos and photos to share across social channels with the hashtag #SonySquareNYC.

“It’s important that we create opportunities [for consumers] to get that emotional connection, and, if that’s the case, they’ll choose their own social channels and post. We don’t intentionally create selfie moments when designing the space,” said Fuld.

At the Sony Music Experience, visitors can have their pictures taken on a set that recreates the cover art for DJ Khaled‘s album Major Key. The set has been a big hit, Fuld said.

aRt is a Major 🔑 #sonysquarenyc

A post shared by RL [TAP THIS 👆🏿] (@justrl) on

Nearby, a green screen setup allows guests to dance and be inserted into the music video for Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.”

A custom recording booth offers recorded karaoke sessions to simulate a rock star on the job. Visitors can choose from one of 10 karaoke tracks to record and will be gifted with an audio and video recording of the session.

“We’ve found that installations associated with getting the consumer involved have been far more effective [than gallery showings],” Fuld explained.

The Sony Music Experience features a pop-up store and listening area featuring over 20 Sony Music recordings on vinyl. Music memorabilia is also on display ranging from autographed instruments to hand-written song lyrics. Limited edition merchandise will be available for sale as additional souvenirs.

Sony measures the success of each installation by foot traffic and online surveys, Fuld explained. Of course, some positive reactions are obvious, such as the 600-odd fans that showed up to meet Judas Priest on Monday. The metal band arrived on a fire truck, sirens blaring.

Previous events included props from the movie Passengers, escape rooms and a gaming night with graffiti artist ELLE who personalized PS4 controllers.

Facebook Instant Games Looks To Mobile Gaming For User Acquisition

Anticipating expansion as it opens for all developers, Facebook Instant Games is adding enhanced user acquisition features, hoping to better compete with the mainstream market and promote HTML5 mobile games across its different properties.

Newzoo market consultant Tom Wijman explained that Instant Games occupies a space between mobile and PC web gaming, describing it as “one of the first real alternatives to the app stores for developers in Western markets.”

Users can browse titles from the Games tab on their Messenger app, but the platform relies on word of mouth for discovery. Users can send challenges to friends, who in turn invite others.

Facebook product manager Michael Weingert points to social interaction as the key differentiator between Instant Games and other platforms, as friends play with each other in existing conversations on Messenger, allowing the games’ user acquisition and monetization features to take advantage of Facebook’s built-in capabilities.

One of the most prominent new features is shareable links, where developers can post links that lead directly to their games on Reddit, Facebook or any other place they accrue traffic. In the coming weeks, developers will be able to supplement this traffic through paid acquisition using ad units. These ads are currently in beta, but will be the same format as the ads already appearing on the Facebook News Feed and Messenger inbox, with support for images and video.

Since the games are created in HTML5, users don’t have to download an app—they can click on an ad or link and get straight to playing. But even though this accessibility is beneficial for audience growth, Wijman points out that HTML5 isn’t necessarily tailored for game development, suggesting that downloadable mobile games will still have their niche.

Additionally, developers will need to use an upcoming API called Game Switch in order to cross-promote their other titles. As the name suggests, the tool lets developers decide on the right time to encourage players to switch over to a different game.

The vast majority of titles on Instant Games are either puzzle or casual games, with standouts such as Words With Friends and Tetris.

While word-of-mouth will likely remain the platform’s primary growth driver for the foreseeable future, Facebook intends to supplement it with a dynamic ranking system that uses machine learning to surface new games. In much the same way the News Feed pushes up stories based on the pages users like, the ranking system will surface games according to what users play.

Bob Slinn, Facebook’s EMEA head of games partnerships, said that other signals will come from how well a game is performing, so popular games may be surfaced more frequently too. He also added that retention is a good signal as well, and on that end, Instant Games is taking another play from mobile gaming’s playbook.

Playing an Instant Game automatically subscribes players to related game bots, which send notifications through Messenger in the same way mobile games use push notifications. However, the Instant Games approach may prove to be more flexible: Weingert explained that since game bots live within Messenger, a platform where users interact with bots on a regular basis, the format allows more options for customizing bot messages, such as including images along with the text itself.

Even with Instant Games’ steady growth, mobile is likely to continue growing as well. Although Weingert expects that many Instant Game players are new to gaming in general, Newzoo’s data shows that there is a great deal of overlap between Instant Games users and other platforms in the US. According to Wijman, of those who played Instant Games on mobile devices, 63 and 75 percent also play PC and console games, respectively. This overlap goes up with people who play from their News Feeds on computers, with 98 percent playing mobile games and 84 percent playing console games.

Wijman warns that the huge reach of the Facebook platform may become a disadvantage for some developers.

“A game can grow very quickly, but can die out equally as quickly,” he said. “Player retention is a major issue, especially because it’s essentially an app in an app. Players don’t have instant access to the game and are not reminded of it by seeing it on their home screens.”

Next steps for the platform include increased emphasis on Facebook’s video features. Instant Games added livestreaming and video chat in December, and the company is currently working on a way to integrate gaming into Facebook’s personal video calling so that users can play together while talking face to face.

Slinn said that Instant Games is also experimenting with livestreaming, allowing developers to better connect with audiences and strengthen community engagement. On Monday, Facebook launched a new livestreaming API that lets developers give out in-game rewards to viewers, smoothing the transition between watching and playing.

3 Important Tips For Marketers Already Planning SXSW 2019

Hating on SXSW has become a major tech industry pastime, with floods of Twitter and LinkedIn users claiming the Interactive festival is irrelevant.

But SXSW Interactive hasn’t jumped the shark—it’s evolved into something larger. And stranger.

The festival is no longer the tech industry’s senior prom, where giants like Twitter and Facebook launch their newest and greatest products. But marketers can still fully embrace the SXSW of 2019 and beyond as a giant, sprawling beast focused around massive, high-budget experiential campaigns—like this year’s Westworld and Ready Player One activations. And these days, formal talks and panels are arranged almost a year in advance by large public relations agencies leveraging SXSW’s PanelPicker to maximum advantage.

Here are three major tips to keep in mind as you approach SXSW planning for next year:

Embrace The Size

SXSW has steadily grown in size and scale, and SXSW Interactive most of all. There were approximately 71,000 formal attendees for last year’s Interactive, Film, and Music conferences. That same year, there were more than 5000 speakers and 2000 conference sessions. By comparison, there were approximately 32,000 registrants at SXSW Interactive and Film in 2011.

While SXSW does not release detailed metrics on the number of Interactive visitors, anecdotal evidence suggests that SXSW Interactive has become the main economic driver for the conference. Marketers hoping to reach everyone and everybody who doesn’t have a hot pop culture property like Westworld will be out of luck; instead, reach out to specific audiences (such as food, gaming, and healthcare—all of which had separate speaking tracks) and tailor audiences to them.

Strategize For PanelPicker

PanelPicker is SXSW’s official user-generated panel selection event. According to SXSW, they will begin accepting proposals for 2019 sessions in late June of 2018, with the process expiring in mid-July. Nearly 4,400 proposals were received in 2017 for approximately 2000 slots in 2018.

Votes take place in a weighted process where the public has a 30 percent vote, SXSW’s advisory board has 40 percent, and SXSW’s employee has 30 percent.

In the last few years, panels assembled either by high-profile public figures or by large public relations agencies have had a disproportionate share of the final panels selected. Because large PR firms and celebrities can leverage high numbers of voting employees or social media followers, this gives them a possibly unfair advantage in maximizing their PanelPicker odds.

To maximize your odds of success with PanelPicker, make sure your panel has a unique topic, a unique argument for voters, and enough differentiating points to make sure your panel will receive votes from audience members interested in a potential topic.

Fewer Activations, More Small Dinners

The days of SXSW as a public debut for marquee startups like Twitter, Foursquare and Meerkat are long over. While Rainey Street businesses were eagerly rented out for activations by Twitter, Pinterest and others, and downtown Austin bars made plenty of cash by rebranding themselves as SXSW tech or entertainment clients, SXSW’s no longer the place for brands to make a big public splash.

Instead, strategize around having investors, media, analysts and other influencers all in one place. Putting together a group dinner for 15-30 handpicked attendees may well have a better return on income than a splashy public event that gets lost in a sea of endless dance parties.

In the future, Austin will still remain a sea of branded wristbands every March. But the demographics are shifting: As SXSW becomes less startup-centered and more a San Diego ComicCon-style celebration of the intersection between technology, marketing and pop culture, attendees are more likely to be affiliated with larger companies or to come from less entrepreneurial or engineering backgrounds.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Unites Binge-Watching And Linear TV Trends

According to data collected by Parrot Analytics, which tracks global “demand expressions”—the number of people discussing shows across multiple channels and platforms—Star Trek: Discovery crosses trend lines and makes a strong case for how weekly shows can be used to grow fledgling services such as CBS All Access.

According to Parrot’s The Global Television Demand Report, Discovery drove the platform’s biggest month for signups when it premiered in September. The report also indicates that the show generated over 44.8 million demand expressions in the US and over 3.8 million in Canada, making it the third most popular SVOD show in both countries behind Netflix’s Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why, respectively. Discovery ranked in the top 10 for the UK, Germany and Japan, but Stranger Things tops almost all the charts in the countries covered by the report.

Netflix set the standard for binge watching when it first decided to release entire seasons of its original shows all at once instead of at a weekly pace, proving that simultaneous releases have a tremendous payoff, with social activity hitting huge spikes during these launches before quickly dropping down to baseline levels within a month or so. Linear shows see lower, but more sustained activity throughout the season and often end up surpassing the baseline of binge-watch shows.

Star Trek: Discovery may constitute a third category, as it has shown that programs can have the best of both worlds: high social activity for the premiere that is sustained or grown over time.

Simultaneous launches mainly benefit subscription video on demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix, whose only goal is to acquire and keep subscribers, with the trade-off being that the platform needs to produce much more content to keep audiences entertained and space out the spikes of activity.

Conversely, weekly shows are ideal for broadcast channels because they rely on advertising and want viewers to return, but premium cable networks such as HBO also rely on linear content to maintain subscribers. Some digital subscription platforms do feature weekly programs, with one of the most notable being Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but they haven’t seen the same level of global success due to a host of factors including limited distribution due to the fact Hulu is only available in the US and Japan.

In addition to being well-received by critics, Discovery has a great deal going for it, starting with how it’s part of the globally recognizable Star Trek franchise, which has a 50-year legacy that was bolstered by three blockbuster movies in recent years. Additionally, CBS aired the two-part premiere on its regular broadcast network with the third episode immediately available on All Access, where all subsequent episodes were shown exclusively.

Parrot also confirmed that the show hit a major stride in January, when CBS All Access became available as a subscription channel on Amazon Prime Video, noting that boosting demand expressions through increased accessibility isn’t something that’s unique to Discovery.

However, it might be a sign that accessibility could be a significant factor when launching a linear SVOD show, as demonstrated by another All Access exclusive, The Good Fight. The legal and political drama spun off from The Good Wife is CBS’s first scripted show for All Access, and it premiered in February 2017 in much the same way Discovery did. Data provided to AListDaily from social media analytics firm NetBase shows there were almost 50,000 mentions of the show when the first episode aired on both broadcast channels and All Access. That activity saw a major drop when season 2 premiered in March exclusively on digital platforms, generating 7,610 mentions. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean Discovery will see a similar drop when its second season airs since it is based on a considerably larger franchise.

Comparison between Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight. Credit: NetBase

 

Even without the precedent set by Discovery, there is a growing case to be made for offering linear television programs on SVOD platforms. The binge-watching model still appears to be the strongest at generating high global demand, as demonstrated by Netflix’s February launch of Altered Carbon and other high-profile streaming shows, but it should be noted that the extraordinarily high demand expressions for Stranger Things is specific to that program.

Although season 2 saw a significant drop off in the weeks following its premiere, it still managed to generate high demand months after, which may be related to fans continuing to demonstrate enthusiasm and support on social media. According to Parrot’s findings, other recent Netflix releases, including Altered Carbon, Dark, Sense8 and The Crown, didn’t come close to matching the global peak demand expressions the second season of Stranger Things saw.

But don’t discount linear programming because they might see delayed spikes in demand as The Handmaid’s Tale did. Hulu launched the first three episodes of the dystopian drama on the same day, with subsequent ones releasing weekly, but peak demand for the show occurred months after the season finale aired when it won multiple Emmy Awards. Parrot explained this kind of delayed demand might speak more to a show’s global popularity than immediate spikes do, as some shows need time to be discovered and develop long-running appeal—a comment that also happens to describe the Star Trek franchise’s rise to popularity.

SVOD platforms are also experimenting with different release models to maximize their potential. For example, Amazon Prime Video split the first season of The Tick into two parts, with six episodes releasing simultaneously in August and the final six coming out in February, in an effort to bring back a sense of episodic anticipation. The strategy seems to have worked, as confirmed by Parrot Analytics. The company told AListDaily that the split release resulted in a near-identical peak demand between the initial launch and the mid-season premiere, averaging around 7 million daily demand expressions. However, audience anticipation leading up the mid-season premiere is shallower than the initial launch, and it is spread out over more weeks before hitting peak demand, meaning there was strong buildup on social media leading up to the second half of the season.

Peak demand expressions for The Tick, Marvel’s Inhumans, Marvel’s Runaways and Jessica Jones. Credit: Parrot Analytics

 

In January, Amazon revealed The Tick was one of its top five most popular shows, with The Grand Tour remaining at #1, and the series was renewed for a second season. Even so, it faces stiff competition from Marvel superhero-themed shows across multiple platforms. Parrot added that Marvel’s Inhumans, which began airing on ABC in September, generated three times the peak demand expressions of The Tick. That was beaten slightly by Hulu’s original weekly show Marvel’s Runaways when it debuted in November. But Netflix’s Jessica Jones is poised to surpass them all, having matched the peak demand expressions for both shows during the lead up to its second season premiere on March 8. Its demand is likely to shoot up much further over the subsequent week.

Still, it’s a close race between the benefits of binge-watch shows and linear ones. In 2017, one of the most talked-about shows on social media was Game of Thrones, according to Brandwatch. The fantasy-themed show was in its seventh season, and weekly episodes aired simultaneously across HBO’s broadcast cable channel, website and apps. A later report published by data science and media technology company 4C Insights showed that activity for season 2 of Stranger Things quickly rose to become a close second before tapering off almost as fast. Game of Thrones won’t be returning until 2019, giving shows such as Stranger Things ample time to pull ahead and perhaps claim the social media throne.

Facebook Opens Instant Games, Marketing Tools To Developers

Facebook made its Instant Games and Ads API available to all developers beginning Wednesday, making it possible to develop, launch and promote HTML5 games across Facebook Messenger and News Feeds.

The timing of this announcement was planned around the Game Developers Conference (GDC), which begins next week. Facebook will host its annual Developers Day March 19 at the conference in an attempt to attract more developers—and by extension, ad revenue—to Instant Games now that it’s open to the public.

The Instant Games platform supports turn-based gameplay, monetization and livestreaming capabilities. Facebook recently rolled out ads-based monetization to all beta-partner developers, and it will be open to everyone starting on Wednesday in addition to the Ads API.

Developers can now cross-promote new games or game updates to its existing player base across the Instant Games platform. Developers can also create deep links to directly send players to their game outside of Facebook and Messenger channels.

Ad campaigns will become available “soon,” according to Facebook, making units that take players directly from clicking on an ad to playing the game.

In-app purchases were announced in October and will continue to be tested, according to the company.

Instant Games launched in closed beta in 2016 with 17 games and now hosts almost 200, including a Messenger version of Tetris. Other retro games were developed for the platform, including Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Galaga, using nostalgia to engage players.

Basketball FRVR, one of the early titles on Instant Games, has been played more than 500 million times.

Between esports partnerships and the addition of livestreaming, Facebook is on a quest to become the top gaming platform. The company reported that across web and mobile, an average of 800 million people play Facebook-connected games every month.

Twitch Offering ‘Free Games With Prime’ Subscription Service

Beginning Thursday, Twitch Prime subscribers will have access to five free video games per month through Free Games With Prime, a new program that offers Twitch Prime members access to free games, in addition to regular perks such as ad-free viewing and in-game exclusives. The service is positioned to compete with Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus.

According to Twitch, Free Games With Prime is a response to community support for the Twitch Prime Indie Amplifier program that kicked off last month. The community event is an attempt to support indie titles on Twitch’s popular streaming platform, which is usually dominated by AAA games like League of Legends and Hearthstone.

Twitch Prime members were invited to vote for one of eight independent titles through March 11. The winning game will be announced on March 15, and will then be given to Prime members for free. Twitch has now extended that gift to all eight titles over the next few months.

Twitch has just over 15 million daily active users, so it has a ways to go before outshining Xbox Live’s 59 million active users or PlayStation Plus’ roughly 27 million subscribers. Twitch declined to share its Prime membership figures with AListDaily, but Twitch Prime memberships are automatically granted to Amazon’s 90 million US Prime members, which includes one free subscription to any Twitch channel each month and discounts on new release box games on Amazon during the pre-order period or first two weeks following launch.

Despite its late start to the monthly game subscription industry, Twitch taps directly into the in-demand industry of game video content—worth an estimated $3.2 billion in 2017.

Free Games With Prime titles for March include Superhot, Shadow Tactics, Tales from Candlekeep, Oxenfree and Mr. Shifty.