Based in Los Angeles, Space Camp is behind some of the biggest announcements at Facebook’s recent Oculus Connect event. But who is Space Camp?
“As an independent division of [a]network, Space Camp is positioned as a communication arts orchestrator,” says James Kim, VP of account services. “To us, this means we’re focused on driving creative innovation, social engagement and performance for brands such as Oculus Rift.”
“We are showing the world that VR gaming is here, today, and VR as a game-changing computing and social platform is on the horizon,” said David Rielly, creative director at Space Camp.
During Oculus Connect, Mark Zuckerberg announced his mission to bring virtual reality to 1 billion users. Keeping with this mission, Facebook enlisted the group as the Oculus Rift agency of record to help increase the appeal of premium VR as an entertainment format.
“One of the most satisfying and thrilling opportunities was creating a brand campaign that expresses the limitless and ever-evolving offerings of VR,” states Emily Reed, integrated creative director.
“The campaign is built on the mission of ‘Winning with Gamers,’ using advanced attribution modeling and an agile approach to maximizing ROI,” said Vincent Juarez, co-founder of Space Camp. “We’ve developed an inside-out strategy to engage core gamers through a series of immersive experiences that communicate the Oculus VR experience through an integrated digital, video content, influencer and social-centric approach.”
“It’s been humbling to orchestrate strategy, creative, media, data, tech, influencers and social to launch a brand that finally fulfills the long-simmering promise of VR,” said Rielly. “Harnessing that kind of firepower isn’t easy, but when you do it right you’re amplifying the power of your message to the nth degree.”
Co-founders Chris Younger and Vincent Juarez are prioritizing innovation in this arena. “Space Camp is at the forefront of an evolving synthesis of technology and storytelling,” Younger said, “and our clients are eager to push forward together to craft and share stories that just weren’t possible before.”
Long before there were smartphones and apps to entertain kids, there was the Tamagotchi, a digital LCD pet housed inside a colorful keychain. Players took to them in droves, nurturing and raising a multitude of characters before the craze died out in the US by the turn of the century.
But ’90s nostalgia is here in full force, and Bandai America is taking advantage of it by bringing the classic toy back to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
“Tamagotchi launched in the US in May of 1997,” Tara Badie, director of brand management and marketing at Bandai America, told AListDaily with all six of the original Tamagotchi styles on display. “We thought it was a good time to bring it back because it’s the 20th anniversary but also because ’90s nostalgia is a huge hit right now with TV shows, products and things like that.”
The devices use the original Japanese launch styles and patterns, with the insides changed with English programming. To celebrate their return, the Tamagotchi website is going back to its original look and style, using logos and branding from the ’90s.
Similar to how Tamagotchi spread through word-of-mouth in the ’90s, Bandai is using social media to spread news of their return in the same way. The company is also working with social influencers to figure out the best way to spread the word.
“We’re just letting people know that it’s out there,” said Badie. “We think word-of-mouth will reach them, because the millennial generation is all over social media. We will be talking on it on Bandai’s social media channels as well as the Tamagotchi channels and website.”
Tamagotchi will hit store shelves on November 5, with pre-sales starting on Tuesday at key retailers including Amazon, Toys “R” Us and Target. Additionally, GameStop, Best Buy and tween clothing store Justice will be offering Tamagotchi. These stores may appeal to a generation that doesn’t remember the ’90s, but their parents may be shopping with them.
“In today’s world, it’s about getting the product into the hands of fans and letting them play. We know we have a good product, so we’re not nervous about giving them to people. At Bandai, we’re known for our good quality, and people know what the product is and its core features. So, we’re sending it out to various folks and we’ll see how they decide to promote it.”
Although the devices differ in looks, each provides owners the chance to raise the same variety of pets. All five of the original characters return, with the addition of one surprise pet that players will have to figure out how to get. Their adult forms are determined by how owners take care of them and the simple gameplay is comprised feeding the Tamagotchi, cleaning up after it poops and giving it affection to make sure it’s happy.
“These are not the ones where we use the latest technology like the newer ones that have launched in Japan over the last couple of years,” Badie explained. “This keeps it very simple and takes it back to what we all remember 20 years ago.”
Badie also discussed the appeal of a 20-year-old toy in the app era.
“There are Tamagotchi apps out there, and they’re going to be relaunching next year,” she said. “But part of what this is all about is that it may be a kid’s only pet. It’s a digital pet that you have to take care of. You might have a lot of stuff on your smartphone, but this is something that you can take with you, take care of, and feel like it’s a pet housed inside the device.”
Although Badie admits that toy companies such as Bandai face a great challenge from apps, she believes that having a physical offline device may be a great benefit.
“I think parents would like to get their kids away from screens so that they can sit down and perhaps play it with their parents,” said Badie. “I think that toys use more of your imagination, and sometimes apps don’t allow you to do that. This is like a house for your pet that you’re taking with you, so it’s not as cold as a smartphone app. You’re holding [a Tamagotchi], taking care of it and protecting it from everything that’s going on.”
As for the pre-app generation of kids who weren’t around in the ’90s, Badie believes that Tamagotchi can be something that can be passed down, possibly setting up a new sense of nostalgia down the road in another decade or two.
“Our core focus is on the millennials generation first, but the overall play pattern is core to all ages,” Badie said. “Everyone likes to take care of a pet, and this is a way to have one. We think that millennials will be very excited to have it back and they’ll share it with the younger generation. Some of them have kids or younger siblings and relatives that they can introduce to the Tamagotchi world.”
Badie also explained that the core principles of the Tamagotchi—nurturing and taking care of your pet—is what gives the brand its strength after 20 years.
“When we launched, there wasn’t the world of digital as there is today, and we were the first to launch [this kind of] brand,” said Badie. “The brand hasn’t been as consistent in the US, but they come out with new versions and styles every six months in Japan, keeping up with the height of technology and communication. This one goes back to the simpler times, which was also done in Japan and did very well because people like to have that nostalgia.”
Badie also suggested that going back to the ‘90s is just the first step in heading to the future. While there was an effort to revive the toy in the US several years ago, it didn’t take off. This time, the Tamagotchi’s return won’t be a one-off event, as Bandai plans a bigger brand strategy for the digital pet, where it incorporates more modern technology.
“We’re taking time to ensure that our next version is based off of what the American kids look for in technology because of the competition from apps. We want to make sure that we combine the best of both of our worlds while keeping to the core of what Tamagotchi is all about.”
Middle-earth: Shadow of War has officially launched for consoles and PC, continuing the adventures of Talion and the spirit of the Elf lord Celebrimbor, who possesses his body. Inspired the works of J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings), WB Games’ Middle-earth series takes visual cues from Peter Jackson’s film adaptations but also takes creative liberties with the canon.
Talion may be the main character of the game, but the stars of WB Games’ marketing have been the Orcs. Detailed cosplayers were dispatched to E3, PAX West and New York Comic Con, where they interacted with gamers and even crashed a developer panel about Shadow of War. Live-action Orcs carried the game’s marketing from events to social media and TV.
WB Games teamed up with theCHIVE to produce a series of comedy vignettes about what it would be like to live with an Orc. “A Dork and His Orc Roommate” features theCHIVE gaming editor Jeff Solomon and his new roommate Thrak as they engage in activities from babysitting to getting ready for a date.
“Our approach with this program was to communicate the benefits of Shadow of War’s Nemesis System while appealing to our user base in a creative, entertaining way,” Lauren Stanat, account director at Chive Media Group told AListDaily. The Nemesis System determines friends or foes in the game depending on the player’s actions. “The broad premise is that life is better with an Orc, so we created a social-first program that connected Thrak and our gaming editor as roommates.
“In line with the ‘Not Today, Brian’ spot and [WB Games’] ‘Nothing will be forgotten’ messaging, we see Thrak aiding Jeff in very relatable, everyday situations new roommates go through. Thrak is thankful for Jeff’s friendship, and we see him paying it forward in some very funny ways across the series of vignettes.”
Marketing surrounding Shadow of War has largely focused on the slogan, “Nothing will be forgotten.” This refers to the game’s story, but also the fact that players can carry over decisions they made from the previous title.
Shadow of War builds upon the Nemesis System introduced in Shadow of Mordor, allowing players to gain followers from several races of Middle-earth and plan out complex strategies using these to complete missions. Playerscan transfer their top Nemesis and their most loyal follower from Shadow of Mordor into Shadow of War, as well as the mobile companion game.
Live-action TV spot “Not Today, Brian” illustrates the loyalty of followers gained through the Shadow of Mordor Nemesis System. Another version of Thrak the Orc shows his loyalty for a player named Brian, who saved his life on the virtual battlefield long ago.
“Eat It, Jerry” shows the flip side of the Nemesis System—friendship is forever, but so are grudges. Like “Not Today, Brian,” this comedy spot goes back over the years to show why an Orc is determined to harass a Middle-earth: Shadow of War player for the rest of his life.
The game received an added push through the help of social media influencers like Devin Graham and Critical Role. Conan O’Brien tried Shadow of War for his Clueless Gamer segment, taking the opportunity to mock actor-comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who plays an Orc named The Agonizer. The video has been viewed over 1.3 million times.
Brands are finding highly experiential ways to engage with comic book fans, whether through VR, a haunted house or free shaves. Here are some of the biggest experiential brand activations found on or near the New York Comic Con show floor this year.
The HBO hit series about lifelike androids rise up and take over a sophisticated Old West theme park, returns to New York Comic Con, but with real life instead of a VR experience. Westworld is building hype for the 2018 season two premiere by tweeting the location of a pop-up tent every morning during the convention. Users can reserve a spot at the tent to visit Delos, the fictional company that runs the Westworld theme park.
At a nondescript office located near the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, visitors are greeted by hosts who prepare them for a live theater experience using an extensive personality test to determine if they are “black” or “white” hats. They then step into a Westworld saloon with performances tailored to their type. Attendees walked home with real white or black Stetson hats and a new sense of self awareness.
Amazon Prime Video is showcasing two new shows at the convention: The Tick and Lore.
The Tick, which features a big blue superhero and his high-tech moth sidekick Arthur, made a huge impression at San Diego Comic Con over the summer with a 24-foot replica of the hero’s head, complete with moving antennae. But instead of getting on the Tick’s head, New York Comic Con attendees got to visit Dangerboat, an AI-controlled superboat from the show. As guests played with the boat’s controls, registered themselves as superheroes at the computer kiosks, and struck poses at the green screen camera, the boat’s AI—played by an actor controlling a moving camera—interacted with guests by making cheeky observations about them. Attendees can then use Dangerboat’s onboard vending machine to get themselves a can of “Fo-Ham,” a synthetic meat product from the show (there’s no actual meat-like substance inside) and leave with a big blue Tick-branded rain poncho.
At the other end of the convention center is the Museum of Lore, which is essentially a haunted house experience built to promote the upcoming podcast-inspired Amazon anthology series Lore. Guests are taken to three rooms: “Gene’s Bedroom,” “The Unveiled” and “The Beast Inside.” Each tells a different story from Lore while providing shareable photo opportunities.
Amazon Echo And Jack Ryan
Escape rooms are in fashion this year at New York Comic Con, and Amazon is pulling double duty with its Echo Escape Room activation. Groups of people are challenged to escape from a bunker inspired by the upcoming Amazon Prime Video show Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, premiering in 2018.
The spy-thriller escape room created in partnership with Intel includes Amazon Echo and Echo Show devices, which help players operate machinery, solve math problems, change the lights to different colors and place calls to the group’s government handler or Jack Ryan himself.
Saw movies have come to epitomize the escape room theme, and Lionsgate is emphasizing that by promoting its upcoming movie Jigsaw with a VR escape room inside a physical escape room. Developed in partnership with Unity to launch its Virtual Room ad unit, attendees are trapped by Jigsaw and must complete his deadly game to get out alive.
Jigsaw is also partnering with Atom Tickets to host a blood drive. Attendees are invited to donate at mobile New York Blood Center locations in exchange for free tickets to see the Jigsaw premiere. This campaign is being called “All Types Welcome,” which protests discriminatory rules preventing queer men from donating blood. Models representing the blood drive include LGBTQ+ spokespeople Amanda Lepore, Nyakim Gatwech, Mykie and Shaun Ross. The “All Types Welcome” campaign kicked off in New York on Thursday and will expand to 25 cities across the US.
In the parking lot across the street from the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, Freeform has one of the most ambitious activations of the convention. The cable channel largely targets young millennial audiences and is promoting four of its shows.
The first, a mermaid-themed show called Siren, is scheduled to launch in 2018. Guests get a tour of mermaid lore as well as a “live” mermaid. Next to this activation is a mock bodega designed to promote Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, a comic book-inspired show slated for 2018. Guests can approach the window and draw tarot cards to win prizes that include t-shirts and black-and-white cookies.
Freeform is also gearing up for the second season of Beyond. The show centers around a man named Holden Matthews, who wakes from a 12-year coma to discover he has supernatural powers. A 360-degree photo booth puts attendees into the iconic forest scene from the show. Shadowhunters, the supernatural-themed show based on the bestselling book series, is also preparing for its second season with a recreation of its Chinese Restaurant locale.
DC is using some of its Wonder Woman movie momentum to promote the November 17 theatrical launch of Justice League. Costumes for Flash, Cyborg, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman were taken from the movie set and put on display at the convention. Additionally, players can challenge each other in Injustice 2 at a nearby kiosk.
But one of the more impressive Justice League experiences on the show floor is the VR game. With it, attendees take the role of one of the five superheroes and use their powers to battle enemies.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
In a gallery experience sponsored by Verizon, Star Wars fans can get up close with props and costumes taken straight from The Last Jedi set, namely in the form of weapons, flight suits, helmets and miscellaneous gear used by the characters.
Campbell’s Soup also has a Star Wars #comiccan activation. Fans can visit an art exhibit withcharacters constructed entirely from limited edition Campbells Star Wars soup cans.
There are many reasons to attend New York Comic Con, and now one of them includes getting a nice, close shave without irritation.
Schick Hydro Lounge visitors can sit back and relax while a professional barber shaves them from the show floor. The Schick Hydro Robot Razor, aka Hydrobot, hangs out nearby for photos.
Attendees with a more competitive streak can take part in the Schick Shave-Off, a custom video game where one can roleplay as a virtual barber. Using Hydro 5 razors as controllers, participants have five minutes to “shave” superhero and alien-inspired facial hair styles, using features like hydrating gel pools along the way. On Friday, fans can watch Wesley “Wes” Johnson, Amra “Flitz” Ricketts and Damien Haas from YouTube’s Smosh Games battle it out in a shave-off. Heroes that provide the closest super shaves walk away with swag and bragging rights, and the top scorers of the day get a chance to win a “Schick Hydro Mystery Box” filled with exclusive items.
It’s been over 40 years since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson first brought the Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper, role-playing game into the world, which would go on to influence pop culture, spark controversy and eventually inspire video games. The IP was acquired by Wizards of the Coast in 1997 and it remains a cornerstone of “geek” entertainment around the world, with gameplay sessions broadcast on Twitch.
The game has gone through several rule changes in its extensive history, and despite efforts by dedicated fans, it’s been slow to move past its pen-and-paper roots to enter the digital age. That’s when Curse stepped in.
The gaming-site network partnered with Wizards of the Coast to launch D&D Beyond in July, a website and platform that fully digitizes all the classic role-playing game’s rules, modules and tools. There, players can read the books, socialize, create characters and spells and develop campaigns. Basic features are free, with expanded content available for purchase individually or accessible via subscription.
“D&D Beyond is a Dungeons & Dragons destination, with an official digital toolset for the fifth edition rules and original content focused on telling the story of D&D,” Adam Bradford, Curse’s senior product manager, told AListDaily.
Bradford said that the gaming platform started as an internal passion project when he joined the company last year, and it coincided with the company’s plan to expand from video games into other types of gaming. Being a longtime fan of D&D, Bradford eventually started a campaign in the office and the project took on a life of its own. Curse then approached Wizards of the Coast with a proof of concept and a 30-second trailer, and the publisher, recognizing the demand for digital tools, quickly jumped on board.
“We’ve gotten off to a solid start so far by partnering closely with Wizards of the Coast in broadcasting the message through their official channels and relying on the organic reach of our early adopters,” said Bradford. “Going forward, awareness will spread through the rising popularity of D&D streaming and many of those popular gaming groups using D&D Beyond during their sessions. We also have plans to support organized play with the Adventurer’s League at conventions and events in 2018.”
Although some pen-and-paper purists might not take to the idea of using digital tools, the platform has worked to significantly increase engagement with the classic franchise and bring on new players.
“Our early data indicates engagement has increased,” said Bradford. “D&D Beyond is a major boon for new players, and new players are coming to D&D in surprisingly high numbers. It’s there to ease them into the game.”
Bradford also said that players now understand the value of using D&D Beyond at the table to enhance the gameplay experience and make gameplay management easier. The digital tools help prevent the disruptive practice of having to stop the game to check a rule so that players can dedicate themselves to telling immersive stories.
Although D&D Beyond is still a relatively new platform, Bradford says that plans are already underway to expand it.
“We have an extensive roadmap of features, beginning with character builder improvements, a mobile app, additional homebrew options and moving to Twitch stream integration, encounter/ monster building and combat tracking further down the road,” he said. “There are literally thousands of things that we plan to work on to improve the value of the toolset over time.”
Bradford also explained the ongoing attraction of pen-and-paper games when there are so many fantasy-themed video games available, some directly tied to Dungeons & Dragons.
“I love video games, and my first role-playing game experience was The Legend of Zelda when I was five,” said Bradford. “That said, no matter how ‘open’ a video game claims to be, you’ll still eventually hit the edge of the map or feel limited in some other way . . . The most compelling thing about Dungeons & Dragons for me is enjoying structured make-believe with friends. Technology is at its best when it enhances human interaction, not when it overshadows it. If digital tools can make that better without removing that interaction, they succeed. Striking that balance is a priority for D&D Beyond going forward.”
Dungeons & Dragons has been around for 43 years, and Bradford shared his thoughts about how the franchise continues to engage players to perhaps keep it around for 40 more.
“Dungeons & Dragons succeeds because it taps into our innate need as humans to tell stories,” said Bradford. “We all want to be part of a story—great movies, books and other entertainment can take us alongside a story, but rarely do we actually feel like a part of it. D&D is a game where we become the main characters in an epic story, and it’s hard to beat that.
There are plenty of games and media platforms that hope to make audiences feel different emotions, but new start-up company Tripp is using VR to take the concept to a whole new level.
Tripp is focused on creating transformative digital experiences, with the first being a VR product that will combine visual and audio elements with simple meditation-like game elements to change the way a person feels. Users may use Tripp to relax after a long day at work, calm down after a difficult conversation or take it in the other direction by getting pumped before a workout or special event.
The platform, which announced $4 million in Series A funding from venture capital firm Mayfield, is expected to launch in 2018 and will evolve to suit users’ needs, helping them to live more happy and effective lives.
“Essentially, we’re trying to go after a ‘flow state,’ and we’ve been doing this with video games for a long time,” gaming industry veteran Nanea Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Tripp, told AListDaily. “This is why some people find video games addictive, but we’re being more calculated about those interactions and stimulations—we’re using VR for stimulation rather than simulation. When you take all those elements and combine them with the immersion of VR, you can produce different responses.”
Playing With Emotions
Researchers have been exploring VR as a means of treating PTSD, rehabilitating substance abuse, managing pain and improving cognitive functions. Although Tripp makes no medicinal claims—it’s an entertainment experience—the data it collects about how VR impacts the mind could benefit these fields of research.
“It’s less of a game and more of an experience,” said Reeves. “We want everyone to be able to jump into a Tripp. Our challenge as a team is ‘can we get you to want to do it again?’ That’s our big focus for our launch product.”
The idea for Tripp dates back the early days of Oculus, when the headset was still in development. Reeves was an investor in the technology through her friendship with former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, who she worked with at the cloud gaming service Gaikai (which was subsequently bought by Sony to power its PlayStation Now service). To test the headset, Reeves and her friends made a VR solitaire game that took place in a haunted house, and that sparked a major interest in VR development.
“While we were testing out games, we started to notice that we felt like we were being taken away from our lives in a very positive way—it was refreshing,” said Reeves. “That got us looking at the effects of VR on the brain.”
However, Reeves recounted how it was at a casual gathering with Liz Lee, the former star of My Life as Liz on MTV, and her friends that the idea really started to come together. After playing with the VR equipment, Lee said, “Thank you for giving me an experience that’s as close to ecstasy without actually having to take it.”
Coincidentally, Tripp’s chief technology officer Andreja Djokovic studied neuroscience and pharmacology in college before deciding to become a game developer, so things seemed to align perfectly for the new company. But having come from the mobile gaming space, the entrepreneurs didn’t want to make casual VR games or do traditional experiences in virtual spaces. Instead, they wanted to stand out by doing something native to VR.
“As entrepreneurs, we’ve built a lot of foundational mobile games that were marketed in the US and worldwide, even in the early days of flip phones,” said Reeves. “It doesn’t matter what game you create—whether it’s on a flip phone or deeply immersive in VR—if it doesn’t have that very simple dynamic of being fun, you can really overdevelop it. It’s that little element that we’re taking out and we’re applying it to the very accessible interactivity we’ve integrated into Tripp.”
The company plans to debut Tripp in early 2018 with pop-up lounges at events, which should get people excited for the spring product launch. It will also provide the company with useful data leading up to the holiday season. Although the first Tripp experience will have elements of meditation, it won’t involve users staring at candles or quietly clearing their minds of distracting thoughts.
“With our experience, meditation is the beginning part of the journey,” Reeves explained. “We use meditation in a unique way, and the beginning of the journey gets you into a state of receptivity. Then the environment starts to transform in a way that’s calculated to stimulate the response or feeling that you’ve selected. The transformation is unique—we’re not trying to replicate anything that exists in the real world—it’s about using VR as a native application to do something that can only be done in VR. I expect that we will see mixed reality devices show up within the next ten years that can bring immersion into real-world environments more easily than VR headset do now. [But] for us, it’s less about VR and more about how we need that deep immersion.”
Reeves also explained how Tripp will keep users coming back for more.
“It has a music layer, a very specific sound layer, some personalization that makes your experience very different from mine, and you get a different trip every time,” she said. “As a standalone product, I think that it will be something that people will want to engage in regularly just to see what the next trip will be like. We will also have some interesting community aspects, and we will continue to layer in and evolve the product over time.”
Getting A Feel For The VR Marketplace
The Tripp experience is being built using the Unity Engine, which has worked well for the startup, and the development platform has also provided useful market data.
“We have a very realistic view of the VR market install base,” said Reeves. “For us, it’s less about that. If we can focus on the benefits of this service, making sure it does what we think we can get to.”
That data is crucial, as analysts and even those in the VR and gaming industries say that consumers are currently in the “gap of disappointment and disillusionment” for the technology. Reeves said that the key to navigating this era of VR is through preservation of capital and staying within means.
“I’m very grateful to Mayfield for giving us enough money to survive for much longer than we were originally asking for,” said Reeves. “With that goal in mind, we want make sure we have enough capital to get to market or have something that we can measure. That’s our main focus—we’re going to stay lean and mean as a team and stay laser-focused on our charter. Once we have something that we feel is marketable, it’s conceivable that by just focusing on the benefits of the service, we can start to create our own revenue streams by going direct to consumers with our experiences. We’ve been approached by a number of opportunities that go beyond the app store ecosystem, and I also think that our data will have some value. I think that if we can create an experience that changes the way that you feel, it will have a life of its own beyond the current two million monthly active users in VR.”
“I think that if we can create an experience that changes the way that you feel, it will have a life of its own beyond the current two million monthly active users in VR.” — Nanea Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Tripp
Tripp will be coming to multiple platforms, including mobile VR, and although there is are no plans to support AR at this time, it could adopt the technology later. Reeves also said that she believes that mobile VR, with its ubiquity, will ramp up in 2019.
“When we met with [Mayfield partner] Tim Chang, he got it right away,” said Reeves. “He actually said, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone to come in and do this pitch.’ We knew that he was our person to help us craft this early journey because you need someone who believes in you enough to do something so bold. I was very humbled by the support that he brought to this. I feel that this is the most exciting company I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve been involved with a lot of great companies.”
Blizzard Entertainment officially opens its new Blizzard Arena Los Angeles in Burbank Studios on October 7 with the Overwatch Contenders Season One Playoffs. While a significant part of the facility is devoted to the live event esports stage featuring top esports teams competing across a variety of Blizzard games, there is also a large area devoted to the production of video content for livestreamed shows and separate distribution.
Adam Rosen, senior business operations manager at Blizzard Esports, told AListDaily that the plan is for Blizzard to produce multiple concurrent esports shows around the clock. This post-produced content and studio shows will give Blizzard content for livestreams and for marketing its events across social media and video outlets.
“We’re thinking a lot about how to incorporate sponsorships and brands within the broadcasts in different ways,” Rosen said. “We have event-specific or league-specific sponsors with integration for graphics and advertisements, but also web and venue sponsors as well.”
The core pillar in creating this esports facility was to host “epic esports experiences,” so they’re orchestrating a balance in advertising within the facility so it’s complementary.
“We’re shying away from advertising that would be obtrusive to the experience,” Rosen explained.
But there will be plenty of opportunities for sponsors across the shows and content that Blizzard will be churning out around the clock.
“Brand integrations on our esports shows will be mostly consist of content integrations like you see on traditional sports shows,” Rosen said. “All of those will be ready to go at launch.”
Blizzard’s goal in creating content is to dive deeper into the stories behind the matches, according to Rosen.
“We want to increase our content value over time and deepen the narratives around all of our leagues,” Rosen explained. “As we create all of these other content pieces, it’s not just about the main stage competition, but to be able to look back at the lives of these players, explore historical stats and records, and bring deeper context to the fans.”
At the same time, as esports continues to gain additional mainstream exposure through coverage on traditional networks like TBS, NBC Sports and ESPN (which has aired Heroes of the Dorm competitions) and Disney XD (which airs Blizzard esports content), Blizzard wants to grow its fan base.
“We’re looking to expand our audience,” Rosen said. “We want to make compelling content for our fans, but we’re starting to expand the reach of our content. A lot of our content is on Twitch, but cutdowns of our content airs on Disney and other outlets. We had Heroes of the Dorm on Facebook Live this year.”
With multiple sound stages, control rooms, and practice facilities, Rosen said the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles was built to support a full slate of competitive events year-round. In addition, the Burbank arena will house a Blizzard retail store that rotates stock for event attendees based on the competitions taking place at the time.
The arena will seat 450 audience members, which Rosen said was the right number for the fan experience.
“We explored smaller and much larger audiences, but we think it feels good when you’re there,” Rosen said. “We’ve built the core capacity to support our most complex games, and then we can make changes on a game by game basis.”
Beginning October 13, the Hearthstone Championship Tour’s Summer Championship will bring top Hearthstone pros to the arena for a full weekend of competition, with $250,000 on the line. The global tournament will conclude the third act of the HCT and set the table for the Hearthstone World Championship to take place in early 2018.
The early battles of both the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC) Finals and World of Warcraft Arena Championship will be held at the arena in late October, setting the stage for the championships at BlizzCon in Anaheim, California on November 3-4.
Later this year, some of the top Overwatch players in the world will compete in the inaugural Overwatch League. While the plan is for the 10 city-based teams to establish home arenas for play in the near future, the first season will be held in the new arena.
“The Overwatch League will kick off in December with the regular season beginning in January,” Rosen said. “Tickets to all of our shows will be available to the public so fans can attend. We hope to see fans from the various city-based teams show up to support them.”
When it comes to gaming peripherals, standing out isn’t just a matter of designing quality hardware or growing brand loyalty. Sometimes, it takes a little (or a lot) of flash to stand out on livestreams. That’s why Razer has been making its devices more attractive by working to bring Chroma lighting technology directly to popular games.
Razer Chroma lighting effects are built into a variety of products, including notebooks, keyboards, mice, headsets, gamepads and more. Users have tools to customize their lighting profiles with different colors and patterns to best suit their personalities, but Razer has also partnered with developers to create profiles specifically designed to enhance their games.
In addition to big-budget PC games such as Overwatch, Rise of the Tomb Raider,Diablo III and others that integrate Razer keyboard lighting by flashing different colors at key moments, Razer is also working with independent studios that are looking to push experiences to the next level with games like Move or Die.
“Move or Die is a very colorful game, so it was a natural fit with the Razer Chroma peripherals,” Nicolae Berbece, lead developer and founder of Those Awesome Guys, told AListDaily. “On top of that, it’s a four-player party game where everyone can play using a single keyboard, and that is a perfect opportunity to basically turn the keyboard into a rainbow. It’s a stupid thing to do, but who are we to stop that from happening?”
Move or Die is all about rules—or rather, constantly changing them. The game, which bills itself as “the four-player friendship ruining party game” changes its gameplay mechanics every 20 seconds. Furthermore, Twitch users can impact the game by using comments to distract players, choose game modes or otherwise throw random elements into the match. The quirky game has earned praise from both critics and users on Metacritic and Steam, and players have grown accustomed to—and perhaps even enjoy—the mocking humor in the game’s trailers, videos and blog updates.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that the developer is more than willing to try out new enhancements.
“Razer approached us showing interest in having Chroma features added to Move or Die, and we basically said, ‘FUCK YEAH!’” said Berbece.
That enthusiasm showed with the Chroma implementation, which supports multiple Razer devices. The keyboard highlights the individual controls for each of the four players while headphones pulse in rhythm with the soundtrack. During the course of a match, Razer Chroma keyboards, mice and illuminated mouse pads will flash different colors at key moments such as player deaths, wins and when items are unlocked—all underscoring the party game’s fast-paced action.
Those Awesome Guys continue to engage its community through regular game updates, which sometimes add new modes for fans to get angry over, or include features like letting AI chatbots troll the human players using the in-game chat box. Other promotional partnerships include having the characters from the Adult Swim (Cartoon Network) Rick and Morty television show in the game.
Oomba hopes to take esports national. The software startup, which includes Atari founder Nolan Bushnell as a co-founder, has purchased the chain of nine GameWorks arcade locations with esports in mind. Oomba CEO Michael Williams told AListDaily the plan is to open nine new locations in 2018 and nine more in 2019 with the goal of getting to 32 locations in two-and-a-half years.
“Many existing LAN centers in America are just PCs on a table,” Williams said. “For GameWorks, it has to be nicer than that. Inspired by Asian esports arenas, we want to make it as fun as possible and enjoyable for people to play games as well as watch others play.”
Williams said Oomba is upgrading the existing 30,000 square feet GameWorks locations in Cincinnati, Ohio, Las Vegas, Nevada, Newport, Kentucky, Laguna Hills, California, Schaumburg, Illinois, Seattle, Washington, Chesapeake, Virginia and Denver, Colorado to establish a level playing field for the brand. Only three locations have LAN centers right now, and those need to have the wiring upgraded. Eventually, LAN centers will be added across all current locations.
“As we build new GameWorks, we’ll design these with esports in mind,” Williams explained. “We’ll have esports sections and the stadiums will be larger with seating for 1,000 to 1,500 people.”
All current and future locations will serve food, which is one of the reasons GameWorks has been a profitable business. Williams is approaching the business of esports like traditional sports.
“Esports must monetize the way sports do,” said Williams. “The single largest source of revenue in the sports stadium is concessions, and we see GameWorks as the stadiums for esports.”
Oomba will begin signing pro esports teams when it has eight GameWorks locations retrofitted, and the company is already in early talks with Team Liquid.
“We’re going to go nuts when we get to 16 locations,” Williams added. “We’re already trying to attract events. We’re going to get there as fast as we can.”
Williams said Oomba isn’t trying to compete with MSG or Staples Center, since those major stadiums will be used for world championship events. He envisions GameWorks as the practice field for teams or minor league esports.
“We may be better suited for Rocket League or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and we’ll host competitions that are more local or more frequent,” Williams said. “GameWorks will be a place to rub elbows with celebrity players. For example, when DreamHack is in Denver, there’s a good chance they’ll do some kind of GameWorks party and gather before the tournament.”
Williams believes GameWorks’ new esports business will open up sponsorship opportunities for brands like HP and Dell, which are active in the space.
“We can talk to these brands about what they want to do and use GameWorks as a showcase for new technology,” Williams said. “We can become a really good place to announce the next big game before it comes out.”
GameWorks is marketing to gamers with a new slogan: “Every night is game night at GameWorks.” In addition to esports, some locations feature bowling alleys and most offer tabletop gaming. The company is adding Magic: The Gathering tournaments. Moving forward, Williams wants to add more virtual reality gaming.
“I can’t think of a better place for VR,” Williams explained. “We’ve been talking to HTC and different VR providers, and very quickly we’ll be getting into that space with player vs. player VR. We always love tournaments. There are some amazing VR games out there and we have the space for people to come in and compete in VR tournaments and competitions. We’re also looking at getting drone racing inside GameWorks.”
Oomba launched five years ago as a cloud-based software company, which built out the infrastructure to run any type of tournament from the cloud. The company has been serving the board game space since 2014, replacing pen and paper with cloud-based tournaments. Now it’s moving into video game competitions and esports.
“Our software solves the problems of managing live events by handling registration, knowing where players are and tracking leaderboards,” Williams said. “Tournament organizer can run and manage an event and we get access to the information, so we can become a repository for people’s rankings and ratings. We want to be the home for stats. Overwatch and League of Legends don’t need us, but we can become a place where players can brag about their rankings, and our software is free to the public.”
Nike’s new NBA jerseys not only look cool, but they also unlock exclusive in-game virtual currency in 2K’s NBA 2K18. Each NBA team will get four new Nike jerseys this season, including the new Statement jersey. Through the NikeConnect app, gamers can scan the tag on the front left side of the jerseys to receive in-game boosts.
Alfie Brody, vice president of marketing for NBA 2K, said the origin of this unique blending of the real and virtual worlds came from a brainstorm with Nike about the most dedicated NBA 2K gamers.
“We’re leveraging our engaged and very fanatical fan base by rewarding them for buying new NBA jerseys through new content for MyTeam and MyPlayer,” Brody said. “We know our fans consumer content in different ways, and now new technology is allowing us to connect the jerseys they buy with our game.”
When gamers go to any retailer and buy a Top 20 player NBA jersey (as established by the NBA), they can download NikeConnect and swipe the barcode, which links to the NBA 2K API. Then, when they start NBA 2K18, they’ll see a prompt to redeem content, which includes a Free Agent card—a high-value card with a rating for that player in the MyTeam mode. They’ll also get a random boost for MyPlayer, which can be rescanned every day that team plays on the NBA schedule.
If the jersey doesn’t relate to anyone on the Top 20, then they’ll receive an Arena Card (which is a team or arena-specific card) that can be used in MyTeam. The same random boosts will apply, and they can also be used on the day of the game.
Brody said 2K is currently talking with Nike to figure out additional ways to reward gamers through NikeConnect, further connecting real players and teams with the video game universe.
2K also recently partnered with General Mills to offer redemption codes in Reese’s Puffs cereal, which unlock in-game currency for NBA 2K18 players.
“Over the past few years, we have done a code on packaging to give extra value for that product,” Brody said. “We’ve done research on the consumer packaged goods side with companies that are also NBA partners, exploring the crossover of their fan base with ours. This is another method to incentivize consumers to further engage. Our fan base is really engaged and always looking for ways to boost their MyPlayer. Even NBA players take it very seriously.”
Both NikeConnect and Reese’s Puffs promotion connect gamers to NBA 2K18’s “The Neighborhood,” which is the core game mode of MyCareer. This year, the mode is more open world, allowing those additional boosts to help gamers’ MyPlayer on the NBA court and also on the streetball court of The Neighborhood.
“Our jobs as marketers is made easier by the hooks, innovations and improvements in the game year over year,” Brody said. “We’re delivering what our consumers want by engaging with them across social media, offering up the best talent, and ensuring that the actual gameplay experience is the best quality.”
This year’s NBA 2K18 marketing got an unexpected boost when cover athlete Kyrie Irving demanded to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and subsequently moved on to the Boston Celtics.
“As a marketer, we didn’t see that happening, but it provided another marketing beat for us,” Brody said. “There were a lot of complexities to hit the brakes on everything we were doing with Kyrie and refocus on the Celtics, but the timing worked out, and Kyrie is excited to be on his new team, and we were able to harness that. These guys are very good at NBA 2K. Paul George and Kevin Durant and Irving are the top in the league, so that trade gave us a unique opportunity.”
2K also faces competition from Electronic Arts for the first time in years.
“We don’t focus on the competition, but we’re aware they’re there,” Brody said. “Whether we have competition or not, our development team always tries to innovate and take risks. We think it’s good to be on your toes.”
Heading into 2018, NBA 2K18 is also at the center of the new NBA 2K Eleague, which has already given the game a boost through additional esports media coverage. Eighteen of the NBA’s 30 teams are on board for the inaugural season, which tips off next year.
“Right now, there’s not a ton of marketing momentum, but the NBA 2K Eleague announcement and the model of consumers having a path to becoming pro athletes is very exciting thing to talk about and harness,” Brody explained. “When we get to the February/March timeframe, we’ll kick this off, and consumers can try out for NBA teams and be seen by GMs. That’s going to be what we focus on. Then with the launch of the regular season late next spring, it’s a great opportunity for marketing the brand.”
This new “aspirational” journey for gamers will be solidified in 2018. Brody said people are entering the franchise and now they have the opportunity to participate in tournaments at retail. 2K has done Pro-Am tournaments the past few years with plans for a third one still in play. Then NBA 2K Eleague offers that next step for gamers to become professional athletes.
By 2019, the plan is for all 30 NBA teams to be recruiting gamers to field their video game teams. There’s also a plan to expand NBA esports globally.
“NBA 2K has seen double-digit growth in Europe year over year,” Brody said. “In China, we have fewer console gamers, but NBA 2K Online has over 36 million subscribers. NBA’s very big in China and they consume a lot of the product at retail and online.”
2K is also marketing its console game in Europe and Latin America while focusing on mobile and online in China.
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-The AList Team
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