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USA 2014Video Coverage

Lauren Feldman is Addicted to Data | Casual Connect Video

August 14, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Lauren Feldman moderated a panel during Casual Connect USA 2014 about the ethics of free-to-play. “In 2010, China passed a law to protect children from being on the internet too often,” she explained. “Children were dying while they were in rehab centers for internet addiction.” She directed questions to the panelists on gaming addiction and more during the session.

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Lauren Feldman, Co-founder, MassIntent

Lauren Feldman is an entertainment monetization expert and co-founder of MassIntent, an active learning system that combines business intelligence, predictive modeling, and consumer behavior to provide actionable product and strategy level insights in real time. She is also the managing director for Girls in Tech – San Francisco and a mobile games enthusiast.

“I Would Never Have Pictured Myself as an Entrepreneur”

Feldman did not always intend to become an entrepreneur, but found herself pushed in that direction when she moved from the creative side of games to product: suddenly, it was her job to ensure that her product was successful and profitable. She had to answer difficult and ambiguous questions: What was the balance between consumption and monetization? What goods should she sell, when, and to whom? But Feldman discovered some patterns in the chaos of data and product. She says, “I figured out that monetization wasn’t rocket science. If I could acquire enough users and balance the rate they consumed content with the frequency of ads and pricing of virtual goods, our games would make money. And they did.”

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Feldman moderating a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014

Eventually, Feldman decided to take the entrepreneurial leap and work as a monetization consultant. Of her first client, she says, “It was the first time that something was 100 percent mine, and I just had a feeling it was going to turn into something much bigger than a ‘gig’. Sometimes, we are put in a situation where we don’t have any other choice than to change something about our lives. I would never have pictured myself as an entrepreneur, but here I am.”

“Addicted To Data”

Feldman began to see an emerging pattern in her work: all of the questions she was answering required integrated large amounts of data from multiple sources. She says she became “addicted to data.” Generating revenue required constant monitoring and tweaking, not to mention regular arguments with Excel. But the biggest challenge came from the constant inquiries from managers, creative teams, and marketing. She couldn’t always answer their questions because she didn’t have the data or she didn’t have the time.

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Feldman during a consultation meeting

So simplicity became her new priority.

Feldman began by removing any data that did not directly correlate to her primary revenue sources. She changed her focus from collecting more data to collecting the “right data”. This approach produced cleaner data and better forecasts.

Seeing an opportunity to turn her approach into a product, Feldman co-founded MassIntent.

MassIntent uses the intelligence of machine learning and the benefits of the simplified model to identify weaknesses in business performance and forecast future monetization quickly and accurately while preserving the privacy of users’ information.

Unsurprisingly, Feldman believes data-driven decisions will be the next big trend in the games industry. Her focus is on helping businesses predict their users’ interests and actions to inform business decisions and maximize revenue. She emphasizes, “It will be more than just a collection or messaging service, it will be a new form of intelligence; one that is executed based on simplicity.”

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Feldman having fun at an earlier Casual Connect conference

Science, Sport, and Mobile Games

Feldman’s passion for games and competition extends to her personal life, as well. For the past five years, Feldman’s has competed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, both for the physical and mental stimulation. And she says, “Intellectually, it’s probably the most challenging subject I’ve ever studied.”

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For the past five years, Feldman’s passion has been competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

For gaming, she plays anything mobile: casual, casino and hardcore, believing it is important to understand the fundamentals of what drives people to play. Her study of game design, behavioral psychology and decision making has shown that we are creatures driven by habit and similar motivations. She expects mobile to become the platform of the future, insisting there will be no other platforms.

Feldman’s interest in games is primarily mobile. She also studies game design and behaviorial psychology to understand the habits and motivations of players. She particularly appreciates the accessibility free to play (F2P) brings to gaming and says “everyone should be playing”. She believes the stigma surrounding the monetization strategy in F2P is unfounded. “We watch TV and wait for commercials; we don’t call it F2watch. We are accustomed to commercials. It’s the way it has always been.” So she expects F2P to be accepted the same way in the next generation. “You will get a free sample, but the whole cake will cost you.”

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

George Zaloom: Watch the Game Changers | Casual Connect Video

August 13, 2014 — by Gamesauce Staff

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George Zaloom led the discussion of a panel of recruiters at Casual Connect USA 2014. “When I think of recruiters, the job of dentist also comes up,” he said. “I don’t know why it is, but hopefully we will be able to dispel some of these rumors, and maybe you’ll show these guys a little love, and they’ll show you what they can do for you.”

George Zaloom wasn’t always in the gaming industry. The CEO of The Las Vegas Whaling Company, Zaloom started out in Hollywood producing films like Encino Man and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. He wrote Attack of the Killer Bees, which brought him to beekeeping in his free time. “What fascinates me is the utopian society that the bee’s live within — living and harmony and producing more than they need. We can all learn something from them,” he says.

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George Zaloom tending to his honeybees. “Look ma, no gloves!!!”

While both the gaming industry and movie industry are content-driven, Zaloom feels the two are vastly different in how they go about achieving their goals. “The big difference is that movies are made by knee jerk reactions by overpaid Hollywood studio execs who take meetings while getting manicures (true story) whereas games are data based,” he says. “…And you can’t beat data!”

Data and Geography

Zaloom’s foray into the gaming industry was a fortuitous accident. He was involved with the creation of a social network for kids called FaceChips. Zaloom notes that “social is pretty much the lifeblood of gaming” and that it’s difficult to have a successful game without some social aspect. Realizing kids wanted to play games as well as socialize, they built an API that would allow kids to play games made for Facebook, known as giantHello. “Little did we realize that would iterate into a casino gaming platform,” he says.

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George Zaloom, Co-Founder, The Las Vegas Whaling Company

Eventually, Zaloom ended up co-founding The Las Vegas Whaling Company. He notes that building a new business is always a risk, even if you’re armed with data points, but being prepared to fail is a whole different thing.

Zaloom originally planned for Las Vegas Whaling Company to be a mobile games-of-chance provider. It is now transitioning into a skill-based geo-gaming platform though. “Consumers are now playing land-based games like Ingress and we see an exciting new market there,” Zaloom says.

He notes that geo/mobile is a new frontier. Users who play games like Ingress actually go out of their homes to play and socialize in the physical world as opposed to playing behind avatars. Zaloom believes that the innovative way that the platform becomes ubiquitous with the environment is underutilized so far and has game-changing potential.

Other than geo/mobile gaming, Zaloom believes that the other big gaming innovation to pay attention to is immersive 3D such as Oculus. “Imagine riding the tape in a slot machine as the bars and cherries appear,” he says. “What an experience that would be for the user!”

The Albatross of Gaming

Zaloom acknowledges that gambling can be a “bit of an albatross” for the gaming industry, but points to free-to-play content as the answer for some of the concerns surrounding gambling games. “Sell the fun, play down the gambling,” he says. “If it’s free to play, that means it’s pretty hard to lose your house — even if you were addicted.”

George Zaloom Rob Gallo and David Fairlamb, the team behind Neo Poker, which just won GiGse's Startup Launchpad Competition
George Zaloom, Rob Gallo, and David Fairlamb, the team behind Neo Poker, which just won GiGse’s Startup Launchpad Competition

The other headache the gambling gaming market is experiencing is its maturation. “There are no more shortcuts to take,” Zaloom says. “Either you have bucketloads of money to license real math, create amazing art, and buy users, or — as we say in New Jersey — ‘fuggedaboutit.’” This is one of the reasons Zaloom and Las Vegas Whaling Company are aggressively pursuing geo/mobile and skill-based games.

Past, Present, and Future

While Zaloom hopes his next big accomplishment is in the geo/mobile arena — breaking the mold and creating a new form of gaming, he is currently most proud of his work with GoPlay, another company he founded before Las Vegas Whaling Company. “Being an early innovator in connecting land-based casinos with gaming platforms (was very pleasing),” he says.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Ian Atkinson – Customer, Consultant, Now Business Leader | Casual Connect Video

August 13, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Ian Atkinson moderated a panel on the challenges of mobile publishing at Casual Connect USA 2014. ” I think it is a super exciting time for mobile games,” he said. “Typically, games lead the innovation in markets.”

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Ian Atkinson, Vice President of Product Management, Sleepy Giant

Ian Atkinson is vice president of product management at Sleepy Giant. He oversees the product management for Sleepy Giant’s fofofum backend game technology and services and sits between sales, marketing, development, and accounts to make sure they are aligned and executing on all fronts. He originally partnered with Sleepy Giant while he was at THQ to help with online games, and he has been working with the company ever since, first as a customer, then a consultant, and now as an employee. Atkinson’s background prior to gaming was in management consulting and investment banking. Since then, he has primarily been focused on F2P games, helping developers improve game operations with advanced analytics and product management.

Investing and Developing

Ian got the bug for technology and entertainment when he helped raise $150 million in capital to fund the first meaningful digital product push into theaters, enabling downloadable virtual prints of films via satellite. This allowed  theaters to bring customized content to their screens. Later, after working with F2P gaming companies in China, he joined THQ to help drive their F2P online games and launched Dragonica and Company of Heroes Online, the company’s first foray into that business model.

Earlier this year, Sleepy Giant announced the formation of fofofum, an internal operating group that offers a complete backend game technology and services solution, featuring a game management system powered by a rules engine that drives real-time automation. A successful beta test with select partners has been completed, and the game ops engine is now available to game developers and publishers worldwide. fofofum’s technology and custom development expertise will be on display in Midnight Star, Industrial Toy’s mobile first person shooter, and in upcoming game releases from partners, including Tilting Point and Robot Entertainment.

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Earlier this year, Sleepy Giant announced the formation of fofofum, an internal operating group that offers a complete backend game technology and services solution.

Cross-platform Evolution

Cross-platform gaming and the evolution of F2P are the big trends Atkinson sees affecting the games industry in the next few years. All the platforms now have the power to drive a more meaningful experience, whether that is unique to each platform or mirrored on each platform. Sleepy Giant’s technology is very focused on being platform agnostic, so their customers can have a single end-to-end tool to manage their games. Atkinson emphasizes, “This is essential because F2P requires a high number of users, which may change over the next few years, but for now having access to a large pool of users means being on all platforms.”

“F2P is a numbers game​, which given low paying player conversion rates, requires developers to drive more players through their​ funnel, ​while simultaneously fighting low switching costs​​ for players (i.e. free). This dynamic keeps upward pressure on acquisition costs, leaving developers scrambling to to figure out how to keep monetization at the same pace.” Ian ​dislikes F2P because he feels that it has introduce​d the complex​ player funnel (mentioned before) and a business model that is proving difficult to sustain. Now developers must not only focus on game development (which isn’t easy), but also build a whole new and different set of​ skill in guerrilla marketing, merchandising, business intelligence, and merchandising. That’s not bad in the long run, but until now, the games industry​ hasn’t had to think or execute in those manners, so it’s more challenging.

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Atkinson loves the fact that F2P lowers the barrier to entry and extends the upside revenue potential of games. At the same time, he currently hates F2P because it introduced a complex skill set to an industry that until now hasn’t had to think or execute in that manner.

Gaming at Home

When Atkinson is gaming, his favorite platform is still console, which goes back to his early days of playing on Atari, Colecovision, Nintendo NES, and Sega Genesis. He owns an Xbox 360 and is currently evaluating Xbox One and PS4 for his next purchase. Since the Xbox One is not backwards compatible, he feels opting for a new platform may make sense. His unofficial poll from GDC and E3 has the PS4 looking like the leader.

However, in spite of his preference for console play, most of the time, he is playing on mobile devices or PC/Mac these days because of the convenience. He is currently playing Hearthstone and finds having strategy notes along with the game is extremely helpful.

When not working, Atkinson spends a lot of his time with his two children, aged six and eight. They enjoy riding bikes, going to the beach, and playing sports. He also enjoys mountain biking and surfing.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Josh Burns Knows the Importance of Partnerships | Casual Connect Video

August 13, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Not so long ago, it was all about North America, Western Market,” Josh Burns told his audience at Casual Connect USA 2014. “But the reality is today, the market in Asia, depending on what you define as Asia, is very significant.”

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Josh Burns is a consultant in the games industry working with game developers, game publishers, and service providers focused on online and mobile gaming to support key business areas, including strategy, market intelligence, marketing, game publishing, business operations, product management, and business development. Before becoming a consultant, Burns worked at 6waves, leading the US product management team for one of the largest publishers of games on Facebook, iOS, and Android, where he managed and launched over 100 apps including those from top developers such as Kabam, Nexon, and Atari, as well as games based on IP from Eminem, Disney, Dungeons & Dragons, Starz, and BBC.

Helping to Find the Opportunities

Much of his work these days is focused on helping smaller to mid-size mobile game developers find opportunities and partners to bring their games to market. The rising marketing and development costs, as well as decreasing organic visibility for new games in the app store, has made partnerships much more important for the majority of mobile developers. It also makes Burns’ work much more valuable to developers, especially smaller studios, which are most likely to be interested in considering partners to bring their games to market, while larger studios are more likely to be interested in partnering to release content from external developers.

The trend of rising costs and decreasing organic visibility was one of the primary reasons Burns formalized his consulting business. The proudest moment of his career occurred when he decided to take the plunge and go out on his own as a consultant. He enjoys working with a varied group of companies and helping them with a diverse set of issues related to their businesses.

Josh Burns at Casual Connect USA 2014
Josh Burns at Casual Connect USA 2014

Burns emphasizes that it is difficult to predict what the next important trend in the industry will be. He believes we will start to see mobile games with production levels starting to reach those of PC and potentially consoles, perhaps in less than three years. As well, since the mobile market is already very crowded, he is waiting to see what the next mass market gaming platforms will be.

A Mobile Focus

His focus these days is almost entirely on mobile, so it is not unexpected to find his gaming is only on his smartphone or tablet. He is playing so many different games from the mobile market and developer partners that he rarely plays any one game on a regular basis. Right now, he is playing Puzzle Raiders, a new match-3 game from one of his partner studios. The core gameplay is like Candy Crush, but with an exploration theme and more depth and complexity.

Burns is enthusiastic about the F2P model because it allows developers to reach the mass market with their games; on mobile, this market is truly global.

Burns is enthusiastic about the F2P model because it allows developers to reach the mass market with their games; on mobile, this market is truly global. Small development teams are able to scale their games to millions of downloads and users, something that previously was extremely difficult except for the largest gaming companies. But, he admits, “The downside is that there are some bad actors in the industry abusing the F2P model and engaging in questionable activities to generate revenue.”

When not working, Burns enjoys running, DJing for friends and charity events, growing his already too large music collection, and playing with his one-year-old daughter.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Gavin Teo and Comcast Ventures are Committed to Games | Casual Connect Video

August 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Gaming startups should consider a media partnership strategy early,” Gavin Teo said during his panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “The right IP – like FF6, Despicable Me, and even Kim Kardashian can provide a major advantage in distribution.”

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Gavin Teo, Investment Manager, Comcast Ventures

Gavin Teo is an Investment Manager at Comcast Ventures, where he invests in early stage companies with a focus on the connected home. He says, “We love working with entrepreneurs and thrive on helping them take their ideas to a global stage,” and points out, “CV is a returns-oriented fund with the strategic resources of Comcast NBC Universal.”

A Commitment To Games

Teo is an avid gamer who plays on console, mobile and PC. Currently, he is playing Forza 5 on Xbox One and says, “it showcases all the capabilities of this console generation – AAA graphics; transmedia content like the Top Gear integration; and advanced big data features such as a Drivatar that learns your driving style and earns you points by competing in the world when you’re offline.” He also points to the advances of AAA titles on mobile, citing his favorite iPad title, Xcom: Enemy Unknown. He shares, “I am a huge Xcom fan and played all of them on PC, but loved Enemy Unknown on my old 360 and was pleasantly surprised that it plays just as well on iPad.” Teo describes investments in FanDuel, Iddiction, and Trion Worlds, led by his colleagues at Comcast Ventures, which “are all gaming companies with well-developed cross-platform and transmedia strategies”.

A F2P Bias

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He insists, “F2P works at both the hardcore and casual ends of the spectrum.”

Teo is also a former Product Manager on Farmville, so he admits to a bias for F2P business models that can harness the broadest potential reach. He insists, “F2P works at both the hardcore and casual ends of the spectrum.” However, he notes that it can also lead to a bias toward optimizing for short run user pay revenue – whale hunting, price discrimination, steep difficulty curves, and pay gates are common and effective. He doubts that iOS will relax rules allowing gaming apps to charge subscriptions, which limits user pay options. He asserts that F2P is a positive force in game development and says that the most successful publishers will find a way to optimize for both reach and monetization, and believes that “new advertising models are emerging that will make games look more like media properties.”

A Developing Perception

When asked about an emerging trend in gaming, Teo points to the rise of eSports and livestreaming of gaming content on platforms like Twitch. “Twitch is a social phenomenon with 50 million monthly viewers who consume almost 2 hours of gameplay video per session,” he says. Today, livestreaming of core genres is happening at scale on PC and console. He expects it to spread quickly to mobile as well. He is interested in platforms and content genres with low content acquisition costs, including UGC, which have broad reach and appeal and high consumer engagement. Teo mentions other Comcast Ventures investments led by his colleagues who focus on the MCN and content space, including Fullscreen, Tastemade, and CreativeLive.

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Teo mentions other Comcast Ventures investments led by his colleagues who focus on the MCN and content space, including Fullscreen, Tastemade, and CreativeLive.

Teo expects the rise of the professional eSports athlete to be the next big trend in the games industry. The US government is now issuing athlete visas to eSports athletes to come to the US and compete in major eSports events. He points out “20M fans watched the DOTA 2 International this July, which had a prize pool in excess of $10M. The winning team, Newbee, walked away with more than $5M. Competitive gaming is beginning to eclipse major sporting events in fan reach and prizing.” Consider that in context of the $3M prize Djokovic won by taking home the Men’s singles title at Wimbledon, which drew 17M viewers this June. He asserts, “big ad dollars will chase eSports like it has other sports.”

When not playing console games on his Xbox One, Teo is a distance runner and enjoys using consumer health apps, such as Runkeeper and Nike+, that are at the intersection of fitness and gaming.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Jimmy Yun Has Found The Art Of Business | Casual Connect Video

July 24, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“What we wanted to do is always look at, whether it be a game development or a mobile app or interactive story book or anything else that we would do, from a sense that we can actually build a world around this and grow it,” says Jimmy Yun during his panel at Casual Connect USA.

Jimmy Yun, CEO of Section Studios, Inc,, announced at Casual Connect USA 2014 that the company has launched a create-your-own-adventure game called Vlad the Impaler on Steam. It will soon be available on mobile as well. They are also getting ready to launch a platformer game called Tinertia as early access on Steam. They have also launched an exciting update on their popular runner game Zombie Killer Squad, that they have developed in partnership with 3BlackDot.

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Tinertia, a platformer game, will soon be launched as early access on Steam.

Working With Family

Yun would love to be an artist, but admits he is not. Instead, his creativity is in the art of business with a background in corporate strategy. But, with his artist brother, Justin Yun, as his inspiration, he decided to start Bluecanvas, a social networking site for artists online, which is best known for its magazine.

Meanwhile, his brother was freelancing as a concept artist for game companies and entertainment studios. The two of them decided to create an additional business, Section Studios, shortly after bringing in their third partner, Cecil Kim. They began growing the company aggressively. Today, Section Studios has expanded to three divisions: Games, Interactive, and Entertainment. Yun is responsible for the business end of the company and uses his strategy background to structure deals, create projects and establish a good corporate foundation for this creative studio. He claims, “Every business shares some level of common theme in what good business practice is; it is especially enjoyable to apply these business fundamentals in a creative environment.”

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Today, Section Studios has expanded to three divisions: Games, Interactive, and Entertainment.

An Evolving Business

As a small company, they are constantly evolving. Yun says that with every person they add to the team, which is now approaching 60, they receive a new perspective about the company. It is built around its people, so with each addition, the company evolves in the direction and vision of what they can be in the gaming, interactive, and entertainment spaces. He believes, “We are blessed to have the people we have in our company. Each new hire is another amazing event that signifies a new chapter.”

A creative business has a constant need for inspiration. Yun insists that every person brings a new form of inspiration and that every project they engage in is driven by it. “We have to love what we make in order for us to make it well. Every product truly does first start in our hearts.”

A Good Secret

He considers the proudest moment of his career came when a client said, “You are the industry’s best kept secret.” He admits, “I understood the client acknowledged our youth, but nevertheless, I was very proud to receive such a compliment.” But as CEO, he most certainly does not intend for them to remain a secret. Although being well-known is not the end goal, it will certainly help them to grow.

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As CEO, he most certainly does not intend for Section Studios to remain a secret.

Yun comes from a tech/manufacturing background, so he recognizes the faster and faster turnaround in technology. As a content creator, Section Studios has decided to stay informed not only technologically, but to also stay focused on creativity to build timeless content. He is fascinated by the current TV market and content, first with film and then games. He is not sure what the end result will be, but as gaming content has become essentially platform-free, he is interested to see how TVs, as a platform/console themselves, will contribute to the evolution of gaming.

Free Time to Play

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Zombie Killer Squad is one of the games Yun plays in his free time

In Yun’s free time, he enjoys playing with his family, golfing, reading and sometimes playing Candy Crush. Usually, he plays the games Section Studios is developing, but for pleasure, it’s Candy Crush “mainly for the same reason everyone else is playing it.” He also plays Zombie Killer Squad, a game they developed, if time allows.

As a gamer, he says, “I love F2P because it’s free!” But as a developer, he recognizes it is difficult to make a good F2P game. He has great respect for those who really understand the F2P model, but many developers are attracted to the perception of limitless success while not fully understanding the difficulty. He states, “We aspire to think in this realm as we approach each concept of games we’re developing. With our ZKS game, we’ve taken a shortcut into monetization by working with our amazing partners at 3BlackDot through an influencer driven user acquisition.” He would love to try another F2P game when their resources permit.

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Robby Yung: The Power of Mobile Distribution | Casual Connect Video

June 10, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Looking at the US market overall, obviously it’s the biggest gaming market in the world for mobile games,” said Robby Yung during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “I think if you separate it out by platform, a lot of people think of the US as really an iOS-driven market, but in fact the US is number 1 for downloads on both iOS and Android.”

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Robby Yung, CEO, Animoca Brands

Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands, says this adventure grew out of a long friendship he has had with Yat Siu and David Kim, the founders of Animoca. All three have much in common as serial entrepreneurs. As CEO, Yung oversees the day-to-day operations of Animoca Brands, spending much of his time on licensing, M&A, and corporate development, all of which he has previously done at other media and technology companies he started.

The most satisfying aspect of his work is closing rounds of funding, whether private or public. He claims, “From the first time in 1999 or the twelfth time in 2014, it just never gets old.” And how has he become so successful doing this? “Practice, practice, practice!”

Mobile Distribution

A tipping point in his career came in March 2013 with the adoption of Candy Crush in Hong Kong. He describes the phenomenon, “Literally a quarter of the population was playing it, and you couldn’t sit in a restaurant or ride on public transport without seeing someone feverishly crushing those virtual candies. The user demographic seemed indefinable, it was just ‘everyone’. It’s moments like that when you are staggered by the power of mobile distribution.” He states that the massive success of apps like Candy Crush validated for him Animoca’s strategy: focus on casual mobile titles for all audiences, including women, children and adults.

Believing in F2P

Yung is a proponent of F2P, believing it is the logical transactional format in the app world. He points out that allowing consumers to try the product is far more compelling than advertisements, game trailers, and reviews, and says, “I love the fact that F2P allows everyone to enjoy our titles, whether or not they choose to play.” He does dislike the automatic negative comments that F2P seems to generate in the app industry. While some F2P implementations can be obnoxious and greedy, he insists that overall it has hugely expanded the market for countless developers and publishers. Because of that, he considers F2P a positive force in the games industry.

For his own gaming, Yung prefers to use his smartphone. Currently, he is playing Doraemon Repair Shop Seasons, one of Animoca’s brand-based time management games. He says, “It’s driving me nuts—it gets quite hard—but I will not admit defeat.”

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Currently, he is playing Doraemon Repair Shop Seasons, one of Animoca’s brand-based time management games.

He does not own a console; he would rather be gaming on his smartphone or tablets. However, he does take the opportunity to play console titles from time to time at work or at friend’s homes.

When at home, Yung spends his time in the physical world, with his family, and finds his young daughter takes up most of his time. He also likes to run, including the occasional marathon, something he claims is necessary to offset his other hobby of eating.

Smartphone Growth

In the next few years, Yung believes we will see the “next five billion” get onto smartphones and smartphone gaming, saying, “Seeing how this audience and these gamers will shape the future of the games industry will be interesting indeed.” He emphasizes that Animoca have always seen themselves as a gaming company for everyone; they were one of the first Android game developers, and they were one of the first to establish a strong foothold in developing markets. And he maintains, “We will keep trying our best to stay on top of trends as they arise.”

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Shawn Bonham: Advantages of Consolidation | Casual Connect Video

June 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“We are moving into a period of increased consolidation right now in the gaming industry,” Shawn Bonham said at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “As we move into this phase, it’s really important to identify the key components of the business back to scale. Just like that perfect black jacket or black dress that you can wear clubbing or you can wear to a wedding, figure out what your core components of your tech stack are, what the core components of your business are, and then you can really scale them as you build out your business across multiple dev teams, or as you work as a single developer with multiple publishers.”

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Shawn Bonham, Senior Managing Director, APAC, Upsight

Shawn Bonham is the senior managing director, APAC at Upsight, a company that delivers actionable analytics and marketing to mobile games. Upsight resulted from the merger of Kontagent and PlayHaven last December and has now launched its freemium platform. They offer unlimited access to core acquisition, engagement, and revenue metrics, as well as tools for performing in-app marketing and targeted push-notification. They will also offer multiple upgrade paths to allow developers to choose the right features and capacity at the right time. The merger makes it possible for them to offer value through a mobile’s tech-stack, as all of the components for deep analytics, in-game marketing, and push are connected together in a unified system.

Bonham also announces that Upsight continues to improve its product localization and have added Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Korean tool tips to its dashboard; more localized documentation will be coming soon.

At Upsight, Bonham manages operations and strategy for APAC and consults with mobile companies throughout the region on best practices in actionable data analytics. Previously, he held management positions at Havok and NVIDIA, working with publishers and developers to identify the business case for new technologies and to realize tangible ROI from their implementation. At Havok, he started the APAC team and helped to expand the adoption reusable console middleware in Japan in the PS2 era. At NVIDIA, he worked on many partnerships with mobile developers to create mid-core mobile games that reach the core gamer audience.

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Upsight provides analytics and marketing for many companies

Energized By Innovation

Most of his career has been in the APAC region, including China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Southeast Asia; he is always energized by the speed of innovation and business in this area. He says, “It’s not about figuring out the right answer tomorrow, it’s about figuring it out today!” He emphasizes that each country is vastly different in language, business culture, business models, and game preferences. It is valuable to understand each in order to find the best business fit for various technologies and to consult with partners as they expand to the West and to other APAC regions.

Middleware Explosion

Bonham has seen mobile games become increasingly complex in their mechanics and budgets for development; operations have expanded accordingly. There has also been an explosion of middleware in the mobile space in the last few years to meet the needs of publishers and developers. As a result, developers must implement a vast array of SDKs and, on the operations side, view information on multiple independent dashboards to manage and optimize an F2P game’s performance. In response to these trends, he expects both developers and publishers will consolidate to mitigate development risk. And he expects to see consolidation in the middleware space to leverage multiple technologies through a single SKD. He believes platform will be a major theme in the next few years.

He claims, “The merger of Kontagent and PlayHaven is a great example of the consolidation trend. We’ve been able to really empower developer while simultaneously making their lives easier by putting the tools for deep analytics, in-app marketing, and push together in a single, unified dashboard and SDK.

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The Upsight Team

Wearable Technology

He also believes wearables will be an interesting disruption over the next few years, saying, “I look forward to seeing how game mechanics and business models will be tweaked for these new technologies. All of this is going to require a great deal of trial and error, for which concrete metrics and solid use of analytics to gauge progress will be key.”

When not involved with work, Bonham enjoys playing tennis and basketball with friends and working out, especially Olympic-style weightlifting. He appreciates the terrific live music and DJ scene in Tokyo, so he goes to shows whenever he has time. And he is a big gamer, making an effort to try out all the major releases on PC, console, and mobile.

Bonham used to be a huge console gamer and a fan of Japanese RPGs and action games. But these days, he rarely has time to finish epic games, so he now turns toward short-burst competitive PC and mobile titles, such as Clash of Clans, Hearthstone, DATA and many others. And, as a fan of American football, he occasionally plays the Madden series on consoles.

F2P Challenges

He sees F2P as a two-edged sword depending on the interaction between in-app purchases and game mechanics. A play-to-win mechanic can cause large problems in multiplayer games and in the single player genres. If a player feels manipulated into purchasing an item or power-up just to finish a level in a reasonable time or to collect an achievement, then it will leave a bad impression and negatively affect retention.

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Here is an example of how SEGA used Upsight

However, if the micro-transaction can be successfully decoupled from in-game success, then F2P makes it economically feasible for a developer to focus on perfecting game balance and adding iterative improvements and content to a title while maintaining an F2P revenue stream, without worrying about adding potentially unnecessary mechanics and features to justify another full-priced premium package purchase to the consumer. Bonham believes the key to succeeding with F2P is making users feel they don’t need an in-app purchase, but just really want it.

As a longtime console gamer, Bonham owns both PS4 and Xbox One. He plays more on the PS4 because he prefers the clean interface and finds Playstation Plus a fantastic value. He is curious to see how this generation of consoles will evolve. He believes we are beginning to see hybrid games combining some free-to-play business models and game mechanics inside traditional packaged console games, and is excited to see how this will develop.

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Jonathan Zweig: Excited About Mobile Ads | Casual Connect Video

May 20, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“How do you monetize the 98 percent that are not buying in-app items?” Jonathan Zweig asked his audience at Causal Connect Asia 2014. He went on to answer the question during his presentation, which you can see below.

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Jonathan Zweig, Founder/President, AdColony

Jonathan Zweig, as Founder and President of AdColony, has built a market-leading mobile video advertising company. AdColony’s proprietary Instant-Play™ technology serves razor sharp, full-screen video ads instantly in HD across its network of iOS and Android apps. The company works directly with Fortune 500 brands to help them reach consumers on mobile, and they also work with more than half of the top grossing publishers in the App Store to help them maximize monetization by integrating mobile video advertising.

Ads Go Mobile

With the continuing shift to mobile commerce, he sees huge changes ahead for AdColony and the products it offers during the next two or three years. He says, “As more people get comfortable buying things via their mobile devices, combined with the television style advertising that we provide, you will see incredible products coming out of our pipeline.” But he still views Free-to-Play as the trend which will most affect the games industry as a whole.

As more people get comfortable buying things via their mobile devices, combined with the television style advertising that we provide, you will see incredible products coming out of our pipeline.

Success and Innovation

Zweig tells us there have been many wonderful moments in the five years since he founded AdColony. In particular, he especially enjoys seeing the faces of his colleagues when they have closed a big deal for the company or released a new product onto the market. He feels that seeing the AdColony family succeed has been far more gratifying than any of his individual accomplishments.

One of the most difficult aspects of his career has been balancing focus with the need for constant product innovation. He points out, “AdColony is in one of the hottest and yet always changing industries, so the temptation to cast a wide net of ideas is always there. But with the help of a world-class management team, we have been able to strike a balance with focus on both video and new product innovation while growing the company quickly.”

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Screen shot (end card) from a mobile video ad campaign for Xbox Gears of War: Judgment featuring an interactive video end card.

Up in the Air

Today, Zweig spends most of his time evangelizing their products and technology. He travels around the world talking to developers, both big and small, about the value of AdColony’s monetization products, explaining how they can add incremental value to the bottom line with a few lines of code and strategic placements of their monetization units.

AdColony Side by Side Performance
The company’s Instant-Play™ HD mobile video technology delivers mobile video ads from Fortune 500 brands instantly in HD across their network of some of the hottest apps in the world. No long load times and no grainy, choppy footage.

In his free time, Zweig plays basketball and enjoys hitting the gym. The creative side of his personality is evident as he describes his appreciation for classical music, saying the music, devoid of words, allows him to create his own thoughts based on the sounds.

But his major focus is clearly on the company as he describes how AdColony’s technology eliminates the pain points of mobile video advertising with razor sharp, full screen video ads instantly in HD. No more long load times or grainy, choppy videos!

 

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Moving with the Latest Pendulum Swing: Right Before Our Eyes, Another Gaming Industry Transformation

April 4, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Nick ThomasNick Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of SomaTone, Inc., is a video games industry veteran and thought leader with 10+ years of proven executive leadership results with a focus on developing strategic industry partnerships, innovating creative outsourcing solutions and managing talented teams that contribute to more than 100 games annually from nearly all major publishers and developers, as well as independent developers. He discusses the transformation occurring in the industry in this article.


It’s happening again, right before our eyes; we’re in the midst of yet another era of redefinition and reinvention in the ever-evolving gaming industry. While the landscape is changing dramatically, history shows us that something new and good will invariably emerge. After all, (and despite many attempts), you cannot own or control creativity, or predict the future of gaming.

We at SomaTone are ten years deep as a leading provider of creative content for mobile, social, and casual games, working at the forefront of gaming over the last decade’s explosive growth. Having produced audio content on hundreds of games for many of the top publishers as well as for the indies, our vantage point gives us a sweeping perspective across the landscape of the games industry– from AAA console games, to MMO’s, to Social/Mobile, to Casual, and beyond.

We’re seeing the cyclical pendulum swing of innovation, homogenization, and reinvention continuing to keep the publishers of gaming content guessing as the smaller, faster, and more creative start-ups are yet again redefining the gaming industry.

Creative comrades in the face of an ever-changing industry
Creative comrades in the face of an ever-changing industry, SomaTone’s Nick Thomas with Tap4Fun CEO Kevin Yang at GDC 2014

The Ripple Effects of Converting Players into Users in Mobile Gaming

Casual games continue to go through a familiar pattern, and we are currently emerging from a decline of the smaller “Mom and Pop” game developers, who have been squeezed out by the realities of mobile publishing and the dominance of Free-to-Play (F2P) games. This economic model has sought to systematically convert game “users” into a currency that has been hoarded, sold, and traded in an effort to control access to “game players.”

As a consequence, the industry was stratified into large game publishers–who controlled the access to “users” and thus the majority of the market–and new start-ups and Indies, who were either being gobbled up by these same publishers, or self-publishing and hoping for a Flappy Bird-style anomalous hit.

The middle-class of game development–studios of 20-50 working on games that were sold via standard pay-to-play standards with supportive publishing partners–has suffered. With limited access to users, who are carefully controlled by game publishers, it was nearly impossible for mid-sized independent game developers to make and sell their own games and support their teams. The result was a polarized and stratified industry in which a small fraction of game publishers own the vast majority of market, making it extremely difficult for small game developers to independently make and sell their games without yielding to the requirements of the publishers, who will own the IP, take the lion’s share of the revenue, with no clear obligation to bring “users” to their game.

“Every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself.”

Now while all publisher models attempt to control access and distribution to customers (this is in fact what publishers are supposed to do), there is a dramatic new variable at play, with the F2P economy. This “race to the bottom” business model, which has led to disruptive game-play mechanics designed to extract fees from “users”, in their efforts to enjoy a fully featured game-play experience and be “players”, is highly dependent on publishers’ access to users, and their ability to monetize these users. Those “old school” game designers, who sought to develop great games, that offered fully featured immersive game-play experiences at the outrageously expensive price of $.99, never stood a chance against “free” games, which are developed by game publishers and promoted to their “users”, requiring players to pay for the features included in a 1-dollar competing title.

This Latest Cycle Will Induce a Painful Rebirth

This cycle of innovation, homogenization and reinvention is not a new trend. We have seen this same cycle in gaming in the past, with Big Fish Games‘ consolidation of the PC Downloadable market and subsequently, Zynga‘s dominance of browser-based Facebook, and in both cases, there was a painful rebirth of the industry. Those fastest to adapt to the new ecosystems survived, and those who could not evolve, died away.

However, it is also true that every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself. Just after Big Fish unequivocally took control of PC downloadable, Facebook came along and completely disrupted their reign. A few short years later, the kings of Facebook (Zynga, Playdom, Wooga) have been dethroned, only to be replaced by the current leaders of the mobile industry. With each successive attempt to control and “own” the industry, new life has begun.

“You cannot control game players or ‘own’ creativity. A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming.”

This reminds me of Jurassic Park. Life finds a way. In this case, creativity finds a way, and despite the attempts of the current reign of publishers to own and control this inherently creative marketplace, they are discovering, just as all others before them have, that you cannot control game players or “own” creativity.

A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming. One in which King.com, and Kabam, or perhaps even the Apple Store and Google Play store, will soon find themselves trying to catch up, and wondering what happened as the world they felt so sure of has shifted beneath their feet.

“Mom and Pop” developers, take heart. The pendulum swings both ways. And from our vantage point, which reaches from the largest publishers to the smallest indies, the playing field is leveling.

2014 will be a year of reorganization and consolidation, as the bubble of Mobile/Social games refocuses its efforts, and quality will retake its place as the leading factor in a company’s success, rather than simply a publisher’s control of access to users. And developing innovative and high-quality games has always been what the “Mom and Pop” game studios have done best and are continuing to do.

Look forward to the next installment of this series next month, a case study on Zynga’s Puzzle Charms!

 

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