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USA 2014Video Coverage

Keith Katz is Ensuring Innovation | Casual Connect Video

August 26, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“As an indie, I am a big believer that you are much better spending your limited funds in your testing phase while you are in soft launch as opposed to post global launch. The amount of money you’re going to be able to muster to spend on user acquisition post launch is not going to have a meaningful impact on your game’s performance, you’re much better getting everything tuned just right before you launch.”

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Keith Katz, Co-founder and Business Chief, Execution Labs

Keith Katz is the co-founder and business chief at Execution Labs, a company that exists to help game developers become entrepreneurs and realize creative independence. He oversees all aspects of business for Execution Labs and their game teams. He also has plenty of input into the games, something he finds great fun. He works to make sure all teams that go through the Execution Labs program are equipped to handle all the business functions of a small game studio. All the different experiences he has had during his career, including user acquisition, PR, business development, monetization, understanding player behavior, and running a startup, feed into the work he is doing today.

Leaving The Nest

Katz announces, with great pride, “Our first two spin-off studios are leaving the nest after releasing amazing games, raising follow-on funding, and beginning work on their next titles. It is incredibly gratifying to know I had a hand in enabling these new independent game studios.”

The greatest enjoyment Katz finds in the games industry comes from the people. Most of the people involved are very creative and passionate, which is not something he has found in other fields.

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The Double Stallion team is one of the first two game studios to spin out of Execution Labs and receive funding to make their next games.

The Distribution Challenge

A major challenge today, according to Katz, is distribution, as the industry shifts to digital delivery of games. On the app stores, he sees truly innovative games that could move the industry forward, but they are being suffocated by large publishers who can afford to spend money to stay in the top charts. He insists, “That’s not good for consumers or for the vast majority of game developers. I’m worried that Steam and other online PC platforms will fall into this pattern as well if we’re not careful.”

Give Your Teams a Chance

Execution Labs approaches the distribution problem from two related angles. First, they ensure their teams create innovative games that platform holders recognize as worth showcasing. Secondly, they maintain good relationships with their platform holders so their teams can get in front of them and have a chance to be featured. But Katz emphasizes, this is not a silver bullet, it just gives their teams a fighting chance. In his opinion, most indies don’t even have that.

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Shattered Planet by Kitfox games. KitFox Games is the second of the first game studios to come out of Execution Labs and receive funding for their next games.

Katz believes the next few years in the games industry will see more and more core gaming on tablets. He also thinks linking small devices to larger screens to get a console-like experience is coming soon. He says, “Often, our teams want to optimize for their tablet SKU, and we’re fine with this because we think core gamers will adopt this platform in greater and greater numbers over the coming months and years.” And he expects that there will be more premium titles on tablets as game developers realize free-to-play is not a fit for everyone and core gamers are willing to spend money for premium games on their tablets.

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Big Action Mega Fight, created by Double Stallion. Katz expects that there will be more premium titles on tablets.

For the first time, Katz is now playing more on tablet than on console or PC. He finds it so easy to pick up and play, and the games are getting better and better. For example, Hearthstone is so good, he can’t stop playing it, claiming it is fantastic and perfect on an iPad. And Civ is coming soon! But he doesn’t really see a need for a gaming-only box any longer, although he has owned consoles since his first Atari 2600. He hasn’t upgraded to the next gen systems yet; he is busy playing on his tablet and PC.

Katz never has enough time for all his hobbies, but he keeps collecting more. He loves to barbeque on his smoker and this year, he has been curing and smoking his own bacon. He also likes to brew beer. But he offsets these foodie hobbies with active ones: running, scuba diving, camping, hiking, and fishing. He describes himself as someone who is interested in a lot of things, and who could never be bored.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Mike Vorhaus Leads the Insight for the Industry | Casual Connect Video

August 19, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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During a Casual Connect USA 2014 panel on eSports that Mike Vorhaus moderated, he shared the following data from the US: “12 percent of gamers have watched eSports in the last year. an increase of 9 percent compared to 2013.”

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Mike Vorhaus, Senior Vice President,Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc. and President, Magid Advisors

Mike Vorhaus is the senior vice president of Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc. and the president of Magid Advisors. Frank N. Magid Associates is a consumer research and strategic consulting company, of which Vorhaus runs the internet and gaming part of the company.

He met Frank Magid years ago, but it took Magid four years to persuade him to join the company. Vorhaus started the Magid Internet and New Media research and consultation practice in 1995. His consulting has included the launch of new services and programing and the development and implementation of online and offline marketing programs. Film projects he has consulted on include You’ve Got Mail and The Matrix. In 2001, he started Magid Gaming Practice; his first two clients were EA and Sony Online, and he now works with most of the major gaming companies.

New Media Research

Vorhaus provides research and consultation services to major traditional media companies about their new media initiatives, as well as consulting with leading internet and gaming companies.He also provides advice to venture capital and private equity firms about investments in the media space.

He has been extensively involved in video and PC gaming strategies as well as the development of gaming concepts.

 Mike Vorhaus, President, Magid Advisors speaks onstage during the "People Watching Movies- In The Theatres And Online" presentation at the Future Of Film Summit: Finding Success In The Digital Age Produced By Variety And Digital Media Wire at Sofitel Hotel on December 5, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Mark Davis/WireImage)
Vorhaus speaks onstage during a presentation at the Future Of Film Summit: Finding Success In The Digital Age Produced By Variety And Digital Media Wire at Sofitel Hotel (Photo by Mark Davis/WireImage)

A Commitment To The Industry

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He appreciates games simply because they are a good break from work and life, and he continues to work in internet and gaming because he loves them both.

His first gaming work with Sony, and then with Pogo on casual games, established a lasting commitment to this industry. His first game work was Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune Online. Later, he worked on the brand name and imagery of what became Pogo, previously Total Entertainment Network – Ten. He especially enjoyed working with the Pogo staff and players, calling them “super nice people.” He appreciates games simply because they are a good break from work and life, and he continues to work in internet and gaming because he loves them both.

For his personal gaming, he has been enjoying Hearthstone lately. Tablet is his favorite device to play on. He has never used Android; his choice was iOS because he likes Apple, as well as the size and UI of iOS.

He loves the old console shooter games and owns PS2, PS3, and Xbox One. But he hasn’t bought a next generation console yet because he doesn’t play much on console any longer; his focus has shifted mainly to tablet now.

The next important trend coming to the games industry, according to Vorhaus, is trans-platform gaming and UltraViolet gaming.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Monty Kerr is Immersed in Gaming | Casual Connect Video

August 14, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“There should be a strong mix in the navigation through the game so players can quickly find the game that they like, that meets their play style,” Monty Kerr advised during a panel on designing slots for social casinos.

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Monty Kerr, Co-Founder and Principal Product Owner, PLAYSTUDIOS

Monty Kerr is the co-founder and the principal product owner at PLAYSTUDIOS. As Chief Product Officer, he sets the strategic path for the company, and he has the ultimate responsibility for every product they create. He considers himself a serial entrepreneur, experience which has taught him how to stay at the helm through rough weather and how to celebrate success. He says, “Those lessons have served me well as we’ve grown PLAYSTUDIOS.”

Kerr describes himself as ‘immersed’, and he certainly can claim to be immersed in gaming. In his free time, he plays games, and when not playing, he is inventing new games. His wife calls their home, “The house that play built.”

Love For Handheld Devices

He loves handheld consoles and mobile devices, spending a lot of time on the Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS, or one of the many mobile devices he carries. Currently, he is playing turn-based tactical RPGs: Gladius on PS2, Valkyria Chronicles on PS3, as well as Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on PSP. According to Steam, he has played FTL: Faster than Light most recently and Skyrim the most, 1041 hours.

If any console has sold more than one million units, Kerr probably has it. He says, “The key to being a good game designer is being able to study an iconic game or a particularly well-done mechanic.” He believes relying on a memory of a great game experience is risky, so he always re-plays relevant games and re-examines key mechanics.

Managing Change

Kerr has strong opinions about gaming business models. With a nod to Charles Darwin, he says, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent business model that will survive, but the one that can best manage change.” And that is free-to-play. “I love free to play,” he asserts, “I see it as the most substantial evolutionary step in the business of game development since the golden age of arcade video games.

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“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent business model that will survive, but the one that can best manage change.”

Seeing Hearthstone blast to the top of the iOS Top Grossing Charts was particularly exciting for him, since it was a game that captivated audiences, yet had no in-game merchandising. He feels Hearthstone on iPad definitely validated his “If you build it, they will come” sentiment. He took this opportunity to emphasize to his team (yet again) the importance of building features that lead to customer delight.  He does admit, “I do this so frequently there is a soapbox with my name painted on it.”

Team Pride

The things that give Kerr the greatest feelings of pride are centered on his team and his family. He feels tremendous pride when the team pitches ideas they are excited about. And he has his 12-year-old son’s first game design framed above his desk.

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He feels tremendous pride when the team pitches ideas they are excited about.

Kerr believes the next few years in the games industry will bring powerful, high-resolution mobile devices with highly available internet conductivity, resulting in AAA game experiences becoming available to players of all ages. But it will be important to make those experiences accessible and the perceived time investment low. He claims, “If you can master a great gameplay while minimizing the time investment friction, you will have a great opportunity in the near future.”

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Omar Siddiqui is Building Better Communities in Cross-Platform Games | Casual Connect Video

August 7, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Android, at this point, is over 53 percent of all global device shipments this year,” Omar Siddiqui informed his audience during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “1.3 billion devices to be shipped this year. As you are developing your games, if you want to reach that mass audience, you obviously have to be thinking about both iOS and Android.”

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Omar Siddiqui is the co-founder and CEO at Kiwi, a cross-platform game developer that has produced top games on Android and more recently on iOS. He and his co-founder Shvet Jain started the company in 2011 after building free-to-play games for almost a decade at Trippert Labs, Playdom, and Disney.

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Siddiqui and Jain started the company in 2011, after building free-to-play games for many companies.

 

Tying It All Together

In Kiwi, Siddiqui has found an opportunity to tie together all his experiences, especially those gained from building top social games, such as Gardens of Time for Disney Playdom. They innovated on design and also achieved commercial success. He says, “That balanced approach continues to be our template for the types of products we want to continue to build going forward.”

Siddiqui gains the greatest satisfaction in his career through achieving goals as a team. These moments are his opportunity to take stock and appreciate what they have been able to do together, especially since it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and luck to make a game tangible, starting with nothing but an idea.

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Creating games such as Shipwrecked and Westbound is meaningful because it was created as a team.

For him, these meaningful moments range from successful products, such as Gardens of Time for Playdom or Shipwrecked and Westbound for Kiwi, to products that didn’t succeed commercially, but they were still proud to have pulled off as a team.

Mobile Convenience

Siddiqui emphasizes the advantages that he personally finds with the mobile gaming platform, particularly the accessibility and availability that make it convenient as his life has become busier. He has also noticed that he is increasingly using tablet gaming as a multi-tasking activity; this correlates with the data Kiwi is starting to see about how people are gaming.

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Siddiqui emphasizes the advantages that he personally finds with the mobile gaming platform, particularly the accessibility and availability that make it convenient as his life has become busier.

These days, he plays Hearthstone quite actively. Although he is a casual player, he still enjoys competitive play. He particularly enjoys a quick, player-to-player experience with permutations and nuances he can figure out at his own pace.

Typically, he does not become involved in paying for F2P, preferring to grind his way through. But he did break down and pay for construction acceleration in Clash of Clans, and considers that to be quite a testimonial for the game.

His console gaming is considerably more limited than what he does on mobile; he is still running an old Xbox 360 and says he is definitely due for an upgrade.

Improving the Communities

Siddiqui emphasizes, “As a company, we are ensuring that we build great linked player experiences across iOS and Android devices, whether phones or tablets. Providing excellent cross-platform social gameplay and community building remains an area where we feel we can excel on in the coming years, as smart mobile devices are truly ubiquitous.”

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“As a company, we are ensuring that we build great linked player experiences across iOS and Android devices, whether phones or tablets.”

They are following the extension of smart operating systems from mobile devices to televisions with interest. With their titles built on Android and iOS, as smart televisions and smart top-set boxes become common, new markets open up for them. Siddiqui also believes, “With the same casualization of gaming that becomes increasingly possible as households play familiar mobile casual games on their televisions, new forms of approachable gaming will emerge that could be very exciting.” Kiwi is planning for this future through experimenting with their existing games to these new platforms, as well as prototyping new games that are relevant for smart television play.

Siddiqui believes the emergence of international markets will make a tremendous impact on the entire game industry. He points out that these markets are both huge and unique. For example, new mobile gamers in China have very different preferences toward in-app purchases and game genres than players in other markets around the globe. He insists, “To capture these enormous opportunities, developers everywhere will have to rethink how they build and distribute games to better appeal to a global audience.”

 

OnlineUSA 2014Video Coverage

Matt McMahon is Excited By Connectivity | Casual Connect Video

July 28, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“We don’t look to dictate the model or the mechanic or a lot of that,” says Matt McMahon during a panel at Casual Connect USA. “We will try to add some subject matter expertise because we’ll see what broad swaths of the market are doing, but we are going with a partner hopefully to leverage their expertise on the platform.”

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Matt McMahon, the vice president of mobile for Fox Digital Entertainment, came to the games industry from the mobile side. He was, and continues to be, “incredibly excited about the immense power and potential of world-wide connectivity right in your pocket.”

He claims the best part of the mobile games industry is working with such a diverse range of smart partners all over the globe. He also loves how democratized the industry is. The constant innovation keeps him interested in the industry, although it keeps him on his toes!

Award-Winning Hits

Today, McMahon drives the licensing, production, distribution, publishing, and marketing of digital products, games, and apps for Fox films and television series. His particular focus is on application platforms such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. He has brought more than 45 apps to market, producing best-selling and award-winning games such as Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, The Simpsons Tapped Out, Angry Birds Rio, Ice Age Village, Avatar, Glee Karaoke and Predators.

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He has brought more than 45 apps to market, producing best-selling and award-winning games such as Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff.

One of the most exciting highlights to his career was building a unique and mutually beneficial partnership with Rovio for the first Rio film, Angry Birds Rio. A more recent highlight occurred only a few weeks ago when they had two games in the Top Ten Grossing category.

Driving Revenue Through Apps

In McMahon’s current role of running the Games & Apps group representing Fox Films and Television Properties, his main goal is build a new revenue stream for their properties on smartphones and tablets using the apps platforms. Games are the primary focus, although they also handle other digital product development.

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McMahon has always considered himself more a product person than a marketing person. He was very excited about Angry Birds Rio.

He actually started in Digital Marketing for Fox’s Main Theatrical Marketing Group. For a few years, he found it great fun, but he has always considered himself more a product person than a marketing person.

The next important trend in the games industry, according to McMahon, will be connected TV gaming with the phone and tablet as the hub. And people will realize that games are not just games. They are the next generation of content, IP, and brand creation, and they reach consumers more directly than any other platform.

When McMahon is not working, he makes a conscious effort to unplug from devices, although he admits it is difficult to separate himself from Twitter and Instagram. He spends as much time as possible on the beach. And, of course, he spends time gaming. Lately, he has been playing playing Threes and Boom Beach, and intends to put time into Hearthstone. He plays almost exclusively on his iPhone and iPad, and no longer owns a console. He prefers iOS to Android, saying, “Apple does such an elegant job with UI and with the multiple platform device ecosystem.”

The Dominance Of Mobile

Perhaps nothing shows the dominance of mobile more clearly to him than his recent experience in Tokyo. He had not been there for a number of years, but when he returned, he discovered behavior on the subway, which he feels is a great litmus test, had totally changed. He saw, “Tons of smartphones, with most people either on LINE or in games.”

 

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.

 

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Corey Rosemond: Bringing Value to Gamers

February 27, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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At Casual Connect Europe, Corey Rosemond announced that Plantronics Gaming believes in the power of voice-enabled gaming and they are available to support studios like Reactive Studios and their game Codename Cygnus. He says, “If you’re thinking about utilizing the power of voice or multiplayer communications, come work with us.”

Corey is the Business Development Director at Plantronics Gaming, where he is the liaison between the company and the gaming industry. Corey seeks out opportunities and partnerships that will be mutually beneficial to the company and partners.

An Unexpected Result

His tenure at Plantronics began with a conversation at GDC 2012, where he was asked by leadership how he believed he could add value to their growing gaming business. His response, industry knowledge, and experience led to an opportunity to join the company.

Corey’s gaming career began with an internship at Microsoft Corporation to get ID’s Doom to run on Windows 95. Among his many responsibilities, he found himself most interested in bringing value to gamers worldwide through business development. He continues to enjoy seeing the reactions of gamers who are passionate about a game, saying, “Gaming is where technology and entertainment collide, and the resulting value to gamers is immeasurable.” It is this appreciation of the gamers’ experience that continues to motivate him.

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Gaming is where technology and entertainment best interact, and the resulting value to gamers is magical. The RIG, a combination of the enhanced functionalty of a dual-use headset with a mixer at a reasonable price, is once such technology.

Changing Perceptions

The most exciting time in Rosemond’s career came when he was a part of the team tasked with turning around the perception of Windows as a gaming platform. He admits that being responsible for the Windows 7 launch strategy for gaming was a challenge, however, he was able to work with the right partners to validate that Windows 7 was in fact great for gaming. He says, “We significantly exceeded our goals to get people to upgrade from Windows XP and Windows Vista”.

He clearly values all that he has accomplished in his career, emphasizing that he always tries to learn from his experience. He says, “Wisdom is as valuable an asset as all-out brilliance.”

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Plantronics Gaming believes in the power of voice-enabled gaming and they are available to support studios like Reactive Studios and their game Codename Cygnus.

Time for a Bit of Fun

An avid gamer, Rosemond spends his free time playing everything from console games to mobile and tablet games. He enjoys travel, specifically the opportunity to engage with other gamers from around the world. He continues to game while on the road, saying, “I love how gaming can be a bridge between cultures.” He also enjoys snowboarding, but still manages to gets in a quick run of Pocket Trains or Clash of Clans while going up the lift.

The game Rosemond is currently playing the most is Hearthstone from Blizzard Entertainment. He believes, “It’s going to be a great mobile and PC title with a healthy eSports and community component.” His favorite platform is iOS, mainly because of its availability. These days, he is also equally enjoying the next generation of consoles from Xbox and PlayStation, which he got to be on the leading edge of digital entertainment at home and for work-related research.

Social Meta-Gaming

Rosemond predicts the next big trend in the game industry will be the continued integration of social experiences combined with meta-gaming fueled by eSports. He is currently working with a number of leaders in the eSports and free-to-play space and points out, “I included the free-to-play space because they are obligated by their business model to build out these enhanced social and meta-gaming experiences.”

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