Chess Streaming Wins the Pandemic

The New York times reports: “since the pandemic began, viewership of live chess games has soared. From March through August, people watched 41.2 million hours of chess on Twitch, four times as many hours as in the previous six months, according to the analytics website SullyGnome.”

Especially popular is Hiraku Nakamura, a top chess grandmaster known for his game-time banter and fan engagement. Nakamura, who gained nearly all of his half million Twitch followers since the pandemic began, is one of the first chess players to make an additional 6 figure income by joining a professional e-sports team.

A screen shot of Mr. Nakamura’s Twitch stream.

Why it’s hot: Somehow gamer interest has been re-directed from the hottest new games to one of the world’s oldest. This could create surprising new opportunities for brands as sponsors of a game that has the advantage of being very well known and strongly associated with intelligence.

Prescription Game

Designed to help kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), EndeavorRx is the first game that’s allowed to be prescribed by doctors as medical treatment.

The game should not be considered an alternative to medication, but is officially approved by the US FDA. The game, aimed at patients age 8-12, can be plaid on an iPad or iPhone and has been found (after clinical trials for 7 years) to reduce attention-deficit for 1/3 of participants.

Introducing Akili

Akili, the creator of the game aims to reimagine what medicine can be. They are pairing neuroscience with the latest technology and video game entertainment in the hopes of challenging the status quo of medicine.

Why it’s hot: Gaming addiction was declared a legitimate disorder by the WHO last year and has taken flak in regards to violence. But, with Covid lockdowns and their ensuing madness, more and more people of all ages are realizing the benefits of gaming.


CNBC – See the first-ever game approved by the FDA as a mental health treatment
Distractify – How the EndeavorRX game works
Forbes  – Games are great for your mental health study finds

Self care as a video game

What if there were something that could help snap you out of your rut, be it a temporary funk or actual, clinical depression? And what if this something were designed to make doing good things for yourself as addictive as a video game? That’s the premise of The Guardians: Unite the Realms, a new app developed by the Affective Computing group at MIT Media Lab.

Out now for iOS and Android, it’s a free game, modeled after character collection games like Pokémon and Skylanders (though without any fighting). Instead of urging you to spend money on microtransactions as most of these games do, The Guardians urges you to spend effort on yourself. If you want to progress in the game, you have to invest in your own well-being.

The data shows that people who are depressed don’t want to use self-improvement apps (only about 3% will complete a regimen in these apps). At the same time, people with severe depression still play games as much as people who aren’t experiencing depression, making gaming a promising avenue for introducing mental health interventions.

Over years of both formal study and informal play-testing in the lab, lead platforms engineer at the Affective Computing group and game director for the Guardians Project Craig Ferguson morphed the app into what it is today – a fantasy land filled with magical animals that attempt to take their world back from an evil villain. Last September, he got tired of the research and started thinking about releasing something—even something still unproven—to help people battling depression. Then with COVID-19 trapping so many of us at home, he made the choice to publicize what was done.

That release, while a fraction of what the game will be in the future, he says, can still take months to complete, and it’s presented with as much glitzy animation and character design as you’d find in any high-end mobile app.

When you load the game, a big button glows and bounces in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, reading “new adventure available.” This is essentially a good-for-you button, because each adventure is focused around the phenomenon of “behavioral activation.” Behavioral activation is a proven therapy that can be used casually or clinically for depression. It gets people to partake in positive experiences rather than spending time doing the things that reinforce their own damaging behaviors. And there are dozens of options to choose from.

Some suggested adventures are practical, such as knocking things off your to-do list that might otherwise cause anxiety: Manage finances. Vacuum. Do Laundry. Others help you grow: Watch an online class. Write a poem. Read a classic. And others help you stay active: Spend time in nature. Learn a new dance. Or, my personal favorite, Jazzercise for 20 minutes. You are also completely free to make up your own adventure, and repeat it whenever you’d like.

Why it’s Hot:

With so much content promoting self care and wellness during shelter-in-place, wellness can begin to feel like a chore. This is especially true for people who struggle with depression, where even small tasks can feel unmanageable. This app helps to make those small tasks fun and purposeful (albeit in an imaginary game). With a mental health crisis looming on top of our current physical health crisis, it’s interesting to see an app that tackles this very serious situation in a seemingly light-hearted way.


Tinder Created a Show to Give Its Users Something to Hook Up About

For all of their success, swipe-y dating apps like Tinder or Bumble face a problem once their users have matched: It’s hard to find things to discuss with total strangers. What exactly are you supposed to say in response to “”?

In an effort to solve this, Tinder has created a scripted choose-your-own adventure series that it hopes will supply its young users with raw material for conversations on its platform. The goal is to counteract that chronic dating-app issue: conversations that die almost as soon as they begin.

The project, called SwipeNight, consists of four episodes. One will air each week on the Tinder app. In each episode, users who participate will be ushered through an apocalyptic scenario and prompted to make a series of choices, from the seemingly unimportant (how to best D.J. a party) to the critical (whose life to save). The show features a cast of young diverse actors and, like a video game, gives the user a first-person perspective on the action.

Participants will then show up in each other’s lists of potential matches. Some of the choices they made during the show will be visible on their profiles. That is when, the company hopes, a number of those people will swipe right on each other and talk about what they experienced.

Last year Tinder set up a team to survey hundreds of young people. This research helped the company see members of Generation Z as fundamentally different from older generations: Gen Z’s immense comfort on social platforms and immense discomfort with defining relationships, or even using words like “dating” and “flirting.”

SwipeNight also looks to take advantage of their facility with the raw material of pop culture.

“They speak in gifs, they react in emojis, they talk in stories,” said Elie Seidman, the chief executive of Tinder, of 18-to-25-year-olds, who already make up more than 50 percent of the app’s user base.

Tinder allows users little space to provide information about themselves on their profiles. That can lead to a particular shortage of subjects to discuss. On Tinder, Mr. Seidman said, approaching strangers is much easier than it is offline. “But you get to the next thing, and there’s no context,” he said. “What’s the context? ‘Oh, you’re also on Tinder.’ ‘Like, yeah, obviously.’”

Tinder has traditionally been viewed as a predate experience. SwipeNight looks to collapse some elements of a first date — the mutual experience of some diversion — into its platform.

Episodes of SwipeNight will be available on Tinder on Sundays in October from 6 p.m. to midnight in a user’s time zone. For now, the show will be available only to Americans.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

Unexpected time and place for what essentially is content marketing to drive stickiness with a platform. I do wonder if it’s too “cheesy” for Gen Z daters though?

Louis Vuitton ventures into esports

Fashion brand Louis Vuitton and video game developer/esports tournament organizer Riot Games have announced a partnership, starting with the 2019 League of Legends World Championships.

For the Championships, Louis Vuitton is creating a one-of-a-kind Trophy Travel Case for holding the world champions’ trophy, called the Summoner’s Cup. Previously, Vuitton has created similar travel cases for other sporting events including a laser-engraved titanium case for the FIFA World Cup.

The trophy case features Louis Vuitton’s iconic logo and design, with additional elements related to League of Legends. It will be unveiled publicly at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and eventually given out Nov. 10 in the same city, where League of Legends is holding its world championship this year.

But wait, there’s more. The partnership also includes the creation of a capsule collection of clothing from Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of women’s collections, as well as in-game digital assets like champion skins.

Why it’s hot:
Louis Vuitton’s new partnership continues the brand’s embrace of digital endeavors to accompany its physical products and marketing.

The pairing of a luxury non-endemic brand entering the esports scene is not one often seen. However, it creates a huge opportunity for Louis Vuitton, especially in expanding its consumer base. With millennials said to drive about 130% of luxury market growth in the next seven years, the gaming space could be a key area for expansion.

Louis Vuitton joins others including State FarmGilletteRed Bull, and Axe to embrace the esports world. A category in which 2019 revenues are forecast to rise by 27% and estimated to top $1.1 billion.

HQ Provides a Glimpse Into the Future of Mobile Gaming and Live Video

Everyone reading this is playing HQ, right? It’s pretty amazing. A live trivia game is hardly anything new – dating back to not only television but radio! – but it’s very well done. And it feels like one of those things that is right place/right time.

HQ is a new live mobile trivia game for iOS from the creators of the late short-form video app Vine. Each day, at 3PM and 9PM ET, the app comes to life for around 13 minutes. A well-dressed host — either New York-based comedian Scott Rogowsky or British on-air personality Sharon Carpenter — then rattles off 12 multiple choice questions live on camera, while a busy live text chat flows at the bottom of the screen. Answer every question correctly and you’ll be one of a small handful of people that splits a $250 prize pool.

Why It’s Hot:

So much of technology in recent years has been about allowing us to connect on our own time, remotely. Perhaps counterintuitively, HQ works because it forces everyone to be playing the game at the exact same time. It’s thrilling in a way that no other social service has been able to provide. It challenges the “on demand” trend and focuses on getting everyone participating to the same thing, at the same time.


Chess, Go, StarCraft

Photo from MIT Technology Review – Professional StarCraft player Byun Hyun Woo playing in the 2016 StarCraft II World Championship Series, which he won.

Scientists continue to train AI to compete professionally in classical strategic games like Chess and Go as a sort of basic Turing Test. Now that AI have shown their ability to out-maneuver humans in the latter examples, some consider StarCraft – a strategic multi-player game where players can compete to dominate the map as an alien race – to be AI’s next challenge.

“When you play StarCraft, you have to respond very quickly to lots of uncertainties and variables, but I’ve noticed that AI like AlphaGo isn’t that good at reacting to unexpected scenarios,” Byun says.


A StarCraft victory for an AI trained via reinforcement-learning would be proof that its intelligence is capable of executing both long and short-term decisions on the fly – and would bring AI one step closer to human-like decision making.

Full article on MIT Technology Review

Beyond The Pill is moving to Game On!

Can conservative Pharma companies becomes Gamers? Although a large investment by Merck and AMGEN was announced several months ago, the repercussions are now being felt. This could help open up the long pent-up demand for innovation by Pharma manufacturers.

The investment news came last summer, as quoted in FierceBiotech: “Akili Interactive Labs, the Boston-based startup developing nonpharmacological therapeutics for various cognitive disorders like autism and Alzheimer’s disease, got an $11.9 million boost in funding, raising its total Series B proceeds to $42.4 million.” Basically, they use gamification to improve cognitive function.

Recently, the new Pharma and gamer partners announced their first accomplishment, EVO, the game:

The first game application for children with a cognitive disorder has proven highly effective. This gives the marketers a differentiating aspect to their Rx. Being a fact-based industry, this is big news.

Why is this hot?

  • The terms “Beyond The Pill” has become the industries code for “innovation” — trying to offer some technology or service to make their drug stand-out in the minds of doctors and consumers. “Innovation” is a word that is intensely frightening to most Pharma marketers. For several years, as more and more blockbusters (drugs with sales over $1 billion) become generics (70% of ALL drugs are now generics), Pharma has been haphazardly explored partnerships and technologies, but has often failed due to cultural entropy and conservatism in the C-suite. This is a first.
  • Change needs to come from the C-suite: $11 million is a lot of money, especially for an industry so conservative and ROI-obsessed.  Every company, even MRM-McCann clients, are looking for ways to engage patients from clinical trials through drug adherence — the entire product lifecycle.
  • I have been “selling” into one of our Pharma clients an Artificial Intelligence platform from a company that did Sgt Star on the U.S. Army site; we have had several meetings to try and issue AI as their Beyond The Pill strategy for launch of a new ADHD drug; this success with Akili may make that path easier.

China Revokes all Restrictions on Gaming Consoles

Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will now be able to manufacture and sell video game consoles in China without any restrictions.

A longtime ban on consoles has been completely lifted after a pilot reform program was deemed a success, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Culture.

Video game manufacturers must still comply with strict regulations, obtain business licenses from the government, and ensure the gaming systems don’t promote anything that would “harm national unity … [or] violate public morality.”

The rule change means the makers of Xbox (MSFT, Tech30), PlayStation (SNE) and Wii (NTDOF) now have complete access to China’s fast-growing consumer sector. Previously, consoles were only allowed to be made in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, an experimental testing ground for economic reform.


playstation2slimline2o52_1414748759Why It’s Hot: China is known for its communist government which heavily censors media such as images, films, foreign news outlets, and select websites. They block out content that could harm national unity and content that holds politically sensitive information. The game consoles were banned for many years along with certain game titles. The fact that this ban has been lifted proves that China is slowly taking steps forward in the right direction. It is only a matter of time before they open up their market in definitely.

Time for Marketers to get in the Gaming Game?

According to a new eMarketer report, “Mobile Games: A Large Audience, but Limited Ad Spending (So Far)” – the US mobile gaming user base is swelling and not showing any signs of letting up. The report estimates that in 2015, for the first time ever, over half of the US population will be mobile phone gamers, . Although ad spending is not very robust right now,that may change as advertisers become increasingly more comfortable with mobile in general and with some of the special features mobile games offer creative marketers.

US Mobile Phone Gamers and Penetration, 2013-2019

Shouldn’t the sheer size of the mobile gaming audience should make it attractive to advertisers? Not always the case, but it seems that the tide is changing quickly as marketers find ways to leverage their brand in non-obtrusive ways to gamers that are increasingly spending more and more time with their devices.

“I can leverage a program for Coca-Cola today that reaches 28 million unique users in the US through one title. In console, one publisher couldn’t reach 28 million users in a day, let alone a month.”argued Julie Shumaker, vice president of ad sales at game publisher Zynga.

In addition, Shumaker said, the mobile gaming audience is diverse and broad—more akin to a TV audience.

However, there are differences. “Brands like to look at metrics like time spent and impressions as measurement of whether or not a branding campaign has been effective, but if you think about it applied to mobile, the amount of time spent with a brand might be more [associated with] how potentially annoyed a user is with that brand,” said Brian Wong, founder and CEO of Kiip.

As a defense against that “annoyance factor,” a number of advertisers have invested in rewards-based advertising—giving the audience a tool or a free pass to move up a level within a game in return for viewing an ad.

“If a brand comes in and interrupts [a game] in any way, the first thing [the user does] is look for the X button to close the ad,” said Ari Brandt, co-founder and CEO of MediaBrix. “However, you could be playing a game and you’re stuck, and then you get a message that looks native to the game and it says, ‘It looks like you could use some help. Coca-Cola wants to help you. Click here and Coca-Cola will give you a boost to help you clear the level.’ The user not only appreciates that you’ve acknowledged their state of mind, but beyond that you’re coming in and offering to help.”

Another game-specific opportunity for marketers is brand integration. Game publishers like Zynga and CrowdStar work with brands to integrate their products within mobile games. For example, CrowdStar’s Covet Fashion game lets users style, shop and win virtual clothing and accessories from more than 150 brands. In addition to styling a look, users can also purchase the actual clothing and accessories featured in the game using the app.

Why its Hot:

Historically, whenever a shiny new thing appears and begins to attract people’s eyeballs, media dollars are..skeptical…then eventual to follow. Once the secret sauce of properly leveraging gaming for a particular brand is unlocked, the value in capturing a highly diverse and highly engaged audience will surely unfold.  With the proliferation of mobile gaming and the relative ease of entry (for users) into the recreation, what was once thought of to marketers as the gaming demo (younger males) is invariably changing as well. Who has a grandma that hasn’t at least heard of Candy Crush? How can this work best for the brands we represent? Think like a gamer and add value – its a good start. There’s definitely a trend developing towards value exchange and figuring out ways for brands to be additive to an experience

Oculus Shows Its First Consumer Headset And Circular Hand Controls

Oculus reveals its first consumer virtual-reality headset, Oculus Rift, and hand controls for interacting with digital objects and making gestures. oculusx519_0

Oculus Rift, won’t be released until next year and a price has not yet been revealed, but it got a little closer to reality today as the company officially unveiled it along with a unique pair of circular controllers.

The device is perhaps the most anticipated of the coming virtual-reality headsets. The company, which was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014, plans to release it during the first quarter of next year.

“It’s really lightweight, it’s comfortable,” CEO Iribe said. “You can slip it right on.” Oculus founder Palmer Luckey also showed prototypes today of hand controls called Oculus Touch that the company hopes will make it easy to use your hands in virtual reality, whether you want to pick up and fire a gun or give a friend a virtual thumbs up. The gadget looks like a tiny game controller for each hand, complete with buttons and a trigger, surrounded by a black semicircle. It will be released in the first half of next year.

Luckey said the controllers are meant to allow precise, quick control of virtual objects without requiring the user to really think much about it. With the controllers, users can also make hand gestures like pointing, waving, and giving a thumbs up, he said, and developers can add haptic buzzes to games that you’ll feel with the controllers.

In addition to the small handheld controllers, Oculus is partnering with Microsoft to include a wireless Xbox controller with the Rift headset, and the Rift will work natively with Windows 10. The Rift will also work with games made for Xbox; Oculus created a virtual cinema where the games will be available.

While a number of gaming companies—including Gunfire Games and CCP Games, who were on hand today—are already making games for the Rift, the work with Microsoft will make many more games available for the platform right off the bat, and could entice more game developers to build games expressly for Oculus.

Why Its’ Hot. Virtual and augmented reality could enable all kinds of applications from gaming to health care. 



YouTube to Unveil Mobile App and Website for Gaming

Gamers rejoice! YouTube will be launching its first gaming platform via mobile app and website. The platform, called YouTube Gaming, is slated to debut later this summer in the United States and United Kingdom. It will feature more than 25,000 games — each with their unique Internet page and profile.

Albeit users will not be able to actually play their favorite games, they can navigate through their profiles and enjoy related content that has been carefully curated.

Read the full article here.

Why It’s Hot:

The new gaming feature will prove to be extremely lucrative for advertisers and marketers. Advertising is supported across both channels (mobile and website), so marketers will be able to tap into their demographic in one, saturated niche.

Researchers create ‘self-aware’ Super Mario with artificial intelligence

Mario just got a lot a smarter.

A team of German researchers has used artificial intelligence to create a “self-aware” version of Super Mario who can respond to verbal commands and automatically play his own game.

The Mario Lives project was created by a team of researchers out of Germany’s University of Tübingen as part of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s (AAAI) annual video competition.

The video depicts Mario’s newfound ability to learn from his surroundings and experiences, respond to questions in English and German and automatically react to “feelings.”

If Mario is hungry, for example, he collects coins. “When he’s curious he will explore his environment and autonomously gather knowledge about items he doesn’t know much about,” the video’s narrator explains.

The video also demonstrates Mario’s ability to learn from experience. When asked “What do you know about Goomba” — that’s Mario’s longtime enemy in the Super Mario series — Mario first responds “I do not know anything about it.”

But after Mario, responding to a voice command, jumps on Goomba and kills it, he is asked the question again. This time, he responds “If I jump on Goomba then it maybe dies.”

Source: Mashable


Why It’s Hot

This showcases a fun use of Artificial Intelligence, which typically is a little scary. This could have implications for expanded use and trust of AI, but for now it’s all in good fun and good tech.


Device Only Dispenses Beer When Two Strangers Charge Their Phones Together

Alcohol has long been known as a social lubricant, which is exactly why Nordic agency group Hasan & Partners has created a device that dispense beer only when two people are charging their phone together. Installed at this year’s Eurobest, a celebration of European creativity held in Helsinki, the concept is designed to make networking more enjoyable, while also preventing too many awkward silences.

Built by Hasan & Partners’ sister company, Perfect Fools, the device dispenses Carlsberg beer whenever two phones are being charged at the same time. It’s powered by Raspberry Pi, and uses a USB hub to detect when the phones are connected. This in turn opens the draft taps on the beer dispenser, resulting in a much more refreshing way to catch up on the day’s events.


To take sharing a step further, the agency also created a virtual slot machine game that only works when people share their location (the Hasan & Partner’s stand at the conference) via Facebook or Twitter. Games can be played on mobile, but are also displayed on giant LCD screens at the stand. Prizes include deluxe cruises from TallinkGrupp, chocolate from Fazer, and a chance to share your work with Hasan herself, and Eka Ruola, CEO/CCO of Hasan & Partners.

Why It’s Hot

Though a device like this might never take off en-mass, Hasan & Partners have created a model that brands could leverage in OOH campaigns. The idea of “strangers” charging could align with certain brands like Coca-Cola who position their product as bottled happiness that change a person’s disposition. Providing utility like phone charging can add immediate value to consumers, and added functionality like games can keep people engaged in (branded) content. Plus, phones take some time to charge… that’s a lot of free time they could spend with a brand.

Source: PSFK

Is Nintendo’s YouTube Affiliate Program a Good Deal for Gamers?

Nintendo has struck a deal with YouTube that will allow players to upload gameplay footage directly from their Wii U consoles to the video sharing platform.

The move appears to be a compromise on Nintendo’s part. The company recently took to YouTube to flag thousands of clips featuring gameplay from Nintendo games, and prevented content creators from collecting ad revenue from these videos. With this new program in place, Nintendo, Google and the content creators will split the revenue made from advertising — although details of how that revenue will be divided have not been released.

Nintendo has not had a great year, so it’s not surprising that they would be looking to make some extra income. It’s newest console, the Wii U, has been anything but a smashing success, and earlier this month the company reported its third consecutive full-year loss.
Why it’s hot:
It seems odd that Nintendo wants a share of the youtube revenue generated from users and content creators.  Instead of encouraging Nintendo fans to continue to play with hot games and game consoles, they’re being “taxed” for being social advocates.