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Social whales: The industry must shift priorities to create strong game communities (VB Live)


If Moby Dick taught us anything, it’s that whale hunting doesn’t equal long-term success. But that’s only if you’re thinking of whales in terms of high-paying players. Join captains of the game industry in this VB Live event as they take a deep dive into how community — and social whales — transform your game from small fry to big tuna.

Access the free VB Live event on demand right here.

Mobile gaming has launched an entirely new generation of diverse, sophisticated players who are as far from the stereotype of the hunched-over basement troll as it’s possible to get. Now that games are mainstream entertainment with massive audiences, marketers need to shake off the old whale-hunting model of monetization to find ways to welcome these new players, who are seeking more meaning and looking for connections in games.

The key today is rethinking your definition of value to encompass all player types.

“It’s just a giant mistake to say that only the hardcore players who are paying you a lot of money are the people who are adding a lot of value to your community,” says Wright Bagwell, CEO of OutPost Games. “There’s a whole ecosystem of people that add a lot of value. They’re the people who are great YouTube or Twitch stars who inspire other people to come play. They are people who play very socially, who are going to be telling their friends to come and play.”

Dean Takahashi, lead writer at GamesBeat, points out that the “social whales” — a term coined by Dmitri Williams at Ninja Metrics — are some of the most overlooked and most important users. “These are the people who are the life of the party,” explains Takahashi. “They’re not spending money directly in the game, but they may be a clan organizer or some kind of leader in the game, and they attract other people — and those other people will spend a lot of money.”

Bagwell points out that the term “spenders” is used frequently as well, and that’s just as limiting a perception of your users. “If you want people to keep coming back to your game, you have to think of people not as spenders but as investors,” he says. “People can spend money to invest in improving their skills, or helping out other players, or even paying to support players that they like. But you’ve also got people who are investing their time to either socialize or investing time to get really good at playing your game, which in turn inspires other people to want to play. That’s a form of investment too.”

And when you get people invested in your game, then you’ve got people thinking about playing that game as a pastime that they might want to do for the rest of their life, he adds, rather than just a way to spend money to pass the time.

Of course spenders are valuable to any monetization and marketing strategy, notes Alexis Fritzsche, developer partner manager of mobile apps at Google, but the problem is when it becomes a laser focus. “We all love revenue and at the end of the day, these are businesses,” Fritzche says. “However, when you have these social whales that are bringing in let’s say organic installs, and people who can go out and find whales for you, and you’re not paying to actually acquire them — if you haven’t put together a marketing strategy for them, you’re just missing out.”

The huge success of SongPop, the head-to-head music trivia game from FreshPlanet, comes from the connections that like-minded music fans are encouraged to create with features like chat, says Mathieu Nouzareth, FreshPlanet’s CEO. “You can also build many-to-many communities where people can find friends,” he adds. “And if they can find friends in the game, then they’ll stay for a very long time. With people who spend time in your game for weeks and months — this is how you monetize the game.”

One of the most essential components of building a foundation for a community is enabling a direct relationship with your players.

“You’ve got to think of your games these days as a service, and you’ve got to offer good service to your customers,” explains Bagwell, going beyond the boxed-product mentality where you finish the game, issue it onto the shelves, and move on to the next thing.

“Find a way to receive feedback or communicate with the players,” says Takahashi. “It’s surprisingly simple — if you can communicate with them and they can communicate with you, then good things can happen.”

To learn more about how to create a gaming community — and the essential lessons of Pokémon Go, Clash of Kings, and Minecraft, catch up on this VB Live event now!

Don’t miss out!

Access this VB Live event on demand — and join gaming experts as they deconstruct what it means to build and maintain a thriving games community and learn to:

  •       Understand the aspects of gaming platforms that can help a community succeed
  •       Define and refine the elements of community success
  •       Turn content marketing opportunities into actionable insights
  •       Utilize Google to harness unique insights and tools to maximize community performance


  •       Mathieu Nouzareth, CEO of FreshPlanet
  •       Wright Bagwell, CEO of OutPost Games
  •       Alexis Fritzsche, Developer Partner Manager, Mobile Apps, Google
  •       Dean Takahashi, Lead Writer, GamesBeat
  •       Wendy Schuchart, Moderator, VentureBeat

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About Ms. A. C. Kennedy

Ms. A. C. Kennedy
My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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What we’re watching: ‘Raw’ and ‘Feast of Fiction’

Welcome back to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're kicking things off with some seasonally-appropriate horror fare, that you can catch right away on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then it's time for a Gundam throwback before Kris Naudus points out a couple of YouTube food channels perfect for binge eating or binge watching.

Them / Raw

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

To get into the Halloween spirit, I've been watching at least one horror movie a day since the end of September -- the lower the budget, the better. Problem is, so many of the American low-budget or indie horror offerings on Amazon and Netflix are crappy Paranormal Activity clones, cheap-thrill gore-fests or uninspired found-footage "documentaries." Whether it's by design or coincidence, I've found that French horror movies have held my attention the most lately. Specifically, 2016's Raw, as well as Them, from ten years prior. They're more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror, but that didn't stop me from being more on edge while watching them one afternoon than I was during A Haunting in Saginaw, Michigan, late at night. Both start with a car crash, but they couldn't finish any more differently.

Raw, recently added to Netflix, tells the tale of a vegetarian girl in her first week at a prestigious veterinary school. During a hazing ritual, she's forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. She immediately gets sick, throws up and wakes herself up that night scratching a full-body rash to near bleeding. This bout with food poisoning is just the beginning, though, and soon protagonist Justine finds out she has a taste for forbidden fruit. As the remaining 70-ish minutes unfolded, I lost track of how many times I clasped my hands over my mouth, agape in shock, to stifle my shouts of "OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISEVENHAPPENING?!"

But French director Julia Ducournau balances every body-horror scene either with something pedestrian twisted into being unsettling (like a horse on a treadmill) or with something that makes you ask how far Justine can go before someone confronts her about her new diet. And those questions keep coming right until the credits roll. I can't say I enjoyed watching Raw, but it was a hell of a ride.

The same goes for Them, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Its focus is narrow, centering on a young couple living in a cavernous farmhouse, terrorized over the course of a night by unseen horrors. The camera never quite gives away who (or what) the perpetrators are, and revealing the twist would be a sin. As with Raw, its atmosphere and overall creepiness won me over straightaway. The scariest part? Realizing that I've probably driven past a shot like the final scene countless times and not thought twice about it. If you're willing to read subtitles, both of these should make you shiver and scream more than The Conjuring 2 on HBO Go could ever hope to.

Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team

David Lumb

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

I'd heard that a lot of anime had left Hulu, but I scanned their selection anyway looking for classic shows I'd missed, like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. They don't have that -- but they did have a series I didn't finish the first time it aired on Toonami, the 1996 classic Gundam side story The 08th MS Team. Unlike the franchise's other show released the year before, the massively successful Gundam Wing, 08th ditches the brand's typical pretty-boys-in-unbeatable-robots for a grounded and sobering story about the people who get caught up in wars -- desperate soldiers, civilians and guerrillas alike. It's dirty, honest, utterly humane and gorgeously animated.

It's also a little preachy and melodramatic, and it shows its age with odd sexist moments. While it's still the Thin Red Line of the Gundam universe, I remember it far more fondly from when my 14-year-old self grazed the series on its first American airing. There's something sad in seeing an old favorite for the flawed media it always was. Much like Waypoint's Rob Zacny, I've grown up and seen a lot since I first caught the show as a starry-eyed teen. I still think The 08th MS Team is a wonderful little 12-episode miniseries with a big heart, but I won't revere it so highly -- and will think a little harder about who I recommend it to.

Feast of Fiction / Binging with Babish

Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

Back in March, I came home from a trip only to discover that my oven didn't work. The cooking gas in my building had been shut off due to a leak. My building management seemed to be on it, so I made do with a combination of microwavables, toaster oven and Seamless. Unfortunately, weeks and months went by, calls to the city were made and permits were issued, but, even as I write this in October, gas still has not been restored to my building. My landlords eventually threw their collective hands in the air and began installing electric ranges in every apartment, so a few weeks ago I was finally able to cook for myself again.

I am so jazzed to be able to make food. Hot food! Scrambled eggs! Steak! Cookies! I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, and shopping to refill my pantry. I'm halfway through Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, a huge 900-page hardcover that talks about the science of how food cooks. On the lighter side, I've also been reading food-themed comics like Delicious in Dungeon and Food Wars. And the latter title (which is also an anime) ended up sucking me into a YouTube hole of food videos that I've been obsessed with ever since.

You see, the very first chapter of Food Wars features the "Gotcha" Pork Roast, a bacon-wrapped potato loaf that hero Soma Yukihira makes to save his family restaurant. It looks pretty tasty, so I searched for recipes and pics online and stumbled onto Jimmy Wong and Ashley Adams' Feast of Fiction, a series that demonstrates how to make various foods seen in cartoons, video games and comics. If you ever wanted to taste Steven Universe's beloved Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches or Kirby's super-spicy curry, there's an episode for you. One thing I really enjoy is how they also incorporate crafts into it, showing how to make paper wrappers for your Reptar chocolate bars or genuine-looking Ecto Cooler Hi-C boxes.

I've been marathoning through the episodes, which the YouTube algorithms have definitely picked up on at this point, throwing food show after food show into my suggestions. One that caught my eye was Binging with Babish. Where Feast of Fiction mostly sticks to the realm of kids' cartoons, anime and video games, Binging with Babish is a little more mainstream, covering foods from popular media like Mad Men, Seinfeld and House of Cards. Still, there's a bit of overlap -- both Babish and Feast have done their own takes on the Ultimeatum from Regular Show and Krabby Patties from SpongeBob SquarePants. But the recipes are different, and I watch the shows for the personalities. Feast of Fiction is pretty silly (and there's a cute dog), while Binging with Babish is a little more subdued. Not that Babish can't be ridiculous as well -- the Moist Maker is one of the most ridiculously complicated sandwiches I have ever seen, basically asking you to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Sadly, I still haven't done a lot of actual cooking since getting my stove back. I'm having too much fun watching other people do it instead, with the added bonus that I don't have to clean up the mess.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.