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hypercasual-video-games-investment-thefutureparty

“Hypercasual” games attract serious investment

hypercasual-video-games-investment-thefutureparty
Illustration by Kate Walker

“Hypercasual” games attract serious investment

 

The Future. “Hypercasual” games — typically mobile ones that have “ultrasimple gameplay, repetitive and low-stakes challenges, and oftentimes rudimentary graphics” — have blown up over the past couple of years. But as the market matures and gets saturated with knockoffs (and knockoffs of the knockoffs), it’s getting more complicated for games to stand out from the crowd… which may muddy what makes them so addictive in the first place.

Swipe your head clean
Sometimes, we all just need some mindless entertainment, which has surged the popularity of hypercasual games like Fill the Fridge (stocking a fridge), Acrylic Nails (painting nails), and Deliver It 3D (delivering packages).

  • According to WSJ, downloads hit 15.6 billion last year, up from 12.6 billion in 2020 and 7.51 billion in 2019.
  • And investment is way up. Hypercasual game studio Rollic sold an 80% stake to Words With Friends-developer Zynga for $180 million, while other developers such as Homa Games and Ace Games have scored big funding rounds.

The games became popular because users can learn the games in seconds and typically without reading instructions. They also “tap into” the popularity of ASMR by giving players simple tasks like popping bubble wrap, painting nails, or putting laundry away — an almost digital, gamified meditation.

But that purity of gameplay is not great at retaining players (who quickly move on to other hypercasual games). It’s a problem the industry is very aware of. So, to fight the churn, the games are adding things like “leaderboards, multiplayer formats, and in-app purchases” to keep players hooked… a move that may make these games a bit more complicated than what they initially set out to be.

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How brands are finding a starring role in a world that skips ads

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Illustration by Kate Walker

How brands are finding a starring role in a world that skips ads

 

The Future. Product placement is becoming more important in the age of streaming, ad-blocking tech, and the ability to look at a second screen when an ad appears. Even as the film and TV streaming industry gravitates toward pushing ad-tiers to jumpstart subscriber growth, savvy product placement may still be the only way to guarantee that an audience will actually pay attention (at least subconsciously) to what brands are pushing.

Place me anywhere
When everyone is trying to avoid ads, brands have to get creative in how they can take center stage, according to NYT. Product placement is helping brands get eyeballs on products while helping studios lower production costs.

  • Product placement typically works in a quid-pro-quo exchange — such as a production needing a car, so they get one for free from an automaker looking to plug one into a show or movie.
  • But for more abstract brands, product placement may even mean getting a shoutout in dialogue. Zillow did this when it paid to be organically name-dropped in Grace and Frankie and Promising Young Woman (which the company notes did well for them).

And this isn’t the age of your grandma’s product placement — tech companies are experimenting with digitally swapping out products after a project is shot. Amazon announced it would test it in shows like Jack Ryan and Reacher.

Scene stealer
With a recent Fast Company survey finding that 74% of Americans often skipped ads where they could, it’s no wonder the product placement industry is worth $23 billion. That’s a 14% increase since 2020.

But not all product placement is created equal. Brands market-test their ad campaigns to death to ensure their message is received positively. The most successful product placement follows a similar — but hopefully more creative — ethos. For example, the first season of Stranger Things did wonders for Eggo (a 14% spike in sales… because what’s cooler than Eleven eating waffles?). Still, a character’s death in And Just Like That while riding a Peloton sent the exercise company’s stock sinking.

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Pharrell mints creativity and legitimacy as Chief Brand Officer of Doodles

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Doodles // Illustration by Kate Walker

Pharrell mints creativity and legitimacy as Chief Brand Officer of Doodles

 

The Future. Pharrell is joining the Doodles team as its Chief Brand Officer, and will have his hand in every creative aspect of the NFT collection’s expansion, including music, art, events, and merch. Already bullish on the possibilities of NFTs — specifically how they can revolutionize the ways artists get paid and create communities. Pharrell’s new post could act as a mainstream test to show what Web3 has to offer… all backed by his hit-making reputation, of course.

Down to Doodle
Decrypt reports that Pharrell has some big plans with his new role as Chief Brand Officer of the Doodles NFT collection.

  • Pharrell will likely have a hand in launching the company’s Doodles 2 NFT collection, set to include millions of new avatars (a big jump from the first collection’s 10,000).
  • He’ll executive produce a Doodle’s inspired album titled Doodles Records: Volume 1 with Columbia Records. The album will be sold exclusively as an NFT and be available to stream when released.
  • And with former Billboard President Julian Holguin acting as CEO, prepare for Doodles to enter live events in a big way.

Doodles is one of the most successful NFT projects, counting $500 million in secondary sales. With the Pharrell announcement, Doodles also shared that it raised an undisclosed sum in a funding round led by Web3-evangelist and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six. The VC firm’s co-founder, Katelin Holloway, is joining Doodle’s board.

Drop it like it’s hot
Pharrell has been bullish on Web3 for a while. He recently launched a project called Gallery of Digital Assets (GODA), which helps traditional artists enter the digital space (something Keanu Reeves is also working on).

At VeeCon last month, Pharrell spoke with Gary Vaynerchuk about the promise of NFTs and how they can empower creatives to hold more ownership over their works. He specifically points to a revolution in music royalties thanks to smart contracts — a feature that the 3LAU-backed Royals hopes to mainstream. Not to mention how NFTs are already starting to transform filmpublishing, and even food.

With Doodles, Pharrell now has the opportunity to experiment with all these applications within a thriving and passionate community.

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Streaming devices keep playing ads even when the TV is off

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Streaming devices keep playing ads even when the TV is off

 

The Future. A study from media buyer GroupM and research firm iSpot found that connected streaming devices (Apple TV, Amazon Firestick, various Roku devices, etc.) continue playing shows or movies even after users turn off their TVs. While this is mostly a device issue, advertisers may push streamers to be more transparent about their viewership metrics as the industry shifts to relying more on lower-cost ad tiers to drive growth and revenue.

Blind count
If an ad plays and no one can see it, does it still count as a view? For many streaming devices, the answer is apparently “yes.”

  • According to The Information, a GroupM and iSpot study found that 8-10% of all streaming viewership is happening when TVs are off because of a glitch between connected streaming devices and TVs.
  • That non-viewership number goes up to 17% when accounting for streaming on just the Amazon Firestick and various Roku devices.
  • This happens because of a glitch between connected streaming devices and TVs — streaming devices don’t recognize that the TV has been turned off if the user didn’t pause or stop the show they were watching.

While the study came to its conclusions by only studying Vizio TVs (granted, 20 million of them), the researchers stress that the issue is an industry-wide problem. Connected devices will typically turn off in a certain number of hours of inactivity… but that’s hours of content playing to no audience.

Marketing migraine
While the streamers probably love the padded viewership numbers, advertisers are reasonably angry. Brands are essentially paying for their ads to reach no one — a huge problem when…

  • 41% of Americans with a broadband connection own a streaming dongle.
  • Disney+ and Netflix are each expected to debut ad-supported tiers.
  • The ad business on streaming services and smart TV platforms is expected to grow to $38.8 billion by 2026 (up from $18.9 billion this year).

Both iSpot and the Interactive Advertising Bureau are working on a product to address the issue… but they can’t do it alone. Adam Gerber, GroupM’s executive director of U.S. investment strategy, said, “there is no way we will fix this unless TV manufacturers, device makers, advertisers, and publishers align themselves to fix this problem.”

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Amex-Abra-Crypto-Rewards-Credit-Card-thefutureparty

Amex launches its first crypto rewards credit card

Amex-Abra-Crypto-Rewards-Credit-Card-thefutureparty
Abra Crypto Card // Illustration by Kate Walker

Amex launches its first crypto rewards credit card

 

The Future. After much hesitation, Amex has announced that it’s teaming up with Abra, a crypto wallet provider and wealth management platform, to offer the Abra Crypto Card. The card will reward users in crypto for making transactions in U.S. dollars and is meant to give users the opportunity to get into DeFi investing — minus the risk of converting personal assets into cryptocurrency.

Dangling the crypto carrot

Amex and Abra announced the joint launch of their card at Coindesk’s Consensus conference last Friday.

  • The basics. Once users apply for a line of credit and are approved, they can use Abra’s exchange service to earn crypto rewards and swap those rewards for other cryptocurrencies.
  • The catch. Abra hasn’t disclosed exactly which cryptocurrencies users will be able to receive, though there will be multiple options. The card will give users an incentive to choose Abra’s own token, CPRX (Crypto Perx), over other options.
  • The horizon. Eventually, Abra plans to allow users to extend their credit lines based on their crypto balances. The goal of this service would be to encourage users to trust banks with their crypto — signaling Amex and Abra’s confidence in crypto.

The card, which launches later this year, will also feature more traditional Amex rewards options, like perks related to entertainment and dining expenses.

The move is likely the first step in a larger partnership that will allow Amex to present its users with crypto opportunities.

All abord the bandwagon
Amex has been slow to accept DeFi. With this reveal, the company is finally joining its competitors (like Visa and Mastercard) in launching a crypto rewards credit card. Major digital asset companies like Brex, Venmo, and SoFi already offer this option as well.

Widespread adoption of cryptocurrency by traditional lenders signals a shift in DeFi’s lasting power. Still, given May’s crypto crash and the rapidly changing regulatory environment, it’s hard to say whether any of this will actually diminish crypto’s volatility or whether stablecoins will replace popular unregulated alternatives in banks’ good graces.

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Jay-Z-Jack-Dorsey-The-Bitcoin-Academy

Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey launch a free crypto academy

Jay-Z-Jack-Dorsey-The-Bitcoin-Academy
The Bitcoin Academy // Illustration by Kate Walker

Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey launch a free crypto academy

 

The Future. Jay-Z and Block CEO Jack Dorsey have joined forces to launch The Bitcoin Academy, a free crypto education program located at Marcy Houses, the public housing complex in Brooklyn where Jay-Z grew up. The Academy’s founders and teachers see crypto as a path to financial freedom—especially for the needy—but detractors worry that students of such programs stand to lose more than they could gain.

A syllabus for the self-made

Bitcoin Academy is launching its first season this summer.

  • The lessons. Crypto evangelists and success stories like Lamar Wilson and Najah J. Roberts make up the Academy’s instructors, with the curriculum focused on leveraging cryptocurrency to acquire financial independence.
  • The perks. Participants of the program will also be given MiFi devices, a one-year limited data plan, and in some cases, their own smartphone — all of which they get to keep after the program’s over. Dinner is served during classes, which occur in the evenings.
  • The icing on the cake. Participants will receive small amounts of Bitcoin too, but Dorsey and Jay-Z have been clear that the primary purpose of the program is education. It seems that investing in Bitcoin will be strongly encouraged, with the gifted amount to be used as a test case.

The Academy will hold classes twice weekly from June-September, as well as a weekend “Crypto Kids Camp” for children ages 5 to 17. While the Academy is only open to Marcy residents, Jay-Z has said he hopes to expand the program soon.

And this isn’t Jay-Z and Dorsey’s first joint venture in the crypto world. Last year, the pair made a 500 BTC investment aimed at boosting DeFi’s popularity in India and Africa.

The meek shall inherit the worst
Critics see the Bitcoin Academy as a possible form of “predatory inclusion,” in which vulnerable populations are presented with scams, subprime loans, or other fraudulent schemes disguised as opportunities. Even if the Academy’s aim is to educate students on how to sift the crypto wheat from the chaff, skeptics think they’re still encouraging people without a safety net to take risks in a notoriously volatile market.

A useful example to consider is El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender last year and doesn’t seem to have enjoyed the collective increase in prosperity the country expected. According to TechCrunch, nearly 70% of El Salvador’s citizens are unbanked, which means they’ll have no consumer protections if the currency tanks.

The Bitcoin Academy’s students are individuals, not nations. But for the vulnerable, the risks of investing in an unstable currency can drastically outweigh the rewards — even if you know what they are.

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Hotels turn vacationing into a bidding war with NFTs

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Courtesy of Casa de Campo

Hotels turn vacationing into a bidding war with NFTs

 

Future. Hotels are offering bookings as NFTs in a test to see if they can still make money on a room even if guests cancel at the last minute. Considering that frequent travelers might be more likely to use crypto, the offerings could attract a fresh clientele.

Booking on the blockchain
Hotel groups such as Casa de Campo Resorts & Villas in the Dominican Republic and Noble House Hotels & Resorts in San Francisco are converting some of their room availabilities into NFTs.

  • By selling the room stays as NFTs, the hotels are paid whether the guest ultimately comes or not.
  • If the token holder no longer makes their reservation, they can either sell or trade it on the blockchain — think of it as a StubHub for hotel stays.

According to WSJ, guests will get a discount on the room when purchasing it as an NFT, which of course, is an incentive. Why pay for a stay upfront when you don’t have to?

Non-fungible travel
The NFT offerings are being handled by Pinktada, a startup where guests can buy, sell, and trade the tokens… or even use the tokens at different hotels that also use the Pinktada network. The craziest part is that the company promises to purchase whatever tokens guests have trouble selling. Quite the leap of faith.

Mark Gordon, Pinktada’s co-founder and chief hospitality officer, explains the service is a win for both hotels and guests because “you give hotel owners certainty of income, but give travelers the flexibility if their plans change to sell or swap tokens.”

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Your next office could look more like a coffee shop

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Your next office could look more like a coffee shop

 

Future. Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson hopes to turn offices into coffee shops in a bid to create an environment more attractive to gathering employees who would rather work from home. With ADP Research finding that two-thirds of workers would quit their jobs if coming back to the office was mandatory, turning them into quasi-Starbucks may bring more people back… without them ever feeling like they are.

Starbucks check-in
After seeing remote work demand increase from 15% to 50% among his workforce, Lawson is reimagining how employees want to gather.

  • He notes that even though people don’t want to be in an office most days, they do want “connection” and “belonging.”
  • So, he plans to experiment with creating a network of Twilio coffee shops around the U.S., where workers could “come in and work when they are looking for community, a change of scenery, or a double latte.”
  • Twilio is already testing this idea by converting two floors of its San Francisco office to feel more like a coffee shop.

The move makes sense. People love working from coffee shops — a phenomenon backed by science. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports says that coffee shops provide the right amount of “stochastic resonance” (white noise) to help our sense of concentration, creativity, and decision making. Some even call it “the coffee shop effect.”

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A bipartisan bill wants to chop up Google’s and Meta’s ad business

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A bipartisan bill wants to chop up Google’s and Meta’s ad business

 

Future. A group of Senators are taking on Google and Meta with a bill that would break up their advertising businesses for being too big and covering too many functions of the ad market. While it feels like the endless parade of tech-regulation bills are making little headway to law, its passage could be key in breaking Big Tech’s stranglehold over the vast majority of advertising dollars.

Search and destroy
The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act recently introduced in the Senate could shake up control of the ad market.

  • The bill (which has bipartisan support) stipulates that processes at least $20 billion in digital ad sales annually will no longer be able to participate in “more than one part of the digital advertising ecosystem.”
  • That rule would affect both Google and Meta, who reportedly made $54.7 billion and $27 billion in ad revenue, respectively, just last quarter.
  • For example, Google, which (among many other things) runs an ad-auction exchange and provides tools for customers to both buy and sell ads, would have to sell off some of those businesses within a year if the law passes.

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, said that when Google is “serving as a seller and a buyer and running an exchange, that gives them an unfair, undue advantage in the marketplace.”

Cookie cutter
Of course, Google doesn’t agree, claiming that breaking apart its ad business would “hurt publishers and advertisers, lower ad quality and create new privacy risks.” Instead, Google deflects criticism and blames “low-quality data brokers who threaten Americans’ privacy and flood them with spammy ads.”

But that doesn’t mean that Google isn’t doing what it can to clean up its ad business. After announcing that it would ban the usage of third-party cookies — the code that tells advertisers what someone does after seeing an ad — Google is introducing a slate of new measurement tools, including a metric called “on-device conversion measurement.” The data tool does the same thing as a cookie, just without sharing the user’s ID.

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Private equity takes Hollywood, Cannes, and everything in between

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Illustration by Kate Walker

Private equity takes Hollywood, Cannes, and everything in between

 

Future. Private equity (PE) firms are turning up at Cannes as it looks to the film and TV industry as the next investment goldmine — hoping to capitalize on the streamers’ arms race for content. With the major studios mostly focused on blockbuster fare, the PE money may be responsible for a boom of lower-budget, independent productions that plays a key part in supplying streamers with content.

Suits on the call sheet
According to THR, investor dollars have dreams of Hollywood stardom.

  • In the U.S., PE money has poured into Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Will Smith’s Westbrook (Blackstone via Candle Media), Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat (Abry), and Lebron James’ SpringHill (RedBird).
  • In Europe, mini-major studios Leonine and Mediwan both have backing from PE (KKR & Co.), as does growing producer/financier Anton (Falcon) and Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp (Vine Alternative Investments).

Also, the incoming president of the Cannes Film Festival, Iris Knobloch, is also the head of a PE-backed group, I2PO, which is making entertainment investments across Europe.

Flex being flexible
So why is Wall Street all of a sudden so interested in the film and television industry? As the streaming wars wage, PE firms see an opportunity to be arms suppliers to every side. Everyone needs content (and a lot of it) in order to compete. PE firms see an opportunity to multiply their money as demand skyrockets (especially in Europe, which has a strict 30% quota of how much European content streaming platforms need to buy to operate in the continent).

The key is that these production companies must abide by one mandate: stay independent. And by doing so, they get to be the ones that everyone fights over.

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