Making digital content can be thrilling, but it can also feel like hard work. A panel of experts convened today to discuss shortcuts to focused and cutting-edge digital development.
The panel comprised (l-r): Eldar Rapaport, CEO of Screenz; Misha Lyalin, CEO of Cut the Rope developer ZeptoLab; and Peter Phillips, SVP and general manager of Marvel Worldwide’s digital media group. The session was moderated by General Creativity’s Robert Tercek.
Phillips kicked off, explaining that his group focuses on digital publishing, including websites and social media destinations, as well as acting as a consultancy for Marvel’s film, animation and consumer products divisions.
The division is also publishing direct to digital platforms: for example Infinite Comics that are made for tablets rather than print. “The other thing that really helped our business this year is we built an augmented reality app,” he said: an app for people to point their phone at a print comic and see additional content, including video.
Does Marvel see digital as a launching pad or the last step in a brand exploitation process? “The R&D with Marvel starts with publishing. A lot of the characters you’ve seen on TV or in the big screen started 70 years ago when Marvel was just publishing comic books,” he said, before saying digital is now higher in the food chain.
“It’s definitely gone from being purely a support function to being a more integrated experience.”
Onto ZeptoLab, whose two Cut the Rope games have generated 250m downloads on smartphones and tablets. “When we started we had a couple of million users, and now we’re up to 50m monthly active users, and we’re present in 125 countries, and China is probably our biggest market in terms of downloads by the end of this year.”
Lyalin said that Cut the Rope’s fans have told the company they want to see more of Om Nom, the games’ hero. ZeptoLab already does merchandising deals, but it’s also trying to keep an interactive twist: a toy from Mattel that, when placed on an iPad, can interact with an app. The company also makes digital comics.
And now short animations: Om Nom Stories. “We have delivered to about 7m people,” said Lyalin – the YouTube video is actually about to pass 8m views. Meanwhile, ZeptoLab has a deal with Sony Pictures Television to make a Cut the Rope TV game-show.
Onto Screenz CEO Eldar Rapaport, who talked about using second-screen technology to launch a new brand. His company launched at MIPCOM 2011 with the aim of making “cross-label products as extensions to TV formats”.
One example: a cooking app called Appetite (or APPetite), with recipes available via in-app purchases, with video and other content. “You can basically have it as a good companion to any cooking format, whether that’s Top Chef in the US, MasterChef or anywhere else,” he said.
“A year ago it used to be ‘why cross media?’. Today, everybody is asking ‘how?’” he said, noting that Screenz is working earlier in projects with producers on cross-platform content, rather than towards the end of the process with broadcasters.
“It’s not a question of when do we call in digital now,” agreed Phillips. “It’s a question of how digital fits into the equation. The digital obviously needs to be called in from day one.”
Might Marvel start doing teasers or previews with the digital audience before films come out? “With the Avengers we premiered online using Apple trailers, and that’s a tool that worked very well for us,” said Phillips, noting that the company is also looking to leverage its 30m+ fans on social networks to “activate them quickly and early” for new projects.
Back to ZeptoLab. “We have a pretty cool marketing and distribution machine,” said Lyalin of Cut the Rope’s 50m monthly players, who the company can message regularly when there are new games or content to promote.
Is the tail wagging the dog now? Digital used to be an afterthought, noted Tercek. “Suddenly you have an empowered audience that in a way gets to insist on what they want, and they’re very capable and comfortable speaking up,” he said. A shock to the system for traditional media? “Frankly studios aren’t in the habit of listening to audiences in that way,” suggested Tercek.
Are traditional storytellers starting to use digital in their work, and integrate it into their storylines? Phillips said they are, particularly in the comics part of the business, where a lot of the creatives have their own Twitter accounts, rising to the higher executives.
What about fan-based contributions? “Our mechanism is to listen to user feedback,” said Phillips. “We don’t have a mechanism for user-created stories, but we listen very carefully to what the fans say. They call BS on us very easily.”
Lyalin agreed that Cut the Rope fans regularly suggest new features for the games, which sometimes do make it into updates, but hinted at plans not to get them writing the main stories that ZeptoLab is producing, but to create their own. “We want to give users tools to be able to tell the story,” he said.
One question: is there still room for new brands to emerge, as Cut the Rope did, from the apps space? With hundreds of thousands of apps available on Apple and Google’s app stores, and increasingly ferocious competition in the upper reaches of their charts, are they too crowded to spawn many more Om Noms?
Lyalin disagreed. “Seriously, it’s empty. Look at the top grossing games: they are either casino games or farming and economic simulators,” he said. In other words, there is still plenty of room for other kinds of apps, games and characters to emerge. But will they be able to break into the Top 10?
“I think the long tail just gets longer,” said Marvel’s Phillips. “One thing we’re fighting with is with so many apps out there, how do we break through the clutter? Part of it is search and discovery, and part of it’s the seal of quality.”