iAd

With the iPhone OS 4.0 Keynote today the announcement of iAd caught our attention in the office. Moreso than multi-tasking & the thousands of API’s iAd offers the chance for a true revolution in mobile advertising.

The ability to provide Rich Media advertising within the application is key for marketers, brands & developers alike. There were some great quotes from Steve Jobs today:

“On a desktop, its about search. On mobile, search hasn’t happened. People aren’t searching on their phones. People are spending their time in apps. The average user spends over 30 minutes using apps on their phone. If we said we wanted to put an ad up every 3 minutes, that’d be 10 ads per device per day – about the same as a TV show. We’re going to soon have 100m devices. That’s a billion ad opportunities per day!”

For now Apple will sell and host the ads with a revenue split (60/40 with devs getting the 60) and ads are done in HTML5 (Sorry Adobe). The apps will be fully interactive like their rich media web counterparts and the fact that ads have access to location to tie into geo-location is another win.

If I were a dev/marketer/agency I would get the SDK yesterday!!!

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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iPad Launch Day – Review

Part of my job is tied to staying on top of emerging technology and the latest entry launched today in the form of the Apple iPad. After being in and out of my local Apple store in 10 min it was on to the setup. I found updating to iTunes 9 to be an issue as I continued to run into service issues. Once those were resolved I decided to go with a fresh install vs. importing settings from my iPhone. The iPhone app experience on the iPad is not ideal. The apps work but are optimized for a certain size. I actually removed any iPhone apps that made it through the setup and was on the iPad app store to see what was available.

So far I have been impressed with the device. I have enjoyed the smooth web browsing and e-mail interface. I was really surprised by how seamless the Netflix integration was upon execution of the app. After logging in I was able to instantly stream within seconds. I was also surprised by the number of apps that were available at launch. With 400+ games (I stopped counting after page 34) there is plenty to review.

Also, being a current Kindle owner I was very curious to see how iBooks compares. And at this point there really is no comparison. With the additional functionality mentioned above as well as a color/touch interface the iPad will officially become my default e-reader. With that said the Kindle App for iPad/iPhone is usable and the experience is adequate. I still have access to all of my Kindle purchases and the app has been updated from the iPhone version to be optimized for the iPad. So for now it will be a combination of Kindle App/iBooks but either way from a hardware perspective I will be quickly auctioning off my Kindle.

Is the iPad an essential device? Not yet. It is an amazing casual browsing and entertainment device and I see the value in it even beyond a netbook which surprised me. The real appeal for me is being able to pick it up like my phone, check my e-mail, status updates and browse relevant articles quickly and with optimal portability.

I see the potential moving forward as the iPad evolves and hope to see Flash enabled as well as the ability to manage multiple apps at the same time and a solution for an integrated webcam but for now I am happy with the device for what it is. Also, the battery life has been holding up as well.

Today I also did a guest blog post for Playground Dad. If you are not familiar Playground Dad is targeted to the thirty something dads that are interested in staying connected with their kids and ideas to maintain work life balance. The post provides recommendations on how the iPad can bring you and your kiddos together in a variety of ways.

iPad Kids

Here is Grant watching Veggietales via Netflix instant stream. The iPad Case serves as a great way to position the iPad for optimal viewing.

grantipad

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

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Red Urban

RedUrbanIt seems that for the past 10+ years all roads have pointed in this direction. I have been involved with agencies since the onset of my interactive career.

From my initial entry during the original dot com boom with Fullmoon Interactive (full service interactive agency) to then moving on to become a co-founder of Smooth Fusion. SF provided the technical heavy lifting to enable campaigns for agencies in the Omnicom, WPP & Interpublic networks. The main constants were always digital + agencies.

For the last five years I have been on the forefront of the enterprise social media explosion thanks in part to my involvement initially with Telligent Systems (Community & Social Analytics driven platforms) then as the Chief Marketing Officer of INgage networks (Cloud computing based enterprise & gov 2.0 integrated social solutions).

During this time I had the privilege to partner and be a part of cutting edge usage of social media by a number of Fortune 1000 companies (Dell, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Starbucks, P&G, American Express to name a few) and now I look forward to enabling brands via my experience with social strategy definition (KPI’s, ROI) implementation (Community, Crowdsourcing, Mobile, Consumer Networks, Social CRM) and measurement & analysis (Online buzz monitoring, Social Analytics) officially from the agency side!

I recently joined an extremely talented team at Red Urban (Dallas, TX). Red Urban is an OMNICOM group agency that provides comprehensive digital solutions for our end-clients and agencies throughout the Omnicom network. Our primary focus is world class creative & digital (Rich Media, Web, Social) strategy with an emphasis and expertise in integrating social channels and best practices into a brands digital strategy.

My role as the SVP, Digital Strategy will enable me to call upon every element of my experience in defining digital/social solutions while also keeping an eye to the future via emerging technology.

I definitely look forward to collaborating with our team and partners to deliver compelling digital campaigns that truly leverage the power of social as part of an overall digital strategy.

What’s the price of a Facebook Fan? It’s 5 dollars

Recently Babies R Us ran a Facebook campaign that caught my attention. There were a number of campaign elements that were executed well and the result was a positive network effect. There were also areas that could have been capitalized upon to drive further value.

The premise of the campaign was driven by the promise of a $5 digital e-card for becoming a Facebook fan. The catch was it was a 1 day campaign.

7 things I liked about the experience:

1) A one day promotion provides a sense of urgency to take action with a truly valuable and tangible benefit.

2) Simple, audience specific image with a very clear call to action. Sometimes simple is better.

3) Ability to immediately blast all friends increases potential viral distribution. This increases by additional adoption as visibility into friends recent activity amplify the impact and potential drive to action.

Babiesrus3-Blog1

4) Low barrier to initiate the action as all that was required was to click “Become a fan” which leads directly to a very brief profiling exercise with clear rules & terms and does not present form or information overload.

5) I really liked the SMS opt-in being handled within the profile experience as mobile is a natural extension beyond a Facebook driven channel interaction.

Babiesrus3-Blog2

6) Delivery of the e-card occurred within 2 days with the added benefit of use online & in-store highly increasing my probability of actually using it.

7) Network proliferation (at least through my wifes/target network) was immediate and visible as a significantly high percentage of her network participated in the campaign.

7 Areas of focus that could have further enhanced results beyond the standard campaign:

1) Further amplify & drive awareness prior to and after the event. Drive 5-10 day interaction strategy through multiple social channels to further hype the event. This includes targeting key niche (e.g. Ovusoft, Playground Dad) communities and driving influencer build-up to the event to further amplify the promotion.

2) This also accounts for influencial “mommy” bloggers and “super” dads. One key point is that Blog actually stands for B. Better L. Listing. O. On G. Google. As within product category segments 30-60% of top search results are blog driven. Outreach to same group to write about the campaign and the positive impact and build anticipation for a possible future event.

3) Capitalize immediately on the opportunity to cross promote to the target market segment. Specifically on the “Thank You” page would have been a great opportunity to drive through to a branded interaction or to a select group of targeted products.

4) Immediate recognition of SMS opt-in by sending a confirmation message offering additional incentive for accepting the opt-in.

5) Take this as an opportunity to leverage a proximity based service with devices in store locations to continue to amplify cost savings by leveraging the existing opt-in.

6) As with any strategy where profiling occurs the ability to now directly tie these individuals into an actionable marketing queue is invaluable. Capitalizing on more than just capturing the data is one of the keys to truly driving the value from social channels.

7) The follow-up e-mail was very thorough with categories, calls to action to both Babies R Us and Toys R Us. The format was pure HTML. There needs to be a plain text option as well to cover all bases.

Conclusions & Measurement:

Overall I liked the premise and execution of the campaign. I will be interested in measuring the Key performance indicators (KPI’s) if they become available such as the delta between number of friends prior and after the promotion, retention of new “fans”, number of profile opt-ins, number of mobile opt-ins, etc.

*Credit for discovery of the promotion goes to my wife. Thanks Cherlyn!!!

How to Create Profitable Social Strategies

Authored this article published on CMO.com today: http://bit.ly/8K3B5W

Just like people, no two organizations are exactly alike. Every enterprise has its own unique personality. When it comes to social strategy, there is no universal formula for driving ROI. Enterprise social media is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The most successful social media initiatives occur when the strategy is aligned with the DNA of the brand itself. We don’t ask a wallflower to be the life of the party, nor do we expect a social butterfly to thrive without wings. No matter which of the following four personality types describes your brand, here’s how to start driving value from your social strategies.

1. Social Butterfly

You like to be where the action is, darting from one trendy application to the next. On the cutting edge, you were probably an early adopter of blogs and Twitter. Outwardly, you’ve created an impressive following and have led your organization through uncharted territories. But when the conversation turns to ROI, your attention is quickly diverted to a new tactic.

 — The Risks: Every marketer understands the thrill of winning customer attention. But what comes next? One million fans are only important if you can effectively leverage those connections toward your goals as a business. Consumer networks come and go. Banking enterprise strategy on shaky ground, or scratching the surface of what should be deeper, does not promote sustainable value and results. Without focused commitment, you may disappoint your networks while failing to receive future executive support.

 The Opportunity: Activity is taking place on consumer networks, and it is essential to be where the interaction is happening. Consider ways to bridge your social interests with your enterprise. Open Authentication, for example, can inspire your fans to leverage existing credentials they have from Facebook or Twitter to join your community. And you’ll gain momentum if you keep those fans engaged from one campaign to the next.

Anchoring social media initiatives in an enterprise wide strategy will help you strengthen and deepen your connections. As trendy consumer networks disappear, your brand presence will remain. This engagement can benefit all aspects of your enterprise—sales, customer service…even product development.

2. Thrill-Seeker

Known for your crazy antics, those around you never know what to expect next. You’re the life of the party! You take risks, stir things up, and keep your name top-of-mind—at any cost. But you’re not in it for the long haul. When the excitement dwindles, you’re already off in pursuit of your next adventure.

The Risks: You’re behind some of those social media initiatives that have the industry talking: social takeovers, controversial ad campaigns, contrarian blog posts, and viral videos. But when all is said and done, what have you ultimately accomplished?

Hiring and firing agencies, employee turnover, customer churn, and damage control all weigh heavily on the bottom line. One-off campaigns can be fun, but unless they are part of
a bigger strategy, they cannot help build the momentum that is needed to drive sustainable ROI.

The Opportunity: You have what every marketer wants: the attention of a crowd. And you have followers waiting with bated breath for your next move. Extending your allure, capitalizing on the attention, and offering your networks something of more substance will further elevate your success.

Sure, you have no trouble filling an auditorium. But when you can provide ongoing value, meaningful relationships, and reciprocity—in addition to a good time—you’ll not only fill the auditorium…you’ll keep your audience members in their seats!

3. Wallflower

You embrace social media passively, remaining at the periphery of the action. You’re on a “listen mission,” monitoring discussions around your brand through various social
networks. You have yet to realize the full potential of social media.

 The Risks: Instead of fueling conversations, you’re merely eavesdropping on them. Consumers don’t hear a lot about you, nor do they hear from you. While
you’re playing it safe, your competitors are playing to win.

Without proactively developing relationships with consumers, you risk losing them—and the resulting revenue—to your competitors. It is proved that engaged customers not only spend more, but they can become your greatest advocates. If you aren’t engaging your customers, then who is?

 The Opportunity: Social media doesn’t change your business goals, just how you achieve them. Whatever your objectives—increased productivity, improved retention, reduced costs, or more sales—social media can effectively fuel them all, but not without your taking a proactive role by influencing the conversations around you.

Going social does not require a corporate180. At Neighborhood America, connecting our workforce through internal networks launched us into social strategies. Within 12 months, we experienced financial returns of $10,000 per employee. As we gained confidence, we expanded our reach beyond our walls.

4. Strong, Silent Type

You watch. You learn. Then you do it better. You are successful, but not boastful, letting your accomplishments speak for themselves. You welcome calculated risks that are approached strategically. You’ve witnessed social media transform your business, and seek to continue applying these strategies throughout your enterprise.

The Risks: Whether you’re using Twitter for customer service or an online community for crowdsourcing ideas, social media is at the core of many of your
operations. But bringing it all together has proved overwhelming, if not impossible.

You run the risk of spreading too thin, unable to dedicate the resources needed to manage both content and data. You are ahead of the curve and need to proceed with caution.
Choosing the wrong provider(s) will only magnify this risk—avoid partnering with a vendor that will pull you back.

 The Opportunities: As more social initiatives are deployed, they must be consistently managed across the entire organization. Consolidation is critical to data aggregation and cross-functional teamwork.

The opportunity to launch a comprehensive social go-to-market strategy brings the ability to capitalize on the following:

  • Power of consumer networks
  • Flexibility of an SaaS-branded platform
  • Value of the data created
  • Increased value of existing systems when integrated with social (i.e., Social + CRM)

 Aim for the ability to push and pull content from varying consumer networks using your own community solutions, and leverage them as one complete, integrated platform.

10 Benefits of Social Crowdsourcing

As your social strategy evolves from driving awareness via consumer/liquid networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc…) and basic community elements you may be asking what’s next? How can I continue to drive engagement and provide enough utility to keep the attention on your brand. What can I do to influence advocacy. What about ideation? How can I continue to formalize feedback channels and how do I continue to provide a structured form of support that ultimately leads to cost deflection savings and other benefits beyond simple engagement?

My recommendation would be a branded crowdsourcing solution. Okay… so what does that mean and how is it different? Social Crowdsourcing solutions provide a structured approach to accomplishing multiple goals by leveraging individuals engaged with your brand where ultimately the best ideas and content prevail. In essence it enables a structured 360 degree feedback loop. When executed as part of a cohesive social strategy crowdsourcing solutions can provide value beyond simple engagement.

10 Benefits of Social CrowdSourcing:

1 ) Advocacy & Brand Loyalty – How better to influence behavior than by empowering an individual to directly impact a product, improve the overall customer experience, or deliver feedback within an organization on how to improve an internal process. When an individual truly feels as though they are making a difference there is a stronger connection with the brand or organization. An example is with Starbucks MyStarBucksIdea implementation. Users have the ability to directly influence product as well as the customer experience. Ask for a splash stick the next time you are in Starbucks. That nifty green stick with the decorative end is a direct result of crowdsourcing.

2 ) Structured Feedback (Recommendations/Reviews) – Going beyond a Forum… Social Crowdsourcing is a structured feedback channel. You have the ability to quickly identify feedback that is relevant to your audience and also has a direct influence on your products and services. A good example is with Dell’s Idea Storm. Dell leverages Idea Storm for the purpose of collecting feedback as well as point #5 below which is support.

3 ) Ideation – The old adage 2 heads are better than 1 comes to mind on this point. How about 2,000 vs. 20. By leveraging the power of the social crowd you gain an economy of scale in terms of your brainstorming output. This is applicable in almost every business setting from an agency that is looking to find the best idea for a campaign pitch to a Fortune 500 company looking for new ideas to innovate and maintain relevance. Social Crowdsourcing solutions enable the collaboration to occur. An example is Best Buy’s IdeaX.

4 ) UGC (Content/Contests) – User Generated Contests have been a staple of social strategy. With Social Crowdsourcing solutions you have the ability to facilitate this type of interaction. If you select the right platform (Not all Social Crowdsourcing platforms are created equally. I will be following up with a post on criteria to consider when selecting a Social Crowdsourcing solution) you should select a platform that is flexible enough to support multiple types of initiatives and campaigns while providing centralized access to the data. Both Men’s Health with their Belly Off promotion and HGTV with Rate my Space leveraged Social Crowdsourcing solutions

5 ) Support – When it comes to support we outlined the Dell example above. Other points to consider are decreased e-mail & phone support costs, faster response rates and resolution of issues, decreased escalation, increased satisfaction and decreased customer complaints. This is where tangible value can be gained for an organization beyond simple engagement. In a similar manner to how call deflection is a goal to gain efficiency social crowdsourcing can enable a similar benefit.

6 ) Reducing Product Quality Defects – What company does not want to decrease quality defects. You can leverage social crowdsourcing solutions to quickly identify issues and have a direct channel to address product corrections.

7 ) Decreasing R&D Expense – Leverage the power of social production to decrease your own R&D expense. Again leverage the combined knowledge and loyalty of your customers to help shorten the product development lifecycle.

8 ) Decreasing Time to Market – You can decrease time to market by launching targeted social crowdsourcing campaigns that serve as focus groups and ultimately drive product improvement and expand your reach in terms of testers.

9 ) Customer Service – In a similar manner of leveraging Twitter for brand monitoring it is important to understand the potential of using the structure of social crowdsourcing to directly engage with end users to drive resolution of issues and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.

10 ) Social + CRM – With structured interaction comes the ability to align user interaction and product feedback to your CRM strategy. The ability to create social profiles, create campaigns specific to feedback or rounds of ideation and ultimately gauge social interaction with actual customers is critical to driving value back to the business. A great example comes to us via Microsoft & Neighborhood America. Microsoft Public Sector On Demand this implementation leverages the power of a robust Social Crowdsourcing platform while showcasing integration with Microsoft Dynamics.

In my next post we will discuss points to consider when selecting a Social Crowdsourcing Solution.

Social Commitment

In order to truly capitalize on B2C social strategy it is important to understand that social is a channel to facilitate collaboration and is a part of the overall organizational marketing strategy. However it is not the only element of your overall marketing strategy. But this channel probably moreso than any other marketing exercise requires a longer term investment to truly recognize the value of the approach.

Obviously social solutions can be leveraged for short term spikes, take-overs and quick blips on the brand awareness radar. But to truly maximize the value of social organizations need to advance on the social continuum towards cohesive social strategies and have a solid understanding of the goals associated with the interaction. Brand Awareness, monitoring, customer support, transactions, etc…

This sounds simple enough but there are many factors and behavioral elements that will need to be put to the test to properly execute. Depending on the level of social commitment from the organization a number of factors need to be considered and questions asked. What is the purpose of our usage of consumer networks (Twitter, Facebook). If you think about it for a moment is it to drive awareness? Drive some type of direct response? or some other objective. You should not have a Facebook fan page for the sake of having one. You need to be where your prospective targets are and I am a strong advocate of the usage of consumer networks but not as the primary hub of the strategy.

So you say not to make consumer networks your primary but “I have tried my own community but we did not get the traffic lift we thought we would get”. My first response to this is to review the marketing strategy tied to growing membership. A common mistake I see is the “If we build it they will come”. The expectation that members will magically appear and participate in your branded communities is reserved for a very small group of brands. For everyone else it takes a committed effort to drive fresh, relevant content, dedicated resources, reaching into existing target users and ultimately traditional marketing to drive interaction. You can have the best technology in the world but if you do not have a true plan for driving interaction the branded effort is destined to fail.

Once the plan has been defined, resources assigned and marketing underway it is important that the brand ultimately own some semblance of a branded experience. Be it a portal aggregating relevant content, community or crowdsourcing. The reason for this is that consumer networks rise and fall in popularity and there will always be the next big thing but your brand will remain.

A natural opposition to the longer term value is how marketing is portrayed and executed on a daily basis. When you think about the nature of traditional marketing it is very campaign based driving one buzz push to the next with constant reinvention along the way. With Social it is almost the opposite. The goal is to build momentum and attain critical mass to drive towards creating a sustainable interaction. This in turn enables a solid foundation of social data that maps back to organzational goals to drive the next steps of gaining value.

Regardless of how you leverage social it is important to fully recognize the importance of defining goals and creating a comprehensive strategy. As I stated in my last post the true value from social comes from the information that is created and how you are then able to capitalize on it. But in order to reach this point of organizational enlightenment you must have a commitment to social. It is not a campaign it is a long term channel of direct interaction.

How to Drive Brand Value from Social Media

One of the more common questions that I receive is how do I truly drive value from social interaction? While there is no “magic bullet” to drive hard ROI consistently across all organization types each organization can show solid social value and results if they consider the following when planning their B2C social GTM strategy.

1 ) Goals, Goals & Did I mention Goals – Before the first Twitter alias is created or Facebook fan page is posted the first step is to define the goals of the strategy and how it will be measured. But it does not stop here. Where I see gaps in strategy across the board is then taking the next step which is consolidating and truly integrating consumer network interaction with branded solutions. The reason is the data. With consumer networks they may come and go and the availability of data to analyze is hit & miss but with the right mix of branded solutions it is possible to capture social data that can then map back to organizational KPI’s.

2 ) Resources & Champions – One of the consistent issues I see is that there is an expectation that the technology will deliver results. Moreso in social than any other type of marketing initiative it takes dedicated resources to truly drive success. This can be for a period of time until the community can self manage itself but the key to interaction is not the technology but the content that is created. Either leveraging 3rd parties or internal resources to drive fresh and relevant “sticky” content is a key success factor in building the audience that will generate the data needed to map to your KPI’s.

3 ) Consumer Networks – What I consistently see and hear is that a number of organizations are leveraging popular consumer networks such as Twitter and Facebook. An organization can have multiple “campaigns” going at any given point in time. This is a natural response as this is where consumer activity is taking place. It is absolutely essential to position your brand where interaction is happening, but there has to be a plan around the purpose of the interaction. Is it tied to Brand Awareness? Leveraging Twitter to monitor your brand for a more personal customer service touch? Either way I view Consumer Networks as a starting point to branded social interaction as again the value is in the data.

4 ) OPEN Authentication – The key to bridging the gap between Consumer Network & Branded Solutions is to leverage a platform that enables OPEN Authentication. OPEN authentication allows for consumers to leverage existing credentials they may already have via Facebook, Windows LIVE, Google, etc… And as Jim Haughwout, CIO of Neighborhood America stated in a recent blog post “Don’t ask your members to join “Y-A-N” Yet another network“. This is critical for branded interaction as you want to eliminate the barriers of entry to your branded solutions.

5 ) Head in the Clouds – Another important factor to consider is the type of delivery method for your branded solutions that integrate with consumer networks. What I have found over the past few years is that the TCO associated with Software as a Service or (SaaS) solutions are ideal when it comes to provisioning multiple instances of social solutions for community, crowdsourcing and even mobile interaction. The speed to market, flexibility and scalability are all positives when selecting your social platform.

6 ) Branded Platform – I do reference platform vs. mashing up multiple instances of social, blogging here, wiki there. What I recommend to my clients is a consolidated approach to social so you have the ability to capitalize on the data across multiple sources as again the value in social resides in the data created by social production. When selecting a platform I look for the following criteria:

Flexibility, Scalability, API’s, Ability to integrate with legacy systems, All solutions and data can reside in a dimensional data warehouse so that I have the ability to create data marts with other 3rd party data sets. Also there are platforms that exist that can provide Community, Crowd Sourcing, Feedback & Mobile solutions in a single platform.

But if you are already down the path with your social strategy it is possible to enhance your social strategy and incrementally migrate elements to a platform approach.

7 ) Data is Everything – So the common message throughout thus far has been tied to the data. Why do I care about the data? Data created from social interaction is real and tangible when it comes to understanding consumer behavior and especially directly tying their thoughts or inputs directly back to your brand. The ability to create social profiles and then leverage that data for targeted marketing or to identify key influencers is critical to truly maximize your reach and marketing spend to drive through to results be it transactions or increased subscribers.

8 ) If Data is Everything what do I do with it? – The next step is to analyze data that is collected. I have talked in the past about social analytics and the benefits of understanding performance, health, member interaction, etc… This is where we map back to step one of defining the goals. The data that is collected can be sliced in many ways and the more data collected the more accurately you can drive to conclusion. My recommendation is to leverage a platform that ties all aspects of data into a single dimensional data warehouse. Why? with a dimensional data warehouse you can compare multiple campaign initiatives either testing performance of campaigns directly or by having the ability to conduct cohort analysis.

9 ) Don’t Guess – There is a lot of talk around sentiment tied to social analytics. Be wary of this approach as it is simply an inference based on an algorithm that may or may not account for certain factors. I prefer and recommend analytics packages that mirror the Rasmussen Report which is based on opinion analysis and actual user interaction vs. an inference.

10 ) Social + CRM really? – There has been a lot of buzz around Social CRM and how it can drive value for organizations. The key here is not to dump all social data into CRM. The key is to leverage a publish subscribe type of model to only create social profiles that map back to organizational goals. Leveraging a social front-end such as a crowdsourcing solution that ties directly into your existing CRM system is a key driver and the second pillar of how you can drive value out of social. The first being social analysis the second is identification down to the user level of how individuals interact with your campaign. This step is critical in ultimately forming the full picture and this combined with social analytics leads to driving value back to social.

11 ) Consolidation is King – The consistent theme throughout is consolidation. I recommend that you craft a comprehensive social GTM strategy that allows you to leverage the power of the consumer networks. Then leverage the flexibility of a SaaS platform to service multiple segments or campaign initiatives within an organization all while driving through to value via the data created. This is the framework that can lead brands with large brand inventories to truly maximize their social media strategy and drive real and immediate value.

12 ) Now What? –  If you are running multiple campaigns for an organization today then I recommend reviewing your current goals and strategy against the consolidated model and see where incremental improvements can be made. Question your vendors about data consolidation and ability to provide a central repository of all social data. Ensure that your consumer networks can interact with your branded solutions. Showing a feed is not true integration I recommend the ability to push and pull content from consumer networks so that you can leverage them as a platform.

Ultimately the goal is to drive value from social. Again the steps outlined above can create a model that will enable value definition for your clients or your key decision makers.

What’s Next for Social Computing & Business

The past month and a half has been a whirlwind of change and excitement. As most of you know by now I decided after 3 years it was time to explore options away from Telligent. I have nothing but respect for the remaining team and I truly wish them all well.

I was presented with an opportunity to join the Neighborhood America now INgage Networks team out of sunny Naples, Florida. Neighborhood America (INgage Networks) is a social media SaaS provider and I was very intrigued by their offerings. They address enterprise level challenges by offering SaaS based business services that are designed to meet needs across various scenarios B2B, B2C, B2E all while integrating and deploying off of a world-class SaaS architecture.  Just as social networking was compelling to me 3 years ago the move to the “cloud” was a natural progression.

Over the past decade I have been an active part of the Interactive space. I was a part of the bubble, the scramble to monetize online via advertising & e-commerce, the rise of the digital powers (eBay, Google, Amazon.com). Then on to portals then the SEO craze and now the rise of social computing. As technology comes and goes certain truths around business remain constant. Increasing efficiency, growing revenue, Managing assets, etc…. technology truly is an enabler to meet these needs hence the billions of dollars spent each year with more dollars than ever being allocated to Social Computing initiatives.

A number of traditional organizations have made investments in social media applications and platforms. Many decisions were made… behind the firewall vs. SaaS, build vs. buy. As the dollars begin to proliferate more “experts” also came to the fore-front with the latest strategy, Interactive agencies redefined methodologies and measures for success and an entire ecosystem was created. Throughout all of this the needs of business remained constant.  It is important to ensure that however a strategy is executed there are clearly defined business objectives that map back to success criteria that are ultimately measurable.

As the community toolkit market becomes commoditized over the coming year the ability to differentiate will go to those who embrace the following:  Lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) while showing business value (ROI) leveraging social analytics & comparative analysis based on true data warehousing for cohort comparison as well as embracing the evolution of Social CRM led by companies like Neighborhood America. These factors will determine the next round of market leaders in the social space.

I look forward to the coming evolution of the social market for business. You are seeing signs towards the shift already underway. Social CRM is real and those that understand how to leverage social data while not overloading CRM systems will be key for marketers and businesses alike. I am very happy to continue to ride the wave of innovation. I look forward to the next 10 years… It will be a fun ride!!!!

Blogging vs. Twitter

Over the past month I have found that my online behavior has shifted ever so slightly. Normally when I would review an article or something of interest I would think about it in terms of a blog post. Diving deeper into the issues and applying them towards some value proposition. Now I find myself thinking about condensing what I have to say into a 140 character nugget of information thanks to Twitter.

I have been a Twitter user since April 2007. Working for a social computing company it is par for the course. But I had not fully embraced Twitter as I have over the past few months. For Industry specific news I have found that it is a great source of on-demand information from a variety of sources that I may miss with my feed reader. With the Search Functionality I can follow different topics of discussion through the Twitterverse for real-time updates.

There seems to have been a tipping point recently where Twitter is now officially main stream. Twitter has grown to over 8 million U.S. Users in a fairly short amount of time. But it is the 33% growth over the past month that is the real key to Twitter adoption. Maybe it was the initial tweets of the US Airways crash into the Hudson or the mentions on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, or the Twitter 101 piece on Nightline. Or maybe it is the fact that media organizations like Fox News and CNN added a tweet stream to their tickers and “Live” responses to a piece that just ran. Whatever the reason Twitter is now the “it” tool of the moment.

Now the mad scramble has begun. How do I monetize Twitter? What is the business value of Twitter for my brand? How do I leverage Twitter as a channel?

There are groups popping up on LinkedIn that discuss Twitter Innovation and a number of companies, led by Dell, that are leveraging Twitter to monitor their brands and focus on the discussions that may impact a transaction or turn a detractor into an influencer.

I actually experienced the power of social media & Twitter specifically first hand. A prospective partner of my company was having difficulty connecting with his rep. He tweeted about the lack of response time. Within minutes his comment came across one of the tags that I follow and I saw it and responded via Twitter DM (Direct Message), LinkedIn InMail and based on his Twitter profile I was able to get his name and company and called the Main Line to leave a VM. Within an hour he re-tweeted about his appreciation of my efforts and the power of social media.

However you leverage Twitter either as a way to pass the time or adding value to your business/campaign/Brand it has definitely changed the way that I approach sharing and consuming information. Mainly into 140 chunks of informational goodness.

Follow me for updates RE: Social Computing, Marketing, Gaming and other random updates throughout the day @BlackFin360

Tag Marketing

While recently attending the 2009 Microsoft High Tech Summit I was introduced to the Microsoft Tag system. It works very much like a barcode system with your mobile serving as the scanning mechanism.  The interesting play here is the interactivity and opportunity that it provides to extend a traditional campaign.

I am beginning to see the Microsoft tag showing up in more places. While waiting to take-off on a flight to Seattle I was catching up with the latest Official Xbox Magazine and on the first 2 pages was an ad for the upcoming Halo Wars title. I have a moderate interest in the upcoming title but I have seen the ad with a number of Spartans looking to blow things up before. I was about to turn the page when I noticed something interesting.

At the bottom right of the page was the Microsoft Tag with the ability to immediately view a trailer of the game and redirect me to the Halo Wars marketing site on Xbox.com via my iPhone. For the novelty of it and the fact that I can’t resist a good interactive campaign I pulled up the Microsoft Tag Reader app that I had recently installed on my iPhone and took a quick shot of the tag and I was off viewing a great cinematic trailer for the upcoming game and of course the marketing collateral tied to it. If I was on the fence for the title this form of immediate gratification may have pushed me over the edge to purchase.

Where this gets really interesting is the ability to extend print in a more direct manner. Traditional ads reference a URL that leads to a product page or micro-site that is dependent on a number of factors to be executed by the end-user. With the tag system I get the immediate satisfaction of accessing information of interest in real-time from my mobile which makes the likelihood of me taking action on the ad much more likely as the barrier of sitting down, trying to remember the URL, etc… is eliminated.

From an ROI perspective I assume that the tag tracking to the destination URL is easy to reconcile and the ability to show ROI based on the “Tag Through” (I think I just coined that) then on to potential transaction should be an easy model to follow.

From a social computing perspective the ability to quickly introduce an interested party to key influencers with minimal barriers is also a possibility. The user-flow could be scan the tag, 20 second trailer and direct the user to key Community Server blog, forum or wiki topics that enhance the core message and leads to validation by peers and additional WOM.

The Microsoft tag system may not become the standard…Although if I were Microsoft I would OEM this on net-new Windows phones and allow for recognition of a tag that automatically initiates the app… but I like the direction from a consumer marketing perspective. I am a firm believer in reducing barriers for end-users. Minimize the steps necesssary to the desired result and the likelihood of action significantly increases.

Sample Tag:

microsoft-tag-792594

EA Skate 2 & Skate Reel

Of all of the projects I have been involved with over the past 3 years Electronic Arts O.G. Skate Reel initiative was by far one of my favorites. It was our first really large initiative with EA and it was very ambitious.

From the start there were a number of different variables that came into play. In-game video then sprayed to the web that enabled community members to rate each others creations across gaming platforms.

With a lot of teamwork between EA (Strategy & Content), our team and Blast Radius (Creative & UI) Skate Reel hit the web prior to the release of Skate.

As with all great things you knew a sequel was coming. Skate 2 hit stores on the 21st (Be sure to pick up your copy!!!!) but the new & improved Skate Reel for Skate 2 was pushed out early this morning.

This time around the UI has been tweaked, the transitions even smoother and I am once again blown away by the work of our team.

Here is the Skate 2 Team… Left to Right (w/ gamertags except for John Balod & MJ) … Deryl “Moonboy Dallas” DorsettJohn “I need a 360” Balod, Jon “BROOMdoom” Broom, Elijah “Prairie Racer” Hardin and me Tom “TheBlackFin” Edwards. Not pictured are Rich “RichMercer” Mercer and Mike “MJ” Johnson.

Skate2---Telligent-Blog

As for Skate Reel…. The site speaks for itself.

skate2-web

Major Nelson ROI

I have known Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb for a few years now. Larry is the Director of Programming for Xbox Live. He has become the Face of the Xbox 360 and his blog is the first stop for avid gamers looking for the latest info on upcoming titles, Xbox Live updates and of course Larry’s blog cast’s. Larry has held this position since 2004 and the growth that both the Xbox Live network and Larry’s blog has seen over the past few years is impressive to say the least.

When Larry was evaluating platforms he was looking for a scalable blogging platform that would provide him with a direct line of communication with the consumer and put a face to the Xbox brand.  The explosive growth with Xbox Live has coincided with the traffic loads tied to Larry’s blog. He is now the de-facto reference for gamers looking for the latest information and the amount of traffic and comments that Larry receives is staggering for a single blog. No other gaming publisher or hardware manufacturer has the visibility or reach via a single employee that Microsoft and the Xbox Live Brand has with Larry.

One of the key ROI takeaways from Larry’s blog is that it is a powerful tool for optimizing SEO of user-generated content. According to eMarketer, annual spending on search advertising in the US is expected to decrease YOY until 2012 (when compared to 2007). The built-in SEO functionality of Larry’s platform helped grow visitors and members (17 million as of last week) by both direct and referred search. The other takeaway is the cost savings that are available to an organization or a brand by significantly decreasing the amount of spend on search advertising.

Social Network Analysis & Visualization

This was a great post by Lawrence Liu of Telligent. Lawrence is the Director of Platform Strategy and discusses how he leveraged NodeXL to provide analysis and visualization of some data sets of interest but more importantly the correlation between the benefit of visualizing data that exists within social networks.

Read the full post

This was the analysis that Lawrence provided on my coverage within our internal social network.

tom_nodexl

Social Media & Your Campaign

One of the golden rules of marketing is having the ability to show your business or clients the value of the campaign that you are running on their behalf. With traditional web campaigns you could methodically calculate ROI based on Click-through rate and project your results. With the introduction of social media traditional models of analytics do not apply and the true value proposition is clouded in the minds of business decision makers. With the economy in it’s current state campaign dollars are less readily available and you better be able to deliver tangible results.

How can I show value? Is this the right investment? I know I need to connect with end users but what is the real value?

The key is social analytics that focus on campaign elements specifically around sentiment, tonality, social fingerprints and a model for calculating the incremental value of community.

If you are working on a viral brand awareness campaign how are you going to gauge the discussions that are occurring and the content that is generated within a social network and make sense of it? You need to have a mechanism to take all of the unstructured data and make sense of it all in order to show value.

With social analytics you can combine campaign specific keywords with system driven keywords. The net result is gaining a clear understanding of how users interact with the brand and the campaign by analyzing the tonality of the conversations that are occurring. Be it positive or negative, understanding how users are interacting with your campaign allows for quick responses to negative associations or additional investment in areas that create positive responses.

Also with any campaign the user profile is key. Understanding not only how users interact with content but how they interact as a whole is a key step in delivering the right message at the right time. With a social analytic system you should leverage one that provides a fingerprint for how a user interacts.

Finally when it comes to launching micro-campaigns within an existing community or social network you can leverage the group functionality to create a micro-community. With the right social analytic package you can then analyze just the data that is relevant to that group. The same sentiment analysis and other functionality is relevant even on the group level.

Organizational efficiency, social ROI, and social analytics are the key to unlocking the full potential tied to your unstructured data. Again what is the value of user generated content if you cannot quickly analyze it and make it meaningful.

Goals

aunlockedI don’t know about you but I am driven by achievements. Yes I hear the laughter now and see the nodding of heads. I like to set an achievable goal and reach the objective. Maybe it is my military past or growing up in a military household but I like to have a clear objective that I can then pursue.  Be it professional or personal I really enjoy a good challenge! This is what drives me professionally as it is a constant push to achieve x amount of revenue and margin.

At the beginning of this year I set a few arbitrary personal goals… outside of being the best father and husband that I can be:

1) 100 miles with Nike+ – Since I am a dad first, meaning most of my activities are home centric, running is one of the ways I workout. Setting a goal definitely adds to my motivation.

I am happy to share that I have now officially achieved these goals! I know it is arbitrary, what value does Gamerscore have? Outside of the ~10 cents per point that I have spent in $$$ not much other than to my friends who play as well. Airline miles??? Yes now I have the ability to sit on the plane a little bit longer. The only one that has any value is the running goal at least from an overall health perspective. But from my perspective these were primary personal objectives that I wanted to complete.

For me I find motivation in having a very clear set of objectives and working hard to achieve the goal. What motivates you? Do you set specific goals and work towards them? Do you wait for things to come to you? I am really interested in understanding how you find motivation to do what you do.

Nike 100 miles

Social Analytics

I interact with a number of clients on a daily basis and at some point in our conversations the discussion ultimately leads to calculating return on investment (ROI) around social media.

With the hyper-growth being experienced in the social collaboration space it is imperative now more than ever that organizational decision makers ultimately understand the value of the solutions that they are associating with their digital marketing campaigns as well as across their organizations.

One of the key trends that has emerged is the need to track social analytics vs. traditional web analytics. The days of tracking and calculating value through CTR, etc… has changed. It is still important to understand where your traffic is coming from but now more than ever it is imperative to understand how users are interacting with each other, your content and your brand.

With the right social analytics package you then have the framework to understand the patterns, behaviors and trends that can help an organization better understand how to interact with their customers and each other by providing insight into the sentiment and tonality of the community, forecasting future behavior based on current trends and understanding how users interact via social fingerprints.

Sentiment analysis is a very important piece of understanding social analytics trends. Understanding the tonality of users be it positive or negative tied to your products, offerings and your brand is very valuable as you can make practical business decisions based on the interaction of your customers.

With social collaboration solutions becoming the norm with how organizations will interact with end-users, partners and employees it is imperative that all of the unstructured data that is collected is then aggregated in a usable format that immediately provides the key insight necessary to drive business forward in the most efficient manner.

Gears of War 2 Today

I cannot tell you how excited I am that today is the day for Gears of War 2. I will be taking a break from my Fallout 3 side quests to get in some social gaming. I have my Special Edition copy in hand and will be firing it up later this evening. The enhancements to the Unreal Engine look outstanding. Be sure to pick up your copy today.

On a side note… one recent observation is the sheer size of some of the latest strategy guides tied to the new releases. The Fallout 3 special edition strat guide was 350+ pages and the GOW2 guide is 303 pages. Seriously I am all for occassionally referencing a secret location but let’s get these into wiki’s or some format that allows for quick searching of relevant items. E.g. I want to know the location of COG tag “X”… quick search through a strat wiki would net me what I need. Yes you can spend a lot of time searching online, etc… but I want info from the source in a similar format to the guide. Just a thought.

For more info on Gears of War 2 here is an early review I wrote a few months back.

See you online!!!

IMG_0214

New Xbox Experience Preview

Today the New Xbox Experience Preview (The Xbox Live Fall Update) was released to a small group of users to provide feedback on the upcoming NXE release on the 19th of November.

Thanks again to Major Nelson for adding me to the queue to review the NXE.

The Update prompts like any other and your system will cycle. Then it took another 12 minutes to download and for the update to process.

Process just ended…. now greeted with a “Welcome to the New Xbox Experience” message. The Xbox logo fades and an animated sequence executes. Then I am prompted to login with my user profile.

Now it is on to avatar creation. The system gives you a base set of options to customize your likeness. It is a fairly simple system and it looks like it will be built around micro-transactions moving forward. My Avatar is now complete with fin… (See Below)

NXE - Avatar

The rest of the experience is a nice addition to Live. The UI is slick and very easy to navigate. The Marketplace has been overhauled with some nice additions such as box shots for arcade titles and a more appealing flow than the previous lists upon lists of text.

My previous themes are still applicable and the gamerpic is still relevant as you have the option to use your avatar to post as your gamerpic.

The Video marketplace is where a big improvement was made. One of the big recent announcements is the support for NetFlix and HD movie content through Live. This will be a nice addition and allow for instant streaming of the latest HD movies.

The Friends area also received a nice treatment. You can view your friends avatars an get a nice boxshot of the games they are currently playing. You can also invite friends into an 8 person “party” session.

So far I do like the change. I was not sure how I would feel going to an avatar based system. But after giving it a go I have to say I am pleasantly surprised!

This is definitely a change for the better!

Pic of the NXE

NXE - Home

9 Years

I wanted to take a moment and thank my wife for the best 9 years of my life so far.

We were married in October of 1999 on this day and I consider myself the luckiest man in the world to have found a woman I love so deeply. Now after 9 years and 3 kiddos I still feel the same as I did 9 years ago.

Thank you Cherlyn for all that you do!

Happy Anniversary  

Cherlyn_Web

Game Review – Dead Space

Dead_Space-ishimuraOverview: When we first started talking to Electronic Arts (EA) about our platform powering the Dead Space pre-launch site I was hooked on the concept. Born from a rouge EA team, DeadSpace is a bold step forward for EA. It is a brand new IP and it is a true survival/horror title which has an M rating. When gameplay videos and art work were posted I knew this would be a game worth the price of admission.

Set in the distant future, Dead Space revolves around Isaac Clarke, a space engineer who works for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (C.E.C.), a company that operates giant mining ships throughout the galaxy. When the C.E.C. receives a distress call from the USG Ishimura (a “Planet Cracker”-class ship that destroys planets in order to extract valuable ore), Isaac and four other C.E.C. employees set out on the USG Kellion to rendezvous with the Ishimura in orbit above Aegis 7. Their assumption is that a mechanical failure is the only problem. At the beginning of the game, Isaac is seen repeatedly watching a video sent to him by his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, who is currently onboard the Ishimura.

Shortly after crash landing on the Ishimura flight deck, the crew of USG Kellion is attacked by hostile creatures called Necromorphs. These creatures reproduce by infecting deceased human bodies, violently mutating them into one of their own. Isaac escapes down an elevator and kills a Necromorph by trapping it in the elevator doors, but is separated from the rest of the team. At this point, Isaac, Kendra Daniels, and Zach Hammond are the only surviving members.

I really enjoy titles that I can become immersed in the back-story. DeadSpace offers those that want to go beyond the game to understand what led to the events on the Ishimura and the planet they were sent to crack. There is a DVD, Graphic Novel and the http://Noknownsurvivors.com micro site that will allow you to take your experience beyond your console.

Gameplay: The real hook for this title is around how you engage the necromorphs. The traditional “fill’em full of led” mindset just does not work and there is not enough ammo to go around so you have to strategically target the various, and I do mean various, limbs of the necromorphs. This is where the interface again is extremely efficient. You have laser guided targeting (Think Predator) that combined with Stasis can lead to quickly dispatching your would be attackers. And yes there is an achievement for using stasis 50 times on an enemy.

With this being a 3rd person shooter (Think Gears of War & Resident Evil) I cannot reiterate how smooth the interface is. The in-game assets (video, text, and audio logs) are managed through a holographic interface that moves with you so you are not slowed down. There is essentially not an onscreen HUD. Your health and stasis are built into the back of the main character’s RIG. This is one of the best titles I have played in recent memory. The graphics (Both PS3 & Xbox version) are simply amazing.

The environment also plays a significant role in the gameplay. As you creep down a dark corridor, lights flickering, sounds and moans emanating from the background, you can hardly see in front of you and then….. is just the norm in this title. It is an eerie sight to see a slow moving necromorph wandering in the distance then before you know it they are on you. There were a few times where I literally lost my head while walking into an area without being overly cautious. I recommend saving often (especially on the harder game modes). Similar to a vitachamber from BioShock, when you do happen to get decapitated, over-run, roasted, or lost in space due to a bad jump you will start from a pre-determined checkpoint close to a save point.

The gameplay is smooth, the game itself is all about objectives. From starting a Tram system to fixing communication relays, Isaac is an engineer after all be prepared for a large number of scavenger hunts. luckily one of the best features in the game is an objective marker. Simply hit R3, and you will often, and you will be on your way to your next objective.

There are many points in the game where you will encounter Zero Gravity and be forced to complete objectives while being attacked and trying to maintain some semblance of orientation. This leads to a very interesting element of gameplay as it becomes a 360 degree event. You will also reach decompressed areas of the ship which trigger your backup O2. I recommend upgrading your air capacity with your RIG as this is just as important as health in some areas.

The Boss Battles are not epic, although one is in Zero-G which makes it quite interesting but otherwise they are nothing out of the ordinary. What is frustrating are the times you will assume the ships cannons to stop asteroids and aliens. The controls are sluggish and the cannon tends to overheat quickly. Good luck pursuing the 50% hull integrity achievements x2.

Online: There is not an online mode available

Weapons: For mining tools they sure come in handy for taking out necromorphs. There are seven weapons in the game: Plasma Cutter, Pulse Rifle, Flamethrower, Line Gun, Ripper, Force Gun and the Contact Beam. Each is ideal for different scenarios. Use the flamethrower on small, fast enemies. For the big guys the line or force guns are good to have. The Ripper is my favorite weapon in the game by far… It launches a saw blade that you control to make quick work of your alien attackers. The Plasma Cutter is definitely a weapon that you can use in almost every situation. It has range, but is very efficient in close quarters. When it comes to upgrading your arsenal start with the plasma cutter. You will not be disappointed. In fact there is an achievement for completing the game with only the Plasma Cutter (40 points).

Similar to BioShock you do have some telekinetic abilities. Stasis allows you to freeze or slow down fast moving objects and enemies and you have Kinesis to grab and move objects. As the game progresses this is a core element to complete some of the puzzle elements of the game.

You have the ability to upgrade your RIG, weapons and kinesis throughout the game. This is done through Power Nodes which are found throughout the game or purchased through the store. The upgrades follow a Too Human approach of various node paths that you select to optimize your weapon to your liking. I always focused on Damage and Capacity while trying to max out one weapon at a time.

During gameplay you will more than likely locate a number of different schematics. They allow for increased armor, ammunition and health to be purchased through the various stores. Some of the schematics associated with your armor allow you to increase health and inventory slots which is very helpful. So far I have upgraded through to a level 6 military suit that looks like the captain from the Valor. This was awarded for completing the game and cost $99,000 in the store but it was well worth the price. (See images below)

Achievements: From an achievement standpoint you can collect anywhere from 500-700 points on your first play through. My first play through took 9 hours 38 minutes. I cleared 37 of 48 Xbox 360 achievements for 665 points and 22 trophies on PS3. The achievements follow a finish the chapter get points and kill x number of enemies with all weapons, etc…. It took roughly 5 days (9 hours to finish). There are also a number of secret achievements tied to boss battles and other interesting ways to engage with the environment and enemies.

Downloadable Content: I enjoy DLC that allows me to change the skin of my player. Especially with 3rd person based games. The DLC for Dead Space offers 2 new level 5 suits. The first was an exclusive Xbox Elite suit which offered a lighter gray & green visor combo. The second was the Scorpion Suit (one of my favorites outside of the military skin). This level 5 suit cost 200 Microsoft points and is red of course with a scorpion insignia on the back of Isaacs helmet.

Pros:

  • One of the best HUD experiences I have ever experienced
  • Stunning Visuals
  • Great environment (sound, lighting, ambiance) this a great game to play late at night with the lights off
  • Visually one of the best 360/PS3 titles to date
  • Objective Marker – As in Army of Two it is very helpful to know where you need to go
  • Zero Gravity – The zero gravity elements are executed to perfection
  • In-Game Assets – Takes the BioShock asset management and interface to another level with movable holograms
  • The Ripper… I love this weapon
  • One Button Health – Instead of pulling up the inventory, press X or Square (PS3) to use your lowest available health module
  • Strategic Striking – Instead of emptying your magazine into an enemy it is faster to dismember them
  • DLC – New Isaac Skins (Elite,  Scorpion)

Cons:

  • Errand Boy – It is a constant get this, go here, blow this up, hit this switch type of experience but that still does not detract from how well executed this game is
  • Melee Attacks are lacking.. by lacking I mean slow
  • Boss battles are average (Minus a certain battle in Zero-G)
  • Asteroids – This can be one of the most frustrating elements of the game. You will know it when you get there
  • Monologues – Certain characters like to “monologue” at certain points of the game. I would like to option to fast forward to the action

Rating:

Xbox 360 – 9
PS3 – 9.5

This is one of the best games that I have played on the PS3 to date. For the 360 this is one of my top 10 Xbox 360 titles. It is challenging (Especially on Impossible Mode), visually stunning and at some points will seriously surprise you. I would highly recommend it. You don’t need to be a fan of the horror genre to appreciate this title. Biowhat???

Level 6 Suit – Front

DeadSpace_Level6

Level 6 Suit – Back

DeadSpace_Level6back

Robblehead Invasion

intelligentlogoToday marks the first day of the In.Telligent conference. This is the 2nd conference put on by Telligent and this year we have had a significant turnout for both the business and development tracks.

Rob Howard opened the day with a rousing Keynote that reiterated the direction of Telligent. Mark McKinney of IMC2 provided a great case study into the Alli experience and Scott Dockendorf covered a number of client examples. When Rob provided his closing comments it was time to announce the pending invasion….

Rob was aware something was coming but when he wrapped I had the opportunity to announce to all of the conference attendees that they would receive their own Robblehead. Not only would they be receiving one but they would have the golden opportunity to have theirs autographed by Mr. Rob Howard himself.

Rob, keep your sharpie ready!

 

Dead Space Pre-Release Copy Part 2

I have now finished the first 5 missions of the much anticipated EA survival/horror title and all I can say is WOW.

I cannot reiterate how smooth the interface is. From the video, text, and audio logs similar to Bioshock, to the zero-G sections. There is essentially not an onscreen HUD. Your health and stasis are built into the back of the main character’s RIG. This is one of the best titles I have played in recent memory. The graphics (PS3 version) are simply amazing.

I have upgraded my suit to level 3 (Pictured below) out of I belive 4 and I have collected all of the available weapons. One thing that is not completely apparent is that anything with a white/green light on it you can open in some form or fashion. Also, inventory management and power node hunting are things to keep in mind. What I have found is that any opportunity to use a power node to open a door is well worth the cost as you can purchase additional nodes for 10,000 credits.

Also, engaging an enemy is different each time. Different weapons work for different scenarios. Use the flamethrower on small, fast enemies. For the big guys the line or force guns are good to have. The Ripper is my favorite weapon in the game by far… It launches a sawblade that you control to make quick work of your alien attackers…

I cannot wait to get through the final 7 levels. It takes about an hour to an hour and half if you are covering every area to clear a level. I cannot wait to get through the final 7 levels. One thing is for certain. I would be completely lost without the R3 button on this title. Similar to Army of Two, it is tied to the current objective and if you get turned around you will be able to find your way.

I highly, highly recommend picking up this title when it releases!!!

Dead Space – Pre-Release Copy

Today I received a copy of Dead Space from our friends at EA Redwood Shores (Thanks MJ & JA). And all I can say is WOW it was worth the wait!!! Oh and did I mention that it was a PS3 copy and not a 360 copy? Shocking I know!?!

I have been eagerly anticipating this title since we first became involved with it. It is definitely worth the wait. Dead Space is different than any other EA title I have ever played. I am also a fan of any series that expands beyond the default medium. With Dead Space if you really want to immerse yourself in the story an animated DVD will launch on the same date the game releases and there is already a series of comics dedicated to the pre-story of Dead Space.

Regarding the actual game… the graphics are outstanding! It took a minute to adjust to the camera controls but it becomes very natural after a few minutes. The interface is extremely clean with the health meter built into the main character Isaac’s suit. The inventory system, mission objectives, and targeting systems are all very clean and flow very well together.

I played through the first of twelve missions and I cannot express how impressed I was. Think Bioshock fear factor multiplied by 100. This is the type of game that definitely gets your attention and fast. If you close your eyes and just listen to the background noise while progressing through the level and you will think you stepped into your worst nightmare as you hear chains rattling, and odd rustling coming from all directions.

The in-game assets, credits, audio logs, and  other collectibles are easy to identify as everything pops up as a hologram. The Plasma Cutter is a fun weapon as it is well known that the main premise of the game is dismembering your alien attackers and the PC delivers. Also, you have a stasis component to your weapon that allows you to significantly slow down a fast moving enemy which is very helpful.

I look forward to playing through the rest of the game but this is a definite pickup as the official street release date is October 14th on both Xbox 360 and the PS3.

On the home-front, we are officially a three (next-gen) console household. We have a few Xbox 360’s, a Playstation 3 and a Wii. After I hit my point goal of 50,000K on the 360 I feel comfortable playing the occasional PS3 title without fear of losing achievement points. I am really looking forward to Little Big Planet and Metal Gear Solid 4. No worries though… while I am impressed with the PS3 from a hardware perspective (Integrated wireless, browser capabilities, etc..) the only issue I have is that the Xbox 360 HDMI cable would not work with the PS3. Regardless of this fact I will always be an Xbox 360 guy for this generation of consoles.

dead_space

50,000 Gamerscore

aunlockedSince April 23rd, 2007 I have been on a collision course with this goal. I wanted to pass the 50,000 gamerscore plateau. I don’t know why this became a goal but it did. It took a year and 5 months but I finally completed my quest. It took 135 days to go from 40,000K to 50,000K with an average gain of 74 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts from the beginning and this latest and final points quest. I look forward to finally playing only games I am interested in playing and spending more time on other hobbies (Running, etc….).

1) Longest Consecutive Days Played Streak – 72
2) Retail Titles Completed – 14
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 2501 (As of September 30th – 360voice.com)
4) Achievements Gained since the beginning – 1879 (Avg. 27 points per achievement)
5) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 48%
8) Total Games Retail (118)/Arcade (44) Owned – 162

Here is a breakdown of the games played between 40,000 & 50,000 and the gamerscore earned within this span of time.

Madden 09 1000
Bionicle Heroes 960
LEGO Indiana Jones 960
Ninja Gaiden 840
Too Human 790
NCAA 09 Football 775
Surfs Up 750
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 540
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith 535
NBA 2K8 505
Soul Calibur IV 445
CSI-Hard Evidence 400
DBZ: Burst Limit 345
LEGO Batman 275
NHL 2K8 225
Wall-E 195
Castle Crashers 170
NHL 2K9 135
Kung Fu Panda 130
Rock Band 110
1942: Joint Strike 108
Rainbow Six Vegas 2 80
NHL08 75
WOTB: Commando 3 72
Gun 60
Call of Duty 2 50
Devil May Cry 4 20
Unreal Tournament 3 20
The Orange Box 15

I will still play the titles that interest me but I am no longer just playing for score.

London & Intel

intelWhat do London and Intel have in common? Well I find myself in London during one of the largest announcements that Telligent has ever made.

Today we officially announced that Intel Capital, Intel’s global investment organization, has made a $20 million dollar investment in Telligent. You can read the full press release here.

This is significant as Rob points out in his recent post as it will allow us to quickly scale our sales & marketing divisions as well as fund additional product development moving forward.

I am very excited by this obviously as I am responsible for both Sales & Marketing within Telligent. So the strategic plans that we have been devising for the past few months are now coming to fruition through strategic growth both domestically with a greater field presence as well as internationally.

I had recently hired our International Sales Director in London and he has been a phenomenal addition to the team. Our International sales headquarters has been based in London for the past few months now and while I am here we are finalizing our office space in central London and looking to aggressively grow our presence in EU and beyond.
AdTech London
Also, if you happen to be in the area, I will be speaking at AdTech London 2008 this Thursday at 3:10. Or just come by and see me at the Telligent booth we are in space #110.

This is a very exciting time to be a part of the Telligent team and I look forward to the next few years as we execute against our strategic plan and aggressively grow the business while maintaining the unique culture that is Telligent.

Hockey Anyone?

NHL2K9This is in some ways the best time of the year. Football is back (Go Sooners!!!), fall is in the air, the latest iteration of the NHL 2K hockey franchise (NHL2K9) is now available.

We have been playing the NHL 2K hockey franchise since 2006. We have gone through 2006, 2007 and 2008. For the record the team of Rob Howard and myself hold the lifetime edge on the team of Dockendorf & Cunningham.

So the initial foray into NHL 2K9 began today. And it began as the 2K8 season ended… With Team Howard/Edwards soundly defeating team Dockendorf/Cunningham.

Oh and by the way…. game one a 5-0 shutout. Welcome to 2K9 gentlemen.

 

Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

DetroitGPThanks again to our friends at the Microsoft Automotive team. I had the privilege to join them for this past weekends Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

I have never attended an IRL, Le Mans Series or an SCCA SPEED World event so I got to experience all three at one location.

And I have to say it was a great event! Being a guest of Microsoft meant that I got to experience the same amenities as they do. This included their trackside chalet to watch the races as well as paddock access to view the cars, drivers and crews up close and personal.

It was great to see the likes of Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Danica Patrick hit the track… or actually road since this is a road course vs. the standard oval.

The event was the brainchild of Roger Penske with all net proceeds from the event going to the funding of the preservation of Belle Isle.

It was a great event and I want to thank our friends at the Microsoft Automotive team for being excellent hosts!

Below is me with one of the race cars…. Does it come in Black????

DSC05044

More pictures from the event are available in the Photo Gallery under Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

O Canada

canadaLast week I traveled to Vancouver on business and as usual there is an interesting story from the trip.

We initially flew into Vancouver to meet with Electronic Arts and various clients but we had also scheduled a meeting in Seattle (Roughly 2 hours away) so we jumped into the rental and drove towards the border.

We arrive at the border crossing and did not realize that we were in the “Nexis” lane which is equivalent to a FastPass into the US. So the line was roughly 40 minutes long and we did not realize we were in the wrong lane. We found out soon enough.

Once we realized our mistake it was too late. We tried to move over to the middle lane and it took a good 5-10 minutes to pull over. Once we made it into the proper lane we heard obscenities directed at us that would make a sailor blush. This coming from the most unassuming people you could imagine. Think of grandmothers and grandfathers in their late 70’s early 80’s.

So we have our meeting with Sony and head back to the border that same day. It is about 10:30 PM at night and there were no lines going back into Canada.

The guard at the initial post reviews our documents… smiles and asks us to pull over into one of the stalls and exit the vehicle, enter the building and get in line “a”.

We pull in just to see the contents of the car next to us completely removed from the vehicle. So this already looks like it is going to be a lot of fun.

Once inside we are interviewed separately… What are you doing here, where are you going, what states have you lived in since you were 18.

Once they interviewed both of us we were asked to remain seated while they ran full background checks on us.

In the meantime an individual was in our same waiting area and he was called up. Once he was at the counter he was told that he can never enter Canada and he was not welcome based on information that came up during his background check.

Needless to say I was not worried as I have no record to speak of but still being in that position and the demeanor of the border patrol it made me uneasy for a moment.

After a few more minutes we were handed our passports and sent on our way.

The morale of the story is to just fly to Canada and stay in the same country for the duration of the trip.

Episodes of a Dad – Part 3 – Pikachu

pikachu-imageI knew it was a matter of time until this day would come. I just did not think it would come this soon.

I consider myself a decent gamer, 45,000+ gamerscore, but on this day my 6 year old son absolutely obliterated me on Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii.

It is not just today either. The domination started a few days ago and the competition has been building.

He has mastered the little yellow powerhouse known as Pikachu. Who would have known that a 1’4″, 13 pound furry fantasy animal would cause me such grief.

You may or may not know about Pikachu. It is a character from the insanely popular Pokemon series. Yes they are still around and we buy the cards regularly. They are for my son, really.

His record is now 12-2 against me with the little yellow fuzz ball. I am frustrated but very proud at the same time.

I will hear pika-pika-pikachu in my sleep. The baton has officially been passed.

Apple Customer Service

I have been very satisfied with both generations of iPhones to date. But when there is a problem I have been even more impressed with Apples customer service.

A few days ago I dropped my new 3G on the hard floor at work. I have dropped my iPhones (Previous and current) numerous times and the worst that has happened is a dent or a scratch. But this time the phone landed face down on the floor and shattered the glass like a windshield hit by a Mack truck.

So that somewhat impeded my ability to use the phone as glass shards in my face is not the most conducive way to conduct business.

I originally purchased my phone through an AT&T store but I called the local Apple store to talk to support about my options since I had not purchased Apple Care and had heard they were freshly stocked. So an appointment was made with their Genius Bar for the next day.

I arrive, bypass the still long line for the iPhone and get into my appointment earlier than anticipated. The associate was very helpful and he initially stated that there is normally a cost of $200 to replace the phone with this type of out of warranty damage. But as we wrapped up the exchange it turned out to be at zero cost result as he just performed a straight swap. His only advice was “just don’t let it happen again”.

So needless to say that was a $200 swing in my favor. Apple did not have to do that, I would have paid the $200 to swap my phone, but the fact that they were so accommodating and stood behind their product gives me a new sense of appreciation for Apple.

RROD Update

I posted earlier about the Red Ring of Death. Less than 24 hours after the issues started I have a brand new Xbox Elite back up and running.

I had purchased the additional 2 year warranty from Best Buy when I originally bought the console. This has turned out to be a very good investment.

I went to Best Buy today and took just the power brick and the console sans hard drive. I was very happy with the results as I wanted to keep my current hard drive and not bother with the possible data transfer. Also my HDMI cable was installed behind the wall due to my wall-mounted TV so I did not want to bother with the rest.

Best Buy was very accommodating with the exchange thanks to the extended warranty. The rep said a few times that the people that did not purchase the warranty are out of luck if they want to exchange for a new system. I basically picked up a new console and power brick and was on my way again (3 kiddos in tow).

So I am happy to say I will not suffer any prolonged downtime. If you are in the market for a 360 I would highly recommend purchasing from Best Buy or any store that offers an extended warranty. Yes Microsoft will repair the unit as well but you will more than likely get a refurbished unit and have to wait 2-4 weeks. Whereas with the extended warranty I was in and out of the store in under 30 minutes and the home setup was less than 5 minutes.

The assault for 50,000 gamerpoints continues…

RROD

Well once again I am a victim of the dreaded Red Ring of Death. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it basically means that my Xbox 360 has fried…. again.

This time my beloved Elite system froze in the middle of a Soul Calibur 4 session. Yoda was dominating for what it’s worth… Then I restarted with the same result. After a few more cycles I cleared the cache and by the 4th title it would freeze upon initial boot. Then I started to hear the familiar pre-RROD grinding sound start to occur. Then a few minutes later… The Red Ring of Death.

This may sound odd, but I am very in tune with the console when it comes to understanding optimal performance vs. potential issues. Similar to how you know when your car may not be handling quite right. I have felt for a week or so that this could be a possibility as some of the inner sounds began to slowly raise a red flag.

So when this happened I immediately go into troubleshooting mode, unplug everything wait 5 minutes, that allowed for the reboot to occur properly but this is just masking a larger issue.

So now it is off to Best Buy for my 3rd Xbox in the past 2 years. I did get the extended 2 year warranty and that has basically paid for itself a few times over. Granted I do put a lot of “miles” on my consoles. If it were a car it would probably be equivalent to 250,000 miles a year. So this is not a total surprise.

This in no way hinders my loyalty to the Xbox 360 console. It is a minor setback. With the amount I have invested in the 360 in terms of time and money it would not make sense to transition to the PS3 for my full time gaming.

I do have to give Microsoft alot of credit. They are standing behind their systems as the repair process is very streamlined as I sent one of my previous systems through the standard process.

While imperfect the Xbox 360 is still the ideal overall gaming experience on the market today if you consider online experience, library and adoption.

RROD

Episodes of a Dad – Part 2 – Yellow Jackets

Today was our last day in Dallas before our vacation to Destin, Florida. You know, a day to get everything packed and ready for the fun in the sun to come. But today was one of those days that you could make a really funny movie out of or just break down in angst and defeat.

When you have kids, you know there will be great moments, your sons first soccer goal, your daughters first dance recital, etc… There are also those days that seem to never end. This was one of those days.

It all started a few days ago when my daughter was sick, then magically on Wednesday of this week I get sick, 104 degree fever, the works. So I am still not 100% today… more on that later.

The kids were playing in the backyard when my oldest son Gavin comes screaming into the house like a banshee. We asked him what happened and we immediately notice a large number of bites glowing red on his arms and legs. I look out at his play fort and see yellow jackets flying in formation as if celebrating their kill. Let’s just say they will no longer be patrolling this airway.

So we immediately go with the ice/benadryl combo and pray that he is not allergic. After about 30 minutes everything is looking good until he says… “I am having trouble breathing”. So we hop in my car and off to the ER we go. This is roughly 1:00 PM by now. We arrive at the ER and an hour and a half later we get the all clear. So he is good to go. So we head out for some celebratory ice cream and medicine pickup.

Back on the home front there is still packing to do but I am still not feeling 100%, in fact I am starting to feel worse. So around 5:30 I do a web check in thinking it will save me time. I don’t get the call that they have a room for me until 9:00 PM. So after another hour and a half I am the one that ends up with a shot today, not the one who got stung 8 times. Go figure.

So now it is closer to 10:45 PM and I finally make it home to continue packing the car. I go to get something out of the van and the auto sliding door won’t open. Then I open the front door and the lights flicker then go out. The battery is dead. Someone left the keys in the ignition when he took the van earlier. So now I not only get to pack the car, but jump the car as well.

So this is around 11:45 PM. I am in the garage setting up the jumper cables, the van no problem. Then I get to my car and I realize that I have not jumped off of my car before. It is a C-230 and needless to say I was not quite sure how I was going to pull it off after popping the hood. I had to remove the battery cover, filter, etc… to get to the area I needed to do the jump. So car is now jumped and it is past midnight.

We are wrapping the final items for the trip and I am shutting down around 1:30 AM. When my son comes downstairs covered in vomit and commences to use our facilities. Then I get the welcome surprise in his bed that he left. And oh what a surprise it was. It reminds me of Stand By Me when everyone has a blueberry pie explosion… Yeah needless to say I got the lucky task of changing out the sheets. How did Cherlyn get out of that one? Well she has been taking care of sick people for the last week.

While I was changing the sheets and trying my hardest to get rid of the smell I go to open his window and set off the house alarm and wake up our light sleeping infant son. Now 4 out of the 5 family members are awake and my princess is just sleeping right through it all. Lucky girl.

So it is 2:32 in the morning, their is still vomit in the air and the looming 5:45 wake up call to catch our flight isn’t getting further away. This is a great start to our vacation, did I mention that rain is forecasted for the next 7 days there as well stopping on the day we are to leave :).

Like I said, this is either a day that you can just laugh about or makes you just want to roll over. What time does Starbucks open again???

 

 

 

Xbox Live Fall Update – E3 2008

Today at E3 Microsoft previewed the upcoming fall Xbox Live update. And what changes there will be.

The interface is obviously moving towards more of a Mac/Vista look and feel. Gamercards are still around as will your gamerscore, but my first question is what will happen to all of those 1000’s of Microsoft points I spent on Themes and Gamerpics??? Well Microsoft has guaranteed that themes are compatible with the new look, but no word yet on gamerpics.

Next they are going the Wii route by introducing avatars that can potentially be included in upcoming game titles as well as more community feel by viewing your friends avatars vs. a list and the ability to collaborate with up to 8 friends in a community space that allows for full collaboration.

I am not sure how I feel about the avatar introduction. I was really onboard with the concept of gamerscore, but I DO NOT want my Xbox experience to be like the Mii experience on the Wii. I am about the games and not about building an avatar or having that avatar appear in my games (Not a casual gaming fan). Yes let’s have Halo with Avatars… Please no. If I wanted that I would join Habbo or any of the other Avatar based reality systems.

More news to come, but again I am concerned about how the money I have spent to date migrates to the new plaform. I guess we will wait and see.

 Screen capture of the new Xbox Live interface for the Fall of 08

Xbox

270

nhl_2k8Why 270? What does it mean? Why is it the title of this post?

This number is very meaningful to me. Well at least today it is. You see 270 represents the number of days between the last shutout in our office hockey competitions. The last time it happened, October 19th, 2007 it was a very shocking event as I would put the % of games that end in a shutout at less than 1%.

Now today it has happened again. Rob Howard and I beat the team of Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham 3-0 to record the second such Telligenti shutout in the past 2 years.

It was a valiant effort but on this day…. again…. the unthinkable has happened.

Oh and for Scott… It’s called a “deke”…. ;)

iPhone 3G Adventures

I finally got my iPhone 3G around noon today but not without some adventure and waiting in the process. I would love to hear if anyone else has a story about waiting for their new  iPhone today.

First I stopped at a local mall to see if I could “pop” in and pick up the 3G. Needless to say the line there was 700+ people long. After waiting for a while and not making much progress I went with plan B which was to go to an AT&T store close to my office.

The line being only 20 people I thought this would be my ticket to getting the 3G. After about 30 minutes of the line not moving very much I started to second guess my decision. On a side note, I ran into a guy that I went to high school with that I had not seen in over 15+ years! I also got to meet his great family (wife and two daughters). It is a small world considering I did not grow up in Dallas.

As the line dwindled down and it was unknown exactly when the phones would run out it became clear that it was going to be very close based on the AT&T rep updates. When there were four people left in front of me they announced that they only had 4 phones left total! There were at least another twenty people behind me. I thought… wouldn’t it be great if they ran out right in front of me.

So as their was one person to go they came to me and said that one of the people did not meet the criteria, i.e. primary account owner… so there was one black 8 GB left so I took it immediately! I was eligible for the upgrade so the cost was minimal and the wait at the AT&T store was roughly an hour and a half.

As far as the phone it is better than I had hoped. The feel of the phone is a bit more natural than v1. The back has a slight curve to it and their is a difference in terms of the feel of the screen. The app store is a nice addition although I miss some of the free hack programs. The App store is tied to iTunes. There are a number of free apps, including a great lightsaber app. Other apps are sold in the same model as other iTunes products. I immediately started downloading apps to my hearts content!

My restore from a v1 iPhone went very smoothly once I was actually able to get the activation completed. It took about 15 attempts to connect to the Apple servers to get the phone setup. I backed up my v1 one last time, popped the SIM with the SIM removal tool that now comes with the phone and once connected ran the restore from the “previous phone” option to import all of my settings from my v1.

All in all it was a very seemless transition. I have to say I love the active sync with Exchange! No more duplicate effort on deleting items from my phone and inbox. My calendar and contacts will now stay in sync so no more daily sync routine.

I have been on the 3G network before with a BlackJack so the added speed will be nice. The only downside so far is the battery life seems to be significantly less than the v1. I will have to adjust some of the defaults to try and preserve juice while traveling. My only other complaint is that this model does not fit into the existing docks. It will require a new accessory!

All in all I am very happy with the upgrade and it was definitely worth the wait!!! For those of you with the v1 I really recommend the hardware upgrade. I was surprised by how much I enjoy v2. For those of you who have yet to take the plunge now is the time. The 3G network, full exchange integration and a great user interface! What are you waiting for???

Here is a shot of my newly opened iPhone 3G

iphone3G

iPhone 3G

Are you going to get the iPhone 3G? If so why? Are you a current iPhone user or have you held out waiting for a faster network?

I am very interested in the study of Consumer Behavior. Especially around brands that transcend their categories and become engrained in our culture. Apple’s products definitely have redefined how we interact with music with the iPod and for many of us and I am very interested in how the iPhone is/has redifined our expecations around what a mobile device/phone should be.  

I have been very happy with my iPhone over the past year or however long it has been. All I know is that I am eligible for the upgrade with my carrier and I am ready for the 3G. I have lived with the quirks of not being able to push contacts, calendar and e-mail with Exchange. I have undergone the daily sync routine to try and keep my ever expanding calendar at bay. And I have suffered through the subpar camera experience. 

I have enjoyed the various hacks and it has even survived a few dives into my infant sons bathtub. So now it is time to upgrade and I will be one of those people in line early on Friday the 11th just so I can upgrade to the 3G.

Is it a necessity? No. Will it make life easier? Maybe a little bit. Could I wait and just get the 2.0 software release to get Active Sync? Sure. Will I wait beyond this weekend to pick up the phone? No.

This is where I have to give Apple credit for their marketing and design of their products. There is not another brand that comes to mind that has positioned itself in such a way that with each new release of a product it warrants an almost immediate upgrade. Think about how many iPods total that you own or have bought in the past few years alone.  

This is not necessarily because the functionality is superior, it is has to do with the simple and elegant products that demand your attention and ultimately get it because it is…. well cool. The hipster factor is high on their products and they cater to those that appreciate sleek, modern designs while keeping in mind that style over substance only works if you are a supermodel. For the rest of us you have to deliver the core functionality of todays integrated offerings and for the most part their products deliver both style and substance.  

So was this post necessary? No. Will there be another iPhone post in the future? I am sure. Will I pick up the 3G? Absolutely.  

Dark Marketing

One of my hobbies is reviewing emerging trends around marketing and social media (Doesn’t that sound like fun?!?)  One such trend is Dark Marketing. No, this is not Darth Vader marketing his favorite life-support system or vacation spot… Hoth anyone??? This approach caught my attention as it is fascinating to me the lengths that certain brands will go to gain traction with potential influencers.

Dark Marketing (Defined in Wired recently) is discreetly sponsored online and real world entertainment intended to reach hipster audiences that would ordinarily shun corporate shilling.

This style of marketing is more “covert” in its approach. And with current and pending regulation around how products such as tobacco, alcohol and even fast food is presented to target markets this style of marketing is being deployed with more regularity than ever before.

The ultimate end goal is to reach an influencing audience without necessarily directly engaging the brand with the prospective targets. Instead the brands are almost non-existent but they are funding events through creating a sense of elite “insider” or “personal” events. During the events brand team representatives would engage with crowds by loudly ordering the products and then casually engaging in conversation about the products. Or a softer approach of casually conversing about a product or using a product that leads to a pitch in a very casual social setting.

Companies like Sony, Ford and McDonalds are actively deploying Dark Marketing campaigns. Sony recently executed operation “fake tourist” where they planted users of one of their camera products in a prime location and asked them to engage with people to take their picture which would lead to a pseudo-pitch around the product.

McDonalds is not a company that you would normally associate with a Dark Marketing campaign. Normally it is here is our food, here are the toys for your kids and by the way we have a great dollar menu… (great, now I am hungry)… is now sponsoring an alternate-reality game called The Lost Ring and it is nearly devoid of golden arches. This is an interesting approach as this ties McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics into a hip virtual-reality crossover between Lost and The Blair Witch project in an attempt to reach global youth in a very viral manner.

One thing remains very clear. The time of shotgun marketing has passed and the user is king when it comes to messaging. But one inherent truth still remains that people are social beings and their will almost always be someone who will have influence within a group. The only thing that has changed is that their defenses have gotten better and marketers have to adapt with innovative strategies that the end user ultimately wants to hear.

 

Spore Creature Creator

SporeI recently took a trip to London for business to discuss social media strategy with members of the Eidos Interactive team as well as our friends at Electronic Arts (Europe) at their new offices in Guildford. Aside from getting a sneak peek at some of the great upcoming titles one in particular was very interesting!

I have mentioned Spore before but as the launch of the game gets closer more is revealed. To recap the games premise, you nurture and guide your creature through five stages of evolution: Cell, Creature, Tribe, Civilization, and Space. One of the most amazing elements of the game is the creature creator which allows for endless customization options that can then be uploaded into the game.

While onsite at EA this was the tool that we were able to spend some time with. You have 228 drag-and-drop components to choose from that allow for a variety of unique creations. You have the ability to customize their look and feel from skeletal structure through eyes, legs, tails, colors etc… Then you can take them to the edit area to control the background, add babies, rotate them 360 degrees, preview animations and movements and take pictures of your creations.You manage a majority of your creations through the Sporepedia and have the option to upload your characters for others to see (My Spore User Name is TheBlackFin).

Now the creature creator has been released I highly recommend either playing with the trial or purchasing the creature creator to get a feel for the game. Also your creations can then be uploaded into the game upon release. From everything that I have seen so far this looks like it is going to be a great game. I am not a big PC gamer but Spore will definitely be on my list to pick up when it is released later this year.

Here is one of my original creations from our visit:

TheBlackFin - Creature onsite copy

Here is one of my first creature creations from the trial:

TheBlackFin_Spore Creatures

Game Review – Ninja Gaiden 2

ninja-gaiden-2-smallOne of my all time favorite games was the original Ninja Gaiden on the NES. I still remember the opening cut scenes… that was all about the story that you needed to know… you knew it was time to start slashing away. I felt the same about Ninja Gaiden II & III on the NES as well.

When I first heard the news about Ninja Gaiden II I was immediately hooked. This is the true sequal to Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox. When the trailers and screenshots and Youtube videos around the gameplay were released my excitement grew. Even my Halo 3 character has the Hyabusa armor. So when the title finally released and I picked up my copy I was ready to be visually stunned and purposefully frustrated at the same time.

What I mean is that this franchise more than any other that I have played has an extremely high difficulty level. To date it has been designed for the hardcore gamers. Case in point Ninja Gaiden/Ninja Gaiden Black on the original Xbox. Enough said. Seriously though with the Xbox 360 exclusive of Ninja Gaiden II there are now 4 difficulty levels to choose from. So those new to the series will get hooked on acolyte and then get frustrated.

Overview: You are still Ryu Hayabusa, the worlds deadliest ninja and you are on a quest to stop the evil spider clan from unleashing otherworldly terror upon the earth. You are armed to the teeth with some of the deadliest weapons this side of the Dark Sector Glaive. While the story is nice the real focus is on the twitch style of gaming.

Twitch gaming is basically a style of gaming that relies on your ability to read and react. Half a second can mean the difference between life and the painfully annoying, blood splattered “Game Over” screen that you will undoubtedly see many times over on your journey. This game easily has the best visuals that I have seen on a 360 title to date and the sheer fluidity of the movement is breathtaking.

Gameplay: This is not your standard hack & slash type of gameplay. On the Acolyte setting you can more than likely lumber through the game mashing buttons galore but as you progress through the other difficulties the game punishes you if are not concise about what you want to do when you want to do it. There are 14 levels in all each with it’s own unique location and enemies. The further you progress the more difficult your opponents become. My first recommendation is to set your saves to manual vs. auto as this will come in very handy if you get to a boss fight and find yourself lacking in health supplies.

The game incorporates a number of different types of techniques to navigate the environment such as the reverse wind, shadowless footsteps and the flying swallow techniques. Each provides their own unique offering that assist you in crossing distant chasms, dodging enemies or reaching an area in search of items or crystal skulls. Yes insert Indiana Jones reference here…

The ability to execute Obliteration and Ultimate techniques is one of my favorite aspects of the game. You can quickly dismember, disembowel, or dispatch an opponent if you can time the moves correctly and charge your Ultimate technique. This leads to a stunning animation of you utterly demolishing your opponent. NOTE: This game does feature a lot of blood and gore as you are wielding blade weapons and it becomes very evident by the amount of body parts that are left at a battle site. This serves two purposes as this can actually assist you in keeping your bearings as you already know where you have been.

The only slight complaints involve the camera and the boss battles. The camera has changed this time around. You are now in full control of the camera. The only issue is you are fighting enemies in a full 360 degree style of combat and the camera can quickly get out of place. The RT becomes quite handy as that is what allows you to recenter the camera.

Regarding the boss battles I feel that some of their attacks are “cheap” meaning you can be doing everything in your power and they can take all of your health in one attack. This to me goes beyond a difficult battle to one that cheapens the experience just a bit. If I am doing everything in my power to better my opponent I expect the Boss Battle to be reflective of this. This is one of the areas that I give the edge to Devil May Cry 4 which is the one game on 360 that will draw the most comparisons to Ninja Gaiden II. On the battle with Alexei I had to continue 20+ times before I took him down on the Warrior setting.

Weapons: The game incorporates a number of different types of weapons along with spells called Ninpo that you will leverage to dispatch hordes of enemies. From a melee standpoint you have the ever present Dragon Sword while introducing some new weapons to the arsenal. Weapons include the Lunar Staff, Falcon’s Talons, Dual Katana, Kusari-Gama, Tonfa, Vigoorian Flail and my personal favorite the Eclipse Scythe. With each weapon you have the ability to level-up which allows you to perform even longer combos. Ancillary weapons include shurikens, incendiary shurikens, bow and arrow and an underwater spear gun.

Selecting the right weapon is definitely the key to success. As each weapon is ideal for different situations. I recommend leveling up at least the dragon sword to level 3 on your first playthrough and then level-up the Eclipse Scythe which you receive after the battle with the second arch fiend Volf.

I also recommend trying to save your health herbs for the boss battles as the worst feeling is finally making it to a boss battle and then realizing that you have no backup plan on how to proceed. Also, try not to use all of your health items on the middle boss fight. Try to set up a save location and get through the battle as quickly as you can.

Online: There is not an online mode available but you can view Leaderboards of friends progress which is always fun. There is also the Ninja Cinema option that allows you to capture footage from your slashing adventures to share with all of your friends.

Achievements: From an achievement standpoint you can collect anywhere from 400-700 points on your first play through which will take roughly 15 hours of gameplay. I netted out at 560 bypassing the tests of valor on Warrior (Currently at 840 of 1250… 53 out of 70 achievements). You will get 100 points just by learning the various game techniques then as you progress through the game you will receive achievements for completing certain levels, finding crystal skulls, defeating certain enemies and for clearing the “test of valor” areas that are available and ultimately 4 difficulty levels.

Based on my second playthrough for the Tests of Valor I recommend building up your health supplies, using them all in the test of valor (This suggestion is for if you are playing on harder difficulty levels) and not save once you complete it if you had to consume a high number of items to get through. Get the achievement and save your health supplies for the next test of valor.

One of my favorite achievements so far has been the indomitable spirit achievement which is given when you continue 100 times. Other achievements are tied to in-game side quests like finding crystal skulls. I have to say though winning achievements in this game are more meaningful to me than other games. The Vanquished Alexei achievement for 15 points meant more to me than finishing (1000 points) other retail titles.

Downloadable Content: So far I have been impressed with the DLC for Ninja Gaiden 2. The first release gave us 3 new skins for Ryu. The Biometal, Shadow Walker and Fiend skins can all be worn by Ryu and there are 5 different color variants available per skin. Also the Mission Modes were recently released which added an additional 250 achievement points to the count. There are 12 missions that take elements of the game such as the boss battles and raise the stakes significantly as you progress through the missions. I cleared the first 8 with ease but the remaining missions have been very difficult. There are also 8 survival missions where you essentially have one life bar and must vanquish as many fiends as you can. In order to medal you need to kill at least 50 with the predefined weapon. I highly recommend picking up the Mission Mode DLC.

Pros:

  • Stunning Gameplay
  • Visually the best 360 game to date
  • The fluid combat sequences
  • Outstanding frame rates and animation sequences
  • The weapon assortment and ability to change in mid attack
  • Reaching a save point pushes you to the furthest of your abilities at times
  • Talisman of Rebirth is literally a lifesaver
  • Option to manually save multiple save files
  • Obliteration and Ultimate Techniques
  • Regeneration of portion of health after battle
  • The Chiburi Move – Ryu shakes the blood off of his weapon after a battle
  • True Dragon sword/Genshin swordcombo
  • Type 20 Camo skin for beating the game on Warrior (New skins for Ryu after beating the game)
  • Giant Crystal Skull (Get a gamerpic as well)
  • DLC – New Ryu Skins (Biometal, Shadow Walker, Fiend) 5 variants per
  • DLC – 20 new mission modes with 250 additional achievement points

Cons:

  • “Cheap” Boss Battles
  • Camera Issues at times

Rating:

This is one of the best games that I have played on the 360 to date. It is challenging, visually stunning and a lot of fun. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take on a challenge of playing it on the higher difficulty setting. I give it a 10 out of 10 as it is that good.

The Art of War

artofwarWhile recently traveling to LA I picked up a copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Translation by Thomas Cleary… Shambhala Dragon Editions). This has always been one of my favorite strategy/business books as it is amazing to me how applicable 6th century BC teachings outlining success in battle are to current day business and corporate culture.

What I really admire is that success even then was defined by more than winning. Winning is key in today’s corporate culture but many people differ on their thoughts and approaches to achieving victory.

It was very interesting to revisit the importance of the human element specifically the human psyche and how vital “fullness” is to success on the battlefield and the boardroom.

Some of the other interesting concepts are as follows:

One of the principles outlined was the importance of “fullness”. Fullness is when leadership and subordinates are of like mind and operate together. Emptiness is the presence of rifts and dissatisfaction within the team. If this exists it is difficult to achieve the overall objective. It is important to empower your team so that “fullness” may be realized.

Regarding leadership “Leaders plan in the beginning when they do things” and “Leaders consider problems and prevent them”. This speaks to the importance of planning and having a clear understanding of more than just what is directly in front of you.

In terms of defining leadership Sun Tzu stated that Leadership is a matter of intelligence (plan and know) , trustworthiness , humaneness (Compassion), courage (Seize opportunities to make certain of victory), and sternness (establish discipline).

Make yourself invincible, and then watch for vulnerability in their opponents. This really speaks to the importance of knowing yourself, strengths and weaknesses. Thus recognize areas where you are weak and make them strong.

The success of military operations was dependent on the harmony of the people. This is directly applicable to business today as those in harmony will contribute naturally, without being exhorted to do so.

And finally it is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached individual who wins. Not those seeking vengeance or ambitious seekers of fortune.

“So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.”

If you have not read it I would recommend it. It is a quick read and it is interesting to see how little has actually changed in terms of what is required to be successful in any competitive situation.

Episodes of a Dad – Part 1

If you would have asked me 10 years about how many kids I would have or what kind of dad I would be I would have looked at you like you were from another planet. Fast forward 10 years and 3 kids later and I would not want to be anything else than my kids dad.

Gavin (5), Audrey (3), Grant (6 months) and my beautiful wife Cherlyn are the reason I get up every morning. Well that and my daughter likes to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning. Outside of trying to be a good role model and teaching them the ways of the world I occasionally have to perform a “Dad” duty.

Last night was one of those times. Being a medic in my time in the Army you would think that I would not have any issues with anything to do with a health related issue. I have given IV’s, numerous injections, etc… so last night my son Gavin had a loose tooth.

Being the trooper that he was he wanted me to pull it. No problem right? Step 1 reach in mouth, Step 2 grip tooth, Step 3 forcefully extract, Step 4 bask in the toothless glory of his new smile. Except somewhere between Step 2 and Step 3 I ran into a slight issue.

The tooth was definitely ready to go from the initial look and feel. I asked how he felt, he tensed but was ready. Then the first pull…. no tooth in my hand… a bit of blood and some screaming ensued. Tried again no go. So this right of passage is becoming an episode of Friday the 13th. Now as a dad there is nothing worse than seeing one of your children in pain so what do you want to do? Remove the source of pain right?

So now it was about distracting and calming. So I used the “let’s dry your mouth” as an opportunity to pull it while he was calm. A few wipes, a quick snap and the tooth was out. Back to my army reference. The site of blood does not bother me, but something about seeing the blood of one of your own definitely took me back a step or two. That and physically removing a piece of bone from your little ones mouth.

Well here was the finished result… mission accomplished :)

gavin

40,000 Gamerscore

aunlockedYesterday marked the passing of the 40,000 gamerscore plateau. It took 151 days to go from 30,000K to 40,000K with an average gain of 66 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts from this latest points quest.

1) Consecutive Days Played Streak – 23
2) Retail Titles Completed – 13
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 2958
4) Achievements Gained since the beginning – 1394 (Avg. 28 points per achievement)
5) Largest single day achievement gain this cycle – 25
6) Most points in a day in this cycle – 1000
7) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 51%
8) Total Games Retail (83)/Arcade (42) Owned – 125

Here is a breakdown of the games played between 30,000 & 40,000:

1) Bionicle Heroes
2) Surf’s Up
3) Jumper: Griffin’s Story
4) Rainbow Six Vegas 2
5) Feeding Frenzy
6) Rocky & Bullwinkle
7) College Hoops 2K8
8) Iron Man
9) Ikaruga
10) Kameo
11) Burnout Paradise
12) NCAA March Madness 08
13) MLB 2K7
14) Undertow
15) Brain Challenge
16) Dark Sector
17) College Hoops 2K7
18) Avatar: TLE: TBE
19) Army of Two
20) Mass Effect
21) Lost Via Domus
22) Scene It? LCA
23) TheSimpsons
24) Medal of Honor Airborne
25) Halo 3
26) Fuzion Frenzy 2
27) Marvel Ultimate Alliance
28) Guitar Hero 3
29) NCAA Football 08
30) All Pro-Football 2K8

 

New Phone System

While I was traveling to Detroit for business we had a new phone system installed at the office. This is a very slick system, soft dialing, queues, etc…What I didn’t know was another plan was unfolding around the phone system.

There was a phone box on my desk and a few of my co-workers/culprits (John Balod, Deryl Dorsett) kept asking me about my new “wireless” phone so we made it back to my office and I opened the box to find a new “phone system” alright. The system consists of two Green Giant cans of corn connected by a long string complete with hand drawn instruction manual and a “long distance” add-on…. extra long pieces of string.

This was pretty funny, but it actually works as well! I may keep my new phone system vs. the high-tech system that everyone else is deploying :)

<phone system

Skate 2 & Skate It

skateIt is now official to discuss that Electronic Arts Skate franchise will release 2 new titles.

Skate It for the Wii leveraging the Wii fitboard will arrive late in 2008 and the highly anticipated Skate 2 for the 360 will hit stores in 2009.

In mid April I was in Vancouver meeting with various EA teams at their Blackbox Studio including members of the Skate team. I had the opportunity to play an early build of Skate 2 on the 360 and it was phenomenal. More details to come once made public by EA.

Otherwise, Vancouver was great. In fact some of the best coffee that I have had in a long time was at Caffe Artigiano.

Xbox 360 TheBlackFin Retail Game Library

aunlockedOne of my good friends recently posted his game library as part of his blog. So following that lead here is my collection of Xbox 360 and PS3 Retail titles. I also have 40+ Arcade titles that may be listed later. I have recently acquired a PS3 as well and those titles are also outlined below.

185 Xbox 360 Retail Titles Owned (Game Reviews I have written are highlighted below). I own 8 PS3 titles and 22 Wii titles

Xbox 360 Library

  • Afro Samurai
  • All Pro Football 2K8
  • Armored Core 4
  • Armored Core For Answer
  • Army of Two
  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Assassin’s Creed 2
  • BattleField: Bad Company
  • Batman Arkham Asylum (Collectors)
  • Battlestations Midway
  • Bionicle Heroes
  • BioShock
  • Bladestorm: The Hundred Year’s War
  • Blazing Angels
  • Blazing Angels 2
  • Blue Dragon
  • Burnout Paradise
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Call of Duty 3
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Call of Duty World At War
  • Cars
  • College Hoops 2K6
  • College Hoops 2K7
  • College Hoops 2K8
  • Command & Conquer 3
  • Conan
  • Crackdown
  • CSI: Hard Evidence
  • Dark Sector
  • Dead Rising
  • Dead Space
  • Devil May Cry 4
  • Dragon Ball Z Burstlimit
  • Dynasty Warriors: Gundam
  • Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2
  • EA Sports Fight Night 3
  • Earth Defense Force 2017
  • Eragon
  • Fable II
  • Facebreaker
  • Fallout3
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  • Farcry
  • F.E.A.R.
  • F.E.A.R. 2
  • FIFA 06 RTFWC
  • FIFA 07
  • FIFA 09
  • FIFA Street 3
  • Forza 2 Motorsport
  • Fuzion Frenzy 2
  • Gears of War (Collectors Edition)
  • Gears of War 2 (Special Edition)
  • Ghostbusters
  • Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
  • GI Joe Rise of Cobra
  • GRID
  • Guitar Hero Aerosmith
  • Guitar Hero Metallica
  • Guitar Hero Worldtour
  • Guitar Hero II
  • Guitar Hero III
  • Gun
  • Halo 3
  • Halo 3 ODST
  • Halo Wars
  • Hawx
  • Head Coach 2009
  • Hellboy The Science of Evil
  • Hot Wheels: Beat This
  • Iron Man
  • Jumper: Griffins Story
  • Kameo
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • LEGO Batman
  • LEGO Indiana Jones
  • LEGO Indiana Jones 2
  • LEGO Star Wars II
  • LEGO Star Wars: TCS
  • Lord of the Rings Conquest
  • Lost Odyssey
  • LOST PLANET
  • Lost Via Domus
  • Madden NFL 06
  • Madden NFL 07
  • Madden NFL 08
  • Madden NFL 09 (Collectors Edition)
  • Madden NFL 10
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
  • Mass Effect
  • MLB 2K7
  • Medal of Honor Airborne
  • Mercenaries 2 World in Flames
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Monopoly
  • Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
  • Naruto: Rise of the Ninja
  • NBA 2K6
  • NBA 2K7
  • NBA 2K8
  • NBA Live 06
  • NBA Live 07
  • NBA Live 08
  • NBA Live 09
  • NBA Street Homecourt
  • NCAA Basketball 09
  • NCAA Football 07
  • NCAA Football 08
  • NCAA Football 09
  • NCAA Football 10
  • NCAA March Madness 07
  • NCAA March Madness 08
  • Need for Speed Carbon
  • Need for Speed Most Wanted
  • Need for Speed Pro Street
  • Need for Speed Undercover
  • Need for Speed Shift
  • Ninja Blade
  • Ninja Gaiden II
  • NHL 07
  • NHL 08
  • NHL 09
  • NHL 2K6
  • NHL 2K7
  • NHL 2K8
  • NHL 2K9
  • Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition
  • Open Season
  • Overlord
  • Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End
  • Prey
  • Prince of Persia
  • Prototype
  • Quake 4
  • Rainbow Six Vegas
  • Rainbow Six Vegas 2
  • Resident Evil 5
  • Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy
  • Rock Band
  • Rock Band 2
  • Scene It? LCA
  • Section 8
  • skate
  • skate 2
  • Soldier of Fortune Payback
  • Sonic Superstar Tennis
  • Sonic The Hedgehog
  • Sonics Ultimate Genesis Collection
  • Soul Calibur IV
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars Republic Heroes
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  • Street Fighter IV
  • Surf’s Up
  • Tenchu Z
  • Terminator Salvation
  • Tetris Evolution
  • TimeShift
  • The Chronicles of Riddick Assault on Dark Athena
  • The Darkness
  • The Godfather
  • The Orange Box
  • The Simpsons Game
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
  • Tom Clancy’s ENDWAR
  • Too Human
  • Transformers The Game
  • Unreal Tournament III
  • Viking: Battle for Asgard
  • Viva Pinata
  • Wanted: Weapons of Fate
  • Wartech: Senko No Ronde
  • Wolfenstein
  • X-men
  • X-men Origins: Wolverine

PlayStation 3

  •  Dead Space
  •  Gundam Cross Fire
  •  Little Big Planet
  •  Ninja Gaiden: Sigma
  •  Resistance: Fall of Man
  •  Resistance 2
  •  Metal Gear Solid 4
  •  Haze

Upcoming Titles that I am going to pick up upon release:

  • Splinter Cell: Conviction
  • Bioshock 2
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Dragon Ball Raging Blast
  • LEGO: Rock Band
  • Army of Two: The 40th Day
  • Singularity

 

 

Telligent Named “Best Place to Work” in 2008

I mentioned previously that Telligent was one of the few companies selected as Best Place to Work in DFW by the Dallas Business Journal.

Last week was the official luncheon and awards ceremony to find out exactly where we placed in our category and overall. So, Rob, Jason, Scott & I went to represent the team. It was an interesting event as I definitely did not expect the turnout that was on hand. There was easily over 1000 people in attendance and each of the winners received a short introduction and a few tidbits about some of the interesting offerings that keep their employees happy.

In our category of small business we finished in the top 10 and Telligent finished 11th overall out of a record 270 companies that qualified for the award.

Telligent was also one of 12 companies featured in the recently published “Best Places to Work” supplement.

2008 DBJ

Looking back at the culture of Telligent that led to this award and the new leadership now guiding the company I highly doubt that this will be repeated anytime soon.