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How to Create a Cartoon Gradient Text Effect in Adobe Photoshop

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What You’ll Be Creating

Do you want to punch up the text in your latest creative project? You can use some clever fonts, or you can try out an awesome text effect for Photoshop!

There are many cool text effects for Photoshop you can download from Envato Elements and GraphicRiver. But making one is always an option. In this tutorial I want to show you how to create a gradient text effect in Adobe Photoshop.

Looking for more cartoon styles to add to your work? We’ve added some Adobe Photoshop text effects to download after the tutorial. You can also check out our recommended cartoon photo effects and comic text effect actions:

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

Tutorial Assets

The following assets will be used during this tutorial:

Before you start creating this Adobe Photoshop text effect, download and install the font.

How to Create the Layer Styles

Step 1

Open Photoshop, and go to File > New to create a new document.

 Image of fairy step 1 new document

Step 2

Fill the document using the color #282828. Pick the Type Tool (T) with these settings:

  • Font: Great Vibes
  • Font Size: 127 pt
  • Color: White
  • The tracking for the selection characters: -25
 Image of fairy step 2 text tool

Step 3

Write “Fairy” (the first letter should be capital) and place it in the center of the Photoshop document (press Control-A to select the document, and then pick the Move Tool (V) and click on the Align Vertical Center and Align Horizontal Center icons).

 Image of fairy step 3 align

Step 4

Double-click the text layer to apply the following layer style.

Add a Stroke with these settings:

  • Size: 7 px
  • Position: Outside
  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Fill Type: Color
  • Color: #ff0084
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Then click OK to save the changes.

Step 5

Select the Fairy layer, go to Layer > Duplicate Layer, and name the layer “Middle”. Click OK to create the layer. Pick the Move Tool (V) and move it up and left by 7 px. Go to Layer > Layer Style > Clear Layer Style to clean the layer styles. Change the color to #c6c6c6.

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Step 6

Then double-click on the text layer to open the Layer Style window.

Add a Stroke with these settings:

  • Size: 4 px
  • Position: Outside
  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Fill Type: Color
  • Color: #8c054a
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Step 7

Now add an Inner Glow:

  • Blend Mode: Overlay
  • Opacity: 50%
  • Noise: 0%
  • Color: #ffffff
  • Technique: Softer
  • Source: Edge
  • Choke: 100%
  • Size: 4 px
  • Contour: Linear
  • Uncheck Anti-aliased
  • Range: 100%
  • Jitter: 0%
 Image of fairy step 7 layer 2 inner glow

Step 8

Add a Gradient Overlay with these settings:

  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Gradient: from #f6b6ce to #e35b9b
  • Style: Reflected
  • Angle: 90°
  • Scale: 46%
  • Uncheck Reverse and Dither
  • Check Align with Layer
 Image of fairy step 8 layer 2 gradient overlay

Step 9

Add a Drop Shadow with these settings:

  • Blending Mode: Normal
  • Pick the color #840048
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Uncheck Use Global Light box before setting the Angle: 135°
  • Distance: 10 px
  • Spread: 100%
  • Size: 0 px
  • Contour: Linear
  • Uncheck Anti-aliased
  • Noise: 0%
  • Check Layer Knocks Out Drop Shadow
 Image of fairy step 9 layer 2 drop shadow

Click OK to save changes.

Step 10

Select the Middle layer and duplicate it. Double-click on the name and change it to “Front”. Press Enter to apply the settings. Pick the Move Tool (V) and move it up by 5 px and left by 1 px. Go to Layer > Layer Style > Clear Layer Style to clear the layer styles.

 Image of fairy step 10 new layer 3

Step 11

Make sure that the Front layer is selected. Double-click on the layer to apply the following layer style. Set the Fill Opacity to 0%.

 Image of fairy step 11 layer 3 blending options

Step 12

Add a Stroke:

  • Size: 7 px
  • Position: Inside
  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 0%
  • Fill Type: Color
  • Color: #000000
 Image of fairy step 12 layer 3 stroke

Step 13

Add a Color Overlay with these settings:

  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Color: #ffffff
  • Opacity: 40%
 Image of fairy step 13 layer 3 color overlay

Then click OK to save changes.

Step 14

Select the layers Fairy, Middle, and Front, and go to Layer > Merge Layers (or press Control-E) to merge them into one.

 Image of fairy step 14 merge layers

Step 15

Double-click the text layer to apply the following layer style.

Add a Stroke:

  • Size: 10 px
  • Position: Outside
  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Fill Type: Color
  • Color: #000000
 Image of fairy step 15 layer merged stroke

Step 16

Now add an Outer Glow:

  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Noise: 0%
  • Color: #ffffff
  • Technique: Softer
  • Choke: 100%
  • Size: 14 px
  • Contour: Linear
  • Uncheck Anti-aliased
  • Range: 100%
  • Jitter: 0%
 Image of fairy step 16 layer merged outer glow

Step 17

Add a Drop Shadow with these settings:

  • Blending Mode: Normal
  • Pick the color #000000
  • Opacity: 30%
  • Uncheck Use Global Light box before setting the Angle: 135°
  • Distance: 35 px
  • Spread: 0%
  • Size: 0 px
  • Contour: Linear
  • Uncheck Anti-aliased
  • Noise: 0%
  • Check Layer Knocks Out Drop Shadow
 Image of fairy step 17 layer merged drop shadow

Click OK to save changes.

Congratulations, You’re Done!

In this tutorial, you learned how to create a piece of fairytale text. Hope you like it, and don’t forget to share your result with us.

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Cool Cartoon Text Effects for Photoshop From Envato Elements and GraphicRiver

It’s always good to know how to create something useful. But if you just want a Photoshop text effect PSD to download, check out these options from Envato Elements and GraphicRiver.

1. 10 Text Style Effects for Game Logo #01 (PSD)

This creative bundle includes the text effect you just created and then some. This Adobe Photoshop text effects download features ten unique styles that fit different projects. They work with any font and are fully editable. 

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Try out these cool text effects for Photoshop.

2. 3D Cartoon Text Effects (PSD)

These cartoon 3D text effects in Photoshop definitely leave an impression. This bundle comes with ten different PSD text effects that are very easy to use. The over-the-top art style makes them a great choice for posters, online advertising, and more.  

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You’ll find that these 3D text effects for Photoshop add some fun to your creative projects.

3. Vintage Comics Text Effects (PSD)

Are you aiming for something old school? Then you’ll love this vintage Photoshop text effect PSD download. The files have well-organized layers and are fully editable. 

 Image of envato elements vintage comics text effects XMB7RT
This vintage Photoshop text effects download PSD has all you need to complete the comic book look.

4. Cartoon Style Text Effects (PSD, ASL, PDF)

If you’ve been looking for Adobe Photoshop text effects to download, you’ll like this pack. There are ten fully editable cartoon text styles included. Smart Object replacement is a useful feature here, and so is the added help file!

 Image of cartoon style text effects Q94UXPL
Each style in this Adobe Photoshop text effects download offers something different.

5. 3D Text Effects Vol.3 (PSD)

Who can say no to more 3D text effects for Photoshop? This pack features colorful, editable text styles for your project. Quickly change text with the Smart Object layers. In a matter of clicks, you’ll have a finished product ready.

 Image of 3d text effects vol 3 9D8S9Y
This 3D Photoshop text effects download PSD bundle is useful to have on hand.

Explore Amazing Text Effects With Envato Tuts+ 

Looking for more text effect actions and assets? Check out our recommended cartoon photo effects and comic text effect actions. You’ll find more Adobe Photoshop text effect PSD downloads and helpful tutorials:

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Cyber Monday Deals 2020 already available: Get the best deals on Google smart home devices, Sonos speakers, weighted blankets, headphones, and more

When you buy through our links, we may earn money from our affiliate partners. Learn more.

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Cyber Monday 2020 deals live now include markdowns on the Apple Watch, Beats headphones, Sonos speakers, and more.

Cyber Monday 2020 starts in a few hours, but many deals across retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, The Home Depot, Kohl’s, and Macy’s have already begun. 

If you start shopping now, you may avoid sold-out products, waitlists, and delayed shipping estimates. We’ve been keeping track of Cyber Monday deals all weekend and already seen plenty of discounts on tech, Apple products, smart TVs, robot vacuums, and mattresses. Some of these deals are left over from Black Friday, but many are brand new.

Several of our favorite online startups also have great Cyber Week deals, if you’re looking for more unique gifts to buy this season. 

Below, you’ll find the biggest Cyber Monday deals available now, plus answers to frequently asked questions and a list of Cyber Week store sales at the bottom of the page.

We’ll continue to update this page regularly once Cyber Monday “officially” kicks off and stores release new sales, promotions, and bundles. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of great deals to take advantage of right now. 

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

The best Cyber Monday deals

One (medium, Preferred: Adorama)One SL Pair + $10 Gift Card (medium, Preferred: Walmart)

The Original Workout Smart Home Fitness System (medium, Preferred: Mirror)

Naked Honey Eyeshadow Palette (medium, Preferred: Macy’s)

Airpods with Wired Charging Case (Newest model) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Roomba i3+ (3550) Robot Vacuum (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Sonicare DiamondClean Classic Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush (medium)

Thermoball™ Eco Jacket (Men’s) (medium, Preferred: The North Face)Genetic Ethnicity + Traits + Health (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Kindle Paperwhite (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Studio 3 Wireless Headphones (medium, Preferred: Target)

Best Cyber Monday Amazon deals

Of course, we expect to see tons of Cyber Monday deals on Amazon devices, including Echo smart speakers, Fire tablets, and 4K TVs. Thanks to the rush of Black Friday shoppers, however, some of these devices won’t ship until later in December. We’re also expecting to see Amazon outdo itself compared to its deals held on this year’s delayed Prime Day in October. Keep an eye out for big savings on clothing from Amazon Fashion, too.

Vortex 4-in-1 Air Fryer (6-qt) (medium, Preferred: Target)Vista (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

QuietComfort 35 II (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Best Cyber Monday Target deals

Target’s Cyber Monday deals go big on home products like robot vacuums and kitchen appliances, as well as electronics, home entertainment gear, and headphones. It’s even discounting its large lineup of clothing and apparel by up to 30% off through Monday.

AirPods Pro (medium, Preferred: Target)

Best Cyber Monday Walmart deals

Walmart’s carrying on its huge Black Friday sales through Cyber Monday, including deals on everything from headphones and TVs to toys, kitchen appliances, and grooming products. 

Versa 2 (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Inspire 2 (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Streaming Stick+ (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Viva 6-Qt. Pressure Cooker (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Core 300-RAC Air Purifier (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Pure One S11 Spartan (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Clara HD (medium, Preferred: Walmart)One SL Pair + $10 Gift Card (medium, Preferred: Walmart)

Best Cyber Monday Best Buy deals

Best Buy is your one-stop-shop for all things electronics, whether you’re looking to snag the latest 4K TV, are on the hunt for a new video game to play, or want the best surround sound system. For Cyber Monday, Best Buy’s slashing the prices on all of it, making it the perfect time to splurge with confidence that you’re getting the best deal.

Best Cyber Monday Kohl’s deals

In addition to regular Cyber Monday deals, Kohl’s offers the opportunity to save more money later. Its Kohl’s Cash promotion includes a $10 future credit for every $50 you spend. That means you can buy those holiday gifts now, and then do a little shopping for yourself before December 9 when the Kohl’s Cash expires.

Best Cyber Monday Apple deals

Apple deals are more than likely the most popular deals on Cyber Monday by a mile, with products selling out in hours if not minutes. We expect this year to be no different, with savings on Apple’s entire catalog of products. While Apple offers modest discounts on its own website, we should see many more deals — and hopefully even better ones — at Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart.

AirPods Pro (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)

Best Cyber Monday TV deals

Online shoppers can get excited for dozens of TV deals leading up to and on Cyber Monday. Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart usually offer numerous limited-stock doorbuster models, in addition to the standard savings that go live through Cyber Week.

Flat 82-Inch 4K 8 Series UHD Smart TV (medium, Preferred: Amazon)65-inch A8H Series OLED 4K TV (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)32-inch Smart HDTV – Fire TV Edition (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)70″ Class H65 Series LED 4K UHD Smart Android TV (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)65-inch X800H 4K Smart TV (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Best Cyber Monday home entertainment deals 

Cyber Monday is an excellent opportunity to shop for all of the home theater gear to support that fancy new 4K TV. From streaming media players to receivers as well as soundbars, several of these gadgets will be available at their all-time lowest prices during the shopping event.

Best Cyber Monday gaming deals 

Let’s let everyone down easy first: there will likely be no deals on anything PS5 or Xbox Series X, because of how brand new they are. However, you can bet there are and will be deals on games, accessories, and collectibles – particularly for Nintendo Switch and previous-generation PS4 and Xbox One games that will work on the new models. Better yet, we’ll definitely see deals on game download codes as well, plus PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass, and Nintendo Switch Online subscription deals and bundles.

Switch Pro Controller (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)

Best Cyber Monday smart home deals 

Smart speakers, security cameras and sensors, smart lights, and dozens of other smart home devices will see sizable price cuts leading up to and on Cyber Monday. Whether you’re in an Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit-powered home, Cyber Monday weekend is the time to add or upgrade.

 

One SL Pair + $10 Gift Card (medium, Preferred: Walmart)

IQ Robot Vacuum (RV1000) (medium, Preferred: Walmart)Deebot 711S Robot Vacuum Cleaner with App (130-minute battery life) (medium, Preferred: Walmart)

Best Cyber Monday mattress deals

Our favorite mattress startups, like Leesa, in addition to iconic brands such as Sealy, have great deals leading up to and on Cyber Monday. Brands might also throw out freebies, like sheets and pillows with your mattress order. Find plenty more mattress deals here.

Best Cyber Monday headphones deals

There are few better times to invest in that pair of headphones you’ve your eye on than during Cyber Monday’s big sales event. Target, Amazon, Best Buy, and even Focus Camera all offer huge discounts on some of our favorite headphones from brands like Sony, Beats by Dre, and Bose.

Best Cyber Monday laptop deals

Buying a new laptop, be it for gaming, work, or personal use, is a sizable investment, which is why shopping during a sales event like Cyber Monday is the best way to upgrade. This year, expect huge discounts on laptops from brands like Dell, Lenovo, and Apple.

Best Cyber Monday fitness equipment deals

Whether you’re looking for an at-home stationary bike, a connected row machine, or just want to upgrade your workout apparel wardrobe, there are a ton of Cyber Monday deals on anything and everything fitness. Don’t forget recovery and rehab, too, as equipment like Theragun massage guns and Hyperice foam rollers are also on sale at huge discounts.

Versa 2 (medium, Preferred: Walmart)

Best Cyber Monday kitchen deals

Can you ever have too many kitchen products? We think not which is why taking advantage of huge Cyber Monday discounts on things like SodaStream’s Fizzi Classic, Thermoworks’ Thermapen, and Staub’s Cast Iron Dutch oven should be on everyone’s agenda.   

 

Best Cyber Monday home deals

Expect furniture, bedding, decor, and other home essentials to be on sale for Cyber Monday. Notable deals include several of the best sheets, pillows, and bath towels we’ve tried. 

 

Best Cyber Monday style & beauty deals

A who’s who in the style and beauty space like Glossier, Everlane, Adidas, and Revlon all are running huge sales through Cyber Monday. Maybe you need a pair of winter-ready rubber boots or a puff jacket to take on frigid temperatures — whatever it is, Cyber Monday is the time to buy it. 

Best Cyber Monday outdoor deals

In-season outdoor gear hardly goes on sale, so when it does, it’s smart to take advantage of the discounts and add to or upgrade your kit. Whether you need a new pair of snow goggles, a versatile travel pack, or want to stock up on the ever-popular LifeStraw water filter, Cyber Monday has outdoor deals galore. 

Best Cyber Monday Nordstrom deals

Nordstrom’s Cyber Monday deals aren’t just available through the November 30 sales event but rather will be live through December 1 — and any sale at Nordstrom is worth paying attention to. This year, the retailer’s discounting everything from Cole Haan outerwear to Adidas sneakers, as well as skincare products, makeup, home goods, and others. 

Best Cyber Monday holiday decor deals 

With lockdowns in place, people are putting more emphasis than ever on installing holiday cheer in their homes this season. Cyber Monday is a great time to shop huge discounts on holiday and Christmas decor. Target and Macy’s are our go-to spots for all things holiday. 

Deals by store

See our full list of Cyber Monday deals by store here

Cyber Monday FAQs

When is Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday occurs the following Monday after Black Friday every year. In 2020, the online-heavy shopping event arrives on Monday, November 30.

As a continuation of sorts to Black Friday Cyber Monday gives you another opportunity to save on tech, home goods, clothing, and more that you might’ve missed while digesting Thanksgiving dinner.

What time does Cyber Monday start?

Cyber Monday officially begins at 12 a.m. EST on Monday, November 30, though some stores will drop sales at midnight PST. 

However, Cyber Monday sales are going on right now in the lead up to the event and new deals can extend throughout the rest of the week. Throughout Cyber Monday itself, shoppers can expect new deals to crop up every hour. 

What is Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday began as the online version of Black Friday, where online retailers offered big discounts to match their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Now, Cyber Monday is the biggest shopping day of the year, surpassing even Black Friday in terms of revenue and sales. 

The “holiday” was created in 2005 as the online version of the brick-and-mortar-focused Black Friday. Previously, the main differentiation between Black Friday and Cyber Monday was that Black Friday focused on in-store sales and Cyber Monday on online sales. But as shopping habits have increasingly favored the internet, amplified by the pandemic, shoppers can look forward to a very online-focused Cyber Monday and Black Friday. 

Cyber Monday offers a great opportunity to save on all your holiday gifts

How long do Cyber Monday sales last? 

Though Cyber Monday sales once only took place on Monday, we’ve been seeing them extend to longer and longer durations, with more than a few lasting until the rest of the week. For instance, Wayfair’s Cyber Monday deals will take place all from November 30 through December 4.

“Doorbuster” Cyber Monday markdowns are often restricted to the day and available stock. When we know the end date of a deal, we’ll list it next to the deal. 

What’s better, Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

With most Americans sticking to online shopping this year, the debate on which shopping holiday is particularly moot. Both events will be held predominantly online, and more than a few deals overlap. In fact, many Black Friday deals become Cyber Monday deals when the dates change. 

If possible, shoppers should shop both holidays. We’ve seen different products receive better discounts on each day, and the deals that each retailer offers will vary. 

Generally speaking, consumers shopping for big-ticket items, such as laptops, TVs, and kitchen appliances, can expect more opportunities on Black Friday. But for shoppers looking for last year’s models, smart home gadgets, digital subscriptions, and gift cards will likely find more luck during Cyber Monday.

What should I buy during Cyber Monday?

If a retailer offers Black Friday deals, it’s a near guarantee that it will offer Cyber Monday deals, too. Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart are some noteworthy retailers that we know will participate in the shopping event.

We will likely see massive discounts on some of our favorite direct-to-consumer products during Cyber Monday, such as retail startups like Leesa and Brooklinen. For some, Cyber Monday (or Cyber Week) will be one of the few times of the year when their products see major markdowns.

Where can I find Cyber Monday ads?

Shoppers in-the-know eagerly await Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads to help guide their Black Friday game plan. Typically, storefronts like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart release their previews early-November or alongside their Black Friday ads.

Here are the most important ad scans currently available: 

  • Best Buy: While the electronics retailer has yet to announce any deals for Cyber Monday, shoppers can peruse Best Buy’s Black Friday Ad here. For that intend on shopping the discounts early, there are deals already available from the ad.
  • Walmart: To find the ad scan, first find your local Walmart via the local directory. Once you get to the “Store Overview” page, find the “Weekly Ad” section.

Will there be Cyber Monday shipping delays?

Shipping delays and shopping holidays are inextricably linked, and this year is no different. Experts suggest that consumers may see low inventory and shipping problems, during Cyber Monday, Black Friday, and the weeks following

To help you avoid the shipping crunch and get your stuff sooner, several retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Best Buy, offer in-store pickup and contactless curbside pickup. This means shoppers can grab their orders at a nearby location, provided that the retailer has it in stock. 

How we select the best Cyber Monday deals

  • We only choose products that meet our high standard of coverage, and that we’ve either used ourselves or researched carefully.
  • We will compare the prices among top retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart and only include the deals that are better than all others offered (not including promotional discounts that come from using certain credit cards).
  • All deals will be at least 20% off, with the occasional exception for products that are rarely discounted or provide an outsized value.
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A Canadian Artist Is Transforming His Look with Extreme Plastic Surgeries and Tattoos to Fulfill His Dream of Becoming a Gothic Vampire

Philip Royer, from Montreal, professionally goes by his creative name, London. He works as a tattoo, make-up, and performing artist. He’s had an “obsession with vampires” since childhood, finding their aesthetic “magnificent.” “If I had to describe my style, I would say gothic.” But he has focused many of his modifications on resembling the bloodsucking creatures, as “they’re immortal.

Source

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Game Studios writing the rules for Social Gaming

Since the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons earlier in March, we’ve seen plenty of campaigns from brands cropping up in this cute virtual world. 

In fact, ACNH is the most-tweeted-about game globally this year and marketers have clearly seized the opportunities offered by this gaming platform.

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Source: Twitter

Nintendo has, of course, been aware of brands showing up and finally addressed the trend by releasing “Usage Guidelines for Businesses and Organizations”.

Prior to last week, seeking permission from Nintendo to create a campaign was very much an option but now we have new guidelines to account for. These include the plead to refrain from “bringing politics into the Game” to obtaining “any financial benefit from using the Game.”

This is particularly interesting for us as it involves one of the most frequently asked questions on our campaign #GlobalPrideCrossing – “did you partner with Nintendo directly?”

Though we gave partnership with Nintendo a long thought to bring early ideas for Global Pride 2020 to life, we eventually decided that we just did not need it. This decision ultimately came down to two key points of consideration:

The nature of activation:

If you are trying to create a highly promotional campaign, then you should seek permission from the game publisher or studio. For instance, Louis Vuitton partnered with Riot Games to have custom skins available for purchase in League of Legends and more.

The execution of activation:

If you need to alter the gaming environment, change the gameplay, or gamer interaction in any way, then you’ll likely need to work with their makers. For example, earlier this year, Travis Scott worked with Epic Games to create a one-of-a-kind concert in Fortnite, considerably changing the gameplay for the time of the show.

In the case of #GlobalPrideCrossing, we had neither a promotional campaign nor the need to affect the game in a big way. At the crux of ACNH is its provision of all the tools for anyone to do this autonomously. Therefore, after a few debates, we agreed there was no need to engage. 

The new rules published by Nintendo actually formalize these considerations and make decision-making that much easier. It also shows that game companies are taking a stand, showing us that they see us and are maybe even encouraging us to engage – so long as we play by the rules.

These guidelines will only see smarter and more valuable activations as social gaming continues to be explored, to benefit everyone from brands, the game industry, and most importantly, the gamers.

The post Game Studios writing the rules for Social Gaming appeared first on We Are Social UK – Global Socially-Led Creative Agency.

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The Stock-Buyback Swindle

Updated at 2:08 p.m. ET on July 26, 2019.

In the early 1980s, a group of menacing outsiders arrived at the gates of American corporations. The “raiders,” as these outsiders were called, were crude in method and purpose. After buying up controlling shares in a corporation, they aimed to extract a quick profit by dethroning its “underperforming” CEO and selling off its assets. Managers—many of whom, to be fair, had grown complacent—rushed to protect their institutions, crafting new defensive measures and lodging appeals in state courts. In the end, the raiders were driven off and their moneyman, Michael Milken, was thrown in prison. Thus ended a colorful chapter in American business history.

Or so it seemed. Today, another effort is under way to raid corporate assets at the expense of employees, investors, and taxpayers. But this time, the attack isn’t coming from the outside. It’s coming from inside the citadel, perpetrated by the very chieftains who are supposed to protect the place. And it’s happening under the most innocuous of names: stock buybacks.

You’ve seen the phrase. It glazes the eyes, numbs the soul, makes you wonder what’s for dinner. The practice sounds deeply normal, like the regularly scheduled maintenance on your car.

It is anything but normal. Before the 1980s, corporations rarely repurchased shares of their own stock. When they started to, it was typically a defensive move intended to fend off raiders, who were drawn to cash piles on a company’s balance sheet. By contrast, according to Federal Reserve data compiled by Goldman Sachs, over the past nine years, corporations have put more money into their own stocks—an astonishing $3.8 trillion—than every other type of investor (individuals, mutual funds, pension funds, foreign investors) combined.

Corporations describe the practice as an efficient way to return money to shareholders. By reducing the number of shares outstanding in the market, a buyback lifts the price of each remaining share. But that spike is often short-lived: A study by the research firm Fortuna Advisors found that, five years out, the stocks of companies that engaged in heavy buybacks performed worse for shareholders than the stocks of companies that didn’t.

One class of shareholder, however, has benefited greatly from the temporary price jumps: the managers who initiate buybacks and are privy to their exact scope and timing. Last year, SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson Jr. instructed his staff to “take a look at how buybacks affect how much skin executives keep in the game.” This analysis revealed that in the eight days following a buyback announcement, executives on average sold five times as much stock as they had on an ordinary day. “Thus,” Jackson said, “executives personally capture the benefit of the short-term stock-price pop created by the buyback announcement.”

This extractive behavior has rightly been decried for worsening income inequality. Some politicians on the left—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer—have lately gotten around to opposing buybacks on these grounds. But even the staunchest free-market capitalist should be concerned, too. The proliferation of stock buybacks is more than just another way of feathering executives’ nests. By systematically draining capital from America’s public companies, the habit threatens the competitive prospects of American industry—and corrupts the underpinnings of corporate capitalism itself.

The rise of the stock buyback began during the heyday of corporate raiders. In the early 1980s, an economist named Michael C. Jensen presented a paper titled “Reflections on the Corporation as a Social Invention.” It attacked the conception of corporations that had prevailed since roughly the 1920s—that they existed to serve a variety of constituencies, including employees, customers, stockholders, and even the public interest. Instead, Jensen asserted a new ideology that would become known as “shareholder value.” Corporate managers had one job, and one job alone: to increase the short-term share price of the firm.

The philosophy had immediate appeal to the raiders, who used it to give their depredations a fig leaf of legitimacy. And though the raiders were eventually turned back, the idea of shareholder value proved harder to dispel. To ward off hostile takeovers, boards started firing CEOs who didn’t deliver near-term stock-price gains. The rolling of a few big heads—including General Motors’ Robert Stempel in 1992 and IBM’s John Akers in 1993—drove home the point to CEOs: They had better start thinking about shareholder value.

If their conversion to the enemy faith was at first grudging, CEOs soon found a reason to love it. One of the main tenets of shareholder value is that managers’ interests should be aligned with shareholders’ interests. To accomplish this goal, boards began granting CEOs large blocks of company stock and stock options.

The shift in compensation was intended to encourage CEOs to maximize returns for shareholders. In practice, something else happened. The rise of stock incentives coincided with a loosening of SEC rules governing stock buybacks. Three times before (in 1967, ’70, and ’73), the agency had considered such a rule change, and each time it had deemed the dangers of insider “market manipulation” too great. It relented just before CEOs began acquiring ever greater portfolios of their own corporate stock, making such manipulation that much more tantalizing.

Too tantalizing for CEOs to resist. Today, the abuse of stock buybacks is so widespread that naming abusers is a bit like singling out snowflakes for ruining the driveway. But somebody needs to be called out.

So take Craig Menear, the chairman and CEO of Home Depot. On a conference call with investors in February 2018, he and his team mentioned their “plan to repurchase approximately $4 billion of outstanding shares during the year.” The next day, he sold 113,687 shares, netting $18 million.* The following day, he was granted 38,689 new shares, and promptly unloaded 24,286 shares for a profit of $4.5 million. Though Menear’s stated compensation in SEC filings was $11.4 million for 2018, stock sales helped him earn an additional $30 million for the year.

By contrast, the median worker pay at Home Depot is $23,000 a year. If the money spent on buybacks had been used to boost salaries, the Roosevelt Institute and the National Employment Law Project calculated, each worker would have made an additional $18,000 a year. But buybacks are more than just unfair. They’re myopic. Amazon (which hasn’t repurchased a share in seven years) is presently making the sort of investments in people, technology, and products that could eventually make Home Depot irrelevant. When that happens, Home Depot will probably wish it hadn’t spent all those billions to buy back 35 percent of its shares. “When you’ve got a mature company, when everything seems to be going smoothly, that’s the exact moment you need to start worrying Jeff Bezos is going to start eating your lunch,” the shareholder activist Nell Minow told me.

Then there’s Merck. The pharmaceutical company was a paragon of corporate excellence through the second half of the 20th century. “Medicine is for people, not for profits,” George Merck II declared on the cover of Time in 1952. “And if we have remembered that, the profits have never failed to appear.” In the late 1980s, then-CEO Roy Vagelos, rather than sit on a drug that could cure river blindness in Africa but that no one could pay for, persuaded his board of directors to manufacture and distribute the drug for free—which, as Vagelos later noted in his memoir, cost the company more than $200 million. More recently, Merck has been using its massive earnings (its net income for 2018 was $6.2 billion) to repurchase shares of its own stock. A study by the economists William Lazonick and Öner Tulum showed that from 2008 to 2017 the company distributed 133 percent of its profits, through buybacks and dividends, to shareholders—including CEO Kenneth Frazier, who has sold $54.8 million in stock since last July. How is this sustainable? “It’s not,” Lazonick says. Merck insists it must keep drug prices high to fund new research. In 2018, the company spent $10 billion on R&D—and $14 billion on share repurchases and dividends.

Finally, consider the executives at Applied Materials, a maker of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment. As is the case at many companies, its CEO receives incentive pay based on certain metrics. One is earnings per share, or EPS, a widely used barometer of corporate performance. Normally, EPS is lifted by improving earnings. But EPS can be easily manipulated through a stock buyback, which simply reduces the denominator—the number of outstanding shares. At Applied Materials, earnings declined 3.5 percent last year. Yet the company still managed to eke out EPS growth of 1.9 percent. How? In part, by taking more than 10 percent of its shares off the market via buybacks. That move helped executives unlock more incentive compensation—which, these days, usually comes in the form of stock or stock options.

Corporations offer a variety of justifications for the practice of repurchasing stock. One is that buybacks are a more “flexible” way of returning money to shareholders than dividends, which (it’s true) once raised are very hard to reduce. Another argument: Some companies just make more money than they can possibly put to good use. This likewise has a smidgen of truth. Apple may not have $1 billion worth of good bets to make or companies it wants to acquire. Though, if this were the real reason companies are repurchasing stock, it would imply that biotechnology, banking, and big retail—sectors that hold some of the biggest practitioners of buybacks—are nearing a dead end, idea-wise. CEOs will also sometimes make the case that their stock is undervalued, and that repurchases represent an opportunity to buy low. But in reality, notes Fortuna’s Gregory Milano, companies tend to buy their stock high, when they’re flush with cash. The 10th year of a bull market is hardly a time for bargain-hunting.

Capitalism takes many forms. But the variant that propelled America through the 20th century was, at its heart, a means of pooling resources toward a common endeavor, whether that was building railroads, developing new drugs, or making microwave ovens. There used to be a healthy debate about which of their stakeholders corporations ought to serve—employees, stockholders, customers—and in what order. But no one, not even Michael Jensen, ever suggested that a corporation should exist solely to serve the interests of the people entrusted to run it.

Many early stock certificates bore an image—a factory, a car, a canal—representing the purpose of the corporation that issued them. It was a reminder that the financial instrument was being put to productive use. Corporations that plow their profits into buybacks would be hard-pressed to put an image on their stock certificate today, other than, perhaps, the visage of their CEO.


* This piece previously stated that Craig Menear sold 113,687 shares the same day as his conference call with investors.

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