Replacement cycles

There have been several news articles recently that incorporate quotes from people lamenting lower than anticipated sales for new technological innovations. These articles on Smart/Connected TVs and the Nintendo 3DS are but two examples.

As everyone knows (or at least should know), technological superiority is not enough to guarantee success. Hence the Beta-Max not succeeding over VHS or the Atari Jaguar or Neo-Geo losing out to their 16-bit incumbent predecessors.

Nevertheless, too much attention is paid to the specific product when predicting future success. A combination of technological innovation, strong branding, suitable distribution and attractive price point may prove a compelling package. Yet this may not correspond to sufficient demand.

Even if an organisation pays sufficient attention to the market and adequately segments and targets a particular group of consumers, there is still no guarantee of success.

Randomness aside, a major – and what appears to be to be overlooked – factor is replacement cycles.

Once early adopters have been sated, a product will only move into mainstream penetration if the general public find a compelling reason to upgrade their existing kit. Since most, if not all, new devices are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, this can be a tough ask.

(NOTE: Looking at it from a purely technical perspective, one could argue that the different 3D technologies are revolutionary. However, from a consumer perspective it is fundamentally evolutionary. At heart, it is the same service but with a graphical innovation).

Smart TVs do face a particularly tough challenge, as they are entering the market just after the majority of the mainstream have recently gone through a replacement cycle. This cycle was unusually synchronised due to the twin forces of legislation – digital switchover – and technology/manufacture. Flat screen HD TVs may show the same channels, but larger and lighter screens offer twin benefits of better picture (when compared to analogue equivalent) and easier placement (e.g. wall hanging) and transportation (transporting a 50 inch CRT up a flight of stairs was possibly one of the most painful experiences of my life).

Smart TVs may have additional services that appeal to the mainstream, but since the core proposition – watching live TV – remains unaltered, I don’t perceive many mainstream viewers as being eager to adopt their recently acquired HD TVs.

On a similar note, now that the market is already saturated with set-top boxes, second screens and such like, it may prove difficult for both Youview and Google TV to offer a compelling upgrade proposition (Nigel Walley has written an interesting piece on Google TV here)

The 3DS was always going to be a tough sell – the DS was massively successful among casual gamers who were unlikely to upgrade because of a novelty gimmick. But it also points to the wider trend in gaming of extending the life cycles of consoles and platforms. Interestingly, this is supply side rather than demand side – the costs of investment are so great that developers want a longer life cycle to maximise their profitability.

Looking at other forms of technology, I’m particularly intrigued to see the effect of replacement cycles for tablet computers. I was quite sceptical about the chances of mainstream success for the iPad to begin with. While it has undoubtedly been successful (and profitable) among the early adopters, I’m still not convinced iPads/tablets (market share means they are effectively synonymous) will permeate the mainstream before all laptops become touchscreen.

As such, what will happen when everyone who is likely to want a tablet computer already has one? Will tablets need to work on the same principle as mobile phones, which are effectively rented for the duration of a contract and then swapped for a new one? Given the additional cost of manufacture and purchase, I’m not sure how feasible this is.

In fact, perhaps the mobile industry points to way to shortening upgrade cycles. With the trends toward digital consumption, we are slowly being accustomed to not tangibly owning things. Perhaps this could be extended to hardware. Do we still need to own our TVs and games consoles, or could we rent subsidized devices over a period of time, before swapping them for the latest models?

Rental shops have had a bit of a bad reputation for ripping off the old and poor, but perhaps a rejuvenated version could be due a comeback.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mgat/3282519651/

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The gamification of surveys

How can gaming principles be used in research? This is a fascinating area that I know Tom Ewing has been spending some time thinking about.

I haven’t, but a combination of some frustrations on a project and reading this excellent presentation, entitled “Pawned. Gamification and its discontents”, got me thinking specifically about how gaming principles could contribute to data quality in online (or mobile) surveys.

The presentation is embedded below.

The problem

There are varying motivations for respondents to answer surveys, but a common one is economic. The more surveys completed, the more points accrued and money earned.

In its basic sense, this itself is a game. But like a factory production line team paid per item, it promotes speed over quality.

As such, survey data can be poorly considered, with minimal effort going into open-ended questions (deliberative questions are pointless) and the threat of respondents “straight-lining” or, more subtly, randomly selecting answer boxes without reading the questions.

The solution

Some of these issues can be spotted during post-survey quality checks, but I believe simple gaming principles could be used (or at least piloted) to disincentivise people to poorly complete surveys.

Essentially, it involves giving someone a score based on their survey responses. A scoring system will evidently require tweaking to measures and weights over time, but it could consist of such metrics as

  • Time taken to complete the survey (against what time it “should” take)
  • Time taken on a page before an answer is selected
  • Consistency in time taken to answer similar forms of questions
  • Length of response in open-ended answers
  • Variation in response (or absence of straight lines)
  • Absence of contradictions (a couple of factual questions can be repeated)
  • Correct answers to “logic” questions

A score can be collected and shared with the respondent at the end of the survey. Over time, this could seek to influence the quality of response via

  • Achievement – aiming to improve a quality score over time
  • Social effects – where panels have public profiles, average and cumulative quality scores can be publicly displayed
  • Economic – bonus panel points/incentives can be received for achievements (such as a high survey quality score, or an accumulation of a certain number of points)

The challenges

For this to work successfully, several challenges would need to be overcome

  • Gaming the system – there will always be cheats, and cheats can evolve. Keeping the scoring system opaque would mitigate this to an extent. But even with some people cheating the system, I contend the effects would be smaller with these gaming principles than without
  • Shifting focus – a danger is that respondents spend more time trying to give a “quality” answer than giving an “honest” answer. Sometimes, people don’t have very much to say on a subject, or consistently rate a series of attributes in the same manner
  • Alienating respondents – would some people be disinclined to participate in surveys due to not understanding the mechanics or feeling unfairly punished or lectured on how best to answer a survey? Possibly, but while panels should strive to represent all types of people, quality is more important than quantity
  • Arbitrariness – a scoring system can only infer quality; it cannot actually get into the minds of respondents’ motivations. A person could slowly and deliberately go through a survey while watching TV and not reading the questions. As the total score can never be precise, a broad scoring system (such as A-F grading) should be used rather than something like an IQ score.
  • Maintaining interest – this type of game doesn’t motivate people to continually improve. The conceit could quickly tire for respondents. However, the “aim of the game” is to maintain a minimum standard. If applied correctly, this could become the default behaviour for respondents with the gaming incentives seen as a standard reward, particularly on panels without public profiles.

Would it work? I can’t say with any certainty, but I’d like to see it attempted.

sk

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I love Nintendo

nintendo ds cake

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/rakka/

Reading this report of Nintendo’s record-breaking year of turnover and profits reminded me how much I love Nintendo as a company.

I’ve been a regular, if not fanatical, user of their products for over 15 years. A few years ago, they looked to have lost their way. The Gameboy Advance and Gamecube hadn’t performed too well, and a dominant Sony and emerging Microsoft had already squeezed Sega out of the market. It looked like Nintendo might follow.

What saved them was the qualities I admire most in them; innovation and – above all – enjoyment.

Looking at the most popular games across the Playstation and Xbox (and pc games), you could see the direction in which the market was moving

  • Photo-realistic graphics
  • Immersive gameplay
  • High concept
  • Online
  • Challenging
  • Wide-ranging controls and functionality

These games require incredible amounts of investment – in terms of development costs for the producer and gameplay time for the consumer.

Through the DS and Wii, Nintendo turned this on its head. Their games are

These factors combined can create fanatical devotion that can spread through word of mouth – not only saving marketing budget but also extending the word to the casual gamers.

And so Nintendo created a new market.

My Mother – who only learned to send text messages last year and still can’t email – now has a Wii. Two of the games she plays – Wii Sports and Wii Fit – are pretty much the equivalent of what you get on MiniCip, whereas Wii Fit actually gives some tangible benefit to her.

Games with face-to-face social benefits, games that are primarily fun, and games that lead to benefits or changes to lives as a whole. Is this the direction the industry is going in?

Of course the sandbox style of Grand Theft Auto has proved incredibly popular, but what have been the breakout franchises of the past couple of years? Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

As McCann’s Subodh Deshpande so succinctly put:

Nintendo has succeeded with the DS and Wii because, unlike its competition, it did not view the gaming business through the lens of graphic wizardry but through the eyes of human beings 

sk