Sunday, October 14, 2012

OK it's over, but was it really a "Revolution"?

Here is a Good article by Tadhg Kelly that many others have linked to this weekend. While it's good and nails a few of the key trends at play, there's a couple things in the article that don't sit well with me. I'm not sure I can do much better, but here are a few points to consider.

Tadhg points us to the recent goldrush(es) around Social and Mobile games, specifically naming 5 trends (social customer acquisition, a 'price crash', distribution at scale, game metrics focus, and lower development cost (for mobile and social), and then goes on to knock on why each of those is coming to an end.

While he's correct about all five, it's the way they are lumped together that makes me a bit uncomfortable. In some areas they are trends affecting different areas entirely, in some areas with overlap, but by casting them all as part of this single "revolution", it's somewhat misleading.

In saying Social Stopped Working, he's correct that easy, exploitive viral channels were closed, and that customer acquisition costs went up - but it's unfair to dismiss social-viral potentiality altogether. e.g. Its a bit unfair to say that Words With Friends winning over Lexulous is entirely due to customer acquisition spend. There are design elements involved that make WWF a game with higher potential of distribution (e.g. they were quicker to add push-notification of turns, and have an end-game mechanic that leads to active-games growth)

His points about cost-of-entry going up (in terms of cost of acquisition and the points he makes about production costs) are right on the money, and are typical of any maturing market. We saw this happen in PC Casual, XBLA, heck, I remember a time when people used to say "4 guys in a garage can do it relatively cheaply!" about PC first person shooters. There's nothing new here. However, when lumping together to social vs mobile categories - what I view as two separate gold rushes with overlapping but different timelines and trends - it confuses the discussion somewhat.

In any case. It's a good article. The trends are real and should be considered when thinking about how they'll effect your business. And in the end, any attempt we make to classify them as a single market, or single trend or a single 'revolution' are all just definitions we're artificially placing on these things anyway. I'm reminded of the Richard Feynman quote:

"...although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial, and we should take our intellectual pleasures where we find them."
So it is here that any distinction we make into different compartments is artificial - models for us to try and understand the changes afoot. We should take lessons where we can find them, be they pleasurable ones or otherwise.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Well, Tadgh is a smart guy. He's also a consultant, and it's wholly in his best interest to say controversial but insightful things in public. He does have his blindspots, though; in a recent post, he said that Playdom (my current employer) hadn't been much heard of since Social City. Gardens of Time, hem hem. Avengers Alliance.

And it should be blindingly obvious that social and mobile, neither of them, now easy; that is, as you say, a natural evolution in any market. But FTP isn't going away, and there's still money to be made.

Now comes the hard work. We've been stuck an an A/B test model where things get closed out because ARPU went up by 2% when we may just have diminished retention by more; where metrics have taken priority over thinking about merchandising and what it takes to tempt people to spend in a positive and agreeable way. We've been stuck in cloneville instead of thinking about what new game styles are enabled by the social graph. The low-hanging fruit has been plucked, but from my perspective, that's to be celebrated rather than taken as the end of a revolution; here on in, progress and success will be a consequence of both intelligent approaches to marketing, and intelligent approaches to design.