This is part one of the four part series on value creation in games. Part 1: Value Creation in Games; Part 2:Engagement and Content Volume; Part 3:Engagement and Personalization; Part 4: The Game Engagement Landscape.
I’ve been stewing a lot lately on how we create value in the games industry. Given that there’s no explicit utility case to be made for our products, everything we do appears to fall into two buckets:
- Increasing Access
- Increasing Engagement
Increasing access is about friction reduction. The electronic game value chain is filled with friction – everything from problems of discovery and delivery of product to basic commerce issues (payment types, price points and whatnot). Even existence has friction when you consider the barriers to creation: technical expertise, difficult of the platform, access to tools and development resources, and so forth. Within the game itself, simply the demands of play – learning curve, short and long term time commitments – create friction for the user.
Reducing friction can often enable otherwise average titles to succeed. A great example of this was consumer reaction to mobile games before the iPhone came along (2002 – 2006). Multiple studies (from the tail end of that era) showed consumers reaching for their phones to play games in their homes despite the presence of superior products on consoles, handhelds and computers.
On the other hand, increasing engagement is about creating desire. No matter how much friction we eliminate from the system, there still needs to be something on the other end that engages a consumer’s attention and pulls them to the product. In fact, just as low friction can enable weakly engaging products, strong engagement can overcome absolutely ludicrous frictions (witness Minecraft). It’s stating the obvious, but as long as engagement exceeds friction, you’ve got your customer.
Both methods of value creation are key to a successful product, but it’s important to understand the difference. Early entrants to a new market segment might succeed by making mediocre products highly accessible, only to fail in the long haul if they don’t know how to increase the engagement side (or more telling, recognize the importance of doing so).