Friction Innovation Vs. Engagement Innovation

February 7th, 2012 — 8:06pm

I’ve been posting a lot of recently about value creation in games.  Most of my attention has been on the engagement side of this equation, but for today’s post I’d like to talk about the relationship between friction reduction and engagement.

First, friction reduction (a.k.a. accessibility) is not in an inverse relationship with engagement.  In fact, they’re highly complementary, since advances in friction reduction reduce the barrier to entry, increasing the viability of more experimental products.

Second, I’d argue there’s been an amazing amount of innovation on the friction side the past 20 years.  So much that there’s been little incentive to innovate on the engagement side.  I’m not saying engagement innovation has slowed – it has probably increased as well, just not at the same pace as advancements in friction reduction.  But when reducing friction is improving product value so dramatically, why bother taking any risks in engagement?

Looking for evidence?  I give you the last decade’s increase in cloning as exhibit A.  The friction reduction benefits are so strong that companies won’t even risk changing the numerical values in the game (see the Yeti Town clone of Triple Town).

I expect this is cyclical.  Friction reduction will eventually run out of steam in our current ecosystem and likely commoditize to the point where it’s simply not a differentiating factor, at which point more attention will shift back to engagement innovation.  But in the meantime I think the engagement piece is underserved, and there’s an opportunity there.

I do have some concern that over the long haul we, as an industry, will lose some of our expertise in engagement innovation if an entire generation of game designers grows up in a world based largely on friction innovation.  We’re not there yet, but I find it striking how many folks don’t know there difference between the two.

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