Video Games As Disruptive Innovation?

Quick Read: Today’s video games like Grand Theft Auto V, are more than just stunning life like gaming experiences. We could have some exciting possibilities here – where experiential & interactive branding can be embedded in games. And more interestingly, a world where video games can be virtual beta testing grounds for new product and UX design. These could be potential disruptive innovations for fields like Market Research and Product Design. 

Visit Los Santos & Blaine County – where plastic surgery, bad movies and big sharks rule the roost – see for yourself.

So says the landing page of Grand Theft Auto V – the super hit block buster action adventure video game that has been rated as the fastest selling entertainment product in world history.

It broke industry sales records by earning US $800 million in the first 24 hours of its release, and US $1 billion within its first three days.

gta-5-grand-theft-auto-99

One of the key features of the game is that it has an Open World game level design – i.e., a world where a player can roam freely through the fictional city of Los Santos and is given considerable freedom in choosing how or when to approach objectives. So as a character in the game you have the freedom to spend your time pursuing adventure sports, lounge about by the beach, go shopping, visit the local artisan, enjoy music and other such entertainment options.

Los Santos(The Landing Page of GTA-V that lists the possibilities and features of Los Santos city and Blaine County)

But Fernando Pereira Gomes – a street photographer by passion and a game enthusiast who went to the midnight launch of the game and played the night away, noticed something even more interesting.

He noticed that the characters in the game had phones with cameras at all times during the game play. This means the players can practically take pictures from within the game(!) and upload these. So with this new tool, and the huge world of Los Santos and its streets, he started experimenting with the camera and went on to take some truly stunning photographs that he has started to share on his blog. Ever since its launch, his blog and the pictures have been rapidly climbing up the popularity charts – thanks to the ingenuity of his idea and the beauty he captures from within the game’s landscape. See a demo video on how he does it here. Now that is Street Photography taken to a completely new level!

He goes on to say..

What I found was remarkable. The game is so realistic that it felt like being in the streets outside, running around for shots, anticipating passersby’s movements and reactions. In a way, it was also incredibly frightening that these algorithms could look so real, or is it that we ourselves are becoming ever more algorithmic?

StreetPhotoV(Los Santos Street Photo by Fernando Pereira Gomes sourced from his blog)

On first look this is fascinating for two reasons:

  1. For the GTA V’s rich media, content and the game design that enables such  interesting possibilities (makes a definitive commentary on the evolution of game design).
  2. And for the creativity and ingenuity of someone like Fernando Gomes who has ventured beyond the apparent possibilities in the game and went on to make a mark for himself.

On second look, and from a marketer’s and a product designer’s stand point, I thought there could be even more compelling possibilities dormant here waiting to be realised. Two things I could think of:

In Game Experiential Branding

In game branding is nothing new. But how about adding an experiential / interactive angle to this ‘in game branding’? More specifically, how about, say a brand like Samsung, tying up with the game franchise and embedding its full camera functionality in the game’s camera phone? Wouldn’t it be an interesting way to let the gamers – many of whom tend to be tech’s early adopters and thereby potential customers of “the latest phone out there” –  try out the phone’s exciting new features?

The opportunities of ‘customer involvement’ here could be limitless – almost life like with little risk involved while affording an almost first person experience of the phone and/or its camera to the user. The best part is the free marketing that these early adopters could do for the brand if and when they share these pics on their social network.

A Virtual Beta Testing Ground For The Upcoming Wearables  

Let’s take Google Glass as an example  (one among the most awaited wearables in the market for 2014). As we speak now, it is in its Beta testing phase with some early adopters signing up to use, explore, develop and test new possibilities. In fact an Android developer Mike DiGiovanni looking to test the concept of using Glass as a second screen, has managed to capture Grand Theft Auto’s crucial in-game GPS interface, beaming it to the player’s Google Glass eyepiece in real time (source).

But how about embedding the functionality of  something like Google Glass within the game and let the players use it and explore its possibilities by themselves? I would guess something like this could give a treasure trove of real time feedback and insights to the product designers in order for them to refine its design and functionality.

Google Glass

Implications

Ben Hammersley  in his must read WIRED article on Wearables as the 3rd wave of computing, rightly says that when it comes to something like Google Glass, how our social progress plays out will be just as interesting as the technology itself. The social component of the implications would probably need to be tested and tried in real life, but the technology component and its possibilities can perhaps be tested in the game’s ‘reel’ life already today.

And may be when the game design becomes so smart to be able to reflect life like social dynamics – a not so unlikely prospect in the near future –  we might not even need the good old focus group or the hordes of beta testers!

Now, that could be a disruptive innovation for market research and product design!

Market research agencies and product designers of the world – hope you are investing in video games. No?

(Featured Image: Source, Fernando Pereira Gomes Street Photography on the streets of Los Santos within the game Grand Theft Auto V)

Block By Block – A Consumption Focused Design Paradigm

It took more than a 100 years for inkjet printers to become commercially viable. The reason?

Severe interdependence of the components and underlying systems. 

For e.g., even with the slightest change in the chemistry of the ink, the composition of the resistors had to be changed, and this potentially impacted the physical layout of the circuits and so on.  The solution for this?  Modularity of design. 

Wikipedia defines modularity as ..

 the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined.

Today most tools, gadgets, processes, systems, structures, designs that we interact with on a daily basis have modularity built from deep within. Right from the nuts and bolts of a system to the way it has possibly been put together on an assembly/production line, modularity is all pervasive.

In fact it is almost accepted wisdom now among designers and manufacturers that the speed at which an innovation can be commercialized is directly proportional to the speed at which the underlying design (of the system) and the process (of the assembly or integration) is standardized and modularized.

Now consider the above statement in conjunction with the following self explanatory paradigm of Design Thinking evangelized by IDEO, called the Desirability – Viability – Feasibility triad of innovation design. 

IDEO

Based on the above two, my hypothesis is the following:

While modularity in the context of production has almost proven itself to be a pre-requisite for establishing technical feasibility and – in many cases – for driving business viability of a given innovation , modularity in the context of consumption – if done right – can have far reaching implications in seeding the attributes of human desirability for the same.  

Three recent examples that seem to suggest the compelling potential for modularity in the context of consumption as a design paradigm:

(1) Phoneblok: Most of us, by now, would have seen this short video on the idea of building a phone with modular detachable blocks. This  presents the idea of Phonebloks –  hailed as a radical vision of what tech could be. The idea for me, is sheer ingenuity and insight. The possibilities  of such a consumer focused modularity in design seem to be truly empowering and liberating.

(2) NoFlo – A Flow Based Development Environment: The philosophy of Modular Programming is the default standard in most coding systems. But this modularity was mostly – for lack of a better term – limited to the realm of abstraction and ideation, since the corresponding code nevertheless lends itself as ‘strings of spaghetti’ and presents challenges for debugging compilation and logic errors.   With NoFlow as a development environment, modularity can be made more tangible and actionable in order to help inform, structure, design, test, debug and implement a complete software package.  The following is the video put together by the team for their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds (the funding was successful!).

(3) Modularity in content consumption: Unleashing the power of modularity in the domain of content consumption is in fact the name of the emerging game. Platform agnosticism is one of the many ways in which modularity lends itself in the consumption context for services like Amazon, Youtube and now Dropbox.  The latest edition of WIRED in fact features a fantastic story on  Dropbox’s radical plan for a future where “the gadgets are dumb, the features are smart, and data trumps devices.”

Dropbox

So there we have, emerging examples of modularity in the context of consumption (as opposed to only production) and how they promise to pan out in mobile, software design environments and cloud based architectures. Something for the technology powerhouses to sit up and take note? In fact in a recent interview with Forbes Clayton Christensen worries about Apple saying Modularity Always defeats Integration! 

Even in life as usual as we know it, no matter what we do from fixing a meal, concocting a cocktailassembling a piece of furniture, to laying out our Google Newsfeed, there’s always been a sense of joy, an inexplicable sense of desirability that we had for our stuff, for after all, it was our creation.  Step by step. Block by block. Isn’t it?

(Source for the featured image)