Five-Forces Analysis has Grim Tidings for Free-To-Play on Mobile

The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy

Image from http://hbr.org/2008/01/the-five-competitive-forces-that-shape-strategy/ar/1

Let me start by saying I like all kinds of video games. I like console games. I like PC games. I like shooters. I like RPG’s. Basically, I enjoy anything except sports games (and that’s really a comment about my attention span for professional sports rather than sports games themselves). I also like mobile games and free-to-play games. And I like F2P on mobile. I’ve had some great experiences with that combo when it’s done well. I still periodically dip back into Avengers Alliance*, and I had some great times with Hay Day and Tiny Trains.

My point is THIS IS NOT AN ANTI-F2P/ANTI-MOBILE/ANTI-MOBILE-F2P RANT.

The intention of this post is not to castigate mobile-F2P, but to point out a structural flaw in the current direction the market is taking. In general, it’s healthy for the industry to have a wide swath of business models, platforms, and vectors for people to games (or consume them, in business terms). There is a massive amount of potential in the mobile/F2P combo, but the market seems to be cannibalizing itself for short-term gains.

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Competitive Advantage and the Productivity Frontier, Or Why Dark Souls is the Ikea of Game Development

DarkSouls

One of the major figures of business academia is a man named Michael Porter. Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, is possibly most famous for his trademark “Five Forces Analysis”, but he is also the author of one of the definitive books on competition, Competitive Strategy.

Porter argues that efficiency, while important, is not enough to create a true competitive advantage. Even if a firm is using the most cutting-edge technology and best practices of an industry, to the utmost level of efficiency (what Porter refers to as “the productivity frontier”), all a competitor needs to steal the lead is to find a new best practice, technique, or technology and become just that much more efficient. In simpler terms, being the most cost-effective company only puts you in the lead until someone else figures out how to be more cost-effective (Porter calls this “expanding the productivity frontier”). Further, Porter argues that a firm can either iterate (do things better) or it can innovate (do better things), but it can’t do both at once: a new technology or product will, by definition not have an established best practice, so iterations must occur before that relevant productivity frontier can be found. Continue reading