The Science of Positioning, as Al Ries intends it and as I have learnt it from him, seems an abstract art and far from what the world of Game Developers is.
For instance, let’s take a company that wants to develop a first-person shooter.
How important is Positioning for them? How they will benefit from having studied the Positioning principles that I am trying to explain to you?
The answer is simple.
The company is developing a FPS, and it has two alternatives:
- They design another Call of Duty clone and put it on sale in some digital store.
- They focus on a specific market niche, create a new genre, claim its ownership and become the reference game for the niche they have created.
What is the difference?
In the first case, they must hope the game decently positions itself on the various Digital Stores ending up at the top of the charts. Otherwise, it will disappear quickly and nobody will buy it.
Even if a potential player finds the game, it must win the price battle because in today’s overcrowded market there is for sure another FPS that is cheaper. Or even free.
In the second case, however, if the company positions itself as a leader of a new genre and develops its marketing strategy in that direction, then things change.
Players will buy the game because they are convinced that it’s something new, and it’s just what they need. They will not look for other similar video games…because they simply aren’t there.
As you can see, with Positioning we are not talking about something abstract, but extremely physical.
It’s about occupying a position in people’s minds, building your own space. A space that will be difficult to undermine.
Is this just nonsense?
What do you think happened with PUBG? Is it another Call Of Duty clone? Not at all. It is a new subgenre, a Battle Royal first-person shooter. And it became the leader of that genre.
Unfortunately, because of their lack of experience in Positioning, PUBG’s managers made a few unsuccessful choices that allowed Fortnite to take the crown.
The tragic faith of Pippin
Is Positioning’s Law valid only for video games? Nope.
A few years ago, I took a gap year and started travelling in South America with my motorbike. One day I found myself in a flea market in Buenos Aires. A large black plastic box piqued my interest. Placed on top of it was a pair of boomerang-style controllers. The weird logo on the front of the device read “Pippin”.
What was that thing?
In 1994 Apple started licensing their Macintosh technology. It was a very different company at that time. Steve Jobs had been ousted several years earlier and the company was under the control of Michael Spindler, the new CEO. Faced with financial pressure and an eroding market share, Spindler concluded that licensing the Mac operating system was the only viable option to keep Apple from running aground.
In 1995, Bandai – the famous Japanese toy company – took advantage of it.
Pippin is the result of this agreement. In terms of processing power and speed, it was a Ferrari compared to the other game consoles. Pippin packed a speedy PowerPC processor and included built-in internet access and a CD-ROM drive. Apple pictured the Pippin being more than just a game console. It was also suitable for business, education or it could be used to watch TV programs.
Why has Pippin had no chance of establishing itself on the console market?
Firstly, in the mid-90s, the console gaming industry was already dominated by Playstation, Nintendo and Sega. End of the story.
As we learnt in the first part of this article, there is very little space in people’s minds. In the long run, it’s a two-man race. It usually starts as a three-man race but ends as a two-man one.
“Even if you have the money, you cannot simply attack strong brands.”
Pippin turned out to be a tremendous flop. Apple sold only 42,000 units. By comparison, when Nintendo launched its N64 game console in 1996, they sold between 350,000 and 500,000 units in just the first three days.
Secondly, as I have already explained here, Pippin has fallen in the convergence’s trap.
Categories (like consoles, computers, TV, etc…) diverge, they don’t converge. They diverge to create new sub-categories.
The trap of convergence is the one in which companies fall thinking a TV with a built-in Blu-ray player is a good thing. Or that a game console with built-in modem and TV, and suitable for business, education and entertainment is a good thing.
Television has not merged with another medium. It diverged. Once we had television and today we have normal TV, satellite TV, digital terrestrial TV, Pay per view TV, etc.
Computer devices haven’t merged with another medium. We don’t have a PC-mobile-tablet-console phone. We have smartphones, we have tablets, we have computers and we have gaming consoles.
Pippin was already condemned because Bandai managers ignored Positioning’s laws. It happens when your company’s production department wakes up one morning and says:
“Who are we? Toy manufacturers!
And what do we want? Get rich!
And how do we plan to do it? By creating a clone of our competitors’ consoles!
You can’t bypass Positioning’s Laws
But the laws of Positioning cannot be bypassed. Not even if you are a Japanese giant with a lot of money.
If we remain in the “physical” world, in each category there is space in the player’s mind for a maximum of two brands. Bandai tried to enter the gaming console market, but they arrived late when the category was already crystallizing around the two main brands (Playstation and N64).
Moreover, Pippin retailed at $599, three times the price of the popular Nintendo 64.
Pippin was a financial disaster for Bandai. The Japanese company failed to recoup practically any of their investment. The cost of developing and marketing the Pippin had been astronomical. The lean production model that had made Bandai’s fortune simply wasn’t yet practical for complex electronics. For both Spindler and Makoto Yamashina, Bandai’s CEO, the Pippin was a disastrously bad gamble.
Later, Bandai recovered from this flop because they came out with the Tamagotchi, the first portable digital animal. They invented a new category, and they made a ton of money (the magic of Positioning, eh?).
People never learn from history
Just to show you that large companies are NOT foolproof and that sometimes they don’t even learn from their own mistakes, I must inform you that, before Pippin, Bandai had already tried to enter the console market with Playdia.
Same company, same mistakes.
Playdia was marketed more as a multimedia home entertainment system than as a dedicated gaming console.
Later they tried to get into the handheld game console market (dominated by Nintendo’s Game Boy) with WonderSwan.
The fact that your mind does not remember any of these names already makes you realize that they were both sensational holes in the water.
Now history is repeating itself.
Last year Slightly Mad Studios announced that they are building their own console: The Mad Box.
Yep. A Racing game studio has branched out into the console manufacturing industry with a new console.
Since their announcement, however, the upcoming resurgence of game streaming has caused some investors to walk away.
Now, there are questions over whether the console will ever come out. In an interview with PCGamesInsider.biz, Slightly Mad Studios’ marketing director, Nathan Bell, confirmed that “the future of the project is questionable” as two major investors pulled out following the announcement of Google Stadia.
Actually, Stadia is good news for Slightly Mad Studios. Maybe it’s time to take advantage of this new entry. They should cancel the project and save some money.
The product category of the consoles is already taken by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, respectively with Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Switch. And, soon or later, only two will remain.
On a separate note, Mad Box promised to be the most powerful console ever made.
I smile when people think they can overthrow a brand with the concept of “power” (we just saw it with Pippin, too).
History teaches us that power (and technical requirements in general) is useless. For example, Nintendo Wii had much less power than Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 but still managed to win the war. Wii sold 101 million units, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 approximately 87 and 84 million each.
Why did it happen? Because Nintendo applied the law of Positioning. They did not focus on power. They focused on a different target of players and a different game mode (starting with the Wii Mote, completely different from Playstation and Xbox controllers).
If you can burn the same millions that Bandai threw outside the window with Pippin or those that Slightly Mad Studios is throwing down the tube, then you play another sport and you can afford to do some test with the finances of your company.
What if you can’t afford it? Does it mean you can’t launch products or services?
Quite the contrary.
But your company must start with marketing. You must follow the rules of Positioning and implement the correct strategies to launch your product and lead your company to success.
But Brand Positioning is a tough science that, alone, requires years of study. This web site is here to help you through the journey.
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To the success of your game.