If you’re ever bored and desperate for something to kill time, ask my friend Hamud (www.twitter.com/hamudm) about his iPad, a surefire 2 hour conversation starter. There’s something special about the man’s love for his tablet, and I get the feeling if you ever asked him to choose between setting fire to it, or his hockey gear, that’d he throw the match onto his hockey bag himself.
Why so smitten? Simple, because in his words, “it just works”. There’s no crashes, patches, codecs, or any other nonsense; you just turn it on, sit back, and let yourself be entertained. And what’s really funny about the whole thing is that he’s fulfilling his own prophecy about electronic gadgets. Believe it or not, before anyone had even heard of the iPad, Hamud was already seeing the signs of things to come.
The Age of “Good Enough”
3-4 years ago, during one of our weekly late night drives to hockey, Hamud and I got on the topic of the future of gaming. We’re both PS3 owners, and we love them as entertainment centres, but he felt like the real future of games lay in simpler, quicker, dirtier games, like the kind that came packed with cell phones; games like Brick Breaker, or Bejeweled. His point was simple – the games we play in the future will be portable, will be targeted to the casual gamer who’s looking for fun, and above all else they will simple in design.
He argued that the segment of gamers dying for bleeding edge graphics and sound were minute compared to the legions of bored commuters, travellers, or students killing time on their mobile devices. As long as the graphics and game play were “good enough” without being great, people would accept that trade-off for the fun they were having. Simply put, users want to have fun, and they want it now; there’s no room for complications.
Examples of Light Beating Might
Flash forward to today and we see examples all around us of simple, fun, user interfaces competing and often surpassing their more sophisticated competition. The iPad (and its iOS) is one example from the world of hardware, but there are success stories elsewhere of this paradigm shift in action.
Call of Duty vs. Minecraft
One of the most highly anticipated video games of 2010 was the latest installment of Activision’s pride and joy, Call of Duty, Black Ops. A first person shooter set during the Cold War, months of anticipation driven by a multi-million dollar marketing campaign culminated in 5.6 million units being sold the first day it was released. And for good reason; the game looked absolutely beautiful:
The trouble is, there was a lot wrong with the game. Users found immediate problems with the prized multiplayer mode, and reports of frequent crashes and bugs poured in. In the end, users gave the game a distinctly lower grade than its predecessors, despite the hype and early sales.
Now, compare the story of Black Ops to that of Minecraft. This, is Minecraft:
That blocky pixellated jumble you’re looking at is one of the most buzzed about games of 2010. It’s hard to pin down Minecraft in a single sentence, but essentially it’s a building game centred on the creation and destruction of single blocks. Users have created vast worlds of giant buildings and elegant castles, all the while looking at graphics that look like something an original Nintendo would scoff at.
But, sales of the Beta just recently crested a million downloads; that’s right, the game isn’t even finished and over a million people have paid to play it. This success has flowered from nothing but word-of-mouth; there has been no traditional marketing, no PR campaigns, and no backing from any sort of publisher.
Its success is purely driven by its simplicity and fun. Anyone can figure out Minecraft in two minutes or less, and what you can build is almost limitless; they’ve basically created Lego for adults. It lives in your browser so it’s incredibly stable, and it’s so lightweight that even older machines can run it. PC Gamer was so impressed they put Minecraft on its cover, and a search on Youtube for Minecraft yeilds 730,000 results. You literally cannot buy that kind of exposure.
The trend toward simple and fun doesn’t just begin and end with gaming. Even something as pedestrian as a classified ads website can become legendary.
Kijiji vs. Craigslist
For a while it seemed like the battle between the incumbent Craigslist and the up-and-coming Kijiji would be epic; could Kijiji finally knock its elder competitor from it’s position as classifieds king?
To some American readers, Kijiji is already dead, replaced by eBay Classifieds, but in Canada is near-corpse is still trudging along; yes, the battle is over almost before it began, and Craigslist was the run away victor.
From any rational marketing perspective it makes no sense; Kijiji looked better, had (arguably) better functionality, had a healthy advertising budget, and was backed by old hands eBay. How could it possibly lose to a site that looks like it was designed in 1996? (Oh wait, it actually was designed in ’96).
I attribute Craigslist’s success to being simple, and fun. There is nothing difficult or complicated in posting to Craigslist – I’m confident the average grandmother could have it sorted it out in ten minutes. The site loads quickly, and there are rarely any problems with posting. And it’s fun too! Who hasn’t giggled over The Best of Craigslist? If you haven’t found it yourself, then I’ll bet someone you know has sent you a link or two.
The Value of Fun
There are plenty more examples of the “simple + fun = success” paradigm at work (Angry Birds comes to mind), but I think I’ve made my case; iPad sales alone should be enough proof that the “good enough” generation is here to stay. But I don’t think it’s enough to just make your product or service simple to use (like the iPad). I think going forward we’re going to see more and more businesses embrace the idea of adding fun to their strategy.
At lunch yesterday I was lucky enough to pick Teri Conrad’s (www.twitter.com/TLChome) brain about a variety of issues, and this very topic came up. We both commented on how underrated fun is in the business world, and how it can be extremely effective in making your offering more engaging, memorable, and attractive. To paraphrase her, consumers are sick of dealing with corporations – they want to see the human side of brands.
Make your product/service simple so everyone can use it, then make it fun so that people enjoy using it. Not only will your product be more accessible to a larger demographic, but it will also put a human face on your company, somethine that’s critical in this age of social media.
There’s nothing more humanizing than fun: