During the late nineteen nineties, a thorough strategic review of the British Junior Chamber of Commerce was conducted. It is a kind of parties and charity events Junior Rotary that has a distinctly retro feel to it, one of the reasons why it had lost 80% of its members (or customers and market share) over the previous twenty years. Its members were usually in their 30’s, so it was no longer junior at all!
Radical approach was taken by the officers of the said group while others simply rearranged the chairs on the deck of the Titanic as the ship continued to go down. One of the features of this organization was international twinning where the members visit friends in a foreign chamber bi-annually and vice-versa. It was proposed that the organization become a travel company primarily to see bands like Robbie Williams, Coldplay and James Blunt play in other countries.
Low cost flights were becoming popular and if you could stay at your twin organization members home (and they yours) you then had a very low cost international travel model with a purpose ‘the big gig’. This delivered to a young person’s sense of ‘having a good time’ having traveled far to rock festivals in my youth. But this was revolution for this retro organization whereas the more conservative members of the organization proposed an evolutionary model that was accepted. Perhaps predictably it continues to decline and I and others remain convinced that my prescription was an effective one!
The aims of the organization have been defined in the widest possible terms in effect ‘offer a service to young people containing real features and benefits that they would instantly perceive to have value and relevance in return for a fee’. It is surely obvious that any service offer has to change with the times. Welfare state spending may reduce the need for charity or terrorism the appeal of travel, never mind that, new young adult generations will always look to find new ways to irritate older people. Digital Technology has revolutionized this landscape (Generation X, 2000).
In this short piece of work, I, as the consultant, challenge Fairview to look at their product offering in the broadest possible terms too. When they use the term gaming, it should simply mean fee generating play. For instance, I think many young men (and women) in the United Kingdom would like to play for the English soccer team.
It should be perfectly possible to design and offer a paid for interactive Information Technology game where you join a team, play well and are transferred while you play against other teams with team members located all over the country on your mobile phone, timing runs, tackling, and making passes and shots in real time on the screen. It is this soccer offering where the United Kingdom has the best product in the world I have focused on, as United Kingdom consumers pay to receive live soccer currently. It is both then the dominant market segment for gaming potential as well as the easiest to charge a fee for.
This then should be the aim for Fairview. To understand what young people want and harness the technology to deliver a new concept that will sweep the market. This is all some distance from the traditional ‘bookie’s’. Fairview uses the name ‘chain’ to describe this market entry. Chain is the right term, but not as in the old ‘a chain of bookie’s ‘but by building customer databases linked by profitable repeat fee based gaming interests for rapid team game building. This is as near to a mission statement as my proposal needs.
While on the one side the United Kingdom seems a perfect place to offer gaming services as a wealthy secular modern society with no overt proscriptions, the reality is that this protestant country has some of the same forces at play as the puritan founders of the United States of America that influences proscriptions against gaming there. Millions of British used to admit to only gambling once a year on ‘The National’ the Grand National Steeplechase.
Bookie’s were scruffy smoke filled pits of dysfunctional people all too often Catholic immigrants from Ireland. Relatively well educated, if you asked the British why they didn’t gamble they’d say ‘it’s a mugs game’ and ‘get rich quick schemes’ only work for the amoral founders of the idea. They would prefer to ‘gamble’ if that is the appropriate term on the stock market where legitimate gains could be made by using the thirds party services of good corporate management to ensure a comfortable retirement.
If you look for further evidence of this, it is well known that no Casino will open in the United Kingdom, unless there are large numbers of potential ethnic Chinese gamers living nearby. They will not get rich on United Kingdom consumers, indeed may not even break even (The Independents Britain’s new cultural entrepreneurs, 1999).
.But times change, and just as the stock market now offers a diverse range of derivative instruments, so does gaming. The popularity of the English Premier League has lead to the spread betting phenomenon. If the top teams usually win, the margin of victory is far less certain and this also has lead to greater volatility and margins of gains and losses or in other word exciting risky behavior.
The United States legislation against on line gaming was an initial set back as the United Kingdom based organizations were generating lot of business in for instance interactive Poker games (People before structures, 2000). B. But clearly there now offers the same kind of opportunity for Fairview that stem cell researchers enjoy in the United Kingdom’s less judgmental society in other ways, so familiar to the Americans, but what exactly is it?.
Technology has changed consumer markets especially for young people fundamentally. Living in a poor third world town in a poor third world country there are dozens of internet shops catering for young males who want to play on line. The cell phone here predominates and conversations have to be broken mid sentence to give the phone its precedence. These are new networks just waiting to be more completely, competently and commercially exploited.
In the United Kingdom, most homes have internet cable bundled with telephony too and children dominate their use. For those who think that the internet is a marvelous utility for expanding the mind with information, the reality is that it is pornography that dominates commercial transactions on the web. People are quite happy to sign up to a site that suits their sexual taste and this has hastened the demise of the printed word if pornographic magazines were more likely to venerate the picture rather than the accompanying narrative. This all simply demonstrates that people will pay a fee to use IT if you give them what they really want, in this instance, sex!
To refer back to my opening, I realized that the Junior Chamber had other problems too in gaining new young members. People often didn’t want to move around to get together any more, given the twin threats of urbanization traffic clog and personal security threats. At their office was the ideal tool to ‘blog’ instead.
Tools like Microsoft Messenger meant that you could now have an interactive real time conversation. Add a web cam and this is the modern equivalent of the ‘whist drive’ or poker games my parent’s generation but enjoyed without the need for a meeting place. Property in the rich and crowded island that is the United Kingdom is notoriously expensive to buy or rent. How very convenient!
The question then to ask is, given this new digital societies’ range of extensive interactive tools, what will the young people move onto once they tire of their mostly violent and speedy games? Gaming defined as a competition where you place a stake and back your skill has to be the obvious move once these kids are working and have more money in their pocket. The opportunity is obvious. But will Fairview be sufficiently visionary to spend marketing resources on creating this market?
To do this, their initial key goals will include setting up the soft infrastructure. They will have to work with key influencers (for instance game designers) and agents (like MySpace) and the Premier Football League as well as build a formidable technical offering, but they will be pushing against an open door in terms of consumer desires.
They must design a proprietary brand and a tightly drawn patent to protect themselves at least at the outset for competition, unless they are not prepared to spend enough marketing funds on this to ‘go it alone’ and would rather share the burden with competitors in the hope that there is enough business to keep everyone happy.
Observe the English soccer on Star Sports in Asia. It will be noticed that they urge customer to use their cell phones to make score predictions and so of course can build up a data base of cell phone numbers that send the predictions in. Many of these Asian English soccer fans have never been to a real English game. They are a perfect target to form virtual soccer team similarly with the virtual manager games. In a sense Star Sports and its competitors are ‘ahead of the game’ but they don’t recognize what they’ve got yet nor how best they can leverage it.
When the term ‘clicks and mortar’ was first coined in the nineteen nineties it seemed pretentious, but in fact it was ‘right on the money’. It seemed that consumers wouldn’t buy some things unless they’d seen them first. The feel of something is important. It transpired that Amazon were very good at selling Information Technology, books and records all not particularly visual or tactile and we would buy holidays and flights on the net for the same reasons, but when for instance it came to clothes, a regional superstore may be needed to view the goods closer at hand.
Since that time memory has got cheaper and virtual reality less virtual, and this has become a little less of an obstacle. What about the social environment though?. People will be free to play these games in public arenas with adjacent fellow players. It just need not be that way.
Of course, younger people have sometimes never even thought about this although malls around the world seem to still be full of them. There is evidence too that many people gravitate towards social situations such as ‘the bookie’s’ provides. Where then in the product offering should we place these components? It seems to me that an internet gaming company should product test a real life regular forum for their customers.
An organization was set up by Tony Blair, the former United Kingdom Prime minister’s advisor on future policy trends called DEMOS. It was a centre left policy think tank. Most of the action was in far away London but once a year they would hold an event in the north in Liverpool. It is this kind of customer sensitivity that internet offerings have to master, designed as they all too often are by tech ‘geeks’ who are rarely ‘people persons’. An annual conference of soccer gamers could be highly viable and entertaining for them off season.
In one article by Demos, they put the spotlight on Generation X the first internet generation to reach adulthood. This was in some ways a fundamentally different generation. They were found to be the first generation that had synthesized their social needs inside their heads and home, whereas previous young adults would head off down ‘the pub.’ The bedroom of the average young person in the United Kingdom is now an entertainment and communication zone, a little like the bridge of Star Trek!
The recent purchases of social networks like that of MySpace by Google tells us something about their utility for attractive targeting both by advertisers and the future tech offerings that Google is rumored to be announcing soon in the cellular communication area. So far I have mostly referred to the internet, but clearly relatively few people can receive this via 3G right now and these services are expensive (but there is an opportunity there for Fairview too).
It is clear that in the technical mix a formidable proactive customer services 2G offering should be launched as well, as we all know that these 2 and 3 G phones are no longer just phones but in some way an extension of the identity of the individual.
Where this would all lead in terms of software development I don’t have the expertise to predict, but Fairview would surely need their own in house team of software developers. Opportunities for as ubiquitous a product as interactive soccer would clearly show themselves rapidly in both mainland Europe and South America where soccer is king, and later, globally!
The beauty of technology of course is that this can be all run from just one location. Adjacent opportunities will be available too for the skill and experience built by the Information Technology department to be applied elsewhere. There are many customer services functions in the United Kingdom where good staff could be poached for a more interesting job
This leads to the subject of Brand. Clearly few can tell the Americans anything about brand building. In consumer markets, brand is king and so internet and 2G advertising with product offers would be essential. I repeat that endorsements by top soccer players of the interactive paid for soccer gaming would too be essential if that were part of the offer. It should too watch how Google addresses the market in its next move as that organization seems to have a good feel for the youth/it/ commercial landscape
The action and execution plan would be carried out most effectively by well trained and motivated new young people to Fairview that have bought into this concept as they will sell/merchandise it with real enthusiasm at retail software purchase points. This will be a sales force with all the traditional activity goals, daily targeting etc. A key account manager will set up the contacts with the key partners MySpace, YouTube, etc. and Star Sports and the Premier League to set up the delivery networks, but it will be the marketers that will likely make the most impact by leaflets in the appropriate magazines, advertising boards at soccer grounds, cell phone text message advertising etc.
A pre offer tease roadside board adverting campaign could be useful but as this will be a tech offering a key initial task would be to build a potential fee gamers data base by garnering cell phone responses to advertising. The mining of this cell phone response consumer data base should be a key task of an in house customer services team with specific goals to be achieved.
It can be concluded from the evidence above is that there is a real opportunity to move things on commercially in the tech gaming space and thereby move away from the traditional bricks and mortar gaming concept. This is of course already well under way, but the surface is only being scratched in terms of potential as large sections of the community don’t game (gamble) at all as the offer has yet to be put in the right way.
This is the right way and indeed many of the tools look already to be in place, if greater use of 3G would be a slight advantage. Much of the above proposal is already out there like United States interactive basketball and I’m sure that Fairview know this, but they could crucially deepen the level of interactivity with a virtual FA Cup played by thousands around the world with a trophy handed to the winners before the real FA Cup Semi Final and real players ‘guesting’ on line in teams.
This ‘hype’ or real celebrity based excitement, a mix of reality TV and virtual reality could gain many millions of subscribers paying per game regularly ‘on line,’ or even women (or men) aspiring to dinner with David Beckham, indeed make such a sea change in the commercializing of ITC that this becomes a legendary ‘breaking of the mould’ enterprise, the ‘final straw’ that opened the door for a fee based gaming enterprise to ‘clean up’. It simply remains then to be seen whether they will have both the vision and resources to turn this into such a lucrative reality that one day soon it will be as playing a pivotal role in redesigning post modern civil society as well!.
Generation X – Demos UK 2000
Handbook. 2007. http://www.rjca.org.uk/docs/Handbook_A.pdf
People before structures – Demos UK 2000
The Independents Britain’s new cultural entrepreneurs – Demos UK 1999