Saturday, May 19, 2012

Patient consumerism

I just finished "The World of Goo", a five year old game. I'm now playing "Psychonauts", which is at least five years old.

I see a lot of hysteria when new games are released. What's the hurry? If the game is any good, it will still be around in a few months.  If anything, after the first round of consumers has tested the game, it will be released with patches and updates to make it work better. And in a few months, there will be much more content for the game.

Products thrive on consumer hype and early sales. Early adopters serve as testers for the product. They get bragging rights, but their experience is often rough. This strategy works well for people who need the features the new products provide. And that's a small subset of people. The majority of consumers need a rugged, stable product at a reasonable price. Marketing, however, works differently. There is a huge marketing campaign when a product is released: it has to be prominently featured to grow consumer awareness. Average consumers get caught up in the hysteria. You find first-adopters who purchased the product for brag rights rather than actual utility.

Poor products rely on early sales while good products rely on sustained sales. Good products have long-term focus. The Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP both sold roughly 1.2 million units in first-week. But the overall sales were very different: Nintendo DS sold 152 million units, and the PSP sold half that number. Both products were released in 2004. First week sales of the two consoles were not indicative of their relative success. Of the products released in 2006, only 5% were hits, and only 15% were around after five years. A patient consumer has fewer options, and the options are of higher quality.

I can wait when most new products come out. I don't need a cutting-edge game, just like I don't need a cutting-edge vacuum cleaner. My current flight simulator is nearly a decade old, and meets my needs. There is a small subset of products where I do need the very latest. Products that improve my efficiency or quality-of-life fall in this category. I spend many hours carrying my child, and will happily pay for an innovative baby carrier. This set differs from one person to the next. A person with breathing difficulty might want to buy the cutting-edge vacuum cleaner.

When you see a new product, ask yourself if you are buying it because it will significantly improve your life. Avoid getting caught in marketing hysteria. The product will still be on the shelf a month later.  If it is any good, that is.

(Image: courtesy News-o-Drome)