25 July 2021 | By DF
Updated: 27 July 2021
I had time this weekend to finally complete Matthew Ball's Metaverse Primer (it's great and recently was singled out by the Zuck himself, but it's also very long for a primer...?). As I was reading it, I thought of a subtle point that warrants writing this brief post.
In Ben Thompson's What Clayton Christensen Got Wrong (from 2013), he argued that Christensen wrongly diagnosed the iPhone as vulnerable to low-end disruption because he failed to distinguish between consumers and enterprise markets. In enterprise markets (like the original PC market), feature sets can be succinctly captured as on a spec sheet and it is easy to tell when modular products have become "good enough". In contrast, in the smartphone market, consumers focus on aspects of the totality of the user experience, which an integrated product the iPhone is more well-suited to provide.
Crucially, the benchmark for what constitutes a good user experience for consumers is a constantly increasing one. This is reminiscent of Jeff Bezos' remarks in in Amazon's 2018 shareholder letter:
One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’. I see that cycle of improvement happening at a faster rate than ever before. It may be because customers have such easy access to more information than ever before – in only a few seconds and with a couple taps on their phones, customers can read reviews, compare prices from multiple retailers, see whether something’s in stock, find out how fast it will ship or be available for pick-up, and more. These examples are from retail, but I sense that the same customer empowerment phenomenon is happening broadly across everything we do at Amazon and most other industries as well. You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it.
To be sure, this discontentment is not entirely endogenous. As Fight Club reminds us, "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need." At its worst, we are stuck on a hedonic treadmill, despite the material abundance of modernity.
A simple heuristic for distinguishing whether users will be satisfied with "good enough" or be divinely discontent is to consider if the job-to-be-done is merely instrumental to some larger goal or an end in and of itself.
Games are, almost by definition, something that people disproportionately care about (I hesitate to add the phrase "to an irrational degree"). Consider this article from The Atlantic, which found that gamers were better than the scientific community at catching fraud.
Reading Ball's lapidary examination of the various building blocks of the Metaverse (and the pre-eminent role gaming plays in it), I am also astounded by the degree of technical sophistication that goes into making games and how these technologies are transferrable to other domains. (For example, Unreal Engine was used to build 3D environments for Season 1 of The Mandalorian.)
This adds subtlety to the quip that "the next big thing will start out looking like a toy". Sometimes, a small group of people caring disproportionately about their toys is what gets us past the trough of disillusionment to unlock productivity breakthroughs for the rest of us.
Earlier, I have alluded to the downsides of discontentment. Personally, I have dabbled in Stoicism and I do subscribe to the idea that "desire is a contract you make to be unhappy until you get what you want". At the same time, a straight line can be drawn from our divine discontentment to our ascent from our hunter-gatherer days and maybe one day becoming a multi-planetary species.
Turns Out The Hardest Part of Making a Game Is...Everything - IGN