Game Consoles On the Brink: PS4 Aims Hard, Xbox Aims High

View this post as it originally appeared on Advertising Age.

With the release of the Xbox One around the world today, Microsoft is now in position to see if it will catch up with Sony's successful PS4 introduction, which reportedly sold more than a million units on day one. Many are asking which console will win. That's actually the easy part. The harder question is whether game consoles will still matter in two years at all.

It feels a little like we've been here before. Back in 2007, both Sony and Microsoft were working hard to push the next generation of a technology they were convinced everyone would want. I'm not talking about the PS3 versus Xbox battle, though, but the war over high-definition video.

Most will barely remember that while Sony backed Blu-ray, which eventually won, Microsoft was betting hard on HD-DVD. I was courted at the time by both companies, eagerly trying to persuade me that their version of HD would win. We called the war for Sony at the time but made it clear that it would be a Pyrrhic victory: There would be precious few spoils to earn from that success.

We were right, much to Sony's distress. That's because the battle was fought over a physical storage format that was rapidly losing relevance. Digital downloads had already begun, although they would never really catch on. More importantly, that was the year that Netflix added online movie viewing, foreshadowing and encouraging a future that would be streamable.

That's why the right comparison today is not between this and the last-generation game console launches. It's instead between game consoles as a whole and all the dozens of other ways people can play games, watch video, interact with friends, and otherwise pass their free time.

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Digital Disruption Requires An Organizational Fix

Apple just announced that it has cumulatively sold more than 170 million iPads since the product first debuted in 2010. For context, if iPad Nation were a country, it would be roughly tied at No. 7 with Nigeria, set to eclipse Pakistan next quarter and Brazil the quarter after that.

This boldfaced proof of digital disruption’s power to upset markets has left companies in every industry struggling to keep up with a consumer population that is happily disrupting itself. For someone who spends his days researching digital disruption and modeling its effects, on the one hand, this is good news: Everybody believes in digital disruption. On the other hand, it raises a very real problem: Nobody knows what to do about it.

Today when I meet with companies bent on becoming digital disruptors, one of their first questions is no longer, "How much time do we have until we have to respond?" but rather, "How do we get started right now?"

There is no single answer to this. Some companies are best served by locating their disruption initiative outside the company in an innovation lab where it can quickly generate disruptive momentum. Others can get a boost of internal support by building an internal innovation team and drawing resources from a supportive corporate structure. And some companies can launch multiple focused disruptive initiatives across many different groups in the organization, each one tasked with a specific disruptive goal, as long as the culture of the company is ready to incubate the efforts.

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