Zpryme TrendZ

Over the holidays most of us spend time with friends and family. I take it as an opportunity to check in with the teenage kids of some friends, younger cousins, and friends of friends who aren’t in similar professions to mine. I have conversations with kindergarten teachers, university professors, retirees on their second career etc. and soak in all the things that I take for granted in my day-to-day experiences as a strategist and technologist. This year, one of the topics that I heard about across the spectrum of people that I interacted with was the topic of Fortnite. Fortnite is a free-to-play cross-platform battle game played across the world by ~80M people. The game has an in-game voice chat setting that enables players to form and interact in real-time with their team (groups). I’ve never played the game myself but got the opportunity to watch one of those teenagers I mentioned stream his games online. It was fascinating to watch him disappear into this virtual world for hours on end. His folks didn’t complain or wonder about his immersion, they just helped him manage his time because, in their own words ‘my parents worried that I spent too much time at the mall talking with my friends, now I worry about him spending too much time in Fortnite with his friends. Different time and thing, same worry’. But what caught my attention was the use of the word ‘in’; they said ‘in Fortnite’.

Where am I going with this? Before I get there, here are a few observations about Fortnite to bear in mind.

  1. Fortnite is ‘another place’ for all these people who play. It’s the new Starbucks location. It’s the new hanging out at the mall with your friends. It’s the new ‘have you heard this new song by Nirvana?’ It’s a virtual world in all senses of the word, even the images are cartoonish, and the real value that is derived is the ability to convene with people in a space of shared purpose.
  2. The cross-platform interoperability of the game is another in the line of integrations across systems and show the growth that is possible when you design network effect consumer apps for openness. Games have led this movement (and most consumer technology advances) for as far back as I can remember). Fortnite works seamlessly for members of a team whether they are playing the same ‘round’ on a Microsoft X-Box,, iPhone, Android, Nintendo Switch or personal computer.
  3. The base cost of entry into the world of Fortnite is zero dollars. Your ability to access to access and play the game does not depend on how much you have. Your ability to grow in stature in the game, to buy skins and abilities, might be determined by how much money you can spend but there is also a way for those unable to pay money to pay with time/continued play which ‘buys’ cosmetics  in the game.
  4. The game carries over cultural phenomena – dance moves, celebrations like dabs, memes, etc. – into the virtual world, ensuring that there is enough familiarity to keep even the most introverted players interested.

What can utilities learn from all this?? I’ll suggest we are reluctant to change because we are not paying as much attention to the power of some of the trends being highlighted in the growth of Fortnite. What are those trends?

  • Virtual reality worlds will become ever more important as the customer base and possible employee base of the utility becomes a generation of users that are digital natives (born into the era of the internet). Virtual reality and new worlds are a part of their existence. As an industry, we should make it a part of ours.
  • Interoperability and open methodologies are winning. Apple, which has chosen a closed approach to its platform, will have to succumb to the open platform approach that has propelled Android to the ~80% dominance it has in the smartphone/smart device world we live in.
  • The freemium model for entry and pay-for-access to what you can afford model that the mobile phone space has used up until now could be considered by the utility industry. There could be a free tier that provides a basic quantity of power/water/gas to enable people to then ‘top-up’ their needs with what they can afford. People will pay more for what they can afford, opening up the chance to truly move to customized pricing.
  • We have to find and adopt the cultural signals that our customers are learning from outside our industry. We don’t have to dab after every customer issue resolution, but we can add a bit of personality to our messaging.

The biggest lesson I took from the interactions over the holidays was that people are very quickly blurring the lines of demography. In fact, that line is totally blurred now. It turns out it wasn’t only the teenager who was playing the game a lot; So were his dad and a few of his friends, and a few classmates from 10yrs ago in business school at the University of Chicago who’ve formed a Fortnite group so they can stay in touch.  Even some of my family members who live in different parts of the world use Fortnite as an opportunity to jump on conversations they weren’t having for years before the game became a phenomenon. The biggest lesson is that people will satisfy the needs they have with the technology that is made available to them. Are we going to be an industry that can meet them at this point with the technologies that satisfy their needs?

You can now sign up for the TrendZ platform where we share more of these insights and trends. We also provide you with some strategic guidelines and data insights on how these consumer changes impact the business of the utility and, of course, how to respond to these changes. Check out the platform here and sign up. You can also reach out to Seyi, Jason or Alejandro to learn more or sign up.