By DEEPAK ABBOT
Head Product, Reliance Entertainment Digital
Back in 2006, Zapak was starting up and our entire team was focussed on creating a product that could extend the reach of gaming to the masses. During that period, gaming was a privileged medium of entertainment, reserved for a handful of rich kids.
Since the entire sector itself was relatively new in India, we decided to conduct a research to analyse the psychology and behavioural patterns of our target group. A part of our research programme included group discussions with specific target groups. During one of these sessions, we came across a bunch of high spirited youngsters aged 12-16, one of whom I recall vividly even today.
This particular group has remained with me for two reasons –
• They were the most enthusiastic and receptive group.
• It had a small boy named Ankit whose thoughts were really insightful… regrettably, I realized this about three-four years down the line.
To be honest, our collective interest in this group was limited since most of these kids were quite young.
However, little Ankit, aged just 13 years, changed our perception and compelled us to think. Thinking ‘Out of the Box’ is one of the all-time favourite phrases from marketing professionals, but this kid actually did think out of the box.
If you remember the pre-Facebook era, you will recall that Orkut was the most sought after social network and most kids were hooked to it. Ankit, who could safely be called an ‘Orkut Maniac’, raised an extremely intriguing query. He asked, “I like games but why can’t I play them without leaving Orkut?”
Back then, the concept of using APIs to integrate apps or games into social networks did not exist and all of us were perplexed by his question. We were accustomed to view online products as water tight compartments and hence dismissed the thought, wondering, “Why would a social network want to become a game platform?”
After another 15 minutes, Ankit politely drew the group’s attention and asked, “Yes, mobile games are good. But why can’t I get the Need for Speed 3D game on my dad’s mobile? It’s already made for PCs so why not mobiles?” He was expecting the same quality of game as its PC avatar. This question again challenged existing perceptions. The iPhone was yet to launch and few could have imagined the smartphone revolution we witnessed post 2007 which allows the same immersive gaming experience as high-end consoles. Mobile games including NFS in that era were poor cousins of their online avatars and the technology limited us from even considering Ankit’s suggestion.
Today when I look back, both the suggestions made by Ankit are already implemented and highly successful. While I always knew that the digital platform allows one to innovate and extend boundaries, Ankit was probably one of the few people who displayed how far one can go in defying existing conventions.
While the group session did not directly help us in fine-tuning our product, it gave us an insight into the kind of vision one needs to inculcate while working with digital platforms. And also, to be able to learn this art, one needs to clear the mind and think like a kid. In the past six years, this ‘lesson’ from a kid has helped me innovate several times over when creating new products.
And yes, unfortunately we did not ask for surnames during the sessions, else I would have searched for Ankit, and hired him!