Two gamers playing on a phone

The Casual Gaming Boom

Casual gaming has been around in one form or another for years.  You might even argue that some of the earliest games like Pac Man could be classed as casual games.  However, the genre has really taken off over the past decade.  The increased use of social media and the ubiquity of Smartphones has created the perfect environment in which casual gaming has been able to flourish.

App Annie predicts that mobile gaming spending in 2021 is on track to surpass $120 billion.  As a substantial chunk of that spend will be on casual and hyper casual games; the enormous size of the opportunities are self-evident. 

So, are we experiencing a casual gaming boom?

Who is the ‘casual’ gamer?

A decade or so ago, if you asked people to describe a gamer, the image of a teenage boy playing Call of Duty late at night on his games console would likely have sprung to mind.  Or, perhaps, they might be playing World of Warcraft on a desktop PC instead. But things have moved on a lot since then.

People who play casual and hyper casual games now include a great many gamers who never play either on a console or a PC.  A significant number of these gamers have come to gaming more recently and, indeed, might only ever experience gaming on a Smartphone or, perhaps, a tablet. 

This, then, represents a different audience of gamers from the traditional gaming market.  It is a much more female focused audience and has many different likes and dislikes, hobbies and consumer preferences that would distinguish the casual gamer from someone who might prefer to play CoD on an Xbox or Cyberpunk 2077 on a PC.

The gaming market is no longer a single homogenous audience, but rather a collection of different (if sometimes overlapping) audiences.  That means different channels, different media and very different commercial opportunities. Different audiences also provide very different opportunities in terms of the future potential for advertising and sponsorship deals.

But casual gaming is also a market that is still growing.  So, the composition of this audience is changing and evolving each year.

The audience is not only different in terms of its composition. It is also clearly different in terms of what people are looking for from gaming.

The Casual Gaming Experience

Games like Assassin’s Creed and Cyberpunk 2077 are enthralling role-playing experiences.  Many people play these games precisely because they like to get into the characters and absorb themselves in a fantasy world.

It is easy to sit down in front of PC or a console and lose yourself for hours in a highly engrossing escapist experience.  In addition, it’s an experience that can be very intense, requiring sometimes lengthy periods of quite focused concentration.  This can be quite a mentally challenging experience.  It may also be quite difficult to dip in and out of – you often feel obliged to hang on just to get to that next cut-scene or to find a good place to save.

But casual and hyper casual games are far less demanding in terms of concentrated time.  You can potentially play a game in 15 or 20 minutes.  This makes it easy to fit your gaming in around other things.  Play a quick game in your lunch hour, or a quick couple of games on the train on your commute to and from work.  As one casual gamer put it on an online forum:

I play half an hour to an hour on my phone everyday. I don’t really have much to do while I’m on the bus or at lunch, so I’d just use to time to play video games on my phone.

Relax with a casual game

It’s because these game can be less mentally demanding that people are more likely to see them as relaxing.  They deliver a means to wind down after a hard day’s work.  As another gamer put it:

What I loved so much about Animal Crossing was how I could wind down and relax.

As such, these games lend themselves more to humour, light-hearted entertainment, and cartoon characters.

fun and utterly hilarious.

But, whilst it is possible to quickly fit in a game in your coffee break, it is still also possible for gamers to spend hours playing such casual games.  Indeed, gamers can and do become every bit as a engrossed with games like Clash of Clans on their mobile phones as a console gamer might with Red Dead Redemption.

In a way gaming is becoming not that much different from television.  TV producers have, for many years, understood that working within different genres means appealing to different audiences.  The audience you might attract for an enthralling thriller is not the same as you’d get for a light entertainment programme. 

So, as the variety of different gaming genres evolves, so too will the variety of audiences.  And so too will the need to understand them independently from each other.

A Blank Canvas

Many of the new generation of casual gamers have come to gaming via the Smartphone and via casual games specifically.  There are many amongst them who have never played a console game or even a PC game.  Perhaps, they have only started playing games within the past few years.  All this means that they are not constrained by any of the pre-conceptions that PC and console gaming fans might have.  That means they represent much more of a ‘greenfield’ opportunity for the future.

This relative lack of ‘expectations’ is likely to mean these gamers are more open to experimenting with new things.  Perhaps they are more open to in-game advertising, perhaps they offer the best opportunities for cloud.  Indeed, any genuinely new innovation in gaming might find a more fertile ground for uptake amongst these gamers than elsewhere.

On the downside, it should be remembered that many of these newer gamers may well not be so familiar with concepts that gaming publishers and developers might ‘assume’ gamers know about.  That means gaming companies need to be careful in using gaming jargon – these guys just might not understand it (or worse, misunderstand it). 

Assume nothing.

Cloud?

Mobile gaming may well prove to be an area to watch in terms of cloud streaming services such as Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Ultimate Game Pass and Amazon Luna. 

The mobile casual gaming audience includes many gamers who are not wedded to traditional console and PC gaming.  They will also include many people who are comfortable with streaming film or music to their mobiles already, so cloud gaming won’t be an alien concept to them.  But here, the cloud services need to get their content right.  Content, after all, is king – demand will entirely depend on a wide enough choice of content.

However here again, gaming companies need to be careful.  These people are not the enthusiastic, technically literate, hardcore of the gaming world.  They may not even have heard of cloud gaming or even understand what makes it any different from other forms of gaming.  They probably haven’t read any of the articles on the subject that appear in the gaming press.  So, this raises the question – how best to market such services to such people? 

Monetisation

Gaming has historically been financed by gamers paying for their games (either outright or perhaps by subscription).  However, recent years have seen a growing proportion of revenues generated by microtransactions where gamers seek to buy in-game content such as upgrades to the game, additional equipment (some functional, some purely aesthetic) and so on.

There are many games available where you can play a basic version of the game for free and any revenues come purely from upgrades to a more complete version of the game and/or from microtransactions.

The free-to-play model has proven a successful option and in future I can see this approach extended to deliver an even higher proportion of content for free.  Monetisation here will therefore be increasingly driven by the microtransaction approach and even by advertising and sponsorship deals.

TV is significantly financed by private advertising and sponsorship and this is now an increasingly important revenue stream for esports – it is surely only a matter of time before we start to see this proliferate across the gaming industry.  The obvious route in will be through the Smartphone based games – and that means casual gaming is likely to be at the forefront.

However, to capitalise on these opportunities gaming companies will increasingly need to learn from the playbook of other entertainment industries (like TV) who have been playing the advertising and sponsorship game far longer.  That means understanding audiences and knowing what advertisers and/or sponsors would offer a great fit for any given audience.  It also means finding the best way to accommodate this without disrupting game play or without it becoming overly intrusive.

Channels

One potentially dark cloud on the casual gaming horizon relates to channels.  At the end of the day casual gaming on Smartphones depends very heavily on two key channels – App Store and Google Play.  This grants Apple and Google incredible market power.

The current legal dispute between Epic and Apple has highlighted the potential problem here – are these channels becoming so dominant that they can effectively squeeze the margins of gaming companies down to near minimal levels?  This very fear has led Epic to invest heavily in its own store front.  At the time of writing, it is yet to be seen as to whether Epic’s legal action with Apple will change anything.

Nevertheless, Epic’s move to develop its own store may yet prove to be a shrewd one for the longer term.  You only need to look at food retailing in the UK to see that a relatively small number of dominant retail chains can seriously squeeze the margins of the food producers. 

The Future

There is little doubt that we will continue to see continued growth and diversity emerge in the casual gaming market over the next couple of years.  New audiences will continue to emerge and evolve as a result.

The challenge for the gaming companies will be to find ways to best capitalise on these audiences – and that will require a detailed understanding of them, plus, of course, how they continue to evolve.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We have considerable experience in the design and execution of market research surveys in the gaming, leisure and consumer tech sector.  We can offer a range of services to help you identify new market opportunities and to understand the current and potential audience for any given game. 

You can find out more about us on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all our past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

ANIMAL CROSSING COMMUNITY

APPANNIE

BBC

COMMONSENSEMEDIA

GAMESKINNY

MARKET WATCH

QUORA

SEATTLE TIMES

Robot image

I Robot

“In the twenty first century, the robot will take the place which slave labour occupied in ancient civilisations.”

Nicola Tesla

The Robots are coming

The past few decades have seen many significant advances in robotics.  As a result, we now live in a world in which an increasing variety of tasks utilise robots.  Oxford Economics estimated that robots could displace about 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030 (that’s 8.5% of the current global workforce).

Indeed, the number of robots in the world has doubled over the past decade.  And, whilst they are not expected to revolt against the humans any time soon, they are nevertheless changing the world in which we live.

But what are Robots?

What counts as a robot?  Before we get carried away talking about machine uprisings, let’s start by considering what a robot actually is.

As it turns out, it can be quite difficult to come up with a definition that everyone agrees on.  Most people would agree that a robot is a machine.  But a robot must be more than just a machine to make it a robot. Kate Darling, a roboticist at the MIT Media Lab, defines a robot as:

a physical machine that’s usually programmable by a computer that can execute tasks autonomously or automatically by itself’

On this definition a radio-controlled drone is not a robot.  This is because it can only act based on instructions it receives from its controller.  However, it can become a robot if it becomes capable of performing actions independently of its human controller based on some pre-programmed automated logic.  For instance, if it is programmed to detect and avoid obstacles during flight without needing to be instructed to do so.

This fine dividing line between machines that are remotely controlled and machines that have the capability for autonomous action can make it difficult to spot robots.  Just how autonomous does a machine’s actions need to be to count as a robot? 

Simple machines that are not robots can perform tasks such as switching on and off, without human input, but we don’t necessary consider these to be robots.  It needs to be automated; it needs to respond to input from its environment and it needs to act independently of direct human control.  However, it also needs to be reasonably sophisticated in its ability to respond – otherwise a thermostatically controlled switch might potentially be called a robot!

How many Robots are there today?

Most robots are, at present, used in manufacturing and, in particular, for automated assembly processes.  The (International Federation of Robotics) IFR estimated that there were around 2.7 million industrial robots in use around the world in 2019. 

Robots are big business.  2019 saw 373,000 new industrial robots installed at a cost of US$13.8b.  

However, 73% of these robots exist in just five countries – the USA, Japan, Germany, China and South Korea. 

So what are Robots being used for?

Most robots are used in manufacturing and logistics operations.  Typically, that would be for assembly operations or for moving goods/parts around the factory floor or in a warehouse.

28% of all the robots installed in 2019 were in an automotive business.  The image many of us have of robots assembling cars is still a fair representation of the reality of robotics in the workplace today.  And a further 24% are in use in the electrical/electronic manufacturing industries.  That’s just these two industry sectors purchasing over half of the world’s robots.

However, robots are now also being used in a wider variety of other manufacturing sectors such as metal machinery, plastics and food. We can expect to see them used more extensively across manufacturing over the coming decade as technology develops viable applications outside of the automotive space.

Also, whilst most robots are still being installed in factories, we are now starting to see new types of robots emerging in other industry sectors as well.

When drones become Robots

Most drones are not robots.  That is because their radio operators directly control them. And in that respect, they are no different from radio controlled model aircraft.

However, some of the more advanced drones incorporate a degree of AI in the form of Computer Vision which enables them to detect and respond to obstacles whilst flying without the need for operator intervention.  This kind of technology also allows them to record observations about their environment in a more automated way.

The more autonomous a drone becomes, the more robot-like it becomes.  In future robot drones will become a reality.

Robots in logistics

Robotic (driverless) forklift trucks have been around for a while but up until now not in huge numbers.  In 2019, firms bought around 5,000 of these robot trucks – that sounds a lot but it’s still only 0.3% of the global forklift truck market and only about 1% of the size of the global market for industrial robots.

Nevertheless, logistics is becoming more automated, and the competitive demands generated by businesses like Amazon will no doubt act as an accelerator of change.

How fast robots will catch on in logistics remains an open question, but many industry commentators expect to see significant growth in their use over the coming decade.

Robots in healthcare

Robots are now also starting to make an appearance in our hospitals and health clinics.

Here, there are number of different applications.  Covid has seen a particular growth in interest in UV disinfection robots.  These may have had most prominence in the news over the past year, but they are by no means the only application.

Toyota have developed a robot (WelWalk WW-200) to help with the rehabilitation of patients suffering from lower limb paralysis.  And some companies have even developed robot surgeons to assist in simpler or more routine surgical procedures.

It is clearly very early days with a lot of this technology, but many people feel healthcare robotics is an area to watch for some potentially significant growth opportunities in the future.

Driverless vehicles

Driverless vehicles are, of course, a form of robot.  Trials are currently underway with driverless cars and we could well see these vehicles start to make an appearance on our roads before 2021 is out.

These robot drivers can negotiate their way from A to B – responding to traffic conditions and making autonomous decisions about when to speed up and slow down, when to avoid obstacles, and when to stop for traffic lights etc.

Just about any form of vehicle could be driverless.  Indeed, we may even see the day where passenger aircraft essentially become robot-controlled drones.

Robots in agriculture

One sector that is likely to see an increased use of robots is agriculture.  Here we are likely to see more driverless tractors and combines in use in the future. 

There are also robots today that can pick fruit, capable of gauging the ripeness of fruit and deciding for themselves which fruit to pick and which not.

Robot house servants

Simple robots are in use today for such basic tasks as vacuuming and CES 2021 showcased several concept domestic robots designed to help with a variety of common household tasks such as washing the dishes and tidying up.

The day when we are all served by Robot Jeeves is still a long way away, however, although the next decade is likely to see some increasingly sophisticated automation technology move us a lot closer to it.

I Robot

To get to a stage where we come face to face with a fully functioning, intelligent, humanoid, robot is (let’s face it) a long way off.

The key developments that are yet to come, which would make that possible, relate more to AI than to creating an electro-mechanical machine capable of replicating human motion.

How close are we to creating such an robot?

Various experts have different views on this.  Some have suggested some time between 2030 and 2060 is theoretically realistic – so potentially within our lifetimes!

That said, we have an issue in creating that kind of AI.  And that is the age-old AI problem – to design Artificial Intelligence, you really need to be able to define what “human intelligence” actually is.  Philosophers have debated this question for centuries without really arriving at a clear answer!

One thing is for sure though, robotic technology is going to offer some significant growth opportunities across a range of different sectors and applications over the coming decade.  It is just a question of identifying and exploiting the new opportunities that this technology will bring.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We have considerable experience in the design and execution of market research surveys in the field of both b2c and b2b science, engineering and tech markets.  We can offer a range of services to help you identify new market opportunities and to understand the position and strength of your brand in the market.  You can read more about this on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

Sources

ARIC Journal

BBC

Builtin

CNET

Heartbeat

IFR

Interesting Engineering

Intuitive

Investopedia

John Deere

MMH

Ohio University

Oxford Economics

Toyota

Wired

Flying Drone

The Drone Revolution

Since 2010, the growth in the use of drone technology has been gathering pace at an incredible rate.  When first developed in the mid-1930s drones were highly experimental and expensive.  Today, they are not only used for a wide variety of commercial applications, but have also become a popular and affordable piece of consumer tech. 

So, are we on the verge of a Drone Revolution?

How many people are using Drones?

In the UK, in May 2021, there were nearly 4,500 certified commercial drone operators of small drones and 1,751 operators of larger drones.   These are businesses using drones for serious commercial applications – applications deemed to present an equivalent safety risk to that of manned aviation.

However, these are now dwarfed by the number of hobbyists.  The CAA estimated there were over 130,000 UK drone users at the end of 2019 – the vast majority of which were hobbyists rather than commercial users.

In a larger market like the USA, the numbers are even higher.  The FAA figures show that there were nearly 875,000 registered US drone users in May 2021.

The Hobbyist

Drones are now very affordable, and a hobbyist can buy a decent drone to easily get up and flying for under £1,000 these days.  

Research by Drones Direct shows that hobbyists are mainly using their drones for filming video (77%) or taking photographs (75%).  The typical profile of these people is mostly male (96%) and middle aged (52% are aged over 45).  It is also clear that these are hobbyists using their drones quite frequently (58% fly at least once a week). 

There would appear to be a strong link between drone use and photography, with two thirds of drone users are also keen on photography.  Around one fifth of the adult population list photography as a hobby (that’s potentially millions of people), so the potential for future growth, just based on current use patterns, is clearly significant.

Commercial Users

Drones have been used extensively by the military for decades now and much of the impetus for the development of this technology has come from the development of such applications. 

The military will no doubt continue to provide an important impetus for innovation in drone technology.  However, these days, a wide variety of other commercial applications are emerging.  These are likely to prove increasingly important markets for drone tech suppliers in the future.  Key commercial areas where drones are now being used would include:

  • Journalism & film making; drones are increasingly providing the primary way for obtaining aerial shots.
  • Disaster management; in gathering information and getting emergency supplies to isolated areas following disasters such as earthquakes.
  • Search and rescue; when fitted with enhanced imaging and thermal cameras, drones can play a critical role in search and rescue operations.
  • Mapping: drones can map terrain features in locations that are difficult to cover by other means.
  • Law enforcement and surveillance; drones provide a relatively unobtrusive means of surveillance and allow observation to be undertaken without the need for a physical human presence.
  • Weather monitoring and storm tracking.
  • Building inspections; drones allow construction workers to view the exterior of large structures and gain detailed photographs of places that are difficult to physically access by other means.
  • Inspections of processing plants (e.g. for the oil and gas industry); any large structure can now be inspected by drones.  Detailed images, including thermal ones, can be taken of inaccessible areas, allowing maintenance engineers to view the state of equipment without being physically present.
  • Shipping and delivery; at present applications are being developed that focus mainly on the distribution of small packages. However, in the future, it may even be possible to transport larger cargos using large drones.

Developments

Virtually any application involving observation, or transport and delivery of small items are potentially suited to drone use.  One thing is for certain.  As the price of the technology reduces and the technology improves, it will become increasingly practical to perform a wider variety of commercially viable applications.

So, what further developments should we look out for in the future?

Logistics – Amazon Prime Air

Amazon have been working to develop a fleet of drones to deliver small packages as part of its logistics network.  One key potential advantage of such an approach comes from the fact that drones can avoid traffic and deliver packages by a more direct route (as the crow flies in some cases). 

The service will be called Prime Air and is currently being tested in several countries.  In the UK Amazon have recently doubled the size of their Prime Air team and we are likely to see the service launch in a matter of months rather than years.

Hydrogen power

Hydrogen is an emission-free fuel and has the advantage of keeping a drone airborne for longer. The technology first appeared in 2016 but we are now starting to see more hydrogen powered drones come onto the market.  The capability to remain airborne for longer makes them particularly suited for applications such as agriculture, mapping and for disaster response in remote locations.  Any application, in fact, where there is a need for a long flight time.

At present the primary barrier to hydrogen power is the cost but as prices come down and technology improves we can expect to see more hydrogen powered drones in the future.

AI and improved navigation

As more drones fill our skies it will become increasingly important for them to navigate their way around avoiding each other and various other safety hazards.

AI drones that use computer vision to detect and navigate their way avoiding other airborne objects and hazards are now starting to appear on the market. High performance on-board image processing coupled with other navigational aids will make this increasingly possible.  At present, of course, such technology is expensive, but we can expect to see it become more commercially available over the next few years.

Perching drones

Drones all have a limited amount of flight time available to them.  However, this can be prolonged significantly if a drone is able to land on a building or other high object and make its observations without needing to expend energy to remain airborne.

Various technologies are being developed to allow drones to do this; perhaps enabling a drone to ‘perch’ on a streetlight or to rest on the corner of a building.  This would have the benefit of making a drone more stable whilst it is making its observations as well as conserving power.

Problems and dangers

Of course, as drones become more ubiquitous, they bring with them their own unique set of problems and challenges.  Not least is the potential for this technology to interfere with existing air traffic or for it to be misused by criminals and even terrorists.

In 2019, the year before Covid cleared our skies of aircraft, UK aircraft pilots reported 91 confirmed incidents involving drones and a further 29 incidents that may well have been drones but were unidentified.  This compares to only 4 confirmed incidents involving drones and 1 unconfirmed incident that were reported in 2010.

This has prompted the UK government to introduce a registration system in 2020 and to require users of certain types of drones to obtain specific certification.  Now even hobbyists must hold a flyer ID and past a test to legally fly their drones in the UK.

Whilst such measures will no doubt serve to help minimise the danger of accidental incidents, the threat of criminal or terrorist misuse is a different matter.  In warzones, drones are already used for surveillance, to disrupt airspace and even to deliver small explosives. 

With new threats comes new technology.  Countermeasures of various kinds are being developed, these include directed energy weapons with the power to disable drones using such techniques as lasers, particle beams or radio frequency waves.  One of the latest uses high-powered microwaves to knock out a drone’s onboard electronics.

If future, we can expect to see measures of this kind deployed to protect airports and other sensitive potential targets.

The Future

It seems clear that the coming decade will see an increasing proliferation of drone technology.  This technology has grown from the highly specialised and niche use of a decade ago to a stage where it is now beginning to experience mass commercial and consumer adoption. 

The coming decade will see this technology becoming more ubiquitous as it develops further and the costs come down.  The challenges faced by drone suppliers will be to keep developing the technology at a rapid pace whilst remaining conscious of the public safety concerns.

However, the future is bright and no doubt there are many potential applications out there that new technological advances will enable drones to exploit.  There is also a potentially significant untapped consumer market.  As the technology reaches out to a mass market, so manufacturers will need to think increasingly about their marketing, and building strong and distinctive brand image and awareness amongst potential customers. 

It would seem that we are indeed on the verge of a drone revolution.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We have considerable experience in the design and execution of market research surveys in the field of both b2c and b2b science, engineering and tech markets.  We can offer a range of services to help you identify new market opportunities and to understand the position and strength of your brand in the market.  You can read more about this on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

Sources

Airprox

Amazon

BBC

Business Insider

CAA

Cloudemployee

Dronelife

Dronesdirect

FAA

Interesting Engineering

Pilot web

Reliability web

Sciencefocus

UAV coach

Your Story

UK Elections 2021 – How is the political landscape changing?

How is the political landscape changing? As the dust settles on the May 2021 elections, it is worth taking a closer look at the results to see what they might tell us.   

England

The overall results for labour have been bad across the English elections.  Labour has lost seats across many areas and, at the same time, the Tories have picked seats up.

Overall, the Tories have increased their number of councillors in contested areas by + 11%, labour have declined by -20%. 

The LibDems remain the third largest party but have seen little real change.

Other important highlights are that UKIP has now disappeared from the political scene and Reform has failed to hoover up those old seats.  The main beneficiary from the demise of UKIP has clearly been the Tories. 

There has also been a dramatic increase in the amount of Green councillors (more than doubling their number of councillors in contested areas to 151). 

One final important highlight is the fact that there have been gains across the board for a mix of independents (an 18% increase to 255 councillors).

Labour’s highest profile loss was, of course, Hartlepool.  However, here, the story has more to it than meets the eye.

Hartlepool

In Hartlepool the Tories saw their vote increase from 28.9% at the last general election to 51.9% on May 6th.   Much of this gain is likely the result of the disappearance of the Brexit Party as a meaningful political force.  25.8% voted BP in 2019 which, if added to the Tory vote at that time, would total 54.7% – similar to the Tory vote this time around.

Whilst this may explain the Tory win, it does not explain the reduction in the Labour vote (falling from 37.7% in the last general election to 28.7%).  Smaller parties like the Greens may have taken votes from Labour but as the Greens only accounted for 1.2% of the vote, this can hardly explain it.

One point to remember is that the incumbent MP was forced to leave office because of allegations of sexual harassment and victimization.  This may have served to turn some voters away from Labour – but the question remains that whatever their reasons were for not voting Labour, who did those voters turn to?

A big factor appears to have been an independent candidate – Sam Lee, a local businesswoman.   Sam positioned herself as someone who stood up for the local business community and a Westminster outsider.  A vote for her, she claimed, would “show politicians that we are sick of their party games and empty promises”. A vote for her then, was, in many ways, a rejection of the status quo.  Sam polled 9.7% of the vote and, as she didn’t stand in 2019, it looks like she may have taken a fair number of votes away from Labour.

No change..?

So, in 2021, it may be that Hartlepool saw no real significant switch from Labour to Tory at all – that had already happened in 2019, when large numbers of voters changed to the Brexit Party.  And having switched to the BP, the move to voting Tory seems to have been an easy step for many. 

The vote for Sam Lee is significant though.  It shows a considerable number of people prepared to vote for someone outside the political establishment, and a desire amongst many for something quite different from the established parties.

The Red Wall weakens in the North and Midlands

In general, results in the North and Midlands have shown the biggest Tory gains plus the most serious Labour losses.

Again, the explanation seems to lie mainly with picking up former Brexit Party voters rather than outright direct conversion of 2019 Labour voters. 

The biggest Tory gains compared with previous local elections were in Yorkshire and Humberside (+11.2% up), the West Midlands (+9.7%) and the North East (+7.3%).

These marry up with the more significant Labour losses – Yorkshire and Humberside (-4.5%), the West Midlands (-5%) and the North East (-4%).

Labour losses and Tory gains were less significant elsewhere in England.

So, are we witnessing a sea-change in voting patterns in the North driven by regional factors or is it something more complicated than this? 

It is true that the so-called Red-Wall has clearly been seriously eroded in many parts of the North.  However, Labour has performed well in the area in certain large cities.  Could it be that this is more about how voting patterns are changing in metropolitan v non-metropolitan areas, than it is about changing attitudes in the North?

The Metropolitan Effect

Labour has performed well in northern metropolitan areas such as Liverpool and Manchester, showing that it can hold its own there under the right conditions.

In Manchester, Labour even gained ground.  Perhaps this was due in no small part to the charismatic Andy Burnham but the numbers tell a convincing tale.

Labour increased its share of the vote on the first choice for Mayor from 63.4% in 2017 to 67.3% in 2021. The Tories slipped from 22.7% to 19.6%.  Here, the lesser parties were very much out of the picture.

The Labour Mayoral vote also held strong in Liverpool.  No sign of any cracks in the Red Wall in these major northern cities; a quite different story from the story we see in less urban areas. 

So why is the metropolitan vote in the North so different from the trends we see elsewhere?

The Role of ‘Englishness’

Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Southampton University, feels that the migration of voters to the Brexit Party and then to the Tories has much to do with the emergence of a strong English national identity.  This tends to view the Tories as a party that is positive about the English and Labour as essentially mediocre about, or even hostile to, an English cultural identity.

Evidence for this can be found in BSA research that looked at the motives behind voting Leave/Remain in the Brexit vote.  This found that people who identified themselves as ‘British’ and not ‘English’ in England, voted 62% in favour of Remain.  However, 72% of people who identified themselves as ‘English’ and not ‘British’, voted in favour of Leave.

This sentiment, Jennings would argue, has translated into a vote for the Brexit Party in 2019 and has now converted into a Tory vote.  Parts of the North which have switched to Tory are often areas where this sense of ‘Englishness’ is strongest.

However, cities such as Manchester and Liverpool are more cosmopolitan in character and have strong and distinct local identities (as Mancunians or Scouse).  As a result, the tendency to strongly identify with an ‘English’ nationalist identity is less evident.  This in turn translates into a much-reduced willingness to switch away from Labour to the BP or Tories.

Treating the ‘North’ as a single homogenous area would therefore appear to be a gross over-simplification.

A different picture in Southern England

In the South, there was less dramatic change in voting patterns.  Although we saw some shift to the Tories in the council elections, the change was nowhere near as significant or dramatic as that seen in political landscape in the North.

However, there are a couple of interesting results that are worth pulling out – both Labour Mayoral wins.

The first is the result for Cambridge and Peterborough.   On the first choice alone, the Tories would have won (Tory 41%, Labour 33%, LibDems 27%).  However, once the LibDems were knocked out of the picture the second-choice votes for these voters were overwhelmingly Labour.  The result enabled Labour to win (just) by 51%. 

The second result is for the West of England Mayor (which covers Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire).

Here Labour increased its vote from 22.2% to 33.4% in the first round.  The Tories also actually did a little better (increasing from 27.3% to 28.6%).  The LibDems, again, saw limited but negative change (20.2% down to 16.3%) and the Greens again, saw progress (up to 21.7% from 11.2%). 

Again it is worth noting that the presence of a strong independent candidate can affect the results.  In 2017 such a candidate polled 15% of the vote but this time around, no such candidate stood.

This does raise the possibility that a future cooperative arrangement between Labour, Greens and LibDems in the south could potentially cause significant damage to the Tories in some parts of the southern political landscape.  However distant and unlikely such a prospect might seem today.

What about Scotland?

The results in Scotland, of course, have been quite different from anything we see in England.

Here we have seen the SNP make modest progress – increasing their share of the vote from 46.5% of constituency votes at the last parliamentary election in 2016 to 47.7% now.  The Tories saw little change in fortune (21.9% share now vs 22% in 2016).  Labour, too, saw limited change (21.6% down from 22.6%).

The SNP have consolidated and built on their dominant position even if they have not achieved an outright majority.  Some have suggested that they owe their electoral success at least in part to the general perception that Nicola Sturgeon has handled the Covid crisis well. 

One might make a similar observation across the UK.  This is that the light beckoning at the end of the Covid tunnel tends to favour the incumbent administrations – the SNP in Scotland and the Tories in England.  There is no doubt some truth in this and, if so, we can see this pattern repeated in Wales.

What about Wales?

Wales bucked the pro-Tory trend we see in England.  Here comparisons with England are more interesting because Wales, like England, voted Leave (whereas Scotland did not).  However, UKIP and latterly the Brexit Party have never been quite the force in Wales that they were in many parts of England (the Brexit Party registered only 5% of the Welsh vote in the 2019 election). 

Here the Tories have not managed to benefit anywhere near so much from picking up former UKIP or Brexit Party voters.  In 2016 the Tories got 21.1% of the constituency vote, which they have been able to increase to 25.1% this time around.  This no doubt reflects picking up some of the old UKIP votes (which accounted for 12.5% of the votes in the 2016 assembly election).

However, in Wales Labour have increased their share of the vote from 34.7% to 39.9%. Plaid Cymru have remained at pretty much the same level (20.7% vs 20.5% last time).

As with elsewhere, it may well be that the incumbent administration is benefiting from the feeling that we are headed in the right direction Covid-wise. 

The lack of the BP/UKIP factor in Wales in the political landscape meant there were only a limited number of these voters for the Tories to potentially pick up.  This supports Professor Jennings’ view that it is the sense of Englishness that has driven a migration of votes from labour, via UKIP and the Brexit Party, to the Tories.  The absence of the ‘Englishness’ factor in Wales potentially explains why such a pattern has not been repeated here.

In conclusion

It is probably worth concluding by saying that we ought to be very careful in what we read into these results.  The 2021 elections have occurred at a time when so much is in a state of flux.  The Covid crisis makes these times most unusual indeed. 

In a few years’ time when (hopefully) Covid no longer dominates our lives, we will be living in a vastly different world.   Also, we cannot yet say what the longer-term impacts of Brexit may be.  We are also only at the very beginning of the Tory levelling-up agenda.  Much has been promised, but what will be delivered?

This election has highlighted some important emerging trends, but the events of the next few years could yet see things change quite radically.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services, opinion polling and content creation services.  You can read more about this on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

Sources

Election Results from BBC England

BBC Scottish Election Results

Welsh Election Results from the BBC

Sky News Election Takeaways

BSA

Hold the Front Page

What can Cyberpunk 2077 teach us about brand reputation?

Promising Greatness

When Cyberpunk 2077 launched with considerable marketing and general industry hype at the end of 2020, it was a game that promised greatness.

A lot of people were predicting that Cyberpunk 2077 would be the big game of 2021.

CD Projekt Red had established an enviable reputation for quality on the back of the success of its Witcher franchise.  And the early signs were all good.  The setting, the graphics, the story and the atmosphere of the world they’d created all received praise and the pre-launch marketing led to incredibly high volumes of pre-orders for the game.

The stage was set for the game to really explode. 

Hitting problems

However, as we all know, not long after its launch, Cyberpunk 2077 hit problems.  Numerous bugs and performance issues came to light that eventually led to it being pulled from the PlayStation store.  It seemed to have particular problems running on the older console technology.

It wasn’t long before refunds were being offered.  If anything the high profile hype surrounding the launch made matters worse.  The actual delivery had clearly not matched the high customer expectations.

CDPR were now looking at a damage limitation exercise.  The reputational cache their brand had cultivated over the years was now under serious threat.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”—Benjamin Franklin

Ongoing Problems

Ever since then, CDPR have been working hard to issue bug fixes.

As Gamesrant noted in mid-April “The 1.2 patch notes for Cyberpunk 2077 are the length of a short novella and show a lot of changes.”  But despite this the game still seemed to suffer from more bugs than an anthill. 

It is clear that all this has had an impact and CDPR’s reputation has taken a serious knock amongst its fanbase.  Comments on the steam community posted in April 2021 make it quite clear that the game still faced some serious unresolved problems, even at this time.

“To begin i wish to say i was a Gigantic fan and supporter of Cdpr and this game.  Regardless too many things sold this game to me and i got none of them.”

Mind you, some people still felt Cyberpunk was value for money, even if had not met expectations:

“I look at it this way. I got my money’s worth out of the game even though the experience wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.”

Hype?

And some felt that the pre-game overhype was the real problem here and that those people who bought games on pre-order were potentially setting themselves up for disappointment:

“That’s a ‘buyer beware’ problem.”

Such comments by fans may have been made in defence of CDPR but they also reflect a view that other fans got their fingers burnt precisely because they believe the pre-launch hype and pre-ordered the game.

The potential lesson here that some fans may well take from this is therefore twofold:

  1. Don’t believe the pre-launch marketing (or at least, don’t take it at face value).
  2. Don’t pre-order.

However, the potential longer term damage to CDPR’s reputation could be a good deal more serious, judging by some of the comments:

“I’m just dumbfounded how a company could make a blunder like this. They were in a position that was coveted by large corporations, true customer loyalty and customer love. They didn’t even need a marketing department.

…Now, they are relegated to being just any other gaming company.”

How did it happen?

How could CDPR go so quickly from hero to zero, in the eyes of many of its fans?

Obviously, this was originally a problem caused by rushing an unfinished product to market too quickly.  This would not necessarily have been an issue but for the pre-launch marketing hype that had raised expectations so high.

The scale of the problem was at least partly acknowledged by Co-CEO Marcin Iwiński who issued an apology to fans in January and admitted that CDPR had “underestimated the risk” they had faced in developing the console versions of the game.

Iwiński took responsibility for what had happened and urged people not to blame the developers.  This appears to have been acknowledged internally by ditching plans to link developers’ bonuses to game review scores.

You have to have some sympathy for the CDPR developers.  I’m sure those guys set off with the intention of making the best game possible.  But, as Jason Schreier of Bloomberg News highlighted, several developers felt the deadlines set were over ambitious, given the relative lack of adequate resourcing to meet them.  Unfortunately, you can be the best developer in the world, but if you are forced to work with silly deadlines and overambitious targets you are simply being set up to fail before you even start.  I think you’d have to be a bit hard hearted not to feel their pain. 

Overall, then, it looks like it all comes down to a classic case of overambition.  Overambition in terms of what CDPR set out to do with the technology, overambition in terms of the timescales they set themselves to do it and overambition in the marketing hype they created for the game leading up to the launch.

Ambition is good.  But when the gap between stated ambition and reality becomes wide enough, that’s when you end up with problems such as those that have plagued Cyberpunk 2077. 

How has it impacted on CDPR?

Despite its problems the pre-orders and the initial rush of sales for the game tell a story of financial triumph.  Cyberpunk 2077 pushed CDPR’s 2020 sales to record levels – $562 million (compared to previous record best year of $210m in 2015).

Superficially that would appear to suggest that, despite its problems, Cyberpunk 2077 has nevertheless been a huge success.

However, the $562 million figure is largely the result of the pre-orders, which were driven by the pre-launch marketing rather than by the actual performance of the game.  It also does not fully factor in refunds that followed in the new year.  Nor does it factor in the longer-term costs of all the extensive bug-fixing that followed.  We don’t yet have crucial information on how well the game has faired in terms of sales in 2021, post-launch.

The longer-term impact of the game’s problems may ultimately be that the game fails to perform as well as it might have done.  At one time it was heralded as the big blockbuster for 2021.  And the initial sales looked like the game was very much on track for that. 

In December 2020 it achieved the fourth highest ever number of concurrent players on Steam.  However, at the start of May 2021, it now ranks #62 on Steam – that’s lower than the ranking held by CDPR’s previous blockbuster (Witcher 3).   CDPR’s stock price also tells a tale (dropping by nearly 18% between 6 April and 5 May 2021).  These are not good signs.

Reputation

However, the short to mid-term impacts on CDPR’s financial performance is unlikely to see them turn a loss.  More likely, it will simply see the company struggle to make the kind of money from Cyberpunk 2077 that was envisaged back in the heady days of last November.

More damaging for CDPR may be the longer-term reputational damage.  This might make it very difficult to persuade anywhere near as many fans to pre-order their games in future.  It may also mean that future marketing will not be believed. After all, no one believed the boy who cried wolf, even when the wolf really was coming.  It may also mean that fans will adopt a wait and see policy on their future games – delaying buying until they are able to read customer reviews that confirm that any new release is genuinely up to scratch.

Re-building Reputation

CDPR are not the first company and will not by any means be the last to suffer reputational damage of this kind.  This has happened before in other industries outside gaming.  It is easy to list examples once you start to look; VW emissions scandal, Whirlpool product recall, BP Deepwater Horizon and so on.

A classic case in how to manage such crises is in Johnson & Johnson’s 1982 recall of its best-selling Tylenol painkiller after seven people died in the Chicago area from cyanide-laced capsules.  The key to getting on top of it was to act fast and to be as transparent as possible.  The company incurred a large cost at the time but because they acted so fast, the crisis was over fast.  Their share price recovered within a year.

Samsung provide a more recent example in their response to exploding mobile phone batteries for their Note 7 product in October 2016.  The company realised that its long-term reputation was far more important than any short-term financial hit and invested a considerable amount of money and resources in solving the problem.  They deployed 700 researchers and engineers to test over 30,000 batteries in every extreme condition possible. They even invited in third party auditors.  Once they had identified the problem (by January 2017), they communicated it to the public and announced a new quality assurance program and safety features in a bid reassure consumers.

Samsung’s market share of the mobile phone market today is now very similar to what it was in 2016.  It has consistently managed to maintain a market share of 20% or higher in every year since the crisis.

Lessons Learnt

Reputational damage is the real threat to the future success of CDPR.  Others have been there before and offer some clear lessons as to how to respond to such issues.

First, you need to understand the scope of the problem – both in terms of the actual product issues and in terms of how these have impacted on customer perceptions. 

Then, secondly, you need to act fast and decisively. Don’t skimp on resources. Get the issues sorted out as fast as you can, even if that means taking a significant cost hit in the short term.  Throw resources at it.

Thirdly, you need to be transparent.  Explain the full extent of the problem to customers, what you are doing to fix it and provide realistic timeframes (that you stick to) in terms of sorting it all out.

Fourthly, you need to recognise that you have a PR problem.  Even if you solve the actual product problems, you need to communicate this effectively and keep reinforcing it until the message gets through.

Finally, you can’t be the boy who cries wolf and constantly promise to sort things out, but then shift the deadlines, or offer up only partial solutions that fall short of expectations.  That is the sure-fire way to make things far worse for yourself in the long term.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services and opinion polling to clients in the gaming, media and leisure industry.  You can read more about this on our website.   We can also help provide market research that will enable your business to understand and track your brand reputation with customers.  You can read more about this service and about how to use market research to help manage your brand reputation here.

Sources

BBC

Bloomberg

Businessinsider

Counterpoint

Denofgeek

Entrepeneur.com

Gamerant

Harvard Business Review

IDC

Pushsquare

Steamcharts

Steamcommunity

TechRadar

The Verge

The Bionic Man – will science fiction become reality?

We think of the bionic man as an idea from science fiction.  Perhaps some of us remember the TV series from the 1970s (The Six Million Dollar Man) and its spin-off – The Bionic Woman

A great fictional concept but very much the stuff of science fiction – something for the far future.  But perhaps that future is a lot closer than we might think.

A few years ago, I met a fellow at the MedTec trade show in Stuttgart. He worked in the field of bionics.  During a relaxed conversation at the bar, he told me, with no small degree of confidence, that the day will come when science allows us to replace amputated limbs with bionic replacements. 

These replacement limbs will not be simple prosthetics, they will be bionic limbs, fully integrated with the human nervous system, capable of working just as well (and possibly better) than the original amputated limb.

What is more, he believed we would see such technology in our lifetime.  It sounded incredible but he was deadly serious.  It is not a question of if – only of when.

Limb loss affects millions

Every year in the USA, 185,000 people have limbs amputated.  Across Europe that number is even higher at 431,000.

The impact of limb loss (whether it be an arm or a leg) on a person’s life is major.  Modern prosthetics can allow an amputee to regain a degree of independence but, at present, can never serve as an adequate replacement for the original limb.

However, it is theoretically possible to develop the technology that will replace a lost limb with a fully functioning bionic replacement.  And the day will eventually come when bionic limbs will work just as well as the amputated limb they are replacing.

Human limbs move the way they do because nerve impulses from the brain tell them what to do.  When to grip a mug, when to point, when to scratch your nose.  These impulses are electrical signals.  Robotics also works on the same basic principle – electrical signals, sending instructions that cause a robot to move.  So, in principle, it is just a case of marrying the two together to create a true bionic limb, operated directly by signals from the human brain.

But how close are we to possessing such technology?

The LUKE Arm

On July 4th 2017, two US veterans with arm amputations became the first people to be fitted with an early form of bionic arm.  The device might be described as an enhanced prosthesis.  DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) developed it as part of an ongoing program to revolutionize prosthetics.

The LUKE arm can perform fairly dexterous arm and hand movements, enabling an amputee to pick up even small objects such as a grape, to open doors and to drink from a mug. 

A battery powers the arm, but is not truely bionic, in so far as the human nervous system does not directly control it.  Control switches of various kinds (for example located on the feet) get the arm to perform a wide variety of tasks.

It is currently one of most advanced robotic prosthetic arms that is commercially available (currently sold by Mobius Bionics).

If you’d like to see the arm in action, I have included a video link at the end of this article.

Developments in the Brain Machine Interface

A true bionic arm would have the articulation of the LUKE arm but would be directly controlled by the human brain.  A neural link would need to be created by surgery to connect wiring in the arm with the amputee’s nervous system.  This would then enable the arm to operate just like a biological arm.

Ongoing research by DARPA in association with John Hopkin’s University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and School of Medicine (SOM) has demonstrated that it is possible to control fully articulated artificial arms with electrical signals from the human brain.  This is not quite the same as a direct, permanent, surgical link but it does demonstrate what will be achievable. 

You can see it in action for yourself in a video link at the end of this piece.

The technology now exists that creates a functional brain machine interface.  The next step will be to surgically integrate a bionic arm with a human patient to create a permanent, fully functioning, replacement bionic limb.

The first true bionic arms

Scientists at Gothenburg’s Chalmers University successfully developed and fitted a true bionic arm to two men in Sweden in 2020.  The arm may not have the full, extensive, fine manipulation articulation of a normal human arm, but nevertheless electric signals from the human brain directly control it.

The arm prosthesis was implanted through a process called osseointegration – that is surgically attached to the bone, muscles, and nerves.  In trials the patients were able to use the arm quite comfortably throughout their normal daily activities. 

This incredible development essentially provides an amputee with a bionic arm that operates as easily and almost as well as the original limb.

Again, if you’d like to see Rickard and Magnus using their bionic arms, there is a video link at the end of this piece.

The Future

The next stages of development for this technology over the coming twenty years will be very exciting.

The three main challenges science needs to address now will be:

  • Creating a neutrally integrated limb with considerably more nuanced manipulation capabilities.  Here, the bottleneck is the neutral interface (the sensor technology already exists to facilitate it).
  • The development of advanced Haptics to provide increasingly realistic sensory feedback from the bionic limb to the human brain.  Here again the challenge is the neural interface.
  • Making the technology available in an affordable form to all amputees.

So, when are we likely to see a world in which all amputees can benefit from fully functional replacement bionic limbs?

Given the current state of the technology we are likely to see some very sophisticated bionic limbs developed and successfully trialled over the coming decade.  We may even start to see significant numbers of amputees able to start benefiting from the technology by 2030.

Ultimately the key will come down to delivering solutions that strike the right balance between their effectiveness and cost.  But I feel optimistic that within 10-20 years the lives of a great many amputees across the world will be dramatically enhanced for the better by this technology.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services and opinion polling to clients actively campaigning on behalf of the environment and engaged in the green economy.  You can read more about this on our website.

Video Links

The LUKE arm in action

See APL’s brain machine interface controlled robotic arms in action

Rickard Normack & Magnus Niska using their bionic arms (you will need to turn on sub-titles for this one, unless your Swedish is good!)

Deforestation – how concerned should we be?

We all know that our world has been suffering from the effects of deforestation.  If this continues unabated, we will see not only a significant loss of biodiversity but also a potentially significant negative impact on global warming.  Whilst we often read about this in the press, I thought it would be useful to pull together some numbers that help to illustrate the scale of the problem.

Tropical forests are important

Tropical rainforests only cover about 2% of the earth’s land mass, so on that basis you might imagine they can’t be that important.  However, this relatively small environment contains 50% of all the life on the planet’s land surface.  This includes an incredible variety of different animal and plant species.

Tropical forests also absorb a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere and therefore play an important role in slowing global warming.  Tropical forests currently hold more carbon than humanity has emitted over the past 30 years by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. 

Indeed, overall, the world’s forests absorb one-third of the annual CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. 

But deforestation is accelerating

We have been aware that deforestation is threatening these habitats for a long time but, unfortunately, the problem is getting worse rather than better.

Between 2000 and 2015, deforestation saw an average of 3 million hectares of tree cover disappear every year.  But since 2016 that average has increase to around 4 million hectares a year.

Deforestation accelerated by a further 12% in the year 2019/2020, so there is no sign of any respite.

We are now in a situation where 30% of all the world’s forests have been cleared and a further 20% seriously degraded.

The Amazon Rainforest in Brazil is under the greatest threat

Deforestation as a problem is largely concentrated within a small number of countries that have large areas of tropical rainforest.

In 2020 around 40% of all global deforestation occurred in Brazil.  In fact, Brazil has been consistently destroying around 1.5 million hectares of rainforest every year since 2016. 

The next most serious problem can be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has accounted for around 10-15% of deforestation in recent times.

Bolivia and Indonesia are the next most significant contributors, although, in the case of Indonesia the rate of deforestation has recently declined.

What causes deforestation?

We lose trees every year to a variety of causes, both natural and unnatural.

A major World Resources Institute study found that between 2001 and 2015 tree loss could be attributed to the following sources:

  • 26% was lost as part of managed forestry.  This is where trees in managed plantations are cut down for commercial timber.  Most of these trees will be replaced over time, as the plantation owners would always replant after harvesting a timber crop.
  • 23% are lost to wildfires.  These may become more widespread with global warming but they are a natural phenomenon.  Trees lost in this manner will also regenerate over time.
  • 24% are lost to shifting patterns of agriculture.  This is where forests are cleared and burnt, usually to free land for use in subsistence farming.  In some cases the forests may grow back, in others the loss is permanent.
  • Over 27% of forestry loss is the result of either urbanisation or commodity-driven deforestation.  This kind of loss is the most serious and is almost always permanent.

Whilst growing urbanisation creates a demand for land that can threaten forests, the growth of human urban centres actually accounts for very little deforestation (just 0.6%). 

So forests are not being cut down because people need space to live.

A far more serious problem is commodity driven deforestation, where forests are being cleared simply to allow us to grow commodity crops such as soy, palm oil or rear cattle.  This accounts for 27% of forest loss and is a major cause of deforestation in countries like Brazil.

In Brazil the dominant form of deforestation can be attributed to commodity driven deforestation to clear land for cattle ranching (accounting for 63% of all Amazon deforestation between 2001 and 2013).  Other significant culprits include commodity crops such as soy but cattle ranching for industrial meat production is by far and away the greatest threat.

What can be done?

The big question we face is what can be done about all this?  How can we save our forests?

In the case of the Brazilian situation we can all make a limited impact by reducing our intake of processed meat.  But ultimately real change can only be made if the Brazilian government can be persuaded to act.  Unfortunately, at this time, with other priorities such as covid taking up so much political time, we are unlikely to see much positive action.

Now the Brazilian government have argued that the management of their own resources is their own affair.  However, 10% of all the world’s wildlife species live in the Amazon and the Amazon rainforest accounts for 54% of all the world’s rainforests.  It can therefore justifiably be viewed as an important global resource and we should all encourage our own governments to work more closely with countries like Brazil and Bolivia to stem the tide of deforestation in this region. 

We might do this individually or by supporting organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund or Rainforest Alliance which are actively campaigning to help preserve these crucial environmental resources.  But, whatever we do, we should all remember that we don’t have the luxury of time to solve these problems and, every year, a further 4 million hectares of forest are likely to disappear.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services and opinion polling to clients actively campaigning on behalf of the environment and engaged in the green economy.  You can read more about this on our website.

Sources:

Global Forest Watch

IUCN

WRI

Mongabay

Sciencemag

WWF

Rainforest Alliance

Marketing Personas – powerful tool or pointless exercise?

What are marketing personas?

You have probably heard of marketing personas (or buyer personas as they are otherwise known).  The purpose of creating marketing personas is to paint a picture of the audience you are trying to reach.  Used well it can be great tool for segmentation marketing.  But used poorly it can, unfortunately, end up being a pointless exercise. 

Where do marketing personas come from?

Whilst many of us may have seen the end result, it is often not entirely clear how these personas were created, or even by whom.

Perhaps a group of sales and marketing people huddle together in a workshop and “brainstorm” a bunch of personas. 

Or perhaps they were created based on some focus groups that some of your marketing team had commissioned. 

Or maybe they were developed from insights generated from a larger scale quantitative market research survey.  Or perhaps all of these. 

How they were created does matter.  They should of course, be based on a broad group of real actual customers – and not just plucked out of the air based on a customer meeting that one person had with a single customer!

How do they help?

They allow us to bring to life different segments of our market and, in doing so, allow us to better target them and serve their needs. Or do they?

“Segments must be Measurable, Substantial, Accessible, Differentiable, and Actionable.”

Philip Kotler

Unfortunately, sometimes, people can go through a lengthy exercise in creating fancy personas only to find that they aren’t of much actual use.  They can look good.  They look as though they make sense.  You can even bring them to life with infographics, videos and swish artwork.  That’s all cool … but what use are they?

When such an exercise goes wrong you can end up with something that looks very impressive but is hard to relate to any of the questions or challenges that your business actually faces. 

But it doesn’t have to be like that.  Done right, marketing personas can be an extremely powerful business tool. 

So how do you get it right?

Make sure you start with some clear business objectives

First things first.  You must always start with a good reason why you want to create marketing personas in the first place.

That of course means you need to start some tangible business questions.

Obvious questions usually include the following:

  • Who is most likely to buy our products?
  • What makes them buy?
  • How do we reach them?
  • What do we need to do to persuade them to buy?

Once you have these questions you then know what you are trying to achieve. Your success criteria for the entire exercise are then clear and simple – can the personas we have created answer our original questions.  Keep these questions clearly in mind throughout the exercise – they are your guiding light and anchor point for the entire project

Do you need them?

An important question to ask before you get too far with generating your personas is:  “Do I even need to generate multiple market personas” ?

Generating multiple market personas implies you are adopting a market segmentation strategy.  That means you want to divide your customers and prospects into different groups and adopt a different marketing approach for each of these groups.

This more targeted approach can bring great rewards. 

But to develop and execute specific campaigns and strategies to address different market segments requires resources.  Not everyone will have the resources or the time to invest in this.

This comes back to our original questions – why are you doing this?

Sometimes, people develop market personas for the wrong reasons.  Sometimes what you really need is something simpler. 

Maybe all you need is a good profile of your target customers and prospects as a single group.  One group of people who you can focus your marketing resources on, directing a specific approach.

In this case you just need a market profile that simply allows you to describe those people who represent good prospects for targeting to your marketing agency in an accurate and meaningful way.

Make sure Personas integrate into your marketing strategy

Although it sounds very obvious, people can sometimes get this wrong and, when they do, generating marketing personas can be a waste of time.

If you decide you need marketing personas then this should form an integral part of your marketing strategy.  The insight you gain from the personas will help you to design a targeted segmentation strategy that will shape and inform your marketing.

You don’t need to generate marketing personas if you have already determined what your strategy will be.  The whole point of creating them is to help formulate your strategy.

Personas are powerful tool for briefing your marketing agency

When you brief a marketing agency, the first thing they will want will be for you to paint a picture of your target audience.  Who are you trying to reach?  What do you need to say to them?

The more they know about the audience the better.  The more specifically they can then target any media campaigns and the more engaging they can make the messaging.

With well crafted and meaningful marketing personas you should be able to provide them with everything they need to create a very targeted and relevant campaign for you.

How do you know your Marketing Personas are any good?

OK, so you have completed the process of pulling together what you need to create your personas.  You believe they will answer the questions you set out at the start of the process.  Now you need to bring them to life and present them to colleagues, to your marketing agency and your partners.

So now you need to create a concise and meaningful guide that explains what these personas are and why they matter.

By this time you may have been working on the project for a few weeks.  So there is a real risk that you, your market research agency and anyone else closely involved might not be able to see the wood for the trees.  So it is worth taking a step back and looking at what you have, to make sure it does indeed give you everything you need.

You can check this by asking a few basic questions:

  • Is the Marketing Persona clearly defined and easy to understand?  How easy is it to explain to a colleague who has had no involvement in the project?
  • Does it tell you how big/small the market segment it represents actually is?  Is this particular Marketing Persona representative of 50% of your potential market or 5%?
  • Does it clearly outline the opportunity that this market segment represents?  Will these people buy from you?  Will it be an easy or a hard sell?  If your salesman is speaking with one of them, what are the chances that you will make a sale?
  • Does it tell you what this Persona likes and dislikes?  What kind of things are likely to interest and engage with them?  And what might leave them cold?
  • How is this particular Persona different from the other ones?  Can you easily explain why this Persona is different?  What do you need to do differently to engage with this group that you do not need to do with any of the other Personas?
  • What media channels should you use to communicate with this Persona and how is this different from the others?
  • What kind of marketing messages do you need to design in order to ensure that people in this segment will listen and engage with you?

If you are able to reach a point where your marketing personas can be used to provide meaningful and actionable answers to each of these questions, then you know you have created something of real value.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

If you are looking to create market personas, we can provide a market segmentation services that you enable you to generate these in a structured and successful way.  You can read more about how we do this on our website.

Virtual Future – how will virtual reality shape our future world?

Part 2:  VR beyond gaming

More than just a game

In our last blog we began our discussion of VR by looking at what the future may hold in store for this technology in the world of computer games.  However, whilst gaming still represents the most widely used application for VR and AR at present, this technology has many other applications.

In this article, we would like to take a closer look the potential for these.

Remote working

One of the huge changes covid has forced on our professional lives is the need for virtual working.  The business world has discovered that it is perfectly possible for most office staff to work effectively from home for long periods of time.  Indeed, tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have helped to make home working become the new normal.

But a remote working world, for all its video calls, can be an isolating experience.  Yes, we will be returning to the office sometime this year.  But let’s not kid ourselves it will be the same.  Many people will now be working from home as the norm and hot desking in the office when they need to.  The days of the daily commute, five days a week, every week, are gone.

This remote working scenario is ripe for transformation into a virtual world.  Using VR and AR technology can help to humanise the experience, it can make it more real, more interactive and allow work colleagues to participate in a wider range of interactive tasks.

This technology is already here.  One such solution is Spatial; an AR version of Zoom, enabling work colleagues to interact in an AR office space.  You can interact in a more 3D environment rather than just with 2-dimensional video but the technology also offers other tools such as enabling you to share ideas by scribbling on a virtual white board, share content and images in 3D and so on.  No doubt, as time goes by, technology such as this will continue to add features and tools that make the experience even more interactive.

Socialising

In lockdown we have all, to some extent or other, been forced to get used to the idea of remote socialising.  Often armed with a glass of wine and a Zoom call.  Arguably many Gen Zs have been socialising remotely far more than they do in person for most of their lives.  The only thing that’s changed over the past year is that the rest of us have joined them.

Now, I’m not suggesting people are going to abandon the pubs and restaurants any time soon.  In fact, once these places can re-open, I’m sure they can expect a bit of a boom.  Imagine the novelty value of going to the pub with your friends again? 

But that said, I suspect that socialising remotely will remain a much more important part of our lives post-covid than it was before.  For one thing it is a great way to meet up with friends and family who live far away.  No need to travel, just hop on a Zoom call.

Again, as with working, remote socialising tends to lead naturally to virtual socialising.  The ability to interact in 3D in a virtual environment is unlikely to catch on if it is expensive but – as soon as the price is right – this will eventually become a normal way of communicating.  As with virtual reality workspaces, it is more a question of when than if.

Indeed, tools already exist for virtual socialising such as Altspace VR, VR Chat and Rec Room.

Interior Design and Architecture

An obvious application for VR and AR is interior design.  Using this technology a designer can show their clients how they might transform an interior space.  Such a visualisation can make a design look far more real and can be used to show clients what a range of different alternatives might look like. 

Such technology should ultimately make it easy for people to visualise a range of different options and to alter and adjust designs to see how different scenarios might play out.  And what goes for interior design applies equally well to architecture.  Now it is possible to visit an empty plot of land or a building site and use AR to see exactly what a new building might look like.  You can even walk around it to see just what it looks like in its environment from every angle.

Many clients find it hard to visualise what an end design might look like.  VR can show them in a way that is clear, avoids misunderstanding and negates the need for lengthy explanations.

Having a clear virtual view of what the end product will look like before you even need to build, buy or change anything, clearly has the potential to avoid costly mistakes.   Most importantly, it makes it much less likely that designers and builders will hear the dreaded words “Now I see it, I’m not sure I like it like that.”

Engineering and Industrial Design

Technical design work can often involve large teams and often those teams may be working together but are based in different parts of the world.

Here VR/AR has the same potential as in other fields to link remote working colleagues together and enable them to visualise concepts and designs in 3-dimensions.

People can all see how things might fit together and how the finished article might look.  This can be particularly important if the physical styling and appearance of the end product is key.  It is much better to spot potential problems in a virtual world and correct them, rather than having to wait until an expensive prototype has been created.

Like architecture, the key benefits will come from remote teamworking and the ability to visualise the end product fully before you need to start spending serious money on making it real.

As with other fields, the barriers will be all around cost and, given the data hungry nature of engineering design work, the ability of the technology to cope well with that.  The ROI will become simpler and easier to justify, as the technology improves and costs come down.

Some companies have already been using this technology for a while now.  Businesses like Jaguar Land Rover and Arup have been deploying VR in design for over a decade.  In time smaller businesses will inevitably follow.

Healthcare

Another field where we might expect to see VR make increasing inroads is healthcare.  Here the technology can be used for training in various surgical procedures.  It can also be used to help surgeons plan for particularly complex operations.

Students can now study human anatomy extensively with VR, potentially continuing their studies from home if need be.

VR can assist with robotic surgery enhancing the degree of control a remote surgeon has over their instruments during a procedure and providing them with a much clearer visualisation of what is happening than would be possible just by looking at a video screen.

Other Applications

VR’s inherent ability to visualise and simulate makes it ideal for any training application where people need to interact with complex technology or a difficult environment.  It can safely create realistic simulations that help prepare people for working in demanding and potentially dangerous work environments.  It also enables students and tutors who may be scattered in remote locations to come together and interact as a group.

As the technology improves and the costs come down, it is inevitable that we will see VR become increasingly used as a go-to technology for many training applications.

Clearly the primary application for VR in entertainment is gaming.  However, this is not the only one.  VR can be used to enhance rides in theme parks or perhaps even to create an entire VR experience as a theme in itself.

VR can create spectacular interactive 3-dimensional landscapes and environments.  The potential to use this technology to create something of great artistic beauty can deliver entertainment in the form of a sense of wonder.

Could we perhaps be engaging with VR films or other entertainment experiences in the future?  I am sure we will, in time.

The Future

Given the wide range of different potential applications we could be looking at a world dominated by VR technology at some point in the future.

The fact that covid has rapidly accelerated the extent to which the world works and interacts remotely can only serve as an accelerator for the adoption of new VR applications.  The only question is how fast will this happen?

Unfortunately, VR has suffered considerably from over-hype in the past.  I am sure we can all remember the heady prophecies of 800% growth over four years and such like.  In a way, predictions such as that have done more harm than good for the industry and run the risk of creating a sense of the “boy who cried wolf”.

We may not see a sudden, spectacular, VR revolution but I believe we will see a steady evolution and a sustained growth.  One day we will wake up and all of a sudden it will seem as though VR is everywhere.

For the VR industry it is important to remember that VR itself is only a technology.  For a technology to succeed it must have applications.  So the real challenge, beyond improving the technology, is to identify and develop a meaningful range of products for which there is real demand.  And here it helps to start by taking some advice from Steve Jobs:

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” 

In this context that means looking for potential situations that would benefit from the visual power of VR – i.e. where visualisation can add real value.  Its other key benefit is its ability to operate virtually, bring people in different locations together in a single experience.  Those two things in combination represent the key to developing killer applications.

Identifying and refining how these applications work, overcoming customer objections and reservations and then successfully communicating the benefits of the technology all require a good understanding of the potential market.  This would be where market research can help of course.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.

Sources & Links:

Spatial

VR Chat 

Altspace VR

Rec Room

British Interior Design Institute

Ingenia

New Medical

VRSYNC

VR in action

Virtual Future – how will virtual reality shape our future world?

Part 1: VR Gaming

The Boom that Cried Wolf

“The Virtual Reality Boom.” So read the title of an Op Ed (written by a source which I will not name to spare their blushes) that was originally published in the summer of 2016.  Now, four and a half years later, no sign of that boom yet.

It seems at the start of most years since then, more than one source will have predicted that VR’s time has come. 

I am sure I am not the only one who can recall seeing countless predictions that VR is set to grow by a factor of eight – ten – twelve over the next two – four – five years…  Funny how charts like that always seem to be talking about what will happen rather than showing us such spectacular evidence for growth that has happened.

Of course, VR has grown and the past few years have seen significant improvements in the technology.  But this progress is a long way from the “boom” we’ve been so frequently over promised.   So why is this?  And, perhaps more importantly, what does the future really have in store for us from this technology?

VR for Gaming

At present the primary (but by no means the only) application for VR remains gaming.  In this first blog I will focus on VR in gaming but it is important to say that this technology has important applications in other fields as well.  Part 2 of this series will focus more on other uses of VR but, to begin with, it makes sense to focus on the most widely used VR application.

However, even when we focus on gaming, it remains the case that VR remains very much a niche interest.  The biggest success to-date in terms of VR/AR (Augmented Reality) gaming has undoubtedly been Pokemon-Go which took the world by storm in 2016/17.  However, such a spectacular success has not been repeated since.  Alyx was the big VR hit of 2020, eventually pushing its way up to 2-5 million Steam users.  That’s good but compared to the 500 million downloads for Pokemon-Go in its launch year, it is small potatoes.  So why is it that the success of the Pokemon game has never been repeated?

The answer to all these questions lies in understanding the essence of what it is that VR/AR has to offer – what is it about this technology that makes it appealing?  Equally important is to understand its limitations – what is holding it back?

The Barriers to Adoption

We are all probably familiar, one way or another, with the reasons why some people don’t go for VR gaming.  These reasons are mainly a function of the limitations of the technology as it stands today.  But some of them may relate to a lack of choice and variety of different forms of gameplay experience within the category.

Cost is clearly one barrier.  Not everyone is willing to pay for all the extra kit needed to enter into the VR world.  Costs have come down but the fact still remains that you need to be prepared to put your hand in your pocket to join the VR universe.

Another limitation is the availability of a wide variety of different games to play in VR.  There is definitely more choice than was once the case but the fact that VR still represents a niche area for the gaming world, has limited the availability of content.  You could say it is almost a catch 22 situation.  Many people are reluctant to develop content for it because it is a niche interest category but, on the other hand, it remains niche in no small part because the more limited range of content limits growth.

True, the equipment now is lighter in weight, less clunky and as wireless tech is more available, less awkward to use.  But there is still some way to go as far as that is concerned.  Most headsets are still fairly bulky and some people find it uncomfortable.  Here, we can expect things to continually improve and there are some potentially interesting developments on the horizon such as Apple’s Smart Glass project.  However, this still seems a ways off and it is likely we will need to wait until 2023 before we start seeing this new generation of technology really hit the market.

Consumer Attitudes

In fact you only need to look on gaming forums to encounter some of the key objections the technology needs to overcome.  Here some examples of gamer comments that will sound familiar.

Space is an issue for games that aren’t made for sitting as you play.

Some people only have very limited space in which to play.  So they need games that don’t require you to move around a lot – or at least they need the option to play a game in a mode that allows them to remain seated.

The other issue is that motion controls are not for everyone and to attract people who dislike motion control will require a significant amount of good quality non-motion control based content.

For me, motion controls consistently break the 4th wall and gameplay by not being as responsive or precise as I want them to be, so I actually feel more immersed when using a gamepad, but a lot of the VR games use motion controls

And some people still experience physical problems when using VR kit:

it has made my motion sickness go into hyper drive. 

when I wear glasses, it is kind of a chore

To my mind one of the most significant objections raised was this:

VR games still seem like glorified tech demos to me.

Now there are some VR/AR games that have enjoyed a lot of success, so in these cases it would seem that we are dealing with games that have managed to evolve beyond being tech gimmicks into offering something else.  But what is the secret of their success?

The Ingredients of Success

In a sense the success of Alyx provides a glimpse of what it is about VR that people like.  However, some elements of its success have nothing to do with VR.  In particular, it is part of an already established franchise with a ready made fan base that it could tap into (an ingredient that Pokemon also had).  However, beyond that, it was able to tap into some of the strengths of VR technology and this was able to give it an appeal that other VR games perhaps lack. 

Most importantly, Alyx was designed to be a VR game from the start – not a standard PC or console game that then gets retrofitted to suit VR.  That has enabled it to make optimum use of what VR could do, rather than try to crowbar it in as an afterthought.

The result is a game that is suited to get the most out of the media in which it is presented.  This is a key element it shares with Pokemon-Go.

Pokemon-Go is the ideal AR game.  Why? Because the Pokemon universe is our universe (but including Pokemons!).  Anyone who has watched the original cartoons with Ash and friends will know that the world of Pokemon is not some bizarre fantasy or sci-fi universe, but rather a form of contemporary fantasy.  The stories all appear to be set in our world except that they also feature the addition of Pokemon.  That means that an AR representation of our own world with cartoon Pokemon characters aligns perfectly with the concept.

The key ingredients of Pokemon-Go and Alyx that helped make them successful, is the ability to make the most of the technology in a manner that suits the game and the gaming universe.  There has to be a fit and that fit has to be a seamless one.

The “Gimmick” Risk

When VR games are designed primarily to show off technical trickery, they run the risk of looking like glorified tech demos – superficially impressive, but ultimately unfulfilling (rather like the worst that ‘3D’ cinema has to offer).  The further VR can get away from the gimmicky tricks and focus more on using the technology to deliver a truly immersive and engaging experience the more successful it will be.

Another successful game in the VR field worth mentioning is Skyrim.  No doubt it owes much of its success to its devoted fanbase in the wider gaming world.

Skyrim, whilst not specifically designed for VR , nevertheless clearly had something about it that made it appealing.  Why? 

To answer that you only have to ask what made Skyrim so engaging in the first place, which you can answer by reading any gamer forum where that question is put to fans.  One such response illustrates a key point about this game:

Blackreach was my favorite part of Skyrim. It captured that sense of wonder …  in spades, mixing a unique aesthetic, with a fantastic ambiance 

The wonder and visual experience of encountering a fantastically realised environment (like Blackreach in Skyrim) is an experience that can showcase the very best that VR has to offer.

At the end of the day, what makes VR better than ordinary gaming comes down to its ability to visually immerse you in a fantastic virtual world.  If you are not using VR to achieve that then, at the end of the day, you run the risk that all you are offering is a technical gimmick.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.

Sources

The Ringer

VGR

Reddit

Quora

PC Gamer

Tomsguide

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