Diffusion of Innovation Theory and Nintendo’s failure to adapt

I think it’s safe to say that every one of us has been part of some sort of trend. Generations of yesteryear enjoyed parachute pants, frosted tips, and soul patches. Our generation, with things like Facebook forever chronicling just how bad we look for all eternity, has been a little more conscious of the long lasting effects of our fashion trends, and stuck to things like the ice bucket challenge, planking, and the Harlem shake. Previous generations were inspired by the fashion choices of celebrities such as MC Hammer, and N’Sync. Big name celebrities with huge popularity, and a large exposure. It’s easy to see how they influenced previous generations. But how do our internet based trends become popular? We knew all our friends were doing it, and so we wanted in on it of course. But how did it go from a single video that one person made, to a wide spread phenomenon? Well the following graph can explain that.

Diffusion of Innovation

What this graph represents is something known as “The Diffusion of Innovation Theory”. This theory was first introduced by E.M. Rodgers in 1962, and holds true today more than ever. As it’s title suggests, it categorizes users into 5 distinct categories based on how early/late they jump on a trend, with the majority falling in the middle of the bell curve. The first 2.5% are the Innovators. They’re the ones who invent the ice bucket challenge, or discover an app like Flappy Bird, and put a video about it online.

The next 13.5% of the Early Adopters. These are the people who discover the Innovators work, and spread it online. The most important people in this category are what I like to call “Social Media Celebrities”. They’re the Smosh and PewDeePies of YouTube, the Jen Selters of InstaGram, and that incredibly attractive girl from your high school that gets more likes on each profile picture than you have friends. These are the people with social media influence, who when they share something, have thousands or even millions of people that will see it. They are the ones responsible for the spread of a trend.

After the first 16% of people, we start getting to the “every day” people. The next 34% are the Early Majority and are the ones who make something seem like a big deal. They’re the ones who copy the early adopters, hoping to emulate them, and make it seem like “everyone is doing it”. This is when we can say something has officially become a trend, as it is in its peak of popularity. The next 34% are the Late Majority, and they’re the ones who jump on a trend solely because “everyone is doing it”. The final 16% are the laggards. They’re the ones who jump on the trend after everyone has moved on, or missed it entirely. Like that one guy in class who is still playing Temple Run.

It’s safe to say that if you want to start a trend through social media, you need people who jump on the bandwagon early, and you need them to have a large influential presence. Trends, by definition, happen because people want to fit in. And in order for an action to make somebody feel like they fit in, there needs to be the illusion that “everyone is doing it”. In practice, this means the trend has to spread to a wide reach of people, and it needs to spread fast. The easiest way to do this is with one person sharing one article or video, that millions of followers will see.

So what does this have to do with Nintendo you ask? It has to do with their harsh handling of how their intellectual properties are handled on YouTube. In the past, Nintendo has gone on a rampage on YouTube, taking down any videos it can find that display game play content of its games. Personally, I am a fan of companies having a transparent, open honesty mentality. But I get that its not for everyone. So I can understand taking down videos of things like Wii remotes slipping off peoples wrists, and impaling their television sets. That’s fine, that’s bad publicity. But Nintendo has even had a bad stance on “Lets Play” videos. “Lets Play” video are literally when a person say “hey lets play this game” and video records it, typically with some colorful commentary. Many of these people have such cult followings that they do this videos live, and get huge amounts of hits. Again, I believe in transparency, but I can understand Nintendo taking down a video that insults their game, or makes it look bad. Maybe even a video that spoils some major plot points that may make a viewer deem self purchase and play unnecessary now that the surprise is gone. But if somebody posts a video depicting an especially exciting match on the new Smash Brothers game, all that does is get viewers excited to purchase the game. After all, there’s a reason they’re watching it in the first place. I personally live on a small video game budget, and rely on lets plays to tell me what game is worth purchasing. A trailer is carefully constructed by a marketing team, but a lets play is the product in its rawest and most honest form. The last three games I downloaded were all suggested to me by my favorite YouTubers.

Now Nintendo has its own YouTube channel. But with 962,904 subscribers, and 230,236,600 views on their 1,385 videos they’ve added since December 27, 2005, they’re a modest channel at best. And why would they be popular? Their channel is mostly tv commercials and trailers. You might want to re-watch these once or twice, but you won’t get excited for them, or anticipate their next video other than announcements of a game you’ve anxiously been waiting for. And even that excitement is short lived.

Lets move our focus to the Pewds channel. PewDeePie is the most popular channel on YouTube, without a doubt. The quirky Swede has 34,678,015 subscribers, and 7,943,947,116 views on his 2,249 videos that he’s posted since April 29, 2010. So lets put that in perspective a bit. If you said every subscriber is the equivalent of a citizen, then the Pewds would have a larger population than every US state besides California. He would be larger than 84% of the countries in the world, including the country he actually lives in. To call the Pewds huge, is a bit of an understatement. And if what happened to World of WarCraft is any indication, now that he’s been on South Park he’s only going to get even bigger. He has 36 times the subscribers, 34 times the views, on 1.6 times the videos, in half the time as Nintendo.

So how did the Pewds become such a huge phenomenon? Mainly on Lets Play videos. If you ask anyone who PewDeePie is, they’ll likely tell you “isn’t he the guy 12 year olds love because he makes weird voices while playing Call of Duty?” And to an extent, they’re right. So young gamers love the Pewds. You know what else they love? Nintendo. So the Pewds demographic overlapping with Nintendo’s must mean that PewDeePie can generate some extra publicity for Nintendo? Well not if he can’t post videos about them.

Nintendo finally realized this. They realized that by not allowing Early Adopter to spread their content, that they were hurting their chances of their games being part of a trend that reaches the majority. So this year, they’ve implemented a new strategy. Erasing all of the legal jargon it comes down to this; “[OK we give up. Post Lets Plays of our games. But give us a portion of the advertising money you make off of it, or we’ll take it down]”. And what was PewDeePie’s reaction? “[You’re missing out on a great chance for some free exposure, by somebody who can sell your game simply by showing somebody else how much fun it is” (Paraphrased from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/02/youtube-pewdiepie-nintendo-revenue-sharing).

So basically by demanding 30-40% of all advertising revenue from Lets Plays featuring their games, Nintendo is not making any friends in the Early Adopters segment. In fact, their greed is alienating the very help they need. You know what developer let YouTubers have free reign of its game? Mojang. And Minecraft became such a success that last year Microsoft bought it for $2.5 billion.

Nintendo is taking the exact opposite approach that they should. The Pewds has done fine without Lets Plays of Mario and Zelda, and will continue to do so. Him doing a lets play of your game would benefit you more than him. So why demand money from him, and piss him off? Rather Nintendo should give the Pewds free copies of their games. I would say shortly before they’re even released to the public. Let him have free reign to show the world what your game has to offer. If you made a good product, he will enjoy it, and say good things about it. If he says something bad, you only have yourselves to blame. But either way his videos will lead to greater exposure for you, and to your demographic. So please do yourself a favor. Be the bigger man. Admit your mistake, apologize, and attempt to mend the bridge. I think you’ll be happy with the results.

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