Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Console fanboyism as a coordination solution

A few months ago a friend's Xbox 360 broke and I heard instead of fixing it he was going to buy a Playstation 3. Instead of a neutral, ho-hum response, I was downright annoyed with him. Why?

I don't consider myself a fanboy. If you're lucky enough to be out of the loop of angry nerdom, console fanboys are consumers who go beyond brand loyalty and into brand nationalism. They hate the rival companies and the people who play them.

Growing up in the rural community, I've observed the same behavior with brands of snowmobiles and pickup trucks; such as GMC owners who badmouth Ford and Dodge. With New England sports, some of the Boston Red Sox fans hold actual contempt for people who like the New York Yankees.

So why would I have a negative response upon hearing a rumor that one of my friends plans to use a Playstation 3 instead of my brand, the Xbox 360?

It's a coordination problem.

In game theory, coordination games are where problems occur if people don't make the same arbitrary choice.

For example, when designing cars and roads it doesn't matter which side people drive on as long as they all drive on the same side. America has chosen the right side of the road while England has the left. As a result, the drivers seat is placed on the opposite side of the vehicle. Both systems run smoothly as long as people are coordinated together - the decision to coordinate to the left or right is completely arbitrary.

When I was in college my friends and I could talk online with instant messages. Two major programs were AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Windows Live Messenger. We all used AIM, not because it was a better program, but because we could only talk to each over the same program, and most people already used AIM.

The same coordination logic applies to dating websites, World of Warcraft realms and even the choice to play World of Warcraft over other MMOs. Imagine if a new social networking site came out that was slightly better than Facebook. It wouldn't steal the market because most people are already on Facebook and the whole point is to be on a system connected with everyone else. That doesn't make Facebook invincible, but look how long it took for it to take that market from the entrenched MySpace.

So while a lot of fanboyism is brand pride, there are some major benefits to a group of friends coordinated to one system. I play a lot of online games with my friends, and I can't play with my friends who only use Playstations. There are a lot of games that come out for both consoles, but both systems have some exclusive titles and I can lend, borrow, recommend or talk about games with my Xbox 360 friends that might not apply to the others.

The difference between my position and that of the fanboys is that I am not saying my console is better than the other. It doesn't matter if one is better than the other. I benefit by coordinating my console choice with my friends.


  1. I empathize. I share the same problem, but with PC's thrown into the fray.

  2. So network exclusivity turns the end user into a salesperson; manufacturers are using peer pressure to sell consoles.

    Imagine if iPhones could only call other iPhones, or if iPhone to iPhone calls were free. "I won't call you because you don't have and iPhone."

  3. Well Motoma, I don't know if that was their intention so much as an unintended benefit.

    Imagine if a new generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles are about to launch. Playstation 2 outsold the Xbox in the 6th console generation, and the Xbox 360 has outsold* the Playstation 3 in the 7th generation. Microsoft and Sony do not know who will be the top dog in the 8th generation.

    If one of them has an overwhelming market share, they would love to use the peer pressure model you suggested. Conversely, the one with a tiny share would want interchangeable games and linked online games between the two consoles. If they come out roughly the same, then both sides would want to use the current system.

    *More Xbox 360s have been sold even though a Playstation 3 has a Blu-Ray player. There is a significant amount of sales from people who want an affordable, constantly updated movie player who do not care about games.

  4. For the record, AT&T plans do come with free iPhone-to-iPhone calls.