The world of unmet needs

There is a big market that can be tapped for gaming devices, a segment yetto take off in India. _ R. SHIVAJI RAO   -  The Hindu

Do the unfulfilled desires of an individual's childhood have an effect on his consumption patterns as an adult? What is special about gaming devices?

The software revolution has given form to the great Indian middle class dream of “foreign trips” and a comfortable lifestyle. Our typical 25-year-old engineer has more disposable income along with opportunities and accessibility to products that his parents could not afford. An onsite engineer on his return to India may typically bring back ‘i'-prefixed devices (iPhones/iPads), expensive digital cameras and, surprisingly, a device that one might associate with a pre-teen or a teenager — a video game console. In line with the purchasing pattern, statistics reveal that the most avid gamers are 18-35-year-old adults.

What prompts a 25-30-year-old to buy a gaming console which is construed as an expensive “toy” to have in pre-teen and teenager circles? Do the unmet needs of an individual's childhood have an effect on his consumption patterns as an adult? What is special about gaming devices?

Unmet needs

As a child grows he acquires needs based on his environment. As he journeys into adulthood he undergoes multiple roles and responsibility transitions. In the wake of his journey he leaves behind some unsatisfied needs as he assumes his next role. For example, a school student may have wanted to learn to play the guitar but wouldn't have got a chance due to the unavailability of a good tutor or may not have been able to afford such classes. Based on the consumer's personality there are multiple ways in which he can react to the unsatisfied needs — create a substitute goal (listen to guitar CDs) or adopt a “sour grapes” attitude (guitar music isn't good at all) or carry it forward (take guitar lessons when there is an opportunity, even at 60 years of age).

Academic literature tells us that the stages between the time period an individual is self-sustained (financial/socially independent) and the stage when a catalytic event occurs reminding him of his actual age (retirement, loss of spouse/close friend), he may exhibit a lag between his chronological and actual age. This lag between the chronological and cognitive ages makes the consumer believe he is younger. This class of “young at heart” consumers responds to past unsatisfied needs and tends to “re-live” its youth or childhood when it has the means and access. It is also unique to our Indian culture where some parents try and achieve their dreams and aspirations through their children. They most often strive to provide their children with the facilities, toys and education that they never had.

When we examine the world gaming market over the last two decades, we find that during the late '80s and early '90s gaming consoles were primarily targeted at the children/teenager segment. The 16-bit and 32-bit consoles were very popular (Sega, Nintendo, Atari). Though the consoles were not very easily available in India there was a flourishing market in the metro cities where one could buy a console, perhaps through channels not strictly official. These consoles were expensive, prone to malfunctioning and interfered with the family TV time. The biggest dampener, other than affordability, was parents' perception that playing games on the TV was not very good for their children's eyes. Net result — the unsatisfied needs of people who were children during the late '80s.

The entertainment route associated with videogames

Those children who were fortunate enough to own a gaming console in the late '80s continued to patronise the games and consoles that they were used to as children. Over the years the product category evolved from a functional standpoint due to technological enablement. Today motion sensor games have taken the industry by storm. The children of the '90s, who grew up and have access to the newfound resources, have become buyers of these best-in-class games today.

The motivation to act on the unfulfilled need is most often through trial. Video gaming, being an addictive sport, a session at a local mall or watching an adept gamer skilfully land an upper cut on Cassius Clay's jaw is all it takes to re-kindle the unfulfilled need. Cognisant of the shift in buyer demographics, the console manufacturers have re-positioned the console as a “family entertainment device” (this kind of positioning was, in fact, attempted first by Nintendo when they launched the device in the US), fitness device or an “entertainment experience”.

They have also released (gaming) titles such as Wii-Fit, Rock Band and DanceMasters to cater to their older patrons. Young tech-savvy Indian parents buy these consoles for their children and take joy in playing the games along with them or most times just see them play!

The Indian video gaming industry is still in the nascent stage and is poised to grow at 49 per cent CAGR. Though video game manufacturers have set up shops in India directly, we do not see localised messages being communicated by any of the brands. Very few Indian audience-targeted game titles are available in the market, not to mention their compatibility issues with the consoles that are purchased outside the country. Even today some of the console brands are cheaper in the US than in India. To cater to this untapped market, a diligent understanding of the profile of the Indian gamer will be very useful in developing localised content, positioning, pricing and communication.

The craze for gaming devices can also be explained from a viewpoint that is beyond the obvious functional or symbolic attributes. Though some consumers may indulge in gaming to impress groups that they interact with, using these devices does provide sensory and recreational stimulation for the individual.

Most of the motion sensor games provide sensual gratification to enable stressed persons to relax. While other forms of entertainment may also provide such hedonism, gaming devices provide the “touch and feel” that enhances the self-gratification, that may get heightened with the “challenges” posed by games while the consumer is using the device.

The sub-conscious beneath the superficial layers of the mind could open up exciting possibilities for marketers.

Madhuvanthi is a post-graduate student of software management at IIM Bangalore and Ramesh Kumar is Professor of Marketing at IIM Bangalore.

Published on July 20, 2011
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