The theory explaining how one man outperforms Nintendo’s 5,195 employees

(Screenshot)
(Screenshot)

Here’s a look at six ideas that affect how we live, work and play.

1. Uninspired smartphone games can be more profitable than Nintendo.

Flappy Bird developer Dong Nguyen told the Verge he’s making $50,000 a day on a game he spent a few evenings coding after work. Let’s contrast that with legendary gaming titan Nintendo, which had 5,195 employees last fall. It is headed for its third straight year of losses.

Flappy Bird is an extremely simple game. You tap the screen to flap the bird’s wings so it moves up and down. That’s it. Flappy Bird looks remarkably like the classic Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. Even the name is bare bones. A flappy bird, as opposed to birds that don’t flap their wings? The lack of originality hasn’t stopped it from being a huge hit, with 50 million downloads.

Nguyen’s success proves it isn’t hard to be a profitable gaming company in 2014. There’s a huge market for playing games on smartphones. Yet Nintendo refuses to release its games on smartphones and clings to its old business model of selling consoles.

What Nintendo fails to grasp is the jobs-to-be-done theory. Jay Haynes explains it well in terms of the music business:

There is no such thing as an iPod market, just as there isn’t a cassette market, an LP market, or a CD market. Companies get disrupted because they define the market based on their product, not on the customers job-to-be-done, e.g. the markets for listening to music and discovering new music.

To apply this to Nintendo, there never was a market for the Super Nintendo or the Wii. There was and is a market for finding and playing new and classic games. Currently the smartphone is an appealing place to play games because it is convenient (in our pockets and purses) and affordable (we’re accepted and paid the monthly costs).

Nintendo's business is face-planting as it refuses to adapt to modern times. (Screenshot)
Nintendo’s business is face planting as it refuses to adapt to modern times. (Flappy Bird screenshot)

Consoles aren’t dead. The Playstation 4 and X-Box One have combined to sell 7.2 million units. But that pales in comparison to Flappy Bird’s 50 million downloads. Consoles are becoming a niche market for gaming fanatics as the bulk of consumers  play games on their phones.

Imagine if Nintendo’s 5,195 employees devoted their energies to the smartphone. They should be able to create games that are so much better than what one person might create in a few evenings after work.

But for now Nguyen is, in a sense, more successful than Nintendo — because he’s focused on the job to be done, finding and playing new and classic games. Meanwhile, Nintendo clings to the past and attempts to sell consoles, where it’s being beaten by Microsoft and Sony. It made sense for casual gamers to purchase a Nintendo console 20 years ago, but not in an era of smartphones and free games such as Temple Run and Angry Birds.

2. The GMO-ization of human beings. Via Quartz:

Something major just happened in China: Government-backed researchers turned two macaque monkey embryos into adorable newborn mutants. … That’s a big deal. But the really huge implication isn’t about watching sickened monkeys. It’s about what this means for genome-editing in humans.

3. Forget signing credit card receiptsVia the Wall Street Journal:

Beginning later next year, you will stop signing those credit card receipts. Instead, you will insert your card into a slot and enter a PIN number, just like people do in much of the rest of the world. The U.S. is the last major market to still use the old-fashioned signature system, and it’s a big reason why almost half the world’s credit card fraud happens in America, despite the country being home to about a quarter of all credit card transactions.

4. Hyperlinks that jump from app to app. From the MIT Technology Review:

Today mobile apps increasingly rule our free time and require us to dive into separate, walled-off digital containers that don’t link up. That’s now changing as ad technology startups, together with established companies such as Google and Facebook, seek to reinvent the hyperlink. They’re rolling out technology that makes it easy to put links into a mobile app, Web page, or e-mail that with a single tap take a person to a specific section of another app installed on the device.

5. One-ring phone scams. Via BGR:

A fairly new scam called the “one-ring phone scam” has become increasingly popular of late and is costing people a lot of money. It involves perpetrators setting up computers that call thousands of random numbers, let the phone ring once, and then hang up. When people call the number back, they are billed a $20 international call fee and then connected to a paid premium service, such as an adult chat line that charge $9 per minute or more.

6. Dogs as hostages. Via The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño:

In the annals of prisoner of war videos, this seems to be a first. A slightly befuddled Belgian Malinois appears on a tight leash, surrounded by heavily armed, bearded men boasting of their battlefield loot. … Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said officials could think of no prior instance in which a military working dog had been taken captive.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland · February 6