Building a video game is a complicated undertaking. A single title can take years to make and costs tens of millions of dollars. Microsoft’s Halo 3, for instance, was thought to cost anywhere between $25 and $40 million. Development requires top notch programming and graphics skills as well as specialized hardware and software tools.
As a result, until recently game development was the exclusive domain of companies such as EA and Blizzard Entertainment. However, Microsoft changed this with the 2009 release of Kodu – a visual programming platform that allows anyone to create simple games for Xbox 360 and Windows.
The tool is so easy to use that even children can pick it up. In fact, a project in three Australian schools engaged kids to build their own games using the Kodu Game Lab. The results of the two month project were impressive with over 200 games built by the students.
Kodu is an example of a wider phenomenon. It’s a platform that allows users, customers and even small scale entrepreneurs to realize their ideas. These platforms for innovation are springing up across a number of industries, creating opportunity and leaving old business models in the dust.
What are Innovation Platforms?
Innovation platforms have several characteristics:
- Tools: At the core, innovation platforms allow individuals to create something. It can be a design, an opinion or even a business. The output can lead to a physical or virtual good, a transaction or another type of action.
- Technology: Innovation platforms allow widely distributed individuals to participate using internet technologies. Broadband penetration and easy to use software tools have given non-techies access to capabilities that were previously the purview of technologists. The use of information technologies also allows innovation platforms to achieve significant scale and critical mass.
- Communities and Markets: Innovation platforms with enough traction can lead to the creation of communities where likeminded people meet to exchange ideas and co-create. Platforms can also develop into markets where goods and services are bought, sold and exchanged.
Leading Innovation Platforms
Microsoft’s Kodu Game Lab is an excellent example of an innovation platform, with thousands of users creating their own games using the simple online tools. A number of other platforms enable individuals to create, market and distribute their innovations:
- Threadless: The online t-shirt company allows independent designers to upload their creations which are then printed and sold to a community of loyal customers. Designs are voted on, with the creators of the most popular t-shirts receiving cash prizes. To date, 100 000 designers have submitted over 300 000 designs to the company’s site, which sells over a million t-shirts per year.
- Motley Fool Caps: The multimedia financial services company hosts a community of individuals interested in financial markets. Users make predictions on whether individual stocks will outperform or underperform the S&P 500 over a certain period. Those with the most accurate predictions have more influence in the system helping the site’s users make better investment decisions. Top pickers are recognized by the community.
- Apps Stores: Apple’s App Store, Android Market, Ovi Store and i-mode are just a few platforms that harness the creativity and ingenuity of individuals or small teams of developers. The tools are simple enough that most people can learn to use them on their own. Most apps stores are two sided markets where the creators can charge or give away their innovations to the millions of users.
- Local Motors: The startup hosts a community of designers and engineers who help create custom cars from scratch. Local Motors’ first car, the Rally Fighter, was created by 2 900 community members who submitted 35 000 designs. The contributions ranged from schematics for the braking system to interior design.
There are many other examples of innovation platforms. Online retailers such as Blue Nile or Amazon, allow users to build anything from a custom ring to an online business. Traditional companies such as Nike and Dell also provide tools for customers to design or customize their own products which are then manufactured by the company.
Physical Innovation Platforms
Communication technologies and online tools have driven the emergence and rapid scaling of many of the innovation platforms mentioned above. But the overall platform concept can be extended to include offline environments as well, with the basic concept of providing tools to harness people’s creativity. A real revolution may be around the corner, with the emergence of 3D printers allowing individuals to design and manufacture their own creations.