Archive for June 24th, 2009

I can’t stand mustard or mayo on my sandwiches.  Almost every single catered party that I’ve had the misfortune to experience made the assumption that putting them on sandwiches is The Right Way.  It might be for somebody, but not for me, so more often than not, I simply don’t eat the sandwiches.  It’s not much of a loss to me (unless I paid for lunch as part of a package deal), but it is wasteful, and completely avoidable.  The caterer assumes that their way is the right way for everyone else, and winds up with a reality that doesn’t match their vision.

Similarly, I don’t like onions.  At all.  Almost every single homemade chili recipe uses onions, as do many, many other recipes.  Most “serious” cooks wouldn’t be caught dead cooking without onions.  I will not eat food with onions in it.

My sister and mother suffer from Celiac, a trouble with the intestines where wheat is damaging to eat.  Wheat.  “The Staff of Life” that almost every single recipe uses in one way or another.  Specifically, it’s gluten that is the problem, and that’s not just from wheat; gluten is nearly everywhere.  Celiac almost killed my sister, and it took many months to diagnose because doctors assumed she had “irritable bowel” or some such other handwaved and untreatable problem.  Luckily, she’s better now, but she has to be very careful about what she eats.

Many moons ago, a girl in my high school died because she ate a candy bar that had peanut oil in it, despite having no peanuts, and not advertising the oil.  The producers assumed it wouldn’t be a problem.

These days, food manufacturers are very careful to point out when peanuts are part of their product, or even part of the facility where their non-peanut products are produced.  Chex cereal recently reintroduced their Honey Nut Chex with a prominent label proclaiming that it’s “Gluten-Free”!  The assumptions are being challenged, and information is in a very real position to save lives.  The consumer is empowered, and can make intelligent decisions about where their money goes.

My utter contempt for onions and lesser disgust with mustard and mayo is far from life threatening.  It’s just a personal preference (albeit one with social ramifications, as gagging on a disguised onion can be a bit awkward).  Yet, it drives my consumer patterns just as my sister and mother are driven by their particular needs.  My concerns are mere quibbles compared to a potentially life threatening purchase.

And yet… consumer preferences do dictate the life and death of companies that cater to those preferences.  I do not patronize a restaurant that uses onions in all of their offerings.  I do not recommend caterers who assume that mustard and mayo must be used.  I go to Subway, Cafe Rio or Costa del Sol, where I can get food the way I want it, or I just forgo eating out entirely and spend my food money at the grocery store and do my own cooking.

Will my relatively paltry bankroll and less-than-highbrow tastes sink a company?  Not alone, no… but then, my consumption alone won’t keep a company afloat either.  Customer tastes usually need to be accounted for as a bit within a set of aggregated data.  Still, as a rule, there are plenty of companies that make a decent living by catering to variable tastes, like Subway or Blimpie.  There are also those that make a decent living with a one-size-fits-all, shut-up-and-give-me-your-$15 mentality.

There is room in a mature market for both types of company.  There is room for those who just want a vanilla product, whether it’s ice cream, clothing, a game or anything else.  There is room for those who want something a bit different.  Smart companies find ways to satisfy as many people as possible, to earn as much money as possible, presenting themselves in positive light to both sets of customers.  That’s the point of market segmentation, and giving the customer options.

Let the customer choose, and give them as many reasons as possible to choose your products.

This is why I am a big proponent of microtransaction models in the MMO genre.  I have no interest in a company-dictated grilled onion sandwich with mustard and mayo.  I do have interest in the game that makes no assumptions about what I want, and just gives me choices.  I’m a discerning customer.  It’s my money to spend, and I will do it how I please.

This is also why I don’t call for abolishing the sub model, since others have the right to their preferences.  I do call for a more mature market, though; one with clearer information, better clarity in what my dollar buys, and that offers me more choices than “take it or leave it”.  Such a binary choice does a disservice to the industry.

This is why I keep promoting ideas that offer players choices, and why I challenge assumptions about what “true MMOs” really are.  It’s why I’m tired of the DIKU model, and why I’m itching for something more than tired old mechanics and treadmills.  Yes, Blizzard and others can polish and make cosmetic alterations to tried and true systems, but it’s all just so much paint on a tired old foundation.  For those like me who have lost interest in the Way Things Are, more of the same isn’t going to drum up much interest, even if it’s polished to a high gloss.

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