Magic Leaps next move is a product launch. Given the press reaction to partial information, a "show don't tell" mentality and a built in scepticism saying anything more at this point will be detrimental unless they can show it all. This product launch will be the most important moment for the company. Obviously, their product needs to be great. Great products can overcome most obstacles. But not far behind is the messaging they are able to bring to the announcement. Many mediocre products have succeeded because of a good launch and many great products have failed due to a bad one. Whether it be a press conference, a pre-produced video or weeklong party, coming out of the launch announcement with praise from the zeitgeist can be a real difference maker.
There have been a few high profile product launches in the past year that have been fascinating to watch. Between No Mans Sky, The Google Pixel, New MacBooks and, most recently, the Nintendo Switch we have lots of fodder to go though and there is much for Magic Leap to learn.
The New MacBooks
The 2016 MacBook launch is perhaps the least controversial and shows the most obvious points to learn. The biggest failing here was that the product was poor. Or perhaps not that the product was especially bad but that it was below expectations. New features were lacklustre and not practical while old features were lost. All the while the price was increased. Further the final product was buggy with persistent battery issues that were handle with an attempted subterfuge. This further eroded consumer confidence.
A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.
The biggest lesson here is you have to make sure you are releasing a great product. As much as people want Magic Leap to launch soon, they should delay until the product is ready.
For Apple, it wasn't just that the product was bad, it was that it missed expectations. Magic Leap is in a different position to Apple and does not have the weight or benefit of history behind it. Having a product that falls below expectations for them is not at all the same as for Apple. We don't have a good idea of what our expectations are for Magic Leap while we have a solid idea of what they are for Apple. This gives Magic Leap a window of opportunity with regards to managing expectations and is perhaps the single biggest lesson we can learn from all of these launches. People are greatly impacted by anchoring bias, much more so than most are willing to admit. Controlling that anchor, managing those expectations, can make a huge difference in the perception of the product.
No Man's Sky
From the least controversial directly into the most controversial. No Man's Sky has, if nothing else, generated a lot of heated words on the internet. I'll say up front that I played the game and thought it was enjoyable. It wasn't great. It wasn't awful. It was... fine and, if played in a vacuum, you would think unassuming. But, for better or worse, it was almost impossible to play this game without at least having some idea of the controversy around it.
I do not want reiterate what the internet has already discussed at length so I will try to jump to the conclusion. No Man's Sky is at the same time a great success and an abysmal failure. For a ten man team, they sure made a lot of money. There is no doubt about the financial success of this product. But in making that money, they burned the brand. I don't blame them for it and I certainly don't think they did it on purpose though I know many are angry and do. I think they genuinely wanted to make a fun and exciting game and were simply not able to put in all the features they dreamed and talked about. I would love the game that is inside of Sean Murray's head, we probably all would, but it hard to manifest what is in your head.
Frighteningly, Magic Leap has a lot of parallels with Hello Games and No Mans Sky. They both discuss their product in mysterious and abstract ways leading people to imagine grandeur where there may not be. They are both relative unknowns. As such, consumer expectations are not grounded in any previous product so the expectations are often wild, speculative and simply unachievable.
While the failure of the latest MacBook launch was small, the backlash to No Mans Sky shows the extent of the damage that can be done when a company fails to manage expectation. Magic Leap needs to pop the hype bubble early. Luckily, and seemingly accidentally, this has already happened to a degree. Reed Albergotti article on The Information put a wet blanket on much of the excitement around Magic Leap and it has done it well before a public launch. As I said before, this is a blessing in disguise for Magic Leap and, if done purposefully which I would be doubtful of, an excellent lesson learned from the No Mans Sky launch.
The Google Pixel
The Pixel launch looks like the opposite of No Mans Sky's. While sales are likely going to meet Googles modest expectations they certainly aren't going to break any records. For an iPhone or a Samsung phone it would be considered a commercial failure. But they did manage to successfully launch a brand, winning praise for the phone from most major sites, some of which rating it at the top of the smartphone market.
This is the exact launch Magic Leap needs. There is a good chance Magic Leap isn't going to sell huge numbers of their first product but they have to show the world that the product is interesting. They have to convince people that even if they aren't going to buy it, they do think it is cool.
So how did Google do it? They took away surprise. The whole phone was leaked prior to the event. There was nothing about the device that people did not know going in. They let the product speak for itself. They didn't try to fool you with surprises, they stated what was on offer and let people try it for themselves. Importantly, they didn't lie or exaggerate features. Every phone company out there has said their camera is the best there is in the industry and they have all been wrong at some point or another. Google said it, and according to many, the camera follows through. Even if it isn't the best it is close enough that people don't feel lied to.
Does this mean Magic Leap should take surprise out of the equation? No, I don't think so. But the surprises have to be positive and they have to be true. Don't exaggerate battery life. Don't claim to have the best of something unless it is actually the best of something. To eliminate negative surprises, they should do controlled leaks prior to the event not containing the best of what they have but the things they think are the weakest. Get that out there early so people don't get let down with inflated expectations. Then save the most impressive content for the surprise.
A lot of people have drawn parallels between Magic Leap and Apple in the past. Partially because Magic Leap have done that themselves. But perhaps it is better to compare Magic Leap to Nintendo. They have many attributes in common, more so than with Apple. Nintendo has always been a strong R&D company and they have never been afraid to take risks. Sometimes those risks pay off and sometimes they fail but Nintendo is never afraid to try something crazy. There is no doubt what Magic Leap is trying is crazy.
Nintendo is also a content producer and deemed one of, if not the best in the business. It appears Magic Leap is trying to follow that path. They are heavily investing in producing content in-house with hopes that the hardware they produce will actually have something that is worth running on it.
This brings us to the launch of the Nintendo Switch. A unique device boosted by some great exclusive content. This is exactly what Magic Leap is hoping to release. Yet the launch wasn't all roses for Nintendo. Most publications spoke praise of both the hardware and software they were able to try but were hesitant to be too positive about the system. Nintendo had some unfortunate leaks prior to their launch event, the most damning of which was the price. It was widely leaked that the Switch would launch at $250. Some were even hoping for $200. This turned out to be wrong, the cost is $300, and it framed the conversation around cost. If I was in Nintendo's shoes prior to the event I would have leaked a price of $350. Perhaps even higher to ground people in the idea that this might be an expensive device. As it stands the cost is not high for the launch of a new system but the narrative has become that it is expensive.
For Magic Leap, they should leak a high price. Currently, no one knows what the cost should be for a product like this as few serious contenders have launched. Magic Leap needs to anchor people in a high price. Cost for any product is relative. The narrative of expense has almost as much to do with expectations as it does with what the product actually does. If people think it is going to be $1000 and it comes out at $700, then it will be thought of as reasonable. If people think it is going to be $500 and it comes out at $700, then it will be thought of as expensive. Magic Leap needs to get ahead of this narrative and ensure that people think it will be more expensive than it turns out to be. By the way, just by reading this you have been anchored to a degree and your expectations have been affected. Keep in mind, we really don't know how much this will cost. We don't even know a ballpark.
In short, Magic Leaps PR department needs to do the following:
- Leak your weakest material as early as you can and save your good stuff as a surprise.
- Leak a high price. Anchor people in that price.
- Make sure your product is good. If it isn't, delay.
- Leak. Control the narrative this way. You have already fostered an air of mystery so people will hang on every seemingly credible word. These leaks will define what people expect then you need to beat those expectations. Don't be mysterious and let people build their own expectations which are too high to overcome.