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Digital Disruption: Stakes Only Get Higher from Here

[Note: Three days after this blog went live, Fidelity Investments announced a VR app named Cora.]

I’ve been glad to see my LinkedIn news feed uncharacteristically busy with articles on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) this week. Wednesday’s post showcasing the LED-3D screen on a bar ceiling in Las Vegas got a ton of traffic. I say “uncharacteristically” because I’ve noticed that AR, VR, and eGaming-related posts aren’t terribly popular and I have finally figured out why: Because the LI crowd skews older, making bleeding edge technologies like these, well, let’s just say, less top-of-mind.

I posit that failing to pay attention to these emerging trends is dangerous. Gen Z is growing up with all of it and, as we’ve already discussed, they’re the real company killers, not Millennials. Let’s look again at Fortnite. It seems reasonable to conclude that Epic Games’success started by targeting the perennially elusive ‘casual’ gamer (plus they captured girls, which is both savvy and timely). By going against the prevailing gaming-industry wisdom of higher fidelity and greater complexity, it made Battle Royale more cartoonish and easier to play than other shooter-oriented games. Anyone can win, as my six-year-old, Joshua, can attest. My theory is when Fornite becomes colonized by hard-core gamers it will stop being fun and Gen Z will move on. This fact has not been lost on Epic Games. They are constantly tweaking to make the game accessible (and more winnable) by less skilled players. It is free to play and, paradoxically, as elegant as any $60 boxed game.

Marketers are also no doubt paying close attention to the game’s high sociability factor. Kids share screenshots and replay videos of ‘epic wins’ on social networks. Those taunted as nerds in my day are the equivalent of the prom king/queen simply because they're winners on Fortnite; and if they share tips and tricks watch out -- their approval ratings are higher than Barack Obama's in 2015. Looking over the shoulder as others play is fun by itself: stories abound about how teachers and school systems have been overwhelmed by the success of Fortnite BR. School Internets have become saturated to the point where the game has been banned. Students have responded by adopting virtual private networks (VPNs) to hide their traffic.

Which brings me back, always, to my usual narrative: as the first generation of humans whose initial haptic memory is of the Smartphone, they are the ultimate game changers. If I’m right it means the likes of Costco have more time to figure digital out but when they do the stakes are high and if they don’t they’re simply gone. At this point it’s plainly obvious that Gen Z won’t just demand seamless omni-channel experiences, they’ll expect social media, social consciousness, predictive analytics, AR/VR, and god knows what else! Meanwhile, back at the ranch, most organizations today can’t support a straightforward transaction by phone that occurred online. (Please don't get me started on all the ones chasing bright shiny distractions at the expense of their core business.) But I don’t have to tell you how many blue chips are struggling with digital transformation, just read the news about one disrupted company after another. What it means for sure is unknowable but one thing is clear: with each passing day we inch closer to an Amazon-owns-everything-scenario.