This weekend I had the chance to play the new Call of Duty’s “Blackout” mode. I’m not a huge gamer, but I’ve played enough Fortnite to recognize that Call of Duty copied the entire format of Battle Royal. It was kind of interesting, and reminded me of the first few times using Instagram Stories. “Huh, this is weird, but still kind of fun.” I felt a loyalty to Fortnite, and Snapchat at the time, but now I almost exclusively use Insta Stories.
I’m not sure if Fortnite really cares, but it looks like Snapchat is feeling the pain.What can you really do when someone copies your design or feature? UX/UI isn’t patentable, and even if it was, is that something we want? Does brand loyalty stop copycats from succeeding? Maybe in the case of Fortnite, but Instagram’s network was and still is more powerful than Snap’s.
Stepping back a bit, building good UX is really hard, copying it is easy. Great features don’t always equate to great products. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way while building full blown applications on the premise of one good feature improvement, just to realize that it’s not enough to get people to use it.Today, every mail app has some sort of swipe functionality popularized by now defunct Mailbox. If everyone can copy it, it’s not going to be what differentiates your product in the long run.
For me, the difference between Blackops and Insta Stories is the level of product complexity. With enterprise software applications, power users take a long time to get good. Even if UX is copied by a competitor, there’s going to be subtle differences that create a hurdle to switching. Blackout may have the same gameplay rules of Fortnite, but feel is different and there is enough complexity to getting good to prevent a full cold turkey switch to Black Ops en masse.
Instagram is fairly straightforward, and Snapchat was at one point, so it’s not hard to switch between. Ease of use may have been the reason these social media platforms were so successful in acquiring users, but also why they leave just as fast. Network effects seem to work in both directions.
It will be interesting to see how Fortnite does against CoD, I suspect they’ll be just fine.