Gran Turismo is one of the most successful video games of all time, and an excellent case study in innovative Product Management. In this post, I look at some of the remarkable elements of its success, and the unconventional methods its leadership and product team use to innovate and continue to push their vision forward. Read on and be inspired with out-of-the-box ideas for your own product.
Gran Turismo is one of the most successful racing video games in the world with over 80 million units sold. Any Product Manager, car lover or not, should appreciate the magnitude of this product team’s achievements. It’s a game with an extremely loyal fan-base, incredible brand recognition, and a history of continuous innovation.
So what makes this product so special, and why have other products with the same characteristics not been as successful?
Gran Turismo, like many other software products, follows all Product Management basics – like a clear understanding of its target audience and a very user-driven roadmap. But beyond that, what makes Gran Turismo unique is the obsessive pursuit of their vision: to blur the lines between the virtual and the real world. And with each release, they go to more surprising and inspiring extremes in the pursuit of this vision.
Here are three very unique ways in which Gran Turismo goes above and beyond with innovative approaches to Product Management.
#1 Perfecting the Game – Collaborating with THE experts
As a Product Manager, spending time in the field will give you a great understanding of your users’ needs. But regardless of how much you research or how many prospects you interview, it’s unlikely you’ll become a true subject matter expert (SME). That’s why it is very important to surround yourself with experts in all the different areas of your product. Having access to seasoned SMEs, advisory boards, academia, consultants, etc., will provide you with much richer context and color to everything you are learning in the field.
Polyphony Digital, the makers of Gran Turismo, are very serious about surrounding themselves with the best in the industry. They have full-time race car drivers as part of their staff, and they have advisers in all areas of the game. For example, they work closely with mechanics, rally drivers, F1 drivers, tire manufactures, and with car manufacturers themselves.
In the photo above, you can see Kazunori Yamauchi (founder of Polyphony Digital) working with Adrian Newey (CTO for Red Bull Racing) and with Sebastial Vettel (4-time F1 world champion and one of the most successful F1 drivers of all time). This hands-on approach to learning from experts is one of the reasons the Gran Turismo team has been able to make the game feel so realistic.
For your current product, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have access to SMEs in all areas of my product?
- What does an SME look like, and where can I find them?
- How can I incorporate SME advice as a formal part of my Product Management process?
#2 The GT Academy – Appealing to users’ deeper motivations, inside the game and beyond
In 2008, Gran Turismo partnered with Nissan to launch a “driver discovery program” called GT Academy (currently in its 4th season).
The idea is simple. Millions compete online. The 16 best drivers go to a real-life racing academy where the top student wins a seat in the Nissan professional racing team. It’s the racing equivalent of “The Voice” or “American Idol” in which hopefuls compete for a record deal.
GT Academy established Gran Turismo’s dominance over every other racing “game” by appealing to the deeper, intrinsic reason Gran Turismo fans play the game. In previous posts, I mentioned that users don’t buy a product–they buy a solution to a problem or need. In the case of Gran Turismo, it would be easy to think that the need is “entertainment”, but I don’t believe that’s the case.
The reason people play Gran Turismo is to experience the thrill of racing, which is something that very few actually get to experience in real life. Deep inside, all of us car-lovers secretly wish we could be a race car driver. You can see that widespread desire manifested in the fact that NASCAR and F1 racing are two of the biggest spectator sports in the world.
Gran Turismo has always positioned itself as a driving simulator, not a game. And by launching the GT Academy, Gran Turismo has gone to very clever lengths to make this dream a little bit more tangible for the rest of us. The underlying message is that Gran Turismo is so realistic, it can help you reach your dream of becoming a professional race car driver.
What’s more, Gran Turismo didn’t confine itself to the boundaries of the game itself. Instead, they focused on that deeper desire of its users, and asked themselves how they could help users make that dream a reality, both inside and outside the game.
Of course, most of us don’t actually want to be racers in real life, but just knowing that Gran Turismo could make that possible makes us want to play it and follow it even more.
This is a powerful strategy that could translate to many other industries. Stop for a second and ask yourself these questions:
- What is the deeper, intrinsic desire that your user is looking to fulfill?
- How can your product help your users fulfill that intrinsic desire?
- How can your offering expand outside your product to help your users fulfill that desire?
#3 Innovating through Partnership – Top Car Manufacturers Design Dream Cars for Gran Turismo
For many companies, a partnership is just a new distribution channel or an avenue to fill gaps in their current product offering. This is obviously very valuable, but what if you could use your partnerships to create something completely new and truly inspiring?
With their latest project, “Vision Gran Turismo,” the game’s creators partnered with car companies like BMW, Aston Martin, and Mercedes, and asked them to let go of the constraints of the real world to create the car of their dreams. The result: an amazing experience that stretches the boundaries of what a “car game” is.
Not only is this an incredibly engaging idea for their users, but the way they executed on the idea and integrated it into the game is truly powerful. Each vision car is fully detailed and comes with a short movie of the manufacturer’s design team describing how they created the car. It’s a car lover’s dream to see this process and have the opportunity to drive the car (at least in the game).
Below is one of the short movies that is integrated into the game, showing their collaboration with Aston Martin.
This type of project continues to differentiate the game, while also creating a new advertising platform for its partners. Plus, it allows for additional monetization opportunities, since Gran Turismo could begin charging for these cars within the game. Many avid fans would certainly pay for it.
From a pursuit of vision perspective, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you using your partnerships today in a way that helps you introduce innovation?
- Which partnerships should you pursue to push your vision forward and delight users?
- How can you differentiate your product by leveraging new or existing partnerships?
The takeaway here is that vision drives everything. And if you have a strong enough vision, you can implement extreme, out-of-the box ideas that move your product forward and continue to bring your customers back again and again.
What about you? What software products have inspired you?