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The headline of a recent New York Times article announced: “Amazon’s Offline Game Changer”.  This sounds dramatic but when you read the article you discover that what actually happened was that Amazon announced that, “Prime members could now download (some) movies and TV shows to iOS and Android devices.”  In order to watch programming offline previously, you had to have an Amazon Fire tablet, so this gives Amazon a much bigger potential customer base.

Acquiring a bigger customer base is certainly a good thing, but does it really change the game?  I suppose that depends on where one draws the boundaries of the playing field.

When people speak of a game changer, they can mean anything on a sliding scale from a full-blown paradigm shift to a valuable optimization.  The purpose of this short article isn’t to establish once and for all exactly where the line between the two lies.  Rather, it’s to speculate a bit about the source of changes to the game in the first place.

There are only a few key elements of a game: a playing field, one or more players, a set of rules and a goal.  Both a game changer and an optimization can be said to occur when one or more of these elements are altered.

When Toyota redefined its relationships with its suppliers by integrating them in a very new way into the organizational boundaries, the playing field was expanded and just-in-time delivery was born.  Or when the concept of corporate social responsibility first emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s and the local community was seen to be one of the players in the game rather than merely an interested spectator, we began to speak of stakeholders as well as shareholders.  The perception of the playing field and the players was altered.

Likewise, when MCI filed an anti-trust lawsuit against AT&T in 1974,
it initiated a chain of events that eventually changed the telecommunications industry by challenging ATT’s monopoly. Even though MCI no longer exists and most people under 30 never even heard of it, the rules of the game were so dramatically altered that telephony was never the same.  I can remember when receiving or making a long distance call was a major event in the family home.  Today telephone communication has become so commoditized that global connections among people cost only pennies or are even free and are commonplace.

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