Learning from leading-edge customers at The Sims: opening up the innovation process using toolkits
Recently, toolkits for user innovation and design have been proposed as a promising means of opening up the innovation process to customers. Using these tools, customers can take on problem-solving tasks and design products to fit their individual needs. To date, arguments in favor of this new concept have been limited to the idea of satisfying each user's needs in a highly efficient and valuable way. The aim of this empirical study is to extend our knowledge of how users deal with ‘the invitation to innovate’ and how attractive individual user designs might be to other users. In studying the users of toolkits for the immensely popular computer game The Sims, we found that (1) users are not ‘one-time shoppers’– in fact, their innovative engagement is rather long-lasting, continuous, evolving, and intense. We also found that (2) leading-edge users do not merely content themselves with the official toolkits provided by the manufacturer. They employ user-created tools to push design possibilities even further. (3) Moreover, individual user designs are not only attractive to the creators themselves; instead, certain innovative solutions are in high demand among other users. Based on our findings, we discuss how toolkits and their users might add to the process of innovation in general. We argue that toolkits could serve as a promising market research tool for guiding a firm's new product development efforts. Furthermore, toolkits may serve as a crèche for interested but inexperienced users who could evolve into leading-edge users over time. These innovative users might then be integrated into more radical product development efforts.
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