Product strategy applied to Rocket League

How do a couple of brothers born in the 80s compete with much more skilled kids at Rocket League? By having a clear, focused strategy.

This is the first post in my product strategy brief series. This series aims to stress-test a product strategy brief. I hope the product strategy brief can be the strategy-level equivalent of product briefs.

In part 1, I will try to apply this product strategy brief to a video game my brother and I have been playing on during since 2020. The video game is Rocket League. Basically, it is rocket-boosted remote control cars playing indoor soccer.

The Strategy Brief

The Strategy Brief can be broken down into a few sections. To start, it is helpful to detail the current situation (Good Strategy / Bad Strategy calls this the Diagnosis). Not only does this detail the main challenges to overcome but also outlines any advantages we have. After assessing the situation, it is important to outline the customer segments that the strategy will target. Finally, we define the guiding policies. This strategy breakdown was influenced by Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumfelt and Shreyas Doshi.

Situation assessment / diagnosis

The Diagnosis is an honest assessment of the current situation. What core challenges does the product/team face? What are the current advantages to leverage?

Applied to Rocket League:

Challenges / hurdles

What are the top structural things that make your situation challenging? Challenges could come from anywhere (market, product, customers, technology)

  1. Playing on a Switch - Both my brother and I are competing on Nintendo Switches. The Switch is a casual gaming console that lacks the precision controls of a PS4 or PC. The joysticks are smaller, input lag higher, and button spacing tighter. In a game like Rocket League this puts Switch players at a disadvantage.
  2. Lack of experience with similar games - Our experience with video games has mostly been with turn-based games like Civilization. Turn-based games require strategic thinking, but not realtime, precise input. Rocket League is the first fast-paced video game we've played where input timing and precision is key to success. Our fingers can't keep up.

Advantages

What are the top attributes of the situation that are suited for you? These could be changing market conditions, a unique insight, distribution channels, partner relationships

  1. Teamwork - Many opponents are randomly matched together. Most of the time, they are not communicating via voice chat and are limited to a small number of quick chat options. A player can quickly send "I got it!" to their teammate. In comparison, my brother and I are always on a Facetime call while playing. This realtime communication gives us an advantage in Rocket League. We can tell our partner where to move, when we are planning to challenge for the ball, and in which section of the field we are currently in. This communication has helped us often.
  2. Patience - We are older than our opponents (almost always). While this is a disadvantage for the quick reflex controller inputs, it is an advantage in remaining calm, not being overly aggressive, and letting the game come to us. As one opponent put it after we scored: "don't worry, I think they are adults."

Target customer segments

What are the different dimensions of segmentation that this product or service will focus on? What segments of customers will you ignore?

This section is not applicable if the strategy is not being applied to a product or service. Our Rocket League team does not have any customers (yet). If we were live streaming our Rocket League play this is where we would

Diagnosis statement

A short statement distilling the challenges, advantages, and customer segments. This should be unique to your situation and help drive guiding policies.

Our gaming console and lack of experience put us at a distinct disadvantage when playing Rocket League, which requires quick, precise input. How might we use our superior teamwork and patience to uniquely overcome the hurdles we encounter?

Differentiation pillars / guiding policies

Given the situation and target customer segments, what are your core strategic principles? These policies should take a stance. The opposite of each policy should also be a viable policy.

1. Focus on defensive positioning above all else

Since we do not have the dexterity of gamers with more real-time experience and playing on a Switch we have opted to focus on defense.

2. Capitalize on oponent mistakes

By focusing on defense we are allowing our opponents to occupy our half of the field most of the game. As they fail to score for longer periods of time, most opponents sacrifice positioning to be more aggressive. This aggressiveness causes more mistakes and we need to capitalize on those mistakes.

This guiding policy helps us focus the little practice time we have. When practicing offensive skills we prioritize hitting long balls from our defensive end correctly over trying closer range precision shots.

3. Avoid ariels unless absolutely necessary

Ariels are seen as very important to Rocket League players, but also require very precise joystick controls. Many people practice for hours to master ariels. We do not have time or the correct hardware (Switch) to help with ariels. So we do not attempt them unless absolutely necessary (our opponent is about to score).

Making strategy useful

Guiding policies make decision-making easier. By clearly defining the policies we are using while playing Rocket League, when

Question: Should I go get boost (makes the car faster) and risk being out of position?
Answer: No, we prioritize defensive positioning above all else

Question: The ball is in the air (would require an aerial to reach) not in a threatening position. What should I do.
Answer: Do not challenge the aerial. Position yourself well to react to a hit by the opponent.

Question: The ball is in the air (would require an aerial to reach) and there is a large risk of it going in our goal. How should I respond?
Answer: Go for the ball, but be sure to take advantage of our realtime communication and let your partner know (so they can continue focusing on their defensive position).

Final thoughts

Defining this strategy and discussing it with my brother has helped us rank up in Rocket League even though we lack a lot of the flashy moves of our opponent. Our strategy lays out where to focus (and where not to focus). Having a clear strategy helps us compete with much more skilled competitors and makes the game more fun.

Resources

This strategy framework was designed from Good Strategy / Bad Strategy and insightful tweets from Shreyas Doshi.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters

Shreyas Doshi tweet thread

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