I am a big time gamer. Some of my first memories were of playing Atari 2600 games when I was still in diapers. I grew up playing Nintendo and going to arcades. When I was about 8 or 9, my dad got one of the first home PCs, and when I learned I could play games on it, I began taking it apart and upgrading it. Video games instilled my love of technology, and I can say without a doubt I owe my entire career to my love of video games.
Video game designers have mastered the art of creating engaging, rewarding, and addictive experiences. That’s what we all want to create in our products, right? When I look at any product, I look at it through the lens of game design. I want to share with you some key principles from game design that you can apply to your product to get your customers engaged and keep them coming back for more.
In this video I go over the key principles of game design and how to apply them to your product design:
What Makes a Great Video Game?
First, here are the key elements of good game design:
It’s inviting – New users should be able to quickly and intuitively pick it up without a lot of training or hand-holding.
It provides immediate feedback – If you pull off a trick move, you’re rewarded immediately with a satisfying thwack. If you flub it, you get a mouthful of battleaxe and an opportunity to try again.
It provides easily achievable goals, and gradually makes them more complex – Great games balance the learning curve from start to finish; always keeping you right at the edge of your abilities.
It provides the player with a clear sense of progress – Levels, abilities, flaming armor – you are constantly rewarded for your investment in the game.
Now for a challenge. I want you to think of a video game that you really love, or if you’re not into games, think of an incredibly popular game that you’re familiar with. I want you to play this game from the beginning, and try to identify how it applies these principles. How does it help you up the learning curve? How does it reward you for achievement? How does it raise the bar? How does it reflect your progress?
With that in mind, let’s talk about how you can apply game design principles to your product.
Applying Game Design Principles to Your Product
Here are some key principles you should leverage to create an engaging and rewarding product experience:
Evolve the experience – Understand the level of context and skill your user has at every stage, and introduce new features and functionality to them at the time that they are ready for it. Don’t throw a new user into an advanced mode with dozens of options. Start off with an easy and rewarding flow, and allow them to unlock more advanced functionality.
Create a core loop – Your workflows should begin with a goal, take them through a set of teachable actions, finish with a reward for completing the goal, and an incentive to do it again.
Challenge them – By this, I don’t mean to intentionally make their experience harder. I mean present them with an explicit goal and tease them with a reward at the end. When they accomplish that goal, present a new, more advanced goal that comes with a greater reward.
Instill a sense of ownership – It’s a common psychological trope that if you give someone a thing, they will assign it more value than if you asked them to buy it. Once they feel ownership of something, they won’t want to part with it. Think about your Spotify playlists, your audiobooks on Audible, or your level 100 warlock in World of Warcraft. Create digital assets that they can invest time into creating and customizing, that will disappear if they quit, and they will be less likely to switch to a competitor.
Create a community – Games are just more fun to play with friends. Products are the same. Now, don’t just tack on a meaningless share button. Create an experience that is inherently better when shared with other people. Uploading your photos to a backup site is certainly valuable, but sharing photos with friends and relatives is something else altogether.
Great Gamification Examples
Here are some examples of product I love that use game design principles to create engaging user experiences:
Fitbit – The ubiquitous step tracker has done a great job in gamifying fitness. The daily 10k goal is their core gameplay loop. Leaderboards add a social competitive aspect. The real kicker is Fitbit Adventures, which allows you to go on a quest follow a pre-defined path, visit landmarks, and collect treasures.
Forest – This is a game about focus, where you win by not playing. When you open the app, you plant a seed, and by not messing with your phone, it will grow into a tree. Close the app and the tree dies. You terrible person! The “game” motivates you to put away your phone and get your work done in the real world. It’s essentially a virtual pet, which creates a sense of ownership.
SuperBetter – This gamified productivity app allows you to create goals and challenges, and level up your character (i.e. you) as you accomplish them. They rely heavily on a scientific approach to using gameplay to achieve results.
As you can see, these products use gameplay mechanics at the core of their experience, not tacked on as a gimmick or after thought.