Even if you’re not a gamer, you’ve probably heard of games like Flappy Bird, Fortnite, PUBG and Candy Crush. With user counts in the tens and hundreds of millions and some grossing over a $100 million in monthly revenue, there’s a lot for companies to learn from the gaming world. Gamers spend an average of an hour and 13 minutes day on video games – imagine if your customers spent that amount of time on your SaaS product every day.
While it’s unlikely that your SaaS product will ever be as addictive as Fornite or Candy Crush (although we’d love if someone proved us wrong), the good news is that there’s still a lot that SaaS companies can learn from game developers in building great products that gets users to keep coming back.
In this article, we highlight four things that any start-up or SaaS company can do to drive user stickiness using the same techniques that video games employ.
1. Identify your core loop
2. Enable your users to get into a flow state
3. Build a killer onboarding
4. Juicing (or surprise and delight)
1. Identify your core loop
Games have a core gameplay loop, which includes the core mechanics of the game and is a series of those core actions, repeated over and over again (in a loop). The goal is to try and get players through the loop again and again.
In all games, a core loop usually is made of three parts:
· ACTION: A player completes an action central to the game
· REWARD: The player is given an in-game reward for engaging in the desired action
· PROGRESS: The player uses the reward to progress through the game
Let’s use Super Mario Brothers as an example to see the core game loop in action:
· ACTION: One of the core actions is jumping
· REWARD: When Mario jumps to hit blocks, he is given coins or mushrooms
· PROGRESS: Mario can use the coins to purchase various items in the game while the mushrooms allow him to grow or gain extra lives
It’s this main core loop that keeps players coming back, day after day. For SaaS products, you can apply the same concept by identifying the core action(s) that you want your users to engage in within your product, gamifying that action and getting them to complete that action over and over.
“Develop a way to gamify the core behavior loops and get people to repeat the loop over and over again.”
For example, if you’re a SaaS sales tool, your core loop might be:
Import contacts > Set up templates > Build a pipeline > Create email sequences
Your first goal is to get your users through that loop for the first time then to get them to repeat that loop over and over again. At each step, think about ways to get them to the next step. If they fall off on one step, how can you re-engage them to come back into the loop? After they complete one of the actions, how are you going to reward them for completing the step and then later on, for completing the loop to reinforce the value of completing the core loop?
2. Enable your users to get into a flow state
Have you ever wondered how gamers can get so into playing video games that they can play for hours on end, without having to eat, sleep or even use the washroom? Or in some extreme cases, even die from playing to exhaustion?
The reason for this is they’re in a state of cognitive flow - a state of a heightened level of engagement where they have extreme focus on a task and everything else fades. You may have heard of flow as a buzzword related to productivity and read articles about how to enter a flow state to maximize your output. This is the same state that you want people using your SaaS product to enter into so that they become extremely productive and want to use your product again and again (driving them through the core loop once again). The harder question is how can you get your SaaS product to get your users into that flow state?
“Great games enable flow -- so should your SaaS product.”
According to Sean Baron, a UX researcher at Microsoft Studios, there are 4 characteristics that games need to have to increase the probability of flow, and which your SaaS product should as well:
1. The product needs to have concrete goals with manageable rules
When users don’t know what success looks like when using a product or how to get there, they are more likely to either disengage or churn completely and never come back. When there’s a lot of friction in using the product and it’s unclear what users are supposed to do, they get anxious about the process and this breaks the flow state.
To combat this for your SaaS product, consider making only the features most relevant to your core loops visible for new users. This ensures there’s less distraction and the focus is always on the core features and driving users through the core actions. It also reduces the cognitive load for people as they won’t be bombarded with trying to learn how to use numerous features and tools that don’t speak to the core functionality of your product. Greying out all but the most relevant features or only the next step has been successful for us in getting our users through the onboarding successfully.
Also, look at common points in your product where users get stuck or fall off when trying to accomplish a task. Include visual cues, tooltips or guides to ensure they know what the next steps are and give them a clear idea of how they’re progressing through what they’re supposed to do.
2. The product demands actions to achieve goals that fit within the person’s capabilities
If users of your product cannot accomplish their goals, even if it’s obvious and clear what the goals are, this will inhibit their flow state and even worse, cause them to drop off. For SaaS products, you should be clear on what the personas of your users are and customize the onboarding, goals and product visibility based on the personas. For example, you may have both sales and marketing use your product but the features you want to highlight to each of these roles will be quite different.
You will also want to ensure that you start with showing users basic functions, wait until they are familiar with those features then show them more advanced features once they progress to the next “level”.
3. The product has clear and timely feedback on performance and goal accomplishment
There are two parts to this – users need to have feedback in some form after they complete an action and it must be timely feedback – neither too early nor too late. The best feedback that reinforces the connection between action and outcome is either after the end of an action or in the middle, but never at the beginning. Feedback is important because it drives engagement and users will also be more likely to come back to keep using your product.
During onboarding is a great time to provide timely feedback. Once a user completes a critical step in the onboarding or completes the onboarding itself, celebrate their progress so they feel a sense of accomplishment. Whether you do this through badges, pop-up dialogues or something else, make sure that they are rewarded in some way for their progress so they want to keep coming back to feel that same sense of accomplishment.
4. The product should remove any extraneous information that inhibits concentration
This is most important at the beginning of the user’s journey with your product. Exposing the user to too many product features, especially before they’re familiar with your product, can lead users to churn. 40-60% of users who sign up for a free trial of a SaaS product will never return, meaning that it’s crucial that a user’s initial experience is delightful, easy to use and they experience the benefit of using your product almost immediately.
Guide your users to the most important part(s) of your product and make sure they successfully onboard to using it. Reinforce the value of your product by sending users suggestions if they didn’t complete the onboarding or experience one of your core features. Supplement onboarding and tooltips in your product with relevant emails that are customized to the user – if they didn’t complete onboarding, invite them to come back and provide more guidance. If they completed onboarding, send them tips on how to use additional features so they get the most out of your product.
3. Killer onboarding
There’s been many great articles written about onboarding so we won’t repeat a lot of that material here. What we want to highlight is that games fall within a hugely competitive industry, making up the most apps on both the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. Therefore, games must do a good job of onboarding since the competition is fierce and gamers have a short attention span.
As a SaaS product, you must make your onboarding long enough and thorough enough that your user understands how to use the most important parts of your features while still being short enough to retain their attention. You likely have many features that you deem to be important and want to show them off. If you find that there are multiple core loops to your product, here are some suggested ways to break up your onboarding.
· A checklist with items that users need to complete, which sets clear goals and objectives and gets them to experience the core loop
· A progress bar during the onboarding so users know how far they are in the process
· A short onboarding showing one core feature of your product combined with tooltips that hover or appear when users navigate to that section
· Multiple onboarding flows that focus around specific features and only trigger when users click on that feature
Some tips and pointers on building a great onboarding based on our personal experience building Altcoin Fantasy:
· Users can close/skip onboarding at any time
· Users can retake the onboarding tutorial at any time
· Grey out features and all other parts of the product except for the next step in the onboarding to minimize drop-off
· Customized onboarding based on persona, job function, skill level, etc
· Constantly test and iterate on your onboarding to address drop off points and improve completion rate
4. Juicing (or surprise and delight)
Juicing in a game refers to the game feel, which encompasses the sounds, sights and overall experience of the game. Juice is the subtle touch in a game that improves game immersion and continuous appeal to keep players engaged and coming back. You want to aim for the same kind of immersion in your product so that users lose sense of time and get into that flow state to achieve whatever it is that they are trying to do within your product. Another way of thinking about juicing is to think of features that surprise and delight your users. These are often small features that your users would likely never have articulated to you as a need but when they see it, they’re blown away by the thoughtfulness of it.
You may be thinking, easy for a game to add juice but how in the world can a SaaS product be juicy? If you have a progress bar in your onboarding, think about incorporating sounds when that progress bar is complete or having it explode and confetti fill the screen. Something even more simple – if there is a field that is often copied (think API key or APP ID), have a little copy button beside the field or have it copy the info automatically when users click on the field. Slack is a great example of a product that incorporates features that let users have fun, even while working, such as their giphy integration or their custom emoji feature. It’s these little touches that will delight your users and keep them as customers for life.
“Add juice to seduce.”
If there’s one thing you should keep in mind for your SaaS product, it’s that software doesn’t have to be boring. Think of creative ways to delight your users from their very first interaction and add some personality to your product. Give users a reason to remember your product and choose it over your competitors.
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