What SaaS can learn from the gaming industry

“Did you ever have someone schedule a demo to teach you how to play a game?” my friend Sanjeev asked me recently.

“No,” I said, “of course not.”

No one ever has, though I buy a bunch of games and ask ridiculous questions on obscure game forums all the time.

“Does that deter you from figuring it out yourself?” he pressed.

“No,” I said again, “why would it? I can play the game and figure it out, right?”

And as I said that, I realized what he was trying to explain to me.

Millions of games are sold around the world every year and gamers intuitively figure how to play a game without relying on gaming studios. Top-selling titles vary in platform, style, gameplay, complexity, and still have something unique to offer to gamers.

When gamers struggle to find a treasure or solve a puzzle it’s usually because the game developers wanted it that way.

That’s how SaaS product’s onboarding should be. Fun and planned.

That conversation with Sanjeev was the first time I realized the impact gamification could have on the software-as-a-service, or SaaS, industry, something that now seems so obvious I’m mortified I did not see it earlier.

By now you’d have figured that the answer to how games work lies in user interface and intuitiveness. But the real answer also lies in the approach.

So how do we apply this in SaaS? We have to, right?

Like in the gaming industry, I’m going to draw parallels and let you imagine the rest.

Developing the solution

Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the greatest game designers of our time. He’s the game director at Nintendo and the creator of the beloved Mario. He says that the most crucial rule in gaming is to create a game that anyone can play.

In the SaaS industry, when companies develop a product, they often get carried away assuming that customers know things. We assign an age frame, company size, experience, title, and whatnot to our customers and users. What we don’t do is educate users within the product based on their expertise level.

(P.S. When Angry Birds was released most of its users were in the 35-44-year age group. Yes, it wasn’t targeted only at young folks. It was developed for anyone who wanted to have some fun.)


If you think games have an unfair advantage over software products because the outcomes are linear, you’re mistaken.

Consider ‘open world’ games, which allow players to explore the virtual world of a game freely without being bound by structured gameplay.

For people new to this concept, the ‘open world’ is where there are main missions and side missions. No matter where gamers are diverted they will have something new to do as well as the choice to continue further or retry.

Similarly, with product companies, even if a user takes a detour from the on-boarding process, they should have fun exploring the product and learning something new. You can always lure them back to the product onboarding later.

When you build a feature for your product, you know what you are solving for. Make sure your users, too, get it.

Ease of use

Neil Druckmann, the director of the popular action-adventure game Uncharted 4, says his game objective is ‘simple stories and complex characters’.

Whether the customer’s problems are easy, tough, or complex, make sure the solution your product offers is simple. Unlike that of legacy SaaS companies, which almost always need engineers to configure their products for their customers.

The idea here is simple: if you are designing a tool for the sales team, then make sure they can run it on their own without outside help.

Returning users

Games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, PUBG, and Minecraft have millions of gamers who return to the same game every single night, and most of them probably don’t even excel at it.

But why?

Because they make the gamers feel accomplished.

When a gamer makes progress the game always has something to offer them. It can be a weapon or a trophy that they can add to their profile.

Everyone loves a little recognition, and it goes a long way.

Why can’t your product do the same? When your user clocks a certain number of hours or does something that is rare, give them a badge or a certificate that they can use on their LinkedIn profile or their product profile.

Make it unpredictable

This is a rarity but when it happens the game is bound to stand out.

You never know what’s next in a good game.

Story narratives are extraordinary in games like The Last Of Us. Millions of gamers had to wait for more than six years for its next game to arrive just to discover what’s in store. That’s how features should be. (Not delayed, though :P)

Make the feature predictable but not the solution.

The solution offered should be so good it makes customers’ lives easy and blows their minds so they recommend the product to everyone.

In the end, games are just programs; complex worlds, but they are just software. Which is why if you apply the concepts of gamification to your products, you can, to a great degree, eliminate friction and accelerate adoption like never before.

All the best!

[A earlier version of this article was published on Hackernoon.]