Building your product like it's a game 🏆

Last week, I spoke about an interesting startup I read about - Superhuman. The hype around Superhuman is almost unbelievable, which motivated me to dig deeper. This week, I want to touch upon one particular aspect of product design in Superhuman that is unique and refreshing.

Before you proceed, you can find the detailed post (~10 min read) here. What follows is a summary for a quick read.

Rahul Vohra, CEO of Superhuman, was a game designer before he founded his first startup. He says he's always been obsessed with one question, "How do you design a game?". His obsession over building games is what motivated him to build Superhuman with first principles of game design.

It is so intriguing to see how the founder's background influences heavily the way a product is designed or built. But why is game design so fascinating to Rahul?

He believes games are designed to create emotional experiences and hence, are able to form a strong connect with users (or players).

Games don't need to exist. There are no requirements. When you are making a game, you obsess over how users feel and not worry about what they need or want.

When your product is or has a game, your users don't just use it. They play it, fall in love with it, find it fun and tell their friends. Hence, game design is worth doing.

But how do you apply principles of game design to product design?

Now, there are five elements of game design you need to know:

Goals - Goals are a defining feature of games. Every good game has goals that are concrete, achievable and rewarding. Most business softwares today have goals that are either unachievable or unrewarding and hence, users don't find the experience playful or fun.

Emotions - The best games create strong emotions. And it's important your product does too. For that, you first need to understand what these emotions are and for that, you need a vocabulary. A good place to start is to look at Plutchik's wheel of emotions and reflecting on how you could make your users feel these emotions when using your product.

Controls - Imagine you are playing a game like Street Fighter. You do a complex set of moves on your controller and say, your character flops. How would you feel? A good game always has robust and reliable controls. Unfortunately most business softwares today aren't designed that way.

Toys - There's a subtle difference between games and toys. You play games but you play them with toys. A toy in Superhuman, Rahul talks about, is the "auto-complete" feature. It’s just the box that you use to snooze e-mails or you type a few characters & punch an email for later. So for example, 2D will become two days, 3H will become 3 hours, 1 MO will become 1 month. Auto-complete is fun because it indulges playful exploration.

Flow - Flow is simply our state of mind and probably the hardest to achieve in game design. Flow is so absorbing that we don’t worry about the past or think about the future. Flow is so demanding that we don’t care about any other thing. If you have ever played a game, you would surely connect to how what I am talking about. There are five conditions to achieve flow which are enumerated in the longer post.

Now, you may not decide to design your next product as a game but you surely can ponder over these principles to see how best your product can emotionally connect with users.

I would love to hear what you have to say about game design. Do you have anything to add to this - from what you read, heard or experienced?

Until next time!

Founder, Flexiple and Remote Tools