In the late 1990s, I designed Web communities for eBay, Mplayer, Rock Band, The Sims, and Ultimate Online. Out of that experience, I developed a design framework to help teams understand the dynamics of community-building, leverage best practices, and avoid common mistakes. Although the examples are outdated, the design framework is timeless – and still in use.
Since then I’ve been digging deep into social gaming, health & wellness apps, coop systems, and mobile-centric design – and refining my techniques along the way. I’ve now got a concise, 5-step Player’s Journey Framework (PJF) for creating lasting engagement (embedded below). I’ve had great success using this framework to solve tough design problems and help teams focus on delivering deep value to their customers. It’s been particularly fruitful in the startup community, where I’ve worked with companies like Happify, Lumosity, Crowdstar, Indiegogo and Zendrive to amplify their design efforts and create scaleable social systems.
Today’s smartest startups test their ideas, UX & technology early and often with real users. To mesh smoothly with Lean Startup practices, I’ve added another dimension to the PJF called “The Developer’s Journey” – AKA how you refine and grow your MVP over time. This tells you WHERE to focus your efforts early-on, WHICH elements to flesh out and test first (and delay for later) and HOW to scale and expand on your initial success. Take a look at this matrix:
Along the top (X axis) are the key stages of the Player’s Journey: Onboarding, Habit-Building, Mastery
Down the side (Y axis) are the key stages of the Developer’s Journey: MVP, Beta, Launch, Expansion.
As you’re bringing your product to life via Lean Startup practices, where do you put your focus?
1. Start by developing your Habit Loop.
The purpose of your MVP is to test your core assumptions and better understand the needs, habits and desires of your core audience AKA micro-vertical. Early-on, , focus on testing and tweaking your Habit Loop – AKA game loop, engagement loop, compulsion loop, core loop. Look for the “hook” that gets people coming back regularly – ideally, coming back daily. For testing, find some early-adopter-types in your target demo who are comfortable using your product without smooth onboarding.
2. When you’re ready to scale into Beta, refine your Onboarding
Once you’ve identified a core Habit Loop, you’re in a good position to design an effective onboarding system – which will allow you to scale to a larger, less “insider” audience. As you build and run your Beta (closed and/or open) you’ll want to develop, test and tweak your Onboarding mechanics as you continue to develop and refine your Habit Loop.
3. Plant the seeds for Mastery – then co-develop your systems with passionate players.
The role of Mastery is an oft-misunderstood piece of this puzzle. Mastery is tied up with learning, competence, and skill. What makes your system engaging to master? What skill is the player learning? How is mastery communicated and celebrated? How does your system shape, constrain and enable social interaction? Does the system encourage people to compare themselves to others? Does it enable battles and contests? Does it setup people to join forces in service of a greater cause?
If you’re building a game, skill and mastery are woven into your development process. If you aspire to build a game-like system, think early about what skill your players will be developing and mastering. Then ask yourself: how can our most skilled and passionate players contribute to the system – and the community? What enhanced role and powers could they earn? earn? It’s fine to put basic tracking systems likes Points, Likes, Faves or Votes in place to see what people do. But when it comes to creating earned roles and powers for expert players, you’ll be most successful if you take your cues from the needs, habits and desires of your core enthusiasts – the people who take the time to master your system and long to go deeper. If you co-develop your Leadership systems with your early Enthusiasts, you’ll stand a much better chance of creating systems and powers that tap into the deeper needs and intrinsic motivations of your most passionate players.