3 lessons about user onboarding to learn from classic video games

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Video games have game design elements to keep people motivated to complete all levels of the game. These principles also apply to onboarding.

User onboarding can be defined as an imaginary path every person has to take before becoming a full user of an online product or service, such as a website, app, online store, or software.

The first minutes determine whether the new users accept the product or not. It is therefore vital not to discourage them at the very beginning.

Every developer and UX designer must be able to find a reasonable way to pass on as much knowledge as possible in the shortest time possible without creating an information overload.

Classic video games as a source of inspiration

Video games, just like any other digital product, face the constant challenge of introducing the game world to the players and show them how to explore it in an entertaining way.

Designers from the 1970s and 80s, however, had drastically harder job. They had to introduce gaming to the people who have never done anything like it before.

So, they spent a lot of time dragging the player into the game as soon as possible. Gameplay was in the spotlight, i.e. the attractive and entertaining side of the game.

No wonder some classics outmatch many today’s games and there are a number of players who stand behind them after all those years.

Keep reading and find out what we can learn about onboarding from these classics.

Interactive and entertaining learning

Let’s take the all-timer Super Mario as an example. The first level from 1985 can also serve as an user onboarding tutorial.

The creator and iconic game designer Shigeru Miyamoto says that the first level was intentionally designed to explain the game mechanics to a complete newbie.

In the beginning, the players found themselves in easy and relatively safe situations in which they were left to find out what works best for them on their own. They learned in record time how to move, eliminate enemies, collect coins, and how to increase in size to become the “Super Mario”. All of this without a single word.

Mario GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

This principle can be applied in the context of digital products by skipping the useless explanations and letting the users find their way in the app environment by themselves.

The best practices include Slack, a communication platform, where you are greeted by a robot called Slackbot, offering you his guidance. The number of things you spontaneously learn just by talking to the robot is tremendous.

Source: process.st

Don’t forget your product is not intended for pros

On the other hand, the issue with classic games was their difficulty. Contra is one of them, being ranked the most difficult game of all time by the players. The difficulty issue lies in too many ways how to lose, such as being hit by a single bullet or falling into the pit, whereas the player had only nine lives to complete the game without saving.


The reason why so many classic games were so difficult is that they were designed by enthusiastic experts who have spent endless hours playing games. Being pro gamers, they often forgot to realize that their own skills are far beyond the skills of inexperienced players.

Every detail can determine if the user gets used to your web or app and starts using it. Keep in mind that you are not the user of your app. Invite people from the outside to take part in the testing.

An onboarding platform, such as YesElf, can get user behaviour data to be used to boost user experience.

The “need-to-finish-the-task” motivation

In the 1920s, Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist, conducted a study and found that incomplete tasks are easier to remember than the successful ones.

The unfinished tasks give us a feeling of discomfort, we tend to pay more attention to them, and thus remember them easier.

There is no better demonstration of this psychological effect than Tetris, one of the notorious and most successful games in history. Tetris was supported by almost every electronic device there was since its birth: from graphing calculator to oscilloscope.

It is based on a very simple principle, and that’s what makes the game so brilliant. In Tetris, players complete lines by moving descending pieces which then disappear. The game ends when the playing field is filled. 

This might sound like a very simple game mechanics, however, it was later proved that it is also highly addictive. Many gamers recall being unable to get their eyes off the screen at 4am, completing unfinished tasks over and over.

The same principle can be applied to the customer user onboarding by introducing a checklist (i.e. a list of unfinished tasks) in the app or on a website, just like the Evernote app developers did.


Source: blog.idonethis.com

There are a number of ways to improve customer experience. This article covers only a few of them.

If you want to improve the onboarding process on your website, in an app, or online store, get in touch with our team and ask for a free, personalized trial version of our onboarding platform.

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