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CX Explained

What Video Game Tutorials Teach Us About Designing Onboarding Experiences

A couple of nights ago I came across a YouTube channel called Game Developers Conference which hosts game development and design talks given at GDC events. Now, I have been a gamer since I was nine years old, and as someone who loves to delve into how things work, I instantly subscribed to the channel. The GDC YouTube channel has videos about all kinds of topics related to developing and marketing video games, but one of the videos that caught my attention was a talk given by Asher Vollmer, the creator of the Threes number game, titled “How to Make Great Game Tutorials.” (See below!)

Vollmer’s talk delved into what he believes are the four necessary areas of focus to create a good game tutorial. He explains that a good game tutorial:

  1. Teaches the player the necessary information they need to know.
  2. Comforts the player by creating a positive learning experience.
  3. Excites the player to encourage them to continue playing.
  4. Respects the player by taking into account who is playing.

All of these goals are meant to work together to give a new player the right onboarding experience that makes them want to continue playing the game. Failing to teach the right information or not excite a player may lead to negative feelings towards the game. A single player not liking a game’s tutorial may seem inconsequential, but for vocal individuals they might leave a negative review to publicize their dislike for the game. If that tutorial is disliked by many players, more and more negative reviews will appear, leading to a low game rating that can dissuade someone from purchasing the game for themselves. Does that sound familiar to, say, negative reviews on Amazon? Or Yelp? Google? Facebook? Games are competing against competitors, and without a positive initial experience, they will fall behind to companies whose games create good tutorials. Before watching Vollmer’s talk I had never given much in-depth thought to developing video games, but I realized how the industry is very similar to other industry competition.

As I watched the video I began to start drawing parallels between onboarding design and game tutorial design. Both are meant to introduce someone to what a product or service is, teach them what’s needed to get started, and get them excited to continue using it. Thus, I want to share a look at all four concepts from the perspective of video games and some examples of real-life situations that I feel excel at taking these concepts into account.

1. Teaching the Consumer

The most critical thing that any onboarding experience must do is teach the necessary information a consumer should know in order to appropriately use a product or service. In a video game tutorial players will likely not want long, drawn-out paragraphs of text to read as they want to get straight into playing the game. Developers must know how much is too much in addition to how much is too little. Finding that sweet spot of just the right information will help players enjoy experiencing the game for themselves.

One business that I think has found that sweet spot is Lego. Every single Lego building set has an instruction guidebook for how to put all the pieces together. Most of these guides have few words in them as they are generally not needed! They teach all necessary information through the use of visual aids that guide the builder, young and old, through the building process. It’s the right amount of information without going into too much detail, or complicating instructions with potentially ambiguous language.

2. Comforting the Consumer

Comforting the consumer comes in the form of providing a safe space for a consumer to experiment. Many video games do this by separating a tutorial as its own level compared to the rest of the game, where any decisions made or actions taken do not affect the player’s results or statistics in the real game. For example, first-person shooter (FPS) games often have training areas for players to try out different weapons and abilities. Some even have ways to allow players to practice movement, such as Titanfall 2’s gauntlet course that has players practicing to improve their time and scores on each run. See below for what the game tells the player after completing each attempt through the training course:

A real-world example of providing comfort is casinos and other money-related websites promoting deals about “Spend $X for a Bonus of $Y!” Their ultimate reasoning behind the offer is to get their target audience interested in trying out the service. Potential customers will look at this deal and think “if I put in $X amount I get an additional $Y too… that’s a safe way to try it out and get my money back.” They’re creating a comfort zone for customers. Providing that safe space for consumers to experiment lets them feel more comfortable in exploring what they are capable of doing with a product or service.

3. Exciting the Consumer

In video games, exciting the player is done by creating a fun and thrilling experience that makes the player want to continue playing. Each video game has something unique about it that they hope to hook players on to keep coming back to that game. In practice these “hooks” do not necessarily have to be grandiose; they just need to give the player a reason to return and keep playing, such as Minecraft. The game by itself is extremely bare bones and lacks significant complexity in terms of game mechanics. However, where this game excels is how the design of the game allows players to create their own destiny and host public or private multiplayer worlds with friends. While the premise of the game may seem simple, what the development studio Mojang did was get players hooked on the adventures players could have with one another, building worlds that belonged to them and no one else.

Outside of video games, a company that I think does well to excite the consumer is Chipotle. Their entire restaurant concept thrives off of their assembly line ordering process that makes a customer’s order personalized and quick from counter to table. If that’s not enough, customers get to watch where their food has come from: the open-concept kitchen in the back with fresh fajita veggies grilling next to chicken and creating aromas that waft over to those waiting in line. Watching the Chipotle worker then build their bowl gives them visual confirmation of how their food will look like when they open the lid after sitting down to eat (something that at other restaurants is left a mystery until the customer receives the food). By opening the customer’s view into where their food comes from Chipotle has hooked their customers, both new and old, on an exciting experience that separates them from their competitors.

4. Respect the Consumer

What is meant by “respecting” a consumer is knowing who is buying from you and how you tailor your onboarding experience to their knowledge and industry standards. For many video games this is the hardest concept to get right as developers attempt to account for anyone who may want to play their game. By designing the same experience for everyone developers fail to make their tutorials for their expected demographic of player. If a game’s expected type of players are likely to be veterans of that game’s genre you cannot design an experience that teaches the genre’s industry standards. They will know all of that information already and won’t have a positive onboarding experience.

A real world example of respecting the customer is fast food drive-throughs. We all know how to use them because we watched those around us to learn how to navigate the experience. If a new fast food chain was to start airing commercials that teaches diners how to order their food through their drive-through lane, even though it’s the exact same process as any other fast food joint, we’d all be scratching our heads wondering why we needed to be taught that. Drive-through lanes are a staple of fast food restaurants are not typically deviated from how they work nearly everywhere: you drive up to the menu, order your food to the person through a speaker system, and drive around the building to a window in order to pay and receive your food.

If a business innovates on a standardized concept, however, they will need to design an onboarding experience that explains the differences from what customers naturally expect. A company who does very well in respecting their customers is the fast food chain Sonic. One of their commercials (linked below) subliminally teaches customers how the company’s ordering system works, all while still advertising their food and drink offerings. Sonic’s ordering system involves customers pulling into their own personal parking space and ordering at a menu board. Once the order is placed a Sonic employee will bring your food out to you in the space where you parked. This form of service deviates heavily from the expected norm of fast food ordering which is why Sonic makes all their commercials with this in mind. Sonic respects their customers by having the company’s advertising teach customers on how to navigate their changes to the industry standard. (In the commercial below they’re focused more on the food than the method by which you order, respecting customers who already know the system of ordering and don’t need to be taught again!)

These four concepts of teaching, comforting, exciting and respecting consumers works for designing onboarding experiences in more than just video game tutorials. They guide companies on how to design experiences that cater best to their target audiences at all the different levels of customer experience. I would even say that I’d embodying these four concepts in my blogging style: in every article I write I am teaching my readers concepts that are comforting to learn about by relating them to real-world experiences. These concepts and examples are meant to create exciting a-ha! moments by explaining them in an understandable format that respects my audience’s knowledge. Any of my posts may be the introduction that someone has to the content on my blog, and thus I must take these concepts into account for every article I write. That way, for any new readers, they are onboarded in the best way possible no matter what they read first.

CX Explained is a publication dedicated to helping readers learn about and understand Customer Experience. While most companies envision CX to be nothing more than customer support, real CX is how a business engages with customers at every step of their journey together.

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Zachary Raber

Zachary Raber

I’m an ambitious guy with ambitious dreams who writes about customer experience and anything else I think about.

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