Unrealized Game Metaphor #57: A Taste of Power

In their first moments with your app, users will want to know how to use it. They’ll also be looking for reasons they should invest their attention, creativity, and data.

So too with gamers and games. But gaming has a neat trick for this that I’ve yet to see product learn. TV Tropes calls it “A Taste of Power.”

Maybe you’ve encountered it. In some games, usually action-adventure or role-playing, your player starts with incredible, overwhelming power. Every button you press unleashes a marvelous attack. Enemies can’t put a dent in your health bar. It’s a really great feeling!

But it doesn’t last long. After something happens — maybe a noble sacrifice, or an even stronger boss — your player loses all their powers and all their cool gear, and starts the game from at “level 1.”

Why give the player this “taste of power?” Per TV Tropes (emphasis mine):

The primary purpose of this trope is to get a player into a game and teach them the rules without overwhelming them with dangerous enemies early on. This can also give them a preview of the powers and skills they’ll be acquiring later in the game. Common marketing wisdom is that you have to sell your game on the players in the first ten minutes, or you risk them not sticking around to get to the really good parts — hence A Taste Of Power to draw a player in.
Another advantage to A Taste of Power is that the player gets to do something and have some fun while the scene is set and the story established, instead of sitting through a non-interactive opening cutscene or simply wandering around the First Town talking to people and trying to figure out what to do.
It’s frequently used in games to allow the player to be given a tutorial of all the game elements in one sitting.

So A Taste of Power finds 3 ways to engage the player in one move:

  1. Increase ability: Create a real but risk-free environment to understand the mechanics
  2. Increase motivation: The promise that with hard work, you’ll regain those cool powers
  3. Increase agency: Make that opening cutscene interactive, but still “on-the-rails”

Pretty slick!

What would it look like for a product to give the user a Taste of Power?

Maybe for Twitter, it would look like this. You open the app and a really clever draft is ready to publish. You tap Publish and the likes, retweets, and replies start to pour in. Wow! Then your accounts get suspended because a jealous Twitter user reports your account, and all your millions of followers disappear. Time to start the journey to fame from scratch!

Maybe for Khan Academy, it would look like this. You open the app and a quiz comes up. It’s on integral calculus and you’re seeing all sorts of symbols you’ve never seen before. But magically every time you answer a question you get it right, and before you know it you’ve mastered the subject. Then it turns out it was all a dream, and when your player wakes up they are back to reality, struggling through Algebra I. But you’ve seen the future, so you redouble your efforts!