Lately I’ve thought a lot about how certain games and tools capture the attention of people. When I finally played Tiny Wings I was promptly sucked in and didn’t stop playing for weeks (with small breaks for food and work). This past weekend I purchased Portal 2 and, just as with the original, found myself playing for hours even after I promised myself that I’d only play for a few minutes. In this same category, Angry Birds is the shining star with tens of millions of users and uncountable hours of gameplay. What is it that makes us as humans succumb to this weak behavior?
If you take a moment to think about it, almost all of these games give you immediate feedback. You are thrown right into the first level and, after a very short learning curve, you are usually met with some sort of gratification. You may not actually “win” per se, but you quickly get a sort of gratifying feeling inside of you that hooks you in. Usually this feeling is tied directly to a simple interaction that comes soon after you first start playing.
Clearly if you are designing a game, particularly for mobile devices, you should take note of these dynamics. But those of us who design consumer web apps, tools for developers, or any sort of software should also aspire to tap these emotions during a user’s initial interactions with our product.
For example, user retention and satisfaction while using a product with social elements is often closely connected to how quickly they receive some form of social gratification. Users often stop blogging or tweeting after they don’t receive any comments, but usually continue once they receive the smallest interaction from others. Facebook and Tumblr have excelled in this realm because it couldn’t be easier to post something and get feedback from other users on the service.
At Twilio we are generally known for having a simple, powerful API and helpful, quick-to-respond customer support. The delay between when you sign up and are able to send an SMS or make your phone ring is so small that most people are shocked. This quick feedback (on a physical device, no less) from the product inspires and motivates our customers. It has been instrumental to our success thus far. With that said, we have more work to do here and have discussed how to provide more tools so that users can get started even faster. You’d be crazy to think this wouldn’t drive more signups and account upgrades.
When architecting your product, you should find out which part drives the most user-retention and likely solves a problem for the user. Then when you design the user on-boarding process, make sure you do everything you can to bring that moment as soon as possible. It will help get them hooked and bring them back quickly.
If your product doesn’t solve any problems, well then you have another dilemma entirely. Rethink everything and start over.