What is Game Thinking

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Have you ever played a game or product that you couldn’t put down? One that had you hooked for days… months… even years?
If you’ve ever wondered why some games & products drive long-term engagement, while others don’t – there’s a reason.
It’s “Game Thinking” — a methodology for building innovative products & engaging customers like a hit game designer.


Game Thinking distills elements of game design, systems thinking, Agile/Lean UX & design thinking into a powerful framework that delivers reliably better outcomes.
The Game Thinking system comes from our hands-on experience working on hits like The Sims, Rock Band, eBay, Netflix, Bejeweled, Tetris, Covet Fashion, & Happify.


Instead of haphazardly adding game mechanics to your product, Game Thinking show you how to build a high-retention journey using the development practices of breakthrough hits.
It’s built on three foundational principles for innovating efficiently & building engagement from the ground up.
Follow these principles, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of building a successful product.

1. Find & delight a “beachhead cohort” of high-need customers


Every successful innovation starts with a small & focused audience – and grows from there.
This principle is often lost on ambitious teams who want to scale quickly & reach a large market as fast as possible.


To bring an new product to life, you need to find & delight a “beachhead market” AKA a small group of high-need early customers.
This principle comes from Innovation Diffusion Theory – which was developed 1961 by Everett Rogers, a Bell Labs scientist who studied how innovation spreads within cultures.


30 years later, in 1991, Geoffrey Moore popularized this model when he published Crossing the Chasm, a story about his struggles taking the Apple II from hobbyist hit into mainstream product.
I saw the same dynamics at work on every hit I worked on. The first people we tested our ideas on were NOT our “target mainstream users” — instead, they were high-need early adopters, looking for something like what we were building.
So whether you’re building something new — or developing a product for an adjacent market – remember that you can’t cross the chasm and reach a large user base unless you first delight your pre-chasm early customers.

2. Drive retention with a sticky habit loop


In gaming, we bring experiences to life using a process called “finding the fun.”
What that boils down is an iterative way to build engagement from the ground up.
Don’t start by gamifying your onboarding flow, or developing your mastery systems. Those are newbie moves.


Instead, do what the pros do & start by refining the main activity your players will engage in, over & over again. Make sure that the core bit of satisfaction at the heart of your experience is working.


For example, the Sims started with a series of small, high-learning experiments based around finding that core bit of fun. It took almost a year to evolve into the experience that shipped.


Rock Band started by refining the multiplayer activity of playing a single song together.


Slack started by refining the multiplayer activity of a remote game team, collaborating & communicating daily.
What does this mean for you?
Simple: build your MVP around a sticky habit loop – something that draws your customers back on Day 21, Day 30, Day 60, & beyond.
If you can create a repeatable, pleasurable activity that your customers are getting better at, you’ve got a good shot at driving long-term retention.

3. Playtest your ideas with low-fidelity experiments


Every hit I’ve worked on resulted from a series of small experiments upfront – with many failures & learnings along the way.
This principle of iterating towards success follows a well-known innovation theory called stage-gate, where ideas compete for resources, & you test multiple ideas to find the best ones.


This process keeps you from falling in love with any one idea – and helps you fall in love with solving a problem & learning from your customers.
This iterative approach to early product development is one key to finding success. However, experiments don’t replace vision.
A well-informed hypothesis is the other part of your success equation.


Finding a healthy balance between vision & feedback is the path towards success.

What can Game Thinking do for you?


The Game Thinking system can help your team validate ideas 10X faster & increase your odds of success. It’s the fastest, smartest way to test key high-risk assumptions in your development process.
What would normally take a year can be accomplished in a few months.
Want to learn more & put these ideas into practice?
Learn about our programs & get your free Innovator’s Cheatsheet

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