Game Design in Product Development

When the term ‘Game Design’ appears in front of us, we immediately think of a game application, but the term isn’t just associated with game application, it is instead a design approach that can be implemented in any product.

Why is game design recommended in product development?

One of the core desires of human needs is interaction. We tend to love products that are fun to use & incentivizes our need to keep coming back to it. This is essentially what Game Design is - to build your product in a way that makes it engaging to use daily. Rahul Vohra (Founder of Superhuman), joined us in a virtual session where he shared his core ideas on game design.

He said, “Our aim should be to make software less like work and more like fun.”

In this session, he talked about his framework using which he created an engaging email experience i.e. Superhuman. He explained the concept through the idea of improving it in the beta phase.

What is game design?

Before getting into game design principles, he enlightened the fact that game design is not gamification; it is not simply adding levels, trophies, or badges in a product. It’s all related to human motivation. Researchers found two kinds of motivations associated with humans:

Therefore, rewards undermine the intrinsic motivation, and that’s why gamification does not work. It works when the underlying experience is already a game.

How to get started with game design?

To create such an intrinsic experience, he steered us in a defined direction via a framework he followed at Superhuman.

Five factors to consider while implementing a game design in a product:

Good Goals An outcome that gives a sense of achievement to the users is referred to as a goal. The goals should be set as per the below-mentioned characteristic, which fulfills our product’s purpose and solves our customer’s problems as well:

  • Concrete: To define a tangible goal. In Superhuman, the goal was to get to inbox zero.
  • Achievable: To make the goal easily obtainable, Superhuman teaches the fastest workflow to inbox zero, powerful shortcuts, and many more such things in a 30 min 1-1 onboarding video call with the user, which makes the goals for user easily achievable.
  • Rewarding: To make user feel fulfilling for achieving the goal. In the case of Superhuman, when users hit inbox zero, they feel triumphed over the unfathomable feeling of conquering their email!

EmotionsBest games create strong emotions as these are the foundation of human memory. The more we target nuanced emotions, the more we are likely to hit the intrinsic motivation of a human. For that, we need a vocabulary of emotions to define, differentiate, and to be able to analyze them.

  • The most famous model defined over emotion is Plutchik's Wheel where opposite emotions are across from each other (ex: Joy is the opposite of grief), we can combine the adjacent emotions and create more complex feelings (ex: joy + anticipation = optimism).
  • As a game designer, one needs to have a richer vocabulary than academia provides as the aim is to focus on nuanced emotion. The model by the Hunto Institute helps in achieving the same:
  • Superhuman is designed around pride and triumph emotions. They show stunning and gorgeous imagery when users hit inbox zero especially if it’s the first time in years. The user rightly feels like they have achieved something special.
  • They did this to widen emotional repository beyond joy into love and surprise, they pick images that are peaceful and tranquil that create a sense of belonging and sentimentality that even amaze and inspire a sense of awe.
  • We can also use the wheel to find the emotions that need to be removed from the user’s journey. Users often come with very negative feelings, feel helpless, anxious, annoyed, guilty, even powerless, and all these emotions need to be converted to positive ones.


Controls refer to the command/device/process through which we provide input to the game. It is responsible for making users succeed in games. Therefore, we should create rapid and robust controls. The controls should be robust for games, i.e. easy and feasible for users. For example, In Gmail, shortcut to compose a mail is ‘Hit C’, if a user does it fast, he ends up with two drafts, it’s frustrating and a distraction,but in Superhuman they have built their own keyboard handler to ensure that they never lose keystrokes


Toys in any industry are the same as games, they just seem different. The best games are built with toys because they create fun on multiple levels.In Superhuman, the time auto-completer is considered as a toy that is used to snooze emails.The user can enter any gibberish in it. It will try to understand the entered value at its best and reflect the same, which in turn creates curiosity for users and encourages them to indulge with it more.


The most crucial stage is to create a flow/journey for a user, flexible yet defined. Flow should be:

  • Intense and focus user’s concentration on the present: It should be so absorbing that user cannot think about the future or past. To free the user from any sort of distractions.
  • Merging of action and awareness: It should be so easy that the user always knows what to do next and how to do it.
  • Loss of reflective self-consciousness: It should be so compelling that users don’t care what others think about them anymore.
  • Sense of personal control: It should be so rewarding that the activity becomes intrinsically motivating.
  • Distortion of temporal experience: It should be powerful that it alters the subjective experience, and time can either flash by or stretch time forever.

To create such a flow, we should consider the following factors:

  • User should know what to do next: Superhuman compared the experience of users on Gmail when they archive the mail, they are directed back to the inbox, and the user has to decide what to do next leading to distractions but in Superhuman, when the user archive the mail they are directed to next email automatically and prevents the user from taking any decision/distractions. This preserves their current flow.
  • Intuitive to use: Users should know how to do it without needing too much handholding.
  • Freedom from distractions: In Superhuman, the user can’t see inbox at the same time while having a conversation on mail. The user can’t see what’s coming next or any new email.
  • UI Feedback: The UI should be designed to respond to their actions with a clear and immediate feedback.
  • Balanced Experience:The challenge should be in balance with skills of targeted users which enables them to have a pleasant experience. If the activity is too hard, the user will feel anxious. However, if the activity is too easy, they will feel relaxed/bored.Therefore, a balance needs to be maintained between the two.


Superhuman acquired a high number of beta users by using Game Design Principles that made the app fun to use. To summarize the game design principles:

  1. Create a concrete, achievable, and rewarding goal.
  2. Design for nuanced emotion.
  3. Create rapid and robust controls.
  4. Make fun toys and combine them into games.
  5. Make the next action obvious.
  6. Give clear and immediate feedback with no distractions.
  7. Balance high perceived skills with a high perceived challenge.

To know more about game design and product-market fit, check out his tweet.

Watch the complete session on Youtube to watch the talk in detail and find all your answers here. If you have any questions/suggestions/ideas, reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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