PRODUCTHEAD: Games and customer onboarding

PRODUCTHEAD: Games and customer onboarding

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

palo product #


The best moment to teach a user to use a new feature is when it is valuable for them

Uncompleted tasks stick in a person’s memory, completed tasks are more easily forgotten

Provide a safe, controlled environment to help users experiment and learn a new skill

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Flagship video games and blockbuster movies share a singular purpose: to entertain their respective audiences.

James Bond’s 2021 outing, No Time To Die cost $250 million to produce, and went on to rake in just shy of $780 million over four months at the worldwide box office. That’s an exorbitant amount of money, and a healthy return on investment.

Now think about this: Rockstar Games’s Grand Theft Auto V (2013) had a ‘slightly’ higher production budget of $265 million, the largest of any video game to-date. It made over $1 billion in the three days after its release, and is estimated to have made over $6 billion since its release.

GTA V’s staying power is not solely due to the vast, open world its players can explore, but also because it helps new players into the game, and gives them plenty of reasons to stay there.

Our products may not have as large a budget as games like GTA V, but we can still learn lessons about how to capture the imagination and attention of our own audience of users. In particular, both games and films introduce their audience to a new world or story most effectively by showing, not telling.

We have a term for introducing new users to our products: we call it customer onboarding. We put in time and effort into making our new users’ first experiences frictionless and rewarding … and then largely leave them alone.

I think we’re missing a trick here. Movies have to keep the audience invested in the story for the duration of the film. Games have to present just enough challenge and progression to keep the player returning for more. In particular, the best games effectively continue onboarding all the way through. Players are encouraged and shown how to acquire new skills and practice them in order to progress more easily through the game.

After that initial burst of care and attention, what are we doing with our products to keep users invested, and to help them to acquire new skills throughout their ongoing usage? How do we make customer onboarding a continuous process, rather than a one-off?

This week I’ve pulled together some articles that dissect the onboarding and skill-teaching techniques employed by games for you to apply to your own products. If you’d like a deeper dive, I’ll also be publishing a long-form article on the main I Manage Products blog on Wednesday (subscribe to receive it straight to your inbox).

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Onboarding 101: Lessons from game design

Recently I have been interested in game design, especially on how games teach players the mechanics of a game.

Onboarding is never finished

[Santiago Alonso / Medium]

3 fundamental user onboarding lessons from classic Nintendo games

Game developers in the 1980s didn’t just need to teach people how to play the games they made—they needed to teach people how to play video games, period. For many, the classic Nintendo games of the ’80s were the first games they ever played, and the moment they first fell in love with gaming.

Help your users become a better version of themselves

[Jackson Noel / Appcues]

Games UX: Building the right onboarding experience

The best onboardings feel frictionless and empowering while the worst ones will leave you full of rage & frustration.

Neither zero onboarding nor full popup onboarding

[Léo Brouard / UX Collective]

Design better user flows by learning from proven products

User onboarding is arguably the most important user flow. It’s the process of guiding your users to success with your product. These videos show how various products across all categories onboard their users.

Learn by example and counterexample

[Page Flows]

recent posts

Should I take a product manager job in a sales-led company?

Hi Jock,

I’m currently applying for loads of product manager jobs. I’ve received an offer from a sales-led company where the Product team reports in to Sales. Should I take the job?

Demonstrate good practice AND deliver good product

[I Manage Products]

Control your narrative

Years ago, someone once told me that “perception is reality” when it comes to reputation at work. Of all the lessons I’ve learned in my career, this has been by far one of the hardest.

How to regain control

[I Manage Products]

Why can’t I rely on user research from other departments?

Hi Jock,

You talk about doing user research directly with users – does it matter that the Operations and Process tracks are telling me what their users want instead?

The problem with proxies for your users

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

Product People Limited logo

Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from a shiny, but otherwise meaningless trophy.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Agree? Disagree? Share your views: