How to Make Your Product Feel Like a Game

Over the past 10 years, some of the largest outcomes in consumer tech have involved companies whose products feel like games. From Chime to DuoLingo, startups that make tasks that were previously boring or hard, like online banking or learning a new language, feel less like work and more like play are winning. 

Best in class consumer products are a daily part of people’s lives. Whilst you might not be using your credit card or practicing an instrument to achieve rewards, you’re much more likely to use and return to apps that feel fun. We are intrinsically motivated to use products that have game-like design.  

At Patron, we believe that the next generation of consumer internet applications will be shaped by games. But how do you design a product in Education, Wellness or Finance to feel like one? Applying game design to your product is about much more than adding leaderboards. From offering a path to mastery and a sense of progression, to variable rewards, here are 6 key ideas for founders looking to leverage game design.

How to make make your product feel like a game   

1. Offer the path to mastery

Advancing your progress is a defining game feature. In consumer apps today this is largely a single-player mode feature; mastery of the self.

Whether you’re competing with yourself to maintain an exercise habit, improve your sleep score or find time to worship everyday. The best apps make this experience feel both achievable and rewarding. Superhuman does this effectively by making your goal inbox zero and allowing you to feel triumph over your email.

1. Peloton offers the path to mastery through streaks 2. Whoop app tracks and scores your sleep habits, and 3. Glorify App through daily worship’s to complete.

2. Introduce Fixed & Variable Rewards

In-game, fixed rewards are offered to players for achieving a clearly defined goal, such as completing a level, a quest, or a daily login. By providing positive stimuli associated with daily or weekly bonuses, users are encouraged to change their behavior. In other words, using your product becomes a habit. Rewarding people for creating habits that lead to daily product usage can drive incredible user retention.

On the other hand, when designed correctly, variable rewards can also be a very effective habit forming mechanism. Loot boxes generate $15 billion a year in revenue for gaming companies. Players receive a randomized selection of virtual items; from skins to enhance a player’s avatar, to special powers or weapons that improve your game play. The thrill of opening a loot box and uncovering what mysteries lie inside, is similar to collecting Pokemon cards and hoping for a shiny. Consumer subscription companies like Arya offer a personalized experience combining digital content with mystery physical loot boxes. 

One of the most exciting emerging technologies to offer a variable reward interface, is generative AI. Users can input prompts to generate an endless array of unique variable visual outcomes. 

Suno AI enables users to create any song they can imagine, for any mood. This year they launched their Suno Valentine’s Day Experience, which allows you to create a personalized song for a loved one using AI. Users just have to answer three simple questions about their Valentine, and Suno will generate the perfect song. It’s fun, free and there’s excitement in anticipation of what your finished song will sound like.

3. Give Users a Sense of Progression

From Snakes & Ladders to Monopoly, progress paths have been a central design of board games for centuries. A clear start and finish, layered with chance and luck, creates a fun journey as you progress through a game.

Duolingo offers users a sense of progression through their game like lesson topic completion tracker and rewards for daily practice. does this effectively by offering:

  • In-app competitiveness between users with a weekly leaderboard.
  • “Friend Quests” that encourage collaborative play towards a single mission
  • The ability to cheer on friends in-app when they achieve goals
  • And the ability to meet new people who have a shared interest.  


Moving forward is a natural human instinct. This is why designs that incorporate progress bars are effective. It can take the form of tracking loyalty, or the passage of time in your peloton ride. In games, best in class level design pushes players to adapt to new circumstances, whilst re-sale companies like The Real Real level up your status and commission based on how much you sell. 

4. Offer Multiplayer Modes and Features

Keeping users engaged is a constant challenge. This is where multiplayer modes and features solve two problems with one solution. Great games foster a sense of community, especially if it’s groups of friends, or people of similar skill levels. Building multiplayer features in your product:

  1. Incentives users to invite, share, and compare with their friends, growing your user base.
  2. Offers an alternative mode of play that keeps users engaged, increasing user retention and time spent in-app retention.

5. Encourage Playful Exploration

Add some easter eggs or cheat codes! Users love to explore and find new things, that they can then share with others. Achievement badges can encourage users to complete on-boarding and get to the magic moment quicker (Learn more about finding your products Magic Moment here.Kudos demystifies the often complex game of earning credit card points toward that next free business class flight or dream purchase.

‘Traditionally, only people adept with spreadsheets and strategies could win the points game and maximize rewards’ says Tikue Anazodo, Co-Founder and CEO of Kudos ‘but we level the playing field, offering every cardholder the tools to effortlessly become proficient in the points game.’   

Kudos gives every cardholder a cheat code, a personal points expert built into their wallet, ensuring they can easily make the most out of every purchase.


6. Build an in game economy  

Webtoons startup Glow, let’s players unlock more content and get help answering questions through Glow Coins. Whilst companies like Tonic provide community challenges and badges for completing practice achievements. Their ‘in game’ currency allows users to unlock swag for their avatars. As Tonic CEO Rose Xi notes:

“Most education companies get games wrong. We know that a game is immersive because players contribute to world-building. Tonic designs learning to come naturally through the process of building within in our virtual world. The game itself allows us to reframe what was once “boring” into a new experience that is entertaining.Let’s be honest, players obsessively open Tonic because they enjoy the game, not because they are thirsting to learn. That’s success.” – Rose Xi, Tonic CEO 


Applying game design to your product is about much more than just leaderboards . But if done thoughtfully, can dramatically increase daily usage. Thanks for reading. If you’re building on the spectrum of play and designing your product to feel like a game please reach out- I’d love to hear more. – Amber Atherton 

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