Video Game Modes: A new way to think about products and customers

A product development framework I’ve been thinking through lately

I’ve been getting back into video games recently and this re-emerging habit has caused me to think about video game modes as a product development framework. The typical video game modes are Easy, Medium And Hard. The specific names of the modes may vary from game to game, but they generally map to these difficulty levels.

If you’ve ever played a video game, you know that these game modes describe the skills and experiences necessary to beat the video game on that mode. Easy mode tends to offer more lives and less intense gameplay, Medium intensifies the gameplay and so and so forth. As you master the video game on one game mode, you’re incentivized to play it again at the next highest mode.

Due to increased gaming, I’m seeing a connection between how video game designers design games with varying game modes and how great product development teams should be thinking about building their software products for customers with varying skill-sets and experience levels. If you have customers of varying skill-sets and experience levels, you should try building your products from the lens of video game modes.


Frameworks and Opportunities

What does it look like to build products or features using the “Video Game Modes” framework? Here’s an example:

  • Easy - educate your customers that are new to your product and industry and give them guardrails. New things can be daunting.

  • Medium - help your customers level up in expertise and goal-setting.

  • Hard - fix gaps in established workflows & optimize for outcomes. Don't be a bottleneck!

One thing product development teams tend to do is build for a core customer who has a certain level of skill and industry experience. As the company, its products and customers scale, the level of skill and industry experience needed to adeptly use the company’s products grows in parallel. This is known as going upmarket. Most successful B2B companies go down this path in search of growth opportunities.

Growth opportunities can be found not only upmarket, but downmarket as well. In this context, downmarket means the part of the market where potential customers who may not be ready or experienced enough for your product reside. If you take the downmarket path, your objective should be to build “upstream” products or features on Easy mode.

Upstream products are products geared towards downmarket customers that solve an acute problem. Once these customers adopt the upstream product, you actually create more of your core or target customers.

The goal of Easy mode product development is to build for your customer’s inexperience and help them gain experience while using your product.


Video Game Mode Examples

Stripe Atlas is an example of building an upstream product in Easy mode. Atlas offers software developers with a product idea a simple way to incorporate their company, set up a small business bank account and access to AWS credits, all from the comfort of their Stripe dashboard. Now these developers are onboarded to Stripe’s platform and incentivized to build their products and, long term, their company using Stripe’s offerings.

Another example is Finix’s Flex product, which is an entry-level payments facilitation service for companies new to monetizing their payments volume and that don’t yet meet the payments volume requirements for Finix’s core product. Here’s Finix CEO Richie Serna describing why his team built Flex and how it benefits its downmarket customers (via Sar Haribhakti’s great fintech newsletter)

We thought most of our customers would be more established companies with a deep payments bench. We mistakenly assumed companies would want basic payments acceptance at first & not think deeply about payments strategy until further down the road. However, we see that more & more companies want to work with us as soon as they launch because they want to have a payments strategy from Day One. We responded to this early-stage-company demand by launching Flex, our integrated payments product that supports companies just learning how to manage payments internally. Once they’ve fine-tuned their processes with payments processes with Flex, they can then seamlessly graduate to Core, our full payment facilitator platform.

I think Video Game Modes as product development framework has legs and would love to hear about any other companies, B2B or consumer, that our approaching product development this way. Please share any companies doing this in the comments!