Onboarding Gamification: The 4 Step Formula for SaaS Success In App

Have you ever used a product that you just couldn’t put down?

Ok, smartphones don’t count. Think of digital products.

Something you could spend hours using.

If social media and video games spring to your mind – this is no coincidence.

Both use the same, very basic psychological principles to get you hooked (remember that eponymous book by Nir Eyal?).

Social media and video games often reward you for using them regularly and ‘unlocking achievements’ with likes, badges, and extra privileges.

These translate into progress and higher perceived status. Both appeal to the reward system in your brain, and flood it with dopamine.

Facebook group badge gamification

Source: Facebook

Basically – the more features you adopt – the better you feel about yourself.

Making your first encounter with a product fun encourages you to return as well.

SaaS products took note – and started using the same principles to encourage their users to adopt their tools. Some will almost pay you to do so!

clickup's gamification bribery

Source: ClickUp


Well, the $10 invested in getting the new user to complete the video tutorial will likely result in a much higher LTV.

Have you ever applied those same principles to your product?

If you have – congratulations! You are among the select few.

According to our survey of 54 product people, only 20% (11) have actually tried implementing gamification in their products:

gamification SaaS stats

If you have not – keep reading. Gamification is the ‘secret weapon’ that helped those product managers significantly increase their engagement and conversion metrics by up to 100%.

In this complete guide to onboarding gamification we will discuss:

  • what is gamification
  • why it is important to use in your onboarding processes
  • how to implement onboarding gamification in 4 simple steps
  • several real-world examples of gamification for different use cases + the results they got

After reading this article you will be ready to gamify your own onboarding experience but please whatever you do, do not follow Cyberpunk 2077’s example.

Cyberpunk  meme


  • Gamification in onboarding is adding elements that make the experience more fun, competitive, or incentivized by various rewards to any task the user needs to complete to become ‘activated.’
  • Your product onboarding experience can have the same stickiness as a video game if it’s engaging.
  • Welcome screens allowing the user to choose their avatars to elicit information about their role and use case, checklists with financial incentives for completing each task corresponding to key activation points, and leaderboards encouraging rivalry between users of company accounts are all gamification elements.
  • These product elements will guide new users to your activation points and convert them into activated users.
  • Adding gamification to your onboarding doesn’t require the time and resources of your engineering team. It can be built straight from your browser with no-code tools like Userpilot (as an ‘experience layer’ on top of your UI).

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the introduction of fun elements into any context to encourage the achievement of different tasks. Basically – it’s turning non-game tasks into a game with a specific end-point (an accomplishment or a desired behavior).

Gamification usually includes an element of a ‘reward’ – an incentive encouraging the desired behaviors.

The most common reward elements include:

  • Points
  • Badges (or other encouraging tokens of appreciation – likes, shares, emoji reactions etc.)
  • Leaderboards
  • Discount coupons
  • Elements of rivalry between different users

You can gamify anything – from household chores, through education to…your CV.

Bruno Simon did exactly that – he showcased his development skills by creating a gamified CV:

bruno simon gamified CV

You can move around the virtual portfolio by driving around in a little red car with your keyboard:

Bruno Simon gamified CV 2

Needless to say – this makes the usual boring resume a lot more engaging and speaks volumes about the creativity of its owner.

The same applies to gamifying user onboarding and product adoption.

FourSquare is a product example that utilized rewards and rivalry to gamify its user experience and nudge the users to use the app more often.

The company exploded in 2009 around the premise of rewarding users points for each new place they visited.

You could compare your score with your friends among the leaderboards and eventually become “The Mayor” of a location if you visited it a certain period of time.


Source: foursquare.com

Result? Everybody wanted to be the mayor. So they kept coming back to the app again and again.

Foursquare grew 10x in size in just five years of implementing game elements into their user onboarding and product experience.

As many companies copied their success since the foursquare boom in 2009, silly titles or badges may have lost some of their initial appeal…but onboarding gamification is still all the rage.

Wonder why?

Why Use Onboarding Gamification for Your App?

Let’s be honest – onboarding is the most critical moment in your user’s interaction with your product, but it is also often…the most boring one.

It is critical because you will either manage to get your users to adopt the key features and see the value of your product, or you’ll lose them.

And yet – most companies make this stage of their relationship with the new user incredibly boring.

According to our SaaS Onboarding Research featuring 1000 SaaS companies, 76% of them chose to use boring, linear product tours most users simply…hate:

everybody hates product tours

80% of your users will lose interest and skip your product tour if it consists of more than 5 steps.

Conversely: Onboarding gamification makes the process of reaching the activation points significantly more engaging.

And thus, more likely to succeed.

The goal of new user onboarding is to get your users to perform the first two or three key actions that will lead your users to understand the value of your product – aka reach the “Aha! Moment”.

activation points userpilot

The more engaging the onboarding experience, the more likely your users to endure it.

How can you gamify your onboarding experience to make it more engaging?

Don’t worry – it’s simple. You really don’t need to turn the user journey into an interactive obstacle race. We will explain it a bit further.

Gamified Onboarding Pushes More Users Down the User Journey & Encourages Advocacy

user adoption flywheel

Another important thing to bear in mind when implementing gamification into your onboarding flow is that it doesn’t just end with the introduction either. You will need a secondary onboarding to increase the adoption of newly released features and keep pushing your users down the user journey.

You will also need another onboarding to keep your power users engaged and advocating for your product. Gamification of onboarding is a way to reach power-app status.

Now that we know how gamification can increase your success in activating users, let’s see how it affects their behavior using common principles of human psychology.

Gamified Onboarding is More Effective as it Employs Common Psychological Phenomena

So what is the root cause for why onboarding gamification is more engaging?

By looking at psychological principles we can see how gamification can change user behavior.

Zeigranik Effect

One reason why users are more likely to complete gamified onboarding is the Zeigranik effect. The theory was developed by Russian psychologist Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik in the 1920s while sitting in a bustling restaurant.

  • The waiting staff were able to remember tables’ orders perfectly if they hadn’t paid their bill.
  • As soon as the bill was paid, they completely forgot the order.
  • We remember incomplete tasks much more and are motivated to finish them

In video games, you will remember if you haven’t completed a level much more than the actual story of the game. Even with no other reward than saying you completed it, you will keep logging back in to finish.

It’s not the want to complete, it’s the NEED to complete.

The same applies to product onboarding. By creating an onboarding checklist with a few finished and a few unfinished tasks, you will scratch that itch to close the open-loop and complete the onboarding in your users:

postifty checklist

This is important especially in the case of complex, self-serve products.

Now that we can see how gamification can make your activation points something your users are looking forward to completing, we can get into the nitty-gritty details of how to actually implement it.

How do I Implement Onboarding Gamification?

Onboarding gamification is actually much easier to implement than you think.

Although your in-house developers can build the gamification elements into your onboarding flow themselves (and I’m sure they would love another UX project on-top of the roadmap), there are also no-code options you can use yourself to gamify your onboaring and build product experiences straight from your browser.

Now – let’s finally see how you can gamify your whole onboarding flow step-by-step!

STEP 1: Gamify your Welcome Screen

Your welcome screen is the first element your users see when they first log into your app. And it’s an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about your user – their role, goals and use case – so you can customize and streamline the onboarding experience. This will make it more personalized and relevant. And if it’s relevant – it is also going to be more effective.

Problem is – your users don’t want to be filling in long surveys about themselves. They want to start using your product as quickly as possible.

How can you encourage them to give up the precious information about their role and use case? Well – take a leaf out of video games’ book and let them choose their ‘character’ or ‘avatar’ – by clicking on the right persona!

choose your character - gamified welcome screen

Source: eset.com

For instance – for us at Userpilot, the user can be anyone from a Product Manager, Product Marketing Manager, UX researcher or designer, to Customer Success Manager or even a SaaS founder.

So we could easily create avatars of these personas and let the new user choose who they are on the welcome screen. Smart, huh? 😉

In the next step:

We would ask about the use case by asking the user to choose their adventure (just like video game players can sometimes choose different scenarios).

What would you like to do?

  • Build the new user onboarding
  • Build evergreen (secondary) onboarding
  • Announce new features
  • Launch an NPS survey and measure user sentiment

Etc. These could be visualized by letting the user choose different ‘boards’. Eset did something similar:

choosing different scenarios

This is the more ‘sophisticated’ way to gamify your welcome screen. But you can also start from some small steps:

  • communicate the incentive to complete the onboarding flow
  • show a progress bar:
Albert gamified checklist

Source: Albert.com

STEP 2: Use an onboarding checklist

Remeber the Zeigarnik effect?

Onboarding checklists employ it effectively by keeping unfinished tasks on top of your user’s mind for any onboarding process.

Let’s look at what Rocketbots did:

Rocketbots onboarding checklist userpilot

The most detailed checklists include the time it takes to complete each task and the value it adds to the user. Checklists help break down the intimidating concepts of your product into easy steps.

Evernote onboarding checklists

To gamify your checklists there should be some type of incentive for completing each stage: e.g. you can stack discount vouchers for a prompt completion of each task:

gamified onboarding checklist

Here’s an example of how to build a gamified onboarding checklist with discounts in less than 5 minutes, without coding (Want one like that? Hop on a quick call with us!)

After completing all the tasks, the user gets the full discount code:

gamified SaaS user onboarding checklist completion userpilot

The discount code appears only when the user completes all of the checklist steps – aka all the key activation points:

gamified SaaS user onboarding checklist targeting userpilot

Postfity saw almost double the number of checklist completions once they included pre-checked boxes (utilizing the Zeigarnik effect) and a financial incentive to complete it:

Userpilot onboarding checklists

Notion did something very similar in their checklist:

notion incentives on gamified onboarding checklist

Incentives motivate users to complete items on the checklists – but they don’t always have to be a financial reward.

They work not only for your new user onboarding and ‘aha moments’ but they’re also great for products that take time to setup, or to educate users about your secondary features.

You too can A/B test different checklists across your user segments and see what works best to activate them.

Celebrate the completion of each task

Building a relationship with your users is not just about helping them to hit their goals as quickly as possible…

…it’s also about making them smile, feel good about using your product, and develop brand affinity and loyalty as a result.

Sometimes it takes a rainbow-riding unicorn to do the job:

Asana onboarding gamification achievements

Source: Asana.com

I must admit: Asana bought me with this completely.

Each time I accomplish a task in the project management tool, I see a different ‘magical animal’ celebrating my success.

Celebrating and rewarding the achievements of your users goes a long way. Especially when you make it personal:

Kotentino shows you a dancing Gif of one of its employees (Hanna) when you finish the first step of their onboarding.

Kotention onboarding gamification achievements

Source: Kontentino.com

This personal touch makes it even more next-level.

Adding celebratory screens after completing each milestone in the onboarding process will make activated users feel like they are getting immediate value – and that they are pretty smart.

STEP 3: Use badges as a token of proficiency/ engagement

If there’s a community aspect to your app, adding elements of ‘social recognition’ such as achievement badges can get the users to engage more by appealing to their need for social status within your community.

Tech companies like Reddit have mastered this approach. They have turned something as simple as blogging and commenting into a platform with millions of active users. As users use the website, they receive coins for their posts and level-up for each chat threads and groups they comment on.

Reddit gamification badges

Facebook has recently implemented their own version where top page commentators get various badges for their interactions.

Facebook gamification badges

Source: Facebook.com

You can implement your badges to inspire users to adopt your secondary features. For each new feature they engage with, they will receive a badge or points for mastering that feature.

You could even reward your power users with specific badges and levels depending on their in-app time.

Ever wondered why advanced users of well-known SaaS tools like HubSpot like to brag about their proficiency at using the app on LinkedIn?

Because it may positively affect their career prospects.

Hubspot has created an entire certification program around the different product in its marketing suite using badges:

hubspot certification badges gamified SaaS

Source: HubSpot

Why not take a leaf out of Hubspot’s book and create your own mini-certification program for different levels of proficiency with your tool?

If using your product is a sought-after skill in a certain industry – use badges to denote your users’ level of proficiency at using your tool and encourage them to share their badges on their social media profiles and resumes.

Again: you can use checklists to get your users to perform certain tasks at different levels of proficiency with your tool. After completing each ‘proficiency level’ – you user will be allowed to download a badge or a Certificate of Proficiency:

Certification badge gamified onboarding experience

Give us a shout if you’d like to get help setting up your gamified certification program to push your users down their user journey.

STEP 4: Include elements of rivalry between team members on company accounts

Who doesn’t love a little competition? Turning your app into a sport among your users with company accounts is a great way to increase engagement and show off any secondary features.

You can implement leaderboards that will show which team members have completed the most in-app tasks or who has logged in the most hours.

These type of gamification features are more common in CRM’s like Kipfolio.com for Sales Reps but you can also find them in apps like Helpdesk.

Helpdesk gamification leaderboard

Source: Helpdesk.com

To fuel the rivalry, you can even send out triggered emails to update each team member on their progress for the month. The more competition that is in place, the more active the users in a company account will become as they try to beat their co-workers.

At the end of the month, the most active users can be rewarded with an Amazon gift card or access to an unreleased feature.

Successful Onboarding Gamification Examples To Copy

So now that you know why gamification works, and the strategies to implement it into your onboarding, let’s see it in action for new users and secondary feature adoption.

SalesFlare, ProdPad, and Platformly all managed to achieve higher activation and engagement rates with their gamified onboarding – see the exact results below.

SalesFlare Doubled Their Onboarding Completion Rates with Gamification

SalesFlare, is a CRM that prides itself on being a simple solution for the hectic world of B2B selling. Their main target audience is small businesses and startups looking for a quick and easy way to track their selling without the complexity of a tool like Salesforce.

They wanted to test if they could increase their activation rates by gamifying their onboarding checklist.

Since the checklist had ten items, it seemed daunting for any new user to go through each one without any incentive. Not everyone has the time or patience to learn a new product on their own.

So they tested with Userpilot offering a one day-extension for each task completed in the free trial. If the new user completed the entire checklist, they would receive 10 days extra on their trial period.

Salesflare onboarding checklist

Source: SalesFlare.com

The results after three weeks of A/B testing were:

  1. 13% more people started tracking their leads (key activation point)
  2. 40-50% more teams invited team members during the trial.
  3. Paying teams completed on average 7.6 steps out of 10 instead of 4!

Ultimately, it even led to higher activation rates and retention because it kept their users engaged in the process rather than an hour-long product tour or customer success call. Users reached their “Aha! Moment” much quicker and looked to Salesflare as the resource to facilitate their sales processes.

Gamification in Secondary Onboarding

Platformly is a SaaS product that allows marketers to engage and lead their customers through every stage of their customer lifecycle. The marketing automation platform covers everything from a CRM to email marketing and comes equipped with a business dashboard that can generate reports.

With so many features, Platformly found it difficult for their users to trust the product for more than one use case.

They had built this complex automation tool, but people couldn’t get past the primary onboarding.

Not ones to give up and just become another email marketing app, Platformly invested time in creating walkthroughs on pages users hadn’t visited yet with Userpilot.

Platformly gamified secondary onboarding

Source: Platformly.com

  • The experience could be triggered for a specific segment of users that already completed their primary onboarding.
  • Each walkthrough was equipped with a video tutorial explaining how to use the feature and the benefits of it.
  • After they were shown the video they were given driven actions so that users must click on the relevant buttons and complete the task.
  • Once they finished the feature walkthrough they were shown a message congratulating them on their achievement.

So what were the results?

By gamifying secondary feature adoption, Platformly had completion rates of 40% and over on their secondary onboarding flows.

More users were able to become activated and see the potential of the product. Of course, this meant they were more likely to convert into paying customers.

Using onboarding gamification to convert free trial users

ProdPad is an end-to-end product management tool designed to make the lives of Product Managers’ easier. You can build next-level roadmaps that impress at board meetings, organize all your ideas and customer feedback in a thoughtful and intuitive way, and it hosts a multitude of integrations to build unique workflows.

With such a complex tool already in a very difficult field, they wanted to shorten the time to conversion and make the app more personable and customized to the user’s needs.

They found that within their 30 day trial it took 9 days for users to decide if they wanted to pay for the product. All that extra free time in the app made users flounder as there was no incentive to sign up right away.

  • They shortened the free trial from 30 days to 7.
  • Then they implemented a “magically extending trial” where users earned days as they tried out new features
  • Their product dashboard and each new feature had engaging tool-tips and masterclass videos to guide users on how to use them
Prodpad free trial

This gave users the exact time and features they needed to decide if they were going to purchase.

Impressively, their time to conversion shortened by 4 weeks.

Now, they are iterating on their previous success. The gamification actions are being tweaked a little bit (not a whole lot) to provide even more value based on what users tend to do most when on trial.

As Picasso once said: ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ – we’re pretty sure nobody will mind if you borrow these best practices!

Wrapping Things Up

Your product is designed to solve a specific problem in the lives of your users – or many depending on how many features your team has developed.

Gamifying the onboarding of your product lets you bring value to those customers faster – and in a more painless way.

You can be creative with which gamification strategies you decide to implement but of course conscious of your budget and your developers time.

A worthy investment might come up when you are trying to boost feature adoption metrics.

Watch for red flags like when large portions of your new users aren’t coming close to your activation points.

Luckily, there are ways to test and build gamification elements like checklists, segmented welcome screens, and achievements without sacrificing time on your product roadmap.

Take notes from the companies mentioned above and start creating a more engaging and compelling product experience. We could all use a bit more excitement in our lives these days.

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