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

User onboarding gamification is the ‘secret weapon’ that can help incentivize user engagement and drive long-term product adoption.

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

Let’s go.


  • Gamifying user onboarding is all about introducing fun, game elements into the UX of SaaS products with the end goal of encouraging a specific desired user behavior.
  • Your product onboarding experience can have the same stickiness as a video game if it’s engaging.

The 4 steps to a gamified onboarding process:

  • Use welcome screens allowing the user to choose their avatars to elicit information about their role and use case
  • Add checklists with financial incentives for completing each task corresponding to key activation points. Use a progress bar to motivate users to engage.
  • Implement gamification points and badges to drive the engagement of individual users.
  • Use leaderboards and encourage rivalry between users of the same company accounts or a public leaderboard to drive competition and enhance product adoptions and usage.
  • 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.

What is user onboarding gamification?

Gamifying user onboarding is all about introducing fun, game design elements into the UX of SaaS products with the end goal of encouraging a specific desired user behavior.

The most common gamified onboarding strategies include:

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

The same elements of user onboarding gamification can be used during the employee onboarding process to enhance employee engagement and the adoption of software for internal use.

However, for the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on how to use gamification in your onboarding process for new users, not employees.

Why use onboarding gamification for your app?

According to our SaaS Onboarding Research 2023- featuring 1000 SaaS companies, 44% use an onboarding checklist, and 30% use progress bars during their onboarding process.

state of saas onboarding statistics

Compared to last year, these numbers are increasing. This can only mean that more and more SaaS businesses are adopting gamification elements.

Onboarding gamification makes the process of reaching the activation point significantly more engaging

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.

Gamified onboarding pushes more users down the user journey & encourages advocacy

user adoption flywheel

Another important thing to remember when implementing gamification into your onboarding process is that it doesn’t just end with the primary onboarding stage. 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.

How does onboarding gamification work?

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

One reason why users are more likely to complete a gamified onboarding process 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 was 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 to implement user onboarding gamification step-by-step

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 onboarding 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 cases – 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 precious information about their role and use case?

Understand your user persona and build avatars

Well – take a leaf out of the video games’ book and let them choose their ‘character’ or ‘avatar’ – by clicking on the right persona!

choose your character - gamified welcome screen


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? 😉

Understand job to be done with a branched onboarding experience

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

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

choosing different scenarios

STEP 2: Use an onboarding checklist

Add tasks that lead users to the activation point

Remeber the Zeigarnik effect?

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

Even products that are easy to use are finding that checklists help drive more engagement.

Check out Loom’s checklist below.

Enhance onboarding checklists with incentivize

Checklists help break down the intimidating concepts of your product into easy steps.

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

Here’s an example of how to build a gamified onboarding checklist with discounts in less than 5 minutes using Userpilot, 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:

Prodpad did something very similar in their 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


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


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.

Use simple rewards for simple tasks

You don’t always need a checklist. The same reward principles apply to increasing user engagement.

For example, ClickUp offers credit for users who perform a simple task and watch a video that’s part of their onboarding training program. It’s meant to engage users with their educational content so they reach different AHA moments and are motivated to continue to use the product.

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.

H4 set how users get to a specific level

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 thread and group they comment on.

Reddit gamification badges

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

Facebook gamification badges


Use key activation points as targets users need to get to

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 products 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 types of gamification features are more common in CRM’s like for Sales Reps but you can also find them in apps like Helpdesk.

Helpdesk gamification leaderboard


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.

Best Onboarding Gamification Examples

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

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


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


  • 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 tooltips 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 was 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

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

Userpilot can help with this. Get a demo and see how easy it is to enhance your onboarding strategy to drive user retention with gamification elements. Gamify onboarding with Userpilot.

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