What B2B Can Learn from Gaming

November 29, 2018

Over the past year or more that we have been exploring this phenomenon of product led growth (PLG), we’ve discovered that many of the principles of game design are applicable – both in building an amazing experience for the user and in building the actual business. Who better to learn from than someone who ran a gaming studio!?

During our third Product Led Growth Summit, I had the chance to speak with Catharina Lavers Mallet. Cat recently joined Bose as Head of Consumer Electronics Incubation, where she will be bringing innovative new product categories to market. But her PLG experience truly comes from her time in gaming as a GM at King Digital — the developer of Candy Crush and Farm Heroes.

Cat shared 3 key principles of game design and examples of how they can best be applied to a B2B model.

1. Validate your core loop

This comes down to focus and prioritization. The key is to make sure that the second-to-second experience that a user will be doing over and over again is really clear, fun and that it’s clear and obvious why players are doing that thing.

In Candy Crush it’s ‘match 3 candy pieces.’ In Call of Duty it’s ‘identify and shoot targets.’

The issue in many games is that they try to add on too many levels of depth and additional features. If the core loop isn’t really solid, players don’t know why they are there and they stop playing.

The parallels in B2B are obvious – it’s easy to get sucked into building feature after feature to meet the requests of customers, but you can’t lose sight of your core value prop. You have to ensure that piece of the experience is exceptional and the value is clear. If you take away all of the other bells and whistles, what would you have left?

We’ve heard this same piece of advice from Ian Siegel, Founder & CEO at ZipRecruiter. Siegel is adamant that each business only really sells one thing. One of the main secrets of success is knowing what that one thing is and putting all your effort and resources into being the best at that. Obsess over it.

His tip for uncovering what your one thing is (if you’re not sure) to have a current customer who loves what you do describe your product to a prospect. How your happy customer describes what you do and the value it delivers is your one thing.

2. Design with monetization in mind

Retention is king. In gaming, if you don’t have an experience that players want to come back to again and again, the other stuff doesn’t matter. However, you can’t ‘sort out monetization later.’ Bolt-on monetization tends to be really transparent. Either you have taken away something that players used to get for free, which really annoys your users, or it’s not core to the experience. Monetization is an exchange where the players need to feel like this is worth paying for, a fair deal.

So it’s important that you know how you will, or at least could, introduce monetization into the experience. Fornite monetizes through skins and ways to show off to your friends. Candy Crush monetizes through additional lives and boosts. Other games use subscription models, or flat one-off fees.

Games that don’t have a clear monetization strategy end up relying on ads, which is only economical if you generate a tremendous volume of impressions organically (aka you’re super viral).

When it comes to B2B, the same principle holds true. Buyers will only pay for the value they are getting and if you aren’t transparent in your intent, it’s possible to leave them feeling cheated.

LinkedIn built a large consumer data set with the clear intention of B2B monetization over time. They’ve taken the same basic product features and packaged them in a way that they can go to market targeting 4 distinct groups (professionals, job seekers, sales teams and recruiters), each with one clear product and message. Post-acquisition by Microsoft, they continue to increase the cost of each package, while also having dramatically cut the features included. Their monetization strategy is clear, but leaves customers feeling nickel and dimed because it was not communicated in advance.

3. Averages can be dangerous

Gaming is very data driven, and it’s tempting to rely only on top-line numbers like 2 day retention and ARPU. Those numbers are important indicators, but they are averages and can hide a host of sins. You have to pay attention to cohorts, and the full distribution of your player behavior.

“At King we spent a lot of time looking at the pass/fail rates on individual levels. For a while we thought the data was telling us that the harder a level was, the more likely a player was to pay. That was only partially true. If a level is too hard, it’s not fun. You want to feel like you are close, that you have a chance of passing the level if you just play one more time. If a level is too easy, it’s boring. Often by making a level a bit easier, it actually increased monetization, because people then felt like they were close enough for a small purchase to just push them over. If we were only looking at the top-line summaries, we would have missed this variation in types of player behavior.”

We heard similar feedback from Merci Grace, an early Product and Growth leader at Slack and former game designer. Slack is obsessed with the exact customer rather than personas or averages. This means getting to know your exact user, their real problems, their use case and how those tie back to the product.

Check out Lessons from OpenView’s 3rd Product Led Growth Summit for other key learnings!

Liz Cain


Liz Cain leads the firm’s Investment team and sits on the Investment Committee. Liz joined OpenView in 2016 to lead the Expansion Platform delivering recruiting, market insights and marketing/sales strategy services to our portfolio. Today, she manages the Investment team and focuses on developing the systems, processes and team to identify and win the best expansion stage software deals.