Build the Toy First

Last week I wrote about how most teams build really bad MVP’s. One alternative to Minimum Viable Product, I’ve heard mentioned by some people is Minimum Delightful Product. I don’t hate that. Most teams when they set out to build an MVP forget that the goal is still to delight your customer when testing any hypothesis.

Some of the best books on product design I’ve read in the past few years have been around Game Design. Increasingly products are taking cues from gaming and line is starting to blurred between digital games and digital products. Even products that you wouldn’t consider traditional “games” are subtly weaving in mechanics and gamefeel to create a more delightful experiences. I find the principles of game design to be refreshing and pure when applying them to product design because games always set out to be fun. I think products need to be fun to use as well.

One such book is “The Art of Game Design” by Jessie Schell. Schell sets out to view game design through a series of “lenses” or rules. One such rule is the Lens of the Toy.

Schell explains this lens:

To use this lens, stop thinking about whether your game is fun to play, and start thinking about whether it is fun to play with. Ask yourself these questions: If my game had no goal, would it be fun at all? If not, how can I change that?When people see my game, do they want to start interacting with it, even before they know what to do? If not, how can I change that?

Every app has its toy. Some could have multiple and some toys are more defined and fun to play with that others. Instagram were the photo filters. Snapchat as well. Investing apps have the chart/price. Messaging apps have the message box. Google has autocomplete.

Schell goes on to explain that in building a game, a good rule of thumb is to build the toy first. He writes,

Toys are fun to play with for their own sake. In contrast, games have goals and are a much richer experience based around problem solving. We should never forget, though, that many games are built on top of toys. A ball is a toy, but baseball is a game. A little avatar that runs and jumps is a toy, but Donkey Kong is a game. You should make sure that your toy is fun to play with before you design a game around it. You might find that once you actually build your toy, you are surprised by what makes it fun, and whole new ideas for games might become apparent to you.

Building the toy first is great prioritization and focusing exercise for your team as it immediately gets you to the essence of delight in your experience and ensures that you are building a core that is special, then building everything else that supports it and makes it better.

(This was originally published on my personal blog. To get updated whenever I post, subscribe to my free newsletter)

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