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author: @aestranger

Reading time: 10 minutes

Understanding a User’s Journey in your gamified experience?

When discussing anything to do with games and gamifying an experience, the conversation will invariably always need to go to the topic of the User’s Journey. And everyone will also typically ask themselves or the creator a list of important questions. How will the user experience your gamified world? What steps do they need to take to go from A to B to C, etc…? What are the different stage that they will experience along the way?

Recently I wrote a post on æ about Player Types and the Hero’s Journey, in there I explored in detail the various player archetypes that may crop up in a game or gamification experience. And along with that, I made an extensive piece about all of the 17 steps involved in a user’s journey, using the Hero’s Journey as a template for this.

In the time since I wrote that, I felt that perhaps you would be better served with a shorter more refined version of the User’s Journey. One that streamlines the 17 steps down to 3 easy stages and bullet points the individual steps in them in terms of what the user is doing and what you as the creator should do or expect.

What you, as the creator, should do First

Before we get into it completely, we do need to discuss a few important aspects when creating a user’s journey in a game system. Firstly, the one thing you need to absolutely do is to consider what your narrative will be. And when I say narrative, I use it as a catch-all phrase for embedding purpose and storytelling into your system. It need not be a narrative that has a hero, a plot, a twist, and prince/princess to save at the end. But what narrative does do is add structure.

The main purpose of adding a solid narrative is that the gamified system can become more effective and the user can be more immersed in the experience. The story takes root in their own worldview as it were. The use of narratives is that they create meaning and purpose for the user, it offers structure or a framework for paths and goals that the user can take or choose. And the user invariably sees themselves as the hero of the narrative they are taking part in, so the obvious candidate to use as a base is the Hero’s Journey. It’s also a more recognizable model and one that is easily understood in any culture.

The only aspect that narratives tend to not do well it is what is known as the Endgame, within the gaming industry. When we think of the ending of a film that uses the Hero’s Journey formula, or a novel that uses it, inevitably the hero defeats the villain, saves the day, returns home to a celebration and roll credits. Maybe we get lucky and see a post credit scene that offers some insight into the post-celebratory life of the hero, but we are left wanting. Which for a movie or book is great, because they’ll probably make another one and you’ll pay money to see/read it. It’s not so great in a gamified system, where there is no roll-credits-post-credits scene. The experience must go on, as they say.

So, secondly then, you need to really consider what you are going to do for your endgame. And hopefully, with the outlined user journey, it will help you in some small to do that. As I’ve seen with many other blogs and articles, the endgame is always brushed over. We seem to spend a whole lot of time on the initial stages, which is good of course because we all want new and more users to join. But it’s really a futile exercise if they all just race through and leave in the end anyway. We need to spend a bit more time reflecting on how we can add value to our long-term and hardcore users. Perhaps instilling a better sense of meaning within the community that they are all part of, creating a better appreciation of ownership over the wonders they have achieved and most importantly bringing home that feeling of responsibility to the community to help those just starting out.

The User’s Journey condensed into 3 Stages

Now before we expand a little and justify why the user’s journey is split into 3 stages and each stage having a small sub-aspect that better explains what you can do, let’s give you a condensed/refined version. Just in case you were in a hurry and found the above a bit too wordy.

  • 3 Stage User’s Journey
    • The Call
      • This is where your users ask themselves what they want to solve and what they want to experience.
    • The Initiation
      • Here your users learn the rules of the system and learn to embed their new knowledge.
    • The Return
      • The user is now (hopefully) invested in the experience and wishes to continue to improve and increase their investment.

And those are the 3 stages in a nutshell. Fairly straightforward and recognizable using the titles from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. But what does each stage mean exactly for the user? How do you go about creating those steps and what is involved in each one?

Let’s explore them in a little bit more detail, don’t worry it won’t be as dense as the Player Types and the Hero’s Journey blog post, but it should hopefully be in depth enough to give you a start. For some ease, I will be borrowing terms from Joseph CampbellYu-Kai Chou, and Kevin Werbach, just so that you can easily recognize where these stages can occur in other popular models and journey’s that you may have come across before.

The User’s Journey — Fully Refined

For your ease, I will bullet point the entirety of the 3 stages and their individual explanations. So that you can use it as a reference if you wish to use any of these ideas. Equally, you are welcome to contact æStranger, if you wish to discuss this some more.

I. The Call — This is the stage usually referred to as the Discovery phase by other thought leaders.

i. The Ordinary World — Awareness of a Problem

o The user is familiar with the world, with all its stresses and distractions. They have many problems that require a solution from you.

ii. Call to Adventure — A Need to Change the Problem / Find a Solution

o This is the Call-To-Action for the user. They’ve been made aware of a specific problem that they have, and they feel the need to solve it. Or they have been made of aware of curiosity they need satisfied.

iii. Refusal of the Call — Fear of Change

o The user can sometimes be doubtful or afraid of the new experience that they’ve come across from you. But don’t worry the next feature will help you and the user.

iv. Meeting the Mentor — Overcoming Fear through an Aid

o You the Creator of the experience can here offer some guidance or tools to the user. These can be little freebies, booster packs, support that help them along the way. Often though it’s best that the user is unaware that you are helping them and that they discover these on their own.

II. The Initiation — This is usually referred to as the stage where the Onboarding and Scaffolding phases take place.

i. Crossing the Threshold — Committing to the Change

o This is the literal cross-over point between the Call and the Initiation stages, from Discovery to Onboarding.

o At this moment, the user will have voluntarily chosen to continue with the experience you have provided. It’s also a great time to insert a small and easy challenge for the user. One that is simple enough that feel a push or surge of empowerment to continue after they’ve accomplished it.


ii. Test, Allies, Enemies — Trials & Experiments

o Here the user learns the basics of the system and experience they are in.

o The user is also introduced to the Community for the first time, they can gain more “powerful” or knowledgeable allies here.

o And as its name suggests, Trials, the user must also be regularly challenged to assess their comfort with the knowledge and deeper insight into their abilities that they have gained.

iii. Approach to the Cave — Preparing for a Major Change

o It is important that the user is allowed to experience failure often, and that it occurs often. It’s a very important mechanic through which they can learn, and not simply repeat an easy approach that used to work for other challenges.

o The user must also be given instant and meaningful (and positive) feedback with every challenge they overcome and every failure that occurs.

o Essentially the “Cave” is a space where the user can reflect upon what they have learned so far.


iv. The Ordeal — A Major Change Happens

o This is the stage where the user is properly challenged and tested for the first time with an associated consequence. Everything they have learned so far will be of use here.

o Failure should still be an option here, but it should be an Epic-Failure if it occurs, and as it has a consequence, retrying it should have an obstacle in place, i.e.: a prior challenge needs to be revisited and overcome first before that can try this one again. As repetition better embeds knowledge.

o When the user is finally successful, they should have an equal or great Epic-Win to further motivate them to continue.

v. The Reward — Accepting (the consequences of) the Change

o Here the “Level Up” moment occurs. Up to you how you visualize it for your user.

o The user should be rewarded with an achievement for their epic-win, something that is appropriate and signifies what they have earned by overcoming the ordeal.

o To facilitate that the user does indeed continue after their win and doesn’t stagnate, you can add what Jane McGonigal calls Urgent Optimism. It is a sense that is a combination of urgency caused by perceived scarcity along with the belief that the ability is sufficient to achieve it. For example, the reward could help the user in future challenges but only if they use it in a particular way that they figured out, within the next 10 days.

III. The Return — This stage is commonly known as either the Mastery or Endgame phase in the journey.

i. The Road Back — New Challenges & Rededication to New Changes

o The user has now achieved the next level, gained new support items for the next step of their journey.

o Here you can give the user another moment to receive feedback and reflect upon the Ordeal and Reward stages.

o You as the Creator can also “guide” the user back to a new set of Trials, at a higher difficulty, with more or different content to extend the journey.

ii. Resurrection — Final Attempts at New Changes & New Problems

o This can be seen as the Endgame/Mastery gateway, once the user is sufficiently competent or mastered the system, you can choose to let them through to the endgame area.

o In this stage, greater more long-term challenges should be awaiting the user. Ones where the user requires far more times and investment to complete them all if they can. This area is designed specifically to retain hardcore users by getting them to invest heavily in the experiences you’ve created.

iii. Return with the Elixir — Complete Mastery & New Creation

o Once the user is at a point of having mastered what you’ve created, they should be given (pushed to) the option of sharing and interacting with the community at large. Assisting and supporting new-comers to your experience.

o If you the user has an appropriate mastery of your system, then there should be one last stage of that will take them the longest to complete. A life-quest as it were, and it should really involve them adding experiences themselves, which they and others can enjoy as well.

o These above steps will increase the user’s investment into your system exponentially, so use with caution so that they do not become addicted or obsessed with your creation.



The user’s journey will be determined by the type of experience and gamified system that you create, and most importantly each step will be defined by the narrative that you chose to weave around the entire experience.

As I said at the start, having a narrative is an of paramount importance when designing any journey. It ties in all the little steps, stages and phases into a holistic and meaningful experience for your users. And most notably it will help you with designing your endgame area as the story will need to continue somewhere. If you created a narrative that simply ends, then at least you know that there will basically be no endgame area.

The other points of importance that I wanted to mention was the creation of a community. Be sure to allow your users to communicate with each other. No matter how good your journey and narrative is, it’s infinitely more interesting to users if they can share and discuss it with others.

With any luck, the ‘refined’ outline will help you when you design your journey, and hopefully, your users will enjoy it. If you wish to read more around these topics then I invite you to please check out the various blogs in the Blog section.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.



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