Product Love Podcast: Niels Hoven

Published Jun 26, 2019

When was the last time you witnessed something so random and delightful in a product that you had to tell someone about it? Think back to when you felt that kind of excitement over a software product.

This week on Product Love, I talked to Niels Hoven about those moments. Previously, Niels led product at ClassDojo and was the VP of product development at Pocket Gems. Currently, he’s a product manager at Cloudflare.

On this week’s episode, Niels chats about being a product manager in the gaming industry, and why small delightful moments within the product are important customer experiences.

Product Management in Gaming

Being a product manager in the game development industry is like attending the school of hard knocks. You’re expected to learn all about design, analytics, iteration, and everything else, but in the most punishing environment possible. Why is it punishing? Because video games don’t really meet an existing need. Not only that, the game marketplace is crowded and highly competitive.

Many tech companies are trying to solve a real problem. Product managers in gaming, however, have to induce a need for their games. Then they must give the players the means to fulfill that need. As Niels says, no one actually says they need a farm on their Facebook account. However, millions of people ended up obsessed with Farmville.

In addition, players are extremely vocal when giving feedback. Most are casual gamers without the technical knowledge to fix their issues, so product managers have to carefully extract meaning from that feedback.

Watercooler Moments in Software

It’s not easy to design products that grow through word-of-mouth. Luckily, we can take a few hints from television executives, the  masters of “watercooler moments.” Watercooler moments are significant events on television that viewers discuss at work the next day. Think about “Game of Thrones,” which prompted people to replace their morning greetings with, “Did you see what happened last night?!”

Niels recalls a card-based game called Hearthstone, where a designer created probabilistic cards to completely alter the game’s direction. While the majority of the game depended on skill and strategy, one of these cards could randomly appear and snatch victory away from the players. The unexpectedness created a high level of excitement. And naturally, players wanted to share their happiness or anger.

In business software, we’re still learning how to create these small unexpected moments. One example is task management software Asana. When you complete tasks in Asana, a blue Yeti will occasionally appear. Niels was so taken back by its appearance that he tweeted about it, wondering if he could get it to reappear. The blue Yeti has literally no bearing on the software or your productivity but creates interest and excitement.

Think of any software that celebrates the anniversary of your onboarding. Little delightful moments have a huge emotional impression on the user. It establishes a human connection between the user and the brand.

Listen to the rest of the podcast episode to learn why data is like a grain of sand, and how you might be measuring retention incorrectly.