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Weekend Example: Mini Metro; MVP, Scale, Simplicity showing SaaS Principles in Gaming

There are examples SaaS principles abound but we have a particularly fun set of examples from Mini Metro; a popular iOS and PC puzzle game.

Mini Metro started with an on target Minimum Viable Product, an intrinsic sense of scale, and an interactive simplicity that often eludes not only other games but also many SaaS tools. (Quick note, we aren't touching on reward systems often called "gamification" but rather an overall approach to user experience.)

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An MVP, archived and easy to follow right through to release.

It can be tricky to see how a SaaS product has grown, for example there are screenshots of earlier versions of HubSpot, if you dig around, but it's difficult to get a sense of their progression. With Mini Metro, you can look all the way back at Steam Greenlight to see the games first example video, written descirption, and user feedback.

SaaS Principles - Iteration and Progress

Comparing the MVP video with the live game.

Right away, the Mini Metro developers had a Minimum Viable Product in video form that users responded to. The Greenlight system forms a proposal to potential customers to gather initial support and feedback.




A developer can propose, iterate, and release in a fashion that ensures maximum customer engagement and feedback. Steam Greenlight and Early Access programs provide excellent grounding and first steps for developers with new games. (Sidenote, Steam Greenlight is changing though but looking back should be availble for awhile.)

The Steam platform has a natural progression from this proposal to Alpha and Beta sales though their Early Access program. They can also release from early access to a live finished product. This is a stark contrast to Apple's App Store where one simply releases right into the whole store.

If tweaks are needed, they can be surfaced early and throughout the development process. Looking back, one feature stands out as a potential risk but turned into a powerful, but under used, reward.

Scale, built into the core of the experience.

The beginning of their first video shows a blank slate drawing out to reveal the stops that form the core of the gameplay; connecting and reconnecting these stops is almost the entirety of the gameplay.

SaaS Principles - Scale A full game showing the gradual scale change.

But this gradually expanding viewpoint is fairly fixed. The user can zoom in but, for the most part, the game focuses the viewpoint for the player.

Nearly every other game, and nearly every SaaS product, has dozens, hundreds, or even more ways of repositioning the users viewpoint.

Having so many different viewpoints is generally thought of as positive but with the freedom of many perspectives comes the difficulty of determining which one is appropriate for the user, the data they are viewing, and context for the data. 

With this game, the user isn't frustrated by seeing an enormous empty space for no reason but they are also kept from narrowing their focus later when a global perspective is needed.

If SaaS applied this lesson perhaps we would have dashboards that showed some data more contextual to the time of the day, or project management tools that highlight tasks based on their time taken. There are small examples of these principles, but on the whole most SaaS tools require the user to contextualize them, offering little responsive data in return.

Even at this global perspective though, there is a simplicity that belies, but assists, the difficultly in planning a citywide transportation system.

Simplicity, even at maximum complexity.

While the canvas begins with just a couple of stops to connect, it ends with dozens of points and only a handful of lines to link each rider with their necessary stop. Along with the stops, there are specific rider types, that need to be matched to their destination station. Then there are different tools to employ in managing these details and so on.

SaaS Principles - Simplicity Simplicity, shapes and symbols that maintain meaning throughout the game.

All of this could get overwhelming quickly but with all the controls thoughtfully placed and little to no text needed, a user can quickly grasp how to approach each problem. The only mechanic that adds difficulty is simply volume.




Even zoomed out, with all the different stops, riders, and tools the canvas feels light and free of distractions or indulgent complications such as complex 3D graphics. Each, element is is added as the user needs it as well, menus aren't added early on and tools show as they are available.

In fact, games in general do a much better job at guiding progressive user experiences than many SaaS tools do.

Concepts, such as task to task interaction in project managers, are often shown right away to users that expect them rather than helping users add these tools based on when they need them.

Gaming methodologies have their own flaws, for example trying to make a project management tool as addictive as Angry Birds may not be helpful, but there are a few lessons that should be pulled to plus up the context of the tools we use everyday.