The Curious Cycle of Onboarding, Accessibility and the Royal Rumble
Every year the WWE kicks off the ‘Road to Wrestlemania’, the campaign toward the company’s biggest show of the year Wrestlemania. The ‘Road to Wrestlemania’ is officially underway with the Royal Rumble. Traditionally the winner of the Royal Rumble match (held at the annual Royal Rumble event) goes on to challenge the champion in the main event of Wrestlemania. This is the holiday season for WWE fans, a clear start and goal all wrapped up within three months, hopefully with a joyous day spoken about for generations.
What in the hell has this got to do with usability, accessibility and onboarding you ask? Am I running out of pop-culture to apply to product development or do I simply wanting to barrage you with wrestling gifs? Well, not only does the Royal Rumble illustrate good onboarding, aim for user retention and aim to be as accessible to as wide an audience as possible, it does give me the chance to share some incredible gifs.
Let’s begin shall we! (I’m well aware I could say ‘let’s get ready to rumble’ at this point, but I’m not that gauche.)
The Royal Rumble match itself is based on the Battle Royal concept, in which a number of wrestlers (usually 30) aim at eliminating their competitors by tossing them over the top rope, with both feet touching the floor. The winner of the event is the last wrestler remaining after all others have been eliminated. The key difference in the Royal Rumble compared to other Battle Royales is that the wrestlers don’t all start in the ring together. Two begin the match with a new contender joining the fray every 90-120 seconds. So what in the hell does this have to do with onboarding? Everything.
Royal Rumble through to Wrestlemania is the sports-entertainment’s peak season, the time when they’re most likely to experience organic growth, (positive) media exposure and potentially a whole new world of fans. However, how would someone approach the product cold? Wrestling isn’t known for its core accessibility, the storytelling aspect added to the sports presentation can lead to complicated scenarios not encountered in sport. Look at football, kick the ball in the box and stop the other team kicking the same ball in your box, it’s pretty simple; contrast that with wrestling where rules aren’t so clear and the aims of the contest aren’t writ large with excessive story convolutions tacked on to give the match some stakes or drama.
Across an hour the WWE can introduce a significant chunk of their roster complete with entrance themes, backstory, characterisation and storyline to newcomers. Are they a face (good guy) or a heel (bad guy)? Do they have any alliances? Do they have any enemies heading in to the Rumble? It’s up to the commentators, video packages and the wrestlers to push themselves and to push the storylines. Not only that, WWE likes to pepper the match with surprises, from returning characters, new stars or even legends from years passed, there aims to be something for all audiences. There for the showmanship and car-crash stuntshow? Sit back and enjoy as a crazy man runs toward the ring with an assortment of weapons. Obscure wrestler from the 90s you vaguely remember? There he is, and doesn’t he look good for, 50, maybe? WWE pitches itself as a variety show, truly there is no match which lends itself to sheer variety than the Royal Rumble.
Characterisation is possible through very simple base actions to help new viewers relate and understand the wrestlers. Is a character a charismatic talker? Give them a microphone to taunt opponents approaching the ring. Are they a tank in human form? Have them eliminate as many competitors as possible, quickly. Are they a cowardly but intelligent player? Watch them cower in the corner, slide out and pick off vulnerable prey.
Beyond the character work and introductions the Royal Rumble also serves to kick off new stories and confrontations. Former tag-team partners and allies could come to blows, eliminating each other. An eliminated entrant could exact revenge on the individuals that eliminated them, putting their spot at Wrestlemania in jeopardy.
Stan Lee is quoted in saying: “Every comic book is someone’s first”, this also applies to wrestling shows. With the Royal Rumble being the first step toward Wrestlemania it is designed to be the perfect onboarding point, whilst this may not have been the original intent of the event it surely is the entry point for new or lapsed fans. If they enjoy themselves, who knows, maybe they’ll stick around beyond Wrestlemania, spend some money, see a show. All this possible from a show that’s been going for decades, but due to simple onboarding techniques makes it accessible to new audiences.
So what can we as product and service people learn from Vinnie Mac's travelling muscle circus? We must endeavour to cater to all types of users, experts who have used the product for years, know all the secrets, uncover all the ins and outs, yet at the same time cater for those who are just being introduced to it. When building products and services we must have clear documentation and guidance for all levels of user. There are hundreds of lessons we can pick up by viewing how other existing services do things. Too many times we want to try something new and innovative for the sake of it, when really the best advice and methods are already clear to see.
Yep, wrestling may be an acquired taste, but it’s constantly attempting to satisfy a broad palette and engage a potential audience. WWE knows when their business picks up so makes it as easy as possible for new and lapsed viewers to jump on the ‘Road to Wrestlemania’.