Let’s say you got a player to install your game. Hooray! You’ve got all sorts of hooks in place to keep them playing for weeks and months, but before the player encounters any of those, there’s a much more important retention concept you need to run through: The first time user experience.
The first 15 minutes of your game need to be stellar. During this time, you need to teach the player how to play the game, convince them to come back for a second play session, and make sure they have a fun time. On top of this, you might want to do other things, like ask them to invite other friends on Facebook or associate the account with Facebook or Google Plus. The first play session is the most crucial, and I really can’t emphasize enough how important it is. Criminal Case spent 30% of its development time doing nothing but working on the first time user experience! A team of 25 people spent six months working on an experience that isn’t even an hour long! It might sound ridiculous, but Criminal Case managed to keep 9 million daily average users after just six months!
You can have the greatest game in the entire world, but unless you make a fantastic first impression, that’s going to be of limited benefit. That first time user experience is crucial. Every second of that first experience needs to be carefully designed and tested over and over. You can’t get someone to play for months without getting them to play for hours.
September 12, 2014 at 3:41 pm
While I agree, completely, one thing I’ve noticed about myself is what comes after the first time user experience. Case in point: Guild Wars 2. When it first came out, I loved it so much I played for hours every day for a month. After a month, I was so sick of it I couldn’t play it anymore. I’ve tried to get back into it a few times, but I couldn’t play for more than a few quests before I was bored out of my mind.
But it’s not just MMOs. There’s been linear games that I thought were great fun at first, but the more they went on the more I just wanted to finish and be done with them.
FF12, for instance, didn’t seem so terrible when I first started playing it. Sure the story was bad, but the combat was okay, or was it? By the end of the game I was skipping all the side missions because I just couldn’t be bothered to do them. I stopped playing completely right before the final dungeon. People have told me that if I got that far I should have just finished it, but…. I didn’t want to. It bored me that much to play it and I couldn’t care less how it ended. I’m glad I saved the 2-3 hours it would have taken me to run through it.
The same thing happened with Wild Arms 3. It was enjoyable until it wasn’t, and there was no fundamental change to Game Play that made it go from a good game to suddenly terrible.
Even FF13 started off with promise, despite an awful story. But my interest dropped rapidly, and by the time I got to chapter 11, where according to fans the game gets fun (it didn’t), I no longer wanted to play.
I think with all three of these games, the game play element was too shallow. It starts off fun, new and unique, but after the first step 30 or 40 battles, every fight plays out the same.
What I’m getting at is, yes the first time experience is important. Just don’t forget you’ve got hours of game play to go after it.
September 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm
Oh yeah, definitely. I remember I had loads of fun with say, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, but mainly in that early Hoth mission. The rest didn’t really grab me as much as the opening. But yeah, a strong opening is important, even in traditional boxed games. If only because word of mouth is probably going to be based primarily on the early experiences.
With games like Killer7, you get a bit of the reverse, where the early game is just abysmal and filters out a lot of potentially interested players, but people who actually stick through it all manage to find something really cool in there.
I notice you primarily bring up RPGs, and that’s pretty interesting. I think RPGs in particular are susceptible to falling apart after the initial experience, if only because RPGs tend to be extremely long as far as most games go. There’s just so much more game for players to go through that there are bound to be some boring or frustrating spots. Because RPGs are so focused on story and drama, the early moments also tend to be really strong. I still love Final Fantasy 9’s opening and how it got the whole starting party together.