Make your first 3 minutes count

If you’re making a downloaded casual game, you already have a big hurdle to overcome: how to get people to download your game. But let’s leave that aside for the moment, and focus on the people who have downloaded your game. Wow! Congrats, you’ve already got the player WANTING to commit to your game.

Players don’t want to feel stupid. They spent several minutes waiting for your game to download and install. They want to be rewarded for their decision. They want to like your game.

Books like Daniel Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” teach us that most people make up their minds about something after just the first few seconds of interacting with it. If the first impression sucks, it can be hard to overcome it.

Judging from my play experience, I’d say you’ve got three minutes to convey that your game is a confident, professional product. If after three minutes my impression is, “this feels amateur,” then I’m done. Even if I keep playing for a while after that, I have no intention of buying.

So how do you convey professionalism in the first three minutes? Three of the keys are:

  • Tight initial experience. Look at every screen the game presents during the first 30 seconds of play — typically the loading screen, main menu, tutorial screen, and main game screen. These are the screens that need to be tightest. You can skimp on things like your high-scores screen.
  • Animation! Use animation on every screen. Animate the loading screen if possible. Definitely animate the menus. It’s not really about the actual animation; it’s about the feeling of movement on the screen that helps to convey a feeling of professional quality.
  • Don’t make the user feel stupid. It’s not an accident that the first level of modern casual games is really, really easy. This helps create a favorable first impression. It might also create the impression that the game is too easy. But that’s not as damaging as the impression that the game is too hard. When something’s too hard, people tend to lose focus. They’ll notice the little warts in your game. The illusion of professionalism will fall apart.

My beta feedback reinforces that the biggest player drop-off is in the first few minutes. If you can keep ‘em playing for longer than that, they’re likely to play for a good while, and you just might have a sale.

“Click To Skip This Movie”

I’m slowly slogging through the beta feedback and making changes to my upcoming casual game. One of the comments made the think. Somebody complained that they wished the story scenes were skippable. But the story scenes are skippable… you just have to click the cursor anywhere on the screen, or press the escape key on the keyboard.

So this player wanted to skip the movie, but didn’t think to click the mouse. They expected instructions on how to skip the movie. I’m not sure how people became trained that movies are un-skippable by default, but they apparently have.

Since I have no way of knowing how many users are in this boat, I don’t know whether I need to add a “Click to Skip” sentence somewhere on the screen. I’d rather not, since it looks stupid. Next time I do a beta, I’ll add logging to see if people can figure out how to skip the movies.