How long does it take to engage a gamer with your game to such a point that they decide to stick with it? The introductory portion of a game is critical. It challenges designers to present a title’s key concepts and “fun” up front, while holding enough surprises in reserve to motivate gamers towards extended play. Depending on the game’s genre, this may require you to engage a gamer for ten minutes, twenty minutes, maybe an hour.
This same principle – the critical nature of initial engagement – also holds true for getting gamers to stick with the download of your game. With a free-to-play game, the gamer needs to download and install your game before you can dazzle him with your fantastic product and generate any revenue. Thankfully, to reach that point, you probably only have to engage a new player for five minutes, and I’ll tell you how. In my last blog, I called attention to an intriguing behavior demonstrated by gamers. During an extensive study undertaken by my company, Pando Networks, we analyzed over 27 million downloads powered by our accelerated delivery services, and noted the following pattern: of the gamers who opted to cancel their downloads before completion, 4 out of 5 chose to cancel before the download was 10% complete. Once that critical 10% point was reached, gamers became extremely likely to allow a download to finish.
The time obviously varies for games of different sizes and users with different download speeds (as noted in my last blog), but let’s say the average free-to-play MMO game download is one gigabyte in size, and the average US gamer has a speed of 5.5 Mbps (or approximately 688 KBps) . To get 10% of the way through that half-hour download, you’ve only got to hold their attention for roughly five minutes.
How can you keep a gamer engaged right from the start of the download in order to get past those first few crucial minutes and thus increase the likelihood he will complete the full download? The answer may be simpler than you think, requiring very little effort on your part. Chances are, you’ve already claimed five minutes or more of a new players’ time by asking them to fill out a registration form or link their new account to the game’s forums. Why not reverse the order or combine the tasks in such a way that helps you and your users? If you give your players a chance to start the download first and then complete the “paperwork,” that’s several megabytes’ worth of download time you’ve just completed before the user even looks at the progress bar.
Most online games will face the issues of downloads and impatience over and over again, as patches, updates and expansions are disseminated to users. So, you’ll need to maintain this engagement beyond your first-time players. Take the time to design a useful game launcher: is the user presented with just a progress bar of indeterminate meaning, or does it communicate an easily manageable feat (i.e. “Your download will take X minutes at a speed of Y”)?
Better still, use the launcher to provide content that your players can consume while they wait. Interactive menus with links to recent news, upcoming in-game events or promotions, and forum activity can all be used to clear the 10% hurdle. This can also protect players from the temptations of impatience, where a prominent collection of inviting game related information can draw one’s eye away from a small, subtle “cancel” button.
These concepts aren’t necessarily new or revolutionary, but they can spell the difference between a game whose downloads are smooth and inconsequential, and one that loses players to annoyance and frustration. Remember, in free-to-play gaming, a new player has yet to invest any time or money in your product, and has nothing to lose by cancelling a download if they don’t feel like waiting.
What’s more, this kind of pre-game content can be expanded upon, paving the way for gamers to interact with your titles before they ever set foot inside your game world. Not everyone may wish to look through your forums or read an event calendar, but every new player needs to go through character creation, and most people will want to play through a tutorial, if one is available. As data streaming continues to get faster and easier, it’s not hard to envision players getting this initial content instantly, and engaging with it while the rest of the game downloads subtly in the background.
A gamer can only commit to your game once you’ve got it in front of them. It’s fortunate that most gamers can get over their fear of commitment at only 10% of a download, but it’s still the first obstacle you’ll have to clear in order to turn a casual, curious downloader into a lifelong player. You’ve undoubtedly put tremendous effort into the introductory portion of your game, put some effort into the download process that precedes it. Don’t waste your first impression by stumbling on your way through the door.