I saw a post over on Warcry about a new “Vampire MMO”, apparently called Darkeden. Feeling especially bored, I tried to follow the link to the game’s page so I could sign up, but the site is down — looks like they got too much traffic. Oof. That’s devastating. They likely missed their opportunity to get a large number of people involved in their beta.
But thinking about it, I realized that I don’t try a lot of downloadable MMO’s (or open betas) because the investment is too high. I have to go sign up for some stupid company account. I have to download a large file. Install it. Run it. Probably do some email verification thing, too. Too many steps! As my available gaming time has become smaller, my willingness to jump through hoops has shrunk tremendously.
As a designer, I’ve seen first-hand that most game companies don’t pay enough attention to how their new-player sign-up/download process works. They’re busy making the game. The website is an afterthought. This is a deadly mistake.
This is one reason why I think the long-term future of MMO’s is in web-based games that can be started within 30 seconds — there’s less crap to get in the way. But if you want a 3D game, web-based designs aren’t really viable yet. So what can you do? To make the best of players’ tiny attention spans, follow these rules:
- Your landing page should show me a screenshot, tell me three REALLY DAMNED COOL things about the game, and have a huge TRY IT NOW button. Make sure the page loads fast, too. The goal is to get me to click TRY IT NOW before 10 seconds elapse and I get bored.
- Once I try it, get the downloaded started immediately. Don’t screw around, get it started fast. Once the download starts, AND ONLY ONCE IT’S GOING, I will be willing to spend a tiny amount of time signing up for your service.
- The sign up page should have not more than Name, Password, and Email Address. If you ask for more info up front I’ll probably wander off. You don’t need more info in order to let me try the game for a bit.
- If you need to provide email verification, make it trivial.
- You can ask me for my credit card info when I’ve decided to make a sale — not before that!
- Don’t make me sign up for forums and company accounts and newsletters and all that other crap. All that stuff makes you lose potential customers.
There’s a common excuse for requiring the credit card up front: it helps keep abusive people out of the system. If a player acts inappropriately, you can ban their credit card, thus keeping them from signing up for any more accounts. Very clean! And it worked great ten years ago, but times change. Nowadays, you’ll just have to design your game more carefully, so that your game doesn’t give free-trial customers any ways to abuse others.
Remember, you need to get people playing your game before they get bored or distracted. Streamline the entire experience with this in mind. Don’t assign this task to interns, either. This is a job for savvy web designers. In fact, the sign-up experience should be at the top of the list to be polished. It needs to be 100% perfect in order to get as many people trying out your game as possible.