Let me play NOW! Or I’m going to leave

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.

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5 Responses to Let me play NOW! Or I’m going to leave

  1. Over00 says:

    I recently had a similar comment about accessibility to games. As an example, for my project, I added a “log as guest” feature so potential players can take a look with just the click of a button. Too many games will only show you yet another “create an account screen” before allowing to just figure out what the game is about.

    With the huge number of free/web games around, raising a wall between your game and the players is quite a huge mistake. Potential players will just move on to the next flavor of the week before they could even remember the name of your game.

    It’s much like web design where you have less than 10 seconds to catch the attention of visitors before they move on.

  2. Elliot says:

    I’m in total agreement. Lower the resistance and you increase the user base. Pirates of the Burning Sea entered public beta and I thought I would give it a try. First I had to get a File Planet account, then download a 5GB file, sign up for a Sony Station pass, unzip the game (which took forever), run the installer (which extracted more files and took longer than forever), install the game, and then wait for the auto-patcher to complete. This took an entire day (albeit downloading was the major bottleneck). My File Planet download was actually aborted 75% through, which really disappointed me. I found the files through another source but in the end I no longer had the same urge to play. I felt slightly put-out by the number of hoops I had to jump through to try the game.

    Someone needs to find a solution to this. I’m not entirely sure what it will be, but perhaps a minimal install with downloading in the background is the way to go. I think Steam does an admirable job at getting you into the game as quickly as possible.

  3. Bryant says:

    Hm. An entrance/newbie area with limited textures, perhaps?

  4. S Smith says:

    Very nice, I got this search through google. And I appreciated your time for posting this.

  5. Shannon B says:

    I’ve been MMO hopping for a few weeks now, trying out different games OTHER than WoW. This should be required reading for every person involved with an MMO.

    Final Fantasy Online seems to be the epitome of what not to do. Free trial is only available to North American users even though the main game can be played by anyone. Signing up for the free trial requires a huge amount of hoop jumping, various accounts and several blood samples. Finally though, you need to download the trial from the gamespy download service thingy. If you don’t have a gamespy account, you need to create ANOTHER account which also wants several different pieces of info, blood samples and character witnesses. FINALLY gamespy wants to install stuff on your machine so that you can download the game to install on your machine.

    This is where I drew the line. I really wanted to try Final Fantasy Online, it was probably at the top of my list of games I was considering for long term play, however I have to say any desire to go near it was killed by the aptly named ‘trial’ process.