Trevor McCalmont

Trevor is a content creator and analytics expert at GameAnalytics. He's a statistical and analytical wiz, graduating from Macalester College with a degree in Applied Math and Statistics.

Someone has chosen your app over the 1,500,000 other apps in the App Store or on Google Play. That’s fantastic! The next couple of moments after a user downloads a free-to-play (F2P) game are critical. Users are fickle and it takes a compelling introduction to keep them coming back. Worse yet, the cost of downloading another app is also $0 and takes just a few taps and a few seconds.

In order to engage users, game developers should focus on the first time user experience. This is one of, if not the, most crucial parts of any F2P mobile game. The tutorial helps onboard users, convinces them your game provides value, improves retention and helps convert non-payers to paying users.

The following tips will help measure and improve the first time user experience in your F2P game.

Make Getting Started Easy

Users should do something fun as soon as they open your mobile game. Imagine a user looking for a cool new game in the App Store or on Google Play. They finally find an app that looks interesting and they download it. The surest way to ruin their experience upon opening the app is hit them with a paywall, an advertisement or force them to create a new account on an obscure platform.

When users download a game, they want to play that game. They don’t want to be jerked around in blatant attempts to get them to monetize. The freemium business model has shown that users are willing to pay for content they love through microtransactions. In order to get to the point, game developers need to get the relationship started off on the right foot.

Remove Unnecessary Barriers

Barriers aren’t only displayed at startup. Barriers can appear during the purchase process, or when a user is learning the mechanics of a game. Obviously, mobile game developers need to create certain choke points in a freemium game to make it challenging, interesting and create a need for monetization. Choke points are the necessary barriers that help engage a user.

There’s an oft-cited study in marketing about choice overload. In the Iyengar-Lepper study, one group of grocery shoppers are given samples of 24 flavors of jam. The other group is offered samples of only six flavors. More shoppers stop at the stand to taste one of the 24 to 30 flavors, but more shoppers make a purchase when there are only six flavors. This type of decision paralysis can be devastating to your IAP revenue. Lower the number of purchase options for users so they are not overwhelmed.

Showcase the Value of Your App

The best way to convince users that they should keep coming back is show off how much value your app provides. Whether your app provides value in terms of fun or increasing productivity, the user should understand why your app is great within two to three minutes. Obviously the entire game does not need to be explained by that point, but fun mechanics will keep users coming back.

Guided Tour vs. User Exploration

There are two ways to guide a user through the first session: a guided tour and allowing users to explore. There are clear benefits to each method, and neither is more correct than the other. For complex apps, it can help to walk the user through the trickier parts. With genres that have well-understood mechanics (City Builders, Match Three, etc.) the user can often head straight into the gameplay.

Track Every Step of the Tutorial

Regardless of which tutorial style you choose, it’s important to track every step in the tutorial. As I’ve said many times, the tutorial is the most important part of a F2P game because it engages users and teaches them about their new virtual world. Track every single step in the tutorial and create a funnel to measure the points where users drop off.

Funnel

Dissect the points in the tutorial that have the largest drop-offs of users and figure out why people are leaving. Is there a large point of friction that can be avoided? Is the mechanic difficult to learn? Maybe the example level is confusing and the user’s goals need to be clarified. Whatever the cause may be, addressing these drop-offs in a tutorial funnel will help more users stick around.

More Metrics for the First Time User Experience

Aside from the funnel, there are other metrics to measure in the FTUE. First, measure the starts, stops, sources and sinks for the compulsion loops. This helps ensure the game’s virtual economy is balanced properly and users have both the ability and interest to engage in the main compulsion loop.

Next, pay attention to first time paying users. While the majority of conversions will likely not occur during a user’s first session, it’s important to track the number of users converting early in their life cycle and at what point in the gameplay they make their purchase. If users are willing to execute an IAP, that is a simple measure as to whether or not they are engaged with the game.

Lastly, track social shares. Referrals are a great way to find new users, and if users are sharing with their friends, the game likely has some sticking power.

Make a User Feel Successful

Users respond to positive reinforcement, and a great way to let them know they’re accomplishing something is through in-game rewards. Give users some premium currency that allows them to buy a significant upgrade. Not only are you rewarding them for their time, but you are teaching them how to make another purchase later.

The tutorial shouldn’t just list mechanics a user needs to know. Users play games to have fun, and winning is fun. In a great tutorial, users achieve some form of success, and that positive reinforcement helps engage users.

Allow for Personalization

People like to make things their own, and there’s no better way to do that than through customization. Whether it’s altering the appearance of their avatar or designing their base in a particular way, users love to put their own twist on the game.

Teach players what some of their options are as far as personalization. Once users find something they enjoy and create an emotional attachment, retention rates and engagement metrics often spike.

Give the User Goals

After the user has completed the tutorial, they will be let loose into the virtual world the game developer has created. At this point, the user has earned a bit of freedom and the game often gets more open ended.

However, users still need goals, even if they are high level or long term. These goals can be measured with a funnel, similar to the tutorial funnel mentioned above. Keep an eye out for areas where users progress either too quickly or too slowly. Game devs can tweak the game balancing to keep it appropriately challenging and enjoyable for users.

A Great FTUE Doesn’t just Mean Bugs Have Been Found

Any bugs in the game should be found before the soft launch occurs. Glitches can happen, but having a strong FTUE does not mean getting bugs out of the code. Having a strong FTUE means quickly and seamlessly getting users to understand and enjoy your game. Really polish the tutorial, as it is the first piece of gameplay a user sees.

The quick tips to improve your tutorial:

  1. Make getting started easy
  2. Limit barriers
  3. Show off how fun your app is
  4. Think about the best way to teach players
  5. Track every step of the tutorial
  6. Pay attention to the FTUE metrics
  7. Make a user feel successful
  8. Let users customize the game
  9. Give the user goals to keep them engaged longer term
  10. Polish the tutorial, don’t just resolve bugs

The importance of the first time user experience cannot be overstated. Indie game devs have just a few precious seconds to convince a user that downloading their F2P game was a great decision. Use the above tips to improve your mobile game’s tutorial and FTUE. If users enjoy their first session, they’ll undoubtedly come back for more.

Trevor McCalmont

Trevor is a content creator and analytics expert at GameAnalytics. He's a statistical and analytical wiz, graduating from Macalester College with a degree in Applied Math and Statistics.

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