How to Build a Great First-Time User Experience (FTUE) In Mobile Games
(This article was originally published on Udonis’ blog.)
We people are quick to judge.
We tend to judge books by their covers and other people by their clothing. In the same spirit, we will judge a mobile game by the first-time user experience it delivers.
Because of that, FTUE has the power to make or break a game. Tips and examples from this article will help keep your players beyond session one.
First Time User Experience — Game’s “Hello”
If players choose to install your game among all of those competitors, this is already an accomplishment.
However, this brings you straight to the next challenge — impressing them.
When players open a game for the first time, they start drawing conclusions. They pay attention to how the game looks and feels, how similar it is to what they’ve seen in the ads, how easy it is to get started with it, etc.
All of this forms the first-time user experience.
By definition, the first-time user experience is the players’ first encounter with your game and their first impression of it.
When it comes to first impressions, there are no second chances. There is not a lot of time either. Impressions are formed in a matter of seconds.
For this reason, you have to do everything in your power to make the first impressions great.
During first-time user experience, players should get into the game, enjoy it, and feel lucky and rewarded. They should be able to see what a game has to offer and what separates it from others. All in a way that’s not overwhelming.
The first-time user experience determines if players will launch the game ever again. It can also affect their app store reviews, if they will recommend it to others, and ultimately — if they will spend money on it or not.
By creating a superior FTUE, you can increase day one retention, overall retention rates, and most importantly — the revenues.
Tips for Creating a Great First-Time User Experience
What are some specific steps you can take to create a positive first-time user experience? How exactly do they affect your players and your metrics?
Let me answer these questions for you.
1. Immerse Players into the Game Quickly
A player liked your game’s ad or app store listing and downloaded it. Now, it’s time to open it.
In this phase, all players want is to try out the game.
Upon the launch, the players shouldn’t be forced to create an account. Or even worse, to get an immediate in-app purchase pop-up or an in-game ad.
At this point, you’re forming a relationship between the player and you, the developer.
Your goal here is to get the players into the game and simplify getting started. To achieve this, you need to quickly immerse players into your game’s mood, theme, and gameplay.
Homescapes is a game with a well-done UI and UX.
2. Take Care of UX and UI
One of the first things players will notice about your game is how user-friendly it is.
For the most part, this refers to your game’s user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).
A well-done UI gives players all the information they need while making it easy for them to get around.
In the first session, it’s especially important to make navigating as simple as possible. If players get confused by this, you will very likely lose them.
All the information you display on the screen should be easy to access, and the menus should be easily understandable. No one should have to read the guidelines to figure out your game’s interface.
All of this affects the user experience.
Some other things that affect the UX are bugs, crashes, and long loading screens.
Moreover, players hate it when they can’t immediately exit or skip if they don’t care about something. For example, introductory cutscenes or a video. These kinds of features need to be skippable.
During FTUE, Evermerge shows players all the characters they will unlock in the future.
3. Show Players What Makes Your Game Great
During the first-time user experience, you need to showcase the value of your game.
Does it have breathtaking graphics, unique characters, innovative gameplay, or an immersive theme?
Within the first couple of minutes, the players should understand what makes your game worth their time.
In this phase, you shouldn’t focus on explaining your whole game and all of its mechanics.
This is a big no-no.
Instead, you should be focusing on the basic mechanics and what makes your game exciting and attractive. Among other things, you need to teach players how to play the game.
Besides this, you can use it to show players some of the things they will unlock in the future (e.g., cool new characters or weapons)
Showing the value of your game early on is important for all types of games.
However, there is one type of game where this is especially important. Those are the games based on tried-and-true mechanics.
Let’s say you have a merge game.
Players know that your merge game is just one out of many on the market. For this reason, you need to show them what sets your game apart from the others right away. If this doesn’t happen immediately, the chances are — it will be too late.
An early game plot in Project Makeover.
3. If Possible, Start with a Narrative
One of the most effective ways to immerse players into a game is by delivering them a story.
Generally, people like narratives. Everyone can understand them, and they can spark curiosity and excitement.
A good narrative has the power to hook players on the game. To achieve this, a lot of games start things off with some kind of unexpected, early game plot.
The plot should make players wonder — what’s going to happen next? Of course, the only way to find out is to keep playing the game.
The narrative also gives purpose to everything players are about to do. For example, if they are about to get a match-3 tutorial, the narrative will explain WHY they should do it.
4. Make the Tutorial Worthwhile
The tutorial is one of the first things new players see in a game. It is also the crucial part of a great first-time user experience.
When introducing players to the tutorial, it’s very important not to lose them. These players didn’t even have the chance to try out what they came for.
The players should NEVER perceive the tutorial as a barrier.
Instead, the tutorial experience should be interactive, understandable, fun, and rewarding.
While engaging with the tutorial, the players should feel successful. The thing is — players respond well to positive reinforcement.
To achieve this, you can use the tutorial phase to give out the beginning stash of rewards. For example, premium currency players can use and try out. In the players’ eyes, doing something like this makes you look generous.
Archero is one of many games that utilize the contextual lesson type of tutorial.
5. Find Balance between Guidance and Exploration
In some games, the developers guide players all the way through the first session.
In others, players have more freedom to explore the game.
These are the two main approaches to designing a first-time user experience. Both of these approaches have their benefits, and neither is perfect.
It’s only logical to adjust the level of guidance to your game’s genre.
If your game has simple mechanics (e.g., match-3), players don’t need a lot of guidance. When it comes to more complex games (e.g., strategy), a higher level of guidance is usually welcome.
Believe it or not, there is one type of tutorial that fits both of these types of games — the contextual lesson.
In this type of tutorial, the game teaches players how to play and react in different situations throughout the gameplay. With it, you can guide players through the necessary moments only, not all the way through.
In simpler games, the guidance will only be needed throughout the first couple of minutes. In more complex games, the instructions will keep popping up for a while.
The contextual lesson is generally well-accepted by players. This is because players don’t like lengthy, condescending lectures. They prefer learning by participating and interacting.
Personalization in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.
6. Let Players Express Their Personalities
When you first meet someone, you usually ask them about their name. If you really want to get to know them, you ask more questions about them. It’s common courtesy.
The same can be applied to mobile games.
In the first-time user experience, you can ask players to tell you something about themselves.
You can achieve this by offering them customization options early in the game. For instance, crafting an avatar, choosing a character, sharing a nickname, or designing something.
These actions can help form an emotional attachment between a player and the game. If this happens, you can expect a jump in retention and engagement metrics.
7. Don’t Make Things Boring
In FTUE, it’s generally recommended to make things simple and make winning easy.
But is there such a thing as too simple and too easy?
The thing is — players always look for excitement. If your game fails to deliver it, they won’t feel the need to continue playing it.
You can deliver excitement in different ways, depending on your game type. For example, by facing players with choices, allowing them to make decisions, or creating an illusion of challenging levels.
All of these things can keep players hyped about the game. A clever gameplay design should make players feel like they won thanks to their skills or choices. When in reality, this was exactly your goal all along.
8. Track the Right Metrics
The only way to know if your game’s FTUE is any good is by observing and analyzing metrics.
But do you know which metrics you should be tracking exactly?
It’s pretty obvious you need to look into day one retention and churn rates. However, there’s more to it than that.
You need to observe FTUE like a user journey.
In this journey, some players drop out even before they reach the tutorial. At this point, players usually churn because the game is crashing or they’re experiencing long load times.
Next, you need to be tracking tutorial metrics. As I mentioned earlier, the tutorial is a huge part of FTUE.
To keep track of how players act in the tutorial, you should create a tutorial funnel. You can do this by creating events for different steps in the tutorial. These events represent the target actions you want players to make.
By observing the funnel, you will be able to detect the main flaws of your tutorial. For instance, you may notice a lot of players dropping off at a particular step.
According to DeltaDNA’s analysis of multiple games, nearly 20% of players don’t even complete the first quest in the tutorial. You need to do everything to minimize this number.
Some other FTUE metrics you should be tracking are game economy metrics like taps and sinks.
A tap is where a mobile game resource comes from. For example, a level completion reward is a source of in-game currency. On the other hand, sinks are all the places where players can spend resources, i.e., currency.
Of course, you shouldn’t be expecting players to spend money on their first-time user experience. However, you need to make sure that your in-game economy is in the proper balance early in the game.
Tasks feature in Merge Mansion.
9. Utilize the Power of Goals
Once players finish the tutorial, they will have more freedom to explore the game further.
However, you shouldn’t encourage them to wander around. Instead, create a structure to keep the players engaged during their first session.
You can do this by designing open loops.
Open loops consist of setting up goals and rewards for achieving them. After players finish the first loop, they are up for a second, third, and fourth.
Each next loop should last longer than the one before. Plus, everyone should be able to finish the loops as long as they invest some time. At this point, succeeding shouldn’t depend on the players’ skills too much.
Some examples of open loops are challenges, tasks, and quests. All of these are actually goals you want your players to achieve.
Why does this work?
Because of human psychology. Generally, people like to complete tasks they are working on at the moment.
All of this comes with a cherry on top — a reward. This gives the task full purpose and motivates players to proceed to the next one.
Open loops are something you can measure. No — they are something you need to measure.
Just like you would track a tutorial funnel, you can track a goal funnel. To do this, create events based on the goals you want players to complete. When analyzing, watch for actions players complete faster or slower than expected.
Examples of Games with a Great First-Time User Experience
Games from different genres deliver different first-time user experiences. However, a lot of things are done the same way.
Let’s take a look at two games that do a great job at onboarding their players.
First Time User Experience in June’s Journey
This game by Wooga is the market leader among hidden object games. The games in this subgenre typically don’t get high day one retention.
For this reason, they need to put a lot of effort into the players’ first-time user experience. Here’s how they do it.
When players first launch June’s Journey, they experience a not-to-long screen loading time.
During this time, the players get to see the game’s protagonist and get short hints on how to play the game. This is a common practice utilized by a lot of mobile games.
What makes it good?
With it, you give players a sense of what your game is about. Besides this, you make the loading screen more interesting. Sure, a lot of players won’t read these hints, but for those who do, it’s definitely better than the word “loading”.
I was analyzing the game in December, so there were also snowflakes flying around the loading screen.
A nice customization touch.
Next up, players can choose between two options — playing as a guest or logging in with a social media account. They are not forced to do anything, which is a good call. Upon clicking the play button, the game begins.
One of the main attributes of this hidden objects game is its storyline.
For this reason, the developers of June’s Journey immediately try to hook players with an immersing story.
It comes in the form of cut scenes and brings a family story from a hundred years ago. This is not just any story — it’s a murder story. In it, the players meet June, the main character, and find out why they need to play the game — to solve the murder mystery.
This narrative is designed to make players emotionally involved, but also to give meaning to their actions.
Later on, the story continues through the players’ sessions to help them stay invested.
Tutorial & Gameplay
After engaging with the story, it’s time for players to engage with the game’s core — solving hidden object scenes.
It’s really simple to understand this game’s mechanics, and at Wooga, they are aware of that. For this reason, the game explains to players the bare minimum to get them started.
There is also not much for players to learn about the game’s features. The whole experience is logical and intuitive.
However, the game does introduce players to the in-game market. This is a subtle intro to the game’s economy.
To get players started, the game awards players with plenty of currency, and they don’t feel anything lacking.
Overall, the first session in this game is a very positive experience for players. They get to try out the game’s currencies and enjoy gameplay to the fullest. At the same time, the gameplay is challenging enough to keep things interesting.
First Time User Experience in AFK Arena
AFK Arena is a successful RPG game. According to Sensor Tower, this game retains 53% of players on their first day of playing, beating the averages for top RPG games.
Based on this, the developers are obviously doing something right. Let’s find out what.
Mid-core games almost always come with additional resources to download. For this reason, players expect longer loading times. Sometimes, they are so long that they need to put their phones away.
In AFK Arena, this is not the case. This game doesn’t have heavy graphics that require long downloads. Hence, the players don’t spend too much time on the loading screen.
For players, this is definitely a plus. The sooner they can dive into playing, the better.
During the loading time, this game also delivers hints for playing. However, it combines it with download info, so players can get a clear picture of how long all this will take.
AFK Arena is another game that utilizes the power of storytelling.
Here, the story appears in the form of a cinematic video. The video brings an immersive fantasy story about an ancient evil that has awakened.
This gives players a compelling motive to play the game — fighting evil forces. Let’s be real, everyone likes to feel like a superhero doing a good deed.
Most importantly, the video is skippable. Therefore, the players who aren’t interested in the story can head right to gameplay.
Tutorial & Gameplay
After the intro phase, players need to pass a forced tutorial. It appears within gameplay as a contextual lesson.
At the start, this game tells players exactly what they need to do next. Why? This game isn’t so simple that players can figure it out themselves quickly.
In their first battle, players learn the basics of combat. There is no chance of them doing anything wrong, so it always ends with a victory. The second battle is also mandatory, and it teaches players some additional skills. No matter how they play it, players will also win this one.
Soon after, they get notified they successfully leveled up.
This early level up is something that players should perceive as — “Hey, keep playing, you’re already making progress.”
As a part of the tutorial, players need to play two more guided battles. They also need to visit certain sections and learn to do important things like upgrading heroes.
Naturally, some players won’t like how the game “forces” them to make certain actions.
However, the majority of them don’t mind this. The players are aware that this isn’t a casual game that they can learn how to play in a minute’s time.
The tutorial phase doesn’t last longer than five minutes. Once it’s done, players can independently play the game.
If they explore the game’s features, they will find its “quest” section. This is an open loop — a list of goals players need to complete to earn rewards. When they visit it for the first time, the first rewards will already wait to be claimed. This way, the game makes the first session feel rewarding.
Overall, this game provides players with an informative and enjoyable first-time user experience. In it, players can enjoy the gameplay and explore the game. At this point, they don’t have to think about things like in-app purchases and how to progress to the next level.
First Time User Experience: Over to You
This is it. These are the basics of building a great first-time user experience for mobile gamers.
Have any thoughts or questions? Leave us a comment below!
Since 2018, Udonis Inc. has acquired over 150 million users for mobile apps & games. We’re recognized as a leading mobile marketing agency by 5 major marketing review firms. We helped over 20 mobile apps & games reach the top charts. Want to know how we make it look so effortless? Meet us to find out!