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Games for a 10% Attention Span: Why this Matters — Point Line Square

Games for a 10% Attention Span: Why this Matters

January 5th, 2009 — 4:24pm

This short essay was first posted to my original blog on Jan 5, 2009.

My original post last summer about Games for a 10% Attention Span generated a fair amount of complimentary feedback from friends and colleagues, but also came with a number of questions. Most of those revolved around existing titles that might fit the bill;  the rest can be summed up as “so?”

I’ll address existing titles in future posts. Today I want to talk about the relevance question, particularly from a consumer adoption standpoint. For that I’m going to turn to some research done in the mobile game sector.

Several studies were done on consumer play habits in the mobile space a few years back, by companies such as Nokia, In-Fusio and (what was then) Sorrent. At the time, many of us in the space assumed consumers played mobile games when they had no other entertainment options available:  at the bus stop, on the subway, waiting for your dentist, etc. Given the availability of cable TV, the web or an Xbox, people would turn to those instead.

What they found was very different. Of those that played mobile games:

  • About 60% played at home.
  • Average play sessions were roughly 20 minutes, with a subset exceeding that by a fair amount (in the Sorrent study, up to 2 hours).
  • Roughly a third played every day.

Now these are games built to be played in very short chunks of time, maybe five minutes, tops.  They’re typically light affairs, without a lot of depth.   So why would anyone pick them up at all when they’re at home, with more compelling experiences at their disposal?

The studies above don’t address that.  But my takeaway is that these games are:

  • Accessible:  The most accessible product is more likely to garner consumer attention, not the richest or deepest.  Mobile games are the kings of accessibility (at least, good ones are).  Shoot, every design I ever wrote for a mobile game included a section on how many key presses it would take to start playing the game, and whether you’d have to move your thumb at all during that process.
  • Commitment Friendly:  Consumers probably didn’t sit down thinking they were going to play for 20 minutes (or more).  The likely turned to the mobile game because they could get in faster and be done in a couple minutes.  They just wound up playing again and again.

Consumers were facing the friction of playing something else and went for the mobile game instead.  It may sound trivial to go find the Halo 3 disc, turn on the Xbox, turn on the TV, find the controller and/or remote, and then assume you’ll have a good 20 – 30 minutes to play, but that’s an eternity compared to a mobile game.  And in a world of media overload and scarce attention, a game that asks less of the consumer has a greater opportunity to gain traction.

Now there are other problems with how the mobile game business works.  But the premise is still sound, and it applies to any game, mobile or not.  Games with a flexible attention requirement reduce friction:  the friction to try, the friction to keep playing and the friction to come back. Less friction means more consumers will try and stay with the game.  And consumers who play longer offer more opportunities to generate revenue;  their lifetime value increases.

Next time I’ll tackle an asynchronous web game that almost – but not quite – fits the flexible attention model.

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