Games for a 10% Attention Span: Why this Matters

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.

January 05 2009 06:20 pm | Game Design

6 Responses to “Games for a 10% Attention Span: Why this Matters”

  1. David on 06 Jan 2009 at 10:57 pm #

    > 60% home use, 20 min avg play time, 1/3 play daily.

    Interesting study! I think you’re conclusion is dead-on. It’s a reminder of something important we keep seeing with the most successful web apps– Never underestimate the importance of convenience. People are willing to trade away features and power in order to get convenience and accessibility. Posterous vs WordPress, Craigslist vs Ebay, texting vs e-mail, Twitter vs blogging. There’s a lot of value in keeping something simple and accessible.

  2. KG on 07 Jan 2009 at 7:22 pm #

    I think there was something similar done for the casual download space too, although I can’t seem to find the study. But yeah, accessible isn’t just about the UI, it’s about convenience.

  3. Parade of Rain » Blog Archive » GUI Design and Easing Functions on 13 Sep 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    […] Either way, trying to get that good first impression on the user is very important. In addition to that, reducing the friction required to play your mobile game could possibly raise the game up beyond “I have nothing better to do” status and overtake other forms of gaming. […]

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  6. Games for a 10% Attention Span: Why this Matters — Point Line Square on 11 Jun 2012 at 4:27 am #

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

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