I learned a lot from Realm of the Mad God, a web-based MMO game that was recently released. The key takeaway was that they looked at other MMOs in the market, such as World of Warcraft, and identified barriers to entry/play. They then systematically removed them. For instance:
- No sign up. Click "play" and you're automatically given a mage and put into the tutorial level.
- In-game tutorial: as you move and click around, the game overlays what to do next (very reminiscent of the first level of Braid) until you've completed the tutorial, at which point it transfers you to the main hub and you can do whatever you want.
- Teleport to any player at any time. In most MMOs, teleporting is considered a privilege. In Realm of the Mad God, it's instant and available at any time to make it supereasy to play with your friends.
Realm of the Mad God's first-time user experience is incredible and the game's design goals are explained in more depth in a post by Daniel Cook, one of the game designers.
I worry about first-time UX a lot because my product is a technical tool which conceptually introduces a high barrier to entry. As such, we've been making changes aimed at improving the experience for new users (some inspired by Realm of the Mad God). Here are some of the things we're experimenting with:
- Remove sign up. Signing up is a barrier because I have to go through the process of creating an account and then (usually) checking my email to validate that I'm a real person. We got rid of this by putting our app in the Chrome Web Store and then integrating with Google oAuth. Now people just click "install", then click the app, and they're in.
- Get to the point. Early on, after signing up you would be presented with a welcome screen showing you some things you could do and explaining how the app works. We removed it and now immediately send you straight into the editor. Why? Because no amount of talking about it can be as valuable as trying it yourself.
- Step by step guides and short-term goals. When you sign up, you get dumped in an editor. Great, we removed the other barriers. But you're still staring at an editor and there may not be much to go on if you're not the creative type. We give you 3 seconds to take this in, and then we pop open a guide widget that tells you what to click on next. You can keep clicking through this, increasing your completeness meter and following our steps, until you feel like you know what's going on. (We also attempt to seduce you into completing the steps by offering you a surprise if you do them all.)
- Take a moment to ask how they're doing. Once you complete that first guide, which consists of 7 such micro steps, we take you to a different screen and show you your reward (in this case, a free prototype which you wouldn't have access to otherwise). This is also the moment we ask you how things are going. Users can leave feedback by typing in a textarea and hitting "unlock my free prototype" (we took care in labeling this call to action as something they want to do rather than something we want them to do). They can also share the app with friends from this screen, although we don't focus much on it. Feedback from this has been 99% positive with a large number of people being extremely positive about it, which indicates that we're successfully filtering people who find value in the tool by having this first-time process in place.