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10 first-time user experience tips for games
Understand the importance of onboarding in your game and get 10 practical tips for engaging new players.

Why is the first-time user experience important?

The first-time user experience (FTUE) is crucial for player retention. This onboarding phase should provide a solid overview of your core gameplay loop, engage and reward players, and ultimately, make them want to return for another session. At minimum, the FTUE must:

  1. Teach players the game’s rules
  2. Show players how to use different features and engage with gameplay mechanics
  3. Convince players the game is worth their time

No matter how good a game is, if players don’t leave the FTUE understanding the three points above, they’ll probably churn.

Tip 1: Introduce mechanics gradually
Tip 1: Introduce mechanics gradually

The very first thing players interact with should be your most engaging gameplay mechanic. Take them straight to what drew them to your game in the first place, and help them find the fun quickly. This could be your game’s core loop or your broader meta-game.

A good step-by-step tutorial introduces game mechanics incrementally. Your goal is to build understanding without overwhelming the player. The image above shows an example tutorial structure for a puzzle game. Note that it takes a full six levels to introduce the core gameplay loop. When designing your own tutorial, build in as many steps as you think players will need to fully grasp your gameplay loop.

Unlocking new features should also be a gradual process. Prioritize engagement with the core loop before inviting players to explore other areas of the game. Use breadcrumbs to help avoid information overload and reduce friction during the FTUE.

Tip 2: Use visual cues
Tip 2: Use visual cues

Ideally, the tutorial will do most of the work of familiarizing players with your game. However, some players may skip it completely, while others might need further reinforcement, especially if your game features complex or novel mechanics.

Adding visual reminders like pop-ups or tooltips to your game can extend player onboarding beyond the tutorial. Loading screens are a good place to share tips and refreshers on core mechanics without interrupting gameplay.

Tip 3: Track players during onboarding

Look at your player data to understand what’s happening during the FTUE. When you understand how players are engaging with your early-game content, you can make informed adjustments to optimize their experience and keep them playing.

To get started:

  • Create a funnel following the steps of your tutorial to identify drop-off points.
  • Analyze completion rate and time to completion for early levels and missions.
  • Take stock of sinks and sources of in-game resources (lives, energy, currency, items, etc.). This can help you understand if players have too many or too few resources in the early stage of the game, and what impact that might have on retention and churn.

Visit our Analytics documentation to explore built-in events and learn how to add your own custom event tracking.

Tip 4: Perform qualitative analysis

Qualitative analysis can help you understand why players leave during the FTUE. Maybe your early levels are too hard to complete? Maybe your tutorial didn’t provide enough information about an important mechanic?

Consider future analyses when planning out player onboarding. Make sure to track each tutorial step and implement event tracking that covers level and mission completion rates – not just for the FTUE, but across the entire game. Consider adding resource counts to your event parameters to better understand the health of your in-game economy.

Tip 5: Avoid ads

Serving ads too early can disrupt onboarding and aggravate players, increasing churn. Incentivizing early conversion might seem tempting, but remember that players may not yet see the value of your offer at this stage in the journey. Showing timed offers immediately suggests that resources might not be readily available later, which provides a poor first impression.

Tip: You can still show offers and starter packs on day one, but save it for the end of the session.

Tip 6: Give out free items
Tip 6: Give out free items

Giving out free items during the FTUE can make the experience feel more rewarding. It also helps players get accustomed to the idea of spending real money, especially when tied to a good tutorial. For example, to show the value of an in-game item, try introducing players to a difficult level and then give them an item that makes it easier.

Other rewards to increase player retention during the FTUE might include:

  • Free currency to skip time-gating or purchase more opportunities to try again
  • Free boost items to accelerate progression
  • Special weapons to defeat challenging enemies
Tip 7: Tailor the difficulty
Tip 7: Tailor the difficulty

First play sessions should be memorable, and one way to do that is to start at a low level of difficulty. When players are winning, they tend to play more. Ramp up the challenge slowly to keep players engaged while limiting the risk of frustration and churn.

If players do fail an early mission, consider powering them up for the next try. Making players feel powerful by giving them super-powered items, unlimited moves/resources, or no time limit can help them push back that initial disappointment, and give them a taste for the premium items they could purchase later.

Tip 8: Start A/B testing
Tip 8: Start A/B testing

When you make any significant change to your game, whether it’s to gameplay or your in-game economy, you should A/B test the variables you’re modifying to ensure your change is performing as intended. Consider using player segmentation to run experiments with a small subset of users before rolling out changes to your wider playerbase.

Create an override to set specific difficulty levels for new users, or reduce ad frequency for specific players. Try segmenting first-time users into different buckets like skilled, mid-level, and inexperienced. Other segmentation variables include level and mission completion rates, time to completion, and number of items used.

Tip 9: Map out progression
Tip 9: Map out progression

During the FTUE, try to show the player how much content there is to unlock, and give them a clear path to get there.

Whether your game has a meta-game or not, giving players a visual representation of their progress is a good way to encourage repeat sessions. During session one, give the player achievable goals and an idea of how they factor into overall progression. For example:

  • A level-based game with no meta can show players a map with levels, rewards, and features they can unlock along the way.

If possible, consider showing a friend’s progression alongside the player’s using leaderboards. Adding a competitive aspect is a good way to boost both player engagement and retention.

Tip 10: End on a milestone

It’s good practice to show players that they’re working towards a goal they can achieve in a single gameplay session. Milestones provide an opportunity to stop playing at a convenient time while ending the session on a high note. They also have the added benefit of preventing players from burning through content too quickly. Here are some examples:

  • A role-playing game could let players finish their first area and boss in their first session.
  • A puzzle game could reward players with an item after they complete three puzzles.
Recap and next steps

In this guide, we shared practical tips to give players a great first-time user experience. To optimize your FTUE and give players a positive lasting impression, consider:

Engaging players immediately with your core gameplay loop and introducing new mechanics gradually

Adding visual cues to reinforce key information

Tracking player progress during onboarding

Performing qualitative analysis

Avoiding offers or ads

Giving away freebies

Starting with a low difficulty level

A/B testing the player journey

Showing players what content they can unlock, and providing a clear path to do so

Ending the FTUE with an accomplishment

Next steps

Unity can also help you improve your FTUE with products like Unity Analytics and Player Engagement so you can analyze, A/B test, and segment players in the FTUE.

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