A question to game developers: Why live with friction?
I recently sat across the table from about a dozen games industry leaders. These are the folks who built many of your most exciting games experiences of the last 20 years. We were there to discuss how we can keep players engaged, and the topic ended up swirling around friction, and specifically: how much friction can we solve?
To be clear, when we talk about friction, we mean anything that stands in the way of players playing. This could include things as complex as skill trees, as necessary as forcing them to enter payment details, and as seemingly innocuous as a play button, i.e. one developer suspected their play button was causing attrition at the start of the game. They removed it and jumped players right into the game… and immediately saw a 10% jump in retention.
Here’s what you need to understand from the outset: some friction is awful, and unfixable; Some friction is avoidable, but beneficial to your business. There’s also a whole other class of friction that is avoidable, and benefits no one. Not you, not the player. That’s what I call "stupid friction." It shouldn’t be there and can be fixed. Some folks admit that they just don’t get around to dealing with it, others recognize that they’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of problems there are to contend with. That’s why I suggest you slow down and categorize your friction.
It helps to use a simple system for prioritizing. I look at friction against two basic measures:
Start with the friction you want. At the very least you remove it from your triage list. This may be friction that results from having a difficult game, in the case where your audience likes that. This is friction, but you don’t want to “fix” it. It’s there for a good reason. It might be something as essential as requiring login or payment info for DLC or upgrades. That may not be the most fun friction, but it’s vital to your business. You want to balance this kind of friction, and make sure the benefit outweighs the cost to the player.
The next type of friction to review is the unavoidable friction. This might be a hardware limitation, a legal screen or a partner logo. These are the cost of doing business if you want to be available on a particular device, region, or dependent on a specific partner agreement. It may not help the players or make you more money, but it’s probably a fact of life for the particular market you’re pursuing. You want to mitigate this type of friction as much as possible, while understanding it won’t entirely go away.
The key point of friction I obsess about is the next set: avoidable, harmful friction. It doesn’t save you money, it isn’t required by law, it doesn’t create a better experience for players, it doesn’t increase profit. That’s STUPID and wasteful friction. You should eliminate it altogether. No one is asking you to keep it.
This kind of friction is usually the result of poorly executed design, writing or technology. Think about the last game you played that really turned you off. A game that wasn’t necessarily bad, but felt a bit like work to play. Maybe the tutorial was painfully long and dull. Maybe the options screen was a mess of barely distinguishable choices. Maybe the load time between levels (or at startup) was so long you forgot you were playing a game and started to read the ads on the subway instead. These are all instances of wasteful friction that has to be fixed. Even if you have the most beautifully illustrated characters, with an addictive gameplay hook, and a well established brand, these kinds of friction ARE costing you money, and upsetting your players.
We’ve always been focused on reducing friction. It’s what our entire business is based on. At some point in the near future, players will expect wait times of 0 seconds. Right now, some games are delivering wait times of several hours for an install or an update, and load times of 2 minutes for each level. Even worse, some games go down for days on end because of unexpected outages and attacks. We understand you have a lot on your plate, but can you really afford to leave these friction points unfixed?
Visit the Akamai Games Developer resource center at Akamai.com/games to learn how to put your plans into action.