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  • Derya Dinç

Types of Game Openings: Capturing Players' Attention in a Competitive Market

In today's fiercely competitive gaming market, making a strong first impression can determine the success of your game. With approximately 1,200 new games being released each month, it can be challenging to make your game stand out. This is especially important for Generation Alpha, born after 2010, 94% of whom are gamers. For them, gaming holds a more significant place than television, social media, or digital streaming platforms. However, this player profile differs significantly from those game developers are accustomed to.


Previous generations often stick to specific platforms or game genres. It’s rare to see PC gamers on mobile platforms or vice versa. However, the gaming habits of Generation Alpha are more diverse. Their average weekly gaming time of seven hours is split across various platforms and games, playing between five to ten different games each week. This means that game developers face greater challenges in capturing and retaining players' attention.


According to Steamcharts, around 37% of games purchased on Steam are played for less than an hour. High competition is one reason, but the increasingly diverse preferences of young players also play a role. So, what do you do if you only have a few minutes to capture the attention of millions of players? Your game’s opening is your most powerful weapon in distinguishing it from the competition.


Different Approaches to Game Introductions

Starting with the Story

Providing players with the game's story and universe details at the very beginning can aid in world-building and establishing a detailed and rich narrative context.


Advantages

  • Emotional Connection: Starting with the story allows players to quickly form an emotional connection with the characters. When players understand a character's backstory and motivations from the beginning, they are more likely to invest emotionally in the character's journey. This emotional connection can encourage players to stay engaged in the game, as they care about the story's developments and outcomes. For example, in The Last of Us, players are immediately drawn to Joel's tragic past, setting the emotional tone for the entire game.


  • Motivation: Clear goals and expectations are set from the start, which can motivate players to advance the story. When players understand their role and the stakes in the game's narrative, they are more motivated to complete the story. For instance, in Final Fantasy VII, the introduction of Cloud's mission and the threat posed by Sephiroth early on gives players a clear understanding of their objectives and the challenges ahead.

Disadvantages

  • Information Overload: Providing too many details all at once, especially in complex universes, can overwhelm players. When a game starts with an extensive backstory or a long cinematic, players may struggle to retain all the information, leading to confusion and disengagement. For instance, Destiny was criticized for its complex narrative not being well-integrated into the game, causing some players to disconnect from the story.

  • Pacing Issues: Long opening cinematics or extensive explanations can disrupt the game's flow, making players feel like they are watching a movie rather than playing a game. This can lead to impatience and frustration, especially for players eager to get into the action. This is also seen in mobile games with autoplay features. For example, Kingdom Hearts II was criticized for its lengthy opening sequence, which caused some players to lose interest before the main gameplay began.

Starting Without the Story

Some games drop players directly into the game world without providing any initial information, relying on players' curiosity to discover the story. The Dark Souls series and The Legend of Zelda are good examples of this approach.


Advantages

  • Enhanced Exploration: This style of opening encourages players to discover the story on their own, making the gaming experience more engaging. This approach allows players to piece together the narrative through various clues and environmental details, leading to a greater sense of satisfaction and achievement. For instance, Hollow Knight offers minimal initial explanation, allowing players to uncover the history and story of Hallownest through exploration and encounters, enhancing the sense of mystery and discovery.



  • Immersion: As players actively seek out and piece together story elements, they feel more immersed in the world. This can create a deeper connection to the game environment and characters, as players feel like they are genuinely part of the world they are discovering. For example, Subnautica drops players into an alien ocean world with little information, relying on their urge to explore to uncover the story, enhancing the feeling of being the sole survivor in an unknown environment.

Disadvantages

  • Potential Confusion: Avoiding initial information can lead to confusion and frustration for some players. Without a clear starting point or goal, players may struggle to understand what they need to do, leading to disengagement. For instance, the Dark Souls games have a steep learning curve and provide minimal guidance, which can be intimidating for new players unfamiliar with the gameplay mechanics and narrative style.

  • Learning Curve: Understanding game mechanics and objectives can be more challenging without context. Players may need to spend more time figuring out how the game works, which can be frustrating for those who prefer a more straightforward introduction. For example, The Witness offers no initial explanation of its mechanics or puzzles, requiring players to learn through trial and error, which can be challenging and potentially discouraging for some.


Finding the Right Balance

Choosing the right approach depends on your game's genre and target audience. For some games, a detailed introduction to the world and characters is essential, while others benefit from a more open-ended start that encourages player exploration.


Hybrid Approaches

Some games provide enough information without overwhelming players while leaving room for exploration. Horizon Zero Dawn begins with a short narrative introducing the game world and the main character, Aloy, but allows the player to discover the rest of the story throughout the game. Similarly, BioShock starts with a plane crash, placing the player in the underwater city of Rapture, leaving it up to the player to uncover the city's secrets and piece together the story.



Advantages

  • Balance: This approach provides enough information at the start while preserving the elements of discovery. It can satisfy players who enjoy detailed narratives and those who prefer to uncover the story themselves. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt uses an opening cinematic to introduce the main characters and conflicts but allows players to learn more about the world and backstory through quests and exploration.


  • Maintaining Interest: This approach encourages players to explore more about the story and world. Balancing the information provided in the introduction with open-ended exploration keeps players engaged and invested in the game. Red Dead Redemption 2 introduces the main story and characters early on but allows players to explore the world and engage in side quests, creating a balance that maintains high levels of interest.


Disadvantages

  • Complexity: Finding the right balance can be challenging. It requires careful design and research to ensure the correct pacing and information delivery. If not done well, it can lead to confusion or loss of interest among players. For instance, Destiny 2 initially struggled to balance narrative and gameplay. Players felt that the story elements were not well integrated into the overall game experience, causing confusion and frustration.


Conclusion

Choosing how to start your game can significantly impact player interest and retention. Understanding your target audience and the nature of your game will help you decide whether to provide a detailed story upfront or allow players to discover the story throughout the game. Carefully considering how to introduce your game can create a memorable first impression that captures players' attention and encourages them to delve deeper into your game world. Balancing these elements can help create a captivating and immersive experience that draws players into your game world and keeps them coming back.

 

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