For Zynga, success lies in the first three clicks

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus

Everyone knows that socially, good first impressions are very important. So it makes sense that companies dealing in social media — such as social gaming giant Zynga — are finding that the first few moments a user interacts with their digital products are similarly crucial for their long-term success.

Zynga aspires to make all its games pass what the company calls the “three click” test: Making games that people can enjoy and get hooked on within the first three clicks of the mouse. According to Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, that is all the time a first-time user will give to a game before deciding whether it’s a keeper. He explained it like this at Tuesday’s Zynga Unleashed event:

“We believe in those first three clicks, you decide whether or not you want to check out more of it. In the uber-casual place that we all exist in now, it’s a three click deal. We either sold you or we didn’t.”

The focus on the first three clicks is part of making sure the first time user experience — which Zynga internally calls the FTUE (pronounced “fit-oo-ee”) — is the best and smoothest it can possibly be. “We spend months and months on the FTUE. You’d be amazed at what goes into it,” Pincus said. “We’re sensitive to the fact that we can’t ask for more than 15 minutes of your time.” But, he added, Zynga has learned that if people enjoy those first 15 minutes, they will often willingly give it hours and hours of their time in the future.

Essentially, Zynga’s three click rule is the opposite of the modernist screenwriting strategy — outlined in the Jonathan Franzen novel The Corrections — of inserting a narrative “hump” in the beginning of a film, which is a relatively boring segment meant to highlight the excitement that comes later. That might work for a captive audience of moviegoers who have already paid for their tickets; but the fact is that in today’s increasingly attention-deficit-disordered online world, users want to see the good stuff upfront. It looks like if new social apps and games want to be successful, they should work on polishing their first impressions.