It's not about what you do, it's about how you present it. People love pretty things and well designed things even if it's lipstick on a pig. For a user or a consumer a product is all about the experience, which means that the focus isn't on the product but on how the user perceives their time being spent using it. That's the important part.
With the pseudo-theory and cliches out the way, the reason for this post is to serve as a reminder that packaging can make or break a product regardless of whether it's any good. Recently I made what is essentially a rock-paper-scissors-spock-lizard game on top of a mobile platform. There are roughly 30 to 40 games available where the top game has just under 100,000 players and the 30th has about 10,000 or so, so essentially the player stats follow a power law curve. I spent about a few hours of roughly 3 days making it and released it into the wild.
Two and a half weeks later with no real additional development on it the game, my experiment seems to have given me some answers. There have been around 265,000 page views with each visit garnering around 14.25 pages per visit. The bounce rate is only 27.95% and the average game time is 92 minutes. One things to note is that users generally play, then tab over to chat, then come back to play so the average game time may be a bit of a red herring.
The rock-paper-scissors game was branded as Battle Creatures and the 5 play options are Zombie, Ninja, Robot, Vampire, Pirate. To date over 92,000 "battles" have been played and the only form of gamification is that there is a leaderboard showing the top 10 users (that gets reset every day). The game goes like this: you start a new battle, you choose one of the 5 characters, the "computer" chooses a random opponent and you either win, draw or lose getting 1, 0, or -1 points respectively. That is the extent of the gameplay.
To package it, there is a rules page with some creative descriptions of rank, for instance why a pirate can beat a ninja, and every battle outcome page has a one-liner of commentary telling users how the battle went (the line is randomly chosen from about 20 available for commentary). This is no empirical study and no solid conclusions can be drawn from it, but my idea is that letting 9,200 users let their imaginations be tantalized by cute narratives for what is essentially a coin-flip game goes to show that packaging really does matter. To close off, some person played over 1,500 games to get to the top of the leaderboard at 70-odd points after 5 days before I changed the score-resetting period. What are your thoughts?