Late last year, there was this interesting tidbit on the story of Playground Games, the company behind the popular open-world racing video game series Forza Horizon, and 2016’s Forza Horizon 3. It was revealed during a talk at the Nordic Games Conference that Playground spent 18 months of the two-year development cycle continually going over and polishing the first 10 minutes of the game. 18 months of work for only 10 minutes of playtime isn’t exactly proportional, is it?
Forza Horizon 3 isn’t the only video game to do this, 2009’s Uncharted 2 also pulled off a similar trick. Instead of easing players into the game, Uncharted 2 tasks you immediately tasks you to guide Nathan Drake, the main character of the series, to escape from a derailed train over a cliff in the Himalayas, which chronologically happens later in the game, a storytelling technique referred to as in medias res, dropping players literally in the middle of things. This practice of starting your video game with a bang is actually something the world of web development could definitely take a page out of.
The perfect opening salvo
What Playground Games did with Forza Horizon 3 might seem a little bit excessive but it works. Horizon 3 was my first entry into the series but I had a passing familiarity with the series so I had an idea of what I was getting into but the opening of the game still blew me away. I distinctly remember oohing and aahing and practically giggling to myself as I drove past some of Australia’s landmarks (the Maroondah Dam, the Glass House Mountains and the Twelve Apostles to name a few), first in an exotic Lamborghini and then literally off the beaten path in a trophy truck.
The reason Playground did what they did isn’t just because of some random quirk, it’s because the cliche of people judging book by their covers is for the most part true. Roger Ailes, former CEO of the television arm of Fox, who was responsible for turning the Fox News channel into little more than a mouthpiece for the current American administration once famously stated that you have seven seconds to make a good first impression.
The seven seconds is far from being a scientific truth but I do think it’s true that there’s only a very limited window of time that you could nail this impression. If we transplant this idea into the internet, then the burden of giving out this first impression lands on the shoulder of the homepage. Just like how Playground spent three-quarters of their allotted time into perfecting the 10 minutes of their game, you should also prioritize the development of your homepage as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of your website and here are 4 tips you could use as a guideline.
Emphasize your value offering
Instead of putting you on the seat of a crappy little hatchback, Horizon 3 gave you a taste of the Lamborghini Centenario right at the start of the game and gave you a route that takes you to some of the greatest vistas the game has to offer before switching into a trophy truck to show you that if the route isn’t to your liking, you’re free to make one of your own. In the first 10 minutes, the game managed to successfully convey how much fun I’d be having in the version of Australia that they’ve cooked up in their game, which is no small feat.
By the same token, your homepage should make it clear just what it is that sets you apart from similar companies in the industry and what your customers would be getting if they side with you. The start-up culture has what is referred to as the elevator pitch where companies need to have an idea that can be conveyed meaningfully over an elevator ride. That should be what your homepage is like.
Be original with your words and images
Your homepage should also clearly states what is it that makes you ‘you’. In practical terms, this would mean ditching the generic stock photos for something that is truly your own. Earlier this year, the internet had a little bit of fun when Nicole Paulk, an American biophysics professor posted a stock photo of a scientist that makes absolutely no sense, which started the whole trend of #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob. Stock photos and/or phrases are a plague to be avoided when it comes to your homepage.
Make use of whitespace to keep your homepage from being cluttered
You might think that because of the short time you’re given with to nail your first impression, the solution is to cram everything noteworthy into your homepage to make sure they’re not missing anything. This is not a good idea as it’s not just your time that is limited, their attention is also limited, which is why you need to figure out what part of your business you’d like to emphasize and focus your homepage around that idea.
One way of achieving this is by using whitespace, which results in a less cluttered and considerably friendlier website. Additionally, try to figure out a way to convey both your originality and value offering in the least amount of words and elements possible. Anyone could convince people with a 100-page manifesto but to do the same thing in 140 characters or less? Now that’s what I call art.
Make sure your homepage is as gorgeous on a mobile screen as it is on the desktop
Once you’re happy with the homepage design you’ve come up with, the next step is to see how it’d look like in a diminutive phone screen. Mobile internet traffic is now bigger than desktop internet traffic and your priorities should adapt accordingly. Check if your homepage looks and works as it was meant to on your phone in addition to on your computer. The easy way to do this is by using a responsive design, where the webpage adapts itself to the size and orientation of the device it’s being displayed in without you having to manually adjust every element of the page.