Here is an uncomfortable truth: when your game plays a cinematic cutscene, most players will check their phone. (Or their notifications, or the TV, or whatever.) Even if the player is deeply, genuinely invested in the game’s story, once a cinematic cutscene starts their attention will wander.
Why? Because in a cinematic cutscene, all user inputs are disabled. The defining characteristic of a game is player agency, and whenever you take that away your game temporarily ceases to be a game. Players know that their full attention isn’t needed until the cutscene ends, so they’ll direct it elsewhere.
Now here’s what’s worse: this same principle applies every time player inputs are disabled. If your game plays a static animation when the player opens a door or picks up an item, and the player can’t move or look around or check their inventory while that animation plays, they will be bored. They may not literally check their phone, but they’ll consider it.
So ask yourself: would it hurt things to leave the camera controls enabled during that cinematic? Could you signpost that point of interest instead of pausing the game to cinematically point the camera at it? And does your game really need that “taking out a map” animation every time the player checks their location?
(Note: I think the cutoff here is around a third of a second. When a game pauses for a 250ms UI transition I don’t feel like I’ve lost control of my character, but for me a 750ms transition is enough to feel boring. YMMV.)
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