How to teach players to play your game

October 8, 2017 Pavo Man Games

Hi again from sunny Barcelona! In the post of today I will talk about different ways that players can learn on how to play your game and which one we use in Asteroid Challenge, our first experimental game.

The first thing we must have in mind is that is only acceptable that a player leaves our game because that player doesn’t like it. But it is not acceptable that a player quits because doesn’t understand our game… Having this in mind I will present different ways to introduce players into the game learning curve…!

Non interactive tutorial

This is, in my opinion, the worse way to teach how to play that possibly exists. This is like reading the instructions manual of a board game or a house cleaning machine.

Why is this the worse tutorial possible?

  1. First because players do not like to read, which probably this will turn on pressing skip.
  2. Second because players want to play, and they want to play fast, and again, not to read.
  3. Third because you have to memorize many things, and when you go to play, you don’t remember everything, and then you need to pause playing again, to read again.
  4. And fourth, because you, as a developer, have spent time in building something that no one will read. So basically you wasted your time, and probably, a lot of time.
  5. According to the creator of one of the most successful games, this kind of tutorial goes against all his tips 🙂
  6. This is worse than having non tutorial, at least in a non tutorial you didn’t spent time in something useless…

Interactive tutorials

In this category we can have several types of interactive tutorials. This is the way I believe any game should go, but not all interactive tutorials are good or engaging…

The main idea behind is that a player learns how to play… actually playing! (crazy isn’t it?). Those are the types of interactive tutorials

Sandboxed tutorial

This kind of tutorial is like the non interactive tutorial but actually playing. You drive your player through an artificial level to learn how to play.

Usually is not a good choice for several reasons:

  1. It feels like you are wasting your time, and you just want to play.
  2. It’s like going to school and doing exercises before you can start to play… This is a good option if you want your players to quit.
  3. It generates a mix of fustration and anxiety. Players might try to pass the tutorial fast, but then fail because of the hurry… and finally quit.
  4. You are learning actions totally out of context, so you might not know how useful they are, and then forget them…
  5. You are learning too many stuff, which is likely to be forgoten…

Contextual tutorial

This is the best type of tutorial, and the most difficult to achieve effectively. Basically means to learn to play while playing and progressing in the game. Usually the game splits the mechanics through all the game, so players can learn them in different phases.

This is, in my opinion, a very good way to learn how to play. You are progressing in the game while you are getting very short explanations about the game mechanics. You feel progression, excitement, and challenge while playing. However this kind of tutorial also present some challenges:

  1. It doesn’t work very well in open worlds where players have many options. Doing this might seem you forcing the player to do something specific, and can feel antinatural to the type of game.
  2. If you make it too obvious, you might make feel the player like a fool…
  3. You can get stuck the player if he/she doesn’t do or understand what you expect.

Learn while you play tutorial

So basically is to not have a tutorial itself. The game is so well crafted that you don’t even need a tutorial. The goals, the UX and the UI are so clear that you just know what to do in any moment. This kind of games are the most pure example of Bushnell’s Law, which says that a game should be “easy to learn, difficult to master”. In my opinion an example of this is Clash Royale, you don’t need any tutorial to be able to play that game.

PinOut is another masterpiece, in my opinion, on how to learn while playing.

How do we do in Asteroid Challenge?

In Asteroid Challenge we have an hybrid of sandboxed and contextual tutorial. You go throught a tutorial of around 2 mins, that is exposing you different situations but at the same time is progressing you through the game. It seems very simple and easy task to build it, but to arrive to that point it toke me 1 month of play testing with friends and family… Once I got what it currently is I could manage a 100% success rate in understanding the game.

The game presents very few game mechanics, and I try to show them through different situations while you are playing. However the tutorial is bit slow and lacks of a bit of action and excitement. The main learnings during the playtest were:

  1. Of course, don’t show too much text, people don’t read. I have to iterate many times to reduce the amount of text in the screen at once.
  2. The arrows with short actions was one of my best wins. The first elements in the screen show a brief explanation or an action of what you must do.
  3. If you want people to touch the screen, place fingers in it! this is also a top learning I got.
  4. Generate progression. Players keept their progress after the tutorial, so the game just continues without restarting.
  5. Add game elements step by step. I introduce the repair, the shield and the turret upgrade one by one, not all at once. This I also had to iterate to arrive to this point.
  6. Teach even the most simplier thing. For me it was very obvious what each button was… but of course, I did the game, and this doesn’t count 🙂
  7. Set the goal very clear. The initial message of “repair the 5 fires” was a game changer for players to understand what they had to do.

The challenge in my second game is to enhance the learning process. I want to try that players learn by just playing, without tutorial at all and with a faster peace.

I hope that helps you to improve your learning curve your games as it did to me!

See you in the my next post! 🙂

If this was interesting to you, it might be for others. Spread the word :)
Pavo Man
Pavo Man

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