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Ingredients For The Perfect Video Game Tutorial
By Carlos Valenzuela
Let me ask you a question: At which point in the design did you think about the tutorial?
Almost all of my past tutorials are failures. Often lefted for the end of the development, with very few days until launch there was always one person in the team who suddenly said ‘Wouldn’t we have to do a tutorial?’ We were too busy with the real development to think about that stuff. I know my game like the palm of my hand. It isn’t that hard to learn, we don’t need a tutorial that much! I ofthen said to myself. So yeah, lots of crappy tutorials were made.
We once made a sliding game where the player had to go through doors. These doors blocked the avatar’s vision as you passed through them and the real challenges and prizes were behind. We let the player advance freely through a desert but literally, the entire game was behind those doors. We made a tutorial restricting the players movement (mistake #1) with good few of pauses and text (mistakes #2 and #3). Can you imagine how many people tried to slide through the doors later on?
The Tutorial is the Most Important part of your Game
Picture the first experience of a player with your game like a hungry customer who wants to eat in a great restaurant he has heard of:
‘Hi, I would want to try the menu, please’
‘Great, here is the first course’
‘But, this is a plate full of dirt and pebbles!’
‘Yeah we know, but trust me, the rest of it is delicious’
‘I don’t care, I don’t want it!’
‘But sir, I’m afraid this is unskippable‘
Think of the tutorials as this, the introduction of your beloved game, the great entrance and first contact of your amazing interactive experience. You have made lots of efforts tweaking that huge final boss but lots of efforts have to be made to reach it through the game. On average, 75% of mobile users who download a game once never open it again. Have they seen that final boss? No. They have seen the tutorial, and nothing else.
Six Flavours to make your Tutorial Amazing.
Flavour #1: People don’t like to be teached.
People want to play! They come from work, college or school after a long day of working and paying attention to a blackboard, they don’t want to keep paying attention to anything else! Don’t teach, but let them learn. People know the Azeroth’s map better than their own town. They can sing you the entire Baratheon house with all their bastards, every Leage of Legends champion with all their lore, skill names, damage rates and even the particle colour. Make use of things like the Tangencial Learning, make them enjoy what they are submerged to.
Flavour #2: Keep the Flow going.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is a very smart person with a very smart theory. He describes the ‘flow’ as a mental state where a person is absolutely concentrated, unaware of the surroundings and using every mental process on what they are doing. Like watching a movie we really like, we can spend two hours and don’t even notice it. And yeah, reaching a flowing tutorial is what we aim for. Basically, we have to increase the challenge as the player gets skilled.
Put across a challenge. Let the player deal with it. Put another once he has reached the ability to overcome it. Flow between the overwhelm of a new challenge, the light struggle to complete it and the excitement of overcome.
The flow theory comes with some intrinsic and useful elements. The components of a ‘flowing experience’ are: Clear objectives, limited attention field, instant feedback and gratification. We can learn a lot from this ones.
Flavour #3: Not everyone learns in the same way.
‘Can you repeat that, please?’ ‘Wait! I am writing out this’ ‘Let me try to do it please’ I’m sure you have listened to one of those or even said one once in a while. Not everyone acquire information in the same way, each individual have their own learning style and this have been studied by psychologists since quite a long time. One literature review even identified 71 different models! But we do not need that much.
The VARK model identifies four different kinds of learners: Visual, Auditory, Physical and Social. Keep in mind everyone of them: try to represent ideas as images, make use of audio feedback, let players learn through trial and error and/or let them see other people fail.
Flavour #4: Balance the Experience.
- Comfort the player. Don’t bother with unnecesary elements, let him experiment and practice. Don’t overflow the screen with things he doesn’t understand or doesn’t have to yet. Keep things clear and simple (Remember Flavour #2? Keep clear objectives to reach flow).
- Excite the player. Show him the possibilities of your gameplay. Maybe they are practicing versus wood sticks but hint them that those will be amazing dragons later on.
- Respect the player. Don’t treat him like a robot, don’t give commands and expect them to repeat them. Don’t tell what to do, ask them to do something, and they will figure it out.
- Teach the player. All of this doesn’t matter if a tutorial doesn’t end with all things clear (it’s a good moment to remember Flavor #1)
Comforting and exciting may be complete opposites, as well as respecting and teaching. But that’s how balance work. Giving absolute safe space may end in confusion and disorientation, but telling exactly what they have to do won’t make them feel smart or special. It’s not a game if there is not a challenge, even in the tutorial.
Flavour #5: Use Mechanics to teach Mechanics.
Scott L. Rogers tells us in his book ‘Level Up: The Guide to Great Video Game Design’ that ‘A mechanic is something that the player interacts with to create or aid with gameplay’. If you have the tools to interact with the game, use them. For example, we want to teach that behind some walls there is hidden treasure, but they have to be destroyed first. We can use a pop-up with a chunk of text explaining it (Hint: NO), a glowing sign or an arrow. Those are not mechanics, those are examples of telling the player what to do (Flavour #4), and we have to avoid that. But then, how do we do it?
If the player is able to attack, let him attack. Place something that he needs to destroy, like an enemy, right in front of the wall and just wait for him to see that his attack, that inevitably reached the wall, destroyed it revealing the juicy coin. You didn’t say a word, you didn’t point anything, the player itself discovered it and now he’s feeling smart (Flavour #1 again).
Flavour #6: Extra Tips.
- People don’t like to be teached, we already cleared that, but we can extend it a little bit. People don’t like to read. An image is worth a thousand words, so try to write down the least words possible. Reading means a break which interferes with the game’s rithm, and keeping a good rithm is key.
- Don’t be tasteless. Tacky graphics can take down an experience in two seconds but, counting on your game doesn’t look horrid, don’t ruin your aesthetic with vulgar ‘tutorial’ elements, like glowing fingers, moving arrows, pop-ups or shiny contours. You already know the tools to avoid all of that.
- Maybe it’s impossible to reach the tutorial later on the game but at least make the most important information always accesible. Like an ‘info’ tab on the menu or something, but as overinformation can be overwhelming, the lack of it is confusing and undesirable.
- This is just a note on the Flavor#2 but, as the challenge must to build up, so must the interesting elements. Always keep a cooler surprise behind another. Remember, keep the player excited!
So, when do I have to start thinking about my game’s tutorial? NOW.