The Best Tutorial Is No Tutorial

written by Creston

I have become increasingly exasperated by game tutorials lately.  Strangely, it is not the absence of a tutorial that frustrates me but the presence of one. 

Tutorial Frustration

The frustration comes from tutorials that spend too much time showing me what to do versus letting me experience what to do.  I recently downloaded two Free To Play games to try them out.  One was "Kingdom Age" and the other was "Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North".  Upon starting both games, you are thrust into a tutorial that you have to complete.  The tutorials consist of clicking exactly where they tell you to click.  In the case of Battle for the North, no deviation is allowed.  The problem I have with this approach is that it does not require any thought.  You do not have to "learn" anything, you just click where they tell you to. When the tutorial is finally over, they let you loose upon the game world.  But the problem is that since you were just clicking where they told you too, you probably have no idea what to do next.  You have not learned anything.  

I encountered the same experience with Star Trek Online.  When you first start a character, you follow an extensive tutorial that strives to show you everything you can do in the game.  On one level this is fine since you get to experience the whole of the game.  But the problem was how they approached it.  They seemed to want to show you all the different commands and things you could do.  Ultimately I felt very overwhelmed and did not retain all that the tutorial tried to teach me.  Once the tutorial was over, I could not remember half the commands and had no idea what to do next.

Tutorials That Let You Learn

Contrast these experiences with games from Blizzard like StarCraft II or Diablo III.  When you first start StarCraft, it just throws you into the world and lets you figure out things on your own.  Shortly after you drop down, it lets you know there are some tutorial videos are available if you want to learn some basics.  These are three very short videos that show you the basics of movement and attack.  These videos are not in your face and are totally optional.  You can ignore them and go about your merry way.  In addition, as you start moving through the world, it shows you tips about things you encounter in the world.  You can choose to look at these or ignore them too.  Every time a new mechanic is introduced, it pops up a tip.

Diablo III is the same.  It throws you into the world and pops up tips for everything you encounter first.  Again, they are displayed to the side of the screen and you can totally ignore them.  After a period of time they just disappear.  This is my preferred way of learning.  Just let me loose on the game world to try things out but give me tips as I go along if I need it.  This is the best way to you learn.  You learn through play.

Tutorials For Casual Gamers

I have heard game developers say that you have to make your game and tutorials stupid simple for a casual gamer.  Maybe that is why the "Kingdom Age" and "Kingdoms of Camelot" forced you to click through a tutorial.  Maybe their analytics were telling them that no one was finishing the tutorial so they made it stupid simple.  But, I think they are addressing the wrong problem.  Look at Angry Birds.  It has no tutorial.  It shows you some pigs who have stolen your eggs.  Oh look there is a pig in a wooden / stone structure.  Hey, I have a red bird sitting in a sling shot.  I wonder what to do next?  See, the game does not explicitly show you what to do or where to click. Even a casual gamer should be able to figure out the mechanics pretty quickly.  

I think the real problem the tutorials are trying to solve is a game interface that is too complex.  If your interface is too complex, refine it.  If you cannot refine it further, then at least present it to the gamer in a piece meal fashion.  Only introduce one mechanic at a time.  Let the gamer get good at that and then add another.  They get to learn through play.  This is a far better way to teach someone how to play when compared to making them click through a mind numbing tutorial.    

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