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Kill the tutorial: Free-to-play Design Rule 11

By on October 17, 2012
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F2P-design-rules-thumbTutorials are dull. Who plays a game to learn?

Actually, the answer to that question is: EVERYONE. One of the joys of gaming is the experience of learning, of improving, of getting better. The tutorial may just be the worst way of showcasing the joy of learning in a game that has ever been invented.

A tutorial is a legacy of a world where players paid $40 or more to buy a game. They researched that game. They brought it home from the shop on the bus, reading the back and scouring the (now sadly rare) manual for clues on how to improve at the game, before they had even installed it.

Now, players are playing the game before they know much about it. When it is free to download, it’s easier to download something and try it out than it is to bother researching it. So if a gamer hears about your free game, they are going to check out.

And by crikey, do you need to reward them for that.

You need to make the first 10 minutes grab them deep down and say: “you are going to love playing with me. And if you think the first 10 minutes were great, just you wait till you see what I’ve got lined up for you in the next two hours.”

In the first ten minutes, I don’t want to learn about menu items, and changing cameras, and how the inventory works. I won’t to be learning. I want to be making progress. I want to feel rewarded. Above all, I want to have fun.

Your tutorial is my first experience of your game. I haven’t spend $40 on your game. I have no “sunk cost” that will carry me through twenty minutes of dull exposition, plot or explanations of how to use the controls.

In those first few minutes, you have to convince me, body and soul, that this is game is worth investing my precious time in. You get one shot at it.

Make it a good shot.

Kill the tutorial.

The next post in this series will look at fail states, and why they could ruin your game.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
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  • Mike Bithell of Thomas was Alone talks about how important this was in a paid-for indie game, and how we made big mistake by not focusing on it.

  • I think this series of F2P design rules has been great, and this is one that I can definitely relate to from a players perspective. I think you’re exactly right that since there is no sunk capital to motivate a player to learn as much as they can before the real game begins you need to get the player into the good stuff immediately. I download a lot of mobile games and constantly skip through the intro/tutorial stuff as fast as possible. Let’s get to the game already! Also, for mobile let’s keep in mind that if you need to do a tutorial to teach a player the controls then you probably havent done a very good job as a designer. Make simple and intuitive controls, not thorough tutorials.

  • I think whether you need a tutorial or not depends on the kind of game you are making. Also you can make solve 2 issues with one stone by making the tutorial itself fun! Class of clans is a good example of this.

  • Sik

    I’m afraid I have to correct you here: “A tutorial is a legacy of a world where players paid $40 or more to buy a game.”

    No. Tutorials are the result of game controls becoming way too complex for players to figure on their own. Early games never had tutorials (up to like late ’90s or early ’00s tutorials were nearly unthinkable). Yeah, they had manuals, but how many players read them? Almost none. It worked because the players could know what to expect from the controls, to the point of there being standard control sets.

    If you really need a tutorial it usually means your game is too complex to just pick it up and you should probably rethink what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s F2P or not.