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How to retain players after tutorial: not only satisfactory, but also stunning

When doing tutorial playtesting, we focused more on usability problems and detecting potential obstacles, but a game should not only stay on making players feel satisfying, it should make players feel stunned by its special features and unique design

The research of tutorial part (including the whole tutorial and several stages after players’ entry to the game) of a game, especially the experience of the first one hour after players start the game, is a crucial part for game user research. Compared with the player's months or even years of playing a game, the one-hour experience right after entering the game seems to be just a drop in the ocean in the player's game career.

But the relationship between a game and its players is more like love at first sight than love grown over time. If a game does not attract players at the beginning, it is very likely for the player to churn. (Data shows that the players gone in the first hour can account for about 30% of the players who churn in the first seven days to a new game.). Therefore, the study of tutorial part of a game is a topic which has been constantly explored by user researchers.

This article, in fact, is not about methodologies of testing tutorials of a game, it’s rather about some features and conclusions found in the previous beginner churn analysis. Besides, this article will be covering some thoughts on player churn research, hoping to bring some new concerns about churn research for game user researchers.

Problem identifying:

Pause of tutorials or main story mission (in Chinese MMORPGs) tend to have the highest probability of player churn.

In games, in order to enable players to get started better with game mechanics, the first 15 minutes to 30 minutes of the game are often accompanied by mandatory guiding tasks or linear main story. In the analysis of the beginner level tasks, it can often be found that these forced interruptions of guiding tasks or the main story missions are often the high churn rate points of a game.

For the same game, no matter whether the pause of tasks is at 15 minutes or 20 minutes, level 11 or level 15, the high churn rate points will appear. Therefore, even if this interruption point is delayed, it can only hinder the time of player churn, but hard to really reduce player loss.

The game experience of players up until these pause points are like what shown in the following picture:

The guidance before the interruption points or whole process of easy passing the guiding tasks in the main story missions does not require the player's high cognition of game mechanics and excellent controls in game. However, once it is after the pause point, and it’s time to explore by themselves, players are required to invest more energy and cognitive resources to better handling the following game contents. At this point, players churn with one possibility, which is that the game is really too difficult, and the effect of tutorials is not good enough to teach players how the game works before they leave. This is a problem that we often verify at the first time when we find that players leave the game at the pause point. Is it really the truth that players at this point don't know how to continue the game/level up their characters?

However, after research, we often find that the reasons why large numbers of players churn do not necessarily have relationships with the game contents that players have experienced so far.

There are mainly three reasons that we found of players leaving the game at the pause point. And the first two reasons often account for the vast majority.

  1. Churn because of the bad experience so far
  2. No particular parts in game to admire, just ordinary as most games
  3. Got confused of how to continue the game

Let’s get back to the features of this stage, which is requiring players to invest more energy and time to better handling the following game contents. In addition to whether the player's cognitive level can complete this part of the free exploration or not, there is one more important point to be mentioned, which is players’ willingness to explore the following content. Just like a child who was not interested in piano learning, after finishing the class in the training program, he couldn't get interested in practicing by himself when he gets home, let alone trying other new songs in advance.

Further discovering: what determines the willingness of players keep exploring the game?

From the reasons for player churn, there are two factors that affect the motivation of players to continue to explore: driving and avoiding generated by game content.

The relationship between the two is similar to Herzberg's "two-factor theory" of work motivation.

Herzberg divided the factors related to employees' performance motivation into two types: hygiene factors and motivator factors. Satisfying hygiene factors eliminate dissatisfaction, but can't motivate people to be more productive in work. If the motivator factors are satisfied, people tend to have great incentives. However, if they are not satisfied, employees will not have dissatisfaction like what hygiene factors drive.

Similar things happen in games. Just eliminating the player dissatisfaction cannot give players enough motivation to continue to play. A game needs to give motivator factors such as special features and personal interests satisfaction to encourage players to continue to explore more in the future.


Dule Factors Theory

Gaming Motivation

Motivator Factors (which encourage employees to work harder)

challenging work, recognition for one's achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, sense of importance to an organization

Features that don’t exist in other games;

Satisfaction for specific interest 

Hygiene Factors (will cause employees to become unmotivated)

Company rule, supervision, salary, work conditions, colleague relationship

Dislike graphic style or main story; bad battling experience


Inspiration: Besides eliminating obstacles for players, good tutorial experience design needs to pay attention to the demonstration of special features of this game in early stage of player entry of the game.

When we were doing tutorial playtesting, we focused more on usability problems and detecting potential obstacles, which only solves the problem of how games stopping players at a certain point. But a game itself is not just a product that should only stay on making players feel satisfying, it should make players feel stunned by its special features and unique design. Improving players’ perception of special features of the game could probably increase players’ motivation to continue to explore the game. Mapping the emotional journey of players is an applicable method of checking if players could possibly perceive the demonstration of special feature in different stage in game. Emotional journey map can show the emotional state of players in each stage, visually reflecting the degree of player interests in game, and can further compare with the planned feature settings to get a clear clue of which feature or unique design is missed by players.

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