Tutorials in games can be poorly executed and hinder the gameplay or experience of the player. There are several different learning types including explorative and modeling acquisition. Games come in many different genres and different levels of complexity. Players learn in different ways and need to be taught about how to use mechanics. We can utilize different tutorials types, like hand-holding and explorative, to help teach players in different ways to help them grasp the concept. Utilizing game pacing to give players enough time to learn the mechanics and giving enough detail within the game to explore the different possibilities of the mechanic, we can improve how well we teach players while also making the first gameplay expression fun and enjoyable to keep them playing.
Games need to teach player how to play the game. So why do tutorials suck? According to Sheri Graner Ray (2010), tutorials are usually the last priority for studios and are not provided with enough resources to make them effectively. Tutorials give off the first impression of the gameplay experience to the player, which means that if it is not done well to teach the player and be fun to play, the player might not have enough information to continue or they can become frustrated. We can use a variety of different teaching methods at the beginning of the game to help players start and continuing to teach the player the farther they get into the game. This will help get the player into a flow state. As Galen Midford (2019) stays, it’s important to convey content correctly, but also that the user experience lends itself to the content. A positive experience can help promote information retention. Simplicity is key to creating something that is easy to understand and play. People learn a multitude of different ways, which means that we can use different tutorial types to help improve how players learn.
There are multiple ways that people learn which are visual, kinetic, and auditory. These can be put into two different categories described by Graner Ray (2010) as being explorative acquisition and modeling acquisition. Graner Ray describes how arcades would appeal to the explorative acquisition style because they didn’t have traditional tutorials, causing them to learn how everything worked on their own. The modeling acquisition style would look at the screen of the explorative style learner to see what was going on and what buttons were being pressed. This would cause the modeling style learner to wait until they knew how everything worked before they attempted the game.
There are many different tutorial types that games can implement. The choices of tutorial type will depend on how complex the control scheme of the game is, as well as what the genre of the game is. Some games are able to drop the player into the world and the player must figure out how everything works on their own. Other games will hold the player’s hand by telling them every detail of everything in the game. There is a style of design that can take these ideas to simplify them down, while also teaching the player while the player plays.
As stated in an article by Alex Wawro (2015), the game Hyper Light Drifter unlocks one button at a time for the player. This allows the player to become introduced to a mechanic that is needed and lets them start playing the game. Giving players the basics to play the game allows them to learn more about the systems and allows them to experiment with the mechanics that they have already unlocked. If this is done poorly, it can turn players away, but if done well, it can make players excited when they learn something without being told about it.
Studios will implement a hand-holding tutorial to teach the player how to do things within their game. Hand-holding is when the game explains everything to the player before they can experience the mechanic. This can lead to boring gameplay at times, which can lead to the player not reaching a flow state. This can be good if a player often gets stuck or needs help completing an objective.
The director for Super Mario 3D Land, Koichi Hayashida, said in an article by Christian Nutt (2012) that he uses a level design philosophy that will introduce the player to a mechanic, let them practice that mechanic in a challenge, then throw a twist in with that mechanic to help the player understand it, then have one final challenge where the player can demonstrate their mastery of the mechanic. This allows Nintendo to teach the player how to use a mechanic and gives them plenty of challenges that utilize that mechanic, that way when they player experiences it in the future, they know exactly how to use it.
How we can improve Tutorials
The best way to improve tutorials by using visual, auditory, and experimental in the game to make the tutorial more immersive. Mario Party shows a 3-screen tutorial before each game which includes a section to let player experiment with the mechanics of the upcoming game, along with two different sections showing pictures and text to help other learners know what to do. We can showcase a singular mechanic to the player and let them use that to complete a series of challenges before giving them the next ability. This would be similar to the introduce, practice, twist, master methods or Super Mario 3D Land. Through level design use, we can foreshadow different ways players can use a mechanic to help them figure out more uses than what is explicitly told to the player. When can also implement an assist block type of system to help players that are stuck figure things out to help keep them playing (Nutt, 2012).
Creating a tutorial comes down to the complexity of the game, how many things need to be explicitly taught to the player, and how to satisfy players that experiment to learn about a game versus those that like to be told how a mechanic works. Implementing features into the game to help players that get stuck would greatly benefit the number of things that are explicitly taught. Tutorials need to have engaging content for players to experiment and understand how mechanics work to keep them interested. Utilizing details within the game environment can help to provide insight into what the player is able to do with the mechanics they have learned without needing to teach them. This helps to make players feel excited about something that they were not told to do.
Graner Ray, S. (2010, October 6). Tutorials: Learning To Play. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134531/tutorials_learning_to_play.php
MIDFORD, G. (2019). Video Game Tutorials Exhibit Good Design Techniques. TD: Talent Development, 73(4), 44–49.
Nutt, C. (2012, April 13). The Structure of Fun: Learning from Super Mario 3D Land 's Director. Retrieved April 4, 2020, from https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/168460/the_structure_of_fun_learning_.php?page=1
Wawro, A. (2015, February 3). The art of the tutorial: When to hold a player's hand, when to let it go. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/235148/The_art_of_the_tutorial_When_to_hold_a_players_hand_when_to_let_it_go.php