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Analysis: Combat-Integrated Game Tutorials Provide Best Engagement

Tutorial stages are crucial to longterm player engagement, and the target audience for FPS games learns by doing. So finds a new Gamasutra-exclusive analysis of engag
The target audience for FPS games learns by doing, not by being told what to do. While current design trends recognize the need to integrate tutorials into combat gameplay, it's always a bit harder than it looks to get it right. According to a new Gamasutra-exclusive analysis of engagement in top action games, a skillful integration balance is crucial for immersion. The analysis, which was originally conducted by San Francisco-based technology company Emsense and published in Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine, used biometric feedback to measure player responses to the first 90 minutes of major FPS and action titles. "We've seen two side effects that reinforce the importance of having engaging tutorials," says the study's author. "First, and most obviously, players who don't know how to play the game consistently have lower recorded engagement levels throughout their play session, as they continue to struggle to immerse themselves in gameplay, even after the introductory tutorials and levels have finished." Second, pulling the player into the game world and its mechanics early on is important, and "long and boring" tutorials delay that crucial first moment of engagement. "In some games we've tested, the first strongly engaging event does not occur until 20 minutes into the experience," says the study, "a lifetime for a gamer who just wants to have fun." So what can developers take away from the study results? Don't leave tutorial creation until the end of the production cycle. Two games that added new gameplay mechanics during the test were Gears of War, which added a cover mechanic, and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, which adds a cross-com remote camera heads-up display, squad-based combat, smoke grenades, unmanned aerial vehicles -- a long, long list. "These games engaged users quickly with a simple strategy," explains the study author. "Players were thrown into action and were threatened, and were expected to learn. The player learns to throw grenades not by tossing one into a dummy box target, but by utilizing them against enemies with real consequences on the line." Gears of War also lets players skip the tutorial directly and go directly into battle -- and interestingly, 40 percent of the study subjects chose to do exactly that. "But regardless of whether they did this, they engaged with the game strongly and quickly," observed the study. "In fact, average engagement during the first level was comparable to that in subsequent levels." Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 employs a tutorial as its entire first level, even including failure conditions and appearing "indistinguishable from standard combat... An emotional and adrenaline climax occurs when players utilize smoke grenades and explosive charges to take out a heavily outfitted, armored personnel carrier," the study found. "In fact, the alternation between the calm of instruction and the intensity of trying new tactics against powerful enemies created a big emotional roller coaster that registered as one of the top two most engaging events out of the eight titles we studied."

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