Extensive Gamer, Amateur Designer: Towards True Newbie-Friendliness in MMOs

Wall of Tutorial Text crits for over 9000.

I’m what you’d call an MMO tourist. I love the feel of new MMOs and trying them out for a little while is fun. When I think about how the experience of trying an MMO for the first time can be, however, I sometimes wonder if too much complexity or explanation can kill a mood.

Now, I’m not talking about newbies to the MMO world, as they can be taught how to play well enough if they have some sort of gaming skill. What got me thinking about the mechanics of tutorials was the idea that my father still doesn’t understand my passion for gaming and refuses to try out MMORPGs. He is the type of person who has never played a game that required WSAD movement or quick reflexes.

Yep, I’m talking about people who don’t normally play non-casual games.

While probably not economical to do in the real world of games development, I find imagining ways to make teaching people how to play games to be a sort of productive thought experiment.  How would one go about creating a game that allows for people to play the game however they see fit, without forcing everyone to go through the same type of tutorial?

From my point of view, the answer is clear: make an option to begin the game in a sort of super-newbie mode right along side the regular tutorial zone.

How would this work?

Well, much like starting a game with varying difficulty levels and choosing one of them, an MMORPG would essentially ask a player how comfortable he is playing MMORPGs. If he’s alright with it, he can go through a regular tutorial that explains the basics in gamer terminology. If he’s not comfortable playing these games, like my dad would be, then he can go to the same area with additional training steps involved.

For instance, imagine the idea of movement. WSAD movement is natural to us, but for my father, who has never touched an FPS, it’s going to be tough to get used to. So instead of simply telling him that the button does so-and-such and leaving him to his devices or giving him an extremely long block of text that explains but doesn’t show, we ask him to move accordingly and follow a guided path, adding new layers of complexity with each step completed.

In the movement scenario, Step 1 would be forward-backward movement. Step 2 would be sideways movement. Step 3 would be using the mouse to view your surroundings. Step 4 would be moving and using mouse viewing. Step 5, the final step, would be tasking the player to walk in a Figure 8, using the buttons to move forward and the mouse to adjust his bearing.

Apply the same sort of reasoning to targeting, combat, looting, and other immediately needed systems and you can , hopefully, train someone who has never played an MMO into mastering the finer points of basic gameplay.

While doing something like that for a small subsection of one’s potential player base seems like folly, it’s a nice dream to have, at least for me. I’d love it if my father could understand why I love playing games and why I find them so appealing.

6 thoughts on “Extensive Gamer, Amateur Designer: Towards True Newbie-Friendliness in MMOs

  1. The best newb starting area I’ve played suitable for a complete novice was probably Aion, this was helped by the inclusion of a video which flashed up telling you exactly how to move your toon, attack and loot etc it was really well implemented.

    From what i’ve seen Cataclysm looks like it has changed the noob experience for the better also, even going as far to remind you to visit a trainer when you can learn a new talent.

  2. Yeah, the last game my father played was either Doom II or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. He is opposed to most of the new games not because of the control schemes or game mechanics, but the lack of time he now has. He likes the whole idea of MMOs, though, because of the whole community aspect.

    I used to work on an MMO about two-three years ago, and the hardest part was developing for both the experienced and newbie player. The problem was always saying too much or too little. We did not want to offend the newbie players by explaining the really simple parts, and wasting the experienced players time with tutorials and such.

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