How should new players learn the ropes?

One of the comments on my post yesterday (about the trend for people not speaking up if they don’t know an encounter), by Boatorius was:

It’s simply not acceptable to require that a fresh level 80 learn _48_ or so boss encounters (16 dungeons * 3 bosses) before they ever click that “random dungeon” button.

That is a lot of different boss encounter strategies. More than that, it’s a lot to throw at a player at once. It’s almost the opposite of a well designed game. A good game should include a learning curve that makes it easy for the player to pick up the skills and strategies they need to defeat harder content. That’s certainly one of the ways we regularly assess single player games.

And then you have the MMO. Here you are expected to learn the strategy by joining a group and throwing yourself at the boss, learning more from every wipe, and finally killing it. Or alternatively wait a few weeks and watch the tankspot video and read the strategy from Elitist Jerks.

And yet, it is still hard to come in later on in the progression and be expected to memorise tens of boss fights all at once. I remember joining a raid guild in TBC when they were working on Lady Vashj. I’d never even been into Serpentshrine Cavern myself. So for my trial period, I had to try to memorise all those fights that I’d never seen. To be fair, the raid leaders did take this into account, but it felt like a lot of pressure at the time. I could barely even remember all the boss names.

God help the player who joins the game six months or more after the content was new. By that time, most of the player base will have learned the group content and won’t be so patient with new learners. And you’ll also be presented with all the current endgame content in one lump when you hit max level. Probably with no clue where to even start. How exactly will you know which is the easiest heroic instance? Which of the LOTRO hardmodes should you try first, and when?

The answers to these questions sit deep down in the primordial lizard brain of prehistoric MMOs. Because at their core, they were designed as social games. Players were going to figure out how the game worked and inform each other. If you wanted to raid in EQ, for example, the idea was that you’d join a raid guild and they’d teach you what you needed to know. One of the functions of the guild was to teach new players. One of the functions of the community was to teach new players.

The community does still teach new players. Guilds help newly levelled 80s through instances and raids all the time. There are thousands of blogs, websites, forum posts, addons, and guides available. If you ask for help in the game on a help channel, there’s a good chance that you’ll get an answer. (This is true in any game I’ve played recently, including WoW.)

Teaching is part of the glue that holds communities together in games. The need to keep recruiting and keep training is what allows newer players to join older ones and play together in the same raids.

But the times have changed. And 48 boss encounters is still a crazy amount of information to take in at once.

Only the first wave learn as intended

Now, the reason this never struck many players as an issue was because we took the instances as we levelled up. In fact, I suspect active use of the dungeon finder while levelling should make the sticker shock at 80 a little milder. But in any case, most of the active players at the start of an expansion learn as intended and receive the learning curve as it was designed into the game. They tackle the new content with a group of slightly undergeared players who are all learning at the same time.

The important thing about being undergeared is that you do have to learn the encounter because you cannot brute force it.

Later on, newer players will be able to lean on more experienced and better geared friends (or randoms). Maybe they’ll be able to ignore the tactics –- that depends on the game and the designers.

How could we make it easier?

A lot more of the teaching side of the game could be automated in an MMO. If WoW included some boss mods as standard, you could imagine text flashing up on the screen in big flashing letters to explain the boss attacks and standard tactics.

“LIGHTNING NOVA! RUN AWAY FROM THE BOSS NOW. YOU HAVE 6s” (and maybe it could even play the Countdown music)

And as much as people would complain about the game being dumbed down, this would not be greatly different from the typical raid experience using boss mod addons.

Alternatively, we could imagine single player versions of some of the bosses, giving players a chance to learn them quietly on their own.

Or maybe a pause button – I have no idea how this could work in a multi-player game but giving people the chance to pause the game so that they can take their time to look around and think would help a lot of people with slower reactions.

And the trouble is, it doesn’t stop at tactics. Tactics alone won’t teach a new player which instances they SHOULD be going to next, where the best upgrades can be found, what’s the best way to spend tokens. But a lot of the information about upgrades is in the game also. If you check the WoW Armoury, you’ll can ask for suggested upgrades for gear in any slot.

Again, even if the game was able to say ‘Ah, you really need a new shield now. Try normal Halls of Reflection, second boss,’ this is still no different from the way experienced players use addons.

But at what cost? If the teaching burden is completely removed from guilds and from the community, then what is left?

Perhaps the answer still lies in sandbox games, a model that has been largely abandoned by the big AAA MMOs recently. So you could imagine PvE with lots of game tutorials, boss mods, and in game help. Perhaps PvE will become more of a polished, console-esque experience. And if that means that new players aren’t pressured to learn 48 boss encounters as soon as they hit 80, that has to be a good thing.

And yet a newbie would still need to lean on the regulars for help with the in game politics, the wide ranging PvP, figuring out the economy and keeping up with the ebb and flow of the other players.

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26 thoughts on “How should new players learn the ropes?

  1. I think part of the appeal (and maybe even the point?) of MMOs is the community element. We have to rely on other players and comradery in overcoming difficult encounters. The first guys attempt it and then teach the rest of us how to do it.

    I think if we automated this process with a help system or some such we’d be taking away a lot of the joy that comes from the social interaction that MMOs offer.

  2. There’s never going to be a guide that is as sharp as a good player telling you what to do. If only because they can teach you about special class tricks and other minor subtleties that they have learned.

    But what happens if players don’t want to ask for help, or don’t want to learn, or don’t even want to say when they don’t know something. How does the information get passed on then?

  3. Or do not dare to ask the questions due to responses which are derogatory to say the least?

    Ask a relevant, newcomer question in WoW general or trade channel, and you get two or three derogatory “noob, l2p” answers, a couple of completely misdirecting misinformation and maybe -if you’re lucky- one relevant info whispered to you. If you’re clever at that point, you put that one person into your friends list. Just in case.

    That problem of learning 48 new bosses at once is very much relevant to the newbie tank player, as tanks are supposed to be leaders, too. I for one don’t aspire to be a leader unless I know the encounter well enough to teach it to others. Reading and doing are not equal in this sense, and the guilds and players who have done the instances while levelling cannot seem to understand this at all.

    Just wrote a post about communication and team effort on my blog. Goes nicely with this post, I think.

    C out

    • Why UP? That person is probably trying to gear up, so it would be smart to figure out which instances give the most gain. So first they need to go through loot tables and figure out which to run first, or make a top five since perfect ranking is asking a bit much, and at that point they might as well just read up on basic strats for 16 instances with all the time they’re taking.

      @Spinks: For instances I think we’re supposed to have done some while leveling. That will give 95% of the fight on heroic. For raids, we read strats while following the tank on trash.

  4. Umm… I was with you all along–and I think that teaching you how to play the game is a massive problem in MMOs (shameless plug for my new blog: about what WoW teaches) but not for the 48 boss fights in the end game heroics.

    Because most of those heroic bosses don’t have mechanics that are very different from their regular counter-parts that you should have been seeing since 68+. I have a 70 warrior alt–the RDF keeps on throwing me into UK but by the time I am 73 I expect that I will have seen all the basic instances: UK, Nexus, AK, and maybe OK.

    Only will a small class of players–those who dinged 80 around the 3.3 patch, leveling up solo and avoiding the instances will have to learn the 48 fights. Everyone else should know them inside out and backwards by the time they are 80.

  5. I’m going to fall back on my comment from the last post — WoW needs to do a better job working boss weaknesses and powers into the lore. The instance build-up quests should provide this sort of information for anyone paying attention. The Loken line in particular was long, and the Betrayal line in Zul’Drak also has room for some practical, teaching lore.

    That is, there needs to be practical lore in the attunement process. I was going to steal Boatorius’ comment for a post on my own blog, as Blizzard’s current approach is precisely the opposite of providing good, memorable, and /useful/ (that’s what oral histories have always been about, right? Learning a lesson through stories?) attunement quests. And if you haven’t gone through the quests, you shouldn’t be allowed into the instance. Imagine if you could run Trial of the Champions without learning how to use a lance first! It’s not that difficult a problem to fix.

    I hope cataclysm reverses the trend and ties solo, PvE play more closely to the instances.

    • Can’t think of a way to provide parts of the boss tactics while leveling. Do you want every/most of the bosses abilities used in (solo?) quests? Most of them can’t be countered without a group or are useless without anybody left to attack (CC, adds, aoe-debuff).

      • Two quick examples from Halls of Lightning:

        General Bjarngrim: Expose players to the dwarves earlier, and have an NPC make a comment about their ability to heal more powerful beings.

        Lesson: Kill Bjarngrim’s dwarves first.

        Volkhan: Have King Jokkum mention something about Volkhan building golems he controls and explodes in the description for the quest Diametrically Opposed. Build some sort of mirror effect in the Hot and Cold quest (gosh knows we’ve seen that one more than once or twice) with Volkhan’s anvil. Instead of simply, “the frost giants would have an abundant supply of metal and the region would be cleared of these remnants of war,” and “You feel a sense of accomplishment as you realize that your efforts continue to strengthen the renewed bonds between Thorim and the Sons of Hodir,” you could have a scene flash before your eyes with each turn-in of golems exploding or some such. Have the Son of Hodir at the anvil look like a blue version of Volkhan. Whatever.

        Lesson: The golems explode, yo. Watch out. Kill ‘em all before they explode and *surprise!* you get an achievement.

        You could certainly fight mini-Ionars, etc who throw avoidable balls of lightning and arcane spiders and who are (/kick self) immune to nature attacks like Wrath. Etc etc.

        You don’t have to practice the tactics, but you should have some sort of heads up without having to resort to a 3rd party website. Making the PvE solo game tie into the instance game more closely couldn’t help but make both more memorable and enjoyable. Blizzard has done some of this in BC, but not enough, and even less in LK.

  6. To train and prepare new players for a “raid boss” or hig level dungeon boss, I think there should be a mini-boss in the open PVE world that can be handled by a small group.

    In this way, this mini-boss would be modeled similar to the raid boss and have similar attacks and strategy but all on a much smaller scale – less defense, damage, etc, that the player group can practice with.

    Once the strategy is mastered, it can be applied to the high level boss – this way no significant learning is needed during the “real” encounter.

  7. “But what happens if players don’t want to ask for help, or don’t want to learn, or don’t even want to say when they don’t know something.”

    Nothing. If a player wants to be intentionally dumb let him be dumb. He should die in shame.

    Next question would be: What happens if a player doesn’t want to press a button? Should the game press the button for him? Should everybody start at lvl 80 with epic gear? This is rediculous.

    The soultion to your problem would be the experienced players being more lenient towards freshly minted 80s, who should at least know how to play their class. And the bosses could leave room for errors, so not every mistake causes a wipe. Then peolpe would learn to accomplish things by themselves instead of getting the handed on a silver platter.

    • “And the bosses could leave room for errors, so not every mistake causes a wipe. ”

      Now here’s the big problem. How do you make bosses which leave room for errors, but in a way that means you can’t just ignore the tactic and steamroll them?

      This is something Blizzard does very badly, actually. For example, who really bothers running in and out of the lightning nova on Loken these days? As soon as people were able to just brute force him down, that became the default tactic.

      • Noth was Raid Boss of the week. Having missed Spinks run (Grr to login issues) we had a crack at him later that night.

        58 seconds. With some alts along. Tactics? Bloodlust and NUKE!

        This is not a a good thing for a lovely raid instance….

  8. Interestingly enough teaching is done by the less “good” guilds most of the time. Last time I applied for a really good guild I was a little Naxx-Player applying for a guild who had Ulduar clear. I wasn’t taught anything. Instead, I was expected to know all bossfights in Ulduar including all hardmode-tactics on my first day. When one fellow applicant, a tank, had problems tanking the adds in the first phase of Yog-Saron there was immediately talk about him being not good enough, even though I knew that their regular tank took several weeks to learn it back then.

    However I don’t see the amount of instances at 80 as much of a problem. If you do instances while leveling (which is recommended) then you will learn those at a speed of about two instances every some days. Its only a shock if my grind your way to cap and then jump straight at the badges, which you shouldn’t do anyway because you will be horribly geared like that.

    @Kyff: I would prefer bosses to have no room for error at all. If there is fire on the ground and a player survives standing in it he won’t learn “I should not stand in fire”, he will learn “Fire is bad but my healer can heal through it, so its okay as long as I can deal better damage like that”.

    • Horrible and stacking cast/attackspeed-debuffs when ignoring tactics could solve the problem.
      1%-2%-4%-…256%…1024%, applied per second.

  9. Save for a handful of heroics, most of them can just be facerolled by your group anyway. Take Loken, in HoL. Stand in the nova and DPS, get yourself an achievement. They will learn the new instances for Cataclysm, for now, just let them be.

    • Ah I always leave something out. If they really want to improve and get to the level they should be to raid (that is most of their goals eventually). Then they should become familiar with Google. Ergo, if you don’t take the time to research a little bit, just be content with trying to faceroll heroics until you get bored eventually and either quit or pick another aspect of the game. That is unless you’re lucky to get taken under the wing of someone who actually has a clue.

  10. Or you can PvP :)

    I think the problem is not the new player finding help, I think the problem sometimes is the new player either not wanting help, or wants that help on a silver platter.

    When I was in Vanilla WoW so many years ago you would here tells like “Thottbott is your friend.” This forced me to use tools like wowhead, and thottbot to learn, and garner info.

    I think Blizz is making it too easy for new player, thus they are a little lazy.

  11. Re: Learning 48 bosses at once when you ding 80

    Run the dungeons as you level? Hit Nexus/UK as soon as you hit 70ish and get the quests…and so on.

    • Even if you do that, there are quite a few instances that you probably won’t see before 80.

      Halls of Lightning, Halls of Stone, Utgarde Pinnacle, and Gundrak are set at about level 79-80. Then add in Trial of the Champion and the three new Icecrown 5-mans. Plus you likely won’t have seen all the bosses in Violet Hold by then (admittedly they are easy but some of them have tactics.)

      So even if you have been making good use of the dungeon finder as you level (and I totally agree that it’s a good idea!!) there’s still a wodge of content thrown at you at 80.

  12. Some ideas:

    * Instant replay on boss fights, so you can analyse what happened
    * Don’t use Random LFD until you’ve queued and learnt each dungeon
    * Run instances while you level so you’re familiar for Heroics
    * In game boss mods
    * Definitely like the idea of some kind of upgrade planner – where to go next
    * Some kind of reward for mentoring – not sure how that would work

    • Mentoring would be fine:
      Set lvl and ilvl of the mentor to the average lvl /ilvl of the group and hand out boa-exp-tokens after the run.

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