The first three minutes

I remember very clearly the first time I ever logged into a multi player game online.

It was a MUD that was running on one of the university computers. I’d seen single player text based adventures before, so I played it like one of those, but with other people chatting on text channels in the background. It was novel to see other characters wandering around, but they didn’t really impact on my game. (I know NOW that there was quite a lot of grouping and guilds and socialising also.)

I also remember very clearly the first time I ever logged into a multi player game online where someone else spoke to me.

This was also a text based game, and one of the other players whispered a greetings to me when I had just logged in for the first time. (I think a message went out to all players when a newbie logged in to encourage them to be friendly.) I was so freaked out and unsure how to react that I considered logging out and never coming back. Fortunately I didn’t do this and I’m still friends with that player to this day – we even went to each other’s weddings.

It’s very unlikely that new players these days would be so unnerved by online chat. But some might be unnerved by a game that immediately pulls you out of the single player mindset. If you’re used to as much time and space as you like to figure a game out, having to race other players for the newbie mobs is a layer of competition that just doesn’t exist in most single player games. Being asked to be social in an online game can be just as unnerving. You don’t expect to socialise in a single player game, so even having someone say ‘hello’ as they walk by can be anxiety inducing.

I mention this by way of pondering why so many WoW players don’t make it past the first five levels/ 30 minutes of play. (It’s under ‘Other Notes’.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone who can’t figure out moving, questing, and fighting isn’t going to get past level 2, never mind level 5, and probably won’t last 5 minutes let alone 30.

I had two main trains of thought on reading that Blizzard plan to go for a more basic tutorial at the very early levels.

1/ Good. I don’t see any problems with trying to make the tutorial more intuitive. Anyone who complains about levels 1-5 being dumbed down is being silly. What were you expecting, HARD MODE level 1-5? Sure, the early adopters (like me, after I got over my great fear of other people) enjoyed jumping in blind with a manual to hand and figuring these things out, but it wouldn’t have hampered the whole jumping in blind thing if a popup with ASWD on it had been put up.

Text MUDs actually had really extensive help files and staffers were always trying to figure out better tutorials because we wanted newbies to stay and not be put off by the complexity. I remember one game where we even had two or three separate tutorials based on the player’s previous level of experience with that type of game.

Having said that, jumping in blind to a complex game does encourage people to ask for help, which encourages interaction. I don’t think this is a good reason to skip the tutorial but it’s one of the reasons communities used to be much tighter.

2/ Are we sure people are leaving before 30 mins because they couldn’t figure out the basics? Maybe they just didn’t like the game enough to play longer. I will not count the number of games in my Steam collection that have been played for less than 30 mins, but trust me it’s several. I don’t stress over this, most of them were bought very cheaply in sales and I knew there was a risk I either might not like the game or might not have a long attention span for it.

Still, if you claim they can’t figure the game out then it’s easy enough to work on a better tutorial. If they left because they either freaked out at encountering other people or just didn’t fancy it, then it’s more difficult to think of a quick fix. (OK, I lie, the other people thing can probably be fixed. I know the EVE tutorial used to suggest players say something on the newbie channel and WoW could certainly benefit from a brief channel using tutorial.)

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13 thoughts on “The first three minutes

  1. Some great points, but I think that there’s two sides to the first one.

    If you saturate the starting experience with newbie content for people who are new to gaming/MMOs, you risk alienating the more advanced players trying out your game for the first time. An easy way is the skip tutorial/hide help feature, but this means that people familiar to the genre but unused to a specific game’s nuances might miss something. I think maybe different grades of help could be useful.

    You make a great point about the Steam collection – I’m in the same boat with a lot of games myself. I think that there could be an interesting study in there – does paying for a game make you more likely to play it? If a game costs £30 instead of £2 will you put more effort into game progress etc?

  2. I’m very much in agreement with 2) here – you’re touching upon something I have questioned before, especially in regard to some developers continuously simplifying entry levels of an MMO. how true is it really that early quitters leave because they are overwhelmed on a technical level? I have a hard time to imagine this somehow, unless a player is so far, far away from grasping video games in general that no MMO tutorial will be able to help that, either. There are other factors that influence this early choice much more in my opinion.

    I would also go as far as to claim that it is normal and to be expected that starting a new game is a little over-whelming in the first 60 or so minutes….what has happened that we assume this to be an issue? I just started playing AoC again and frankly it took me longer to remember how to play it, setting up the UI again and getting to grips with the quest and talent windows. yet, I was willing to do all that – why?

  3. Good to know that I am not the only one with the Steam issue. Every huge Steam sale I buy half a dozen to a dozen games and end up playing very very few of them. At least it’s not just me!

    I am still upset that I can’t get into Civ IV, even in the tutorial of that game I feel thrown to the wolves.

    On the other hand, there’s a game like Age of Empires Online that I started playing recently. The first missions you get are all part of the tutorial and it’s a little bit too much. They could have done away with a couple of those because it’s not that hard to grasp.

  4. I was going to suggest that a well written user manual might help with some of the issues in getting started, then I thought of an ingame video. Instead of (or in addition to) the short cinematic that is shown to newly created characters, why not play a short “How to” covering the basics of movement, questing, attacks, vendors, etc? There could be a clearly displayed option to skip the video for the uninterested, but an icon could remain somewhere on the screen to keep it accessible for those who want or need to view it again within their first 10 levels.

    The video could include clips of the various aspects of the game, a sort of teaser if you will, to entice the hesitant to stick it out.

  5. As an alternate explanation for why some new WoW players don’t make it past the first 30 minutes, my first five-minute introduction to the game featured:

    - somebody in zone chat calling everybody in the zone “gey nigerz”,

    - figuring out how to turn off /emote text to shut off the overspill from the hawt futa sex scene playing out behind a nearby bush, and

    - immediately after logging in being challenged to a duel to the death by a level 80 in full epic gear, who spent the next several minutes following me around doing the /chicken emote and spamming me with tells to “dual me fagit” when I declined the invitation.

    A nice animated popup on the screen that neatly laid out how to use the WASD keys to move probably wouldn’t have made a huge impact on my desire to dig further, y’know?

  6. @ Pardoz – One of the first things I learn in any MMO is how to turn off the general chat channel. The bigger the player base, the more likely I am to need this ability in the first hour in order to enjoy the game.

    This was never true for me in MUDs, (I’m not sure any of them even had turning off chat as a feature) but then peak population in most of the MUDs I played was less than twenty people.

    New players aren’t necessarily going to realize this is a possibility, or even desirable. WoW in particular probably needs to do something about that.

    • With the text-based games, in my experience, you had both lower concurrent population and fairly strict enforcement; now we have a much higher number of people and channels are policed about as strongly as the coastal waters of Somalia..

      I’m not sure what the best approach would be to fix this. Real-time enforcement is employee- (and thus money-) intensive. A compromise involving close monitoring of the default channels and zones new players see combined with a tutorial explaining how to add/remove additional channels (with a warning that they aren’t as tightly regulated, enter at the risk of your sanity) might work. I also suspect that generous use of the mod-hammer over the first six months or so after a game is released might pay off in the longer run, allowing one to gradually reduce the need for enforcement – it’s easier to house-train a puppy than a grown dog.

  7. Could it be possible that people leave an MMO because the Tutorial levels are _too easy_? Not to bash WoW, but she and her children aren’t the most complex games in the world, and certainly not at level 5.

    From personal experience, I have let people roll characters on my WoW account, and their reaction is, “This is it?”

  8. I would also go as far as to claim that it is normal and to be expected that starting a new game is a little over-whelming in the first 60 or so minutes….what has happened that we assume this to be an issue?

    It’s an issue nowadays because the profit goal is long-term subscription, not one-time box sales. If you don’t get the hang of a Steam game, who cares, the devs already have your money whether or not you play the game – they might care because of word-of-mouth advertising or for sequel sales or whatever, but that is about it. Meanwhile, MMO companies live or die by sustainable sub numbers. If you quit in the first 60 minutes, you obviously aren’t resubscribing next month.

    Besides, if Blizzard thinks they can get 10k (or 100k or 1k) more subs by appealing to Farmville moms or nongamers or whomever, why shouldn’t they do whatever is necessary to capture them? Us veterans can poo-poo on the forums and be indignant but Blizzard already has our dollars and the amount of people quitting because “HARD MODE level 1-5″ as Spinks terms it was nerfed is effectively zero. At this point, Blizzard couldn’t provide challenging leveling content for us even if they tried – we have too firm a grasp on the concepts and mechanics, and would recognize the difference between “I can solo the elite by popping X, Y, and Z cooldowns” and “there is literally zero way to defeat this mob/quest/etc with my class/spec/level.”

  9. Coming at the question from another direction, who are the people who try WoW and quit in the first few levels/30 minutes? What prompted them to try the game? I got into MMOs because I had friends who played them. I’d seen them play City of Heroes and WoW before I ever tried either game. Sure I read the pamphlets (manuals seems too much for booklets so small) before I made my first characters and started playing, and I probably paid some attention to the tutorial information (I have in subsequent games), but I already had some idea what I was doing before my first character took a step.

    And once one’s played one MMO, figuring out the next isn’t that hard.

    I’m not really arguing against the early levels being easy. They should be somewhat easy as one gets a feel for the specifics of the controls and works out how squishy the class one’s chosen is and all of that. But, at the same time, I can’t help wondering if Pardoz and Inquisitor haven’t nailed it. That people are driven off by bad experiences with other players and/or that many of those low level subscriptions weren’t genuine players to begin with.

  10. I quit SWG at launch and never came back before I even got out of character creation, and it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with the character generator.

    I’m not sure I even know what caused that one, maybe something like ‘I may have spent money on this game, but do I actually feel like making the commitment that having a character will entail? Maybe not today, perhaps I’ll come back tomorrow…’. and I never did.

    As for chat…

    …in no MMO I’ve ever played, have I ever been given a tutorial for the chat basics, and in any game I’m unfamiliar with I always end up fumbling around the first time someone tries to talk to me, or I try to answer someones question, for what exactly in this game are the particular magic incantations for replying to tells and posting to the chat channel I actually want rather than the one the default chat window is pointing to (no /say is almost certainly not what I want in any given situation)..

    No I shouldn’t end up googling for the list of slash commands apply to your particular game, and that inevitably aren’t even on your games website but a fan site instead. Not when chat is supposed to be fundamental to the whole experience.

    Maybe they should disable chat to start, and have part of the tutorial walk you through enabling it and adding yourself to and removing yourself from the right channels.

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