In Part One of my article “Lowering Barriers to Entry”, I discussed the new player experience in our games. Now, I’d like to discuss the two facets of the main idea that I believe needs to be a central tenant of the our roleplaying genre:
New players must be able to actively engage with the game within the first 2 hours of play, regardless of any other factor.
This means that players must be able to:
– Learn and apply the basic commands that they will need to play the game.
– Use those commands to play the game in an immersive way.
Atonement, Parallel, and Shadows of Isildur managed to make significant strides toward accomplishing #2 at the end of character generation. Players could come into the game with armor, weapons, and crafting supplies in such quantities that they, if they knew what they were doing, could get a quick start and be useful in the game-world. For experienced players, this eased their entry into the game. However, for new players who had no understanding of the basic mechanics of the world, or how the items they were given impacted their play, this was still inadequate. Despite these games having the same administrators, the same staff, and the same resourcesm we never identified #1 as a major priority.
Let me be clear, for our games to succeed in the future, new players must be first able to learn and use the basic game commands to play the games. And honestly, with very little effort on their parts to do so. They need to be fed this information.
So, how do we accomplish this? Most modern AAA games utilize in-game tutorials for this purpose. These tutorials are not walls of text, but rather they encourage learning through playing. It has been documented time and again that walls of text telling people how to play a game do not work; most potential players just aren’t going to spend time clicking through a game’s Wiki or reading helpfiles. Rather players must be shown how to use the commands in a meaningful way from their very first introduction to the game. This creates a conundrum for our games, as we are text-based. A wall of text is indeed the easiest way for us to explain a mechanic, yet it is also perhaps the worst way we can explain a mechanic. As we are multiplayer games too, we don’t often have the opportunity to gently introduce new players to these systems in such a way that isn’t completely jarring to older players who are playing to immerse themselves in our games’ worlds.
In researching potential solutions for the upcoming Sanctuary MMO, I’m looking at instanced new-player environments as a way to introduce players to the basic commands and concepts of the game. As a sci-fi text-based MMO, I have some latitude here as I can easily wrap the tutorial area into “virtual reality” flavor, but I believe that any text based game could accomplish something similar. Less roleplay-focused games like Achaea and Aardwolf certainly manage to do so. The key is to keep things nice and simple. Introduce one element at a time in a safe environment, build upon previously learned skills, and give the player an experience pleasant enough that they won’t even know they are moving through a tutorial environment. Include your game’s roleplaying tools and encourage them to roleplay through your scripted event tutorials, so that they understand what sort of game it is that they are playing.
I firmly believe that by accomplishing this task, we can bring the user-friendliness of text-based games back in line with modern MMOs, to a certain extent. We’ve lagged behind for far too long, and it’s time to come out of the darkness and join other developers in following the industry’s best practices. Text-based games are currently undergoing something of a renaissance in the Interactive Fiction genre – let’s extend that renaissance to the RPI genre.
Icarus is best known for his work as a Senior Administrator on Shadows of Isildur’s Mirkwood region, Parallel RPI, and Atonement RPI’s Grungetown region. He got his start as a Craft Designer on Shadow of Isildur’s Gondor region.
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