Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

19 January, 2009

Weekend Design Challenge: New player experience
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:19 PM

One of the most vital aspects of online games is the new player experience. It becomes even trickier when you consider a person who has never played online games before.

This week, let’s consider the new player experience in an online game.

The important thing is to understand the previous experience of the newbie. This influences what areas they need to learn.

  • Have they played online games before?
  • Have they played games in the same gameplay genre (e.g. RPGs) before?
  • Have they played games in a similar setting (e.g. high fantasy) before?
  • Do they have friends in the game?
  • Do they have the patience to read and/or listen to instructions?

One issue is trying to find the “one size fits all” approach to the new player experience. With just the 5 questions asked above, that means we have 32 different types of players to consider; and, these aren’t the only questions we could ask. Of course, some questions trump others: a player without the patience to read or listen to a tutorial isn’t going to learn much through traditional tutorial methods.

What are your thoughts? How can we improve the new player experience in our games?


  1. What I see as the usual way to do this is to provide a manual and/or in-game instructions (because those who would read them will go looking), and a skippable tutorial of some kind, or perhaps tips that pop up (that can be turned off by the repeat player or expert). I always prefer to have the basic controls outlined for me before I jump into a new game, and I like when the first few levels sort of ease me into the game. With levels like that, usually they are easy enough for a repeat player or expert to breeze through them quickly, so they aren’t annoyed by an un-skippable tutorial, but they get new players used to what is expected of them. FAQs, in-game documentation or a manual can be useful for people who want to learn more, though often poking around in the controls menu can be enough.

    Comment by Katherine — 19 January, 2009 @ 5:04 PM

  2. I’m quite puzzled about this actually.

    Things I have tried:
    - (big) window opening in the game just after creating account
    - Tutorial NPCs in the starting zone (can be identified by green exclamation marks over their heads)
    - Welcome mail with basic info sent to in-game mails

    The “pop-up” was a failure because players don’t want to be annoyed by a pop-up they are not expecting. It’s a sure quick click on the “close” button.

    Tutorials given by NPCs require time to complete (not much actually, but still) but often players are expecting to get right into the action with no delay so they skip them.

    I thought having more success with the “welcome mail” (the mail button is flashing in yellow which can easily be seen) since players can read it when they’re ready (once they’re stuck). But from a recent experience, I’m not sure it’s working either. I’m sending all updates notes through in-game mails (and on forums) and the recent update caused some heated reactions, most of it because players stopped reading the mail past the subject. So I’m really not sure players are actually reading the welcome mail before deleting it.

    I’m thinking to add a broadcast in the global chat channel when a new player joins the game, so other players are aware that a new player is there. I’m lucky to have many nice players around at different times of the day, so that might help to make them aware that someone possibly needing help has just arrived.

    When I happen to get “caught” online without my visible flag to “off”, I’m receibing many (many) questions directly in chat. Most of these players are not active on the forums (most aren’t anyway, which is predictable). So I’m guessing that instant chat support from others is a better way to help new players above everything else I tried. Not easily done though, unless other players are willing to participate.

    Comment by Over00 — 19 January, 2009 @ 9:57 PM

  3. I think the really crucial thing is the hook: we as players have to be invested before it gets difficult or complicated. As odd as it sounds, that means a player needs to accomplish something, discover something hidden, make a friend or two, and/or have an exciting PvP experience of some kind (however simple), as quickly as you can possibly deliver those things. It’s much like the first five pages of a book in a bookstore, or why musicals usually begin with something fun and accessible. I haven’t played this in a long time, but I seem to recall Guild Wars being exceptional in this regard: the opening fifteen minutes were a checklist of blissful MMO goodness: upgrades, free XP, walk to the next town and kill something, the game finds you a partner, you and your partner battle someone else and their partner.

    I think once the player is intrigued, once they know the game is fun, they’ll be much more likely to try to resolve an issue, or get an answer to a question. In the meantime, the UI and the mechanics have to be as easy to understand as possible.

    Comment by Bret — 20 January, 2009 @ 3:45 PM

  4. Watching a new player up close and personal…

    My WoW-playing friends have not been overly impressed with the expansion. So, after two of them bought the latest Lord of the Rings Online expansion, and one bought it as a gift for another friend, we’ve been playing that game a bit more than we’ve …

    Trackback by Psychochild's Blog — 21 January, 2009 @ 4:39 AM

  5. I am by no means a newbie to online games. However, I was pleasantly surprised by a game I recently tried. It is called Wizard101. It walks you through everything in the beginning. It uses both written and voice tutorials to tell you how things work. You could not get into the “real” game world until you had learned how game chat, movement, battle, etc. worked. I was impressed by it.

    This game’s introduction is such that my 67 year old mother who likes to play Frogger and Pacman could easily play it. I can see her and her granddaughter playing it together eliminating the 600 miles between them.

    Comment by sourpuss — 27 January, 2009 @ 5:46 AM

  6. Wizard 101 has a lot of great things going for it. The tutorial is fairly well done, though it does use alternate versions of cards that show up later, so the expectation/reality clash is a bit odd. Still, it’s a great way to show most of the core mechanics of the combat. (And combat itself is interesting enough to carry a lot.) There is at least one more mission a few levels in that digs deeper into combat, and it’s similarly well-crafted… though I think it should happen earlier in the game, considering that you’ll probably see some of the mechanics it explores before the mission itself.

    You can skip the tutorial. At least, I’ve been able to do so, since I don’t really need to play through it again if I’m starting up an alternate character.

    Comment by Tesh — 28 January, 2009 @ 10:42 AM

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