Today’s Response: Learning Curves!

12 December, 2009

Every game has a learning curve. Even Pong has a learning curve. Through trial and error a player will learn that the ball must not cross their line of defense. Also, by hitting the ball with the paddle you can make challenging plays for your opponent. Pong has a fairly simple learning curve. It doesn’t take very long to learn, and there aren’t many instructions to follow. The MMO EVE on the other hand has one of the most difficult learning curves. There are many complex strategies that a player must learn to even begin. Once the initial gameplay is introduced a player has to decide what skills they want to use, what factions or corporations to join, and how to make money. Here is a picture someone made about learning curves and MMOs.  I find it to be quite accurate, and if you don’t believe me about EVE just sign up for a trial account.

Those two examples obviously don’t represent the bulk of video games. There is usually a “tutorial island” in video games that guide a player through how to play the game. Most often they cover movement, how to interact with objects, and what players should generally do in the game. These can be tedious if they move too slowly, but if they move too quickly players will be lost. The worst way to start a game off is by making the player frustrated. This is why considering a learning curve in development should be done constantly. Adding a new element into a game should be carefully considered, and developers should seek out how to teach players about new elements effectively. For example, if the fighting system is original, a great deal of time should be placed in how to teach players the fighting system. Developers should place the players in real-time simulations of gameplay. Doing is learning. There also needs to be an examination on how much time a player needs to spend on each topic. If there are elements that are in almost every game in the genre, there doesn’t need to be a long explanation of the elements. Almost all characters move the same way in first person shooters, if there needs to be a tutorial on how to move it should be optional or very brief.

A developer should choose who their target audience is, and what that audience’s experiences have been. Players should know the difference between the game they are learning and games they have already mastered. A player will most likely be able to find their way around from playing other MMOs. What players might need to be taught is if  an element is different, such as a whole new way to do transactions with other players. These elements could be awkward and daunting if players aren’t taught how to use them. An entire aspect of the game may initially be avoided by players, and the hard work that the developers put into creating the element will have gone to waste. The developers might also have to work on creating ways to bring players back to that element without the players having negative biases based on their past experiences with the element.

Players will always learn how to play if they have enough will power to continue playing. Players will also continue playing if they feel they are being rewarded for learning. In arcade games if a player died they would usually continue playing because they learned new patterns while playing. There are times when the game needs to let go and allow the player to enjoy themselves. Its just like teaching a kid to ride a bike, and letting go of the handlebars. In a puzzle game there needs to be trial and error and the players should not be told how to solve the puzzles, otherwise the purpose of the game would be defeated. Players learn at different rates, and one size does not fit all in tutorials.

Developers should constantly be considering how to introduce elements of their game to players. As my friend says, “perhaps in the end, we will invariably see the rise of more sophisticated tutorials; because all in all, to assume humans as intelligent, skill grasping beings we would be short sighting the fact that people enjoy having their hands held, no matter the trial before them.”

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