Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tutorials in Social Games

If you've made games for a while, you have likely faced the frequently forced, painful and cramped narrative-on-rails that is the in-game tutorial. For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, many game devs (including me) decided that we'd work as hard as we could to make the tutorial a part of the game story. The result is often garbage like this:

Grab that gun! Let's go! They're after us. Oh, and if you need me to give you ammo, press CTRL A.

And if you are a player right then, and this is the first bit of tutorial-speak you hear in the game, you tolerate it, because you have grown accustomed to such weirdness. I vividly remember this one game experience where I was regularly jolted out of the game by these messages as the ramp progressed.

So, it's an interesting and refreshing change to see tutorials in social games.

See that star? Click on it to increase your earnings. The more stars you collect, the more you'll earn!

Or the deliciously simple:

Follow the yellow arrow to learn how to play.

Social games, casual games, board games and sports have all embraced this simple "tell it like it is" approach. There is the explicit understanding between designer and player: you need to learn how to play, and I'll tell you how to do it. Part of the reason social games do this is clear: we can't afford any potential disconnect between the player and the rules in the roughly 30 seconds (literally) that we have their attention before they decide to either keep playing or move on. This is compounded by the constraints of narrative exposition. Must I explain who I am, what I am, what I am doing here and the player's relationship to me? Must I set the stage in some weird way by first giving an explanation about why the player's here in the first place? In board games and social games, the angst is very much up front and the tutorial or the ruleset in board games delivers the goods straight:

Object: To acquire land through purchase, trading and takeover.

So much of the fluff falls to the floor.

It's refreshing, I think, this simple and direct means of explaining play.


  1. What has happened to your games over on Facebook today (10/15/10)? This morning we were playing Garden Life, this afternoon its fully gone along with your other games. Hope you will be back soon?

    Pennie Hernandez

  2. can some one fix of tell us how to fix the character stuck off screen issue on ravenwood fair......we have been waiting for 3 days now, more and more people are having same problem!!!