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5 Tips for Creating a Better Tutorial
by Benjamin Sipe on 12/11/12 04:43:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


For app developers getting people to your app/game is your first and largest problem. After you obtain, purchase or organically get them to install you immediately hit your second largest problem. How do you hook them and keep them coming back? With all the screens fighting for our attention today, mobile developers have about 30 seconds to get the players’ attention. This is why tutorial design is so critical and often isn’t given the attention that it deserves.

Event track every step in the tutorial. 

It’s important to know what first time players are doing. If you can understand what they’re doing then it’ll be easier to know what they’re thinking or feeling. This is why it’s critical to create events and track each one separately to help you understand if there’s a flaw with the information you’re providing, an action that’s too complicated or frustrating, etc. These steps will help you create a tutorial funnel. Anywhere there is a big drop off, there is also a problem. If there are problems your funnel may look something like this. 

There are 2 obvious problems here. 

  1. There is a significant drop off early on which could mean a number of things such as; players didn’t like the context/theme/artwork of the game, perhaps the icon/description/screenshots were misleading or perhaps players just didn’t know how to get to the next section. If you’re walking players step by step through the tutorial (also known as gating) then the last scenario is unlikely.
  2. There’s another drop towards the end. It could be related to a technical issue, a login screen (e.g. Facebook) or player confusion with the UI or information presented.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine the reason but you can always get an outsiders perspective to help you thinking outside of your own code. Just remember if you’re trying to fix a particular problem don’t implement too many changes, or it’ll be hard to understand which fix is solving the issue (or making it worse).

Alert players who haven’t completed the tutorial.

Local notifications are a great way to call players back to your app if they allow them. Local notifications can also be a great tool to remind players to come back to your game to finish a tutorial if they didn’t complete it. We all hope that players could make it through a 30 second to couple minute tutorial, but life happens. Perhaps they installed your game earlier and are just getting around to playing it while waiting in line somewhere. You want to be able to remind those players that they haven’t fully experienced your game. Just remember not to be pushy or obnoxious with your alerts. There’s probably no reason to call them back more than once per day. 

Show players how to make an IAP or spend premium currency. 

If your game has a dual currency system (soft/hard or secondary/premium) then it’s great to show them how to use the premium or hard currency. You want players to understand the value of the premium currency and content so they’ll want it more. This is something good tutorials do. Great tutorials take it a step further and show players how to complete an in app purchase (IAP) in order to get that premium currency. They don’t make players’ spend real money in the tutorial. Instead they say something like “this one is on us.” This does two things; 

  1. It’s instilling the perception that you’re being generous to players. Generosity creates a positive emotion with players, and you want those types of emotions or feelings associated with your game.
  2. It shows players the IAP screen. We all want our players to spend premium currency, but we want them to buy it even more. Explaining how to do something with players can work for a small percentage, but showing players how to do something is much more effective.  

Reward them to stay and finish. 

Many developers think their game is different or unique from others and we all hope our games become industry standards. However, the honest truth is most games incorporate mechanics that have been used in other games. If a player knows how, or thinks that they know how, to play your game then why force them to complete a tutorial if they don’t want to? I know we all want players to understand our games, but you may also drive off a percentage of players as well. This also helps instill the feeling of generosity like mentioned earlier and gives players a little “walking around money” to get started in your game.

This actually happened to me recently. I was playing a city building simulation game and I completely understood how to play the game, but I was forced to complete a long and tedious tutorial. I became annoyed, quit, uninstalled and never came back. If I knew there was an option to skip the tutorial I would’ve, and if it prompted me to stay and complete the tutorial for premium currency/content then that would’ve changed my mood altogether. I always complete tutorials if I know there is a premium reward at the end. 

Shorten the tutorial or break it into smaller pieces. 

You don’t have much time to show players how to play your game before they lose interest or feel overwhelmed. I know you’ve just spent a decent portion of your life dedicated to the story or world you were creating but not all players are interested in character development or storylines. It’s best to just show players how to play your game, and if you game has depth allow players to explore that depth on their own. The ones who are interested in that level of involvement will find it. Trust me. 

Another way to shorten tutorials is to break them into smaller pieces. Show player how to do the bare minimum and get them into the action. Then when another area of the game is unlocked, or the player reaches a particular level, call in another short tutorial. Do this for all new mechanics or areas of your game when they appear versus in one sitting. It’ll get players into our game more quickly, and they’ll generally retain smaller chunks of information. 

If you’d like to chat about these points or anything else tech or gaming related you can find me at or Twitter.  

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Jon Fox
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Maybe this is just the perspective of someone who isn't very interested in social games to begin with, but this article seems to insist that there need be a tutorial at all. I find mandatory tutorials in social games to be akin to walking through a thicket of thorns. Especially if the game politely reminds me to keep playing even after I've gone to do something else.

Also, what's with that chart? It's just some bars and arrows.

Trevor McCalmont
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Tutorials are there to help orient the player in a new game. The point is not that they are painful to get through, and as the author mentioned in Point #5, they should be short so players can get back to exploring the virtual world.

The chart is pretty well explained in this post, but it's a tutorial funnel and he highlights two pain points for players. The drop offs indicate that players are leaving the game.

Benjamin Leggett
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Skippability and replayablility will cover a multitude of tutorial design sins.

Carlo Delallana
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"I always complete tutorials if I know there is a premium reward at the end." ~ isn't this a sign of failure-to-engage if the player has to be bribed to complete a task they don't like?

Adam Shields
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I don't believe this is inherently true. I think that in many real world examples this may have felt to be the case, but there are a few instances where I have stuck through a tutorial I may otherwise have just disregarded to find an aspect to the game I enjoyed. I think strong arming the player in any regard, beit by insisting the player perform the tutorial to rewarding the player with heavy beginner loot, is the real problem. Done right, you not only learn more about the task at hand AND are positively rewarded for the experience through in game items.
I do believe that people substitute premium rewards when they fail to engage in many cases.Additionally, if a tutorial is meant to show you the ins and outs of a game, and you don't like the tutorial, the core experience may simply be incompatible with you. As a rule, I simply do not touch horse simulators.No matter how many gold horseshoes you throw at me. -Adam

Benjamin Sipe
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@Carlo This was a personal stance. I've been gaming since the age of 2 so most of the time I don't need tutorials. However, there are times when I've actually learned something from a tutorial. It's not failure to engage per se... it certainly "could" be, but it can also be a way to encourage players to learn who think they already understand (when actually they might not). It's our jobs as game designers and producers to step outside of our own thought processes and into the thoughts of the players. These are just some tips I've noticed to keep players happy and playing through the beginning phases. I could've just said make a fun tutorial with the ability to skip it... but that wouldn't have be very insightful.

Alice Rendell
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I think the last section is really important. Often tutorials are very text heavy due to we (the developers) wanting to communicate as much of the backstory as possible. Personally, I don't feel this is neccessary and is a mistake I see in lots of social games. Firstly, you don't always need text to convey a story, and secondly the unfortunate truth is players don't tend to read text and it therefore just acts as a barrier.

I also think your point about taking things step by step is sound advice. Another thing I see in social games tutorials is everything all trying to be explained at once, such as lengthy stories or entire aspects of gameplay. Players don't need to know everything straight away and there is a lot to be said for the perseverence of self discovery. Ultimately a tutorial should act as a platform from which to jump, not as a definitive rule book.

Samuel Sawian
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Quite a few if not a majority of the tutorials in games are usually slapped on at the very end of the production process. It could be a requirement from the publishers or god forbid, a design flaw that creates the need for a tutorial. I think tutorials should be part of the gameplay and story. Take a look at Oblivion or Skyrim for example... you learn the basic mechanics of the game while learning the back story of the game and in turn receiving in game rewards for completing each phase of the tutorial. This is something that should be incorporated in social games as well.

Tony Payne
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different types of consumers need different strategies to keep them stay in the game. So in my opinion, the first step is to coorperate with the market colleagues to figure out the main consumers. And then we can make decision on each part of the tutorial. It's ture that we need to reward the players, or teach them how to play the game, everyone knows it. BUT as I said before that, we should make individual strategy for OUR players.

Any way, good article and it of course will guide us when making toturial, thank you very much.

Marc-Andre Caron
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I've worked on several tutorials over the years. I've discovered that the features needed to make a decent tutorial are the same, no matter what your approach is (front-load the tutorials, or spread them throughout the game). Mostly, these features are: 1 - the ability to script (to make adjustments after rounds of testing) 2 - The ability to pause (giving the user some time to read or listen to instructions) 3 - the ability to catch and process user input (to not let players break some of these missions)

Unfortunately, this often comes towards the end of production and many dev teams will simply refuse to deliver these, arguing that a few generic pop-ups should do the trick. Hence the terrible tutorials that many games impose on their players.