The information above leads me to believe that nowadays, we as developers have fallen into a habit of spoon-feeding the player with tutorials and far fewer things to do or play within the initial stages of the game.
The goal of any developer conforming to this trend is clearly to make their game accessible to as many players as possible. This “widening the market” style of design can indeed make a game easier to get into, but at the same time, it can feel patronising and also put a player off playing any more. Although the aim ‘widen the market’ is a valid one, the solution of making things easier to meet this aim, is perhaps misfocused.
This brings me back to the argument that the newer games – even in light of the fact that there is a far larger installed base of consoles than there was is the 8 and 16-bit days – will not match the astronomical sales of their older counterparts, because decision makers have simply fooled themselves – and others - into believing that older consoles weren’t mass market and that market trends and lessons learnt from this era serve little validity in our current market.
Let’s put this in perspective. Super Mario Brothers 3 has sold more than Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City. Both these games are available on the most culturally accepted platform there has ever been. The game itself is a massive critical and commercial success, with celebrities even making jokes related to the game in passing comment on popular television programmes.
This alone tells me that games have been mass market since the NES days – a machine which enjoyed a long and dominant life on the market, sold 75 million consoles worldwide, and lay resident within one in three American households.
It is my belief that Playstation’s cool factor allowed gamesplayers to come out of the proverbial closet and thus, the Sony console was credited for conceiving the gaming mass market, with PS2 having achieved almost as many sales as the NES in half the time within a three-brand, 100-mil consoles sold market.
Since then, a gradual but highly visible change in game design styles has meant losing the popular confident progression style of past, to a new style that treats the player as if they’ve never seen a game before. Added player responsibility to control imperfect cameras obviously doesn’t help.
Part of the joy of a game is discovering your abilities, your limits and being able to master them within an engaging environment, yet the current mass-design philosophy replaces these joyful moments of playful discovery into a ‘Simon says’-style of grammar-school-obedience and restriction.
Don’t the young and old play games to get away and forget the pressures brought on from those ‘do as I say’ school teachers, bosses and parents? Don’t you find yourself picking up your most simple, arcade-style games when in times of stress, as opposed to the more linear and hoop-through games that take time to get fun?
Going back to a point of previous, Grand Theft Auto 3 does
have a tutorial in the form of pop-up messages and certain missions,
but it and they appear in a subtle and non-obtrusive manner and can be
completely ignored. You can also enjoy the game at multiple levels of
difficulty from the off, by taking on gradually taxing Taxi missions,
Fire Engine missions, wiping out gangs and so on… Of course, GTA’s
concept is also a bastion of the freedom the digital world can give,
but the point remains.
We trusted the market before to handle Mario’s eight or nine moves and his outlandish power-ups, without a tutorial. His game sold more than GTA3.
We trusted the market to pick-up and play Sonic’s loop-the-loop filled world without patronising them with a relatively hazardless first level. His game helped briefly propel Genesis sales to make the NES passe at its peak.
Why we don’t trust the player to pick-up and enjoy our games nowadays without nervously showering them with in-game instruction, or greeting them with relatively eventless, sterile and stupidly easy first moments? Yes, there are camera controls and three dimensions to worry about now. Perhaps our focus needs to address these problems that are not yet fixed; effective cameras in 3D games and simpler control?
It is my belief that if we free ourselves from the fallacy that mass market = inability to figure out how to move a character along a screen, we will focus on making accessible, intuitively designed, innovative, solid, consistent, powerful, enjoyable, culturally relevant game content and not rehash old ideas within a proverbial new set of clothes.
If you feel that tutorials or mindless opening moments are still a necessity, you could always do what GTA3 did and provide your players with a tutorial that can be completely ignored.
Of course, this is only an opinion and one that I’ve drawn from the information in the previous factual conclusions. There is enough information for you to form your own opinions and hopefully help yourself make your games better.
Daniel Boutros - Daniel@Gametao.com