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First Five Minutes: How Tutorials Make or Break Your Social Game
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First Five Minutes: How Tutorials Make or Break Your Social Game

April 21, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

The tutorial in Mafia Wars, due to its nature as a "first generation" Facebook game, is quite sparse, at least in its present form. Partially this is due to the game being a less media-rich early Facebook game, but besides that the case might very well be that Mafia Wars' tutorial requirements have been supplanted by the social tutoring context which has reached a tipping point of sorts while the game was gaining its immense popularity.

Ultimately, a social game is only able to achieve this after a certain viral growth, and therefore for a new game breaking through to the market without the benefits of cross-promotion and marketing, the tutorial is a crucial part of discovery that leads to repeated engagement with the product.

On the other hand, Mafia Wars' user interface contains a lot of information, which means a tutorial in the form of a complete UI walkthrough would be laborious for the player.

In fact, Zynga's Mark Skaggs mentioned in a recent GDC talk that they randomly cut two steps from the tutorial, which led to 25 percent increase in the funnel results, but negative feedback from players. Funnel numbers can be pumped up to make your tutorial appear quantitatively more efficient, yet qualitatively it might suffer.

This case example goes to show that the length or detail of the welcome tutorial should not be directly proportional to UI or game complexity.

The key is to get the player to become curious about all the information available to him, and then make him act upon it through the core gameplay, smart UI design, and follow-up tutorials -- ideally in this order, for engagement that stems organically from the fun of the game.

As a developer you are definitely easier off if your game concept and its core mechanics are coined around a familiar sequence of events: In terms of social psychology, visiting a restaurant, farming a plot, taking care of an aquarium, starting as a novice gangster all represent schemas that we are intuitively familiar with from real life and/or popular fiction. Therefore building your core mechanics and tutorial on the same sequence of events provides an inherently more accessible starting point.

Single player practice in Wild Ones works as a way to return to the tutorial.

The structure of your game as a product, i.e. how it fuses gameplay and monetization, does have consequences for the focus of the tutorial. In case the game is primarily about individual matches between players (e.g. a Wild Ones by Playdom), and only secondarily about a persistent, over-arching goal structure, then a possibility to re-access the tutorial in the form of practice is important for player engagement and retention.

Tutorial design guidelines

The structure of the table also suggests a design framework for social game tutorials, with a set of constraints concerning length, start and end states, and the structure with which the core game mechanics are introduced. If we return to the notion of onboarding, at least traces of the three steps of accommodation, assimilation, and acceleration can be found in all of the tutorials.

The following aspects are of particular use when thinking about your social game's tutorial flow:

  • Start:
    • How do you kickstart the player into the core mechanics?
    • What resources and mechanics should be available?
    • Who is tutoring the player, and what is the tone of voice?
  • End:
    • In what situation is the player left?
    • Is there punctuation to the end of the tutorial, an uplifting crescendo that leaves the player positively hanging?
    • Are there incentives to instantly carry on? Is something left "cooking" so that the player wants to return and smell the kitchen?
    • Does the UI "beg" to continue clicking, i.e. does it leave the player into a middle of a flow that he is curious and engaged enough to carry through?
  • Structure & Length:
    • What are the core mechanics and incentives the player is presented, and in which order?
    • How much of the core mechanics can be communicated in the first 60 seconds?
    • How many steps are there in your tutorial funnel? What is the overall average duration players are supposed to spend with the tutorial?
    • Is this in line with the complexity of your game?
    • Are there bottlenecks you could streamline or remove -- perhaps make a gamble that a shorter tutorial springboards the player into a commitment where learning the advanced mechanics and features organically grows from repeated plays?

Tutorials evolve through metrics and the service aspect

In social game development, one might go as far as say that game concepts should be pitched in the form of a tutorial. On the other hand, due to iterative development, implementing the tutorial in its entire functionality might be best to be left as the last thing to be implemented. Otherwise the tutorial might end up being iterated with each launch candidate of the game, which is not necessarily cost-effective.

Nevertheless, nailing the tutorial both in terms of the funnel and the learning experience at a certain point of the product lifecycle does not mean the work ends there - developing social games is about constant design, redesign, implementation and deployment of new features and content. In effect, players need to be told about new features, which might mean that revisions of tutorials or 'mini-tutorials' are needed. Nevertheless, this should be seen as a positive aspect of the service business process where social game design and development is embedded.


Robert Cialdini. Influence. Psychology of persuasion.

Suhail Doshi. How to Analyze Traffic Funnels and Retention in Facebook Applications.

Christian Crumlish & Erin Malone. Designing Social Interfaces.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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