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Designing Games for Novice Gamers
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Designing Games for Novice Gamers


May 14, 1999 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

Most games today aim at the known, comfortable market of experienced or advanced gamers. The gaming industry knows what kind of games this market enjoys and targets its products accordingly. However, most people who own computers and are only potentially computer game buyers are not experienced or advanced gamers. I’ll call these people "novice gamers".

Modern games regularly turn off novice gamers. The games’ complexity, strange settings, and excessive graphic violence don’t appeal to most people. Does this mean that you can’t make games with broad appeal outside the traditional gamer market? I hope not. In this article, I’ll set forth some guidelines for making games for novice gamers.

Low Entrance Barrier

Many games, such as flight simulators and some role-playing games, have a pretty high entrance barrier. Before you can start playing these games, you have to possess a lot of knowledge. Experienced gamers know how these games are supposed to work and only have to learn the specifics of any one game — almost like encountering another dialect of a language you already know.

Novice players, however, will have to read through a manual of 50 or more pages before they can get anything but frustration out of playing the game. Needless to say, novice gamers won’t expend this effort, particularly when they’re not even sure that they’ll enjoy the game in the first place.

On the other hand, several games let players start immediately without having to know lots of stuff about how to control the game. Many adventure games, in particular Myst, are easy to get started with and give immediate enjoyment. Novice players also have an easy time getting into 3D shooters such as Doom. Thus, it’s not surprising to see that these games reach a wider audience than other games with a higher entrance barrier.

Doom: No manual needed, just ammo.

So when you design games for novice gamers, a low entrance barrier is critical. The player should be able to start playing the game almost immediately and understand at once what is happening. In a role-playing game, for instance, the player should be able to start with a prerolled character.

Then, when the player gets into the game, the action alternatives should be obvious and intuitive. For instance, many adventure games, such as the Monkey Island series, offer players a list of three or four alternatives from which to choose their responses while conversing with other characters. In other games, players can click on icons that explicitly represent the action alternatives. In the Eye of the Beholder games, for example, players can click on icons for moving, casting spells, resting, or alternating control over each character in the party. Clicking on a character brings up a new screen with a set of action alternatives for managing that character.

In other games, the alternatives for moving or picking up objects aren’t that obvious. Players may have to click on a house to go there, or click on an object to pick it up. But what these alternatives lack in clarity, they make up for in intuitiveness.

Which brings us to the subject of intuitive action alternatives. Even if an alternative is obvious (perhaps it has an icon), it isn’t necessarily intuitive. Players may have difficulty realizing what an icon stands for just by looking at it, and trying it out may be a bit scary.

Tooltips or some other way of displaying explanatory text may be a good way to make up for the lack of intuitiveness in such situations. In a role-playing game, certain icons may move the character and other icons cause the character to pick up items, rest, cast spells, and so on. These icons aren’t always self-explanatory, but a tool-tip will immediately make clear the meaning of an icon (a tool-tip is a pop-up bubble which describes the purpose of an icon when the mouse passes over it).


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