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[Why do game tutorials suck so much, and who are they for? Experienced developer and author Sheri Graner Ray takes a look at different styles of knowledge acquisition and posits a way to design tutorials that will more effectively satisfy a broader audience.]
No one likes tutorials.
Marketing doesn't like them because they are never done until the very end of the project.
Producers don't like them because they can't spare the resources to make one.
The team doesn't like them because they've been living, eating, breathing and sleeping this product for so long they can't imagine anyone NOT being able to figure it out.
Finally -- the users rarely like them because they simply don't teach anything well in any way.
Yet tutorials are the players' first contact with our product -- their first impression of our work.
We only get one chance and we usually blow it.
Here's how it normally happens. At the last moment before ship, someone from marketing or PR or community comes in to a meeting and says, "What about the tutorial?"
The team groans, the producer gets a headache, and then some smart person pipes up with "Is that intern still around? The one we put over in QA? Isn't he a programming intern? Why don't we give it to him? Oh, and we can have him do the install while he's at it."
And that's how tutorials get done in today's industry.
What we need to understand is that tutorials are not only the player's first impression of our work, but also they are the onramp to our products. If our onramp is smooth, wide and broad, then more people can easily get on. If the onramp is narrow, cramped, and made of mud, then very few people will get on. Better tutorials make a better first impression, which makes for happier customers -- and thus better business.
So, how do we go about making tutorials? First we need to understand how people learn. If you've had any training in education at all, then you know about the three primary learning styles: visual, aural, and kinetic. But for those of you who haven't, here's a quick refresher:
Visual learners are those who learn by seeing information. These are the people who would rather read instructions in a book or see charts and tables about the subject than listen to someone talk about it. They tend to say things like "I see your point."
Aural learners are those who learn by hearing information. They would rather listen to a lecture than read the information in a text book. They often say things like "That sounds right."
Kinetic learners are those who want to be in motion while they are learning. They would rather be up and moving around in front of the whiteboard than sitting at a desk. They might say things like "That doesn't feel right."
Now, the important thing to remember is that kinetic learners are not necessarily "learn by doing" people. They are "learn by moving" people. I shared an office with a strongly kinetic learner for almost three years. During our design brainstorms, he would pace in front of the whiteboard. The deeper into the design process we got, the move he would move until he was actually bouncing in front of the board. Even when sitting at his computer, he would move his hands as though writing on the board; pointing and moving virtual ideas around.
Educational instructors today will tell you that there are a myriad of combinations of these types of learning, and some new ones as well, but those are still considered the basics.
Now, something you don't hear as much about is the idea of knowledge acquisition styles. Along with the three big learning styles, there are two additional knowledge acquisition styles: "explorative acquisition" and "modeling acquisition." This is the information that is important to game developers, as it can be applied directly to game tutorials.
Explorative acquisition people are those learners who learn by taking risks. They are the ones who push every button, and flip every lever. They want to find the risks and experience them.
The best example of this is what happens when you take a 12 year old explorative learner into an arcade and hand her a token. Typically she will rush to the very first machine that catches her eye, drop her token in and start banging on the controls while asking, "How does this work?"
She is learning by exploring -- learning by taking risks. She is going to push every button on that machine just to see what it does.