GameDev Protips: A Few Helpful Tips On Crafting A Better Tutorial

The tutorial is one of the most important, and most often overlooked, pieces of a game. A good tutorial will manage to teach the player how to play without ruining immersion or needlessly boring the player.So, in terms of not needlessly boring or overwhelming the player, there are a few things that can be done here. The tutorial should have as little text as possible as it’ll often be skipped if it’s too intimidating or if players are eager for action. This tutorial should instead be through gameplay so that it avoids those downsides. You should avoid front loading information as much as possible. This is one of the most common mistakes as often times games are designed and their tutorials are last minute additions, when in reality that tutorial should be something the game is designed with in mind. Frontloading information will lead to very little learning due to overwhelming amounts of information, and is very likely to bore players.

If your tutorial is skipped, you have failed as a designer to teach people how to play your game. The tutorial should be fun and gradual so that there isn’t a valid reason to skip it in the first place. That being said, you should always give players the option to skip the tutorial because there is a significant subset of players that will find the tutorial as a chore. Regardless of whether this is because they don’t care or if they’re replaying the game and are forced through the tutorial again, it’ll make players gravitate away from your game if you’re forcing a huge tutorial on them every time. In addition to making the tutorial skippable, the tutorial itself or the tutorial material should also be re-accessible. This way players who either didn’t do the tutorial or forgot something can reference it and not feel out of the loop.

The UI is something that should be considered as well. If information is currently irrelevant, don’t include it on the screen. Cluttering your UI will only make it tougher to memorize what the tutorial is trying to teach you; only show those new UI features when they’re actually being used. One small example I can think of for this is Borderlands. Until you actually get your first shield, or your first class ability or class mod, those things don’t actually show up at all. Once they’re introduced, there’s a short little tooltip tutorial that explains them with gameplay introductions if you don’t feel like reading or want to reinforce what you’ve learned. You should try to avoid introducing a lot of new mechanics at the same time in general for the same reasons that you don’t frontload your tutorial, and you should make sure the UI doesn’t have any distracting elements in it that aren’t necessary.

Ensure that your tutorial is reinforced through gameplay so that your players are actually retaining the information; even the best tutorials need something to support them or else they’ll be forgotten. Also, make sure that your tutorial is appropriate for your target demographic. Obviously this depends on the game you’re making, but you should judge if you need to explain health bars or basic movement controls like WASD for example. It’s always a good idea to just listen to the players in playtesting as a whole. They’ll point out things that are obviously flawed that a developer would take for granted, and as a result they can also contribute to optimizing your tutorial for what is relevant and what isn’t.

Important Takeaways: Tutorials are often overlooked and tacked on, so here are some tips to avoid falling into that trap. The first and most important tip is to design a game around the tutorial rather than vice versa; failure to do so results in a frontloaded, shoddy tutorial. The tutorial should have very little text, be mostly reinforced through gameplay, and not frontload information, as any of these rules being violated can contribute to player boredom or the inability to retain what is necessary. Your UI should be simplified until the tutorial introduces new mechanics that are required to be added onto the UI, as, similarly to above, you want to make sure you aren’t making it difficult to retain information due to distractions. Finally, focus on your players and use their experience to aid your tutorial creation. This will include listening to their feedback on the tutorial itself, pointing out flawed mechanics that should be fixed to lower the game’s barrier of entry, and making sure your demographic understands every gaming convention that is taken for granted, e.g. health bars or WASD movement. All this being said, make sure the tutorial isn’t mandatory so that you don’t bore players with a chore if they don’t want to play it or have played it before, and provide a reference for those players elsewhere.