From exhaustive manuals to lengthy lines of texts with bright red arrows to fully integrated narratives, game tutorials became more complex as both available interactions and user expectations grew. An industry-valued as billion-dollar market with over 2,700 companies located across America and completely saturated with customer options totaling at over 9,000 titles released on Steam in 2018 alone, is it any wonder that games would dedicate so much time and effort to the first entry point a user sees? Teaching users the skills necessary to master the basics isn’t only used in games of course. In UX design, we are more accustomed to calling this process ‘on-boarding.’ However, many products’ on-boarding processes are dry and overwhelm users by front-loading a ton of knowledge at once. In the words of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Ralph Koster “game design is about the clarity that teaches complexity.” The keyword here is teach. As UX Designers, we need to treat learning as the equivalent to fun and game tutorials are an excellent starting point.
- Integrate Story
Take a moment to think about the last app you downloaded. Did you stop and read every single instruction on the on-boarding screens or did you quickly swipe pass maybe scanning for a few keywords? Instead of front-loading information and listing off directions users are likely to forget seconds later, games often put users directly into the action to learn by doing. Often they are weaving a story around the users to create a more immersive learning experience. Take for example Oculus’s Rift’s tutorial “First Contact.” Set in the retro-futurism of the ’80s, the first thing the user sees is a ridiculously cute, Pixar-like robot character moving around the space. It waves to the user and instinctively most users wave back thus learning the 1st interaction they can do with the controllers in the virtual reality system. Oculus is playing on the user’s humanistic reaction to wave hello. Of course, I am not suggesting putting giant-eyed characters into all your tutorials; rather, I am asking you to consider what reactions you can exploit to manipulate users into performing some of the core interactions of your product almost instinctively. Keep in mind that lengthy text, prescriptive instructions, and over-explained concepts can feel patronizing to a user; instead, treat your product like a story and your user as the main character.
- Build on Challenges in Digestible Chunks
Often you’ll see many products that want to teach all its complexity at the beginning so that their users can jump right in with an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge. This makes the onboarding process rather sluggish, annoying, and frankly forgettable. Instead, consider teaching just the basics at first and introducing more advanced concepts at later phases once the user masters the basics. Not everything needs to be explored at once. For example, the indie puzzle game “The Witness” uses a completely wordless tutorial relying on the user’s own ability to observe, learn and experiment. However, this does not mean the user is expected to automatically understand all the game’s complex rules (as evident once the user encounters the game’s last puzzle). Rather, new rules are continuously built on old ones challenging the user to learn. The game starts the user off isolated in a hallway with only 1 direction to go and 1 possible interaction. The user automatically knows what to do because there is absolutely nothing else they can do. The game then smartly and deliberately integrates progressively difficult tasks by using the game’s environment to direct their attention from puzzle A to puzzle B. It takes the rules the user already knows and complicates them with each new puzzle. This can allow your users to master and engage with your product at a deeper level of connection over time. As a designer, you want to break down to its most simple form what the core interaction a user needs to learn to effectively use your product. From there, limit what the user can do so you can manage their initial journey from point A to point B. Further, introduce new tasks at different stages as they increase in complexity thus challenging your users. By doing this, you are designing for small revelations that allow the user to experience a ‘eureka moment’ thus solidifying the newly learned knowledge.
- Learning Through Play & Exploration
It is essential to hook your users enough to continue exploring your product within its first few moments. Tutorials are the very first thing a user will see and with so many potential options, how long do you think someone is willing to spend on a product before losing interest and moving onto the next one? I’d guess 5 or 10 minutes at most before they quickly snap judgments. The puzzle-platformer “Portal” is an excellent example of a game that teaches fundamental skills early on while also engaging the user with interesting puzzles and dilemmas while they “play”. Running with this concept, “Portal” often allows users the time and space to explore new concepts at their own pace while getting acclimated to the environment and mechanics. At every new stage, it reinforces the user’s goal and previously learned mechanics while giving them breathing space to conceptualize the game’s perspective switching environment. It doesn’t pressure the user to continue forward without fully exhausting the learning objective. Similarly, you should give your users the ability to play around with the interface and interactions in a substantial way. It is essential that they can interact with your product without getting frustrated or worrying about making mistakes. Give them the opportunity to “play”. As a designer, you need to help your users understand how to apply the tools they just learned about in the tutorial in an engaging manner and foster self-discovery.
Game tutorials understand how to break down complex ideas and assist its users to become masters of these unique worlds. From them, we can learn how to build around a product’s narrative, integrate concepts in digestible chunks and foster self-discovery via play. The path to a successful product starts with an engaging onboarding process that eases the user in and produces authentic moments of discovery. On-boarding is the best way to make your product more accessible to users and will inevitably be the first thing they see, so why not make it fun and engaging?