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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
Lessons From the New-User Experience
By Robert Basler on 2012-06-06 15:14:24
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

I've been playing quite a few new games lately. Some of them are research, but a few I am really enjoying. Playing all these new games has made me consider the new-user experience for my game. I'm not sure what that will be yet, but here are some of the lessons I've taken from my newbie experiences.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 had the best new-user experience of any game I've played in recent memory. Giant alien ships, new mechanics and huge set pieces made the adrenaline pumping first hour incredibly awesome! I was glued to my chair. They had changed some of the controls, so I was pleased to find that every time I needed to use a new control there was a nice little onscreen tooltip. And when I got stuck, little blue arrows appeared to tell me where to go. A couple times I found myself trying to remember controls later on and I wished the control tooltips continued a little longer. Fortunately I was able to go into the menus to find those keybindings.

Star Wars The Old Republic

TOR was a bit longer ago, so I don't remember too many details. The first few hours were among the most enjoyable of the game with lots of new players concentrated together to group with in non-stop adventure. Their quest helper was on from the start, which was very helpful for a beginner in TOR's enormous environments. The only drawback to this is that for explorers like me, there's no way to turn it off later, so throughout my time in the game I found myself transiting from quest marker to quest marker completely missing out on the joy of discovering new areas on my own. Now TOR's environments might be too huge and empty right now for that to be an interesting endeavour, but at least give us the option!


With Golemizer passing into the ether this week, I wanted to give it a try before it shut down. The game has a tutorial which serves to get the player started. It gives you instructions, then you close that dialog and do the operations. One thing I noted in the tutorial is that a few times I had to do a couple of things to accomplish a goal. I noticed sometimes that after I figured out the first item, I found myself forgetting what that second thing was and wanting to go back to the tutorial instructions. So lesson learned, keep your tutorial instructions accessible until they're no longer needed.

Guild Wars

I recently rolled a new character in Guild Wars, so I got to go through the new user experience for it again. They get points for putting you right into the real game, among other players immediately after the intro movie. They keep the number of quests for new characters to one or two and provide hints to help you along so it isn't overwhelming. The monsters are easy to kill with your starter gear, there's lots of open world to explore, and you have quite a while at low difficulty to slowly figure out the games' more complicated systems like gear and vendors. One thing I really liked was that Guild Wars gave me a quest that required another player and which would take a maximum of 1 minute. The quest is literally: group with someone, go talk to someone 25 feet outside the city. I found a player 8 levels above me to do this quest with me and then we spent over an hour playing in another area I would have gotten killed in repeatedly if I was by myself. Fun!

Age of Conan Unchained

Someone on Twitter was giving away four-day all-access passes to Conan, and I had always heard good things about the game, so I created an account to see if I could get one. I didn't get a pass. But a couple days later they emailed me about their 4th anniversary gift bag I could get in the game store which included permanent access to some areas you would otherwise have to pay for. So I thought, OK, I'll do that.

First I had to download the client, it was 19GB. I had time to play for 5 minutes, then I went to bed. I will note that trying to quit, I couldn't find a way. Esc menu? Nope. No X. No system menu. Eventually I tabbed to the desktop to close it.

The next night it was a 7GB download (WTF? I was just playing yesterday!) and I made a new character and gave the game a go. The first thing was to give the store a try and collect my gift. Got into the store, hmm, item isn't on the front page. Tried a search for the exact name of the item - no luck. Hmm. Tried just part of the name and up it came. Got my free stuff! Yay.

So I started playing the game. It tells you more or less what to do and where to go with tooltips and quest markers on the minimap which is fine. But I have to say, I struggled a lot with their UI. The keystrokes for quests, maps, bags I'm familiar with in other MMO's didn't work as expected. The icons on the screen were mostly unhelpful and I ended up mousing over them to try to find stuff. Starting on the intro quest, I clicked through the dialog trees to get the story, but already I wasn't enjoying it. Struggling with the UI had thrown me off.

Next up was a long walk along a linear trail bashing guy after guy after guy after guy after guy. This went on for a really long time. Almost immediately as I started down the trail I was told my inventory was full. Huh? Already? Went and looked, and all those free things I was given were in there. Taking up all but 3 slots. Taking a closer look at them I found that I couldn't use a single one until I was level 40. That sounds like a long time to go with only 3 bag slots, so I deleted all my gifts. Funcom - you suck.

I got as far as killing the slavemaster before the repeated button mashing on knife left, knife overhand, knife right (which all did the exact same thing as far as I could tell) made my wrist hurt. I still couldn't figure out how to exit. Went to Google and it said there was an Esc menu. I went and tried that again, and lo and behold it finally worked.

I haven't reached Tortage yet - which is where the main game is supposed to start. I haven't been back to Conan since that second night. I also found it very odd that I didn't see any other players in the hour I played. Conan is an MMO after all. I assumed at the time I was the only new user - but reading about it later I discovered that that section is single-player by design. Huh?

So lessons learned:
  • The first hour better be fun!
  • Use tooltips to introduce controls and features, keep them for longer than you think you need them (maybe offer an X to turn specific tips off.)
  • Keep instructions for complicated actions on the screen while the user does the action.
  • Give players an opportunity to gain experience grouping with other players early. The multiplayer aspects of MMO's can be very intimidating if you're playing alone.
  • Put the new player in the real game immediately - don't isolate them.
  • An in-game tutorial is better than a separate one.
  • Pay attention to genre UI standards. Players have played other games!
  • Quest helper markers on the map (if applicable) are great for new players, but give the user the option to turn them off. Some people like discovery.
  • Streamed clients beat the heck out of waiting for 26GB to download.
  • Don't bait newbies with stuff they can't use - it really ticks them off.

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