The Tutorial – Teaching the Player how to Play

A good game is useless if no one can play it. A good game is equally as useless if no one gets to the meat of the game. I suppose, by that point, you could question whether or not it was a good game.

Tutorials are an interesting design problem. Traditionally, no player wants to play a tutorial, and no designer wants to make one; so let’s move away from tradition. Rather than leaving a tutorial to the very end of the design process and building a separate section for it, why not incorporate it into the rest of the game?

For this analysis, I’m going to move away from Triple-A games and focus on something a little smaller and more accessible. Mobile games are available to, and accessible by, so many people that analysing how they familiarise the player with the controls is an interesting case study. Your typical game will have some personas it’s designed around, but that only extends so far for mobile games, who can have so many people play them.

For this blog, I’m going to download and play popular mobile games and analyse how they teach the player how to play.

Rolling Sky

4th on the list of the Android app-store is a game called Rolling Sky. With over 10 million downloads and a rating of 4.4 out of 5, it’s a fairly popular game. Despite its popularity, its introduction actually appeared quite poor.

The game starts with a ball and a track ahead of it, and you’re met with a pointing hand cursor moving left to right. This made me tap the screen, getting the game underway; a fairly unobtrusive way of demonstrating how to play. A tapping gesture could have been used instead to make this clearer.

However, the ball quickly crashed into an object and I was forced to start again. I did the same thing and I crashed again, making me fail for a second time. On the third occasion, I guessed that I could move the ball and I swiped my finger across the screen which was seemingly what I was supposed to do.

After 4-5 goes, I got the hang of it and was able to play the game, or at least the movement part. There were crystals I could collect, whose purpose wasn’t explained other than with a number telling me how many out of 20 I’d collected. The reason I feel this game has a poorly designed tutorial for the player is because of its reliance on trial and error. Research and analysis has yielded the conclusion that a good tutorial should be, but is not limited to being, intuitive and rewarding for player, neither of which I believe this game achieved.

I believe a better solution to this would have been to have a finger tapping to begin and, once the ball is moving, have a second prompt indicating the player can swipe their finger across the screen to move the ball. Demonstrated with a crude edit below:


Although this is slightly more overt, it is something which would only need to be done once and would reduce trial and error and, therefore, the frustration of the player. This would take a few seconds and would teach the player the movement of the game, with fewer chances of the player dying.

Candy Crush

A significantly more popular and successful game is Candy Crush, with over 500 million downloads and rating of 4.3 out of 5.

The game actually takes control away from the player which isn’t necessarily the best way to engage them and forces them to read the instructions. But given these instructions consist of a few words, it’s easy enough to digest and you’re prompted to swipe along which causes you to gain points in an explosion of colour on the screen. This happens again to demonstrate you can swipe in all four directions but you complete it quicker this time, because the game is designed intuitively. From there, every action feels rewarding for the player, meeting some of the staples I outlined earlier for a good tutorial.candy-crush-tutorial

Although the tutorial is a little more invasive than I’d prefer, it took less than 10 seconds, after which, I was on my way and there was little chance of me becoming frustrated or bored, something indicative of very good game design. This tutorial is superior to Rolling Sky’s because it doesn’t rely on the player learning how to play via trial and error and actually rewards their behaviour, enticing them to continue playing.

Triple-A games suffer from this same problem. However, I’d wager, given the increased investment required to play, you’re more likely to sit through a poor tutorial than in a free mobile game. Regardless, a good introduction should always be strived towards and there may be no better example than Portal. Portal spends the first half of the game teaching the player how to play and you don’t realise it until that point. It’s so subtle and intuitive and rewarding the player actually enjoys playing. Designing a tutorial the player enjoys playing is a difficult task but it can be so crucial in a market so saturated with games.


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