Sunday, August 28, 2011

Catering to New Players

Jinxed Thoughts talked about Blizzard's desire to smooth the first 30 minutes of gameplay for more casual players. She espouses a view that I think is pretty common among experienced WoW players:
People around me basically go into two different categories - the ones that know games because they enjoy them and the ones that don't know games because they don't enjoy them. The latter ones probably wouldn't enjoy WoW no matter how easy it was at the start because the whole idea of running around and killing monsters on a computer simply does not appeal to them. ... She had no idea on how to handle the spells, although there were only two or so, or what to do with quests. I find it really hard to see how you could make the game so easy so that she would be interested in playing. Am I evil to say that people who can't get through the first 30 minutes of a game that is as simple as WoW should be trying something else instead? Can WoW ever be the learning grounds for people who've never touched a game before?

While I sympathize a bit with this view, here's the thing: it is not trivial to start playing WoW, even before you get in game. You have to buy a copy or download a multi-gig client. You have to set up and create a account.

People who don't want to play WoW don't do those things. If someone goes to the time and effort of installing WoW, then they are interested in playing WoW. Maybe because they know people who play, and want to see if they can join them. Maybe because they want to try an MMO. Who knows?

But the point is that just by getting to character creation, they have demonstrated a significant interest in playing the game. They want to like the game, if only to justify the time and money spent setting it up.

This situation is not like various television networks dumbing down sci-fi shows, in order to appeal to people who never watch sci-fi. I think that's what we're scared of, that our game will be weakened in a vain attempt to appeal to people who have no interest in sci-fi.

But I think the people who Blizzard is targeting are not those uninterested people. They're new people, most likely new to computer gaming, that is true. But they have demonstrated interest. The simple act of getting, installing, and setting up an account for WoW shows that.

Some game has to be the first real game for new gamers. I think WoW is the best for that because of its network effects. It's totally understandable that a new gamer would want to play the game her friends are playing. If encouraging that new player takes more hand-holding at the lower levels, then I am all for it.


My guild, Ad Infinitum, is looking for DPS. (Though we could always use another healer or tank.) We're a 25-man guild. We raid Wed/Sun/Mon from 7-11pm PST. We're currently 1/7 Heroic Firelands.

We would really like a couple more regular raiders. Apparently, you can 23-man Heroic Shannox. Heroic Ryolith, not so much.


  1. Actually it's not just setting up the account. How do you use the AH? What's tier armour? etc. etc. It's a huge learning curve. A few minutes at the beginning is nothing.

  2. It would be quite easy to add some learning video or real tutorial to the game, that goes like

    1) You press 'W' on your keyboard to move forward.
    - great!

    2) You press the right mouse button and move the mouse to change direction
    - you're a hero!!!

    3) If something moves on the screen it might be an enemy. Here, we move you to an enemy automatically.
    - you let us move you. You're AWESOME

    4) You can click on an enemy with the left mouse button to select it.
    - omg, I can't believe you did this. Nobody has ever achieved this before!

    5) you can either click on one of the symbols at them bottom of the screen or press the respective number on the keyboard to execute an ability that can damage the selected enemy.
    - You are unbelieveable. Blizzard has given you 3 new mini pets, 4 titles, 3 promotion codes for other blizzard games and a flashing new weapon. Do the other tutorials to find out more about these things.

    Scrap the (-) if you want. But a tutorial would be much better than forcing everybody to kill monster that don't (really) fight back.

  3. Well, having seen my three in action, I can say that the mechanics aren't hard to get used to, but they've experience with computer games.

    In terms of pure "getting used to an MMO-style game", WoW is the best, with LOTRO not too far behind. LOTRO has one big advantage in that lots of people know the story (courtesy more of the movies these days than the books) so WoW has to overcome that by smoothing the intro experience.

    The biggest drawback that WoW has doesn't pertain to the myriad complexity of the game, but the people itself. It's quite easy to start playing, getting used to the game, and then when you hit your first big city --or maybe even before that-- you run into some asshat scoping your toon out. And then you meet Trade Chat, full of misogyny and racist and political jokes.

    THAT is where WoW has issues.

  4. I often try out new (usually flash) games. I find it quite obvious that at first I'll suck. I find it obvious that my first game will end with a "game over" screen.

    I also found it obvious that I will end up dead in an PvP game pretty soon.

    When I first played WoW, I sucked, obviously. I still remember how much I was unable to navigate in the quilboar maze in the tauren start area. But I never thought that the GAME is bad, I knew that I'm bad in it.

    The game is not catering "casual players". It caters little princesses who expect to win without any skill or effort.

  5. Personally I think WoW needs to do better education on things that get you to end game.

    I'm an Officer in a casual guild. We get new players a lot. While not as bad as Wrath (haste and armor pen questions drove me batty) stat and enchant questions do come up a lot for those people who are hitting 85.

    I think while it hung out to long, every expansion should have an "intro to raiding" raid like Naxx 10, with a similar level of difficulty. The transition from heroics to raids is a shocking one for new players.

    Especially if you spend a lot of time in the LFD. The LFD does not prepare you for the coordination or team work you need for raiding.

  6. +1 to Redbeard's comment on trade chat.

  7. @Rohan: Very good point: the first 30 minutes actually start with downloading, patching, registering, etc. Sanya Weathers said something like this few months ago, on mod squad blog or her eating bees website. However, making the WoW installation easier is kind of superfluous: most people join the game because of their friends or family relatives. And they already know how to install the game. In 2005, 60% of female MMO players play with their partner (cf Yee's report). 75% of WoW players in 2010 play with someone they know IRL (paper). And those playing with RL contacts are not softcore players: Tobold (and Gevlon, if I'm not mistaken?) for instance play with their partner.

    @Nils: I think Blizzard is aware that the benefits of easy achievements eventually wear off. Plus when a player starts the game, you want him/her to delve in the world and be immersed, not just being congratulated for nothing and receive advertising scam.

    I think Blizzard has a bunch of metrics that say that more than 50% of accounts never had a character that passed level 10. Just an example of thing they could fix: many players are interested in socializing in WoW. But during the first 10 levels, how much social really happens? Your character just collects 10 boar skins, there are shiny effects when a quest is completed, and you increase your stats and gear. Stimulating for achievers, but not quite "multiplayer" yet, so kind of depressing for players who were told WoW had guilds were people are friendly and all.

    Recruit a friend is a good idea: if you start, you're coached by someone you know, and the 2 of you face the same challenges (characters are the same level). If you're coaching, the triple-XP rate makes it not so boring to reroll - plus you have the priviledge of introducing the world to your friend. And Blizzard makes money in the process: win-win-win \o/

    Maybe (as --G! suggests) it'd be great to actually raid, with 5-10 other players, right from the beginning of the game? Sharing experiences + helping each other out = bonding = increased retention.

  8. This sort of change will have so little (if any) impact on experienced players, I'm kind of curious as to why they give a damn.

    More noobs that won't know what they're doing? Unlikely.

    People who want to do well will learn to do well. Those who aren't willing to do anything still won't do anything.

    So, if Bliz thinks that easing up the first 30 minutes will retain more players, more power to them.

  9. umm, the light client that streams content for the trial is a very fast download, and gets people into the game pretty fast.

    Registering is like registering for other things (Facebook for example). Overall, WoW has already lessened the entry as much as they can. The only thing left is to improve their tutorial to the level of Cake Mania, and they'll be golden.