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No one reads Text in a Tutorial

During the development of our latest game “I Shot the Sheriff”, we never gave the tutorial much thought. We figured that since the game is simple enough, just 2 buttons and 2 rules, players will be able to figure out the game easily.

So we developed a very basic, text heavy tutorial and left it at that.  It looked like this:

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It was only when we started playtesting the game that we realised that our tutorial was not good enough. During our first playtest, only 2 out of 10 players were able to figure out the rules of the game on their own with just the tutorial. This was extremely disheartening.

During the playtest, we realised that players were not reading the text. Players would rapidly tap through the first 2 screens and get into gameplay. Once inside the game, players would either shoot both the bandit and sheriff, or not shoot either. Both cases will lead to game over and player confusion. At this point, we would have to explain the game. Since we will not be sitting with all our players when the game launches, we realised that we have a big problem.

A common feedback we got during this first playthrough was that there was just too much text in the tutorial, so a lot of players did not bother to read it. So we decided to reduce the text and came up with the second iteration of our tutorial and it looked like this:

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The second playtest was definitely better than the first. 5 out of 10 players were able to understand the rules of the game without our prompting.

But this was still not good enough. In an industry, where Day 1 retention numbers can be as low as 30-40%, losing 50% of the player base at the tutorial was unacceptable.

During this playtest, a player suggested that we bake in the tutorial into the gameplay. This got us thinking and we decided to add in a system whereby when the player sees the sheriff for the first time, we bring up the in game tutorial for the sheriff. However if the player still shoots the sheriff, we resurrect the sheriff and keep doing it, till the player taps on the other side to let the sheriff pass through. Once the player lets the sheriff pass, the game continues. You can see it in action below:

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 Once we added this tutorial, the number of players understanding the game without prompting jumped to almost 100%.

We found that the old adage “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” is true for game tutorials too. We are happy with the tutorial now, but it took us a few weeks and a few play tests to sort this out. We are glad that we were able to catch this problem before launching the game.

Learnings

1. Every game, no matter how simple, needs an effective tutorial.

2. Play tests are necessary, even for your simple 1 button arcade game.

3. It is hard to see players struggle with your game during play tests, however restrict the urge to jump in and explain the game.

4. Just watching new sets of players interact with different builds of your game will give you a lot of valuable insights.

5. If possible, bake in your tutorial into the gameplay.

6. Finally, no one reads text in a tutorial.

Indie Games Studio from India with over 17 Million Downloads