FTUE – What should I teach my players?

I recently started playing Warframe and have spent about 40 hours in it. I don’t think I have gone through even 10% of the total available content. Frankly, I have no idea of how much is left. Sure, there are the story missions that form the core of the game. But there is so much more happening around me that it always leaves me wondering, “what the hell was that?”. It could be as simple as pieces of new materials used in crafting or a some new equipment that unlocks an entirely different way to play. So my confusion as to what I should do in any one play session never goes away. Is that necessarily a good thing? TL-DR at the bottom.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Unknown

FTUE – First Time User Experience is a scripted section of the game that teaches players enough so that they can navigate the world that they’re thrown into. Most games take the player through a specially designed level that will familiarize them with the core mechanics and the UI of the game. There is a fair bit of hand-holding done to ensure the player encounters everything that the designers deemed important for the understanding. While many games do this well, there are some that don’t. The example I’m giving is Warframe. There is a short 15 minute tutorial level that introduces the player to the world of Warframe and tries to familiarize them with the control scheme. While it does a good job of teaching movement and combat, it does a very poor job of introducing the other aspects. So I wanted to address some of these issues and see if I could come up with a solution.

Even before the game begins, the player is asked to make a choice of their first frame. Each of these frames come with a different set of stats and abilities. The player can choose one that suits their play style the best. I went with Excalibur, the beginner friendly frame. Even though I read through the ability descriptions, I couldn’t understand how I could use them. There are small video popups that show a video of their usage, but those did not give me enough context for me to understand how I could use them. This is actually prevalent in many RPG games. That said, I appreciate that Warframe gave me a small glimpse into their usage. I just picked this one because it said beginner-friendly. This brings up another question. If a player is creating their first character, isn’t anyone who sees this screen a beginner? There is no provision to create a new profile (that I know of) for starting afresh. A profile is tightly coupled with an account. I would instead phrase it in a way that said, “If you’re a beginner to 3rd person shooting games, pick this.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FblhsrbNPSs
  1. During the initial fight sequence, the player is made to engage the enemies with no weapons equipped. But this is never the case in the game. The ability that the player is forced to use here, in fact, requires energy points for every use outside of the tutorial. This is typically teaching the wrong lesson. It also doesn’t teach the player about the concept of energy. There is a one-shot voice-over after the second sequence, that tells the player that the suit is out of power. I definitely missed it in my first play through. The way I would fix this is by making all the enemies drop energy balls and make the ability consume energy. The drawback with this is that the player might end up using all of their energy without managing to kill a single enemy. To overcome this, the energy could be made to slowly regenerate (This is available as a mod to your warframe later in the game).
Skana – Sword
MK-1 Bo – Staff

2. The second sequence asks the player to make a choice for their first melee weapon. The choices are between a sword and a staff. While this is great at showing the player that you can choose your play style based on your terms, it does a very bad job of informing the player that this choice is only until they can find a different weapon. In a way, they do have to stick to this choice for at least a good 2 hours before they can afford to switch weapons. There are already 3 different play styles chosen in the beginning by choosing your first frame. This choice of melee weapon is an unnecessary choice and confuses the player. Based on the frame that was chosen, there are clear advantages to using one weapon over the other. So the choice of a melee weapon could be entirely removed and replaced with a predetermined weapon based on the choice of the Warframe.

3. Vor’s prize : the tutorial quest. This, I feel does a good job on the whole of putting the player though the mechanics of the Warframe universe. However, it does a poor job of reigning in the player’s attention to what’s important – finish the tutorial quest. I say this because there are a plethora of things that a player can do that are locked behind a progression wall. It is absolutely necessary to keep the player focused on their immediate goal. The first few missions take the player through small skirmishes and objectives that show what a normal session in Warframe looks like. But it fails when trying to limit what the player can see. All the Warframe choices are available in the market to be purchased from the get go, and also everything that can ever be bought.

After a 100 hours of gameplay, I don’t consider Warframe to be one of those money hungry vortexes that ask you to pay money to let you go forward. Instead, I understand that the motive behind this is to subtly promote premium content, but that should be done only at the end of the tutorial. Showing the player all these glittery things in the beginning overwhelms them and paralyzes them from achieving those short term objectives. My colleague Sherry (Chi Zhang) has written a nice article about this problem. You can read it HERE. So I would fix this by removing these distractions from the player’s views and reveal them incrementally as and when the quest addresses those features.

Conclusion/TL-DR

The tutorials in Warframe have been revised and reworked upon many times in the past. But it still suffers from the aforementioned examples and many others. There are several games that are guilty of having poor tutorials. Although Warframe manages to hold its players attention long enough, a game on a similar scale cannot afford to lose players simply because they didn’t understand what was happening in the beginning. Especially they are free to play. As a way to improve tutorials for your game, I suggest following a 3 step process.

  1. List out the features that you want to be taught. Make this list small enough so that the player isn’t overwhelmed with information. Pacing also plays a vital role in this. And limit the number of choices your player has to make early on.
  2. Before even asking your devs to put this in the game, narrate the experience to a new player. Preferably even follow a table top RPG approach. If the player can understand even 2/3rd of what was encountered, you’ve achieved your objective.
  3. Playtest and iterate your tutorial : Many wise men and women have mentioned this innumerable times before. And it always gets overlooked. The reason? Tutorials are the last thing to be put into the game. Everyone is already saturated with the development and probably even falling behind on their deadlines. So definitely do a few tests with fresh players after implementation.

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