Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Five Minutes: How Tutorials Make or Break Your Social Game (Part II)

In Part I, lead social designer Aki Jarvinen explains why the first five minutes of a social game needs to engage players right away.  In Part II, he gives guidelines on how to design tutorials that accommodate, assimilate, and accelerate players into a social game. 

Tutorial as a set of metrics

As a sequence of steps where the player is guided by hand to click from one step to the next, social games’ tutorials create a funnel where less than 100% of those who start go all the way to the end. The rate of this kind of leakage is commonly called drop off rate, whereas a player who has finished the tutorial and keeps on playing is added to the conversion rate .

In general, conversion rates with social game tutorials are higher than with other apps, as game mechanics are generally more rewarding than most other applications. Third-party services, such as KISSmetrics, Kontagent, and MixPanel, offer tools for analyzing the funnels of your game. Mixpanel has reported that with social games, if the user advances beyond the second step, over 90% of the users stay for the whole tutorial, even if it has a significant number of steps. This is considerably higher than with other types of Facebook applications, which testifies for the pull of games in online social networks.

Funnel analysis is useful for identifying bottlenecks in the tutorial flow: Possible steps where players drop off due to getting stuck, losing their interest, or something similar. Yet behavior within steps, for instance whether players read the text content of the tutorial, is difficult to be measure, and therefore the reasons for what causes a bottleneck in the tutorial funnel might be ambiguous. Moreover, the funnel should be treated as a sequence more than the sum of its parts: If you are not able to produce an engaging tutorial, perhaps there is something in need of fixing in your game itself.

Tutorial design guidelines

The structure of your game as a product, i.e. how it fuses gameplay and monetization, does have consequences for the focus of the tutorial. In case the game is primarily about individual matches between players (e.g. a Wild Ones by Playdom), and only secondarily about a persistent, over-arching goal structure, then a possibility to re-access the tutorial in the form of practice is important for player engagement and retention.

The structure of the table also suggests a design framework for social game tutorials, with a set of constraints concerning length, start and end states, and the structure with which the core game mechanics are introduced. If we return to the notion of onboarding, at least traces of the three steps of accommodation, assimilation, and acceleration can be found in all of the tutorials.

The following aspects are of particular use when thinking about your social game’s tutorial flow:

o How do you kickstart the player into the core mechanics?
o What resources and mechanics should be available?
o Who is tutoring the player, and what is the tone of voice?

o In what situation is the player left?
o Is there punctuation to the end of the tutorial, an uplifting crescendo that leaves the player positively hanging?
o Are there incentives to instantly carry on? Is something left ‘cooking’ so that the player wants to return and smell the kitchen?
o Does the UI ‘beg’ to continue clicking, i.e. does it leave the player into a middle of a flow that he is curious and engaged enough to carry through?

Structure & Length:
o What are the core mechanics and incentives the player is presented, and in which order?
o How much of the core mechanics can be communicated in the first 60 seconds?
o How many steps are there in your tutorial funnel? What is the overall average duration players are supposed to spend with the tutorial?
o Is this in line with the complexity of your game?
o Are there bottlenecks you could streamline or remove – perhaps make a gamble that a shorter tutorial springboards the player into a commitment where learning the advanced mechanics and features organically grows from repeated plays?

Tutorials evolve through metrics and the service aspect

Nailing the tutorial both in terms of the funnel and the learning experience at a certain point of the product lifecycle does not mean the work ends there - developing social games is about constant design, redesign, implementation and deployment of new features and content. In effect, players need to be told about new features, which might mean that revisions of tutorials or 'mini-tutorials' are needed. Nevertheless, this should be seen as a positive aspect of the service business process where social game design and development is embedded.

Robert Cialdini. Influence. Psychology of persuasion.
Suhail Doshi. How to Analyze Traffic Funnels and Retention in Facebook Applications.
Christian Crumlish &; Erin Malone. Designing Social Interfaces.
Eitan Glinert. Upping your game’s Usability.

[This article was excerpted and modified from an article of the same title on Gamasutra.]

Aki Jarvinen, Ph.D, is the Lead Social Designer at Digital Chocolate, with a decade of experience from creating casual game experience through mobile, gambling, and online games. He is writing a book about social games - you can follow the progress here.  


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