Design and Presentation of Tutorial Instructions and Feedback

Published — Edited

The paper “Effective Practices in Game Tutorial Systems” by Shannon et al. states that an efficient game tutorial should include “…immediate positive cognitive feedback that combines corrective and affective support…”, “Short bursts of just-in-time instruction with visual cues and minimal text”, and step-by-step instructions “…that fade into free play over the course of the exercise.”.

Immediate positive cognitive feedback is an important aspect of the tutorial process because it is used to guide the player towards some goal or destination, prevent player frustration in difficult situations, and to keep the player in an overall enjoyable state. These affects are categorized into both corrective and affective support. Corrective support encompasses suggestions, hints, or tips that guide the player towards the correct path or actions. An example of corrective support comes from Guild Wars 2 where there exists a non-player character who can tell the player how to play their character in a way required for end-game content and is able to automatically rework the character's settings into a state that fits with this advice. Affective support means that the support or feedback presented to the player must be worded in a positive way such as “Good job!” and “Nice try, but don't forget you can do XYZ as well!” rather than negative wording such as “Terrible attempt.” and “Do XYZ, don't just walk to the end.”. The core objectives of affective support are to ensure that the player continues through difficult situations by deflating anger or frustration and making the player feel good about their performance in the game.

When presenting tutorial instructions to the player, the paper notes that they are best given using “Short bursts of just-in-time instruction with visual cues and minimal text…” (Shannon et al.). Instructions given in this manner allow the player to focus on learning to play the game rather than reading a large amount of instructions at one point and having to actively try and remember everything for when it is needed. By giving these bursts of instruction using visual cues and minimal text, the player need not memorize anything more than “Press A to jump!” or “Lava kills”. This also helps to present instructions as quickly as possible, by drawing the player's eye to the instruction as soon as it appears. The purpose of step-by-step instructions “…that fade into free play over the course of the exercise.” (Shannon et al.) is first to present the instructions in an easy manner for the user to follow, like working through the boxes of a checklist, and secondly to ease the player into the game as he or she becomes accustomed to the basic controls and mechanics.

When looking at recent examples of game tutorial design, many well-known game development companies or studios are incorporating the ideas noted by Shannon et al.. Evidence of this is seen in early levels or tutorial stages of games such as The Witcher 3, World of Warcraft, and Portal 2 where just-in-time instruction is given in short bursts with visual cues to teach the basic controls and mechanics. Through implementation of ideas outlined in the paper, it is probable that certain games will greatly benefit in the area of player retention based on the statistical studies performed and outlined by Shannon et al.. To summarize, the studies showed that a well-designed tutorial, implementing all of the points made in the paper, caused players to perform better at the test game by clearly communicating the controls and mechanics of the game and that fewer players were becoming lost or sidetracked during instruction.

In conclusion, the points made in the paper by Shannon et al. show that there is much more to the tutorial process and the way that instructions of a tutorial are presented than simply listing off controls and telling the player what he or she must to do. A tutorial is made more effective through incorporation of the paper's points and there are a number of well-known games which do make use of one or more of these points.