Introduction. Forward. Preface. First Impression. There are plenty of words to describe our first interaction with something, ranging from meeting people to written material such as book or a paper presenting its case to persuade readers. And, as has probably been expressed to most of us a million times, this is the most important part or time to catch people's attention.
In fact, as a nice little meta-example, if you are still reading at this point, the odds are the little blurb on the frontpage caught your attention and made you curious to read more. Or perhaps you just happen to like this week's editor (Doesn't everyone? ;) Ed.) and are currently bored out of your mind.
RuneScape has had its fair share of ways to show the game to new players. In fact at some points, it almost seemed that they were going through a tutorial a month. If you're really interested in reading all the details, the image below shows Mod Ash talking about the tutorial's history up through 2009 (time of the post). Even since then, they've torn it up and put in new ones several times. Of course, change is generally good and things will need to be adapted, but I think it's safe to assume that the main reason for doing so was unsatisfactory performance (i.e. fraction of players continuing on through and after the tutorial).
What elements make a good tutorial-that is, a good introduction into the game? It's almost obvious: it should show a new player all of the core elements and mechanics of the game so they know what to do, without being completely lost. It should also actually motivate the player to stick with the game by furnishing a good advertisement for it, so that a perspective new customer is convinced that it is worth spending some time to play. No matter how amazing a tutorial might be, virtually everything requires some time investment to get to know, and for MMPORG's even more so: this is taken as a given. What you don't want is people saying "screw this" and closing their browser halfway through the tutorial.
Of course, the whole reason that I even mention this is RuneScape's newest tutorial, released this week. This latest tutorial plays as cross between an abbreviated tutorial island and the old tutorial involving the player assisting Sir Vant in killing a dragon. To start, you are whisked off to the city of Ashdale, situated on its own island. Gudrik begins showing you around in a fully voice-acted tutorial (I still find it odd that your character seems to be completely mute!) when zombies spawn. At this point he deems it best to prepare you further, and proceeds to show you how to fish, cook, mine, and forge your own weapon. Sure enough, there is a big, bad (level 4) boss waiting for you to take down. Along the way, you are taught a couple abilities to help you with combat and dealing more damage. You get a cool unique cosmetic item from killing this boss as well.
How does this tutorial fare? It shows the very basics of combat, along with showing you how to fish, cook, mine, and smith, without being too long. Even more basic, it shows in an intuitive way how to move the camera and walk around. Your trusty NPC guide trots a few steps ahead of you, but is clearly marked and stops before he is a mile away and nowhere in sight. Another aspect of the tutorial deserving praise is how it introduces some of the UI, at an appropriate pace. You start off with a clear screen. When you first fish minnows, the inventory pops up and it is highlighted with an arrow indicating its position. Highlighting things and drawing an arrow, by the way, is a very effective way to point things out. I've played countless games and every good tutorial makes use of these, even if it seems like things are obvious. By introducing one interface at a time, and perhaps showing how you can move around and resize them, the utility of the system is conveyed, rather than an overwhelming pile of stuff to relearn. A few more things could easily be added to explain how everything else was grouped.
Remember the main complaints with the launch of RS3 was that no one could find anything. Despite the beta and blah blah, we know what happened-everyone procrastinated. A quick tutorial could have fixed up that issue, at least. But it's not too late: if I were Jagex, I would go so far as to offer ALL returning players logging in for the first time since pre-RS3 or EOC a teleport to Ashdale, and couple it with learning the UI and EOC shortly after.
The one thing that I would change, though, has to do with graphics. Does everything have to be in neon colors? Are we preparing a new adventurer for the vast expanses of Gilenoir, killing dragons, completing quests, and meeting other players, or for them to go play in a doll house? It sounds ridiculous but that is really what the colors convey.
In any case, the new tutorial is nice and Jagex did a decent job on it. As surely as it's not the first tutorial Jagex has released, it will not be the last. There are several ways Jagex could expand this tutorial if they are interested. In addition to what I suggested, they could even make two versions, and call one "advanced," with an appropriate disclaimer that players can expect it to take a bit longer to complete. After all, the Grand Exchange Tutor and Brugsen Bursen have hit it off pretty well all these years, haven't they?
- Image from RuneScape Wikia, November 29, 2013.