举个现实的gamer tax的例子：某人买了一个烤肉架。这里的gamer tax就是这个人组装烤肉架和想出如何用它烤汉堡。而不属于gamer tax的部分就是，这个人想学习的是如何制作出自己的沙茶酱或如何给排骨加香料。
使gamer tax成为一个重要概念的原因是，它会影响玩家对游戏的接受度。如果玩家必须花上几个小时读手册或看指南视频才能知道如何玩游戏，那么可能他们就不会在这款游戏上逗留太久了。gamer tax对游戏的普及也有影响，因为最流行的游戏的gamer tax往往是最少的。
对于每个学习《使命召唤》基本要素的玩家，可能得花上至少5分钟的时间才能知道怎么射击。动作游戏有意减少gamer tax，因为要让玩家玩上几分钟后就能很快掌握游戏的基本要素。然而，策略游戏由于复杂和多重的系统，在人们理解其基本要素以前会产生更多的gamer tax。
游戏有多少gamer tax与设计师如何在教程中解释游戏和避免累赘的设计大有关系。玩家越容易学会游戏，游戏的gamer tax就越少。
让向日葵成为第一种可种植的植物，玩家就会知道他们的应该先种一棵向日葵，这就保证了玩家种植其他植物所需的阳光来源。《植物大战僵尸》就是将教程流畅化以减少gamer tax的典型，而《最终幻想13》是需要大量gamer tax的案例。
消极方面是，它产生了太多gamer tax，从而将许多人排斥在游戏之外。如果游戏迫使玩家在“游戏真正开始”以前还要经历一段时间的试玩，那么在玩家按你的意图开始体验游戏以前，你所做的就是不断积累gamer tax。
在此并不是说你不可以做复杂的游戏。而是在玩家刚开始玩游戏时，应该避免某些复杂度。举一个最近的例子：我曾花了几周的时间努力学习Paradox公司的《Crusader Kings 2》。
在阅读手册和观看教程以及YouTube上的“Let’s Play”视频之间，我花了3个小时学习这款游戏是怎么回事。这真是一笔大gamer tax，比较没耐心的人可能早就放弃了玩《Crusader Kings 2》，更别说精华的部分了。我仍然不太懂怎么玩这款游戏，因为游戏中的教程内容太多了。
在电子游戏中，“教学关卡”如此普遍，以至于当某游戏不能提供详细到保证玩家学会Y键有何作用的教学关卡时，该游戏就会显得相当另类。例如，本周初，我开始玩游戏《Faster Than Light》，虽然这款游戏确实提供了一分简单的教程和许多工具提示条，但要学会如何玩游戏，很大程度上还是要靠玩家自己的努力。玩这款游戏的前半个小时，我不停地咒骂和抱怨“为什么我要花钱升级门？”、“等等，为什么这些房间都变成粉色的了？”、“天呐！为什么开火了？开什么火？怎么开火？……游戏怎么结束了？”
（《Faster Than Light》先简单地向玩家介绍游戏，然后就把玩家丢进太空中，让玩家自己摸索。）
这使我想起我从Jonah Lehrer的新书《Imagine: How Creativity Works》中看到的一个心理学实验。在2011年的论文《The Double-Edged Sword of Pedagogy: Instruction Limits Spontaneous Exploration and Discovery》中，Elizabeth Bonawitz及其同事发现不同的指导方式会影响人们探索新系统的方式。这里的“人们”我指的是“小孩子”。这里的“系统”我指的是“玩具”。
最近我在PC上发行了《Cute Things Dying Violently》（以下简称CTDV），刚好是这款游戏在Xbox Live Indie Games初次亮相的1年后。我投入了大量时间去修改各种漏洞，调试新的图像并针对键盘和鼠标体验进行了游戏完善。除此之外我还特别留意了各种评价以及这款游戏Xbox版本的相关记录，并发现它出现了一个很严重的问题，即玩家并不能正确地玩游戏。
篇目1，The Game Design Tax Man
by Josh Bycer
One of the hardest things to do when it comes to playing games is learning a new genre. As it forces the person to return to square one again and that can be frustrating for players. When you add up each genre with all the different quirks, this time can add up. This period of “learning time” has been dubbed around message boards as “gamer-tax” and is an important part of building (or diminishing) a fan-base.
When we talk about gamer tax, we’re focusing on the time it takes someone to understand the basics of a game. Or in other words: How long it takes for a player to be able to make informed choices when playing. We’re not talking about game mastery or beating the game, as by that point the player knows how to play the game.
As an example of real life gamer tax: someone buying a new barbeque grill. The gamer tax would be the person setting it up and figuring out how to cook some burgers. What wouldn’t be a part of gamer tax is if the person decides to learn how to create their own barbeque sauce or dry rub for ribs.
What makes gamer tax an important concept is how it repels new gamers from a genre. If someone would have to spend several hours reading manuals or watching tutorials just to figure out what is going on when they’re playing, chances are they aren’t going to stick around. Gamer tax also has an effect on game popularity, as the most popular games have the least amount of gamer tax.
Someone learning the basics of Call of Duty for the first time may have to spend at most 5 minutes figuring out how to move and shoot. Action games by design have very little gamer tax, as the player is learning the basics of the game very quickly over the scope of a few minutes of playing. On the other side of the equation, strategy games due to their complexity and multiple systems, have a much larger amount of gamer tax before someone can understand the basics.
Doing Some Accounting:
The amount of gamer tax a game has is correlated to how well the designer explains the game through tutorials and avoids cumbersome design. The easier it is for someone to follow the game, the less gamer tax there is.
If you look at any of PopCap’s games, each one is designed for someone new to comprehend the mechanics very quickly. At the last GDC, the lead designer behind Plants vs. Zombies gave an excellent presentation on how the team used very subtle techniques to make the game easy to understand, without simplifying it for strategy game experts.
For example, sunflowers which are important for getting sunshine (in game resources) are always the first plant available to be planted. For a tower defense expert, they know that resource producers are always the first thing to build, but someone who never played a tower defense game wouldn’t know that.
By making them the first ones available, a player would know that they should be planting one before anything else to make sure that they’ll have a source of sunshine coming in. While Plants vs. Zombies is an example of streamlining the tutorial to reduce gamer-tax, Final Fantasy 13 is an example of an enormous amount of forced gamer tax.
What the designers did was over the course of the first twenty or so hours of gameplay, they stretch out the tutorial by slowly introducing the basic mechanics of the game. The positive behind this technique is that it made sure that the player would fully understand the game by the time the designers finish holding their hands.
The negative is that it created so much gamer tax, that it turned away a lot of people. If your game has a period of time that the player has to play before “the real game begins” all you’re doing is piling on gamer tax before the player can start experiencing the game as you intended.
Portal for instance, even with the physics based puzzles had next to zero in terms of gamer tax. The reason is that Valve integrated the tutorial into the starting levels. Testing the player on one concept and giving them something new if they pass. They didn’t try to cram everything into one puzzle, or bloat out the tutorial to make sure that the mechanic was understood. They did just enough to keep the game moving at a steady pace.
Valve introduced the base mechanics that all the puzzles stem from within the first few minutes. Meaning that the player understood them early on, allowing them to build on those mechanics while making sure that the player knows what to do. In Portal 2, when they introduced the concepts of the gels, they once again went back to the basics with a few simple puzzles. Then after a few puzzles, they integrated gel and portal based mechanics into the same puzzles.
The point of this post isn’t that you can’t have complex games. But that complexity should be avoided when someone is learning a game. As a recent example: I’ve been trying to learn Crusader Kings 2 from Paradox for the last few weeks.
Between reading the manual and watching tutorials and “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube, I have about 3 hours of learning about what is going in the game. That is a lot of gamer tax and a less patient person would probably give up trying to learn Crusader Kings 2, and the best part? I still don’t know a lot of how to play the game, as the in game tutorials are cumbersome.
When it comes to learning new concepts, the use of visual aids is one of the best ways to teach. As the majority of humans learn best through vision. Obviously video games are a visual activity which makes games that have poor tutorials even more troubling. There is no video game that should require lessons on par with a college accredited course. And for complex genres like strategy games, it’s a lesson designers need to learn if they ever hope to expand their fan-base.
篇目2，Student Illusions About Being a Game Designer
By Lewis Pulsipher
Here is a list of illusions and delusions of beginning game development (especially game design) students, with a brief description of why it isn’t so.
Briefly, what this list amounts to is, “Grow up and recognize what life is like, kid.”
Wildly unrealistic expectations are usually a characteristic of immature people. Yes, you can dream, but dreams require a lot of work to fulfill.
They’ll design a game and someone else will do all the work.
It’s all creativity instead of work.
Game design can be fun, it can be creative, but it’s also work. Thinking is work. Writing clear descriptions of what you’ve thought is work, figuring out the results of testing and how to improve the game is work. The great inventor Thomas Edison is supposed to have said that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, a statement that certainly applies here.
Ideas will just come to them, floating in out of the ether — and that one idea is all they need
Quality of ideas — of the best ones — tends to be proportional to quantity. You need lots of ideas to get some decent ones. And in the end, it’s the execution of an idea that is most important.
AAA list games can be produced easily
These games are the results of many man-years of work, and of budgets running to $20 million and beyond. A student group of any size, even if they have as much talent as successful professional game developers, would take thousands of semesters to produce a AAA list game.
They’ll play games all day in the job. It matters that they’re expert game players.
Even game magazine editors cannot play all day. Playing games is important, but that’s not something you’ll do much on the job. Game playing expertise is virtually irrelevant.
They’ll be able to design what they want.
This is not the way it works in the industry, where design is very collaborative, even on smaller “casual” games. Even the most successful designers, such as Sid Meier, sometimes must satisfy publishers who are funding their efforts. Typically, you’ll be told to work on a particular design problem, and won’t be able to do your own thing.
They’re going to have a big effect on a AAA game soon after getting a job.
One industry veteran who works on small games said he isn’t excited at the thought of working on a huge game, such as Madden football, and then being able to say he had something to do with how the football flies! The bigger the game, the smaller your part in it. When the game involves more than a hundred man-years of effort, your work for even a year amounts to less than one percent of the whole.
Getting a degree is going to get them a job.
They can do just what’s in the curriculum, and without any additional effort, they will have 100% of what it takes to succeed.
A degree differentiates you from the thousands who want to work in the industry but haven’t taken the time to do much about it. Still, students have to show what they can do, the degree alone doesn’t count for much yet. That means students need to be as fanatical about preparing themselves for a game industry job as they’re fanatical about playing video games. There are dozens of times as many industry wannabes as there are jobs available. Only those who prepare themselves fully will get the jobs.
If they just make a game that includes all the currently-popular elements (a market-driven game), theirs will be instantly popular.
No, this usually leads to a soul-less, unsuccessful game.
They’re going to be able to assemble a development team without salaries and get things done on schedule with the promise of royalties once the game goes commercial. (Though at least this happens every once in a while.)
Even where developers are well-paid full-time employees, games usually fall behind schedule. Start-up companies with good funding often fail. These folks are as dedicated and fanatical as you. What makes you different? You may succeed if you do the right things, but this is rarely an avenue into the game industry.
They’ll start their career working in the position they want to achieve in the long run.
As with most industries, you have to “pay your dues” to get where you want to go. There’s also a “pyramid effect” here, the most desirable jobs are near the top of the pyramid where there are fewer jobs, the less desirable ones are near the bottom where there are many more jobs.
Think the college curriculum is an extension of high school and act as such.
A good college is nothing like a typical high school. Most high schools are now training institutions, and not even good at that. You memorize what you need to regurgitate on the End of Class test, and that’s about it. College is (or should be) an educational institution, you need to understand why things work as they do so that you can cope with something you haven’t encountered or solved before.
Moreover, you are responsible for your education in college-you are an adult. No one will hold your hand constantly. You have an opportunity to learn a lot, but YOU must do it.
They will only work on hard core games,
The hard core is a relatively small part of the market, and the most demanding part. It’s easy to underestimate the number of casual game players. Any very successful game must appeal to the casual players. Most video games are not designed for the hard core.
Work will always be fun and they will always enjoy playing the game they create at the end.
Work will often be fun. If they play the game enough, they’ll get sick of it. In fact, by the end of the production process, they’re quite likely to be sick and tired of “screwing around with that game”. But they’ll enjoy seeing it for sale.
They will never make a game that gets canceled.
The preponderance of games that are started are canceled before they’re finished. An important quality of success in the industry is recognizing when a game “isn’t clicking”. But games are often canceled for reasons other than quality, such as funding, loss of employees, corporate takeovers or other business failures, and changes in the market.
Testing is only about playing games.
Testing is serious work; you have to write up results, contribute to bug databases, etc. If you test one game long enough, you’ll come to dislike the game no matter how good it is.
They can sneer at and ignore non-AAA titles as though there was something wrong with them and they’d never need to work on such a thing
Given the increasing budgets for AAA titles, the majority of people working on games are not working on AAA games. The studios working on AAA games have few entry-level positions-why risk a lot of money on inexperienced people? Do the math.
It will be easy. There’s always an Easy Button, isn’t there?
No. If you want an easy job, look for something else. If you want a fun job, look here.
篇目3，How Game Tutorials Can Strangle Player Creativity
by Jame Madigan
Okay, let’s do one more article on creativity and games, based on this question: Is it better to hand hold new players through a game tutorial to teach them all the mechanics and intricacies of a game, or is it better to let them figure things out on their own?
The “tutorial level” has become so ubiquitous in video game design that it seems really odd when a game does not go to to painful lengths to make sure you get a slow, measured introduction to every single game mechanic, presumably so you don’t burst into tears over confusion about what the Y button does. For example, I started playing the game FTL (http://www.ftlgame.com/) earlier this week and while the game does offer a brief totorial and many tooltips, it expects a fair amount from you in terms of learning how to play the game on your own. My first half hour with the game consisted mainly of a steady stream of expletives and mutterings like “Why would I ever spend money on door upgrades?” and “Wait, why are all these rooms turning pink?” and “OH GOD! WHY IS THAT ON FIRE? WHAT FIRE? HOW FIRE? …WHAT DO YOU MEAN GAME OVER?”
FTL (or “Faster Than Light” for the cool kids) gives you a brief overview, then tosses you to the space mantis/slug/rock men and expects you to figure the rest out yourself.
Eventually, though, I got into the groove and realized that for a game like FTL, part of the experience should be experimenting with new things, paying attention, and learning how to maximize your chances of survival on your own. It’s not dissimilar to systems driven, sandbox games like Minecraft or Terraria in that way: they just dump you into a system and tell you that figuring it out is half the fun. (The other half is feeling superior to people who complain about it not being spoon fed to them.)
This all reminded me about another psychology experiment I learned about from Jonah Lehrer’s recent book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. In a 2011 paper impressively entitled “The Double-Edged Sword of Pedagogy: Instruction Limits Spontaneous Exploration and Discovery” Elizabeth Bonawitz and her colleagues set out to examine how different modes of instruction affect how creative people get in their exploration of a new system. And by “people” I mean “toddlers.” Yes, toddlers are people; I looked it up. And also by “system” I mean “toy.” Work with me here.
The researchers invited kids visiting a science museum to check out a new toy, except not in that creepy way that you hear about on prime time news shows. The toy was a crazy homemade contraption consisting of tubes that did different things like squeaking, lighting up, and playing music. It’s important that these functions were not obvious and required some experimentation to discover. For some children, the experimenter took out the toy and said something like “Woah, look my badass new toy! Check it out!” Then she yanked on a tube to demonstrate how to make it squeak and finished up with “See that? This is how my toy works!”
For other children, the experimenter took out the toy, acted like she was seeing it for the first time, then pretended to accidentally make it squeak. She then feigned surprise (children are very gullible, it turns out) and said something like “OMGWTF? Did you see that? Let me try to do that!” then made it squeak again. For kids in all conditions, the experimenter gave the toy to the kid and finished by saying “Wow, isn’t that cool? I’m going to let you play and see if you can figure out how the toy works.”
Picture of the toy, taken from Bonawitz et al. (2011).
So, the key points here are that the toy did multiple things, but only one thing (the squeaking) was revealed. For some kids it was explicitly demonstrated and for others it was serendipitously discovered.
What the researchers found was that relative to those in other conditions, children who were given instructions on how to make the toy squeak played with it for shorter amounts of time, did fewer unique actions with it, and discovered fewer of the toy’s other functions.
Now, I understand that most of you reading this are not toddlers, but I think this has clear implications for video games. Because when we are given a thing and told “here is how it works” that presentation tends to constrain the list of things that we consider doing with it. We explore less and are less creative. Our brains tend to take the paths of least resistance, and heavy handed demonstrations create a nice easy rut for our thoughts to follow.
It’s Minecraft. Figure out what you want to do.
Sometimes this is great, as with simple games designed around mastery of a few skills. But for games dependent on the interaction of multiple systems, options, strategies, or approaches, detailed tutorials may hurt the player and their long-term experience with the game. Booting up a game like Minecraft for the first time, blinking a few times, and then saying “Okay, what happens if I do …this?” is a great experience and facilitating that approach is central to the appeal of the game. Like the kids who were told “this is a squeaky toy, here’s how to make it squeak,” players who get their hands held through an hour of tutorials are being mentally primed to consider only what they’re shown. Accident, serendipity, and an occasional bit of rudderless flailing about are sometimes necessary for creativity and exploration.
篇目4，Is Our Players Learning?
by Alexander Jordan
I recently released Cute Things Dying Violently on PC, almost a year after it made its successful debut on Xbox Live Indie Games. I spent most of the intervening time fixing bugs, commissioning new art, and streamlining the experience for a keyboard and mouse. However, I also paid careful attention to the various reviews and Let’s Plays documenting the Xbox version and realized that I had a problem with my players: they weren’t playing the game properly.
CTDV is, at its core, a physics game: throw, bounce, or “flick” the Critters from Point A to Point B. Think “Angry Birds” with a moveable cursor and you’ve got the idea. Okay okay, the game’s far more complicated than that, but that should be your key takeaway for this post.
Many players were quick to grasp the flicking mechanic… and nothing else. I was stumped. CTDV barely qualifies as emergent gameplay, but the players weren’t “getting” it and as a result were having an inferior, more obnoxious experience. How was I supposed to turn this around?
What follows is a short list of the ways I attempted to instruct, hand-hold, or scold my players into paying attention, and the various ways they failed.
Fighting short attention spans
Aside from the “flick” mechanic, the most powerful feature in CTDV’s control scheme is the ability to hold the hyperactive, mobile Critters in place with the push of a button. That mechanic is introduced in just the second level, but players weren’t reading the tool tips.
I realized that many players’ willingness to read optional tooltips on how to play the game expired after they “got” the core flicking mechanic. So what’d I do? I moved the “grabbing” mechanic explanation into the first tooltip of the first level. Throw it at the players before ADD kicks in, right?
FAIL! Many players would read the first two thirds of the first tooltip and then stop reading before they got to the explanation of the grabbing mechanic.
Give the player tools to help themselves
Many players also weren’t getting the full implications of, um, gravity. They’d aim their shots assuming that flicked objects would travel in a straight line. Those objects would hit lower than they expected, and the player would repeat the process endlessly.
Seeing this, I added two optional aiming tools: the ability to preview where your flicked object would fly, and the ability to see your previous flick’s flight path. I explained these mechanics in a tooltip in the fourth and heretofore toughest level of the game.
FAIL! If they weren’t going to read about grabbing, they certainly weren’t going to read about this.
Passively instruct the players on game mechanics
Seeing as how players often weren’t taking the ingame steps to educate themselves on how to better play the game, I decided to help them with tips and instructions lying in plain sight.
For the PC version, I turned the game’s loading screen into a series of rotating “Did you know?” prompts, telling the players which keys triggered which crucial functions, e.g. grabbing and previewing. I also added a “View Controls” button to the Pause Screen on both the Xbox and PC version and added key remapping to the PC version’s options screens.
FAIL! No meaningful improvement on the previous problems.
Add levels where the player must use advanced game mechanics
The above subtitle is self-explanatory, so howsabout I skip to the part where players would just resort to using the flick mechanic – and only the flick mechanic – to brute force the level and avoid having to learn anything.
Some players seemed more willing to try the same thing over and over and over and over and over again rather than break down and read an ingame tooltip. And because CTDV is a physics game, the only thing required to beat a level is for something to be physically possible. Players would chace possible but improbable opportunities endlessly until they managed to succeed or quit in frustration.
FAIL! It turned out that in most of these levels, “must-use” mechanics were still optional.
CTDV is a physics game with a small-to-modest amount of emergent gameplay that is best enjoyed through the use of its additional helper systems. However, the core mechanic is powerful enough and reliable enough such that players can avoid or ignore the additional mechanics in order to have a gameplay experience reminiscent of hair removal via duct tape. Earnest attempts to coerce or cajole players into the more streamlined experience met with failure.
I may be overstating the results. CTDV has sold enough copies that I know it’s been a resounding commercial success, and those playing the game “improperly” are a minority. Also, the response to my game and to me has been overwhelmingly positive and polite. So I’m not dealing with cretins, and I certainly don’t mean this post as an insult to my user base.
Still, I’ve witnessed a stunning amount of impatience and indifference when it comes to learning new gameplay systems and mechanics. I know we’ve all been guilty of this – sleepwalking our way through the mandatory tutorial levels of the latest and greatest first person shooter and opting for baptism by fire. Inflated budgets and adamant polish of AAA games often seamlessly integrate tutorials into the gameplay experience so that new gameplay mechanics are learned as painlessly as possible.
But what’s an indie developer with a scant budget to do? Less money means less resources, and you tend to not see voice-based or video-based tutorials in middle or lower tier indie games. That leaves text and level design for developers to explain new systems. Although I was guilty of occasionally dropping the ball on the latter, players’ willigness to ignore the former leaves us with… what, exactly, in our arsenal?
Seeing as how indie developers are most likely to introduce new and exciting gameplay mechanics, how do we best communicate novel features to players who have been trained to tune out that communication?
Focus on games where brute force is a feature with optimal use, like in tower defense games?
Completely halt gameplay until tutorials are presented and absorbed?
Weave tutorials into game imagery or storytelling style?
Design levels so that improper playstyles are met with obvious failure rather than an invitation to try again?
Ignore this entire article and just be glad that your game sold some copies to appreciative customers?
篇目5，Learning the rules
If all you do with games is play them, you may be forgiven for thinking that the way you learn a game is inherent to the game; that is just follows from the way the game is. As a game designer, however, you should realize that the learning experience is something you also can – and should – design. The learning curve of a game has a huge impact on how new players perceive that game.
Although, I suspect you can readily imagine what a learning curve looks like, I’ll draw one for you, because there is something I’d like to point out before we get to the good stuff.
Question: is this learning curve steep or shallow?
What the above graph shows, is that the more effort you put into learning the rules, the better your understanding of the rules will be. What you are aiming for as a player, is total understanding of the rules. As you can see in the graph, it takes quite a bit of effort to understand the rules completely. So, this is what we call a steep learning curve. The next graph shows a shallow learning curve.
In this picture, understanding comes after a lot less effort, so this is what we call a shallow learning curve. The strange thing is, if you look at the pictures, the second graph is the steep one and the first graph is the shallow one. I could solve this by swapping the axes, but that seems counter-intuitive. What we usually call a steep learning curve is actually a shallow one when you draw it and vice versa. Weird, isn’t it? Anyway, back to the original topic.
In general, a shallow learning curve is better than a steep one, especially with casual games. Of course, there are players who are looking for a challenge, but it’s usually a good decision to make playing the game the challenge and not learning the game. So, it would be valuable if we could turn a steep learning curve into a shallow one.
Providing a tutorial
Try as you might, you can’t design a game that has no rules, and if there are rules, the player will have to learn them. One strategy is to just get it over with. In other words, you’ll tell the player: “These are the rules. Learn them. When you’re done, you can start playing.” This is the path board games take. You have to read through the manual and memorize all the rules as best you can before you can even begin. The fact that you then have to explain what you learned to all the other players, doesn’t make this process more enjoyable.
What often happens in these cases, is that you read a third of the manual, skim the next third and skip the last part entirely. You throw the manual aside and say something like “we’ll just see how it goes”. But before you board game designers start complaining about this, let me tell you how players of computer games treat the manual. “Manual? There was a manual?” Now, that’s a problem.
So, what’s a computer game designer to do? Well, just put the manual into the game and call it a tutorial. This has become the most prominent solution to the problem of learning the game rules. (It’s also the least elegant, but that’s a topic for another time.) A tutorial is basically an attempt to speed up the learning process.
Note that time isn’t on the x-axis, effort is. The tutorial will introduce the rules to the player (or the player to the rules) quickly, but that doesn’t necessarilly mean that learning the rules doesn’t require a lot of effort on the player’s part. Remember this when you’re designing a tutorial: your goal is to make it easier to learn the game, not (necessarilly) faster.
Using common knowledge
There are games for which you don’t have to learn the rules in order to be able to play them: games to which you already know the rules. This seems a bit too obvious to mention, but you can use this principal to your advantage.
Most people you put behind a computer can start playing Solitaire right away (well, after they stop talking into the mouse, that is). That’s not because the rules are completely obvious, but because they already know the rules. Not all of us want to create Yet Another Solitaire, so what good is this information if you’re not adapting a real world game to the virtual world and you’re not cloning another computer game? A lot, actually.
Even if you’re not copying the entire ruleset from another game, you might still have elements in common with well-known games. For example, in most games of solitaire, you can build groups by putting a card on another card that is one higher in rank, i.e. you can put a six on a seven, a ten on a jack and a queen on a king. So, if you’re designing a new game of solitaire, you can use that same rule and it will be easy for players to understand. Of course, the ranks of the cards is also an example of something that is pretty standard. Just about everybody know that a king is higher in rank than a queen, so you’d be wise to adher to that rule in your design.
Just about every game genre has some well-known rules. Most players of first-person shooters know that shooting a barrel will result in an explosion, while shooting a crate will not (unless you use the rocket launcher, of course). That rule is quite arbitrary, but players know it and, as a designer, you should make use of that. The result is that the learning curve doesn’t just get shallower, it actually start higher up. The player will have an understanding about the rules of your game even before she starts playing.
You can create a similar effect by presenting your game in such a way that the player intuitively knows what to do. When you start Pac-Man, you see five characters and only one of them is standing still, so the chances are, that’s your avatar. The fact that your in a maze, suggests that you can move down through corridors, because that’s how our mazes usually work. And moving through walls is probably not an option. The happy sound you hear when you pass over a pill, means that eating pills is a good thing. And since ghosts are scary, you’d better run the other way. Now you know why Pac Man doesn’t come with a tutorial.
Dragging out the learning curve
Even with the above strategies, some games are still really hard to learn. If you face such a challenge with the game you are designing, then I suggest you take the following approach.
Does that seem better than the previous curves? Maybe not, because now it takes a very long time before the player knows all the rules. But think about what the player’s goal is. She doesn’t want to know the rules as quickly as possible, she wants to play the game as quickly as possible. (Yes, I know that I said before that your goal as a player is to have a total understanding of the game rules. So, I lied, okay? Deal with it. And yes, I’m telling the truth now. Really.) With some games, especially complex ones, it’s very well possible to start playing and enjoying the game before you understand all the rules. Most pinball tables have a set of table rules. Following these rules allows you to complete certain tasks and score more points. But, even if you don’t know the table rules yet, you can still have a lot of fun just knocking the ball around. The rest of the rules will be pointed out to you over time on the matrix board.
Sometimes you can design a game to skip an entire section of the ruleset if the player doesn’t need it. If you are designing a role-playing game where the player can decide not to be a magic user, then you don’t have to explain to her how to cast spells. Also, there are games you can enjoy and finish without completely understanding all the rules. I played many games of Civilization before I knew all the rules (hey, I was seven years old, okay!), but I did play the game for hours on end.
Remember the goal
I’ll repeat this, because I think it’s important: the player doesn’t want to learn the rules as quickly as possible, she wants to play the game as quickly as possible. As long as you design your games with that in mind, you’ll be okay.