Massively Overthinking: The best newbie systems in MMORPGs

    
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One thing I’ve realized from my time in Black Desert so far is than even for a die-hard sandbox fan, the introduction is pretty overwhelming. I can see how some folks would run screaming from all the pop-up windows and blinking guides and creepy smoke monster buddy, I really can. Games have come a long way since the days of just throwing you in and having you figure it all out on your own, but in some ways I miss the personal touch of the early MMOs that had actual people serving as your tutorial.

And that observation leads us to this week’s Massively Overthinking question, provided this time by Das Tal developer Alexander Zacherl: “I’d love to ask people about the best newbie onboarding systems they have ever seen in an MMO,” he writes. “Early MMOs had full-time newbie greeters and later ones (such as Darkfall) had one-on-one mentorships. I wonder if people had any good/bad experiences with those?”

I posed these questions to the MOP writers!

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I really liked Asheron’s Call and even Darkfall in terms of a newbie experience, mainly because it gave social reasons to help others out. AC provided mentors or “Patrons” experience points should they be able to convince someone to swear allegiance to them, and the easiest way to do that was to give items and advice to new players. Darkfall was similar in some ways, as it was a small community that had many who understood that driving away new players could kill the game. In addition, up and coming clans needed bodies and presence in order to expand, so training new players was a decent way to do that.

However, if someone is simply looking to jump into a game as if it were a singleplayer experience, that system is going to drive a player away. The problem, as least for me, is that most MMOs don’t get newbie experiences correct. On the one hand, most MMOs have very similar systems, and holding back content for several levels makes the grind all to obvious to genre vets. On the other hand, these “everything box” MMOs can overwhelm someone new to the genre by bombarding them with everything at once.

One of the things I wonder about is if, perhaps, its best to go with a level agnostic system, having stat increases based on easy to unlock achievement systems that clearly label how the achievement is unlocked and what is earned via the unlock. I believe this was the system I saw in Albion Online’s alpha. It serves as a good way to guide players and for them to explore their options. If needed, it could be combined with quests that add in tips from the UI or guide players around town. That would allow for players to find the content they want, jump into the game more easily, and maybe even still leave room for social mentorships for those who want advice on the “feel” of certain aspects of a game.

Darkfall

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’m with Andrew — my mind immediately leaped to Asheron’s Call. I had fantastic experiences with Ultima Online’s counselor program, but I also saw plenty of corruption and burnout because of the way the program sort of sat on top of the game, separate from it — participation (or bragging rights) was left to be its own reward. Asheron’s Call improved on that meta program by pulling the sponsorship of newbies directly into the game and brilliantly rewarded mentors with measurable in-game leadership skills and mentees with experience boosts and a built-in social hierarchy. The monarchy system transcended the 8th grade drama of MMORPG guilds and made it really easy to hook people into a mutually beneficial support structure in a way that was so much more graceful and organic than “join my guild, make guild bigger, get perks.” It worked on so many levels — as newbie tutorial, as retention glue, as altruism incentive — that I’m constantly shocked no one’s doing much to copy it.

I will say the next best thing is player-made in the form of EVE University, another structure I wish devs would find a way to integrate without relying on the largesse of the community.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Generally I want an MMO to back off a bit when it first dumps me into a game to let me get my footing on my own timetable rather than being rushed by pop-up windows. Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft both were pretty amenable in this regard. But to tell the truth, I can’t think of any MMO that did a great job teaching new or different systems as they came along. Lots of tutorial pop-ups and videos, sure, but nothing that stands out.

Wait, I might have to eat my words here because I do have to give WildStar credit for reworking its beginner experience to allow players to choose from one of three levels of need when starting out the game. That’s a good example for other MMOs to follow, to be sure.

Parallax has arrived.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I have always disliked tutorials in MMORPGs. For one, how do you encapsulate the complexity of an MMORPG in a short, even hour-long, tutorial? Secondly, they are notoriously boring.

Although I’m on a huge fan of these tutorials, I believe the ones that do it best are those that attempt to wrap you up in the story of game before really concerning the player with the mechanics of the game. Everything is done in broad strokes at first. Elder Scrolls Online is probably the best example of this. However, TERA and The Secret World have an interesting approach: essentially raising the character’s level so that the player has a goal or knowledge of where the progression is headed. But none of those is a sandbox.

In the case of sandboxes, the only game I didn’t play prior to the launch was Ultima Online. That basically means that I had to figure things out on my own before a tutorial was even introduced in nearly every sandbox MMORPG that I played. It was a lot of fun in Star Wars Galaxies to attempt to figure everything out with my friends, but we were dedicated to that game. Today, there isn’t nearly the level of dedication to a single game, so I’m not sure that cooperative learning would really work anymore, although it did work for some people in Landmark.

The simple answer for me is that I don’t know the answer. But I can tell you that tutorials with a whole bunch of pop-ups is not the answer because that only makes me more frustrated. I think I would rather just figure things out on my own.

Patron Archebius: The best newbie onboarding system I have yet seen was a player by the name of Maive of Narsh, in Guild Wars. After wandering around pre-searing for while, I had a question on something or another and asked it in general chat. I received quite a few responses (maybe it was my youthful naivety, but I still feel like that game had a great community), but Maive messaged me privately and walked me through it, answered a couple other questions I had, and then offered to party up and show me around. Maive spent a couple hours just hanging out, telling me about some systems later in the game, and showing me neat areas around Ascalon.

Many games try to create a new player experience that will get players up to speed, with varying levels of success. EVE has tried quite a few different approaches; Star Wars Galaxies added the Legacy quest to steer players through the galaxy. Black Desert has a variety of “helpful” videos that will play throughout your first few levels. If you’re an MMO who’s more focused on the solo experience and streamlined gameplay, then a well put-together introductory quest and a good wiki is probably just as good as a human tutorial.

But ultimately, if you want people to play together, your entire experience hinges on two things – keeping people from quitting immediately in frustration, and having a good community that will give them people to play with, advice to help them, and a reason to stick around.

So, in my opinion? The best newbie onboarding system is a game that encourages community at all levels, rewards teaming up across levels, and actively works to foster and support player relationships. It’s players who actually care about the health of the game and the quality of the experience. Wikis will go out of date, greeters and mentors might quit or get laid off, but ultimately, we, as players, are the best onboarding experience a company can hope for.

Your turn!

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Neverwherehere
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Neverwherehere

TiaNadiezja  I agree.  The fact of the matter is that an MMO is
actually comprised of two completely different games from a gameplay
perspective: The first game is the leveling process where the entire point is
to reach max level by killing monsters, completing quests and running the
dungeons.  The second game begins at max level where the goal then becomes
acquiring increasingly powerful gear in order run the raids with 9+ other
players.
From a design perspective, this
doesn’t make any sense because, like you’ve mentioned, the first part of the
game doesn’t do anything to prepare players for raiding.  Sure, there are the dungeons, but those are
completely optional, do not require the same number of people as a raid, have
drastically less complicated encounters, can be made simpler by coming back at
a higher level, and whose rewards become obsolete in a few levels.
This leads to a variety of
problems such as solo players not learning how to work as a team, players not
learning how to coordinate with more team members than they’re used to and not
learning how to adapt their playstyles to complicated fight mechanics.
Furthermore, since dungeon
content can be frequently outleveled and outgeared, the mechanics meant to
teach players valuable lessons such as “Don’t stand in the fire” and
“The interrupt ability you have is actually useful,” are completely
trivialized.  The two lessons players are
actually learning is that they should 1.) Come back when they’re level 30 so
they can ROFLstomp the level 20 dungeon in 2 minutes and 2.) Never run dungeons
because the gear you get through questing will eventually be better and take
less time and effort to get.
So then these players finally reach max level and find that the
endgame is an entirely different beast. 
Players suddenly HAVE TO group with others, they suddenly HAVE TO know
how to use their abilities and they suddenly HAVE TO know how the fight
mechanics work because if they don’t, they will get themselves and others
killed.  They can’t outlevel and outgear
the content the way they used to because the only way to get stronger at max level
is through raid progression. 
The game EXPECTS them to know things that it HASN’T actually been
teaching them due to this discrepancy in game design.

zoward
Guest
zoward

salidar While I liked Tortage as a region/starting city, the day/night flipping thing confused the hell outta me at the time.

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

Styopa 
Indeed so. People felt like the more-intricately-crafted Tortage section was some sort of “trick” to get them to subscribe. 
I really don’t think any dishonesty was intended at all, but perception often becomes reality in cases like this.

Cheers,

melissaheather
Guest
melissaheather

The Secret World has a pretty cool experience where you learn some skills and start to create your build, a testing ground where you can annihilate some zombies and spooks safely

BoomBiddyBye
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BoomBiddyBye

Uhhhhh, well, his sorta counts but I really appreciated the idea of THE POWERHOUSE in Champions Online it was a place you could go where you could change your skills infinitely, beat on dummies and “holograms”, check out your travel powers, and even get shot with giant lasers to test your defenses. An invaluable resource as a newbie or veteran.

melissaheather
Guest
melissaheather

LOTRO has a good way of getting you into the game.
Everquest 2’s original tutorial on the sailing ship was great. It covered all the basics, then turned you loose.

BoomBiddyBye
Guest
BoomBiddyBye

Coldrun_MN Not to mention that in order to talk to NPC’s you had to type /hail and you may not know there pressing H did the same thing (or even if that was in at launch I don’t remember). Inevitably you would fat finger then get yourself killed.

Oleg Chebeneev
Guest
Oleg Chebeneev

Agreed with Justin, I prefer MMOs that place you naturally into the world and you have easy time to learning the ropes yourself. Instead of clicking through popup windows that tell you how to move and how to manage inventory. WoW is great for new players

salidar
Guest
salidar

Tortage in AoC is one of the finest crafted tutorial experiences in an MMO. After I left it the rest of the game felt hollow in comparison.

I enjoyed TSW’s opening and tutorial as it really felt like drawing you into the world. I haven’t played through the revamped version however.
Everquest’s “tutorial” wasn’t put in until long after I had been playing. The tutorial in EQ when I started was, be careful not to press A near an NPC that you didn’t want to attack.

I thought the tutorials for GW2 were well crafted, really trying to give you a taste of what was to come.

I am one of the I guess few who actually really liked the EvE tutorials. Not the original ones, those were awful. But the I guess 3rd iteration were pretty solid. A bit difficult to understand because they had divided it up into the actual missions, and Aura popping up with help dialogs and they didn’t mesh that well together, but Rookie chat was amazing. I like making a new character just to hang out in Rookie and try to help new players get used to the game and find their feet.

BDO’s tutorial I don’t find as overwhelming as others. I am not really sure I see what they are seeing. The whole process seemed pretty straightforward to me. I think some people become set in their ways of what they think it should be, and forget to leave themselves open to what the developer is trying to impart.

salidar
Guest
salidar

Greaterdivinity Because they weren’t the only one to teach group play/dungeon mechanics. As Ironwu mentioned above, EQ2’s original tutorial island required grouping to be able to leave the tutorial. And FFXIV doesn’t require grouping in the tutorial, not the one I ran through anyway. That is added later when you have to group to continue the story past the first dungeon. I’d say GW2 does more for it, at least for more modern MMOs, than FFXIV.

That said, if they didn’t have forced grouping in FFXIV in order to continue the story, I would still be playing it. I won’t be forced into gameplay that I prefer not to participate in.