While it’s not “standing in front of your high school in your underpants and reciting a difficult Shakespeare passage” level of anxiety, there is a certain amount of trepidation that I feel whenever I try out an unfamiliar MMORPG. These are complex games with their own distinct culture, rules, and systems, and more than once I’ve shied away from progressing further in a game because I feel lost and floundering in ignorance.
Persistence and friends have done a lot to overcome this barrier, but in my opinion, there are a lot of things that MMO designers can do to make new players feel more at home and welcome when coming to a game for the first time. So many things, in fact, that this calls for a list!
Simplify the set up process
Recently going through the nightmare that was the registration and installation process for Phantasy Star Online 2 made me yearn for times when MMOs would just take a bare minimum of registration information, get an automated launcher going, and usher me into the game with little fuss. I don’t want to feel like I’m filling out tax forms or applying for a very picky guild; I just want to get into your game as soon as possible.
Be excited to see me
OK, this is going to sound very silly, but one of the best ways to overcome anxiety and shyness in new situations is to feel as if everyone’s genuinely excited that you’re there. It flips that newness from a bad state to a good one, if that makes sense. And I don’t think it hurts MMO registration and installation screens to express some enthusiasm behind me being there. Little wording tweaks here and there can make my presence feel appreciated and build anticipation for the moments ahead.
Offer optional information during character creation
If I’m coming to your game for the first time, you have to assume that I am pretty ignorant about your game world and what each of your classes entail. I do like it when MMOs offer bonus information via tooltips or even the optional video showing off animations and spells. This may be one of the areas where eastern MMOs are consistently better than western ones.
Strike a good tutorial balance
I know I’ve harped on this before, but I think it’s absolutely critical for MMOs to get the balance right for tutorial portions. Games that throw waaaay too much information (usually in the form of pop-ups) tend to overload new players and waste that info. Then there are games that are too hands-on controlling with new players, denying them any opportunity to just breathe, take in the world, and do some personal experimentation. I think that self-contained small starter zones with just the essential information delivered to players is the way to go at the beginning — and drip-feed them more instruction as they go along.
Use the tutorial to tell a good story
The first hour of an MMO experience is one you’ll never get back again, and it really shouldn’t be wasted. I’ve been in far too many MMOs where the devs put me in a sort of foam-padded nursery with a generically pleasant setting and no loud noises to startle me. It may be a starter area, but that’s no reason you can’t start laying the foundation of your game’s narrative and draw players into the story. Conversely, don’t go so huge in your tutorial that you have players one-shotting raid bosses just to make them feel “epic”… and then toss them into the wider world to grind out rabbits for a while.
Give me fun choices out of the gate
We all know that the first dozen or so hours in an MMO offer the fastest leveling you’ll ever experience outside of a level boost. During that breezy ride, it doesn’t hurt if the game delivers some fun choices to help me get invested in that character. I don’t want to feel as though my character is the same carbon-copy class as everyone around me, so the sooner I can start to differentiate myself through builds and looks, the better.
Get me plugged into the community
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The number one way to get me to stick around in your MMO is for me to get connected with a great in-game community (usually a guild). So don’t leave me to the fates of general chat recruitment messages when it comes to this; make sure that your MMO has a robust guild finder that offers a bit more than a mere two sentences of meaningless description. It also wouldn’t hurt to offer guilds incentives to recruit and support fledgling members.
Offer a newbie advice channel
In addition to the above, I have always loved games that automatically put new and returning players in an advice channel. Not only does that offer a level of community out of the gate, but often the same questions I have are being asked and answered without me feeling awkward for bringing them up. I am shameless in how I take advantage of such channels, and I usually keep an eye on the attitude of the veteran advisors as a way to take the temperature of the larger community.
Make events for everyone
Nothing is more off-putting to a new player (especially in a long-established MMO) to see level requirements or other gatekeeping attached to the big, exciting events that the studio is hosting in the game. Events should not be an endgame thing; make them accessible to everyone across all level ranges and use them as a way to draw your larger community closer together.
Never forget that I’m always learning
Probably my biggest pet peeve for developers is how most of them seem to assume that any player over a certain level range automatically knows how the game works as well as the devs and should never be offered any further instruction or guidance. New systems and endgame features that are unlocked at certain levels should be treated the same way as what happens in newbie zones, and “we just assume that the players will go to the wiki” is not a good excuse.