Vague Patch Notes: Returning MMO players need tutorials too

Feelings felt

One of the nice things about Final Fantasy XIV is that it is explicitly designed by someone who thinks that it’s not just reasonable but expected that you’ll take some time off from the game. While there’s certainly nothing stopping you from playing the game on a daily basis, producer and director Naoki Yoshida has said explicitly on multiple occasions that there’s every reason to take breaks if you need them and to not feel as if you have to keep playing the game exclusively for months. Go ahead, take a break!

But there’s a catch there: If you take a break for a while and come back to the game… will you have any idea what you’re doing?

This is not a problem that I personally have (to my great shame, it is likely I could do rotations for Black Mage in my sleep at this point, and that’s not even close to my main), but it is a genuine problem that a vast majority of MMOs have. It’s something that came into my mind, and as soon as I thought of the premise for this column I sat up straighter in my chair. We don’t need tutorials for new players nearly as much as we need tutorials for players who are coming back.

Now, in the broadest strokes, MMOs do not want you to leave. The business models for these games rely upon your playing for an extended period of time, probably through a series of small incremental changes to how you play and what rewards you get, and this should be self-evident. But it should also be self-evident that players are going to stop playing at certain times and take a break, and the question you then run into is what you do for these players who log back in and suddenly have to put a lot of stuff together.

You have to remember how your character plays, possibly adjusting to the fact that subsequent updates have changed how your character plays in significant ways. You also have to remember what the heck you were doing at the time when you stopped playing. Furthermore, you have to figure out what you want to be doing at this point and whether or not it’s even still relevant.

Oh, and that’s all before you get into any new content that might have been added, which is probably what drew you back to the game in the first place.

Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing now?

This is a big problem! It’s probably bigger than you tend to think about because again, if you’re playing the game on a regular basis, you don’t need the refresher. You know what you’re doing today because it’s based on what you were doing yesterday, and the reality is that if you think about it your game of choice isn’t really that complicated. All you really need to know is X, Y, and Z; how hard is that?

And you’re probably right. But again, that’s also from the perspective of someone who is regularly playing this game, not from someone who is logging back into the game in the middle levels and being greeted with an inventory full of stuff that was once relevant but now might not be, trying to figure out what the heck is going on, what the game wants you to do, and how you’re supposed to play your character or why you have these items in your inventory or what you were even doing before.

To some extent, sure, it’s a fun game of looking at your stuff and laughing and being amused at what you were even planning with all this armor you’re never going to use. But the flip side is that a lot of players are going to log in, struggle to remember what they were doing and what options they had, fuss about a little bit trying to figure it out, and then just… leave. They’re going to sign out without signing back in because figuring out what the heck the game was about is too difficult.

So why don’t we have tutorials for people returning to the game in some capacity?

FFXIV does try to help this a bit with Returner status, which lets you rejoin the novice network chat and look to other players to help guide you in playing the game while you get your feet under you. I’m told that The Elder Scrolls Online offers some useful guidance to help players get back on their feet (I can’t speak to that myself, I haven’t tried getting back into the game myself). But these are the exception rather than the rule.

But the struggle of getting players on board with the game is not limited to new players who are trying the game for the first time; it’s also a problem when it comes to people returning to the title after some time away. These players might start again just because they don’t know what in the world they’re supposed to be doing with their high-level characters, and that carries the very real risk of making people bounce off again. Other methods of trying to get back into the game involve basically making your own tutorials, and that’s never ideal.

Fire is hot, professor.

Let’s be fair to designers, of course. It’s not really the game’s fault that it can’t tell me why I have seven impulse engines in my inventory in Star Trek Online because that decision is on me and there’s no end-of-play-session survey asking why I had been holding on to these items. Their guess is as good as mine. It’s really difficult to provide you with a full rundown of what your particular character build does in a lot of games, and even in games with more constrained build options like FFXIV there’s no real mechanics for saying what you were leveling or why you were keeping certain gear around or what you were working toward.

But I think that in this year of 2021 we need to stop pretending that the people who need to be coached into how a game works are solely those who have never played the game before. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people are going to take breaks from MMOs at this point. It’s inevitable. Making it harder to come back just means that more people are likely to see the barrier to figuring out what they were doing and decide it just isn’t worth it.

Yeah, it’s a complicated problem. Ideally you’d take notes before putting the game down for a while so you can jump back in, but that’s assuming you plan your breaks instead of having them just happen. More likely is just that you log in religiously for a while until you don’t, and then you forget what you were doing and why. And the easier any game makes it for you to log back in and get up to speed again amidst all of the chaos, the more likely you are to feel allowed to stop and start up again.

Now, if you’ll all excuse you, I have to figure out why all of these old holiday tokens are in my inventory and whether or not any of them are still useful. Time for some wiki searching.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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Steven Fox

I just got back into an MMO I haven’t played in almost a year and I’m completely lost at this point. Almost considered rolling a new character altogether because my skills and everything has changed so much since I last played I feel completely useless.


No kidding. There have been a few games where I probably would’ve jumped back in, but they wanted you to be paying to play…and I’d forgotten HOW to play it, so I would’ve been all ‘derp’ and paying money for something I wasn’t sure even how to function in. For example, I tried going back to Runescape multiple times, but I’d forgotten how to move the camera around to how/where I usually wanted it…and nobody in the areas I’d log in at would ever answer my ‘/say’ asking how…eventually a ex-friend gave me the info and I was able to go back for another year of paid time on there…but I eventually left again because that friend was playing Ironman and ironman and normal players couldn’t trade/interact/do stuff together, so I was basically playing solo again…and while there was another batch of content to run through, most of it wasn’t particularly fun…so I moseyed on away from the game again. (May go back again someday…but that friend won’t exist anymore as I removed them because we weren’t really getting along anymore…so I won’t have anyone to ask how again…)

Tried to go to Rift a few times, but the control scheme just felt awful/strange every time I went back in. Not sure how I ever got used to it to begin with.

If the game has a ‘free’ play event where I can get my feet under me, and get back into the content, then I’m often way more likely to stick around/keep paying them…


As much as there have been times I didn’t enjoy WoW much (OK, I’m kind of there now, though I DO enjoy aspects of it, especially with my guild), one reason I haven’t left and know that if I leave, I probably won’t be back (if I leave for too long) is this very thing.

As a guide in the mentoring system, I see it a LOT and with WoW, it’s especially difficult since they’ve REVAMPED so many things. I think they did it for new players and while some returning players like the leveling changes, some hate it. Some hat that they lost a lot of levels. Some hate that you can do only one expansion worth of content for most of leveling. And another HUGE problem I see is players LOSING THEIR CHARACTERS and whatever advances they made to them (esp. if they left AFTER things like mounts and achievements became acct. wide) and have to start a new account.

The guides can only do so much, for both new and returnees. I wish there was a way to ease them back in, but sometimes all the changes alienate people, especially if there are restrictions (such as EARNING flying) that wasn’t there, when they left the game.

I really wish there was a decent FAQ for both new and returning characters that was easy to find, maybe from the LAUNCHER itself, with some concise explanation of changes, and important things like “what is Chromie Time and how do I unlock it?” GUIDES shouldn’t have to have a TON of macros to explain thing like that, but here we are . . .

Jim Bergevin Jr

It’s funny, I just brought the reason for this topic up in Tyler’s soapbox column this week.

I had this problem in both Neverwinter Online and Destiny 2. I started playing both games during launch time, but had to take an extended break from both games not long afterward. When I came back to them last year. I had found that the original storylines were null and void and I had a quest log full of invalid quests. I logged out and haven’t been back since.


A thousand times yes! It is a frequent occurrence when I consider picking a game back up, only to be met with an overwhelming onslaught of new systems on top of just remembering how to play that it turns me off. Opening Destiny 2 up after years of not playing and it’s just a confusing mess of figuring out how to play, what to play, what is even going on that I just gave up after a little bit.

IronSalamander8 .

I’m all for tutorials, especially when you can skip them if you wish, and come back to them later if needed, as well. Giving people more information about the game, interface, and so on, is a good thing.


I don’t really have an issue with mechanics; I get them quickly both when starting and when returning.

On the other hand, figuring where I was in the game’s questlines, as well as what I need to discard from my inventory and what I need to procure in order to continue, can be a big challenge. More so if I was in the middle of something when I stopped and didn’t properly “park” that character before leaving. It’s really easy to feel lost.

gandalf no memory of this place.jpg
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100%. Unless you’re determined to dive back in, spending time and effort to reacquaint yourself, it’s quite possible to just move on for many players. Developers have a vested interest in grabbing as many players as possible so it behooves them to put in the effort in areas like this. Lapsed players can account for larger numbers than many would usually consider.


Class tutorials you could enter at any time would be super helpful.

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Ken from Chicago

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

I so agree with this column. I think back in the day, Massively dot com had a reporter, Rich Propito(?) aka “Wooden Potatoes”, who did these great “Boomerang” videos for players who played GUILD WARS, took time off and came back. He’d have videos that accounted for various times you left the game and explain the then current game in those terms.

Btw, it depends on what type of impulse engine. STAR TREK ONLINE has a bunch with various bonuses to speed, turninng rates, energy usage, etc. It can be overwhelming to just pick one to use. I tend to go with the most expensive component so that I’m slowly but constantly upgrading my ship’s gear.

Rick Mills

Rich Pricopio, aka bog otter :) miss that guy’s videos!