Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Tackling the tutorial mystery

One area we have been struggling with all of our games is the tutorial for new players. It's so easy to concentrate making the actual game and then add a tutorial as afterthought. When one knows the game inside out, it becomes hard to design the tutorial for players who see the game for the first time.

We are just beginning to grasp the importance of a good tutorial and all the challenges included in making one. The tutorial is the first thing a new player sees. Especially for free-to-play games, poor tutorial can easily kill even a good game. People generally hate learning rules and if the process is not fluent and fun, they simply quit and find something else to play. Optimally the tutorial feels like a natural part of the game flow and progresses by creating objectives to the player instead of a forced step by step process. The biggest challenge is that players often don't read the instructions. A good tutorial should be intuitive enough to direct the player to do right things without relying on text.

In the great tutorial mystery I was wondering why adding a tutorial to Permia - Duels did not improve our numbers. Looking back now, it's evident we did not do that good job with the tutorial: It is too long, feels forced and partly concentrates on teaching irrelevant details too early for a new player. In Pet Shows we improved by slicing the tutorial into pieces which are activated as the player progresses. Regardless, the first tutorial is too long and contains too much information by trying to teach all the mini games at once. Additionally it is lacking clear objectives.So how are we planning to solve these problems?

The answer for Pet Shows lies in understanding that the player does not need to have access to all of the mini games at once. While for a veteran player it might feel limiting to have only a couple to choose from, it's enough for first time player for whom everything is new. Locking some of the mini games at the beginning also creates natural objectives for the player to continue playing to get them unlocked. As added bonus the new flow allows easy way to add more mini games in the future. 

Another thing we have been underestimating are the achievements. By designing the flow correctly, the achievements can be powerful tools for teaching the game flow without a forced tutorial. For player they form objectives with a promise for rewards. Game instructions can be hidden inside the achievement descriptions and by fulfilling achievements players learn the game flow as a side product. Additionally the achievement rewards work as a feedback for the player for doing the right things. Conversely poorly designed achievements can distract the player and thus both the achievements and their presentation needs to be designed carefully to support the desired game flow.

So that's the plan and we have already started implementing the new tutorial flow for Pet Shows. Duels will follow later, after we finish the current graphics upgrade. I will get back to the subject later, when we know were we able to improve the new player experience for Pet Shows through these changes or not. If you have any ideas for the tutorials, please let us know!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Clarity's the word

We have, in the past, made some absolutely terrible design decisions. We have even been told by a number of people that they are terrible ideas and yet we have gone forward with them. Looking back at these decisions, I cannot believe how thick we have been at times.

During the past month or so, we have been working on a Permia – Duels facelift. Most of the feedback we have received from players (in terms of the game’s appearances) has been positive but we still felt that we could do better now than when we first designed the game. We also felt that we could make the game more accessible to a wider player base by addressing some of the usability/design issues, which is why the update goes beyond being just a facelift.

By far, the most problematic part for us has been the actual game board and specifically the hexagonal tile design. Our game unit tiles carry a lot of information which we have to fit into a very small space and still ensure that it is legible on a small mobile display. Unit type, special attributes, unit rarity etc. are all emblazoned on the small hexagonal tile.

Possibly the most grotesque design mistake in the old design is the unit’s border we use to mark the card’s rarity level. What possessed us to think that it was a good idea to have a “blue player” and a blue border that denotes something completely different, I do not know. We have even used a different shade of blue in different parts of the UI. Fantastically confusing but not very player friendly.

After the update, the unit’s border finally stands for what it should’ve stood for from day one: whose unit it is. Unit rarity, an attribute with no intrinsic gameplay value, will now take a step back and assume a smaller role in the unit’s design. It will still be visible, but far less dominant. Because of these changes, we can drop the gradient we have previously used to indicate “ownership” and make more room for the actual unit illustrations. These changes should make the situation in the game much easier to read.

Unit design evolution (left old, right new. Not necesarily final graphics)
This is not the only change we have made but it is possibly the most important one and we hope that it will help new players get a grasp of the game quicker than before. We still have many other areas of the game to address (the tutorial comes to mind). The update should go live within a couple weeks. Once again, we would then love to hear what you think of the update? Are we headed in the right direction or has it all gone horribly wrong?

Friday, 2 January 2015

Happy 2015! And happy birthday, Seepia Games!

I figured that I’d be in a better position to write this if I read my “happy new year” post from 2014. Luckily I did not make too many promises we could not keep.

Quite a few things have changed since the 2014 post. Habbo Hotel’s Game Centre, once an important channel for us, is no more. While I would not go as far as describing it as a shock, the game centre’s closure still came as a surprise to us. As a result, we had to shut down Tetrablok servers and effectively kill off our first game. A very cathartic experience that I recommend every developer goes through. If you are interested in our rationale for letting Tetrablok go, have a look at our press release.

On a more positive note, Pet Shows is finally out!  It took us much, much longer than we ever expected it would. We are only now starting to get some actual feedback and metrics from the game. We’ve already implemented a few changes based on early player data and more changes are in the pipeline. If you haven’t given it a try yet, head to Windows Phone Store and download it! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Going back to our 2014 plans, perhaps surprisingly, we still have not made a single Android/iOS release. There are a number of reasons why it is so. Maybe more on those later on.

2014 also saw us move into a new office. We blogged about the pros and cons of the change before but the move has since also meant that we have been, for a lack of a better word, reunited with Headnought. Working alongside them is always a blast and I cannot emphasise the value added by having a team to bounce ideas off.

Our team has also grown in size. We have more people working on our games than ever before.  With two games to support, we are still stretched thin but it’s not quite as bad as it used to be. We are fantastically pleased with our new recruits and their great talent beautifully complements our team.

2015 is set to become another busy year. In just a couple of weeks we are heading to London for Pocket Gamer Connects, a Steel Media event where we can meet press and investors. The Permia – Duels facelift we have been working on is well underway (some of the changes are already in the game, the rest will follow soon). Pet Shows is still in its infancy. We have even started work on the prototype of our next game.

Thank you very much everyone for sticking with us and let’s all have a fabulous 2015!