Almost all of my past tutorials are failures. Often lefted for the end of the development, with very few days until launch there was always one person in the team who suddenly said 'Wouldn't we have to do a tutorial?' We were too busy with the real development to think about that stuff. I know my game like the palm of my hand. It isn't that hard to learn, we don't need a tutorial that much! I ofthen said to myself. So yeah, lots of crappy tutorials were made.
We once made a sliding game where the player had to go through doors. These doors blocked the avatar's vision as you passed through them and the real challenges and prizes were behind. We let the player advance freely through a desert but literally, the entire game was behind those doors. We made a tutorial restricting the players movement (mistake #1) with good few of pauses and text (mistakes #2 and #3). Can you imagine how many people tried to slide through the doors later on?
Picture the first experience of a player with your game like a hungry customer who wants to eat in a great restaurant he has heard of:
'Hi, I would want to try the menu, please'
'Great, here is the first course'
'But, this is a plate full of dirt and pebbles!'
'Yeah we know, but trust me, the rest of it is delicious'
'I don't care, I don't want it!'
'But sir, I'm afraid this is unskippable'
Think of the tutorials as this, the introduction of your beloved game, the great entrance and first contact of your amazing interactive experience. You have made lots of efforts tweaking that huge final boss but lots of efforts have to be made to reach it through the game. On average, 75% of mobile users who download a game once never open it again. Have they seen that final boss? No. They have seen the tutorial, and nothing else.
People want to play! They come from work, college or school after a long day of working and paying attention to a blackboard, they don't want to keep paying attention to anything else! Don't teach, but let them learn. People know the Azeroth's map better than their own town. They can sing you the entire Baratheon house with all their bastards, every Leage of Legends champion with all their lore, skill names, damage rates and even the particle colour. Make use of things like the Tangencial Learning, make them enjoy what they are submerged to.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is a very smart person with a very smart theory. He describes the 'flow' as a mental state where a person is absolutely concentrated, unaware of the surroundings and using every mental process on what they are doing. Like watching a movie we really like, we can spend two hours and don't even notice it. And yeah, reaching a flowing tutorial is what we aim for. Basically, we have to increase the challenge as the player gets skilled.
Put across a challenge. Let the player deal with it. Put another once he has reached the ability to overcome it. Flow between the overwhelm of a new challenge, the light struggle to complete it and the excitement of overcome.
The flow theory comes with some intrinsic and useful elements. The components of a 'flowing experience' are: Clear objectives, limited attention field, instant feedback and gratification. We can learn a lot from this ones.
'Can you repeat that, please?' 'Wait! I am writing out this' 'Let me try to do it please' I'm sure you have listened to one of those or even said one once in a while. Not everyone acquire information in the same way, each individual have their own learning style and this have been studied by psychologists since quite a long time. One literature review even identified 71 different models! But we do not need that much.
The VARK model identifies four different kinds of learners: Visual, Auditory, Physical and Social. Keep in mind everyone of them: try to represent ideas as images, make use of audio feedback, let players learn through trial and error and/or let them see other people fail.
Comforting and exciting may be complete opposites, as well as respecting and teaching. But that's how balance work. Giving absolute safe space may end in confusion and disorientation, but telling exactly what they have to do won't make them feel smart or special. It's not a game if there is not a challenge, even in the tutorial.
Scott L. Rogers tells us in his book 'Level Up: The Guide to Great Video Game Design' that 'A mechanic is something that the player interacts with to create or aid with gameplay'. If you have the tools to interact with the game, use them. For example, we want to teach that behind some walls there is hidden treasure, but they have to be destroyed first. We can use a pop-up with a chunk of text explaining it (Hint: NO), a glowing sign or an arrow. Those are not mechanics, those are examples of telling the player what to do (Flavour #4), and we have to avoid that. But then, how do we do it?
If the player is able to attack, let him attack. Place something that he needs to destroy, like an enemy, right in front of the wall and just wait for him to see that his attack, that inevitably reached the wall, destroyed it revealing the juicy coin. You didn't say a word, you didn't point anything, the player itself discovered it and now he's feeling smart (Flavour #1 again).
I hope this have been useful to you. This article was written thinking of video games but you can extend it to any interactive digital experience like apps. But if this has been too dense or long to you, just read the bold text.