The Tutorial Killed the Human Race

I was told to play Pandemic II over on Kongregate, so in my fifteen minutes of free time today I fired it up. Ignoring the “Tutorial” option on the main menu, I entered the main game, chose a difficulty, chose an infection class and was then prompted to really, really go to the tutorial. I sighed, realizing that if they are this insistant about the tutorial then it must be neccessary.

I don’t like tutorials because I’d rather be playing the game. Interactive tutorials are the least evil. Videos are next. Popups are terrible.

This tutorial however discouraged me so much that I never even tried to play the game. Here’s what information I was given during the first 90 seconds of the video:

  • 0:00-0:12 seconds. This tutorial video will be cover a little bit of everything – interface and gameplay, I can hardly learn the game without either of those, so I guess I have to keep watching.
  • 0:13-0:23 seconds. When I start the game, I can choose between realistic and relaxed modes. However, I already know this because the menus in-game explain this.
  • 0:24-0:42 seconds. The tutorial goes over more things that are brutally honest to anyone who can read English. Why would I watch a tutorial for this?
  • 0:43-0:50 seconds. The video explains the tutorial popup that brought us to the video. It also explains that an X in the upper-right corner closes a dialog box. Is this video meant for aliens who have never used a Windows interface?
  • 0:51-1:12. The video tells us the point of the game is to create a virus and destroy all of mankind. Not only is this information we’ve already seen on our way to this video in 99.9% of cases, but in that last 0.1% of cases, one can easily figure this objective out when the mechanics are explained.
  • 1:23-1:27. The narrator of the video reads the names of all the menu buttons on the bottom bar. This might be useful if these menu bars were icons, but no, they are full text. She is explaining to us things that we already know even if we’ve never played the game.

At this point I gave up and started writing this post.

If you don’t have the resources to design a game that doesn’t need a tutorial or in lieu of that to design an engaging interactive tutorial, make sure that your tutorial video or your instructions gets to the point & gives me the key to unlock your complicated mechanics. No elements in the first minute and a half of that video would leave me scratching my head in-game. Why waste my time telling me things I already know?

The purpose of a tutorial video is not to be design documentation but to be the most effective vector to deliver information to the player that is prerequisite to enjoying the game. This is triple important on the Internet where it takes no effort at all to click away to some other interesting site.

The tragic thing is that it is a small miracle I went to that game in the first place. There are thousands of interesting sites I could have spent my fifteen minutes on but they lucked out and I chose to check out their game. Then they frittered away that unlikely gift of attention with a single poor design choice.

Lesson learned!

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