Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
The ESO tutorial controversy

I haven't played The Elder Scroll Online yet. But my newsreader is overflowing with people fighting over the game on various blogs since the NDA dropped. Basically a lot of people played the game for an afternoon, didn't like it, and said so. And then the fans got into an angry rage at all those negative reviews and started shouting at the reviewers that they hadn't tested the game long enough. Apparently the tutorial of The Elder Scrolls Online is very long and significantly different from the rest of the game. And the fans and devs apparently don't understand why that is a problem.

Now to some extent you could say the same thing about every MMORPG. If for example you believe that the *real* World of Warcraft is endgame raids, it obviously is impossible for a new player to get a realistic experience of the game through a few hours of testing. On the other hand, the raiding endgame is only used by a minority of players. And your first day in World of Warcraft will look pretty much like your second. And third. And fourth, etc., so the tutorial can well be said to be representative of the main part of the game.

If there is a discontinuity between how the game plays in the tutorial and how the main game plays, that is far more of a problem. The Elder Scrolls Online is an expensive game which you will normally need to buy before playing, and then pay for a subscription on top of that. So a great number of people will use the beta as a free sneak preview to make a purchase decision. If what you'll see in the first few hours of that sneak preview doesn't correspond to how the game really plays, people end up making the wrong decision: Those who don't like the style of the tutorial won't buy the game although they might have liked the real game. Those who like the style of the tutorial buy the game, but then quit after the free month when they found out that the rest of the game isn't like that. The whole story reminds me a lot of Age of Conan. That game had a level-limited beta, and the experience in that part accessible in the beta was significantly different from the rest. I bought the game because I liked the beta, and then quit as soon as I found out that the rest of the game didn't work like that.

What is missing from most MMORPGs is an option to skip the tutorial. That would help a lot with a beta / preview experience. People like to try out different classes or races in a beta, and if they have to play through the same or similar experience every time, that isn't much fun. And then they are being told that the part they played through repeatedly doesn't resemble the actual game at all.

I wouldn't say that it was especially long, it's just that there's a lot of dialogue in it. If you know what to do, I estimate it only takes about 10-15 minutes. But it is 100% linear, with the only choice being your starting weapon.

My issue with it was that the exit from it was broken; My first character could not get out of the tutorial area. Some reported that the loading screen of the first proper zone was about 30-40 minutes long, so maybe I was just impatient? My second character got to the other faction's starting zone in a much more reasonable time.
I don't think everyone is talking about the same 'ESO tutorial' though? some players like myself clearly refer to the cave experience at the very beginning (15mins tops) while others are talking about the first few hours in the starter map?

In any case, I think there's an important distinction to make about MMO first impressions: there are flaws and then there are FLAWS. there are little things than can 'get better' while playing for longer - mechanics one can get 'used to' (such as a different camera approach) or the general insight into the world (better quests, more lore etc.)

And then there are things that cannot get better just because you're playing for days :) for example the current state of the combat which is inacceptable for me personally and a few more things I've written about. those are the real turn-offs for me, tutorials or not.
The thing I've picked up from reading various reviews and comments seems to be that the game opens out a lot after about level seven or so, once you get into (I think) the third zone. The first half dozen levels seem to be very linear and directed but after that it apparently starts to resemble the open world, exploration-led gameplay that Skyrim was known for.

That, a least, is what I have understood from reading maybe a dozen or more different bloggers and reviewers. The problem seems to be that, at least in beta where there have been heavy queues and a lot of bugs, quite a few people haven't even got as far as that third zone in the time they managed to get on and play. Consequently those people have reported a very linear, quest-driven game while the players who got further have described something quite different.

Games companies often tell us that the majority of people who play MMO free trials, even sometimes a significant number of players who buy MMOs, only play once for a few minutes before logging out and never playing again. Getting as far as level 7 sounds like nothing to people who DO go on to play the game - a short while after launch it will probably take players making alts just a few minutes to get that far. For plenty of curious players trying before buying, however, Level 7 might as well be end-game. So, yes, making your players wait even an hour or two before they get to see the game they will be playing if they stick at it can't really be a good design move.

On the other hand, many MMOs do it and most of them manage to pick up an audience. Rift, for example, launched with an unavoidable tutorial that was totally unrepresentative of the game and took 45-60 minutes to complete and that game was, at the time of it's launch, considered a success. The difference between it and Age of Conan was that an awful lot of players preferred Tortage to the main game whereas those who toiled through Rift's tutorial were immensely relieved to find the rest of the game was nothing like it. Of the two mistakes, ESO is probably making the less-damaging.
I really don't get the tutorial hate. The prison escape takes a few minutes to do it once you've done it before. You can get through with almost no combat and just run straight through. The quest text/voice overs can be skipped right through.

The combat seems to be a major complaint that I just haven't found to jibe with my own experience. It works nearly identically to combat in Skyrim, and I would presume other Elder Scrolls games. I think the disconnect for people is they are used to games like WoW where damage, especially from melee, is nearly always instant on. Meaning you press a button to initiate your attacks and damage is instantly applied. In ESO there is a wind up time for your attacks that applies even to your first attack. There are special abilities that apply damage instantly but they are the exception rather than the rule in my experience. The complaints stemming from this amuse me because this has been the way magic nearly always works in these games, with most spells having a cast time only after which any damage is done. Putting melee into the same boat makes sense in that it takes time to swing a weapon and should help balance things for PvP. It is also worth mentioning that people unfamiliar with how melee works in ES games will not understand power attacks vs normal swings and so will likely be doing exclusively power attacks which take a lot longer to hit.
I read a number of "much better after level 10" comments - more than just the tutorial. It also makes no sense - one should have a great beginning to lure customers in.

The meta question seems to be shouldn't you allow players to skip the leveling as well as the tutorial? If end-game is "where the game begins" then why not skip the leveling? (Although, I prefer leveling and no longer interested in non-crafting "endgame".) I.e., if you make an "endgame" MMO, then isn't the solution to skip the pre-endgame rather than have a better tutorial?

@tobold, wrt your comment on WoW about only a minority raiding, it's not that way anymore. For the last couple of xpacs Blizzard has gone to a great deal of work to ensure that raiding is available nee necessary to all endgame players. The most obvious mechanism is LFR.
I don't quite get why everyone hates ESO so much, but is gushing about Wildstar. I've played betas for them both, and Wildstar bored me from somewhere around the first minute. ESO was moderately interesting; fun, maybe not a long-term keeper, but worth a buy.

For me, I don't think it's about rails or guidance or anything. I think it's the Look and Feel. Not in the sense of polygons, but in World vs Game.

Wildstar just came across as tedious. Step one, follow some guy around. Step two, click some boxes. It felt like Rift and WoW in the visuals, and I just didn't care at all about what anyone was saying to me. The world was not an interesting place to explore, it was a map where I was told to click over there and then click through some meaningless dialog boxes. They managed to go from character creation to the 'wait, why am I doing this anyway' endgame in seconds.

ESO was not any paragon of storytelling, but the environment made me want to look around. The quests I just took as a way to move forward, to see more of what things look like, to experience.

I'm not sure I'm explaining it right, it's a subtle sort of thing. But one game, via camera angle, graphics, UI choices, etc, managed to create a sense of world (which I like) and one created a sense of click-to-move action game (which I don't).

over at GamesBrief, Nicholas Lovell uses teh ESO tutorial as an example of why games (F2P games, as that's his interest) should delete the tutorial - his argument is pretty solid, in my opinion, even though I'm buying the game.

The ESO tutorial *is* boring, it *is* a waste of time, the story *is* nonsensically stupid: if they just dumped you diretly in teh starting zone without the tutorial, the new player experience would be vastly improved. That said, I *am* still buying it.
I'm with George on this one, I just don't get the hate.

It seems that TESO has become the game that is cool/trendy to hate on.

Amongst the more rational and balanced of observers there are two theories as to what is going on here.

The first is that a number of ES fans went into the beta expecting Skyrim 2 and having never played an MMORPG before got something they were not expecting/wanting.

Many of the criticisms I have read could have been applied to any MMORPG on the market. Indeed for the life of me I absolutely cannot see why people are complaining about the start of TESO when compared to other MMO's.

The second theory is that you have the old school control method MMO players (RIFT, WoW, SWTOR etc) trying out TESO and getting angry at the controls - moving the mouse moves the screen and not the pointer etc.

These people disliked TERA and whilst TESO is easier to control it is still far too difficult for many of the WoW audience. Also many of those are running on Laptops that simply can't handle this game well. There will no doubt be an element of sour grapes stemming from that - if you can't have it then you slag it off and pretend you don't want it.

In my experience the tutorial was a quick 15 minute affair with some top notch voice acting that set the scene. I was then transported to a beautiful island with ship wrecks and spent a fair bit of time (voluntarily) in a camp listening to someone play a guitar type instrument! After that I went exploring and did some really fun and atmospheric quests.

I've played all the main MMO's and I came away believing that this ranks up there with the best of them. In fact I hadn't felt that excited and intrigued about what was over the horizon since I first played WoW back in the early days.

I am hoping that this game can succeed where TERA failed - in moving the genre on from the old static tab target system.

The danger is that by treading a line down the middle between Elder Scrolls Action RPG's and Tab Target MMO's, they end up alienating both sides and only appealing to those who are prepared to leave their comfort zone and move to something new.
I'm not sure what everyone keeps going on about with this "it gets better after 10" malarkey. I leveled 2 toons to 15, and didn't notice much appreciable change in gameplay.
"I'm not sure what everyone keeps going on about with this "it gets better after 10" malarkey"...

This is amusing. I haven't played ESO and have no intention of playing, but I must have heard this phrase 8-10 times in Teamspeak while others who were in channel were playing the beta.

Apparently, it's mildly grindy to get those 10 levels too.
wrt your comment on WoW about only a minority raiding, it's not that way anymore.

I'm aware of LFR. But as far as I heard, it only means that raiding is accessible to more people. The percentage of players raiding at least once per month is still way below 50% and thus a minority.
The percentage of players raiding at least once per month is still way below 50% and thus a minority.

I do not think there is any activity in WoW that is undertaken by a majority of players in any single month.
I am pretty certain that a majority of players does at least 1 quest per month in World of Warcraft.
One quest a month seems a bad comparison to me. I believe that a majority of people at endgame spend more hours in LFR each month than they do questing. Do you believe elsewise? Raid (if you believe LFR is raiding) is huge in WoW these days. (Why am I "unknown?" Is it a setting in Google+?)

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