Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 12, 2008
Games without guides

A reader wrote me to ask why World of Warcraft was considered to be so friendly to new players, when there are still so many things the game doesn't tell you. For example new players can easily overlook getting their first talent point at level 10. And who hasn't used third party guides or websites to find out where he has to go to get certain character improvements? Even with 3 level 70 characters I'm still constantly on sites like WoWWiki for example to find out where I can get new enchanting recipes for reputation, and to what dungeon I would have to go to gain that reputation. Where in the game is it explained that Warsong Gulch is a capture-the-flag game?

My only answer is that World of Warcraft is considered to be new-player friendly, because most other games are doing considerably worse. If you are slightly confused in WoW, you'll be completely lost in Everquest 2, where nothing is explained in-game. EVE Online is 5 years old now, and now gets lots of praise for finally improving their tutorials in a way that they actually explain the basics to new players. For Age of Conan I don't even know if they'll have a tutorial in the game for release, for the recent beta you had to download the tutorial videos from Fileplanet.

I wish that in the future game developers realize that having a game which can't be played without outside help is not a good idea. MMORPGs should have much better tutorials, and NPCs explaining you every detail of the game. MMORPGs should have sages and libraries, which fulfil the same function as sites like WoWWiki do now. If you market your game to the multi-million player mass market, you can't rely on all the players being connected enough to find out everything they need to know for themselves.
But if everything's explained, who will buy the game's Official Strategy Guide then?
But to add the fact that some game developers are considering doing away with Player forum boards then you have real trouble.
Here are the steps I most commonly take in an MMORPG that ensure I know how to play:

1) Read the paper instruction manual in the box... it usually explains the most common features and mechanics

2) Spend 5 minutes on the Internet searching for the most popular forum for my game and bookmark it

3) Spend another 5 minutes looking for a wiki or database site (Thottbot/WoW Head) and bookmark it

4) Set my client to windowed mode

5) Alt tab and use the power of the Internet if something doesn't make sense...

Player forums = waste of time. 99% misinformation. Developers that maintain their own have learned the hard way that it is not valuable to the community at all. The WoW and EVE Online forums are leading examples. There are tons of fansites out there that run their forums far more properly.


I think the thing you didn't hit on was that the game can be completely played without a guide, but not to a min/maxed state as you are describing. That is the whole beauty of WoW: within 5 minutes even the most novice gamer is off having fun.

Also, for a first time player, it is quite hard to miss the giant ! buttons that pop up repeatedly on your screen with in-depth details of what is occurring around you. Most likely you have never seen those as you have them turned off.

Uh... WoW has the Tips feature that tells you everything you need to know as a beginner.

It has been a long time, but I believe with them enabled, you get at tip when you ding level 10 that you have talent points available to you.
While not all NPCs can be quest givers, there should be several NPCs in each area who, if you talk to them, will provide you with more information about your current quests, such as more specific locations/directions.

"Mankrik? We found him on the Gold Road, south of here. Perhaps the Patrol down that way can help you."
The tips feature does teach the new WoW player the basics. I definitely noticed when I got that first talent point, for instance (although I didn't spend them at first because I came from Diablo II where talent choices were more permanent). And I picked up many other of the game's nuances from the tips and from just playing. But yeah, there's still a lot about the game you won't learn unless another player teaches you or you go outside the game and research. I'm not sure those more advanced lessons need to be incorporated into the game though; I think that the MM in MMORPG is far better at teaching than any in-game mechanism could be.
I think it's fine the way it is. Even if wow launched tomorrow with all the wow-wikipedia added in, their would still be 3rd party sites popping up.

I also don't think wow would include an in-game tutorial on how to level 1 - 300 in engineer in the most cost effective way, or provide map coordinates for quest objectives.

The volume of 3rd party sites for the game speak to the popularity and health of the game.
First time I played wow I spent 20 minutes just walking around, I figured out how to use the one attack button to attack spiders. But the big exclamation point? I never played any MMO, so it barely registered. even though the guy is in front of you, in WoW he's about 30 feet away, and a bunch of people are hopping and running around in front, so someone standing there didn't mean anything to me.

And read the manual? who does that? even in IT I spend a lot of time making sure manuals aren't needed. I don't remember the last time I read a manual
There is nothing more off-putting than picking up a game manual that runs to dozens of pages.
Show me the basics, and then guide me as I play.

I agree that there were plenty of things in WoW that I would never have found out about without other people telling me, but then WoW is a multiplayer game.
Talking to other people is what a mmorg is about, even if you solo most of the time, otherwise it may as well be a single player game.

I agree with capn john that sometimes the basic information from the quest-giver is not enough. "Speak to Thorzil in Orgrimmar"
Yes, but where is he????

At the same time, I don't want a Zelda experience where I have to talk to every npc over and over, and be given stunning iformation like "I like eating apples for my supper" or similar.
heartless_ I find the player forum boards pretty helpful as well as the developers boards. Sure there is a lot of misinformation, but your going to find that any where. I don't think you can discount the fair amount of help you can garner from a developer run forum board. I know that I always check those boards before buying a game to see if there are any current problems with hardware that I might need to be aware of.
Many are arguing that it is more fun just to start playing than to read a manual. That is true but I don't think there is a contradiction here. I fully agree that the best way to learn to play is to jump in and have fun. However I also think that once you have learned the basics and then want to know more there should be an official guide which details what the game does and doesn't do. I think it is unacceptable that most of this figuring out is left up to independent help sites and faqs. In almost any other field someone who designs a product has to then go and produce a manual. Its a basic requirement.
WoW's interesting in this respect - it largely does leave you to your own devices. It does have those friendly tips as people have mentioned (the "?" things that show up in your UI), but they're not really a tutorial.

It's true that this is generally better than the old games. I don't think EQ had any sort of help for newbies at all - I guess you were expected to figure out that a new character's role in life is to kill rats and stuff on your own. I mean, that's pretty obvious though, right? Right???

It's not so important for WoW to teach you everything right away, though - the early encounters are designed such that you don't need a deep knowledge of the game to succeed. As long as you can figure out ! and ? and right click, you can muddle through and learn as you go.

Of course, there's another new learning curve when you hit the level cap. Many game mechanics that don't matter while leveling are very important in the endgame, and the game does nothing to prepare you.

As an example, where does the game teach you about main tanks and dedicated healers? The relative values of various stats and how the attack tables work? Shot rotations? Aggro control?

Where does it teach you about guild politics and loot distribution?

Leveling teaches you almost nothing about any of this stuff, and there aren't any tips that pop up to help you out either. It's at the level cap that you're really thrown to the wolves, and this is where WoW moves into the realm of hardcore.
Thats been discussed over and over. The whole game flips at level cap. I think its the source of most of the hate in the game.
Two types of gamers.

1) Have fun

2) Max/Min

Max/min, power gamers, whatever you want to call them need no help. After 15 minutes of playing they start writing macros, etc...(we have 1 in my guild, who analyses mechanics for fun)

The most fun I have gaming is when I figure out the mechanics myself (I remember playing Civ 1 as a 10 yo and being very excited when I finally figured out that my city population increased when the food box filled up).

I didn't get into theorycraft until well after my first toon hit 60. You can play and have fun while knowing almost nothing. Figuring out seal/judgements on a pally can take some people a while, but you don't need to master it for quite a while.

Its like playing a sport for the first time. You need to know the rules (run out of health and you die), tactics, finese and style are part of the discovery journey.

The mechanics of a well designed game are intuitive. Hiding important info is annoying. Deciding what is important is the difference between good and bad design.

Too much spoon feeding is a bad educational process.
The meta-game can be just as fun and engaging as the game itself. Forcing serious players to use outside resources and talk to other players in-game can be a bonus. It forces people to be more community driven. The user community is the best part of MMO's, why fear them spreading outside the game world?
I disagree swift voyager. It's been my experience that the meta gaming is what destroys the game experience.
Inevitably with stuff like. "No I dont' see any reason to help you. That quest line is a waste of time and you can get better stuff here...[link]. So come help me do this and you'll get better rewards. "

It literally turns the game into a step by step preplanned beginning to end experience. I've known people that play on beta servers in wow as much as possible simply because they don't know where stuff is and they get the challenge of figuring it out.

And unfortunately in an MMO because of all the Min-maxers you end up being "almost" forced to use the offline resources to just to keep from fallin too far behind.
I have played LOTRO without ever looking at anything about the game outside of the game itself and the pretty release notes.

I enjoy LOTRO as much as I enjoyed my first MMO because of this.

Additionally, I've just started up EQ2 again, and am enjoying it in the same way.

I've discovered that the people who need or desire guides are exactly the people that I don't want to share an RPG with.

Learning how the world works is part of an RPG experience, using guides cheats the player of that treasure.
"Where in the game is it explained that Warsong Gulch is a capture-the-flag game?"

Honestly, I do not think it is. However, like someone said in an earlier comment... Take the 5 minutes it takes to read the manual. An MMO is a living, breathing entity of a game. It changes routinely as time goes on. That is why they have an official online guide. has most of the features you are asking for.

I will freely admit that the official website has huge holes in it, but thats the point. MMO's are built completely on exploration and learning from experience. They are not built on "oh by the way, here is everything you need to know to do everything". Blizzard, Sony, Square, and every other MMO publisher knows exactly why they make money, time sinks and exploration.

WoW's loading tips, in game tutorial popups, and "directional quests" (you know those quests that send you to the next hub, or send you to your class trainer) all to a good job. Much better than any MMO before it. My only gripe with WoW's tutorial system is with the talent point system. A new player will not know by level 10 or even level 20 how they want to use their talent points. The system punishes players for being curious at lower levels.
Warhammer is solving this by including the Tome of Knowledge, an encyclopedia of everything.

I've always thought it was weird that there is so much about WoW that you have to learn from forums and fansites. A major failure on the part of Blizzard to explain their own game's mechanics.

I remember having to go online to figure out how to play Alterac Valley...why couldn't the AV battlemaster have told me?
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