Tutorial Madness

A few weeks ago, Champions Online announced that it would be updating the game to change its tutorial experience.

I found that interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, CO is a game that doesn’t see a whole lot of updates that don’t involve the creation of lockboxes or store-purchased items.  Second, it’s become the fourth version of the tutorial that’s come out for the game.

I found that somewhat breathtaking.  I understand that developers want to make their game accessible and adapt their tutorial to properly teach new players the game.  I get that.  But CO has had minimal development over recent years.  This isn’t going to be fixed or helped by modifying a tutorial-again.  (Off of memory here, they’ve had the original tutorial, a modified tutorial after the Freemium conversion, yet another one that I can’t recall exactly when it placed, and the current one.  And I’m presuming that I’ve tracked ’em all correctly-I can’t prove there weren’t others.)  The game is long past attracting new players; word of mouth of how much dev time goes into the game has pretty much choked off that flow.  I was amazed that of all the things to focus attention on, THIS was where they felt the priorities should be.

Granted, this was before I actually did the tutorial with a new character just to unlock a shiny.  There wasn’t much new there except heaps of voiceover and a framing sequence around the existing tutorial, making this a training scenario based on the original event.  And I think a couple of the side-quests in the tutorial got removed, too.  So it’s not like there was a heap of effort that went into this change.  (I admit I say this without knowing the intricacies of game-coding, where it could very well require a heap of effort to do-but this is a perception from the outside.)

Okay, there may have been some art changes in Millennium City, too.

Still, this isn’t the first time that Cryptic’s gone back to tutorials; Star Trek Online has had a few different tutorials too; the original, the Freemium version, and the post-Legacy of Romulus version.  One could make the argument that it was necessary in STO’s case for the last one; it effectively had to build two new versions for the Romulans and Klingons, and a little later made a new Federation one to match that sort of experience.  A difference here is that STO is still getting development, and is still getting players; it’s arguably a better game now than it has been in the past, despite my personal issues with content removal.

It seems like I’m banging my head over Cryptic here, but they aren’t alone in tutorial revamps.  City of Heroes revamped their tutorial when they went Freemium (hm, is this a pattern?), which sort of consolidated the hero/villain tutorials into one event instead of two different ones.  Star Wars Galaxies revamped their tutorial (which is to say, they actually put a tutorial in at all) with the advent of the New Game Enhancements; I can’t really argue with that one, given what their devs did to the game.  EVE Online has done a bit with its new user experience as well, which is reasonable given the insane learning curve-which may have flattened at least a little bit over the years.

So at what point does revamping tutorials become an exercise in futility?  Is it reasonable to rebuild it every couple of years?  Or maybe only during significant changes to the game?  Is it worth it to make it shinier at the cost of improving other areas of the game?  For a game like CO, I have to seriously question who put the order out to put in voiceover material and fiddle with the tutorial-because it seems to smack of someone in Sales deciding that they could get more people if they make it prettier and flashier.  (They blew that, if that was the case; it’s not that big of an actual change.)

At some point, CO needs to start taking a hard look at improving their game beyond their tutorials.  The Mechanon additions were a pretty solid bit of work, but that’s way back in the rear-view mirror now.  There are other parts of that game that could use attention (my pet peeve is the Nemesis system, which really needs more love), or-and here’s a wild idea-maybe add new content.  I’ve advocated for a player-generated content system like Neverwinter’s Foundry (or STO’s version, really) for CO, since players can be a highly motivated bunch to build content (some better than others), but that’s just not gonna happen; so players just have to rely on developers to develop content for the game, and that’s just looking like a lost cause most times.

Unless, of course, they feel a need to revamp their tutorial.

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