In the second half of his book, James Paul Gee goes through the learning experience of a player playing a new game. He indicates how games in general use increasing difficulty and in-game tutorial systems in order to teach the player how to play, and give the player early successes. I wanted to use this section of his book and compare what Gee considered a good learning process for a game to World of Warcraft’s learning process.
Now, among MMO games, World of Warcraft has a reputation for being very new player friendly and having one of the better tutorial experiences. In fact it does follow Gee’s formula pretty well. However, one of the first differences that a new player will find that other people in this class have noticed is that players are not given a quest upon logging in the first time the way that players are with Von Croy’s teaching in Lara Craft. Instead, players are facing a number of non-player characters (NPCs) with shining exclamation marks over their heads and the player is expected to go interact with these NPCs to get the initial quests. If a player has difficulty with this, the player is also given a number of tool tips, which tell the player how to interact with the screen, how to enter combat and use skills, and even what the exclamation marks mean.
Once the player has taken quests, the early quests in the game are meant as a way for the player to put the techniques learned through the tool tips and apply them into the game. Initial quests include quests where the player needs to go kill some creatures and collect items they drop on their corpse, therefore allowing the player to actually get into combat as well as open corpses, and maybe even deal with death. But it also allows the player to have some early success in the game as these initial creatures are very easy to kill and should provide little difficulty for even a new character. In addition, none of the creatures in the area that a player starts in will automatically attack a player, allowing the player to learn how to fight in their own terms, rather than the enemy’s.
Following this initial task, the player is given a number of additional tasks which are meant to help the player learn to explore, go to a nearby training area, and learn new spells and abilities. This helps the player learn that when you level, you need to go to trainers to learn new spells (as the player has likely gained at least one new level by this point and the player’s trainer usually will have a quest associated with him which forces the player to interact with the trainer to learn more about it). This also enforces in the player’s mind that it is best for him to explore in order to find cool things in the world. This is further pushed into the player by receiving bonus experience points upon discovering new areas. A new player is inundated with reasons to explore on his own.
In addition to quests and tool tips, a new player is also removed from the more complicated aspects of the game until later. He is entered into a small town area that contains only new characters so that he does not have to deal with a massive amount of players, only, presumably, like-minded players. He also is left out of more complex systems like the talent system that allows the player to advance his character in a more personalized way. This system is kept out of the game until level 10 when the player has played a little more so that such a new system hopefully won’t overburden him at this point.
The World of Warcraft follows the Gee system fairly well outside of the automatic start into the game. However small this one derivation may seem, it is still an important one for a variety of reasons. Not only does it add to confusion to a new player who isn’t quite sure of what to do, may not understand the exclamation marks, and doesn’t see the tool tips, but it also takes away some form of contact with the player. This is something that Gee wasn’t necessarily concentrating on for a games theory, but for an MMO it is far more important. It has been statistically proven that a player that has contact with another real person has a higher attach rate early in play than one who does not. In World of Warcraft, the player not only has a chance to not have contact with another person, but also can lose contact with even an artificial person. World of Warcraft has largely missed this issue due to the massive amounts of players playing likely forces players to come into direct contact with each other on a regular basis. However, design-wise this was not a good idea as you are not guaranteed this type of success in the genre by any means. And thus in an online setting, while being better than most of the rest, WoW is still falling short of a well designed new player experience.