Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Gridiron Solitaire #900: A Surprise

I know someone who worked in the sports gaming industry back in the glory days (NFL 2K3 era). He's also someone who explains things very clearly.

I told him that I was having an odd thing happen with GS--that while there were users in Steam with 300+ hours played, that the game just didn't seem to be sticky with most people. I was confident in the core game, though, so I couldn't quite understand where I was losing people.

He said he would play the game and let me know where he thought people were dropping off.

I've had people ask me to do favors like this, and I always do, but it works in one of two ways, usually. If the content is excellent, it's easy to read/play/review, and I usually do it fairly quickly.

If it's not good, though, as soon as I realize that, I'll usually stop. Then it becomes a chore, and I have to fight myself to pick it up again and fulfill what I promised.

So when I didn't hear from him for a month, I figured he was having the latter experience.

I did hear from him, though, and his feedback was excellent and very clear, as always. Here's a sample:
The game loads out of the intro sequence into a blank menu, there's no breadcrumb trail of a glowing button or a modal suggesting where to go next.
Since you don't really know what to do or where to go next, the Help menu seems like a good option. It's friendly, you need help, after all, right? Except the Help menu is an information dump, most of it presented in an opaque manner -- because, I believe, you're supposed to play through the Tutorial before reading the Help menu, so it presupposes a certain amount of knowledge.
After being fairly confused by the Help menu, I eventually start up a League, as that's about the only option you have
The League menu is kind of confusing. It wants me to Edit a team? I don't know what a Team is considering this is a solitaire game or why I would want to edit it. I guess I'll just pick one.
Hmm, I guess I should just play a game. Whoa hey now, I'm playing an Exhibition? So this is where the Tutorial is.

He concluded that most people never made it through the tutorial to actually start a league, and the comments I included here (plus others) were very convincing. 

This was hugely surprising to me, because I spent a long, long time thinking about the tutorial and how to make it flow as well as possible. 

Here's what I thought:
--when the user first boots up the game, the "continue league" button is greyed out. So the user can only go to Help, Options, or New League. That made sense to me, but the problem is that if the user doesn't understand why they should select New League, the rest of the logic falls apart. 
--selecting and editing teams in a league is a standard sports game process, but to everyone else, it would be entirely new. I've played sports games for so long that it didn't even cross my mind.
--I wanted the tutorial to not be overly long, but to be thorough. So I explained basic gameplay, but had context-sensitive pop-ups for other topics (like onside kicks). The tutorial should take 5-10 minutes to play through, and I thought that was fine, but we're in a different era now, where people just don't want to spend time learning a game.

His suggestion was that I front-end load the tutorial experience, and add an option to play an Exhibition game outside the league structure. 

There are some complications in this (particularly, moving the Exhibition game outside the league structure to the opening menu, but it's all doable. 

Here's the important takeaway for a small developer, though. I had 15-20 people testing the game, which is why the game launched with almost no bugs. I should have had a separate group, though, testing the tutorial, and those people should never have played the game before. You can't expect people to test the "new player experience" when they're not new players anymore. 

Same goes for me. I spent so much time trying to perfect that tutorial, but the one thing I didn't do effectively was ask a dozen people or so to test it blind and write down notes about what they understand and what they didn't, as well as when they just lost interest entirely. 

What's it going to look like now for a new user? After the cut scene, they'll see a screen explaining offense, then they'll see a screen explaining defense. It's basically going to say "Here's how you play--just follow the numbers" and there will be about five little text boxes on each screen. The explanations will be pared down to the absolute, bare minimum.

Core concepts:
--on both offense and defense, the user picks a play.
--on offense, playing cards increases the gain. On defense, it "rewinds" the gain back toward zero.
--the rules for card play (alternate color, within one rank)
--the Big Play button (deal card/trigger event).

Really, that's all a user needs, in addition to the context-sensitive pop-ups.

This will take a week or so to put together, but then I'm going to have new players test it and see what kind of response I get.

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