Developer Journals

Exclusive Dev Journal: Newbie Tutorials by Producer Aaron Cohen


Today we have a special treat directly from Electronic Arts, an exclusive developer journal focused on the new player experience in Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn. This 2007 coat of paint for the classic MMO that started the whole craze has been a while in coming and as they wind down towards its launch, they’re focusing on nuts and bolts like the new player experience. Producer Aaron Cohen explains:

Dev Journal: Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn
“How the New Player Tutorial Doesn’t Stay New For the Makers”
Article by Aaron Cohen (Producer, UO: KR)

Want to start an argument with MMORPG designers? Bring up new player tutorials.

You’ll find some folks feel passionately that these are large complex games that need a lot of teaching. They argue that if you shove players into the world with no preparation, they’ll get lost, get frustrated and quit before they see all the great stuff you’ve spent the last one to five years building. How are they supposed to know to click there and pick up that and swing a sword like this unless you tell them?


On the other hand, you’ll find game makers who almost seethe with loathing of tutorials. They’ll tell you that if you have to teach someone to use your UI, you need to re-design your UI. Learning the game should be invisible. If you feel forced to do something to complete “a lesson”, then you need to re-design what you are trying to teach. And, by the way, if your game actually requires the user to read a manual, then you’ve failed completely.

And those two groups will argue for hours, for days even, generating long email strings almost Shakespearian in their verbosity. There are cases argued before the Supreme Court with less logic twisting.


I don’t have any idea what the right answer is. I’ve seen it done well both ways within various very successful games. Here is what I know for sure:

I worked on an MMORPG called Earth and Beyond, and it had a very controlled, linear new player tutorial that was fun, immersive and was generally considered the best part of the game. People still remember the new player guide, named Megan, and her soothing voice telling you what buttons to push.

I’ve sat in on focus groups and watched new players stumble over the simplest of controls because nothing in the game told them what to do and how to do it.

And I’ve observed discussion groups where experienced MMORPG players said they loved highly directed new player tutorials, as long as they were only forced to do them once. After that first time, they need to be optional. No one wants to hear the same instruction dozens of times, with each character made, even if it’s Megan doing the instructing.


So, what we did with Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn was create a controlled directed experience (complete with an attractive female guide, named Gwen, who is maybe a distant relative to Megan), that was short, to the point and hopefully fun. We tried to get in the very basics of the game, including how to die (because that is the one thing every player is going to do a lot of, so they might as well learn how to deal with it).

Was it the right answer? As always, the players will tell us. So far, I think so. I do know that for a new player, having Gwen be the first presence you meet in the game isn’t a bad thing at all.

Ah, Megan. I hope you are faring well wherever you are.

Comments? Let’s hear them on the forums!

About the author