Back in the day when I owned a hobby shop, getting a potential customer to walk inside my shop was just half the battle. Through advertising, word of mouth, or holding a special event, that person finally made the decision to enter my place of business and check out what I had to offer. It is at that point where it was up to me to convince them that they had made the right choice and that they would have tremendous fun by buying the items I had for sold, whether they were miniatures for Warhammer, books for the D&D pen-and-paper rpg, or Magic: The Gathering collectible cards. This same principle applies to mmo games as well. It’s not enough to get a new player to take a look at your game, you have to hook them into wanting to play it on a regular basis. That’s why game companies spend a great deal of time crafting the lower level zones of a game. Let’s take a look at the importance of the new player experience in mmos.
Competition for gamers is fierce in this world of free-to-play online games. Players are quick to ditch an online rpg if they’re bored or find the game unappealing. As there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of other games out there, it is vital that a new player is hooked quickly lest they go elsewhere. The importance of the mmo new player experience was brought home to me recently when I went back and tried out the enhanced player experience in The Secret World. That particular mmo is known for having systems that are not your standard mmo fare, and, as a result, new players could easily feel overwhelmed and become confused by the options given to them. The revamped experience offers more guidance to new players as well as lessening the difficulty of mobs in the early zones.
Allowing new players to become comfortable with an mmo’s systems is crucial. The worst thing that an online game can do is make a player feel frustrated or confused. This is why you see most games offer a number of tutorials early on in order to ease the player into the game. A game that features one of the best mmo new player experiences in this manner is Star Wars: The Old Republic. Many games offer some text to explain how a particular feature works, but SWTOR takes it further with lots of graphics to make it easier for the player to understand. Personally, I find fully illustrated examples far easier to absorb than just a wall of text.
One of the crucial elements of the mmorpg new player experience is to make sure that the player is having fun. No matter how you slice it, an online game is still a game, which means that it had better be fun to play. One tried-and-true method for doing this is make sure that the player is powerful (in comparison to what he’s facing) and that he levels pretty quickly in the beginning. Chances are that within an hour of creating a character in a standard mmo, that character will have leveled several times at least. Enemy mobs are a pushover as the player mows them down without any great difficulty. The result of all this is twofold. The first is that the player feels like they’re accomplishing something. Gaining levels is like getting a gold star on your homework or test paper. The second is that being able to wipe out enemy mobs with ease allows players the ability to not deal with any consequences of a bad decision early on. A player can make some horrible choices in skills, abilities, or their build early in the game, but their character will still likely kick ass when fighting. It’s only in mid to later levels do poor decisions come back to haunt the player. This means that no matter what decisions the player makes with his character, good or bad, the fact that the character is relatively powerful means that the new player is likely going to have fun.
One last aspect of the mmo new player experience is that of immersing the player into the game’s world. The more immersed the player is, the more likely that they’ll continue playing the game. While The Secret World has an amazing new player experience, the absolute best game in that regard was probably Age of Conan. While the player picked up the basics in the Tortage starting area, such as fighting and blocking, the main benefit was that the world of Conan came alive to the player in all its brutal, squalid glory. The quests were fun to play, the NPCs tremendously interesting to interact with, and the world felt real. It may have been violent, harsh, and brutal, but it was a world that just begged for hardened adventurers to explore and plunder. My time in Tortage kept me playing Age of Conan for a long time, even though the middle levels of the game had very little content at the time.
The entire purpose of the mmorpg new player experience is to enmesh the player into the web of the mmo and never let go. If a player has fun and enjoys their time in the beginning, chances are that they’ll stick around for quite awhile. The longer a gamer stays playing, the more likely that they’ll spend money. We have to remember that online gaming is a business, which means that they need paying customers to be successful. It takes more than getting a person to try out a game. What is needed is to ensure that the player decides to continue playing the game after they’ve spend some time in it. That’s why game companies devote considerable resources into beefing up their new player experience as it’s downright idiotic to spend tens of millions developing a game only to have players turned off because they can’t pick up the game easily or don’t have any fun when they first start playing.