Real Games Have Curves
Games are hard. It’s part of their allure. We like to have a feeling of accomplishment in our games through learning and application. What I think we generally don’t like is to be beaten about the head the moment we set foot in the door. Not only is it humiliating, but it’s also discouraging when we don’t feel that we’re given the chance to get our feet wet without having to drown ourselves first.
The usual method is to introduce the player to just a little bit, maybe through a tutorial. Then, as they move through the game, add more mechanics until the player reaches the point where the system has shown them all the mechanics that the she needs to know. It’s at that point where the player transitions from the learning phase to the practical phase.
Some games are better than others at doing this. I personally think the mother of all accessibility is Blizzard, because their M.O. is to take an established genre and streamline it so that it’s stupidly easy to get into. They’re also really good at hand-holding until the player is ready to stop learning and start applying that knowledge.
There’s nothing wrong with making a game new player friendly when it comes to mechanics. Games are Big Business, after all, and the phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” is a tried and true design passed down through the ages. But for that to apply, a game has to be easy to learn (or easy to get into), and then difficult to master, once the player understands the mechanics.
Which is why I’m sad when there are games that don’t seem to focus on the shepherding of new players through to the point where they’ll feel comfortable without the training wheels. Some of this is mechanical, like if a game doesn’t provide a decent tutorial, or a way to practice with or without other players. A lot of it falls on community management as well. We know that there are people out there who will take advantage of a situation for their own gain, whenever a situation presents itself. In games which fail to prepare new players to mingle with veteran players, or which don’t provide safeguards that allow new players to ease into the community, there’ll always be those players who beat on the new players, just because they can. I know that there are a lot of games out there that I’d love to play, but which I don’t feel provide the right style of environment that makes me want to keep playing, assuming I can get started at all. In most cases, it’s no big deal, but there are a few that make me sad because I’d really like to play.