Tutorials for mobile games have a difficult problem to solve. With console games, it’s likely that gamers will be in front of a TV, can hear the game’s audio, and be generally attentive. But mobile games could be played nearly anywhere, while the device is muted, maybe for just 60 seconds at a time, and maybe only occupying 50% of the users’ attention span.
So, tutorials in mobile games must be as flexible as mobile phones are. While games like Quento are simple enough to barely need a tutorial, not all games can get away with that. Lost Cities for iOS (iTunes link) offers the most flexible tutorial I’ve ever seen in a mobile game – there are no less than four different ways for players to get the rules of this game when they fire it up for the first time.
There are many different tactics that video games use to introduce players to the game’s basic functions. Some are closely integrated into the story, others are clearly outside the “normal” experience of the game. Mass Effect 2’s tutorial is yelled to Commander Shepard over the intercom system as a high-pressure situation unfolds immediately upon opening the game – it’s very integrated into the gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle tutorial does take place during a real battle, but it breaks the normal flow of battle and there is a lot of reading involved (not to mention a big flashing “TUTORIAL” in the upper left corner). Ghost Trick for iOS has an even slower and more text-heavy tutorial that is actually quite irritating for a mobile title.
Forza Horizon for the XBox 360 is an open-world racing game, and it may have the best tutorial that I’ve ever seen in a game. In fact, if you’re not paying attention, you might not even notice it’s a tutorial – and that’s a great compliment. Read on and I’ll break it down to show you the magic of a non-tutorial tutorial.
Gamers might not like to admit it, but everybody needs a little help the first time firing up a new game. Experienced gamers can probably guess at what the controls are for common genres – how long has it been since the Madden series has made any kind of meaningful change in controls? For games that are a little more unique though, gamers need help in figuring out not only what buttons to push, but also on a deeper level gamers need to get familiar with what the game is all about. Since we all know that users/gamers/humans don’t read, the usual answer is some kind of in-game tutorial.
Then what happens when you throw a unique game type onto a mobile platform where there are no buttons? Where every game has totally different controls? Well, you might get something like Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, originally a Nintendo DS game ported to iOS that (in a nutshell) features a dead protagonist going around possessing inanimate objects. Ghost Trick features an introductory tutorial level that takes the gamer around 25 minutes to complete! Tutorials for mobile games need to have more action sooner to grab and keep the interest of their probably distracted and already busy audience.