Century play - learn century. Computer game learning curve
Hi, I’m Maria Namestnikova, the game designer of the Skyforge project in the Allods Team. As you know, in the vastness of our vast homeland game design as such is not taught anywhere. Therefore, I, like all of us here, work in game dev not by education, but by vocation. Previously, I worked in another large IT company and my affairs there went quite well for myself. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to pass an interview on Allods Team fell down on my head literally, I did not think for a second. When I received an invitation to go to work, my happiness knew no bounds - I was waiting for a dream job, complex, but fascinating. A job that requires a full investment of energy and energy, but in return gives amazing results that you can see, feel, experience and feel incredible satisfaction from the fact that you playyour game.
Game design is a complex process during which a whole world is created and the rules for its functioning are established. There are no trifles in this process: any oversight can spoil the impression of the most strict referees - players. In my article, we will talk about the learning curve, that component of the game, which is like a gopher - you don’t see it, but it is. And this gopher, I must say, is damn important!
The saying “It’s hard to learn - easy to fight” is quite clearly demonstrated by the standard learning curve that is suitable for most activities. The learning curve is a graph along one axis of which the time for mastering the activity is measured, and along the other, the level of mastery of the student.
Fig. 1. Learning curve for most activities
As you can see, the standard learning curve implies a slow start, followed by fast progress. The zone of deceleration of progress falls on the period when the student has already mastered a new skill and it has passed into the category of skill for him.
With video games, the situation is somewhat different.
Easy to learn - hard in battle?
To understand what the learning curves look like for different games, you need to build a graph on one of the axes of which there will be a level of difficulty of “entering” the game - how easy it is for the player to get comfortable and take the first steps, and on the other - how difficult it is for him to become a master in this game . We will divide the space between these axes into four parts and get the following picture:
Fig. 2. Separation of games according to the degree of complexity of entry and progression.
Any game that has been released or is just being prepared for release can be represented by a dot in one of the quarters of this graph.
The bottom left square is occupied by time-killer games. They are easy to learn to play and quite easy to progress. They are played to pass the time, waiting for a friend who is late for a meeting or during a trip to the subway. In such games there are usually no bars that the player would have difficulty overcoming - they only annoy the player, reducing the audience of the game. The main thing in these games is not the player’s progress, but diversity: the more levels, different tricks, “Easter eggs” and other pleasant things, the more willingly the players return to their favorite timekillers again and again. Take at least the game Angry Birds, constantly updated with new and new thematic levels.
Fig. 3. There are more and more birds, and they are angrier.
The learning curve for such games will look something like this:
Fig. 4. Learning curve in time killers
As you can see, it is fundamentally different from the usual learning curve. Firstly, there is no slow start stage. It is understandable: a player who wants to pass 5-10 minutes while waiting for his coffee will not be interested in the game, for which he will need to spend more time learning the basics than his whole lunch will take. Secondly, after rapid progress, an almost complete halt of development follows: it is unlikely to learn how to throw angry birds into pigs green from hunger better than you learned in the first hour of this highly intellectual activity. Thirdly, after a stop of progress, small bursts similar to a ladder can follow. They are present when new elements are introduced into the game, for example, another type of bird. The player masters this element very quickly, thereby jumping to the next step.
In the upper right square in Figure 2, there are games that are difficult to enter and which are difficult to play. These games have a well-defined target audience - hardcore players who are interested in overcoming difficulties, keep in mind many factors that affect the game, and who do not need concessions. Among MMORPG, such games include the pioneer of this genre - Everquest.
Of the popular games today, EVE Online stands out as a difficulty in both mastering and progressing. Basic pilot training in this game consists of 24 stages. In addition, the player, in order to get comfortable in the EVE universe, will also need to undergo training in professions that can be mastered in the game. The player must also independently study some aspects of the game, using both the encyclopedia specially created for EVE and the help of other players. But one study is not enough. As you know, for knowledge to pass into skills, and skills to skills, practice is necessary. To convert the knowledge gained at the start of the EVE Online game into skills, you will have to practice for many hours.
Fig. 5 Well Done! Just an hour of your time and you’re piloting EVE!
Complex games can also include strategies like Europa Universalis or Civilization, which include many components, each of which needs to be tracked throughout the game.
Fig. 6. Learning curve in hardcore games The
lower right square in Figure 2 is the territory of games that “harness” for a long time, and harnessing this, in the end, turns into a zilch. These games are usually unsuccessful. Or successful only due to its plot or more successful previous games of the same series. The learning curve in such games initially slowly and sadly goes up, and at this stage it can still be somewhat interesting to play, if the player is so interested in the game that he is ready to spend time learning, but then, when all the elements are learned and begin to repeat, play getting bored.
Fig. 7. Learning curve in hard-to-learn and uninteresting games
Finally, the upper left square in Figure 2 is the space that most game developers strive to get into. This part of the schedule covers games that match Bushnell’s famous formula: “easy to learn and difficult to master” (easy to learn, hard to become a master).
Why is this top left square so good? Why is the phrase “easy to learn and difficult to master” regularly mentioned in articles that talk about the “golden rules of game design”? Everything is very simple: the game industry works for players, and players usually like the games from this square most of all.
The first half of Bushnell’s formula translates as “easy to learn.” From the point of view of the player, this means that he does not have to spend a lot of time and effort to master some basics. The player makes his opinion about the game during the first minutes of being in it, and if he does not manage to get comfortable during this time, he is unlikely to continue playing, considering the game too tricky. This does not mean that the player wants to master everything in the first 15 minutes of gameplay. Not at all, he wants to receive new opportunities and new information as he lives more and more hours in the game, but he wants to take his first completely independent steps now.
New features, elements, an increase in the level of complexity - all this just works for the second part of Bushnell’s formula: “it’s difficult to become a master”. If a player, having spent 15 minutes in the game, has already fully met her, he succeeds absolutely and does not encounter any new and unfamiliar elements, then he will quickly lose interest.
Chess is a classic example of a game, albeit not a computer one, but nevertheless perfectly illustrating the formula “easy to learn and difficult to master”.
Speaking of MMORPGs corresponding to Bushnell's formula, it is not customary not to mention WoW. Entering the game world, the player quickly understands what is required of him, thanks to simple controls and NPCs that more than easily explain the tasks. A newcomer who has just arrived in the first minutes enjoys the game. In front of him is a development ahead, during which the game will become more and more difficult until the player finally reaches the level of raids and PvP, where only the master can succeed.
Fig. 9. Learning curve for games that are easy to learn and difficult to become a master.
stairway to Heaven
In fact, the learning curve of online games falling into the categories “easy to learn, hard to become a master” and “hard to learn, hard to become a master” is different from the learning curve of their offline brothers from the same squares. This curve will look more like a ladder consisting of many steps that are not always identical in height:
Fig. 10. Curve learning online games on a reduced scale.
After completing the initial training, the player enters the so-called plateau: a stable level of skill that does not change for some time, or slightly increases. Then the player is invited to an innovation that raises his skill level to a new plateau. Not every player will overcome all of the possible steps.
A striking example of games with many plateaus on the learning curve are sessions like LoL or Dota. Short training allows you to quickly get used to the basics of the game and learn to play tolerably well for one of the champions. This is the first plateau. But in this game there are more than a dozen such plateaus. Each new champion is a new step on the schedule. If the player does not want to constantly change champions, then he is likely to try different builds for his only favorite, rising to new plateaus in this way.
As a result, someone will stop already on the first plateau, forever akin to their first champion, and will not even try to get away from the tried and tested build (although this behavior is not encouraged by the developers of the game), someone will choose a couple of favorites, someone - a dozen . Of course, the longer a player plays, the more he learns: still stop at one champion and play with him every night without any changes for a year, given the abundance of other possibilities - this is, to put it mildly, strange, even if you're a complete conservative.
SF also has a ladder, consisting of a large number of steps that players can climb depending on their desire: go through all, stop at one of the first, or, perhaps, overcome only half of our stairs.
Note that in the games mentioned above, including SF, and in those where the steps are not so obvious, developers always have the opportunity to significantly change the balance of the game using patches, which they actively use. Such changes inevitably lead to the fact that players have to learn to play again in the changed conditions, which raises them to a new stage of development.
From the point of view of the creators of the game, introducing changes to the balance is extremely beneficial, since it allows you to constantly warm up the interest of players.
Speaking of learning curves, you should not discount the online community, which can fundamentally change these curves for individual players. The thing is that for every more or less popular game on the Internet you can find a whole brood of pages containing a lot of information about both the plot and the ways to go through it.
Fig. 11. Do not know how to build a champion? Find the answer on the Internet!
A player who actively participates in such communities and reads such pages receives specific guidelines from other, more experienced players, and as a result, the pace of his development accelerates.
There is nothing wrong. Many developers even encourage this behavior. Not every player has the patience to independently study all the nuances on the path to mastery, which, as a result, could lead to the fact that the most impatient would leave the game, stalled at some difficult moment, and the less experienced ones, approaching the late stage of the game , could not continue, because we have developed a character who tanks a little, heals a little and still causes damage to some extent, but by and large he can’t do anything well.
The guides from the game’s luminaries are not cheats that allowed you to have infinite health or currency in other offline games and don’t have to worry about whether your game skill is developing or not. These are tips that allow the player to get used to it faster and bring a new development step closer, making it less high. After all, in the end, the player himself must make efforts in order to use the read or viewed manual.
Creating a game with the right learning curve is not an easy task, because you need to consider a huge number of factors, both in-game and human. The more elements and different interfaces in the game, the more difficult it is to create an easy start and the more carefully you need to think through what exactly the player needs at the beginning for a comfortable game, and what can be reserved for later stages. The development of the plot, if any, in the game should also not contradict the learning curve. It is important to remember that games, no matter how different they are, often have much in common: the interface elements and the gameplay itself in different games of the same genre are often similar or even repeat each other. This leads to the fact that the learning curve for different players will also vary: the less experienced at the start will progress more slowly than the person
The significance of this task cannot be underestimated: the correct learning curve is very important for any game, whether it be a single role-playing offline game, a timekiller like Angry Birds and Tetris or MMORPG. If the proportions of the new and well-known, as well as complex and simple, are correctly observed and served to the player at the right speed, then the success of the game, though not guaranteed, is extremely likely.
Other materials can be viewed on the Skyforge developers website and in our Vkontakte community .