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Player Learning Framework for Game Tutorials Part 1: Who is learning?

This week we released the Player Learning Framework to download. For the next few blog posts, we will b explaining each part of it and how you can utilise it in your onboarding and tutorial design process. This framework was developed by our own Phoebe Hesketh during her PhD. In this, she collated her research work, her knowledge from academic and developer books and presentations, the attitudes of players towards tutorials, and her own experience as an avid player of games. You can download the Player Learning Framework by clicking the button below:


Part 1: Who is learning?

The top of the player learning framework. A box containing the words "Norms" on the far left and "Novelty" on the far right with a gradient going between them. On the top of the box are the words "Game Novice" on the top left, "Games Veteran/Genre Novice" in the middle, and "Genre Veteran" on the far right.

When I was doing my research on how player's learnt to play games, I felt like not many people paid attention to the breadth of experiences people bring to a game. It may come up in the context of difficulty selection, but not less so when talking about learning to play. That's why the "who" of learning is placed at the top.


Novices and Veterans, Games and Genre

At the very top, above the first box, are the groupings of players based on the amount of experience they've had with games (Novices and Veterans) and the content of their experiences (Games and Genre).


Firstly, Novices and Veterans are players who have had little to no experience with the kind of game they are playing and a lot of experience respectively. They do not reflect skill, only the time and depth they have interacted with and played games. They are also a spectrum, with Novices on one end and Veterans on the other.


Secondly, Games and Genre refer to Games as a whole and the Genre(s) of the game you're designing for respectively. More accurately, Games (with a capital G) refers to any and all games that do not fit into the Genre(s) you're designing for. I'll also refer to games (with a small g) as referring to all games, regardless of genre. Here, Genre(s) (with a capital G) refers to a general collection of attributes of your game that put it into a common category of game. For example, souls-likes, shooters, action-adventure, simulation, sports, racing. I'll refer to genres (with a little g) as genres in general. Most game often has multiple genres, which will also include your game.


Combining these two dimensions for identifying groupings of players to consider you get:

  • Games Novices: Players who have little to no experience of playing any games.

  • Games Veteran: Players who have a lot of experience of playing games that do not fit into the relevant Genre(s) of your game.

  • Genre Novice: Players who have little to no experience of playing games in the Genre(s) of your game.

  • Genre Veteran: Players who have a lot of experience of playing games in the Genre(s) of your game.


In the framework, you can see that they are placed on along a spectrum (which will be explained below) with Games Novices on the left, Games Veterans and Genre Novices in the middle, and Genre Veterans on the right. Games Veterans and Genre Novices are in the middle because if someone is a Genre Veteran, then it follows they will very likely be a Games Veteran and if someone is a Genre Novice and a Games Novice, addressing things to learn as a Games Novice is more important that as a Genre Novice. This spectrum relates to the amount a player needs to learn about Norms and Novelty.


Norms and Novelty

Whilst we will cover the "what" of tutorials more in part 2, it is important to think about the high level "what" of learning when it comes to considering the "who".


Norms are the kinds of controls, designs, narratives, ways of communicating, etc. that have become so popular that they are expected. Games have been around for a long time at this point. In that time, they have experimented with all sorts of control layouts, control schemes, design patterns, narratives, and more. The things that worked have stuck and become the Norms. For example, the right trigger on the controller is nearly always shoot, barrels that are red nearly always explode, rogue-likes nearly always have procedurally generated maps. These are things that anyone who has played a lot of games know about Games and Genres. However, people who have not played many or any games in general or in a genre will need to learn these Norms. As developers of these games, it can be easy to forget these Norms exist as they are usually both omnipresent and seemingly simplistic to us!


Novelty are the things your game does that breaks, subverts, or in some way differs from the Norms of Games and Genre(s). These are usually your game's unique selling points (USPs) for players. For example, Fortnite is a Battle Royale that also allows for building, Splatoon is a shooter where covering the map in paint is how you win, Rocket League is a football game played with cars. These are the things that players of all skill levels need to learn, regardless of Game and Genre literacy. These are also the things Veterans of Games or Genre(s) will be most interested in learning as they will usually know the Norms.


Combining Novices and Veterans, Games and Genres, and Norms and Novelty

Bringing it all together, you can now utilise this section of the framework to analyse and understand the tutorial needs of your game!


When considering all the tutorial and onboarding features of your game, you can start to map them out on this spectrum to try and figure out who they are made for. If you have a section covering the basic controls of movement (and these controls follow the Norms of Games and/or Genre(s)), then you can see it helps Games Novices. If you have a section covering how to group units in your RTS (and it follows the Norms of the Genre(s)), then you can see it helps Games Veterans/Genre Novices. If you have a section covering how a specific group of units works in your game (and it does not follow the Norms of the Genre(s)), then you can see it helps Genre Veterans.


Players, as they play more and are supported by your tutorials and onboarding process, will move from being Novices towards being Veterans. Therefore features you made to help Veterans will eventually help Novices. The need to shift from Norms to Novelty as a player's experience increases with Games and the Genre(s) is reflected in the gradient change in the box.


This gradient also reflects what kinds of information players will be interested in. A common complaint about tutorials is how basic or simple they are and many experienced players will end up rushing through or skipping tutorials en masse. They can then often end up missing vital important information about Novelty in the game, leading to confusion and frustration. By using the framework to organise and tailor the information you provide to players based on experience, you can then provide the appropriate information to players.


Finally, I said earlier that your game probably overlaps many genres. As such, you can have a spectrum for each Genre. This can be helpful but potentially overwhelming to deal with as well. My recommendation would be to just copy and paste spectrum multiple times for every genre you think your game involves and try to put you tutorial/onboarding feature on the most relevant one.


Conclusion

I have used this framework to help me analyse and map out tutorial and onboarding features for games in the past. These haven't been in a development context but a research one. I built it mainly to help developers and designers rather than researchers and would be really interested to hear your feedback! Whether that's observations about the framework, recollections of trying to use it in a development context, or even just your thoughts as a player of games. You can contact


Thank you so much for your time and I'm looking forward to talking more in the next blog post about the "what" of learning to play!


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