Game software has come a long way for usability and new user education. I've been trying to play some old classics recently; the 1997 commercial success Heroes of Might and Magic 2 or indie old-school roguelike Decker. Each time I last about 10 minutes and give up in frustration because I can't figure the damn thing out.

Older games had a steep learning curve. You were expected to read the manual and be interested enough to spend several hours figuring out how the game works. But in the past few years games have gotten really good at the new user experience, making the game playable right from the start. Game manuals have mostly disappeared, replaced by colour text, art, or spoiler guides.

Complicated desktop appliations like Photoshop could learn a lot from how games educate new players on how to use them. Maybe complex web sites, too; part of why Flickr is successful is that it's complex but has an easy path into it. The key is to have a rewarding, simple experience at the beginning with a few core useful/fun features that don't require a lot of tutorial text. Let the application unfold slowly, a gentle learning curve as the user experiences the environment.

The first time I played World of Warcraft it took me many hours to finish the newbie zone and get to level 10. Now I can do it in just an hour or two but that initial experience is still fun gameplay. It's not so much a tutorial as it is a simplified version of the later game. Great design.

  2008-04-27 15:17 Z