Top 10 Research Findings 2012 #1

This is the last post of this series!

#1 The impact of tutorials on games of varying complexity

This study takes a look at another important component of games, the tutorial.  When designing a game, we always must decide how we will teach our users how to play the game itself.  And most good, high quality games do an excellent job at scaffolding the game play learning into the beginning levels of the game in order to allow a player to demonstrate proficiency with the game itself prior to increasing difficulty of the concepts or tasks within the game.  This study can help inform us on games that are not super high quality Call of Duty type games, since we are unlikely to have that kind of budget available to us.


This study leveraged three games: Refraction, Hello Worlds & Foldit.  While refraction and hello worlds are very simple puzzle games, Foldit is quite complex and is an excellent example of games used for real work science tasks  (  The researchers in this study hypothesized that the inclusion of a tutorial would exhibit better player engagement and retention, that tutorial that present instructions in context would be more effective, and that tutorials that force a player to complete them would improve engagement and retention.

This study leveraged 8 types of tutorials.  The most relevant types of tutorials will be discussed here.  The first type was on demand tutorial information that the player could access if necessary.  The second type provided tutorial content within the context of the game.  The final type restricted the player from moving forward prior to its full completion.


The findings of the study indicated that only the most complex game (foldit) justified the inclusion of a tutorial.  It was suggested that this might be due to the two simpler games possessing mechanics that might be easily discovered through experimentation.  The contextually sensitive tutorial did improve player engagement in Foldit (the only game that justified a tutorial’s presence), indicating that players with the contextually sensitive tutorial played 40% more levels and played 16% longer.  The third type of tutorial, forced, did not affect player behavior in any way.  The first type of a tutorial, the on demand tutorial actually seemed to have a negative impact on engagement in Refraction (although only 31% used it) but increased engagement a small amount in Hello Worlds.

In common words, the use of a tutorial and what type of tutorial is used can impact user engagement!  Specifically, using any type of tutorial in a simple game in which the game mechanic might be uncovered easily through gameplay might have a negative impact.  The use of tutorials in complex games was beneficial, with the tutorial with contextual cues being the most beneficial and leading to more play and increased time of play.

Andersen, E.; O’Rourke, E.; Liu, Y.; Snider, R.; Lowdermilk, J.: truong, D.; Cooper, S.; & Popovic, Z. (2012).  The Impact of Tutorials on Games of Varying Complexity.  Paper presented at CHI’12, Austin, TX.