Freemium Social Games Change the Face of Tutorials

Mark Stephens

Gone are the days when, having paid fifty or sixty bucks for a game, the first thing you did when you got the disk out of the box and loaded it was to check the manual or tutorial to make sure you understood it fully. Just protecting your investment, right? You’d shelled out your hard-earned money on a game, so you should at least know exactly how it works and how to get the most enjoyment out of it. The freemium model of social gaming has changed all that.…

The Changing Face of Tutorials

How much did you pay for the last social game you downloaded. Nothing? It might be tempting to think that the tutorials have less value now, because people won’t follow them, as there is no initial investment; if it doesn’t work out they can just move on to the next free game.


But that’s not the case. Tutorials are more important than ever for your game – it’s just that they take a different format: they need to account for very short attention spans these days.

With the wealth of apps available now, all competing for a slice of your attention, people have become less likely to persevere with a particular game if it doesn’t deliver what they need very quickly.

This impatience can be seen across virtually every online activity – as Internet speeds have improved, websites become more functional, and the choices grown, the average Internet user knows that slow loading, poor functionality or confusion needn’t be tolerated. They can go elsewhere and that usually means they are gone forever.

When it comes to games, a player wants to know almost immediately how the game works, what the purpose is, and how to get the maximum functionality out of it. With many freemium-type social games the nature of gameplay is relatively obvious and may follow a generic format, but features still need to be explained. Creating the right type of tutorial is key.

What Makes a Good Freemium Tutorial?

The key considerations behind designing a good tutorial are clarity and brevity.

Clarity means the rules are easy to understand and translate into gameplay; brevity means you are respecting the player’s time and don’t expect hours of their time to learn the ropes.

Clarity usually comes from using a mixture of visual images, video and text, to explain the game. This combination can also accomplish brevity, because it is often easier to show rather than_ tell_ how a game works.

Remember that social gamers are often new to online gaming and therefore not as familiar as you with standard game mechanics or user interfaces. They may not be able to “feel” their way around a game and work it out.


It’s best to treat everyone as novices and to spell out the features of the UI and game mechanics … but give people the option to skip through, or past, if necessary.

Some basic guidelines for tutorials are:

  • Guide the player through a series of specific steps that teach the key features of UI and core mechanics
  • Train the player in the interplay between game mechanics, resources, and rewards
  • Explain the levelling process of the game and where monetization starts
  • Explain the challenges and the goals to engage the player
  • Focus on a clear, succinct, step by step process to minimise drop off rate
  • Try to keep the total run-time of the tutorial below 3 or 4 minutes
  • Test your tutorial on newcomers and remove any bottlenecks or confusion

It is essential to get the balance right here. The goal should be to provide the player with just enough information to get them curious and challenged enough to start playing the game independently; but not enough to create boredom or too little to feel like it’s a step too far.

The point is to make the tutorial itself engaging, rewarding and fun, as a precursor to the game.

Tutorials as Marketing Videos

Creating a good tutorial can help in other ways too. For instance, it can help market your game by acting as a “teaser” video for YouTube or elsewhere, showing people in a few seconds that your game is fun, or challenging, or action-packed.

It can mean the difference between a viral success and a flop. You can be sure that, if the tutorial is not sharp, clear, brief and visually pleasing, your reviews on the AppStore and Play will be marked down, affecting your downloads.

It is also less likely to be shared on social gaming platforms like Facebook if people cannot get past the tutorial, so it’s worth developers taking a little extra time over them.