It always bothers me when companies talking about games as if they have to dumb them and strip away a lot of the elements that make them fun... like the challenge, difficulty and skill. Well, according to EA, they still have a lot of stripping away to do if they want to reach that mythical casual audience.
GameSpot captured a few quotes from the D.I.C.E. 2015 summit where Electronic Arts' chief creative officer Richard Hilleman commented about the current state of learning curves in games.
In a stage interview conducted with other developers, Hilleman stated...
"Our games are actually still too hard to learn," … "The average player probably spends two hours to learn how to play the most basic game."
Quick interjection here: a lot of games aren't hard to learn and don't require two hours to learn the basic game, the problem is that the tutorials in games force players to spend two hours to learn the basic gameplay. A lot of the discovery and player-creativity of just learning the game and playing at the pace of the player has mostly been removed from games. A lot of games have mandatory tutorials where a lot of features and mechanics are restricted early on and players are eased into each feature with a drawn out tutorial.
Assassin's Creed games are notorious for unnecessarily long tutorial phases. There was also fairly long tutorials for games like Far Cry, Batman, Mass Effect and even Sleeping Dogs. The act of discovery is a lost art form amongst many AAA titles with unskippable intros/tutorial phases.
I'm curious how long it would actually take for players to organically learn how to play a lot of these games? Especially if the obligatory introductory tutorial phases, which usually span the likes of an hour or two, were removed.
According to Hilleman, the learning curve is a turn-off to people who have other responsibilities in life, saying...
“And asking for two hours of somebody's time--most of our customers, between their normal family lives...to find two contiguous hours to concentrate on learning how to play a video game is a big ask,"
One thing I would like to see is more free-form gameplay. A lot of people get into Minecraft and that game definitely takes a while to learn, but when it was gaining sales growth as an indie, it did't have any mandatory tutorials. The same thing applies for games like Terraria or Starbound or DayZ. Each game definitely requires more than two hours to master, but the game doesn't dictate that you spend any specific amount of time learning how to play: there's no forced tutorial phase to dictate how you learn the basics about the game.
I'm also reminded of the ever-popular Warframe, which has more than 12 million registered users, according to Massively. It's a game that is hard to master but allows players to just kind of dive in and utilize the basics without being latched onto the typical elongated requirement of playing the game a certain way. If you want to run, hide, shoot and play like Gears of War, you can. There's nothing wrong with that. If you want to ninja-it-up, you can. You can wall-run and dive around shooting and throwing ninja stars at the blink of an eye. The game rewards players who eventually evolve and adapt their skills to the game's ever-increasing challenge. There's no set amount of time required to learn how to play.
I'm not really sure what kind of route EA wants to take with shortening the amount of time to learn how to play a game, but getting rid of mandatory tutorials would be a great start.
On a related note, Shadow of Mordor's design director Michael de Plater, commented about what we might start seeing more of in AAA titles, saying...
"Every game is an RPG now," ... "You wouldn't make a game without progression and levels and XP. And I think every game is going to be a social game...good ideas propagate."
Every game being a social game... ugh. As much as I hate the concept of some games being forced into the social arena, we're already seeing it with stuff like Mortal Kombat X's Living Towers. I guess the future of AAA titles will be short, hand-holding, easy, social games, eh?