I’m not reading your damned instructions!

Posted by (twitter: @coderTrevor)
September 14th, 2012 8:51 pm

This isn’t a postmortem, that’s still on the way.

I’m just sharing the one, big lesson that it’s taken me three Ludum Dares to finally get:

Nobody wants to read instructions!

It’s frustrating when somebody doesn’t understand your game because they didn’t read or understand the instructions. However, when you’re rating other people’s games it makes perfect sense; you don’t want to read a wall of text when it’s time to play a game!

Plinko Breeder is the most complicated game I’ve made to date and it’s easy for a player to play through and think they understand the game but really miss key aspects if they didn’t read the instructions.

After reading some of the comments on Plinko Breeder, I’ve finally realized that this isn’t a fault of the player; it’s just not fun to read instructions!

So, I’ve given Plinko Breeder a total overhaul. Now, I try to introduce players to concepts of the game bit-by-bit as they play. For instance, I let the player discover that they can move the chip by starting them off in totally flat level. This is a more fun and more effective (I hope) way of getting the player to teach themselves how to play the game, which seems to be how most players want to learn!

After that, I do rely on text instructions but I convey them in-game now, and break them up into little, digestible chunks.


Before: You can’t control your chip in free-fall, so how many players would even guess that they have some control over this chip, let alone figure the right keys out?



After: There’s no ambiguity; the player’s chip just sits there until the player realizes how to move it. I don’t even say what keys control the chip; the player will figure it out because I’ve made learning to play part of the game instead of an impediment to it.


From now on, I’m going to try to force myself to design every game around this rule:  “You should be able to pick it up and play.”

Please give the new-and-improved Plinko Breeder a whirl and let me know how it went!

8 Responses to “I’m not reading your damned instructions!”

  1. johnfn says:

    Good post. What I’ve learned from LD is that the player is never wrong. If they say they didn’t want to read instructions, you have to make the game easier to understand. If they say it’s too hard, the game needs to be easier. If they say it’s too confusing, you need to make it simpler.

  2. Jeremias says:

    I totally agree. My game has a long instruction text, because I ran out of time respective making a proper ingame-introduction. It is funny in some way, if people complain about things which are written in the instructions. But that’s okay – instructions are just boring…

    It’s hard to make a more complex game, with controls and mechanics which are easy to get… all in 48 hours ^^

  3. Chaoseed says:

    It’s good to have things spelled out in the game. But I think it’s useful to have instructions too. People probably figure out the game in different ways. You should probably always include some form of instructions so players can always figure out what they’re allowed to do.

  4. Sestren says:

    I definitely think the best games should be accessible enough to not need instructions to play effectively. That said, given that this is a one-weekend game jam, I think it’s okay to have instructions if there wasn’t enough time to implement an in-game way to assist the player in learning the mechanics and controls. In short, I think I would rate a game higher for not needing instructions or for having those instructions implemented in-game in an elegant way, but I don’t mind reading instructions (if they’re succinct) on the webpage before I play, either.

  5. goffmog says:

    I’ve come to the same conclusion. But also to the conclusion that making a good, well paced, in-game tutorial is a difficult thing to get right in a short time. Even though I moved away from an instructions page – to having help text come up as part of the game, I still have too much text and it goes by too fast for some people. The games I’ve enjoyed the most have been the ones with obvious controls. However, I’ve come across several games with a mouse + keyboard combined control system that I found far from obvious, that would have benefited from a little bit of instruction text. I think the ideal LD game has as few controls as possible and is either fully mouse, or fully keyboard/gamepad driven but also prompts you with control hints as you play, based on whether or not the players seems to have understood the controls.

    One thing that I’ve learned is to separate the story/scenario of the game from the instructions. My players didn’t have to be told that Q & E rotated the heading of their their magnetic propulsion flying saucer – and that space activated their mutating tractor beam. I could have done with a simple graphic representation. Or just far fewer words! People will invest less time in learning to play a game they’re checking out for LD than they will in something they’ve paid money for or even a demo of something they might later buy.

  6. Wiering says:

    It’s the same in the “real world” with web games. Most people won’t read your instructions and if the game is too complex, they’ll just move on to the next game.

    Try showing simple one-line instructions, just at the moment the player needs them the first time.

  7. hamster_mk_4 says:

    I totally agree with your statement. This is a game design contest, and making a game playable without digging through a Readme file is part of good game design. Some games I do have to resort to reading the description, readme, or worst of all the comments thread to figure out what to do. I always knock a few stars off fun, and overall for that. Like wise I add a few stars for a game who teaches a complex/unique mechanic through in game means.

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