*TL;DR at the bottom of the post Greetings all, As Big Picture Games has stated over the previous months, the New Player Experience (NPE) is an important aspect of the game that they are working on overhauling. Several key features that are heavily considered or being worked on include some form of Tutorial Island, a reworked GUI in regards to accessing information and guiding the new player, as well as more content in the early stages of the game. In this post I will be sharing my perspective of different ways the NPE can be improved in relation to the previously mentioned features, as well as my general opinion on the NPE in MMOs and their importance. The Failures of Darkfall's Current and Past System While it has long been recognized by both players and developers that one of Darkfall's shortcomings is that of the NPE, underlining the major problems that encompass the deficiencies of the current system is a good point to start from before diving before diving into my views and hopes for the forthcoming changes. Darkfall’s NPE has always been rather lackluster and acted as an unintended barrier to new players, failing to properly acclimate and immerse new players within Agon, hindering the growth of the game’s population as a result. The main culprits of this can be seen by looking at the first hours of play, lack of meaningful early content, and the role of the experienced player. On the first logging in of a character, you’re dropped into Agon with little to no direction or guidance. The original quests felt brief and rushed, attempting to show the new player combat, crafting, and harvesting in a short period of time, while failing to give the player direction and purpose beyond the completion of the quests. Many of the starting cities were not easily navigable for new players, sometimes acting as a labyrinth more than a hub for the starting quests. Essentially, as a new player in Monkfield for example, you were left with no idea where you were, why you were there, and where you should go next. Furthermore, Darkfall lacked, and still lacks, meaningful early game content past these initial quests and now tasks, which can only carry the player so far into the game. Because of the nature of the game, which at its core is driven by player content, such as player/clan warfare, politics, and in general Player vs. Player, the most compelling and central features cannot be feasibly represented in the NPE. Because of this, there is little to no content for the new player to take part in that would involve these features, and by extension show them the best side of the game, nor is there any alternative content, such as quest chains or storylines that would accommodate the temporary solo experience of a new player. Because of the inherent shortcomings of the NPE, the assistance of new players by experienced ones is an important aspect of retaining players, but is only sustainable to a degree and not an efficient method if improving the NPE. Tutorial Island The concept of a Tutorial Island differs depending on the game, so there is a lot of different paths to take when introducing this feature into the game, and in regard to Rise of Agon, several necessary features that should be present, in my opinion. These key features are as follows: 1. Unlimited time on the island, with limited features 2. Allowance of all players to sail/access this island 3. A storyline, complete with questline(s) and immersive aspects 4. A dungeon, perhaps as the island’s culminant feature 5. Easily navigable island and structures 6. Access to tutorial information even with the completion of quests It should be noted, and will be discussed further at the end of this paragraph, that the first two points and their relevancy are largely dependent on content beyond the island. With this first point, in my opinion the new player should be allowed to stay on the proposed island for as long as they wish, and not be forced or pressured to leave as the pace of the tutorial may dictate. While this may seem to incentivize a new player to merely live or base themselves out of this safe, perpetual island, restrictions could easily be placed on the island in regards to skills, crafting, and harvesting. All skill and crafting gains could be capped at a low value, and the number of resources on the island could be limited. Tying in with the notion of a perpetual island is my second point, that other players, regardless of experience, should be allowed to sail to, or otherwise access, this island. While this may seem counterproductive and possibly harmful to the new player experience, I believe that the benefits greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Perhaps the key arguments against allowing this would be the threat of griefing, such as killing a new player or healing a mob, and disrupting the tutorial process. With a plentitude of guard towers on the island, Player-Killers would not be able to feasibly access the island, while the mobs on the island could be made immune to player heals, and hit protection made permanent within the area. Meanwhile, there are several benefits to experienced players having access to the island as well. Firstly, the potential to recruit new players from the island would help introduce them to the facets of Darkfall that cannot be easily shown through tutorials – the player aspect. The new players can be more easily exposed to clan life and politics while still in an exclusively PvE phase of the game. Furthermore, player interaction would allow veteran or experienced players to show newbies impromptu content in the game, such as sailing somewhere, being taken to different clan cities, or shown sieges. The threat of disrupting the new player tutorial can be avoided because of the allowance for players to return to the island, and a limited amount of recalls to the island could even be provided. The importance of allowing new players to remain at their leisure on the island, while simultaneously allowing normal players to access the area, is wholly dependent on BPG’s plans for development within the already existing starting zones. If there is little to no content added in this regard, then the aforementioned aspects of the Tutorial Island would be crucial to retaining players, while not such a big deal of more content and player exposure awaited them beyond the island. In regard to the Tutorial Island, the most significant aspect, in my view, lies with the storyline of the island, or in other words the overall narrative perceived by the new player. Because first impressions are everything, this storyline would be a good opportunity to introduce the player to the world of Agon, through the tapping of its lore and general mood and character. This can be achieved through the development of a main questline for the island, with perhaps smaller side quests along the way, which would give the player direction and purpose, as well as a taste for the world. By implementing a strong storyline backed by a series of quests and other engaging facets, the player can better become immersed within the world and game itself, which would greatly increase the chances of player retention, as opposed to the old NPE. This feature of the island can then culminate in the experience of a dungeon, which would be a good way to finish the storyline. In regard to crafting and harvesting tutorials within the island, these can easily be weaved into the storyline and indeed help immerse the player. Instead of receiving a generic quest or task to simply craft a bow, an explanation as to why they need to craft the bow, and how it’s relevant to the situation, could be provided through quest-text. Quest-text would also have the potential to explain the core features of the game that cannot be shown on the island (Clan Warfare and Politics, Cities and Sieges, etc.). The fifth and sixth points are relatively straightforward. On the fifth point, the structures and terrain of the island should obviously be easily navigable by the player, including the layout of any settlements on the island, whether village(s) or town(s). As to the sixth point, the player should have some sort of way to access information or tips given through quests while on the island, perhaps through a quest compendium. On the GUI While the overall GUI was greatly improved by BPG with the launch of RoA, there is still some facets of the interface that are lacking, or could be simplified for the sake of the new player. Areas of the GUI that could be reworked for easier navigation include the Clan and Journal tabs. The Clan tab and sections, which included everything from the clan browser to diplomacy and politics tabs, could benefit from a slight renovation, as they can sometimes be clunky and confusing for first-time players. It should be a very easy process for a new player to search and join clans, yet during the launch of RoA in May, 2017, I was constantly asked by prospective recruits both in-game and on-forum how one is supposed to apply to a clan. Another important feature that should be introduced as a “looking for clan” browser, where clans can view a list of players searching for a home. As with the Clan tab, the Journal tab can be quite the ride for the unfamiliar player, and should likewise be the focus of any future GUI rework. In regards to providing information to new players, an easy to access compendium or information hub would be an excellent addition. Early Game Content Assuming that a Tutorial Island of some form will be implemented, which will cover at least the basics of the game, in my opinion the next important phase for the NPE is the Early Game Content, or EGC. This refers to the available content within the NPC cities and their surrounding areas, from quests to dungeons and skill development. While the Tutorial Island will attempt to hook and immerse the new player in to the game and the world of Agon, the EGC will be critical in making sure that the player’s first impressions stick. As it stands, the current NPC town zones and surrounding areas are heavily underutilized and are so barren of meaningful content for the new player that they help to expel the player from the game, instead of sucking them in. The solution can be found, in my opinion, by introducing the following within new player/blue/NPC zones: 1. Dynamic content 2. Immersion of the player in Agon through quests and lore 3. More interactive experiences 4. Condensed NPC centers Currently the dynamic content within the starting / npc zones are lacking, when they should be an important tool for engaging the new player. Dynamic in this case should be taken to mean lively or active, and can be achieved through a mixture of organic and “trigger” based events and activities. This will help slow down the game for the new player, and give them more choices as to how they spend their time in the game during the early stages. I believe that this would be much more preferable to a new player over the concept of immediately beginning the skill grind to viability. Because it has become quite easy to reach viability, there is no reason that a new player’s time should be rushed or channeled towards grinding, which can become dull quickly, and instead they can really plant their feet into the game and world. Just as an example, a lesser form of treasure maps could be added to newbie mobs and chests, which give compelling items and rewards, while Selentine chests and the like could also be boosted in terms of interesting loot (that doesn’t necessarily have to be on a linear loot table, and can include fluff or interactive items). As another example, something in the spirit or vein of randomly appearing mob spawns, bosses, or portals could be implemented. This would give more vitality or freshness to a phase in the game where the player is many times solo and without the game’s core features, as mentioned earlier with the current faults of the NPE. Falling in line with my suggestions for features on the Tutorial Island, the EGC needs to immerse and draw in the potential player through the use of quests and other engaging activities that help familiarize them with the lore and world. This is especially important to the EGC if the Tutorial Island is simple and brief, lacking these features. These quests and tasks could be relevant to the region and surrounding mobs, drawing on the mob settlements and ruins/unused buildings to tell a story. The substance of these quests could range from heavy to light, or in other words progressive of a story or simply a random quest to collect some mushrooms for a farmer’s wife’s son. If the Tutorial Island indeed does not have any meaningful storylines or questlines, all of the suggestions mentioned under the Tutorial Island section would be relevant to the EGC. Quest rewards could include weapons and armor, skill-ups, resources, unique items, fluff, etc. Also relevant to drawing the player in is a more interactive experience within the starting zones, something that is seriously lacking and dilapidated at the moment. Currently, most buildings in the NPC towns are useless and inaccessible (door is closed, nothing actually inside), providing no activities or content, only aesthetics. It almost feels like going to museum or zealously over kept house, where you can look but not touch or interact with anything. At the same time, objects such as chairs, tables, barrels, and chests are generally not interactive, and don’t instill the proper feeling that they should. A an example for a workaround or rework of this issue, irrelevant/inaccessible buildings could be replaced with building assets that are accessible, where quest/activity/event NPCs could be located. Even small cottages could potentially be placed in predefined slots to compliment the upcoming Dynamic Housing System. In regard to items such as tables and chairs, simple board games or the like could be set up within NPC towns, with solo or multiplayer capability. Consequently, this could help alleviate “bank staring”– because of the nature of Darkfall (player-driven content), there are times where we don’t want to log off, but at the same time have nothing going on. Also, add some interactive NPCs if feasible, for holy heaven’s sake the only ones in-game don’t even move, and feel and act like statues more so than interactive denizens of Agon. They could give interesting information about the region, trigger dynamic events, be used in quests, you get the idea. In general, objects or other useless facets of NPC towns could be used interactively for quests and other events. Another simple addition could be foodstuffs such as carrots, onions, potatoes, and apples spawning and becoming lootable much like mushrooms and papyrus are, but in relevant spots of course. In terms of the new player interacting with the skills and spells of Darkfall, there is very little exposure to the combat nature of the end game. In my opinion, giving newbie mobs weakened (skill level 1 or lower) versions of field AoEs, bolts, rays, de-buffs, etc. could help introduce the new player to Darkfall’s diverse spellbook, while better engaging them in terms of interesting combat. Finally, I believe that an important way to enhance the EGC and by extension NPE is to condense the NPC centers, meaning towns. At launch, one of the most daunting issues I ran into in helping new players was that they were constantly getting lost within some of the NPC towns. From the feedback that I received, the towns were hard to navigate, with relevant locations such as crafting stations and quest NPCs impractically stretched out and hidden within a sea of useless buildings. Although I understand many will disagree, in my opinion condensing the NPC towns / locations (excluding the capitals) to perhaps one to three per racial region, with the others being replaced with smaller, more easily navigable quest hubs. These outposts that replace the extra centers could be tailored to keep the racial architecture and flavor. As I said, I understand many will disagree with this suggestion, but I personally believe that there are too many NPC centers at the moment that are rather useless in relation to their size. Another alternative would be to downsize some of the locations to make them more easily navigable / traversable. My Experience and Perspective I’ve played a great many MMOs, for various different lengths of time, including DAoC, WoW, Vanguard, Warhammer, Rift, Runescape, Elder Scrolls, among others. I began following Darkfall in particular around 2006, and played it regularly between 2010 until now, disregarding the periods of unavailability. While there were common features present during the NPE in many of these games, the NPE itself always seems to be distinctly different for me, and perhaps reflects the different strategies that companies have taken over the years to bring in and hook the prospective players. However, this also shows, in my opinion, that a successful NPE doesn’t have to meet a broad or general criteria, but rather it has to be successfully tailored to the realities and nature of that specific game. While a game like Elder Scrolls Online employs heavy usage of lore early on, a game like Runescape relies more on the idea of endless paths of opportunity early on. Because of this, it is not always easy to formulate a NPE, and that can quickly be seen by examining Darkfall’s NPE in 2009. As an extension, it also requires attention and focus, and neglecting it can be costly to any game. I think that this early feature of an MMO is often overlooked because too many are focused on what’s further on ahead, such as end game content, instead of something that many won’t see after a few hours of play. I think that many would agree with me in the idea that it’s not Darkfall’s core features that are offsetting to new players, but instead the NPE itself, which shows none of these facets, offering very little in the form of entertainment and enjoyment. I think that if I was to stress one point in regard to the new player experience, and early game content in general, I would argue that meaningful, immersive content is the best way to draw in and hook potential players. The implementation of storylines and questlines, interactive content, and dynamic content (uncertainty is exciting) could all work to achieve this, and is well worth the time in my opinion. While the new player experience and early game content is currently lacking in Darkfall, it is of paramount importance to the health of the game, and therefore I hope more people will share their personal feedback and thoughts on this topic as well. TL;DR The Failures of Darkfall’s Past and Current Systems 1. Lack of meaningful content, purpose in early game 2. No immersion or lore 3. Little to no representation of Darkfall’s core features 4. Poor navigability in starter towns / cities 5. Dependent on experienced players’ intervention Tutorial Island 1. Unlimited time on the island, with limited features 2. Allowance of all players to sail/access this island 3. A storyline, complete with questline(s) and immersive aspects 4. A dungeon, perhaps as the island’s culminant feature 5. Easily navigable island and structures 6. Access to tutorial information even with the completion of quests On the Gui 1. Renovation of Clan tab, and its sections 2. New “Looking For Clan” Browser 3. Reworked Journal tab 4. Easy to access information compendium for new players Early Game Content 1. Dynamic content 2. Immersion of the player in Agon through quests and lore 3. More interactive experiences 4. Condensed NPC centers My Experience and Perspective 1. There is no standard structure for NPE in MMOs 2. A strong NPE is tailored to that game’s realities and features Conclusion I think that if I was to stress one point in regard to the new player experience, and early game content in general, I would argue that meaningful, immersive content is the best way to draw in and hook potential players. The implementation of storylines and questlines, interactive content, and dynamic content (uncertainty is exciting) could all work to achieve this, and is well worth the time in my opinion. While the new player experience and early game content is currently lacking in Darkfall, it is of paramount importance to the health of the game, and therefore I hope more people will share their personal feedback and thoughts on this topic as well.