Players don’t really read

I’ve had to learn this lesson several times. Here’s a couple of examples.

In Escapade! there’s no limit to how many small items you can carry, but if you take a large item you automatically drop any other things you have to make room. In the initial design stages this mechanism was needed for a puzzle to work, but the puzzle was later removed. Since it’s a one-room game and the game implicitly picks up any items before you use them and it lists everything on the floor when you take inventory, there was no need to remove the mechanism that was already implemented, right?

Wrong. Players would play for some while, then LOOK and go “Didn’t I pick that up already?” or INVENTORY and “* BUG: I never dropped those items”. They hadn’t noticed or didn’t remember anymore that the game had said “(first dropping X, Y and Z to make room)” when they had picked up something big earlier.

Another in the same vein: One of the puzzles is <click to show spoiler>

Similarly in Yo Momma there’s a puzzle that involves <click to show spoiler>

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t put relevant information to places where the players don’t expect to find information. Players don’t expect command clarifications to contain anything other than notifications of implicit actions, and they expect TAKE ALL to just list items and “taken”, so they don’t pay them any more attention than that.
  • Don’t expect the players to read room descriptions anymore after the first time. If a room’s description changes during the game and that change contains important information, make sure the players know they should re-read the description or convey the information to them also in some other way.
  • Don’t expect the players to remember what they have read after a few turns.

It’d be interesting to hook a couple of players with different levels of playing experience into an eye tracker and study what parts they tend to skip or skim when playing.

7 thoughts on “Players don’t really read

  1. I don’t think this is quite fair. It’s not that they’re not reading, more that they don’t think they need to be constantly vigilant about their inventory. I mean, nobody does this in real life either. I don’t check the contents of my purse every 5 minutes to make sure nobody’s pickpocketed me. And a player putting in a command to pick something up isn’t necessarily expecting or intending to put five other things down.

    A better take-away, I think, would be “don’t automatically mess with someone’s possessions without a lot of warning.”

  2. Heh. I wrote a “TAKE ALL” joke into “Cheeseshop” that I never got any feedback on, but perhaps few people tried it or they thought it wasn’t worth mentioning. Throwaway jokes are fun little Easter eggs.

    I was absent for the “Yo Momma” session of ClubFloyd, but I think I would’ve missed that item too. I’d assume it was just scenery. I remember being stumped for the longest time in “The Isle of the Cult” because I overlooked a stool embedded in the room description.

    I’m not sure how you can force players to re-read descriptions, though. If the game detects that the player is floundering, one might try inserting a new paragraph that hints, something like: “Your eye wanders idly around the room, finally landing at the neglected refrigerator.” But that’s a lot of extra work for the programmer; it’s probably better to make the refrigerator stand out more in the first place.

  3. Sarah: The purpose was not to chastise players for being unobservant but to make the exact same observation you’re making: If the player expects an action to work some way and it actually does something else, the author should make the difference clear and not expect that the player notices it if the information is shown in places like notifications of implicit actions where the player does not expect to find this kind of information.

    (Also, I’m not sure if it came out clear enough in the article: every example I used was about bad design choices, not examples of players playing wrong.)

  4. One of the problems I had with the light puzzle in Yo Momma was that I read that description and said, “OK, this corner is dark and shadowed, it’s definitely not what I want.” I think there was some command (x table?) that showed exactly where the light was, but I didn’t get to it.

    “Don’t expect the players to remember” is good advice too. The other time I had to look at the source code (besides the “look under a lot of things” puzzle, which was just laziness on my part) was when I got the VIP pass and said to myself, “I know someone said something about a VIP pass fifty turns ago, now what was it?”

  5. However, having just taken all in Escapade, I did notice the joke and that I had the hole. I sort of feel like I should be using it to get the whiskey into the corridor (so the hint seems to suggest), but I don’t seem to be able to.

    …oh, and I just realized that the puzzle with the big items isn’t one that you get out of the way early, it’s one that isn’t in the game anymore. Moral: Players won’t read even when they’re reading an article about how they won’t read.

  6. Let me inform you that me and the friend with whom I played ‘Escapades!’ laughed our ass off at that joke. It was superb!

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