The First 5 Minutes of Play

In a MMORPG a lot can happen in the first 5 minutes of play.  ‘They’ say first impressions are everything and it’s true.  I was shocked to realize, upon a further evaluation of the topic, just how important those first 5 minutes of play are for me.   Maybe I’m weird, but I can tell within seconds whether or not the game has a feel of “quality” to it.  All that I need to do is move my character around a little, talk to an NPC, or kill a single newbie mob for me to know a lot about a game (and sometimes even whether or not it will be a flop for me or a huge success.)  It’s incredibly difficult for me to explain something that I’m not even sure I understand myself, but I’ll try.  I’m going to list a few games and talk about the very first initial impressions I had – perhaps you’ll be able to understand and relate.

World of Warcraft – I felt as though my character were an extension of my thoughts.  He moved through the world seamlessly.  Fighting newbie mobs, talking to NPCs, and interacting with his environment felt natural.  The game felt polished.  It had an immediate and recognizable quality.

Lord of the Rings Online – My very first impression of the game was that it felt “wonky”.  That’s the best word I can think of to describe my feelings.  My character felt detached from his environment.  Everything felt clunky and quite the opposite of WoW.  In WoW everything felt effortless but in LOTRO it felt as though I had to break through barriers for everything, even walking.  And I could recognize this within the first minute of play.

Pirates of the Burning Sea – This has been the most extreme case of failing to live up to what I have dubbed the “Expectations of the First 5 Minutes”.  Move your character around the starting area, fight the pirates in the tutorial, and then sit back and think for a second about your experience.  Does it feel… wrong.. somehow?  That’s how it felt to me.

Those are just a few examples of recent games where I felt there was a very noticeable “feeling”.   Maybe it’s intuition or insight that comes from playing a lot of games.  But I want to think that it’s more than just a gut feeling.  I think it goes beyond polish, although that absolutely must play some part.  Perhaps the game engine is partially responsible.  Maybe it’s the animations or the quality of the art direction.  Maybe it’s the experience of coders putting everything together.  If it were any of these alone then I would be able to explain it.  What the heck is it?!

Perhaps it is coincidence but looking at the above examples and the time I spent playing them, there is a direct correlation.  WoW “felt good” and I played for years.  LOTRO felt “wonky” and I played for several months.  PotBS felt “wrong” and I played for a month.  Hindsight is 20/20 but I had these feelings the very second I began playing them.  I often push this intuition aside because I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover — but I’m starting to think I should.

My biggest fear lately is that I’ll get a bad feeling from one of the big MMOs on their way.  If I log into Warhammer of Conan for the first time and don’t get that “feeling of quality” I might develop an ulcer.  Never mind, I can’t think about the future or I will stress myself into an ulcer.

Do any of you share this sixth sense – this almost unexplainable intuition that tells you whether or not a game has quality?   Am I crazy for thinking that I can simply walk my character around for a few minutes and pass judgment?  Or, am I just stating something very obvious that everyone out there already knows?  Please enlighten me.

  • I believe i am starting to troll your blog with the amount of post I expell. Anyhow…

    I understand what you mean about the first 5 mins of gameplay meaning a lot. It is the same case with the first 5 mins of a movie or the first 10 pages of a book. There has to be a smmoth entry followed by an easy and recognizable hook that will keep you going.

    Conversly, the first 5 mins/pages, can be absolutly meaningless when stacked up against the greater whole of the game. The first 5 mins may be interesting but once you’ve had a month to dive into it, you realize that the game is shallow.

    As much as anyone trys not to do it, judging a book by its cover is something I believe everyone falls into and I am no different. I judge games, movies and music by their respective covers all the time. I like to think, usually, that I am on target with my inital assumptions. If I don’t like the beginning of the movie, I probably wont like the movie.

    The difficultly with that is, you must ask yourself is it actually the rest of the movie/game that is poor or had you already made up your mind by the first 5 mins? I also believe that most people shut themselves out of enjoying something by way of their inital impressions.

    As silly and short-sited as it is, people make up their minds on almost everything by way of their first impression (people, movies, books, waffles) and even if you’ve made the ground breaking movie of the century, it wont get the attention it deserves if it doesn’t start strong.

    /rant off

  • I totally agree witht he 5 min rule. I take it one personal preference further. I movment of my character is only “point and click to move” and not W.A.S.D. I won’t give the game a second look.

    If the movement of the character and camera controlls do not work togeather well, I’ll give it about 10min and then its gone from my hard drive.

    Basicaly, if I have to fight with the way my character moves within his envrionment and I can not look around with out my character changing directions on me. I don’t care how amazing the rest of the game is. Its just not worth it in my book.

    I think WoW go it right with character movement controls and camera controls, its almost fluid.

  • Read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. It actually explores exactly these issues. How can you tell what is quality and what is not? How come sometimes you just know? Can you put that into words? That other people can agree upon? What is quality?

    That’s what the book is about… and it *does* answer the question.

    I’m not joking; hunt it out and read it.

  • Dude, get OUT of my mind. Seriously. Can I call the police for a mental stalker?

    Just kidding… but I was honestly thinking about this exact same topic and share many feelings that you did. WoW, like many of Blizzard’s titles, was polished enough to feel as if it fit like a comfortable glove. LOTRO took a lot of getting used to, I totally gave up on Pirates, and while Tabula Rasa was bizarrely uncomfortable in the beginning, I could’ve gotten used to the control scheme if the rest of the game was richer.

    It’s almost as if we’re starting to homogenize as gamers, in that we expect control schemes to be set up a certain way (and yell loudly when they are not), expect /dance to make my character wiggle his/her fanny, demand that characters have idle animations and blinking so they don’t look like lurching zombies, and anticipate entering a realized virtual world with hundreds of details we don’t actively notice when they’re there, but very much so when they’re missing.

    Also, with highly complex games such as MMOs, there’s a UI learning curve that can be almost ridiculous. Even with WoW, I must’ve spent twenty minutes rooted to a spot in the beginning figuring out all the controls, the settings, resizing everything, and identifying what each item in the HUD was for. To make a MMO “natural” either demands supernatural excellence on the part of the design team, or a gradual “easing in” tutorial experience where they introduce new parts and concepts one at a time instead of all at once.

  • My first five minutes in WoW (gnome/dwarf starting area) were marred by someone running next to me continually trying to /duel me, then trying to outfight the mages and hunters who seemed to always shoot a mob just before I got to it.

    Horde-side was actually a lot better.

  • I do know what you mean, although it doesn’t determine whether or not I like a game in the long run. I really hate ‘wonky’ character animations (no really, whatever amount of hate you’re imagining, it’s more than that). MMO character animations seem to fall into one of two categories – ‘tight’ or ‘floppy’. LotRO is floppy. EQ2 is floppy. WoW is tight. DAoC is tight (too tight, I felt like I was glued to the ground!). City of Heroes is tight.

    Of them all, I think CoH had the best overall character animation. WoW was second best, with good movement animation and ‘feel’, but frequently crappy and boring combat animations. Oh well.

    That said, I hated the newbie experience in WoW. I played during the open beta, thought the game was boring and retarded and ignored it when it came out. I eventually picked it up to play with my friends, but my ‘first 5 minutes’ impression of WoW was bad. It was also bad for EQ2. It was pretty good for LotRO due to the story based nature of the intro. It was terrible for PotBS. I can’t give an unbiased opinion for CoH, since my ‘first 5 minutes’ were during wave 2 of the closed beta and I was too busy being giddy as a schoolgirl to notice. Games I played the longest? WoW and CoH.

    My point? Umm . . . I hateses the floppy animations. Yeah.

  • I know what you mean, but I’d also ‘partially’ disagree….

    Dark Age of Camelot was my first MMO…. and the first 5 minutes I can so without doubt I felt like I was taking a step back (graphics/game engine wise) and playing the silliest game ever…. it felt very clunky and awkward, none of it was natural to me. But…. it ended up grabbing my attention for several years.

    Anarchy Online – I think i played for 60 minutes max and gave up, i couldn’t stand moving across terrain… my feet moving and the way the terrain scrolled gave me headaches and felt so unnatural.

    Guild Wars – Just felt clunky to me and I couldn’t get into it’s style…

    WoW – While not a huge fan of cartoony graphics, they grew on me. And much like you, right off the bat everything felt so natural and…. well, right. The gameplay is/was just the most solid i’ve seen in any MMO. My biggest fear, is that Blizzard raised the bar so high, that many new MMOs will get overlooked because of those first impressions but turn out to be a DAOC in disguise….

  • The worst “first five minutes” I ever experienced in a game was in Resident Evil II, having never played the original. I rented it from Blockbuster a good while back (6-8 years ago?) and the instructions were missing.

    If you’ve ever played RE2, you can probably imagine my complete and utter frustration… You start out in the middle of a burning city surrounded by zombies. I don’t even think you start with a weapon… for the first few screens, you just need to shake off the flesh-eating bastards while you find some cover and weaponry.

    I think I died ten times in my first five minutes. I lasted about two more minutes before packing it back up and exchanging it for something else. 😛

    In contrast, the first five minutes of RE4 are simply amazing… if you have the instructions that is!

  • 1st 5 minuts of LOTRO :

    Woaaah a nice scripted tutorial / beginning
    nice graphic but frame rate need improvement, gotta upgrade vga and add more memory.

  • addenum

    what my previous comment means is i have a very positive experience in my 1st 5 minuts of LOTRO. in that 5 minuts of LOTRO i decide to cancel my WOW account immediately.

  • What you say has a lot of truth to it Keen. In the first five minutes I believe you CAN make a solid judgment call on a few things: 1. The first five minutes of the game for that class and race you picked. 2. The game engine with the default settings for your machine. 3. Whether or not the game is aesthetically pleasing to you personally.

    I usually reserve judgment on some other things for a lot later such as 1. the pvp (is it fun? especially in wow and lotro you cannot access it for a while, unlike Guild Wars) 2. the dungeons (are they fun? are they immersive? are they balanced in difficulty? are the rewards balanced?) 3. how fun are the other possibly groudbreaking features? 🙂

    Just as an aside you can change the animation smoothness quite a bit in lotro and I really like how they finally added the ability to run while firing a bow/crossbow, cuz trying to play a hunter was very jerky before if you ever wanted to shoot anything. Do I wish the game was a smooth as wow? Of course, but I also wish new players would experiment with the settings for their machine before deciding anything. Your machine is unique and for each game you are going to have to find a unique balance.

    Incidentally I just got a new machine from my brother for my birthday and lotro plays completely different on it, but thats to be expected, and kind of off the topic, sorry.

  • I understand that someone who has been playing many different MMOs can make a solid and unbiased judgement call about a game after playing it for 5 minutes 🙂
    However, most people base their experience with a new game on what they expect not on what is. And expectation create disappointments.
    My first MMO was COH and since I did not know what to expect, I was hooked and overwhelmed after the first 5 minutes, even though COH is considered by most gamers as a very watered down MMO light game.
    I have been playing COH for almost 3 years since that time and after getting tired of it I tried other more established and traditional MMOs as well, however my opinions about those other MMOs were affected by COH original experience which is probably why I never got into WoW or LOTRO like many other games did. I did give those games much more than 5 minutes though.

    WoW spent 14 days free trial, got lost in its vast map a lot, could never get over it’s total lack of navigational help to find the contacts and quest goals. (COH easy to find missions markers and using trains spoiled me)

    Guild Wars (Factions) it is pretty much a single player game, got bored with it very fast because everyone looks the same (COH variety of avatars spoiled me)

    Lineage 2, spent 2 months on it, loved the dark atmosphere and beatuful environments, sexy looking avatars, grinding got old fast, mouse click to move was ridiculouse, totally non-existen social aspect at lower levels killed it (COH Atlas park area is booming with social conversations all the time)

    LOTRO, very similar to WoW only not as good, skills were just not fun enough (COH variety of powers and uber skills spoiled me there)

    POTBS, playing it now and loving it, very similar to COH in many aspect. It has problems, like lack of polish comparing it to the games that have been around for years, so it will get there. Easy to play, easy to navigate, very social with its Nation channel, since it is new everyone is on similar level, nothing is impossible (except for finding a group, but that can be fixed by joining a society). Hoping that it will grow on me. Wish me luck.

  • The first 5 minutes really does spell out the rest of the game. It’s when you first learn to become comfortable with both the character and the camera. If you have to fight that then you will have a bad experience.

    The first and most important thing any developer should tackle when making a game is that the controls, layout, and camera flexibility of the game is PERFECT. If it’s not it leaves the player fighting with the game itself instead of in the game world. It’s a distraction and really takes away from one’s enjoyment.