Observation #2: if at all possible, it’s best to entertain a judge from the very first minute — just like a potential customer.
Several of the games I evaluated simply weren’t very fun to start with. Some even came with explicit caveats which I will collectively paraphrase as follows: Dear judge, you must play this game for several hours before you understand why it is special.
Who wants to slog through an endless tutorial that isn’t inherently fun before actually getting to enjoy themselves? Who wants to trudge through hours of uninspired gameplay before the “magic” of the game’s design reveals itself? As a judge, I’m willing to do it because I feel obligated, but which game do you think I’ll probably give the higher score: the game that entertained me for three consecutive hours, or the game that entertained me for only the final hour out of three hours, total? With rare exception, it will be the former. And you can bet that most consumers will vote the same way with their wallets. In summary:
- Long-winded, boring tutorials are bad (seems like this should be self-evident, right?)
- Conversely, dumping people into a game without any explanation of how to play is also bad, unless the initial gameplay experience is very intuitive. For an example of a game that does a good job of introducing the player to the core mechanics of the game, see Braid.
- Games that don’t become very interesting (or don’t reveal their “special sauce”) until the player has invested lots of time into them are not inherently “bad”, but unfortunately such games are often doomed to smaller audiences. Most people simply aren’t willing to give a game the benefit of the doubt if it doesn’t entertain them relatively immediately. Long story short, developers should think carefully about finding ways to expose their game’s “special sauce” right away.
PS. On a tangent, my old post on crafting a good game demo might be interesting to some of you.