Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Horse Gaga... I say "neigh!"

My queue of games is stacking up, but I decided to try out Ubisoft's latest entry into the world of Facebook gaming.

The game is called Horse Gaga. I believe it is being positioned to attract female gamers who like to raise and train horses. My thoughts, of course, are based on my own experience (a non-female, non horse trainer). But I think there are still some valuable takeaways.

  • Boring billboard tutorial. Raising and training a horse should be fun and should be taught in an experiential way. If I want to read a lot of text and click only the things I'm told to click, I could go to wikipedia. I've complained elsewhere about the perils of frontloading a user with tons of information and then hoping that they'll process and remember it all (if, of course, they don't become so bored that they quit first).
  • Providing fun quests. My first post-tutorial quest was presented as follows: "Here's your first task: repeat what I just taught you and train your horse until it reaches maximum proficiency!" Task, Repeat, Train, Proficiency. Do these four words make you think "fun game?"
  • Help text that is approachable and not derogatory. Horse racing sounds pretty fun, even to a non-horse lover like myself. However, hovering over the horse race tab yields the following help text: "No Newbies. You need level 2 to enroll in this competition". You just called me a newbie -- a term that is derogatory to folks who know it, and that is probably not even known to a majority of casual and social game players.
  • Game play modes that are puzzling. I just leveled up by watering my horse and entered a race. I have no real idea how the race works (the display looks broken) but think I will know more in 30 minutes. I also wanted to breed my horse, but I have no idea what gender it is so I can't pick a mate... 
I don't mean to come down so hard on this game, but really the quality bar has been set for a while in terms of  what it takes to make a fun and approachable game. Moreover, stripping down the tutorial and writing quests and help text that are fun, approachable, and engaging is relatively cheap and easy to do. Racing and breeding seem like core game play components, but they are still pretty much a mystery to me after about 5-10 minutes of head scratching.

I look forward to seeing the next rev and will be on the look out for future Ubisoft social games.