Onboarding for Games

Create an intuitive and engaging onboarding experience that makes a great first impression and helps keep players coming back. Onboarding teaches basic gameplay, how to purchase items, the benefits of returning, and more. A successful experience is fast, fun, and helpful so players can learn the essentials and jump right in.

Teaching Through Tutorials

By using tutorials during onboarding, you can teach new players the core loop (i.e., essential activities of your game). For example, a role-playing game’s core loop might be to fight monsters, get rewarded with gold, and buy equipment to fight more challenging monsters. It’s also important to show additional sequences of actions players need to take to be successful. For example, if certain materials are needed to construct a building, show where to gather those materials and how to use them.

Introduce gameplay objectives so that they intuitively build on one another. Begin with basic elements and allow players to demonstrate competency before moving on to advanced objectives. To help players retain information more easily, teach one step at a time using short and clear instructions. If you assume knowledge that a player doesn’t have, they may feel discouraged and abandon the onboarding process.

If your game has multiple gameplay elements, consider delivering multiple short tutorials at relevant moments. For example, Clash Royale divides onboarding into five short tutorials that help players gradually learn how to play. Each tutorial introduces new and more complex elements, such as combining cards for a stronger attack, which build on information taught before. Earlier tutorials offer more guidance, while later tutorials challenge players to demonstrate what they’ve been taught.

Clash Royale

Putting the Player Experience First

Give players an active role during onboarding and let them start self-directed gameplay as soon as possible. Allow them to demonstrate what they’ve learned by playing unguided and consider providing a way to skip introductory sequences and tutorials if they wish to do so. Some players may already be familiar with the fundamentals of your game, or want to begin playing immediately.

The board game Carcassonne asks if you’d like the rules to be explained. If you choose “Go ahead”, you’re taken to a tutorial. If you choose “Later”, you can start playing.

Start onboarding at launch. When possible, avoid showing splash screens, menus, agreements, or disclaimers when a new player opens your app, as these create a delay in quickly getting into gameplay. Consider displaying any necessary agreements or disclaimers on your product page on the App Store, so players can review this information before downloading your game. If you must include agreements or disclaimers within your game, integrate them in a balanced way that doesn’t disrupt the experience.

Present non-essentials after onboarding. If a task is not crucial to a player’s early objectives, introduce it once they’ve completed onboarding and are more familiar with your game. Avoid distracting players from completing onboarding with tasks such as rating the app or opting in to push notifications. Additional information that’s not directly related to core gameplay, such as daily challenges, tournaments, or leaderboards, can also be presented after the tutorial and explained in context.

Anticipating the Need for Help

Players may forget information that was presented in onboarding, so they may find it useful to replay tutorials or see contextual guidance and tips that reinforce key points. You may want to provide a dedicated reference section in your game that players can visit at any time to review controls and gameplay concepts.

The action game Super Fowlst includes a “How to Play” button on its introduction screen, allowing players to replay the tutorial at any time if they need a refresher.

Super Fowlst

Encouraging Ongoing Engagement

During your initial onboarding efforts, show players the benefit of routinely returning to your game, such as collecting daily rewards or participating in limited-time events. Rewards can be given once per day or multiple times per day, or they can increase in value with each consecutive visit. Make sure the benefits are compelling and reinforce your game’s main objectives.

The match-three game Toon Blast gives a daily reward to players who visit the game every day. This boosts retention by providing the incentive to return in order to receive items for use in gameplay. By letting players know that they can come back tomorrow for another prize, Toon Blast establishes a daily routine that loyal players can look forward to.

Toon Blast

Demonstrating In-App Purchases

If your game includes in-app purchases, particularly consumables such as in-game currency, special items, or additional lives, briefly teach players about them so they can participate in this aspect of your game if they choose. Consider demonstrating a sample in-app purchase after the player has experienced normal gameplay. Illustrate the value of spending by describing the benefit of the item, showing where to purchase it — such as your store or market — and explaining how to use it.

The puzzle game Two Dots lets a player complete multiple levels before introducing premium items available for purchase. Before a player enters level 10, a tutorial introduces a “shuffler” item (one of several power-ups available) and teaches the player how to use it. After the player demonstrates how to use the shuffler, Two Dots displays the Market icon and lets them know that they can visit the Market to purchase more of the item.

Two Dots

Measuring Onboarding Success

Use App Analytics in App Store Connect to track player engagement metrics, including the number of sessions, active devices, and retention rates. Retention rate data can help you evaluate the success of your onboarding efforts. For example, if there’s a drop in retention rates between day one and day seven, consider modifying your onboarding experience to see if rates improve.