Writing Help Files
At some point in life, there comes a time when we realize that we donâ€™t know everything. For some people this is later in life, while some realize it early on. In most cases, people who have realized this will try to find some sort of tool or instruction that will help them figure out the solution to the problem that they are facing.
This is where your gameâ€™s help files will come in. If a user is having problems with something, itâ€™s your help files that are going to keep them playing your game(and sane). But not everyone is all that good at writing help files. Here are some tips to help you make sure that your user documentation is easy to read and actually helpful:
Keep Entries Short
Have you ever asked someone a question and had them write you a paragraph in response when you really just wanted a yes/no answer? Thatâ€™s where this rule comes in. Time is a limited commodity in todayâ€™s world, and people donâ€™t want to waste their time reading through 6 pages of documentation for the command â€˜mv -R /dirnameâ€™. They want to read a paragraph, MAYBE two if the command is really complicated. Thatâ€™s it. Seriously.
Keep Pages Scannable
Make sure that you differntiate between entry/section titles and their content. Users will commonly scroll down a page and look for a title that jumps out at them and seems to be the solution to their problem; you should do your best to make sure the titles that jump out actually ARE the solution to their problem.
If a user is REALLY stuck, or just lazy(both of which are entirely possible), theyâ€™ll probably try to search your site somehow. Instead of forcing the user to use their browser’s ‘find’ command to find mentions of something, give them a search box, clearly visible on every help page in a specific area. This will make it easy for them to find what they need, and less likely to go somewhere else when they get stuck. Also, make sure your search page is actually USEFUL when it returns results.
Tables of Contents
Put all related entries on one page
If there are a myriad of issues a user can have with building things at their shipyards, have a â€œshipyardsâ€ page, with a table of contents and every entry regarding problems users could have with their shipyard. Having the table of contents link to areas on the actual page makes it easier for users to use and reuse the page; when theyâ€™re done reading they just scroll back up to the table of contents. It also means that you need to load pages less, which will help to reduce server load if youâ€™re optimized correctly.
At the end of the day, while we hope users will never have to see our help files, they’re still something where you can make huge gains in user retention, by just putting the effort in to make them nice to use. Why wouldn’t you, for such an easy way to keep users playing your game?