Computer games can be extremely rich experiences, but this richness typically comes with some level of complexity in the gameplay and user interface. As was discussed in a previous post, gamers don’t typically read through a manual before getting their feet wet, and if the game excels at on-the-job-training, they may never read the manual. How, then, can you insure that the player is aware of all of the features, options, game mechanics, and locations that the game offers?
Large, complex games are also likely to have relatively lengthy load times—when the game first launches, and often when the player moves between levels or locations. Game designers kill two birds with one stone. On the load screen, they will display a sentence or two that reminds the player, or introduces them to, a specific feature. It may not be enough information for the player to know exactly what to do with the feature, but it will be at least enough to let them know that they are missing out on something. This may provide the impetus for the player to learn more about the game and improve their gameplay experience. At the same time, it occupies them during the wait, making it seem sorter and less onerous.
Many software developers use the installer to introduce users to capabilities and new features. There are applications that will display a tip in a dialog every time the application launches (with an option to disable the feature). Finding such opportunities may be a little more difficult in web applications, due to the fact that it is typically a major goal to reduce all pauses and load times as much as possible. Users expect webpages to load instantly.
Think about ways you can introduce tips into your own designs. Where are the down-times and short pauses that you can fill in with useful information? What are the features and functions that are a little more advanced or less obvious? If your user receives value during a break, you have improved their experience in the short term and provided more utility in the long term.