I was checking out Owen's blog about Dapple and he posted up recently about some feedback he's been getting about the game. In particular, it seems like it's too difficult for some people to grok instantly and they get turned off and don't buy the game. One common thread in the comments was that many games that have been successful (especially the PopCap games) has been that they introduce new concepts slowly. For instance, in Chuzzle, players need to get three Chuzzles co-located so they can be 'captured' (or whatever). Later in the game, they introduce a "lock" Chuzzle that locks both the row and column it's in - you can't move either. This concept is carried through a couple of levels before they introduce other concepts - "rainbow" Chuzzles that count as any color and "bomb" Chuzzles. I've only seen the game played, but it seemed like an interesting little twist on the standard "click two gems to exchange them" paradigm established in Bejeweled.
For Samantha, though, I need to find a way to do this same thing - introduce concepts slowly. How do you do that while allowing players to advance and explore the world? What I'm planning on doing is having a "school" where the player spends the first 4 levels free from harassment by other players. They're able to play around and there's no significant consequence (they won't die). After they complete their "training", though, and are moved out into the real world, it will become a bit more chaotic. I want to try to make that transition as smooth as possible and, in my mind, that's where I will either hook or lose the players. They might be interested when they're in school - when they leave is when they'll love the world we've created or hate it and quit.
Do I think that the school will help the player learning curve? I do. Do I have concerns about the chasm they need to jump from school to the "real" world? You betcha.
I'll post some more later when I think I've found ways to address this. I'm hoping that alpha/beta testing will provide some good feedback about this, but I think that if I can be cognizant of the potential issue I can work to minimize its impact and, as a result, have happier players.