It is a game with a very confusing scale. When we talk about size in games, we always mean something big and vast, something so vast that it’s impossible to fit all of it at once. This is certainly the case here. Even as you zoom out on the map so the whole world appears on the screen, a set of squiggly lines etched on paper laid flat across the cartographer’s desk, there is always a sense that there are things going on – political intrigue, mill gears of industry – beyond your own.
But Victoria 3 also wants to shoot the scale in reverse. Zoom in, through the layers of empire, past the common markets and within geopolitical boundaries, there are towns and villages full of ordinary people simply trying to make ends meet. You don’t meet these folks like that – you’ll never encounter coal-stained miners or sun-damaged farmers – but you’ll hear from them, in aggregate, when drought leads to food shortages or capitalists’ hunger for automation leaves them out of work. As much as Victoria 3 can seem like a globe-spanning empire game, if you choose to play it a certain way, it can also be an intimate exercise in making your little corner of the world a better (or let’s be honest, maybe even worse) place to live.
If the prospect of controlling an empire, or even a single nation, and directing its fortunes during the Victorian era of the nineteenth century seems daunting, you’re right. Developer Paradox Interactive understands this, too. The main objective was to ensure that novice players were absorbed from the start and provided every assistance in understanding the intricacies of complex and comprehensive simulations.
In a conversation we had, Victoria 3 Games Director Mikael Andersson explained to me that Paradox is investing heavily in trying to understand how all players, especially new players, experience their games.
“Officially, we have two different, complementary approaches,” Anderson says. The user research team that creates, organizes, implements, studies and reports user experiences for specific features or aspects of a game, and the Analytics team that creates and manages remote tracking data for each game.
For example, the User Research team will assist us in a study of ten participants from around the world who play through the tutorial and identify pain points by speaking out about their experiences, while the Analytics team creates a report showing the percentage of 100,000 gamers who quit the tutorial before Getting to Lesson #3.
“Analytics are very useful for iteration in post-game release but we have to be very careful how we formulate questions and interpret data, so we don’t draw the wrong conclusions. Unofficially, we do a lot of playback testing and feedback on each other’s games.”
I chose to play as Belgium, assuming that a relatively small empire of two provinces hiding in the shadows of France, Britain, and Prussia would be a solid but uncomplicated platform from which to learn how to play. Later, after I successfully negotiated Tutorial #3, Anderson supported my idea when I asked him what advice he would give new players.
“The size of the country is one of the most important
“Feeling isolated can be comforting at the beginning of the game but it’s not always the best learning experience, since being challenged or supported by your neighbors are important lessons and seeing the AI law can make the mechanic better click in your head at times.”
Britain soon took Belgium under its wing and agreed to join the British Common Market, a measure which I found very amusing given the current political situation. In my north, the Dutch were actively working to sabotage diplomatic relations, but I felt safe that Britain was watching me, and anyway, I had a good friend in neighboring Luxembourg while France hardly seemed to notice that I was there. I was free to focus on internal matters such as improving infrastructure and liberating Belgian society.
During the 1840s, post-revolutionary Belgium was prosperous. Coal and iron mine expansions were created in the east, new fields for farming in the south and west, a new pier near Bruges, and the academies of arts and sciences in Brussels and Charleroi. Adjusting trade routes to take advantage of changes in market prices or sudden requirements for certain commodities quickly became second nature. The search for specific techniques in order to switch the methods of industrial production to more advanced and effective techniques moved from curiosity to conscious purpose. More importantly, putting a finger of weight on the political scale to push constitutional changes in a more progressive direction is becoming as practiced as using the same number to scroll through Twitter motionless.
The ease with which I was able to navigate the Victoria 3 manifold systems was due in large part to the two-track tutorial. Similar games tend to explain how to accomplish a certain task and leave it at that; Victoria 3 goes so far as to explain why you want it. They even call these two lessons Tell Me How and Tell Me Why.
“Originally we only had a ‘tell me how’ option, which testing showed was much appreciated,” Anderson says. “But the recurring concern was that players felt they now understand how to do it, but they lack the context to explain why they would engage with this mechanic.
At one point, someone literally asked ‘Why isn’t there a button that tells me why I’m doing something? “And we did, however, go on to explain the mechanics in more depth to those ready for a more-dive during the tutorial. Which I feel very satisfied with, despite the Backstreet Boys incessant jokes.”
Once you’ve worked through the Tell Me Why tutorial, you’d never want to do it any other way, straining Backstreet Boys reference to breaking point. It’s the perfect example of the lessons Paradox has learned and applied to make Victoria 3 the most accessible game yet.
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