I've been getting ready for the launches of Rift and DCUO by spending some time on the local wiki's (Telarapedia and the DCUO Wiki respectively). This has me thinking about the amount of information that newbies need to get ASAP in a new game.
Rolling Up New Characters
When I ducked into DCUO's beta for an hour or so, I really felt that I didn't understand the choices I was being asked to make. Which options affect gameplay, and which can be changed later? No one wants to spend their first hour in game reading tooltips, but it's equally irritating to be hours into the game before you discover that your character doesn't do what you wanted it to because you made an incorrect choice before you knew better.
From what I can tell, DCUO has six character classes, all of whom have a DPS spec and one group role - Fire and Ice tank, Mental and Gadgets do CC, and Nature and Sorcery heal in their alternate roles. I had absolutely no idea how this worked from the beta character generator. Newbies are also asked to choose a combat style - such as martial arts, energy blasts, or dual swords, and a movement power. Though I'm sure that these choices matter to min-maxers, they're not nearly as important as failing to realize that you've rolled up a tank.
Rift has it easier in this department because at least their archetypes have the traditional MMO labels, but even then I've heard that "how do I replace a soul I don't like" is a common question in beta. It's problematic that the answer is "you can't, but we'll let you get the rest of your archetype's souls if you keep playing for long enough".
Showcasing your game
In a related topic, Pete at Dragonchasers and I have been going back and forth on how early Rift should actually hit players with Rifts. My point is not that newbies should log in to see the tutorial tooltips abruptly cut off when rifts open and 100 elite mobs destroy the starting area. On the other hand, players have to make decisions about whether to continue playing the game based on the information that's available to them at the time. If you're going to advertise the game as "not in Azeroth anymore" (in fairness, this was marketing's decision, not the designers) you need to present the portion of the game that doesn't play like Azeroth as quickly as possible.
In an era where the default way into an MMO was to buy a box with a month of pre-paid time included, developers had the relative luxury of time to get new players situated. Today, though, players are just as likely to wander by through a free trial (or open beta) feeling that the hours they spent on downloading the client were already a significant initial investment. I don't know how you balance that against the reality that there are limits to how quickly you can present information. Then again, with more and more options competing for less and less of my free time, I can't fault anyone who is very quick (yes, even within the first hour) to pull the plug on a game that doesn't somehow convey the crucial information fast enough.