We have released our new game to a closed alpha group. It's a browser-based MMO RTS, however some aspects of the game are slightly different from the "standards" you'd expect to see in traditional RTS' due to it being persistent, browser-based etc. For this reason, we have a new player tutorial which helps players through some aspects of the game that differ from the "norm", such as the way you acquire territory and the way you move large groups of units.
I think that every game I've played has had a "skip tutorial" option during the tutorial, so we put that option in as well. However, this has now caused us a dilemma: looking at the player stats in our database, there is an almost perfect correlation between those players who have played through the tutorial and have progressed through the game, and those who haven't. Basically, if you don't play the tutorial, you pretty much don't know what to do next and stop playing the game after not doing anything meaningful for a few minutes.
I'm really torn here between "best practice" / user experience (which probably dictates that players should have an option to not play the tutorial), and clear evidence which shows that if players don't play the tutorial, they likely will quit the game early.
Is it reasonable in this situation to "force" players to play the tutorial? I.e., don't give them a "skip tutorial" option? Could we dress it up as "missions", where the first 10 or so missions are compulsory to progress, but actually those "missions" are simply the current tutorial steps?