If you want to deliver a great mobile game user experience, you must first understand what your gamers are like, and what they need. Some of these needs are universal to all gamers, while others are unique to the mobile platform. And just to make things clear right from the get-go – graphics has never been a necessity, on any platform, any genre, ever.
Gamers’ needs that are the same, regardless of the platform, are fairly obvious: they want to experience fun. They want fresh, creative ideas. And finally – they want to be challenged.
When it comes to what your gamers are like – it’s vital to understand that mobile gamers are different from console and PC gamers. The latter are usually more avid gamers, with plenty of gaming foreknowledge and experience. Mobile gamers, on the other hand, are mostly casuals and newbies to gaming in general.
So building games for mobile means you have to prepare for a mix of newbies and veteran gamers, that both want to experience same levels of fun, creativity and challenge.
Below you’ll find some of the essential tips for delivering such a user experience in mobile gaming apps.
‘Challenging’ and ‘fun’ aren’t always the same thing
What all games with great UX have in common is that they’re offering their players a challenge. That can be a puzzle that needs solving, reflexes to be trained, or a living, breathing competitor to be defeated with a mix of different skills. Essentially, games would not be games if they did not offer a ‘challenge’. However, this can be challenging for the app pros themselves (see what I did there?).
They need to be careful not to build a game that’s too complex for the newbies, or too simple for veterans. Having a steady difficulty progression is key to offering a fun, challenging game. For example, a puzzle game can start simple enough, but evolve into a more difficult challenge. Or, for a multiplayer game, having a well-designed matchmaking system that won’t pair complete newbies with hardcore veterans can result in a great user experience for all types of gamers.
In order to make sure the game is both challenging and fun to newbies and veterans, you’ll need a quality onboarding process. A hint system, or a beginner tutorial is common practice, and for a good reason. It allows newbies to get acquainted with the game’s mechanics and basic genre features. For example, a beginner’s guide for an RPG could teach newbies how to create and customize their characters, how to collect gear and what it does for them.
With games, it’s also essential to allow players to skip the beginner’s tutorial. That way, the game allows more experienced users to jump straight into the action, instead of wasting time going through things they already know. Consequently – the game ends up being equally fun and challenging for both newbies and veterans, while also not being too boring or too complex to both groups.
Analyze and optimize
As much as they can be entertaining and fun, mobile games can also be a cause of great frustration for users. Poorly designed controls, levels that are near impossible to complete, crashes, cheating and hacking, those are just some of the things that can frustrate gamers and annul all the effort placed into creating an awesome UX. It is thus of the utmost importance to constantly keep track of the game’s key performance indicators, as well as users’ behavior. A great way of tracking user experience is through qualitative analytics tools. They allow app pros to see exactly how their app is being used, through features like touch heatmaps or user session recordings.
Touch heatmaps aggregate all user gestures and present it as a heatmap, allowing app pros to see how users physically interact with the app. Such a feature is great for spotting navigation patterns, analyzing the intuitiveness of the game’s controls, and identifying bugs and unresponsive gestures. Let’s say, for example, that an 8-pool game was built with a pull-and-release mechanism. With touch heatmaps, app pros noticed that many users swipe to kick the ball. In the app’s next iteration, the new play mechanism was introduced, increasing retention and boosting user experience by offering more intuitive controls.
The other qualitative analytics feature that can be put to good use here is user session recordings. This tool allows app pros to watch real-time recordings, of users playing their game. With user session recordings, it becomes much easier to spot flaws in game design, visualize crashes, or examine bugs which would allow some players an unfair advantage over others.
Mind the screen
When PC gamers have a smaller display, they can play around with their screen’s resolution to make sure they don’t miss out on important details. Console players rarely suffer due to screen size, but those that do usually get to sit closer to the TV. Mobile users, on the other hand, are denied that commodity, which means the responsibility lies completely on the app pros. Nowadays, we have mobile devices with screens ranging from four inches up to six, seven, with different aspect ratios (hello, LG G6) and different resolutions.
Games need to fit perfectly on a wide range of different devices with different screens, and different modes (landscape vs portrait). If a game tries to cramp up too many details, it can’t expect to offer a compelling user experience. Similar thing can happen with controls and heads-up displays. Without controllers, keyboards or mice, the screen becomes the controller too, further limiting the screen real estate. This is especially important when creating games for kids, since kids are more likely to accidentally tap buttons on the bottom of screens.
Looking at some of the world’s most famous and successful mobile games (thinking Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Temple Run), we see a strong pattern in the way they handle controls and HUDs – the elimination of as much of the interface as possible. Whenever you can, have the users tap on the screen itself in order to play the game. Also, try to use the first few levels as onboarding, where gamers can learn about the controls. The less screen real estate you use for controls, the better.
If it can be social, make it social
The best games are those that can be played or shared with friends, in one way or another. Competing with them, sharing a screen with them, or meeting on a server for a virtual duel, any type of social aspect works wonders for the game’s user experience.
It’s true – the world’s most popular games are essentially ones with the focus on multiplayer – World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, just to name a few. Mobile games, even though some have the classic multiplayer approach, like Clash of Clans, go mostly for leaderboards for the social aspect. Angry Birds has them, Flappy Bird has them (hell, the entire point of the game was to have a better score than your friends), Football Manager has them. And we’re talking about the best performing, most popular mobile games ever created. That’s why, if there is any possibility of adding a social aspect to the game, make sure to add it.
Leaderboards will allow gamers to compete against each other, creating additional challenges. Co-op mode is also an extra challenge, as it requires coordination and teamwork. Co-op is also a great way to deliver an amazing user experience because it refreshes the game and brings new ideas to an already familiar environment. Being able to share your scores, screenshots or videos easily to social media is usually considered a bonus as it allows gamers to challenge others and brag about their achievements. All of that increases the game’s virality potential, helping app pros get to audiences that were previously beyond their reach.
Delivering an amazing user experience in a mobile app is simple in theory, but quite challenging in execution. It means giving players fun, which requires challenging, fresh, socially-driven content. But with a well thought-out strategy, and continuing optimization, the goal is not beyond reach. And to call the results rewarding would be a severe understatement.
This post was originally featured on Chartboost’s Playbook.