Statistics say that right now, there are more mobile devices than people in the world. This means there exists a potentially untapped video game market for you that grows year by year. If you are working on a mobile game, your main goal will be to encourage users to play as much as possible and prevent them from uninstalling your app. Attractive gameplay will get you halfway there, but the other half is based on how easy users find it to interact with your game. Here you have 8 tips you can apply in the mobile world to secure a quality user experience.
1. Keep HUDs Simple and Responsive
Computers have spoiled us. Regular keyboards have more than 100 keys to interact with and a powerful mouse that moves in all directions and has two or three more buttons to click on.
Forget about all these possibilities. In mobile games, you will, if you’re lucky, have 4-5 inches of screen to display your main character, health, enemies, obstacles . . . and the game’s hud. That’s why you should keep it as simple as possible—as games like Doodle Jump and Jetpack Joyride do—where simply pressing the screen at certain moments will make you advance through the different levels.
Interaction is usually done with the two thumbs or with one index finger, so do not force players to press three buttons at once. Change the style of the button while it is being pressed to provide feedback to the user about what they are doing. Make buttons big and separate enough so they do not collide (44×44 pixels is the minimum recommended) but make sure that no important part of the screen is hidden when the fingers are above the hud.
In Fifa 16, the moving stick is invisible until the player presses the lower left part of the screen, where it then reveals itself depending on the position of the finger. This ensures that players always press the HUD.
2. Do NOT Take Connectivity for Granted
Gone are the days when players were isolated from the rest of the world and enjoyed playing on their own. Nowadays, almost every single game allows competition against other users, sharing your results on social media, or uploading your progress to the cloud.
If you need to send and receive information from your applications to a server, try to do it at specific parts of the game: normally in the start menu or at the end of a level. It is not guaranteed that your players will have connectivity during the whole gameplay experience, and some others may still want to play disconnected in order to save battery.
Never stop the game if the connection is lost! Persist the data and save it until the signal is recovered. Users will find it very frustrating to lose their progress just because they momentarily passed through an area of poor coverage (sorry, subway riders).
I remember this from playing PokémonGo: when I lost connectivity while hunting a pokémon, a time-out kicked me out to the map and I ended up angry and without any desire to continue catching pokémon. Not a very desirable feature . . .
3. Mobile Also Means Limited Resources
Connectivity is not the only point that was taken for granted in PC games development.
Mobile’s main problem is battery drain. When developing, debug your code to make sure no useless thread is left open. Do not force server connection automatically but only after a manual action of the user. Prepare your app to work with reduced battery mode that some operating systems already provide. Android and iOS developer guides can help you solve a lot of performance issues.
Another constraint that can arise from low battery or due to solar exposure is limited screen light. Use graphics with enough contrast (almost like you are going to play in an old Gameboy without blacklight).
Do not base gameplay interactions on sound. Players tend to mute their devices mostly outside their homes.
Of course you cannot develop based on everybody’s constraints, but you at least have to keep in mind average mobile usage. A spectacular 3-D game is useless if it can only be played by 10% of the market due to processor limitations.
4. Portrait or Landscape?
Every person uses their device differently, and when we talk about orientation in mobile devices, portrait mode is used 60% of the times versus the 40% used in landscape. Percentages flip in the case of tablets (40% portrait vs. 60% landscape). Think first if your app is going to be compatible for both mobiles and tablets, and please, think of the left-handed mobile users when users have to rotate from portrait to landscape once they run your app (hint: holding the phone in a different hand will cause you to rotate it into landscape differently)!
Then, the ideal scenario will be to develop a game that supports both versions (Candy Crush Saga is a good example), but it will require you to analyze, design, develop, and test two versions of the game, with the increased cost that it entails.
That is why the most sensible decision is to be aware of the context of your game. If your content is focused in the center of the screen and does not need much input accuracy, use portrait orientation. Your players will be thankful to have a hand free while walking and playing at the same time. Remember that portrait is the default orientation of Android and iOS operating systems. On the other hand, if your game graphics are complex and interaction is multitouch you will probably have to go with landscape mode.
Candy Crush saga pays attention to details and offers users both orientation possibilities
5. Easy Registration and Login
When players download your game, they want to play it straight away, so finding a form asking for their main data will be seen as an obstacle. Furthermore, people do not like to give their private information to small companies unless you give them something useful in exchange.
Provide a part of the game where the user does not need to register and offer them important benefits if they do. If your game cannot work without login, you can always use social login, a way of single sign-on using credentials from a social network (normally Facebook, as it is the most widespread one). If your game even includes features to compete against your Facebook friends or send rewards you will make your users do marketing for you. Famous examples of this social expansion can be seen in Candy Crush, Cut the Rope, or Fruit Ninja.
6. Use Native User Interface Elements
Normally, mobile games do not follow iOS and Android interaction flows, as developers and designers prefer to have standard screens and interactions in both platforms.
However, it is a good idea to use native elements such as radio controls, check boxes, alerts, or icons. The good news about including them is that they will work the same in further operating system versions. Remember to include a “Back” button in iOS apps only. All Android users have a hardware or software button to return to the last visited screen.
Note the differences in design between Android (left) and iOS (right) dialogs. This widgets can be used in games to ask for permission or notify about errors.
7. Make Loading Process Light
Who likes to wait? You are right: nobody! That is why you should make the initial loading as light as possible. This may sound very easy but in fact it affects a lot of development aspects: keeping in mind image resolution, use lazy-loading of assets, testing with different RAMs and different connection speeds, etc..
Once you have made sure loading time is as fast as it can be, provide realistic progress bars that are constantly increasing. Avoid spinner icons unless there are small waiting times or the user will not receive feedback about whether the game is loading or not. Another good idea is to include random game tips that will help the player in the on-boarding process.
8. Do Usability Testing
Quality assurance is not only about finding functional bugs: it is also about gathering feedback from users playing a beta version of your game, evaluating their impressions, and then including the corresponding improvements
Try to get a good amount of testers (family and friends count too if you cannot hire experts) from different ages and different expertise with games and devices. Record the sessions to evaluate the parts they have more difficulties with and ask them about their overall feeling about the game and what would they modify to make game experience easier.
Go Out and Swipe and Tap!
Mobility is a world that is constantly evolving. Keep up to date to the latest developer and designer guides and play any new mobile game you find interesting looking for inspiration. You will find good usability examples and, what is even better, you will come up with some counterexamples that will make you learn how to achieve a great game experience with your future mobile game.