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The mobile gaming market is worth over $50 billion dollars a year. Industry analysts predict that this figure will double by 2021. That’s a lot of people downloading games and trying them out, but how many of those people are actually sticking around to play? For the game designers and developers who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into crafting the most immersive experience possible for players to enjoy — only to see their hard work go unappreciated — it can be absolutely heartbreaking.
1. How to create an engaging mobile gaming experience
Mobile gaming is an industry that generates more than $50 billion a year worldwide, and it’s expected to continue growing as the number of smartphone users increases. Mobile gaming is a great way to engage people and keep them coming back for more. In fact, mobile games have a retention rate of 30 to 40 percent, which is higher than other forms of entertainment. The games on your smartphone are largely the reason you’ve stuck with your phone. It’s right there, next to your charger, next to your favorite show. Regardless of if you’re trying to do work from home or not, there’s one constant for all mobile vendors: a well-designed mobile game is a must-have for your game. Stratechery conducted a study, where they enlisted 1,000 smartphone users to fill out a survey to get insights regarding their phone habits and habits of gamers.
Researchers discovered that smartphone game developers have a unique opportunity to find leftover players whose applications have been dormant since the game was last updated. By understanding where those dormant users are, mobile game developers can reach out to them, and convince them to register and download the game for their free trial.
According to Higinbotham and MacKenzie, “so-called dormant users represent a significant segment of the mobile app population. Many users who are not actively engaging with mobile games may still be an important source of revenue for mobile games.” In fact, Lozano and colleagues predict that “the average mobile gamer will keep playing their mobile game at least up to five times.” From a big-budget movie to a small indie title, every media company and game developer is fighting to attract and retain these players.
It’s through this cycle of engagement that attention is drawn towards mobile games, but a fair share of those players don’t stay for very long. Most of those players never officially finish their free trial, and some end up spending more money than they did for the in-app purchase.
2. Keep your players coming back for more
This is one of the most important things to keep in mind for game design. You need to think about how you’re going to keep people playing your game, how you’re going to make them want to play your game over and over again. When you’re creating a game, it is crucial to consider how you’re going to make people put in long hours of gameplay. When a player takes that first step into your game, you need to ensure that they get a reward. Not every game can offer every reward, however; it’s a question of what experiences you can provide at that point in the player’s journey that would shore them up enough to continue playing.
Some examples of this might include things like special minimap pins that signify certain areas of the world they can explore, items that unlock special abilities on certain characters, skins that modify how the player looks (just imagine how cool Ryze’s skin would look if he could turn into a watermelon!), and additional trophies that are tied to specific achievements in the game and unlock things like a special title that would indicate that they prioritize that experience over others.
Another way to provide rewards is to tie additional content to the experience itself. Let’s look at a couple of driving games to see an example of this.
Street racing games feel so much more alive when the player is able to utilize various cars. The developer can make the cars handle differently and offer different power modes; it just so happens that some of the best racing games around are the ones where the cars serve multiple functions a week. Imagine if you can play as a tank in a top-down view, take corners at the same time as a drifting driver, or try to take down as many targets as possible in a split-second before your car takes a big hit.
3. Make sure that your game appeals to the widest possible audience
The whole point of making a game is to appeal to as large an audience as possible because you want your game to be sold to as many people as possible and make as much money as possible. It’s important that you research your game idea to make sure that you’re not making a game that’s already been done. To get into the mind of a game developer who’s made their own games or who has helped make the mobile space what it is today, we had to talk to someone who’s a die-hard mobile gamer. Our conversation with Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s legendary senior director, and former general manager of the dedicated game system division of the company sheds light on why Nintendo needs to do more to foster a robust mobile and online game industry.
Sebastian Payne: Nintendo’s dedicated game systems rely on physical cartridges. Why go the working man’s way and invest in a medium or technology that’s inherently outdated, even if it does have its place in today’s market?
Shigeru Miyamoto: The truth is that the consumer electronics industry has changed really rapidly in these last 20 years so I think it’s kind of natural that dedicated game systems would be old-fashioned by now. I think consumers today demand convenience, which is in many ways related to what we’re seeing in other parts of the world, with people wanting to be able to enjoy themselves even when they’re away from home. So I think it’s really natural that their [hardware] hardware like dedicated game systems wouldn’t fulfill that need — because the technology these days has grown to be quite advanced.
SE: There are many high-profile mobile games now, from well-known giants like Supercell and King to up-and-comers like POKEMON GO. How will the industry change in the next five to seven years?
SM: I think the industry will continue to change as we go along in the future, and I think the market has become quite broad, particularly in the U.S.
4. Make your game accessible on as many devices as possible
If you’re making a mobile game, it is very important that your game is accessible on as many devices as possible, especially if you plan to monetize your application. If you’re making a desktop game, then you’ll still want to make sure it runs smoothly on older devices.
I have been trying to run a business for the past two years and I’ve spent way too much money on licenses for Android and server costs. Due to the sheer amount of effort I’ve put into developing the mobile version of my game — which everyone will have to compete with in the future — I was dreading the financial reality of it all. But eventually, the reality of maintaining a business with mobile games came to me. The reality is that despite the increasing popularity of the mobile market — with the prevalence of the flip phone giving consumers mobile gaming time that they may not have otherwise — it’s still not made up for the lost revenue that consumers have had from the closed-off world of the dedicated gaming consoles. CMG has grown quite a large and exciting userbase over the years, but many of these gamers technically still play on the older, console-like model as their main modes of entertainment.
Has mobile gaming in any way replaced the need for dedicated console gaming? No. Has mobile gaming crossed the line into becoming a replacement for console-like gaming? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean that catering to mobile gaming doesn’t have its edge. The one thing it does mean is that you have to be prepared to do a little adaptation to accommodate for the platforms of the future.
The future of gaming (indeed, of any similar market that will come into existence in the near future) is cloud-based. Given the number of people with the ability and interest to download games are almost certain to increase over the next decade, this presents yet another set of problems for serious mobile game developers and artists.
5. Engage with your players to improve the experience over time and keep them coming back for more
So how do you create a great player experience? Well, it all starts with the player. You need to know what they want, what their pain points are, what their expectations are, and what they’ll pay for. Most importantly, you need to understand what’s important to them.
To help you do just that, we asked Pro Gamers winners Alex Livesey, Erica McGillivray, Kia ceremonies, Patrick Stox, and Sly Cooper to share some of the tips they use to create the best experience possible for their pro gamers, specifically with regards to mobile. We actually had two winners, Alex Livesey and Erica McGillivray, contribute for this category. Alex lives on with his fiancé, who is also a game playtesterOne of Erica’s winning games was: My Beauty Within a Forsaken Kingdom. The game has been categorized as a love letter in the game genres of mobile gaming. It’s a game for one- and two players and offers a different experience every time. Reinforcement of emotion and planning.
When designing any type of mobile game, the first step in improving performance is making the game intuitive and fun. The first thing you should focus on is the game board and the little pieces that represent the players. Though the board itself can be made of any shape, it is apparent that a lot of thought goes into choosing the right board size. When you have so many different options, it’s important that the board layout matches your favorite play style. We love and play 21st-century games of Mafia — the rules are simple, the objectives are simple, and the board layout looks a little bit like the strip malls you see post-apocalypse. Keep in mind that the end goal is for everyone to play to their strengths. Breaking any of the rules of the game will get you kicked out, or your game will most likely never happen at all.