Guest Post: What makes a mobile game mobile?


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I’ve been playing a lot of mobile games recently. When writing a quick Marketplace review for Dungeon Defenders I noted that it didn’t feel like a “mobile” game. It is a fun game, and its mix of tower defense and Diablo-style hack-and-slash is intriguing. Using Unreal Engine 3 even makes it look like a console game. Unfortunately the 20 minute levels with no way to save also felt too much like a console game, and not something I’d be able to play often on my phone.

One of the biggest factors affecting mobile games is that their users are, well, mobile. The games are targeted to an audience that might not be sitting down for a dedicated multi-hour gaming session. The player could be on a subway, in a doctor’s office, or waiting for their World of Warcraft raid to fill up. The problem isn’t really even that they’re on the move, it’s that they can be interrupted at any moment. The game needs to be able to be paused and saved on the fly. You don’t want to be 15 minutes into a level, have your number called, and lose all your progress.

A mobile game doesn’t have to be some sort of small casual game like Angry Birds or Solitaire. Faster paced, action-based games can work too, as long as the design takes interruptions into account. One option is to have the action come in bite sized chunks. PewPew and its sequel are Geometry Wars-style shooters that feature three minute levels. They are full of frenetic action, but you don’t lose much if you get pulled away from the game.

Another option is to enable auto-saving. Auto-saving is becoming such a standard feature that it seems odd when any program doesn’t have it. It is almost mandatory in a mobile game. Mobile darlings Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja always save your progress and their levels are only a minute a piece. It’s no wonder they’re both at the top of the best seller lists for iOS and Android.

One of my favorite mobile games was Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced for the Game Boy Advanced. FFTA was a full featured and deep game that you could play as little or as long as you wanted. The turn-based strategy meant that I never had to pause it. If anything came up, I just dropped the Game Boy into my pocket. If I had to get going, I knew I could save at any point. It was tailor made with portability in mind.

While it’s nice that game developers want to bring more immersive experiences to portable platforms, they need to pay attention not just to the limitations of the hardware, but the limitations that the users bring with them.

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  • http://www.cutaia.net (cutaia)

    I’ve been quite addicted to a little puzzle game called Meon recently, for those same reasons. At any point in time I can drop it like a hot penny.

    • http://twitter.com/orkchop Orkchop

      What platform is it on? I can’t find it.