How to design games for mobile devices

Rather than simply changing our web-browsing/playing habits, mobile technologies change the way how we are living.

Their growth is fast and persistent and it attracts numerous investors who grant people access to improved mobile platforms.

Designing mobile apps with perfected and easily navigated UX is a very common discussion topic among designers. However, you’ll find only few of them who highlight the importance of designing mobile games and creating a perfect mobile game-player experience.

Mobile games designers make no difference between utility and appearance and are therefore the masters of perfected interface and ideal mobile experience.

This is the reason why mobile games design is a standard benchmark for the estimation of interface effects on user experience.

Introduction to Playability and Playing Experience

Image source: Filip Slováček

That’s right — playability translates to game usability.

A game is playable to the extent in which customers find it funny and engaging, especially in terms of interaction types, plot and strategy. The playability of a certain game is the genuine indicator of its quality.

Image source: Owen Davey

The same way the 10 Heuristics were developed to serve as guidelines for usability, there is a proper kit of tools for mobile games design which can serve to evaluate the playability of games.

We are talking about a guidelines package on bettering game design and gaming in general.

Excellent games rely on excellent design

Image source: disbag

The secret of excellent game design is to establish a balance between flawless functionality and entertaining visual appearances.

Think about outstanding games: they all have a recognizable style, characterized with simplicity, elegance and perfected interface. Furthermore, they employ rich UX design which keeps players completely focused on the game.

The two things every successful game should have


Image source: Ludmila Shevchenko

In the world of computer programs and apps, lack of usability doesn’t have to lead to immediate rejection.

When it comes to games, however, this can be a shortcut to complete failure. Having in mind that games are played for pastime and entertainment, we cannot expect designers to work too hard and to make miracles to prevent this failure.

Statistically, games fail because they are not challenging enough and they are either too difficult or too easy to use. The secret of an ideal game is that the design is simple enough for beginners to learn how to move the characters and to switch levels, but complicated enough for experienced players who enjoy testing their playing abilities.


Image source: Nimasha Perera

All the way from 64-bit gaming consoles to modern MMORPG games played online, appearances and attractiveness exercised a decisive role for enhancing players’ immersion.

Gamers appreciate the trilling uncertainty and the chance you are giving them to become part of the visual experience and to be able to control it. The more you invest in this illusion, the more time your customers will spend playing (and the more successful your game will be).

Designing mobile games — The job

Image source: Maryanne Nguyen

Being a mobile games designer is not about creating a game. It is about creating an involving playing experience. Therefore, every designer should try hard to ensure his game is:

  • Demanding. Players want a challenging game that requires thinking.
  • Inspective. Players should always feel there are more possibilities to be discovered.
  • Ascendable. Professional gamers are looking for something more than fun-they want to improve their skills.
  • Exciting. The game has to offer head-spinning spectacles which can captivate players’ full attention. It is the best tactic to secure excellent feedback.
  • Error-Inviting. The game has to allow players to make mistakes and to learn from them.

Mobile games design is a complicated procedure of uniting 4 crucial elements in a single product. Those elements are:

  • the concept of the game,
  • the way how the game is played,
  • the visual appeal,
  • the interaction control.

All of these elements are subconsciously perceived while playing a particular game.

The main features of outstanding mobile games

Image source: Alex Sotnikov

To start with, games should be learnable. Users who play games on their smartphones don’t have unlimited time for learning how to play them.

Furthermore, they need that time to enjoy the game and to master their results, as they do with console games. It is of crucial importance for the designer to present an understandable game or to offer a free trial version revealing the attractiveness of the final product.

Assuming the player has no trouble understanding what it is about, he will quickly switch from trial to full experience and price will make almost no difference to him.

Image source: Keiran Flanigan

In this aspect, I will mention the importance of keeping your control-set as simple as possible. You certainly don’t want your players to lose enthusiasm and tolerance because there are too many controls to remember. Learn from iPhone’s total hits they employ the most basic gaming controls and they are absolutely successful. This was not a game of chance!

It is important to remember that psychophysics (the specific relationship of stimulus and sensation) is an utmost criterion for the success of every game.

Player experience unites all of the impressions and emotions that were inspired by the game. It encompasses every segment of the interaction between a player and a game, all the way from downloading it to removing it forever.

UX Challenges through the prism of Mobile Games

Firstly, we need to be clear with the fact that mobile games are different than console or computer games. In order to elaborate on user experience, we need to explain the three major differences between them:

The size of the screen

Image source: Tubik Studio

Design is obviously affected by mobile devices’ screens, which appear incredibly small compared to the ones used for PC and console games.


Mobile games designers have to work hard to ensure ergonomic user interface. It is because they are focusing on games which can be played while the user is holding the entire device in hands. Basically, he has absolute power over the screen and the controls.

The touch-screen controls

Image source: Catherine Irma Elita

Playing on a touch screen device may look simple to players, but it is very challenging for those designing the game.

They are experiencing a lot of difficulties to provide the expected playing experience (the one we are used to from PC and console devices) because complexity is growing and feedback is decreasing.

The future of designing for mobile designers

Image source: Deividas Graužinis

Contemporary technologies and trends, such as 3D computing, the Internet of Everything, virtually applied real business and mobilization of devices will boost design importance in our everyday life.

The importance of UX design will become more and more relevant for every activity.

The reason will be the increasing ‘intimacy’ between a player and his game — a wholly new level of personal customization, characterized by the raising intuitiveness of user interface and various intermediaries that enable innovation and modification.

Image source: Tom Arends

From where we stand now, users are the ones who need to adapt and settle their personal inclinations with the options of programs cut off for universal application. In order to be prepared, UX design needs to implement the strategies of successful games and to customize a highly individualized experience for the wide masses.

Experienced designers say that the evolution of technology can never be accurately predicted, because of the impossibility to foresee all of the potential usage deviations outside the original product.

Translated in enthusiastic terms, it means that designing mobile games is rapidly sailing towards the undiscovered ‘wonderland’, where everything is possible and there are no limits. In fact, we can all sit back, relax and observe the games of the future unwrapping themselves.

Originally published at

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.