Mobile Games Bible

by Mikhail Shagin


This memo is dedicated to small indie teams with limited resources and an intention to create new stunning world trend game.

It’s all about game design. Nothing about art, code or sound. I mean, if they suck it may not work.

I’m one of three guys developed iOS game JELLIES! It was our first game development experience. I’d like to share with you everything I learned about designing mobile games.

I tried to compile together all my knowledges and vision of a great mobile game for all. Now our team is already building a new game according to the described principles. It’s our current strategy which I’d like to share with everybody. It wasn’t used in our first game JELLIES!

This strategy is a result of our experience, mistakes and new trends.

Get the full-size PDF here.


Core Gameplay

Start with designing your core gameplay. It’s a heart of your game. Polish it until it becomes absolutely perfect. Test first. Replace your art with squares, game objects with circles. No details at this stage, just a model. Build a foundation which will hold everything.

Small game = Tiny gameplay

When designing a small game design a tiny gameplay. Creating anything great takes a lot of time. Your resource is very limited. Believe me, to complete a self-sufficient game you’ll need to do a lot. The second point is that you don’t really need a multi-feature AAA monster to attract players. People love simple well-designed things that have nothing unwanted.

It’s very hard, don’t be fooled by a word ‘tiny’. Read this blog about Threes gameplay creation process. It was a real test for game designer.

Also watch this video where Asher Vollmer talks about minimalist design.

Turn-based

Realtime games are not the best choice for mobile. Such games could find their audience but it would definitely be a smaller one. We are working on a mass title and that’s a limitation. Turn-based games don’t require speed. They don’t stress players. You could act and wait as long as you want.

No constant attention

Your players must be able to distract at any moment and for any time. Let them easily answer for a phone call, look at the traffic lights. Let your game become their life companion, not life disturber. No realtime multiplayer for sure.

Portrait orientation

Develop games that suit their target platform and terms of use. People hold a phone in one hand. It is so obvious that developers don’t think about it. We didn’t too.

One-handed game

Take a phone in your hand. You’ve got one thumb free. Controls must be designed to play with this one thumb. So these controls are: tap, double/triple/etc. tap, touch-and-hold, touch-and-move, any new kind of single-touch gestures. The choice is not a big one. Keep it in mind because it influences any detail of your core gameplay designing process.

Continuous joy

Give your users a non-stop joy! Your game must be like a slot machine — pull a hand, get fun, pull a hand, get fun. Do a small job, get a small reward. Involve your players in the drug flow. It’s a game, a joy machine!

Illusion of puzzle

Real puzzles are not mass games. Match3 is not a puzzle. 2048 is not a puzzle (excluding well-known corner strategy). You get illusion that your choices mean something but they don’t. Real puzzles where players solve problems are very niche games. Be like a slot machine — easy to play and fun.

No frustrations

Really. No frustrations. If you find any disappointment while playing — destroy it, change everything, rebuild a game from a scratch, do anything you can or stop doing this game. Just don’t leave frustrations, only fun. Hardcore NES-style games are a fun for some audience. Frustration is in core of them, don’t be confused.

Toilet-friendly

Great mobile game should be good for 3–5 min sessions. People call it a Starbucks test. I call it another way.


High-Level Gameplay

By high-level gameplay I mean any kind of players’ long-term aims as well as tools to retain and return them back. Building a monetisation system without a working retention/re-engagement system is madness. Nobody pays in games launched only once.

Game cycles

Designing game cycle is answering the question “How do your players really use the app?”. Why do they open it, what actions do they do, what’s the reason to open it again? A good cycle contains:

  • A reason to open the game. It’s like a regular base event — collect a prize, do some jobs waiting for your action etc.
  • A peace of gameplay
  • Progress in your long-term mission

Here is the example of our JELLIES 2 concept game cycle. This edition of sequel will not see the world. It will help you understand how game cycles could look like.

Coins flow is a useful economy design practice

Easy out. Pleasant in

No frustration when leaving a game for some time. Look at so-called idle games. There is no frustration to come back. Players are rewarded by resources generated while they were away. So, it’s always a pleasure to come back.

Give a value

You must have some value in your game. It is characters in Crossy Road or cards in Hearthstone. The main thing and the meaning of playing. This value must be hard to get and very limited.


Monetisation

So, you’ve got an elegant game with high replay value. If it’s done well, it works and no critical mistakes were made you would definitely get your audience.

Restricting gameplay is ancient shit

Asher Vollmer launched Threes Free. Threes was a paid title before. Asher tried to turn it into f2p with a minimum work. So, now you can’t play after 3 rounds and need to watch ads to unlock the game. I love Threes so much, but why did Asher chose this B.C. free-to-play solution? Look, he had so bad results. It totally failed.

Grind or pay

It’s universal monetisation solution. All farms use it, Hearthstone uses it, Crossy Road uses it, any good modern F2P game uses it. Play more or pay. Pay and get a result right now. I don’t know another good working freemium monetisation strategy.

Pay means pay with real money or watch ads. It doesn’t matter how. Somebody has time, somebody has money. Hipster Whale:

We aimed to design something that would be appealing to everyone, rather than a system that only a small percentage would contribute to

Make your free game feel like a paid one. Free doesn’t mean ugly, filled with ads and spam. Matt Hall, Crossy Road co-creator:

Crossy Road, I think, feels a lot like a premium game, in a weird way

Innovate with free-to-play

See what Crossy Road guys say. They invented new successful f2p model with unlock-able characters and lottery. It was already copied hundreds of times!

F2P is a standard of our time. It’s absolutely unexplored. It has a huge potential for new monetisation models. F2P is so cool for viral promotion and it’s no frustration to pay for something unknown. F2P is the best choice now. Use it and innovate, don’t just copy.


Promotion

Build games people love. Build games stores love and become featured. Don’t buy ads, most likely your ARPU would be less than ad costs. Better buy influencers if you need in some cases. Understand people. Write people. Answer people.

Viral

Oh, again this fashionable marketing word. I’ll try to disassemble it. People share for 5 reasons:

  • Emotion (look at my funny death)
  • Celebration (achievements, level up, new result)
  • Competition (challenge friends)
  • Collaboration (I need your help, let’s do something together)
  • Gifting (get 500 free coins from me)

Use this mechanics to make your game viral.

Community

People make communities when they need somebody else for some purpose.

Do you need people for your clan? Are you searching for a clan? Without a clan you’ll die or your game will be boring. You need community for this.

Do you have some items to change, or sell, or you are searching for something to buy? You need community for this.

Integrate any community mechanics.

Children

Viral games are vector-borne diseases. Children are your best disease vectors! They’ll come to school next morning and your virus will spread in a day. Children are mosquitos that like true fun and honest challenge.

We were also inspired by games like Dota 2, where any real money you invest into the game has no impact on the gameplay

That are Hipster Whale’s words about honest challenging gameplay that is so important for smart freemium games.

Localize wisely

Localisation is not only translation. You should understand people from other countries. Use like-minded persons — your fans. You could add localisations one by one. Your fans who love your game could help you with it. They’ll find you by themselves. Look at platforms, their stores. What are their main markets? As for App Store here is a sequence of languages we use in our team:

  1. English
  2. Chinese Simplified, Russian, Portuguese, German, Italian, French, Spanish
  3. Chinese Traditional, Korean, Turkish, Arabic
  4. Others

We could launch them all together using stupid paid translation services like Gengo. Fans will later correct texts and we will launch an update.

China

Chinese market is very important for your growth. Do you have any friends, fans or colleagues from China? Talk with them about games popular in China, about genres, Android stores. Try to really understand their cultural specifics.

JELLIES got very good reviews in China and we got tons of downloads from there. We also got a good friend who translated our game, it’s title and made Chinese logo for us.


Conslusion

Thank you for reading! I hope it was helpful for you. Of course, such type of articles couldn’t replace your own experience. On the other hand it could really help if you have already made a game, faced some problems and you are searching for a new business model.



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