Four Common Mobile Game Design Sins and How to Avoid Them

Simon Davis
Oct 15 · 3 min read

Context

Mobile games are an inherently different medium to desktop or console games. The nature of how these games are played (on the go, in short bursts, and perhaps even while the user is doing other things) means that they have their own considerations.

As a founder of a mobile games studio, I play a lot of mobile games. I regularly see four “sins”, which are avoidable yet irritating for players. All of these will harm your retention and engagement, making your game less likely to succeed. If players really, really, like your game, they will usually forgive you one of these, but two or more and it’s going to really hurt your game.

The consequence of one too many unskippable cutscenes…

The 4 Sins

  1. Unskippable cut scenes: I get that you think your story is important, but players on the go only have a finite amount of time. If you force players who are pressed for time to sit through your cutscenes, they will close the app and play something else. This is especially bad if you force the player to view the cutscene every time they retry a level — don’t do this! Tip: If the story is really important then provide players with a way to rewatch previous cutscenes.
  2. Cutting the user’s audio: Many people like to listen to music or podcasts on their phone while they play. Make sure your app can have the in-game audio turned down/off in the Settings, and that it doesn’t cut whatever is playing whenever the game is active. For me this is usually a dealbreaker, if I can’t listen to my podcasts when I’m playing a game on the go, then I’ll play something else. The only exceptions are music and rhythm action games. Tip for iPhone + Apple Watch users: if you have an Apple Watch you can turn your audio back on by unpausing it via “Now Playing” from your watch.
  3. Placing buttons on or very close to the Home bar: Don’t do this. There’s nothing more annoying than accidentally suspending a game because a dev placed buttons right at the bottom of the screen.
  4. Not allowing players to pause single-player games(or worse still, having a hidden pause button which only activates if the user blindly presses the top-right corner of the screen): Unless your game is turn-based, mobile gamers expect to be able to pause single-player games. Players don’t appreciate failing a level because they had to change trains and you didn’t give them a pause button (or worse still, hid it).

Closing

Design with the medium in mind. Think about where the player might be while they’re playing, what else they might be doing, and what might be going on around them. Gaming is a very tough business, give yourself the best chance of success by avoiding these common mistakes.

Mighty Bear Games

Mighty Bear is a venture-backed studio dedicated to making games which combine the depth of desktop with the accessibility of mobile.

Simon Davis

Written by

Co-Founder and CEO at Mighty Bear Games

Mighty Bear Games

Mighty Bear is a venture-backed studio dedicated to making games which combine the depth of desktop with the accessibility of mobile.

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