Today, there is an unanswered question many mobile gaming developers are struggling to answer.
What makes a successful game?
When trying to feed the equation for a successful game, many developers and analysts simply accept the disparity between success and failure. We see, therefore it is – some games are just more popular than others and you don’t know what works until you test it.
In the mobile gaming business, success is often determined by the game’s development cost or the investment in its design. When it comes to comparing games of the same design, it’s not always clear why some games out perform others. In this article, I will discuss the critical role game design plays in the equation for success.
Mobile Can Be a Limiting Platform
When it comes to gaming, the mobile platform can be limiting. The screen is small and acts as your one button controller. But, screen size isn’t the only challenge, many mobile game players keep their phones on silent, making it difficult to convey achieved milestones or express moments of danger with use of eerie music. These, along with other limitations, can result in a more narrow approach when designing an engaging game.
Engagement and Retention is the Measurement of Success
While accessibility of the mobile platform has led to an influx of games, it’s also made it nearly impossible to market and differentiate one game from the next. However, to help counter balance what some might say is the educated guessing game of the business, we can look to engagement and retention as the key factor to a successful game.
Engagement is a fairly vague term and lacks the clear analytics that statisticians use when analyzing data, but it’s ultimately what game developers seek – engagement and retention. Highly engaged players will play more often and for longer, and will most likely tell their friends about the game, which ultimately can result in more downloads.
When it comes to engagement, it is important to understand just how engaged a player is in the moment, but for ultimate success, it is equally as important is to know why.
The Left Brain + Right Brain = Engagement and Retention
To create a successful mobile game, you can’t take the easy route and add in more explosions and carnage to beat the competition. While that might have worked on console and PC games, we can’t forget that mobile has a smaller screen and audio limitations. Developers need to take these limitations into consideration before designing a game. My belief is that, through the proper balance of the left brain (logic and reason) and the right brain (creativity), engagement and retention can flourish.
Candy Crush succeeded where many others have failed, not because of special effects or exciting music, but due to the exceptional balance between the creative (the storyline at the end of each chapter for example) elements in the game –and the core game mechanics (increase in challenges) that keeps this simple puzzle game exiting level after level.
Minecraft is another great example of a game that has found a balance between pure technology and creativity to create a highly engaging game and increase player retention. Players lose themselves in this infinite world of blocks and possibility. There is something truly magical about the Minecraft experience that captures and mesmerizes like nothing before. This is a game of pure imagination and creativity, seamlessly enabled through the engineering that lies beneath its pixelated shell.
From my experience, it’s essential to find a balance of left and right brain elements for any game you are working on in order to achieve success. Understanding what makes for better quality engagement and high player retention is not a finite equation. As a developer, the important thing is to try it, refine it, and try it again. There will always be some key nugget of learning to take away from each game you create.