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Gaming On­-The-­Go: What Makes A Good Mobile Game?

9 July 2015, 9:00 am EDT By Lauren Keating Tech Times
There are tons of mobile games to download, but only a select few become widely popular and addicting to players. Here's a rundown of what makes a good mobile game.
  ( Rovio Entertainment Ltd. | Ludia Inc. | Bethesda )

Gaming On-The-Go is a weekly series that explores the mobile gaming industry, as well as uncovering the current trends, with hands-on guides for the latest smartphone and tablet games.

Even if you don't want to admit it, we probably all had a period where we couldn't stop playing games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, or Temple Run. As mobile gaming continues to rise, developers continue to create games that take hold of our imagination — but it takes a good mobile game to keep a hold on our attention spans.

I often find myself playing a mobile game, only to get frustrated when I can't clear a level, exit out and start doing a million other things on my phone. But I have noticed that a good mobile game always has me coming right back a few minutes later.

Like many mobile gamers reading this, I play games that range from one-tap ones to others that have the complexity of console games. Is a simple tap of the fingertip enough to keep us coming back for more, or is the easy-to-learn, hard-to-beat approach really what gets us hooked?

What really makes up a good mobile game?

Gameplay

The key ingredient in the formula to a successful game is the gameplay. What makes a game addicting is whether it's fun to play. Put frankly, the game has to be addicting. If I am not enjoying the gameplay experience, I simply delete the game and download a new one.

Now gameplay varies depending on the type of game. Some games take a level approach, where others go for death matches (Jurassic World: The Game), Micromanagement (Fallout Shelter) or the "twitch" approach, which tests reaction times (Dumb Ways To Die 2). But no matter how the gaming expereince is presented, what they all have in common is they are all enjoyable on some level.

(Photo : Metro Trains)

Let's take Angry Birds, for example. The game has the most basic concept: touch the screen to put a bird in a slingshot, and pull back as you aim to take down the pigs. With just one basic motion, anyone could learn how to play, but it takes strategy, skills, and lots of practice to be able to master the higher levels. It's challengingly fun, and just screams addicting gameplay.

Other games like SYBO's Blades of Brim used what was working for its first title, Subway Surfers, and enhanced the endless runner gameplay by adding features while still staying true to the core concept.

Simplicity is key in mobile games, with harder-to-master levels, but the most important feature is that the gameplay never ends. My favorite mobile games are the ones with new rewards and challenges. This allows gamers to keep coming back for more without ever growing bored.

Story

While people want their mobile games to be simple and endless, an interesting story can go a long way. For example, take the team at Zombies, Run!, who set out to make their running app stand out from a laundry list of other such apps by adding a compelling storyline with game-like qualities that keep runners coming back to hear the next chapter.

While some games don't need a strong story to get gamers hooked, others rely on it to get the gamer to care about the characters or the world created. If people weren't interested in Jurassic World's Isla Nublar, would they want to build it? If people didn't care about the Kardashians, would they still be excited to play when a new family member joins Kim Kardashian: Hollywood? Better yet, would the game even as be as sucessful if it were a no-name lead character?

(Photo : Glu Games Inc.)

The point is that a good game gives the player a reason to lauch the app every day. Good storytelling is one way to hook gamers in.

Graphics

Gamers want to fully submerge themselves into a game, and since these games are played on mobile phones, the graphics are extremely important in making the world and characters come to life. Great graphics is one of the ways to enhance the gameplay experience. Some games go for a hyper-realistic approach to mirror their console game versions, while others provide cartoon-like graphics. No matter the style, the important thing here is that the game looks good on a smartphone. It's easier for cartoon-like games to have vibrant colors and fun music, both of which are easy and inviting to the eye.

Genre

Arcade games easily are some of the most addicting mobile games. They work so well thanks to the cute graphics, short levels where gamers can pick up where they left off, and easy gameplay that offers increasing levels of difficulty.

However, strategy games continue to rise in popularity inthe app stores, with games like Clash of Clans becoming one the highest-grossing mobile games of all time. It's easy for players to just pop the game open for a few minutes during free time to expand their village or build up resources for later attacks without having to complete a level.

(Photo : Supercell)

According to the 2014 sales, demographic and usage data report from the Entertainment Software Association, casual/social games are the types of mobile games that are played most often, 38 percent of the time, with the puzzle game genre, which includes trivia and card games as well as board games, coming in second at 28 percent.

The Bottom Line

Mobile games can easily become a hit since they reach more people (practically everyone plays mobile games as opposed to the niche market that plays on console). Plus, it's easier for developers since graphics aren't as nearly as complex as those required for console games.

But what makes mobile gamers become addicted to a particular game depends on whether the game can be played by just about everyone (even those who say they are nongamers), if the gameplay can be picked back up at any time, if new rewards are given to eliminate boredom, and if that game has a strong community of players who challenge each other.

As for this mobile gamer, I am always on the hunt for the latest game that grabs my attention. Only time can tell if I throw in the towel or keep coming back for more.

Photo: Rovio Entertainment Ltd. | Ludia Inc. | Bethesda

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