The mobile gaming space is really exciting right now. Anyone notice that AT&T is offering the iPhone 3GS for $0 now? The user base (e.g., TAM) is rapidly growing and there are no dominant players in the space. Major game companies from console and social platforms (e.g., EA, Zynga) are starting to take notice and want a piece of the mobile game action. It seems that almost every other small game company is joining in as well. However, there are major challenges for developing games for mobile devices. The major ones are working with the limitations of a mobile device (e.g., different screen sizes, different OS platforms, less memory, less bandwidth & speed, etc.) and leveraging mobile user interaction for game play (e.g, touch, GPS, etc.).
When I start to play a mobile game, I look for a few things before I decide to quit playing.
- Slow load time – Do I have to wait long for the game to load? when I have a few minutes to play a game, I’m not interested in waiting a minute to kill a minute.
- Boring graphics – Are the animals or people cute and playful? Does the game have a lot of color and is it eye-catching? Visually appealing games are fun to look at.
- No first-time user tutorial – Can I learn how to play the game in less than 30 seconds? Is there a step-by-step tutorial to help me buy my first zoo animal or build my first house? Games need to make sure players know how to play the game from the beginning. I get frustrated when I do not know what to do next and will stop playing instantly. Some say that tutorials will convert users to the next step 90% of the time. Don’t waste your customer acquisition costs.
- No story line & boring goals – Are there cute stories that go along with the different game goals? it’s one thing to say “decorate your zoo with trees” and another thing to say “your zoo visitors like shading on hot days, decorate your zoo with trees”.
- Initial game play with real money – Does the game need real money to keep playing at the beginning? I had this one game experience where I was asked to buy game currency on the first day of playing. This was probably 10 minutes into the game. I wasn’t hooked on the game yet, so I decided to quit playing the game indefinitely. Believe it or not, there are users who will never pay real money to play a game. Games should also consider doing in-game ads (e.g., Angry Birds) or having an offerwall (e.g., Tap Zoo) for other sources of revenue.
For existing game companies looking to port to mobile, be careful not to disappoint users into thinking the same game will be just as good on mobile. For instance, Zynga has CityVille on Facebook and has CityVille Hometown on iOS. Zynga was smart not to use the exact same game title. The iOS version has a different story line from the original CityVille, on the iPad it looks bare for my taste (e.g, has too much open space on the screen), and the games seems to be crashing quite a bit on mobile devices.