5 Criteria of a Successful Mobile Game
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Here at in4ray each new mobile game development starts from market research and competitors comparative analysis. Usually this exercise is intensive and time-consuming. At the very beginning, poorly structured report that was result of such research, didn’t allow us to make valid decisions. Lack of logical criteria and unified methodology were main bottlenecks to make audit process more consistent.
Mobile Game Audit Framework
That’s why I’ve decided collect and categorize such criteria based on proven best video game practices to easily compare different mobile games and make valid decisions. Today I’d like to share with you concept of mobile game audit framework that you can use to assess competitors or your own mobile games. The picture below indicates major elements of the framework:
Game Type – used to organize games based on gameplay interaction and set of challenges . Casual and social games are by far the most popular. Next in line are games like Word, Puzzle and Match 3.
Skills and Core Layers – locating of game along two spectrums based on the fundamental mechanics of your game and what it “teaches” to players . The spectrums are:
- Sensomotoric – Cognitive (doing things fast vs. doing things slowly)
- Single-dimensional – Multi-dimensional (one core layer vs. many core layers)
Target Audience – locating game types by age and gender . From left to right, chart below shows what percent of the game audience is female, with the far right equaling 100% female. The opposite is true for males. From bottom to top, it shows the average age of the game type’s user base, between 20 to 50 years old.
Activity Statement and Meaningful Skills – a simple sentence that describes a challenge by stating both the objective of a challenge and the meaningful skills that the player must use to obtain his objective . For example, a major challenge of Two Dots game could be described in an Activity Statement as: “I want the player to connect square of dots, in order to clear our dots of that color from the board”. In this case “connect square” is the meaningful skill and “dots” is the objective.
Core Loop – a set of actions (the player doing over and over) that determine how the primary game flows [5, 6]. Here is example: “Kill Monsters -> Win Gold -> Buy stuff”.
Compulsion Loop – a habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain. . Here is example (from Candy Crush Saga): “Play (full energy) -> Match Candies -> Random reward (on the last turn, missing candies of required color appear on the board what allow player complete mission) -> Complete Mission -> Wait (recharge energy)”.
Dynamic Gameplay Difficulty Progression – the process of automatically changing parameters, scenarios, and behaviors in a video game in real-time, based on the player’s ability, in order to avoid them becoming bored (if the game is too easy) or frustrated (if it is too hard) [8, 9].
Storyline/Plot – refers to the sequence of events that represent game background and provide game context for player. For example, in Angry Birds game you are the birds and the pigs stole your eggs, so you get revenge on the pigs by breaking all their buildings and all the stuff they built out of glass and wood and stones.
Hedonic Adaptation – is human’s tendency  to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite recent positive (or negative) events or life changes. Lives system is one of possible implementation of this theory. For example with Two Dots and other games that depend on a “lives” system, taking a break from the game actually makes you want to play it more. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to limit how much you can play in a day, this actually creates a habit of checking your lives and playing the game daily…which makes it nearly impossible to stop playing .
Goal-oriented Gameplay – gives players solid attainable goals structured in format of levels, missions, challenges. There are two types of such gameplays, namely nonlinear and linear. Nonlinear gameplay presents players with challenges that can be completed in a number of different sequences. Each player sees only some of the challenges possible, and the same challenges may be played in a different order. Conversely, a video game with linear gameplay will confront a player with a fixed sequence of challenges: every player sees every challenge and sees them in the same order . Here is example of challenges in Run Bird Run game.
Progression – pattern of advance and the act of movement towards the ultimate goal (winning the game) that are essential to an enjoyable experience for the player. It is very important to visualize game progression through levels map, list of missions, progress bar, etc . Here is example of levels map in Two Dots game.
Easy to Learn and Play – gives player simple and intuitive learning curve that transparently transforms into game experience .
Refers to marketing techniques  that use pre-existing social networking services and other technologies to try to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales or downloads) through self-replicating viral processes. There are couple of viral techniques:
- Share your score via social media
- Leaderboard, Achievements and Challenges using Apple Game Center and/or Google Play Game services
- Invite friends via social network
- Compete with your friends
Here is example of Facebook friends progression on levels map in Two Dots game:
The process  by which a video game product returns money for those involved in its creation or copyright ownership. Methods of monetization may vary between games, with noticeable differences in methodology occurring between games of different genres and platforms. The are couple of monetization techniques:
- No Ads (ability to disable in-game ads for symbolic price)
- In-app goods or currency
Here is example of shop in Angry Birds Epic game:
Thank you for taking a peek on mobile game audit framework. Further, by gathering new information in the field of mobile games design, I’m going to update and extend framework with new criteria. I hope this framework will help you to assess and as a result to better structure your mobile game. Will be glad to hear your feedback. Post your comments below.
And finally, propose take a look on TwoDots Game Audit that was made using described above framework.
- Video game genre
- Know your game’s competitor and target audience, by Joel Julkunen, Head of Game Analysis
- Flurry Insights, by Dan Laughlin, Flurry.
- Evaluating Game Mechanics For Depth, by Mike Stout, Gamasutra
- Mid-Core Success Part 1: Core Loops, by Michail Katkoff
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, by Nir Eyal
- The Compulsion Loop Explained, by Joseph Kim
- Gameplay Design Fundamentals: Gameplay Progression, by Mike Lopez
- Dynamic game difficulty balancing
- Hedonic treadmill
- Why TwoDots is Impossible to Stop Playing, by Splitforce
- Nonlinear gameplay
- Breaking Down Candy Crush’s Formula for Success, by Upsight
- Viral marketing
- Video game monetization
You may also like my other posts:
- Retention and LTV as Core Metrics to Measure Mobile Game Performance
- How to calculate Mobile Game Retention and LTV using Google Analytics
Originally published at measureofluck.com on December 15, 2015.