Opinion: Epic Owl’s Design Journal – PART 5

Editor’s note: The following blog was written by a NordicGameBits.com Opinion-blogger. The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of NordicGameBits or the other writers and authors of the community. 

Hey again! Today we go back to some broad basics for a change. Successful mobile game design involves more components than I’d even care to list, especially in the free-to-play environment which this blog will discuss. While most of your active design work will revolve around tweaking how your game communicates, keeping features consistent and clear, you’ll still want to be sure the underlying design philosophy deserves an entire production’s worth of toil.

In previous blogs we’ve gone through many ideas on how to design that awesome game. This time we’ll have a closer look at what a F2P mobile game’s success ultimately boils down to and how to maximize your chances of getting there. Here’s the thing. It’s all about Retention.

In all its simplicity, retention is a fancy word for describing people coming back to your game. Good retention means you’ve got people playing, talking about the game and eventually paying for the ride. You need this for your success and for the likelihood of your studio affording its next production.

So, let’s get down to it. Retention is determined mainly by two factors:

  • Does your game appeal to the player?
  • Do playing sessions feel meaningful?

Let’s go through these in detail.

1. Game Appeal

Revelation of the year: a good game has appeal. But you already knew that. You wouldn’t be making a bad game, that’d be stupid. While people have different ideas of what makes a game good, they do agree on several matters. The general topics you should be thinking about when trying to design for maximized appeal are:

Communication. Fluid, responsive and intuitive design of the user interface. Players have short attention spans and little patience for walls of text. They fired up your game for enjoyment, not a lecture. Design for intuition. Make your controls and navigation such that they won’t keep people guessing how it works. Every pointless tap or interaction or any interaction that requires pointless precision (such as closing a window only through that tiny X in the corner) is bad. The smaller number of physical interactions you can reduce your operation to, the better it feels.

Preferences. Players enjoy different things and it’s important to recognize and respect this in your design. While your core game is likely designed with a particular focus in mind, try not to utterly dismiss the players falling outside your main audience. Some people like beating other players, others prefer sharing their expertise. All in all you’ll probably connect with most desires if your game offers possibilities to Compete, Learn,Achieve and Share. There are other ways beyond the “share on facebook” methods to achieve this. Use your creativity and make those features support your core game – not dilute it.

Cleanliness. Everyone enjoys a polished product. Sometimes if the game is extremely good and has a devoted fan base, imperfections can be forgiven. But more often this is not the case, and even if it was, you’ll want to make sure your game is as neat and bug-free as humanly possible within a reasonable development time frame.

2. Meaningful Sessions

Players enjoy the feeling of their time being well spent. Two separate factors dictate this impression. Can the player complete a core game loop during one reasonable session, and does completing this loop build towards anything.

When your single core loop is rewarding it’s usually enough to make the game worth firing up now and then. The logic is simple: your game offers easy to chew bites of entertainment leading to some measure of instant gratification. This emotional reward cycle should be tied closely with the soul of your game. Perhaps it’s collecting resources from your town, passing a daily challenge level or, as in our case, claming victory over another player with your superior space ship. Bottom line being if the player enjoyed their break with your game, the single session was meaningful.

Even so, repeating the same loop for no real end purpose grows tiring. This is whereProgression comes in. Progression can take many forms, all of them equally important in dishing out reasons to return to your game. The three most common forms arePower Development, Exploration and Learning. A well designed game can offer progression on all these fronts.

Growing in Power is simple: usually this means something like leveling up, gearing a character or building a base of sorts. This allows you feel the development in your capabilities very concretely from session to the next. Then, Exploration is a form of progression that requires raw content to make possible. This can mean having exciting new areas to discover, technologies to unlock or game lore to immerse in. For a certain personality understanding and knowing the world is a priority. And Learning is just what the word entails: the player getting better at the game with practice. A lot of contemporary games have short learning curves and low mastery ceilings compared to games like Chess or Go. Pushing the ceiling higher yields players a longer (or even infinite) path towards excellence. The feeling of gradually attained mastery over any topic is a very powerful motivator.

To summarize these ideas, your players will come back to the game if they have a good reason to. That reason varies individually, but you’ll have pretty good chances if you make sure your game offers:

  • Great Usability
  • Player Interaction
  • Long Term Goals
  • Constant Progression
  • Enjoyable Single Sessions
  • Vast Content
  • A Polished Experience

And that’s it for retention this time. Stay tuned and stay awesome!

– Risto / CCO of Epic Owl


This article was originally posted in blog.epic-owl.com by Epic Owl‘s CCO/Founder Risto Holmström.

Follow Epic Owl in twitter: @epicowlltd and check out Epic Owl’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/epicowl.


Founder and CEO of Epic Owl Ltd, a Finnish game company that makes mobile games for hard core gamers.

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