Power Up: How Mobile Games Succeed

Power Up: How Mobile Games Succeed

We’re a nation of switched-on tech users, always looking for the next big thrill to kill time on the work commute and weeknights on the sofa. In previous decades, portable gaming was contained in the form of Tamagotchis, Gameboys and the ill-fated PSP. Yet as smartphones have become a cornerstone of our culture, mobile games have exploded in popularity like never before.

The Code Guy relishes the creative challenge of designing one of these digital wonders. There are a few basic points that dictate their success, so we thought we’d give you a sneak peek as to what they are…

Simple play systems

There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of mobile games. For the majority of arcade-style titles – we’re thinking Angry Birds, Super Mario Brothers and their side-scrolling ilk – the gameplay is fairly straightforward: run along this platform, shoot this laser beam, dodge an oncoming monster etc.

This is a proven strategy for addictive mobile games that require very little thought to master; users can just pick up and go, with gameplay that becomes harder with each new level.

Multiple-choice narrative

Mobile games, contrary to their console brethren, don’t have to rely on painterly graphics or ultra-realistic avatars to become a hit. A portion of amazing titles have been able to court a wide audience thanks to their narrative intuition – that is, bringing things all the way back to the earliest, text-based adventures, where players craft their own story as they go with simple decision-making.

We can look to games such as A Dark Room as an emblem of a strong narrative hook. In this 2014 release, the player sees a few scattered words – ‘The fire is dead. The room is cold. Awake.’ – imaginatively lighting up a pitch-black environment, beginning a mystery they’ll uncover at their own pace. It reminds us that empowerment is at the crux of the gaming experience.


So-called ‘sandbox’ games, like the Grand Theft Auto series, have firmly entrenched our penchant for side missions alongside the main quest. As such, players expect to tackle objectives in whatever order they like within an open world. There may be a main story, but it may not be the most enjoyable aspect to pursue, depending on the user’s tastes.

Sophisticated mobile games like GTA: San Andreas and Galaxy On Fire represent the widest range of optional play elements on the market. Users tackle whatever they want, flitting between activities on a whim. Whilst simpler games don’t have to be this dizzyingly layered and nuanced, they teach us that no single aspect of the play experience should take precedent at any one time.

The above is just a sliver of the full scope of mobile gaming; software developers can manipulate the form like putty, expressing ideas in unique ways that inspire and engage users. If you’ve ever considered unleashing a game onto the app stores, contact The Code Guy for your ideal development partner. We’ll push all the buttons for your concept to take off…

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