Mobile games have been pretty big for a while, and they’ve got a variety of unique challenges and benefits. I’ve been playing a lot of them lately, so I figured I’d talk about a couple of mistakes that have been jumping out at me lately. I’d like to use Shin Megami Tensei and Hay Day as examples. These are not bad games. In fact, they’re excellent examples of their respective genres. They just use some questionable control decisions.
Don’t Use Fake Gamepads
If you’re making a control scheme for a mobile game, please don’t do that thing where you superimpose a fake gamepad over the screen. Design your controls for the device your players are actually using.
A gamepad control scheme works for actual gamepads because the players can actually feel the edges of the buttons. Until apps are able to cause parts of phone screens to push outward to create tactile feedback (and I’m guessing we’ll see this within 15 years), you’re just going to remind people that a gamepad would be a much better input device for the game.
Design Around Fingers
A more widespread problem is that fingers are going to be covering large parts of the screen, and you need to design around that. Take, for example, Hay Day. It’s doing really well for itself. It’s currently the eighth highest grossing app in iTunes. However, it’s got a bit of a problem when it comes to designing around fingers.
Let’s say you want to bake a loaf of bread. To start, just tap the bakery. This brings up a little radial menu of items you can bake. If you hold your finger over the loaf of bread, you can see how many ingredients it needs and how many ingredients you have. To actually make the bread, you need to drag the icon over to the queue along the bottom.
Here’s what the screen looks like:
It doesn’t look so bad, right? Hold on and think about this for a moment. You’re probably gripping the left and right sides of your phone. Those baked goods icons are in the center, so you can’t comfortably reach them with your thumb. Your hands shift positions a little. Let’s assume you’re right-handed. Your left hand supports the phone, and your right hand positions itself to use your index finger to touch the icon.
The ingredients will only be displayed for as long as your finger is on the bread icon. Unfortunately, as long as your finger is on the bread icon, it’s also going to be over the numbers! If you want to actually see the numbers, you need to shift your head or your phone around to get a different viewing angle. This doesn’t sound like much, it does pull them out of the game a little, and over time, the little things add up.
A good user interface is unobtrusive. The player’s finger is now a part of the user interface. The finger should never be positioned in a way that blocks whatever the player is trying to look at. Mobile match-3 games ask you to put your finger over the screen all the time, as do plenty of other mobile games, but this never really takes you out of the experience.