Scott Rigby and Troy Skinner of Immersyve opened GDC's†Mobile and Tablet Summit on Monday†with a presentation entitled "Rituals of mobile gaming: Understanding the true building blocks of consumer value". Rigby and Skinner’s argument rests on the idea that players satisfy different needs with their various gaming experiences. To wit, mobile games are gap-fillers: players use them to occupy themselves during particular day-parts or life events, or when they need a distraction from a dull moment. If a player can't easily fit a mobile game into her life, then she probably won't engage with it in the first place.
Rigby and Skinner framed their discussion by contrasting console play with mobile play. It can be tempting, they said, to think of mobile devices as "little consoles", but this is a mistake. Players use these two platforms in very different ways based on day-part, needs, and motivations. Console games typically require intense concentration over a sustained period of uninterrupted playtime (usually in the evening), and in return they meet a player's need for a deep, immersive play experience. In contrast, players use mobile games when they find themselves with a few minutes to spare between (or sometimes during) tasks, often during the day. In return, these games satisfy players’ need for a quick intellectual challenge or a brief entertainment experience.
So what should you think about as you design your mobile game? Rigby and Skinner argue that you need to keep three factors in mind: your game's intensity, its immediacy, and its “disruptability”.
On intensity: An intense game requires more focus and concentration, but there are many times during the day where players simply don't have much focus and concentration to give to a game. If engaging with a game requires more from the player than she wants to put into it, she simply won't play it. A successful mobile game should use intensity only sparingly (or allow the player to adjust it some way) so that it fits this need.
On immediacy: You want the game to be at the front of the players' mind, but that can't happen if playing a session takes a long time. The reason is that long play-sessions reduce the frequency of play. Imagine a person is in line at the bank, and she knows she'll be in line for about 3 minutes. She can choose between two games to play in the meantime: One that takes two minutes per session, and another that takes five minutes per session. Which game will she play? The former, of course. The game with the session that fit into her life now occupies more of her mental space; it's the one that she's thinking about between sessions. Maintaining the immediacy of your game with a player is all about ensuring that a session takes no longer than the time that she has to play it. This need not mean that your game always takes just 30 seconds to play. Rather, it means that some parts of your game should be playable in a very short period of time.
On disruptability: We get interrupted. Our boss asks us a question on the conference call. Our kid falls and skins her knee. Traffic stops and starts. To fill the time we have, we need games that can be disrupted without harming the play experience. Disruptability is all about a game session’s likelihood of surviving real-life’s emergencies, both big and small.† If your game can’t provide for that need, a player will simply pick another game that can.
In all, a game which allows for low-intensity play, which allows for short play sessions, and which can easily be put down and picked back up can help players increase the "satisfaction density" of their lives. It lets them fit gaming into the spare moments of their day. Rigby and Skinner point out, however, that the space that games occupy in our lives changes over the course of a day or a week. At lunch, a player might be by herself for 30 minutes, and she may want to engage in some very intense play during that time. During a conference call, a player will be interrupted and she will need to be able to be aware of, if not deeply attentive to, who's talking and what they're saying. At night, a player might have 25 minutes to play just before she goes to sleep, but she may not want to have an intense experience at that time. Good mobile design allows players to fit the game into all different parts and phases of their daily lives.
How does this relate to monetization? I put this question to Rigby and Skinner. They believe that meeting players' daily needs is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Games also need to provide players with longer term goals to give motivation for short-term play. They intend to cover this in more detail in their second talk - "The Importance of Player Autonomy: Motivating Sustained Engagement through Volition and Choice" - on Wednesday at 3:30.†