I initially published this post in my personal blog Quarterview.com. Check it out to learn more mobile gaming design techniques, analysis, and industry opinions.
One of the most difficult problems in designing any game is how to address complexity in the game design.
For mobile gaming in particular, this is a difficult problem as the design paradigms of successful complexity models have largely been figured out on other platforms (e.g., social, console, PC, and even game focused handheld) but not quite yet on mobile (if we define mobile to be specific to mobile phones at least). The newness of the phone platform makes this an especially challenging problem and one in which we've seen many industry mistakes occur time and time again (including from yours truly).
How difficult can it be to design complexity for what amounts to a smaller screen and limited controls?
In fact, very difficult.
For mobile games, I think of complexity as broken down into the following primary components:
If we think of some of the most successful games on mobile phones today we have seen an emerging pattern of simplicity trump complexity time and time again.
Successful Complexity Patterns in Mobile Games:
On the other side, we have seen complex designs fail to resonate with users time and time again.
My point is that you should think more critically of your game design with respect to complexity. Further, two sets of recommendations based on this:
#1. Complexity Framework:
Understand what your key game design objectives are (or focus specifically on what your game's +1 design is) and how you can achieve those objectives with the minimal amount of complexity.
Design Objectives vs. Complexity:
Further, it's always helpful to review your application and check each category of complexity to think through whether you can additionally simplify or minimize.
#2. Target Complexity by Platform:
Make sure that the complexity design in your game is appropriate for the device the game will be launched on.
As I showed in the Successful Complexity Patterns in Mobile Games table above, for mobile we are seeing very simple designs achieve critical success. Further, we see complexity design patterns too often shoot too high for mobile games. Again, sounding the broken record: complexity needs to be specifically designed for each platform.
Ok, I think you probably get the idea now but let's take a couple of very simple examples to illustrate how we would use this in practice.
Simple Example #1: Candy Crush Saga
Let's think about how the original designers may have thought about the game design:
In the interest of time, I won't break down each design objective and complexity impact... but you can see in the game how they implemented each design objective and that overall they obviously did great:
Simple Example #2: Clash of Clans
In this case, the whole point was to make a game just like Backyard Monsters and Edgeworld but make it accessible to users on mobile devices and to broaden the genre's appeal. This is an example where the whole point is to think in terms of complexity reduction. Supercell here also obviously did a great job and across all complexity categories were able to simplify UI, user flows, gameplay, etc.
Let's just take one specific example of just the HUD UI. Notice:
Clash of Clans:
So in thinking about your game design do keep complexity in mind.
Further, think carefully about specific mechanics e.g., turn-based combat vs. single turn automated, amount of micro vs. macro, full control scheme vs. simple controls, lengthy story vs. quick story context, number of game resources, HUD elements, etc. etc.
Each of these should vary by platform in the general case.