UX Nuggets Thoughts and advice on usability and user experience

5 Tips for Improving Hardcore Gaming on Mobile Devices

May 9, 2013 |  Chase Clow

With mobile technology taking over many aspects of our lives, a shift to mobile is also occurring in the video game industry. While consoles have traditionally been king, mobile devices are quickly becoming the go-to platform for gamers.

Mobile games have many benefits (from price to convenience), but have typically been reserved for the casual gamer. Hardcore gamers (i.e., people who routinely play complex games for extended periods of time), on the other hand, tend to prefer consoles due to their graphical power and dedicated controllers.

That is all changing, however, thanks to some big-name console-quality games, such as the Infinity Blade and Chaos Ring series, targeted at hardcore gamers. These games offer graphics and gameplay on par with current generation game consoles, all at a fraction of the cost.

While dedicated consoles still have the advantage when it comes to controllers, some phone manufacturers have started to offer add-on controllers to their phones. The shift to hardcore mobile games is expected to continue in the future, with more and more games coming out that appeal to this market.

However, this shift is not without its roadblocks.

Mainly, how can one effectively translate a console-level user experience to a mobile device? Compared to more set-top devices, phones and tablets have different usability advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered when answering this question.

How can we leverage the advantages of portable technology? How can we avoid many of the pitfalls experienced in the past? Here are five tips for improving hardcore gaming on mobile phones and tablets that address these challenges:

1)      Take advantage of the always-on, connected, nature of mobile devices. As evidenced by the success of online first-person shooters (FPS) and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGS), hardcore gamers expect an online multiplayer component to their games. Fortunately, due to their inherent nature, mobile devices have the potential to excel at this more so than dedicated consoles. Mobile devices make it very easy to access social media sites, chat with friends, and browse the Web. Game developers should tap into these features to enhance the multiplayer components of portable games.

2)      Optimize the user interface for small screens. Less screen real-estate means that gaming user interface conventions must be modified. Just like how many websites have a mobile and a desktop version, games need to have one user interface for the big screen and one for the small.

Game developers can benefit from mobile application design best practices, such as using large buttons and visual media, and making sure key content is easily accessible. Hardcore games tend to have complex user interfaces, so research should be conducted to determine what functions are imperative and which ones are not.   

3)      Incorporate wearable technology. From the Pebble smartwatch to Google Glass, wearable technology is all the rage. Wearable technology lets users connect their smartphone to it to allow for easier access to important functions, such as calendars, email, texts, and phone calls. The wearable tech almost acts as a second screen to one’s phone. Game developers should start incorporating this exciting functionality into their games. For example, they could use a smartwatch to help users manage their game inventory, or overlay a portion of the user interface on the smartglasses to make hands-free manipulation possible.

4)      Allow for user game modifications. One of the benefits of hardcore gaming on a PC is the presence of user modifications to games (i.e., mods). Gamers can make modifications to the graphics, gameplay, or story, which can drastically change how players interact with the game.   Whole communities have been created around this concept, greatly increasing the lifespan of games. Mobile game developers should make a conscious effort to present tools to the gaming community that allow for relatively quick and easy modifications of their games.

5)      Make use of speech recognition. Since input with one’s fingers is less convenient on mobile devices as compared to consoles, it is important to utilize other input options. Fortunately, most smartphones and tablets have a built-in microphone that can be used for voice commands, à la Siri. Game makers should focus attention on incorporating speech recognition in their games as a method of increasing the user control that has been lost with the advent of mobile gaming. Speech can be used to manipulate in-game menus or to allow for easy communication between two players online.   

During the current shift to hardcore games on mobile devices, game makers need to be cognizant of the benefits and limitations of cell phones and tablets. By taking advantage of the features and functionality of mobile devices, developers can emulate popular functions of console and PC games, and even add new ones that enhance the gaming experience. User experience research and testing will aid in this process and help ensure the success of hardcore games on mobile devices in the future. 

Chase Clow is a UX Specialist, User Experience at GfK with a strong background in social science research and a passion for technology. To reach Chase directly, email chase.clow@gfk.com.  

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