Important Notes on Designing iPhone Games

What do I think contributes to the overall success of a game? Below are four important points that I think every developer should consider during the development process.

Of course, any one might not be a good fit for your particular project (especially if your game wouldn’t fall in the realm of “casual”), but as a general rule of thumb, I try to consider each of the following when developing Beebe Games projects.

1. Low Attention Spans

iPhones, iPod touch, and even a number of iPad owners are a different breed of gamers: the kind with absolutely no patience.

Of course, every game—no matter what genre or target audience—should always strive to have the lowest possible load times, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about how many steps it takes to get from point A to point B. When they open the app, can they jump right in and start playing if they wanted? When the round ends, can they start a new one, hassle free?

Those are some things you should consider when creating games for people with low attention spans. It’s no coincidence that the most popular games in the app store have the word “simple” in a large majority of the positive reviews. Simple to learn, simple to play, simple to start playing.

Which leads to my next point…

2. Addictiveness

The most popular games in the app store are one’s that can be considered “addictive”—games that keep their players coming back for more, round after round. Designing for low attention spans helps this area out a lot, but there’s other things to consider as well:

  • How easy is it to learn your game mechanics?

  • Are you providing an easy, but challenging way to increase their score? If the game is too hard to raise the score, the addictiveness factor will go down. That’s not to say your game should be too easy, either (that’ll only give the same effect). You have to test, test, and test some more to hit that perfect balance between easy to play and challenging all at the same time. Take the wildly popular Doodle Jump for example. It’s easy to play, and easy to raise your score, but it’s also easy to make a mistake and fall to your “doom”. As much as possible, ensure the player has the most control over their “game over” (make them feel like it’s their own fault for ending the round and they’ll feel compelled to “Try Again”).

  • If your game is score-based, is there an incentive for beating their previous high score? Can they show off their scores online or on some kind of leaderboard (more on that in point #3), or do they unlock special features that were previously unavailable? Incentive, no matter how big or small—as long as it’s effective—is another major contributor to the overall “addictiveness” of a game.

3. Social Features

I touched on it a moment ago, but I’ll delve into this one a little more. Today’s atmosphere, both online and offline, is extremely social. There’s even plenty of folks who would otherwise be considered “anti-social” chatting away on services like Facebook and Twitter all day long, so it’s understandable that this social culture has bled into the atmosphere of mobile gaming.

With that said, if your game can possibly call for it, you should provide a way for players to take advantage of social elements in your game. For the players who will use social features, this provides

And by social features, I’m not talking about including chat-rooms in your games or forums (though those are fine too). So what exactly am I talking about?

  • Leaderboards. A place where they see their score against others (preferably their friends, with an additional option to see some kind of global ranking). Your game has the potential to become an extremely competitive environment when you get some friends tapping away for a higher score.

  • Social posting. Services like Twitter and Facebook revolve around posting updates to some kind of wall or timeline, so likewise, if they enjoy playing your game they’ll also appreciate being able to share their current achievements within your game (whether it’s the level they achieved, or the score they earned). This also has a double effect: not only does it help provide satisfaction to your current customer, but it’s also a mini-endorsement of your game from someone who’s playing it. The status they’re posting is viewable to all of their friends, and the most interested will be those who haven’t yet bought (or even heard of) your game.

Proof of Concept

Before I developed iPhone games, I didn’t even consider the fact that I might like social gaming. I heard about leaderboards, friend score boards, posting scores on Facebook/Twitter, but none of it appealed to me.

It wasn’t until I found myself playing some games and trying my hardest to beat out some of my family members that I realized how fun it was—many of your game’s players will be in this boat too, so make it EASY (as seamless as possible) for them to be “social” with your game (even if it means simply posting their score to a leaderboard so they can see where they stack up).

When it comes to #2 and #3, free services like OpenFeint take care of a lot of things for you automatically (achievements for incentive and leaderboards for the social aspect of things).

As a side note, Corona allows you to implement OpenFeint into your games with just a few lines of code (Btw, their 50% discount offer ends in a couple of days! Visit the Corona website site for more info).


While the above things are by no means a sure-fire way to make your game a #1 hit (nor will all apply to every type of game you’ll want to make), they can be thought of as useful guidelines that will—at the least—increase your chances of it.

Undoubtedly, it’ll make your game even funner for those who DO download it, and for that reason alone, the points I mentioned are worth looking closely at. After all, it’s the main reason we’re making GAMES right?

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