Crafting Addiction - Making Mobile

By Stephan Reilly

In a market as oversaturated as the mobile one, it’s extremely difficult to stand out. Given the countless amount of games all mimicking each other, whether it be endless runners or match threes, it’s extremely hard to gain any short term or long term traction. That’s why it’s important to offer an experience that’s addictive. Players have countless options there’s no reason they should stay with your game unless they’re into the gameplay loops - unless they’re addicted. If you can hook a player with an engaging loop you will not only ensure players stay and potentially spend money but you will create evangelists for your game in the form of fans who share their experience with their friends. So before you start designing what you hope will be the next Clash of Clans you should consider the following core tenants that your game should possess.

Short Bursts

Mobile players play an average of 7.5 minutes per play session (Statista). With that knowledge in mind, designers need to craft an experience that can be enjoyed in that short amount of time. Games like Temple Run or Candy Crush can be enjoyed in under 5 minutes. These short bursts of play are what make these games so successful. Players can quickly pull out their phones on the subway or in line at Starbucks and experience a complete round of these games before they have to put their phone away.

If a game requires attention for a long period of time to be enjoyable it won’t be successful. At the very least the game should have a pause option or should automatically pause if the app is exited or the phone is locked. Mobile players often stop playing suddenly so if they come back to the app and everything is right where they left off they’re much more likely to continue playing then if they’re back on the title screen and have to load back in.


So many mobile games don’t have a compelling visual or narrative element. A lot of mobile games feel rushed and just shoved out. If you look at mobile successes like Cut the Rope or Angry Birds, they both have a unique and compelling visual and narrative element. In Cut the Rope, Nom-nom is an adorable, lovable alien who you need to feed using your scientific skills. In Angry Birds, the birds are angry at the pigs for stealing their eggs so they fling themselves at them. It’s ​simple yet still interesting and endearing.

Visually a mobile game needs to be compelling. Doing something unique with such a small screen is quite difficult but through exploring different art styles like those of Tiny Wings or Monument Valley, there are ways to stand out. By crafting a unique and interesting art style not only will the player be invested but it will draw the eyes of people around them.

Simple to Learn, Difficult to Master​

Nothing is more frustrating in a mobile game than an overly long tutorial or frustrating controls. Having a game that players can learn in a couple minutes and be competent at is crucial to a mobile game’s success- at least in the short term. But having a game that is also hard to master is what drives players to keep playing. Games like Threes! and Pacman 256 are easy to pick up but incredibly difficult to master. They require no strategy to play right away but demand players think more and concentrate if they want to get a higher and higher score. This drives players to play a game for weeks and months.

Ownership and Attachment (through achievements)

If a player is going to stick with a mobile game they need to feel invested. If a player can feel like they have ownership over the progress made in a game they will get attached to it and are much less likely to leave it for a different game. This ownership and investment can be achieved several ways. If players are creating something in the game (like a city in Sim City or a village in Clash of Clans) this creates a feeling of possession. A player is less likely to abandon a game if they feel it’s theirs.


This investment can also be created through achievements. By showing players their progress towards an achievement they will have something small they can work towards. That said, achievements need to enhance an experience instead of feeling like a chore. Smart achievements task players with exploring parts of a game they may not have otherwise seen or trying to complete a challenging task. Nintendo's first foray into the mobile world came with loads of achievements to motivate players to complete various tasks that unlock both in-game and MyNintendo rewards. Extrinsic rewards compel players to return to try and complete that next challenge!


When designing a mobile game there are some key things to keep in mind to avoid being swallowed up by the dark void that is the App Store. Don’t design a game that can’t be played in short bursts or paused and returned to later. Mobile games thrive through brief play sessions. Secondly, make sure you have a compelling narrative, art style or something that players can point at and go “this is why this game is special!” Also, ensure that players can quickly pick it up but have to work at being the best at it. Designing a game that is not too frustrating while not being too boring is difficult. It’s a fine balance, a concept called “Flow” that’s another article entirely. Lastly, designers want to create a way in which players can become invested beyond compelling gameplay. A system of achievements or a visual representation of their progress with things unlocking as they go is a great and easy way to create investment.