Game Design Analysis: The Issue with Mobile Games

Have you ever noticed that the large majority of mobile games seem to be a drastically lower quality than the games available on PC or consoles? Or have you also noticed that the app stores are somewhat overflooded by shovelware, several copies of the same formula, or heaps of microtransaction and ad infested games? Well today we’ll be going over the reasons why that may be and how you can weed them out.

First of all, let’s talk about the ease of access to the mobile market. Over 5 years ago it was possible to make an app and just upload it to the app store without any real resistance. Back in 2015, mobile markets took it upon themselves to start screening any app before adding it to the store. The issue with this though, is this screening is purely to prevent the spread of malware, illegal app use (such as copyright material), and sexually explicit content. While that’s all well and good, there’s still no amount of quality review to ensure the app stores have nothing but quality content. The reason for that is likely due to lack of necessity on their part, as whether you have an Android phone or an Iphone, you’re stuck with the Google Play store or the Apple app store and don’t have much room to negotiate in mobile markets. The other issue with this is that the majority of the process is automated with a few exceptions that pass through human hands. This is why you may see an app or two that gets past the floodgates such as really bad Pokemon mimics or games that actually straight up use actual Pokemon designs in their games under the guise of “Pixelmon.” Remember to make use of the flagging feature to let your store know if a game shouldn’t be there!

An example taken from the Google Play store, remember to report games like this for copyright. They’re even trying to charge subscription for this game!

So you’re able to make a bad or poorly developed game and put it on a mobile store without any roadblocks, but why would anyone do that? Well you might notice that the greater majority of mobile games are all free to play, something you don’t see often in PC or console games, and instead mostly rely on ad revenue. The reason for that is a little bit complicated to say the least. It’s not that console games are unable to put ads in their game, after all we live in an age where consoles are regularly connected to the internet and have the capability and legal rights to stream ads. So why don’t they? Well it mostly comes down to effectiveness and accessibility. If you’re playing a mobile game and you tap on an ad, it immediately takes you to the app store or webpage associated with that ad. It’s fluid, it’s a great way to direct traffic, and it’s incredibly simple for an individual to set up an ad stream and just play the waiting game for bits of change to come in from the generated traffic. Now imagine playing a console game, see an ad on the wall, interact with it, and the console pulls you out of your game, opens your web browser, and takes you to the site. That’s very jarring on console, and would be quite aggravating to the player. Mobile stores and browsers also typically already have your card info on file so buying stuff is just a couple taps away. So any mooch could easily make a low quality game, embed some ad banners, and throw it up onto the store and sit back while they make some pocket change here and there. Not much, but money is money, and they can always make more apps to increase traffic points. This isn’t to say console games never use ads, as Rainbow Six very cleverly placed ads in their games that show up on billboards and screens within the maps and update over time to more relevant ads. While clever, there’s no real way for them to study how effective the ads are since there’s no direct traffic from Rainbow Six to the ad source, so there’s no way for devs to know if that’s worthwhile to do or not.

Eample of an ad in Rainbow Six. Image taken from Wired blog written by Mary Jane Irwin

So what’s a good way to determine the good stuff from the garbage? Well there are a few telltale signs. Unfortunately mobile stores make it incredibly easy to spam made up reviews for a game, so the dev can easily give themselves 5 stars thousands of times to make their game look like a smash hit (never trust the top app leaderboards in a mobile store.) However, devs have no control over what reviews other people put up, so the trick is to find a way to determine what reviews are real and which ones are fake, and doing so is very simple. If a dev wants to hype up their game, they’ll put in fake 5 star reviews, and most mobile stores allow you to filter specific star reviews and read only reviews based on a certain number of stars, so if they only put up fake 5 star reviews, simply filter out any review that’s 5 stars. Likewise, 1 star reviews often belong to people who may have had technical issues, or are trying to downhype a rival app dev. You can often filter out these reviews too. So we can nail it down to these two rules:

  1. If a game’s reviews are mostly split between 5 stars and 1 stars with very few reviews between, you can trust that the game is junk.
  2. If there is a good mix of different level reviews and you want to read what people think, only read reviews that label it as 2-4 stars. These will be your most honest sources for reviews.

Hopefully this helps shed some light on the volatile nature of the mobile gaming market and helps some of you to make good app install decisions to support the mobile devs that actually care enough to put time and effort into their games. If you want some specific examples, you can always check out our Thursday articles on The World of Mobile Games that spotlights some of the better examples of mobile gaming!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s