With mobile internet usage surpassing that of desktop internet usage in 2016, there is no denying that the future lies in mobile.
In the gaming space, operators are already upwards of 70 percent of their total user engagement coming from the mobile channel, according to Calvin Kent, CEO of ReelNRG.
So, when it comes to game design, if it doesn’t start with mobile, you’re out of the loop.
“Mobile design is effectively where any game design starts these days, rather than originating with desktop and adapting for mobile as it may have been two or three years ago,” said Daniel Long, head of sales at Habanero.
“It’s not hard to see why when you look at countries like South Korea with its lightning-quick connectivity, young, educated population, and mass adoption of handheld devices,” he added.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that 80-90 percent penetration on mobile could become the industry norm for the interactive online casino in the next two to three years,” said Long.
While many believe that mobile design is about fancy graphics, it's user interface and experience that is key.
“Access to information and game-play actions have to be simple, intuitive, and easy to use,” agreed Long. “This is just as much about functionality as it is about aesthetics. You can have the most beautiful game design ever, but if it’s hard to play or work out, people won’t play it.”
It's about keeping things simple, clean, crisp, and more importantly, consistent. But more importantly, there needs to be a balance between creativity and functionality, said Long.
“Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re trying to be creative, but you have to resist the temptation to change things for the sake of it. Different features, maths, and graphics are the spice of life, but don’t fiddle with the spin button or where you put the pay tables would be my advice.”
Wynn Wu of Playstudios, a social casino developer, says that a lot of the design decisions come down to the capability of the device itself. The processing power, onboard memory, and screen size can limit the density of effects and geometry that can be smoothly rendered.
“There a balance between delivering a great experience in terms of visuals and richness of the game, at the same time, having performance in terms of speed and responsiveness,” said Wynn.
Johan Törnqvist, CEO at Play’n GO agrees - noting that mobile differs to other channels in that players are firstly, holding the screen, and secondly, closer to it.
“We keep a clear distinction between the right-hand side ‘spin’ button and the gaming grid to ensure a player’s thumb or finger can never interfere with the action,” said Törnqvist.
“Similarly, it’s crucial to ensure grid symbols are as detailed as they can be as they will be scrutinized more than on any other channel. We put hundreds of man hours into the design of our game symbols and background visuals to ensure they stand up to the pressure of player proximity, as well as to provide players with the quality they deserve,” he said.
Krzysztof Opałka, chief product officer at Yggdrasil Gaming adds that beyond screen real estate, other considerations such as the length of play sessions can also affect design.
“Mobile users on average play shorter sessions but make higher average bets versus desktop users, and this has a significant bearing on the game design and math we use.”
The game you design for mobile can also be influenced by the location, says experts, but the recipe for success here isn’t as clear-cut.
Törnqvist said that in Asia, games that draw from local culture tended to see improved acquisition rates, while games in Europe and the US, still seem to work well with standard fruit symbols.
“Our Asian-inspired titles, including Matsuri and Prosperity Palace, not only draw from the culture of the East, but also use associated symbols and gameplay features to ensure an authentic experience. This improves acquisition rates which we can then build on with further releases of a similar ilk.”
Kent noted that volatility was an essential factor when designing games for the Asian market - with players leaning toward games at the higher end of the volatility spectrum. European players, however, tend to prioritize games with bonus features.
Long, however, disagreed with both, noting that the design of a game was based more on the device than location.
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference these days when it comes to mobile design. In our recent game, Cake Valley, we made the chef character French for western audiences and Asian for Asian players, depending on their currency choice, so I suppose this is a minor example of tailored design and goes back to the user experience.”
“But in terms of the user interface, technology is now so ubiquitous in the developed, and globalized world that comprise the major markets, that it makes game design variation less important.”
Playstudios says they found the most valuable insights into their customers was by segmenting them based on behavior and spending patterns.
“We don’t necessarily segment based on demographics. Actually, we gain most of our valuable insight by segmenting our player based on their specific behaviors, ” said John Lin of PlayStudios.
“One of the interesting things about mobile is that we’re able to now to instrument every single player behavior in the app. We’re able to identify every moment that they leave the game, every spin result, every tap. We can gather raw data at a massive scale and establish insights that influence how we adjust and design our game,” said Lin.
What’s next in terms of innovation?
It’s a million-dollar question, and no one knows yet. One thing is for sure; it will come on mobile.
Törnqvist believes that ‘Gridslots’ will shape the foreseeable future of mobile casino games.
“The traditional spinning reels approach is becoming increasingly dated, and players now demand more of their gameplay. Gridslots, where symbols continue to cascade from the top of the grid, then cluster and disappear, to be replaced by more symbols, have been inspired by popular mobile gaming titles such as Candy Crush.”
“We’ve seen our flagship gridslot, Viking Runecraft, increase the game play time significantly since its launch, and it has continued to impress players with an upward trend in its popularity since it went live. This shows the merit of games that can tie the participation element of a video game and the enjoyable simplicity of the slot,” said Törnqvist.
Developers will also likely continue looking outside the gaming industry for inspiration for a new game genre and formats, said Törnqvist.
The team at PlayStudios said they tend to find more inspiration from mobile games such as role-playing games, card battle games, and other casual games.
“Content is king, and it is driving growth at the moment. It will be the providers who create games that deliver the very best experience and engagement which will win in the long run,” adds Opałka.
“There is no room for complacency,” said Long. “The sheer variety of handheld devices around and the ever-changing nature of the hardware and software on it means we cannot afford to stand still. We need to make sure we keep up with change, or we will be left behind.”
“We live in exciting times.”
Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.
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