5 Mobile Game Design Tips for Indie Developers to Keep in Mind


With the unprecedented rise of mobile gaming and its ease of production and distribution, more and more independent developers are looking to enter the fray. However, because of their haste to take a bite out of the money cake, some developers spend significantly less time in the actual design process.

Nevertheless, if you’re an aspiring game developer hoping to make a mark in the industry, do yourself a favor and keep these five things in mind. It will save you the trouble of continuously backtracking to the drawing room.

1.    Keep the interface clean

Not everyone owns an iPad or other big-screen tablets. So the complicated menus and icons that populate every corner of the screen, which look organized in larger devices, may not be as pretty on a smartphone. This is a common problem in strategy games (although to be fair, strategy games do require a lot of navigation). Having too many “buttons” onscreen may cause accidental presses, too, which could mean the difference between victory and a frustrating Game Over screen.

Nexon M Inc
Nexon M Inc

Always strive to make the interface as neat and simple as possible. You can position a permanently visible menu bar on one side of the screen, while everything else can be drop-down menus that can be hidden when not needed. It may also cause the game to load slower if there are a lot of features onscreen. The best mobile games are those that know how to work around a smartphone screen’s limits. Simpler games like endless runners and platformers don’t have to deal with this dilemma. But RPGs, strategy games, and text-heavy games do. Speaking of text…

2.    Spend less time on texts

Unless you’re developing an RPG like Monster Mountain, avoid having too much text in the game, especially those that can’t be skipped by players. And also make the texts easy to read by avoiding tiny and too stylish fonts. A lot of people play games on-the-go, usually when going to and from work (or school). The last thing they would want is spending the entire ride reading paragraphs after paragraphs of text, especially if they require a lot of squinting.


Mobile games have the luxury of getting away with a lack of any real plot or story, which is something console or PC games usually get blasted for. Instead of coming up with a griping story to keep players hooked, focus more on building an addicting gameplay. Again, this doesn’t apply if you want to create an RPG. If that’s the case, then it’s imperative that you do the opposite: focus more on world-building, character dialog and a cohesive story. Speaking of addicting gameplay…

3.    Devote more time to replay value

Mobile games are not meant to feature complicated gameplay features. Casual gamers are your primary demographic – people who don’t have the time and patience to sift through and memorize lots of gameplay mechanics. So instead of building a gameplay feature that you believe will blow people away and possibly change the landscape of the gaming industry, focus more on creating something that’s worth going through over and over again.

Halfbrick Studios
Halfbrick Studios

You can achieve this by making your game exceptionally hard to beat. If players keep losing all the time in your game, it will cause them to spend more and more time in your game. Well, unless they choose to break their smartphones in frustration instead. This is how Flappy Bird achieved overnight success. You can also add replay value into your game by incorporating a well-developed multiplayer mode. It can be cooperative multiplayer or competitive multiplayer. Games are a lot more fun to play with other people.

Rovio Entertainment Ltd
Rovio Entertainment Ltd

If several people in a group of friends are playing the same game, there’s a chance they would invite the other ones to participate, too. Which translates to additional downloads for your game and increased chances for word-of-mouth marketing. Clash of Clans is a good example of successfully integrating multiplayer. Don’t focus too much on creating content that can last up to 50 hours; allot more time on a gameplay that makes people return to the game at least an hour per day. Speaking of content…

4.    Continuously add new content

If your game has proven to be a hit, don’t celebrate just yet. You need to make sure that it continues to be that way. And the best way to achieve this is by rolling out new content for players to explore and get into. If it’s an RPG, include additional side-quests and missions. If it’s a fighting game, include new characters or character costumes. If it’s an adventure game or racing game, include new levels or maps. And if it’s a puzzle game, include…well, more puzzles to solve.


The main thing is to keep your game from being stagnant. Adding new content on a regular basis (perhaps once a month?) is another way to add replay value. If players always have something to look forward to in your game, then the better. But avoid from shipping out new content with a price tag all the time; that will turn people off.

The general rule to mobile gaming is that if it’s free, more people will be drawn to it. Of course, you can include paid services and content, too. After all, they’re your primary source of income. But take care not to overdo it and come off as too greedy. And speaking of price tags…actually, let’s just add this one here: Make it a habit to treat your players to freebies from time to time. If you want, you can integrate them into special events or something, which doubles as a marketing tool, too.

Mika Mobile Inc
Mika Mobile Inc

And one last thing in regards to content: don’t forget about single-player content. If your game is mainly built for multiplayer, it’s easy to forget about loners who prefer to play games by themselves. In fact, it can be argued that single-player content is more important. It keeps players hooked to your game even when they’re cut off from the internet and multiplayer. Speaking of the internet…

5.    Don’t force people to be online all the time

One of the biggest turn-offs in the video game industry as a whole is the way some games require players to be constantly connected to the internet. The Need for Speed reboot and the ongoing episodic Hitman are prime examples of this. Contrary to what some developers think, not everyone can afford to be constantly tethered to the internet – either through Wi-Fi or data.

An example of forcing people to be online all the time is making certain features only available when connected. Or making it mandatory for some levels or maps. As important it is to develop an engaging multiplayer and online play, keep in mind that your game is primarily directed at an individual.


Well, there you have it. While these are not exactly technical guidelines that tip you on which programs or toolkits to use, they are useful in early-stage development. After all, everything must go through the drawing board first. So it would be wise to keep these things in mind while brainstorming for gameplay concepts.

And as a footnote, invest a lot of time in marketing your game, too. Applying all of the above won’t matter if your game is hip-deep in obscurity. But of course, to successfully pitch your game to an audience, it needs to be well-developed, too. So you could say they go hand-in-hand.

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