Mobile Serious Game Development Considerations

Designing Digitally


Gamification - Pac-Man

As mobile devices are becoming more and more prevalent in corporate training, and companies are adopting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, design and development considerations are evolving. While there are claims of software that allows you to design and develop training that can be exported for all devices, this strategy does not always hold true for all online training. Sure, designing linear eLearning to be responsive and adapt to mobile devices typically works. However, when approaching a Serious Game or Training Simulation for mobile devices, there are much different considerations and development strategies needed.

Designing and developing Serious Games for mobile devices are a totally different beast than your typical corporate eLearning. With eLearning, interfaces can be made responsive and formatting can change to fit screen size, but with mobile Serious Games, there is far more to consider.

Develop for Mobile First!

When designing a serious game to be viewed on mobile devices, it is imperative to begin at the end; what devices are learners going to be using? When your project is complete, how will your learners be accessing the serious game? The point here is, develop for mobile devices, first!

You cannot simply develop your serious game as you would for a desktop based game, then expect it to look as good and function as it should on mobile. Mobile devices cannot be an afterthought, or 11th hour decision, you need to be thinking about mobile delivery from inception.

With that said, here are a few key considerations for mobile serious game development:

  • Processing Power
  • Screen Size
  • User Experience
  • Testing

Mobile Processing Power vs. Desktop Processing Power: Final Bout

It is likely quite obvious mobile phones have less processing power than macho desktops computers and laptops. However, this does not mean you cannot create an equally exhilarating experience for a mobile device.

Most computer games take considerable CPU power to run the high end graphics and detailed worlds in which gamers roam. With mobile serious games, however, the availability of processing power is much more scarce. Keep this in mind when thinking about design elements for your mobile serious game. For instance, computer games have super detailed graphics and intimate attention to detail because the hardware can handle it. However, with a mobile serious game, you may need to tone down graphics and modeling so the device can handle gameplay. Also, the screen resolutions of mobile devices are different than the resolution of your laptop. Together, processing power and screen resolution play a vital role in how a user experiences your serious game.

To mitigate potential issues, build your characters, environments and design elements with the understanding there are limitations with mobile devices. The more detail and graphically technical elements you incorporate into your serious game, the more likely you are to experience slow and uncomfortable gameplay.

Screen Resolution: Bigger Assets for Smaller Screens?

When developing mobile serious games, remember your learners are going to be viewing your serious game on a screens ranging from 4” (1136 x 640 resolution - iPhone 5) to almost 10” (1024x768 - iPad). To ensure your learners are going to be able to easily view your buttons and interactive elements, make sure they are 50% larger. Reason being, when the build is condensed for mobile it decreases the interactive feature sizes. Thus, making it more challenging for your learners to view and interact with your serious game. It may seem strange to make buttons and interactive elements bigger, but think about trying to tap a button on your smartphone if it were the same size as the button you click on a website if the website was condensed to fit on a mobile screen.

Also, on-screen prompts and text needs to be condensed and made larger so your learners can easily read and interact with your serious game, and rollover states need to be eliminated. For instance, a desktop, browser-based version of your serious game may have learners hover over an element to see a description and larger image of that element. Whereas, the mobile version cannot accept rollover states and you will likely need to reduce the text description and format how it appears.

Another consideration for mobile serious game development is the user interface. How you arrange your interface and the placing and sizing of elements will vary from desktop to mobile device. Ensure you are making elements large enough to be easily seen and tapped, while not overwhelming the limited space you have. You may only be able to fit the essentials on-screen. However, that does not mean you cannot get creative with your interface and navigation to make better use of space and flow.




Creating a Brilliant User Experience

Think about the differences between your smartphone and your laptop. Besides the obvious visual and technical differences, think about how you use each device. Typically, you use your laptop sitting at a desk or table; perhaps on your lap as you lounge. Compare that to a smartphone. Your smartphone is with you everywhere and you have likely used it in countless different scenarios and environments. How we use and interact with each device is different, and this plays into the overall user experience.

A mobile serious game is just that, mobile. So, what are the implications of using something on-the-go? You may start, stop, start again; you get the picture. Also, you may be engaged in the serious game while there are many other things going on in the background- you are sitting on the subway, in the waiting room at the doctor, out and about waiting on lunch, and so on. Because of the way we use and interact with our mobile devices, you want to ensure your mobile serious game is easy to pick up where you left off and can easily get re-engage learners. Additionally, due to all the distractions surrounding your learners as they are engaged in your mobile serious game, it is imperative to create a user experience that is not only educating, but engaging and entertaining to your learners. How many times have you tried to talk to someone playing Candy Crush or Two Dots, only to get no response from the top of their head? When someone is immersed in a truly engaging experience, outside stimulus has less of an effect.

Testing, Testing. Check One, Two.

It is well known that testing is vital to any sort of development success. However, with mobile developments, testing becomes extra crucial. For example, you develop a serious game for desktops/laptops only. You do your standard bug squashing, functionality testing, glitches, and test across multiple browsers. Everything works and looks good? Ok, great! With mobile serious games, there are a few more considerations.

Multiple devices means multiple operating systems and screen sizes that can vary from 4” to 10”. Because of this, it is imperative to test the responsive design of your mobile serious game and the functionality of all your features throughout the development process. How does your interface scale from an iPad or Galaxy screen to an older iPhone 4? Does the Android device “play nice” with all your interactions and functionality? Can I view the serious game in landscape only and are all my graphics showing up as they should?

By testing during the course of development, and not leaving testing as a “final” step, you are far more likely to accomplish any of the following, than by waiting to test:

  • Catch bugs and glitches in time to fix the issue and re-test
  • Iron out functionality and formatting issues
  • Get valuable user feedback via focus groups
  • Ensure all devices “play nice” with your serious game

Another important component of testing during development is the ability to use the feedback gained from testing, and incorporate that into development. For example, after completing the user interface, John has his team test usability and check for any glitches or issues across multiple mobile devices. In doing so, one of his testers finds the navigation gets a bit wonky when viewed on an iPhone, but seems to be fine on larger tablet screens. Because of this, John redesigns and tweaks the interface to appear much more attractive on all mobile screens. Had John waited to test this after implementing more features, his team may not have had the opportunity, or time, to find a better solution.

Ready to Mobilize!

With mobile devices showing an increasing presence in online corporate training, it is vital to develop for these mobile devices, first, and not as an afterthought. Keep in mind, your mobile serious game is fighting for processing power, so design elements and interactions must be easy to digest for these devices. Also, you don’t have the luxury of a 13”+ laptop screen, so your design elements, interface and text need to be easily visible on smaller screens. In addition to the smaller screen size and varying resolutions, how people interact with mobile devices is different, so considerations must be made in that regard as well. Finally; test, test, and test some more!

Keep these considerations in mind when approaching a mobile serious game project and you are off to a good start!