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The top 5 ways mobile developers are chasing away their own players

UserTesting's Michael Mace on what NOT to do
The top 5 ways mobile developers are chasing away their own players

Taking the stage at GDC 2016's jam-packed Smartphone and Tablet Games Summit, UserTesting's VP of Product Marketing Michael Mace's talk is a cautionary one.

Identifying what he calls 'The Mobile Traps' - the most common UX mistakes made by mobile game developers - he aims to help developers boost their retention by ironing out these issues.

Click through to the list below to see the issues most commonly plaguing mobile games, and why they're so damaging.

#1: Bewildering beginnings

Starting off, Mace identifies a failure to unify store description, art style, and game design as a common issue for confusing people.

"If you confuse people, they'll go and do something else. Its really important to pull those things together," he says.


Showing example videos of users playing various mobile games for the first time, it seems that it's not uncommon for the overall objective to be utterly opaque to the player.

Furthermore, the smallest inconsitencies can case great confusion - one clip shows a player confused by the juxtaposition of cute, anime-style characters and violent combat, leading him to question whether the game is for kids or adults.

Using this example, Mace also urges developers to keep in mind that cultural differences may be wider and more significant than you think.

#2: Cryptic controls

Mace says that this is the most commonly-encountered issue in his experience, with communication of the controls a particular problem.

Invisible controls are a major offender, Mace reports, seen by developers as an intuitive way of reducing screen clutter but often difficult for players to wrap their heads around.

Be clear

"I'm not saying [invisible controls] are the wrong thing to do, but if you're going to do that you need to be absolutely sure your player understands that," he says.

Showing a series of clips of players reacting to confusing controls and UI, the immediate impression is that while something can appear obvious to the majority, it's entirely possible that some may still be left confused.

Solving this, Mace admits, is a little more tricky. "I haven't got all the answers," he says.

However, he suggests that games should be more reactive; if a player is obviously failing to identify the input they need to progress, then why not have the game remind them again?

#3: Store situations

Even the best game can be let down by poor messaging.

Indeed, with the game's description on the App Store or Google Play the first impression a player gets of the game, it's incredibly important to get it right.

"I cannot tell you how many times we've seen games that we lovingly developed by their creators, but you read the store description and it's borderline illiterate" says Mace.

No excuse

"[In these cases] users get very cynical about the game very quickly."

Mace backs this with a series of clips showing players reading store descriptions. When there are spelling, grammatical, or typographical errors, you can hear the disdain immediately.

Suggesting that the language barrier as no excuse, Mace says that this is one of the easier issues to address - and one that's almost unforgivable not to.

#4: Continuing challenges

Delving a little deeper into the experience, Mace notes that balancing challenges and achievement is one of the most common failures of mobile developers.

It's the elusive sweet spot between accessibility and rewarding challenge that developers should be chasing, but people are a lot more forgiving as long as the main component is present: fun.

Fun's the word 

An obvious example is Flappy Bird, where a high difficulty didn't detract from its playability. Another, shown by Mace, is Crossy Road.

"It is fun to play with, even though I'm no good at it," says a user playing Crossy Road for the first time in one of Mace's clips. 

However, unless you have that special lightning in a bottle, striking a balance is important for retaining players.

#5: Screwy FTUE

Here, Mace identifies issues that can arise on the onboarding and tutorial process.

Showing a clip of a player's FTUE (First-Time User Experience) with the game Critter Academy, we first see the player failing to recognise a small, flashing 'Tap to continue' message for a whole 40 seconds.

Then, once in the game, he encounters some confusion as to whether he is actually in control.

Driver or passenger?

"We see this a lot... sometimes we see players thinking they're in control of actions that are actually taking place automatically, and if they're tapping in a timely manner that can continue for quite some time," notes Mace.

From a less than ideal opening to one from Clash of Clans, Mace intends to show that even successful games can be improved upon in the FTUE department.


Indeed, despite leaving with a positive impression overall, a clip featuring a first-time player of Clash of Clans shows some difficulty in the deployment of troops using long presses rather than taps - something not fully communicted, and an interaction the user was obviously unfamiliar with.

The takeaway, then? "What's intuitive to your team isn't intuitive to the player," concludes Mace.