There is no formula for fun. It’s not something you can write into a design document. It’s not something you can throw more resources at to get a guaranteed return. It’s possibly the hardest thing to quantify when you’re making a game, but it’s such an important factor for prospective players that you ignore it at your peril.
It’s very hard to measure fun, but not impossible. It’s a pretty subjective thing, but almost all of us agree that certain things are fun. So, how do you know if your mobile game is fun, and how do you find out what makes it fun?
Test, test, and test some more
The proof is in the pudding. You can spend days debating the merits of one mechanic over another, arguing whether the central character should look cuter, or trying to find the line between irritating and comical for a specific sound effect. But nothing will tell you whether your game is fun faster than watching a bunch of people play it.
Start testing your game early. It may be possible to enhance the fun with better graphics and sound, or a more involved storyline later on, but start with mechanics. The gameplay is king mantra may be overstated in the wider gaming world, but it is relevant for mobile games. Fun gameplay with an addictive hook is the heart of most successful mobile games.
Just make sure that your testers don’t have a vested interest. Friends and family can definitely help you improve your game and find defects, but they’ll rarely give you the kind of honest opinion you’ll get from a stranger.
What was fun?
Observe the little moments that are making people laugh or smile as they play. You can ask them what they thought was fun too, but don’t rely solely on that data, because people aren’t always entirely conscious of exactly what they’re enjoying about a game.
Be brave and make major changes to the design based on test session feedback. Don’t be afraid to adopt and develop defects or unintended features if people really like them. You want a design atmosphere where no-one is afraid to make a suggestion, and where ideas are judged on their merits.
To stay productive you will have to draw the line somewhere, and some ideas may be rejected because they’re too costly in terms of resources, but an open mind definitely helps enhance the fun factor. Just remember that there’s no point in redesigning the wheel. Some mechanics are fixtures in certain genres of game because they work. There’s a difference between innovative or clever, and fun.
There are also times when an idea you thought would be fun simply isn’t, and there’s no room for ego if you want to develop a great game. If people find something boring then cut it. Keep analyzing and evaluating what is working and what isn’t.
Building a framework for success
We looked at common traits of successful casual mobile games before. These things won’t build fun into your game, but they’ll dramatically increase the chances of your players discovering the fun. Many developers fall into the trap of making their games inaccessible or developing for themselves. Keep things simple, create a gentle learning curve, employ usability testing to make sure you’ve nailed accessibility. If you don’t, then people may stop playing before they get to the really fun part.
The outside perspective that testing provides is invaluable. It can give you a snapshot of how fun your game is. It’s also an essential guide to help you balance that difficulty curve and keep players coming back for more. It’s not easy to measure fun, but even the attempt will lead you to ask important questions about your mobile game.