Testing Mobile Games: Functionality vs. Usability

By | March 26, 2015

When mobile technology and gaming converge, you get an entirely new space that requires a very unique and focused testing effort. Unlike most other mobile applications, games are driven by their user experience rather than their functionality. And while mobile games are a growing part of the gaming industry, testing them as if they were fully-fledged console games does not quite work either.

Before You Test: Know Your Goals

A part of what makes the mobile testing space so unique for gaming is that games can range from simple puzzles to elaborate first-person shooters. With that in mind testers and development teams should be thinking about what they are hoping to achieve with their game. After all, you wouldn’t test and evaluate Angry Birds the same way you would Bioshock or Grand Theft Auto.

Before you begin to outline your test metrics, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you envision users playing your game? While waiting in line for a latte at Starbucks, or sitting down and giving the game undivided attention?
  • How long would the ideal gameplay session be?
  • Who is the target audience of your game? Adults, children, or both?

Answering these questions will help steer your usability testing in the right direction. For instance, if you are testing a more casual game, long levels with elaborate animations may not be ideal for users. Likewise, gamers who carve out time specifically to play mobile games will expect a richer overall user experience.

Not All Mobile Devices Are Created Equal

A game may look and play great on an iPhone, but that does not mean it will translate well to an iPad. Animations that look clear and crisp on a smartphone can appear choppy on a tablet, so testing games on a wide range of screen sizes is crucial.

mobile game testing

Need for Speed Screenshot (Source: http://www.wired.com)

Other usability factors you need to consider on mobile games intended for both smartphones and tablets are swiping, tilting, button placement, and proportions. Many games that offer a great user experience on handheld smartphones are extremely difficult to play on a tablet. When taking into consideration the fact that tablet users tend to be more serious about games than smartphone users, if your game does not work well on a tablet it could have a very real negative impact on its success.

Need for Speed: Shift, pictured above, is an excellent example of a game that suffered from poor tablet gameplay. It was designed for the user to hold the device like a steering wheel, but also displayed two important buttons on opposite corners of the screen – well out of reach for most users.

The User Experience that Respects the User Environment

This ties back to the first part of the article. While functional testing will always be a necessary feature in mobile game testing, the real difference between an average mobile game and a successful mobile game is one that respects the unique features and constraints of a mobile environment, including:

  • Battery Usage
  • Download size
  • User Settings: volume, sound, and language controls
  • If your game is aimed at children or users of all ages, it is especially important to verify that it is easy enough to use and to progress through the levels for an average user.
  • Save functionality, particularly with respect to interruptions (e.g. phone calls, email alerts, etc.)

Above all these individual features, it is also important to take a step back and evaluate the game as a whole entity. What users are looking for is a game that is entertaining and fits seamlessly into the way they already use their device. If you can deliver that, you will already be one step ahead of the competition.

  • Ícaro Pinto

    Great article, but I missed more content about usability.
    Congratulations, Chey.

    — from Brazil.