Game development

4 Rules For Developing Addictive Mobile Games


The App Store is absolutely chocked up with all sorts of mobile game apps. Some of them are good, most of them are bad. Some of them are profitable. Most of them are at a total loss. Some of them are popular. Most of them will never be discovered.

So what is it that distinguishes a good game from a bad game, or a popular game from the-run-of-the-mill? And how can we harness the same tactics to make our own awesome game apps?

Game Development

Unfortunately there’s no ONE solution to building games that rock. But there are certain elements within popular games that really stand out to create an engaging experience.

In this post we’ll go through what I call The 4 Rules of Developing Addictive Mobile Games and how you can apply these rules to create a mobile game that people love.

First off, just to clarify something: Every game has to be profitable – otherwise you’ll end up creating a very costly and time-consuming hobby. In this post we’re not going into detail about how to make money from mobile games – but you can read more about that here.

First off, you need to recognise what the most important aspect of a mobile game really is: The user experience.

Without a faaaanshmastic user experience, you have no chance of driving profit at all. So this is where your focus needs to be and that’s exactly what this post is all about. So let’s talk about the 4 Rules of Developing Addictive Mobile Games.

There are 4 areas of any game that create an engaging experience. By nailing each of these areas your users will love your game, share your game and will be willing to pay for your game.

The 4 Rules of Developing Addictive Mobile Games are:


1) Every game app should tell a story…

story board your mobile game

A mobile game without a story is…boring. Pointless. Without a story, your users won’t feel connected to your game.

I’m not talking about some sort of deep spiritual connection between man-and-game… I’m talking about the emotional connection we experience when we really engage in the story of a game.

And without sounding like the biggest-loser-in-the-whole-world, I’ve been TRULY engaged in games before. I’m talking about a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose. I know that’s weird but some games are really good like that and 16 was a sensitive age for me…

Without a compelling story, your players are practically just completing a series of mindless tasks. Which is exactly what our girlfriends and wives think when they see us sitting there jamming our latest game…because they’re NOT ENGAGED in the story.

You can easily turn this around by creating a story to preframe the user to feel and think the way you want them to feel and think when they’re playing your game.

Ironhide Game Studio did a great job of this in their latest mobile game app ‘Kingdom Rush Frontiers‘. They lay the story out before each chapter so that the player knows what they’re fighting for.


Kingdom Rush Frontiers

Kingdom Rush Frontiers


It sounds kind of stupid, but it works. I was engaged. I may even have cried a little…

Creating a storyboard is easy. You can tell the story through still images and text like in Kingdom Rush Frontiers. This helps the player know how you want them to feel

Another great way is to use in-game story telling.

By controlling the gameplay you can guide the user to taking the actions you want them to take. Thereby allowing them to learn about the features of the game before activating the real gameplay. As opposed to throwing them in the deep end and hoping they’ll learn how to swim!

Plants Vs Zombies 2 is a great example of story-telling within the game-play.

Early on in the game they introduce a character called Crazy Dave, who’s basically a moron but acts as comic relief and guidance.


Plants Vs Zombies - Crazy Dave

Crazy Dave with Penny the Campervan – Plants Vs Zombies 2


Whenever a new feature is introduced Crazy Dave will appear on the bottom left of the screen and gives the user a quick walk-through to show them exactly what to do.

Crazy Dave and Penny (the Time-Travelling Campervan…) also narrate the story in-between levels. Pretty clever.


2) Make it dead-easy to use

make your game app easy to use


If you do nothing else apart from applying this next tip you still have a great chance at developing a fantastic, engaging and profitable mobile game.

Making a game app look good goes without saying, right? But if that’s the case, then why are there so many ugly apps around! Beats me.

A nice, fluent, functional, bug free app will go a lot further than an app that looks as if though it was thrown together by a 6 year old during arts and crafts hour…

But the visual aspect shouldn’t just look good, it also needs to be easy to use. That means important buttons/elements are within easy reach of your thumbs, they stand out and their function is obvious (intuitive design).

Clash of Clans is a great example of this. They make most important buttons large and colorful so that they don’t get lost in the rubble. Once again, guiding users to make the decisions they want them to make.


Clash of Clans

Frequently used buttons are big and close to your thumbs – Clash of Clans


Try to avoid making the mistake of thinking that your users will ‘figure it out’ or that they will understand how to play your game. Treat them as if they have no idea at all and you’ll see a big increase in user engagement.


3) Gamify Your Game

gamify your game

Using badges, titles and other achievements you can gamify your game even further.

Gamification is to turn something into a game.

Understandably your game is ALREADY A GAME. But the idea is to get your players even more involved by adding another level of gamification into the mix.

This can easily be done by creating a system for rewarding your players and making them feel…special. (is that too mush?)

Hay Day does a wonderful job at this by rewarding the player with achievements and bonuses.


Hay Day gamification


Hay Day is a social game where you as the player is tasked to build a farm. 

You’re rewarded with extra bonuses and achievements for completing certain tasks… pretty much doing what you would be doing anyway.

This gamification model adds another level to the depth of the game which keeps things interesting. It’s pretty simple really, but heck, it works right?


4) Test and Tweak your gameplay

tweak your mobile game

Here’s the thing. Developing a mobile app is easy. But developing applications that are intuitive yet challenging, engaging and addictive takes time, effort and a tonne of creativity.

Most people understand that a mobile game app can take anywhere between 3-6 (or more) months to develop. What they fail to understand is that once that’s done there is a period of about 1-3 months needed for just tweaking the gameplay.


Because it’s hard to know exactly how everything is gonna work/look/feel until you get to play the-real-deal.

Example: How high does the character jump? How many times can you get shot until you die? How much corn will the cow eat until it… produces milk…?

These things are tweaked and tested right at the end to create an engaging experience that people love

Test it with several different people to ensure that the gameplay is intuitive. If it’s not then you need to tweak it to ensure that it is. Period.

We’ve made the mistake before of launching a game prematurely and the results were…weak…at first.

It pays to take your time with the last bit of tweaking until you’re satisfied with the gameplay.

But the testing doesn’t end there.

Once the app is launched to the App Store you need to analyse the user experience using live analytical data (so many big words) to tweak the experience even further.

There’s nothing better for understanding what your players want than APP ANALYTICS. Here’s a post we did a while back on the 10 Most Popular App Analytics Tools available in the app market.

As one of my clients likes to say: “Tweak Like A Freak”


The Wrap

the wrap

The 4 Rules of Developing Addictive Mobile Games may seem pretty straight forward. But you’d be surprised to hear how many app developers DON’T apply them in their development process.

So with that said, you need to ensure that either you work with an app developer who understands these rules OR guide your development team to apply them in the development of YOUR app. 

This is one of many tips we give our own clients during the design and development of their apps. If you want to more tips like this, grab a copy of our 3 ‘app development guides’ full of actionable tips and strategies below.

Thanks for reading and if you have any tips of your own related questions please post them below.


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Logan Merrick is the Co-Founder and Director of Buzinga. He brings a Marketing approach to every project by overseeing UX design, Co-ordinating market research, and consulting on core components of the launch. Connect with +Logan Merrick on Google+