As the App Store approaches its first birthday, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on some common missteps that we have seen over and over as we have been reviewing the first salvo of games for the iPhone. Developers, lend us your ears! We proudly posit…
1. Let us play in peace!
Developers must respect the iPhone’s mute controls. If we have our iPhone’s sound off, it is probably for good reason. Having a capable gaming system in our pocket all the time has encouraged us to pull it out for a game when we probably shouldn’t. We hate to have our cover blown by a lazy developer when we’re talking to our girlfriend on the phone or paying our respects at a funeral. Not to mention it is more than a little disturbing to hear Peggle sounds coming from two stalls over in the company bathroom…
2. Let us catch our bus!
Developers must let us freeze our game. Mobile games are quite often played on the go, meaning we need to be able to start and stop our games quickly. Locked-down save points and unskippable cutscenes may be okay for your living room, but they can be a real nuisance when out and about. We don’t want want our 20 minute tactical invasion of a future Russia being spoiled by an untimely call from mum. The ability to boot up a game quickly and pick up right where we left off is a nice touch, and it might make us choose to play your game over someone else’s.
3. Don’t make us hate our thumbs!
Developers must keep the action where we can see it. We’ll acknowledge that the iPhone presents a tricky design problem–the control surface is also the screen. This means that the game elements and our fingers have to compete for space. Many developers understand this. Others must have glass thumbs that allow them to see the enemy/missile/fireball that we always seem to find lurking out of sight.
4. Port games FOR the iPhone, not just ONTO the iPhone!
Developers must consider the iPhone’s unique attributes when porting a game. We understand the economic forces that prompt devs to shoehorn an existing game onto a new platform. However, anyone with a discerning eye can spot the differences between a game built for the iPhone and a hasty port. Whether it be awkward controls, graphics that are too small or clunky menus, a lazy port can really ruin a game and sour us on the whole franchise. Take some time and polish the game a bit before asking us for $10 to cover the cost of the license.
5. Don’t trick us into being your Beta (or Alpha) tester!
Developers must finish their games before releasing them. Digital distribution has many advantages, but can also breed complacency. Some developers seem to know that that they can always release post-launch updates to clear up any bugs or add missing features. This means that we often get stuck buying an incomplete game. We love developers who continue to add content and fix bugs after a game has launched, but we hate the ones that don’t finish their game to begin with.
6. Don’t make us hire a mystic to decide when to buy your game!
Developers and publishers must not manipulate prices to exploit customers. All too often we see a game release at an artificially low price to fetch good reviews, only to spike unpredictably in price a few days weeks later. It’s equally frustrating to buy a game and see its price drop by 75% the next day. Devs should publish their pricing plans and stick to them, or expect to suffer the consequences in bad press, lost sales, and ill will from gamers.
7. Let us march to the beat of our own drum!
Developers must allow us access to our iPod libraries. If Apple’s commercials are to be believed, we like to wear Converse, think differently, and dance wildly to hip indie music. Why would we want to be stuck listening to the 90 second loop of royalty-free music that you found on the internet? We know implementing this feature is a pain in the rear, but it should really be mandatory.
8. Find a good reason to use the accelerometer, or avoid it entirely!
Developers must not stick us with tacked-on tilt controls. Accelerometer controls make perfect sense for some games, and no sense at all in others–but that hasn’t stopped devs from attempting tilt-based card games and similar nonsense. Think carefully about when and where tilt controls are actually useful, instead of plugging them in willy-nilly, and always give us the option of a couple of control sets so we can play any way we like.
9. Didn’t tweet it, didn’t happen!
Developers must allow us to connect with other players. We are not saying that every game must have full online multiplayer. However, if we are going to spend hours trying to get a high score, let us put it on an online leaderboard to see where we stand. Even better, let us tweet it, Facebook it, challenge our friends or upload our replays to YouTube. We live in a world of social networks and instant updates. The iPhone is a connected platform, remember?
10. Think about all types of gamers!
Developers should make their games as accessible as possible. There are a significant number of players who are colorblind or deaf. Sure, it might be unrealistic to make a game to work for absolutely everyone, but turning on subtitles for dialog or switching from colors to patterns can make a big difference. A minority of gamers will really appreciate it, and plenty of others will end up using these features too.
Disagree? Have something you want to add? Let us know in the comments.