Best Smartphone Games looks at the question of “Why do gamers hate mobile games” and showcases all the reasons behind this sentiment. This article covers topics such as data-driven design, the use of ADS, In-App Purchases and, a developer’s favorite tool – KPI’s driven by money.
Anyone who’s at least somewhat versed in the gaming universe will be aware of the stigma against mobile gaming. There seems to be a firm line in the sand between “real gamers” – those who play PC and console – and mobile gamers. Often, mobile gamers are seen as casuals, people who aren’t actually interested in gaming.
However, whether people like it or not, mobile gaming is a thriving subset of the gaming industry, and it’s a highly lucrative one. Player spending is predicted to reach $138 billion by 2025. And It’s estimated that by 2023, there will be 3.07 billion mobile gamers – not far off half the planet’s population.
But why the hate? It would be too easy to sit here and claim that gamers hate mobile games because they are too attached to their hardware of choice or are invested in some superiority complex. The truth is far more complicated, so buckle up.
How data-driven design leads to frustrating experiences
Mobile games aren’t fun, and they’re not meant to be (in the eyes of a financial driven publisher or developer). A controversial way to start, but bear with us.
Mobile game publishers have the unique advantage of troves of credible data on player behavior, sentiment, spending habits, demographics, and other metrics. And like any business, they want to make money. This potent concoction creates a situation where publishers, and the developers who work for them, create games designed to get people hooked and part with their money.
The primary focus isn’t on creating a fun and enjoyable game but rather on keeping people on the app long enough to spend money. If that means exploiting, frustrating, and manipulating players, then that’s what they’ll do.
Using statistics as a blueprint for design is only possible on this scale due to the nature of smartphones. If you walk into a store and buy a console game, you’re just a faceless entity. You’re simply one more person who purchased the game, but that’s all the information they can get.
This isn’t true for mobile games. In fact, one study found that 89% of Android apps and 39% of iOS apps request “risky permissions” from users. These risky permissions include tracking location, accessing the camera, recording audio, internet activity, and even reading SMS messages. Apps also frequently gather information like your age, gender, email address, and pretty much anything else they can get their hands on.
Essentially, smartphones opened the doors for data-driven design in a way that simply wasn’t possible before this era. As an interesting example from outside the gaming sphere, it wasn’t until podcasting took off in the 2010s that the true-crime industry realized that women were the primary consumers of the content. Sure, true-crime shows had aired on TV for decades, but they couldn’t know who was watching them.
But why would people spend time, maybe 10s or even 100s of hours, on a game that isn’t fun? We don’t have the time or expertise for a full-blown psychology lesson here, but the main takeaway is that sometimes we become focused on other results. For example, it’s widely recognized that people hate losing more than they love winning. Or, to put it another way, losing feels worse than winning feels good. So, if a game can threaten you with a loss, you might be more willing to stick around than if you consistently win. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the specific ways mobile games hijack your brain.
Why are microtransactions bad?
Microtransactions have become one of the most hated aspects of mobile games for several reasons. You’ve probably heard the horror stories of people sinking many thousands of dollars into in-app purchases without realizing how much they’ve spent. Some also argue that some micro-transaction methods, like loot boxes, have similar effects on the brain as gambling. Essentially, they encourage behavioral addictions that have an adverse impact on mental health.
So, micro-transactions potentially harm mental health and lead to poor financial decisions for some, but how do they harm the player experience? Surely, if some people are happy to spend their hard-earned cash on extra items (or the chance of winning extra items), then that should be their choice, right? Well, not exactly.
Although the exact figures vary from study to study, the industry acknowledges that the vast amount of revenue earned from micro-transactions comes from a tiny percentage of the player base. These flashy players, dubbed “Whales,” only make up around 2% of users but are responsible for more than 50% of revenue.
But if you’re not a whale, and most of us aren’t, you have to suffer aggressive micro-transactions anyway. So you’re playing a game not made for you, but the 2%.
Why do gamers hate energy systems?
We wrote in detail about this topic in our article on Why do mobile games have energy systems. In that article we talk about why they exist, how they are implemented and how can they be used to actually make a game more interesting (with an example of a good use of energy systems). In short, energy systems or stamina systems are used to control the players gaming habit. They are not there, usually, to make a game more fun but to try and get gamers on the developers schedule. Example: Dev needs to display about 10 interstitial ads / day for 7 days to reach the profit they want. So they use energy systems in order to dictate when and how the player should play the game.
Despite being hated by players and developers alike, energy systems are still pervasive in mobile games. So, why are they there? There are four primary reasons to include energy or stamina systems in games;
- Habitation – Creating a habit and controlling the frequency of play.
- Content pacing – Ensuring you don’t blast through the content faster than they can produce it.
- Monetization – You can often refill your energy bar and continue playing for a small fee.
- Strategic choices – If energy is limited, the player must deliberate about where they place their resources.
Whatever the reason behind energy systems, it’s clear players don’t enjoy having their session forcibly halted. If you’re working on an important task only to run out of energy, it’s incredibly frustrating.
Why do gamers hate ads in mobile games?
Many free mobile games use in-game advertisements as part of their monetization strategy. And according to recent data, video ads were the most popular app monetization method in 2021 (82% of gaming apps), followed by display ads (71%) and in-app purchases (39%).
It should come as no surprise that watching an ad in between every level of a game is annoying. However, the developer’s decision to include ads goes beyond “well, we need to make money.” Contrary to what many people believe, ads are tolerated due to the value exchange they offer. Essentially, players are willing to tolerate ads to earn rewards like extra lives, new items, or a new free-play option. One study by Tapjoy found that 72% of mobile gamers say they understand the role advertising plays in mobile games.
And here we get to the crux of the issue – tolerating isn’t the same as enjoying. Players might be willing to grumble through an ad to get a reward, but they’re not having a good time doing it.
Of course, some games take in-game advertising to extreme levels. Perhaps the most egregious tactic is games that insert an ad in the middle of a play session, thereby forcing you to lose the game. This strategy is much less effective but not entirely ineffective either. If a player is sufficiently invested in the game, they might be willing to pay a small fee to remove ads.
What are KPI’s in mobile game?
You probably heard the word “KPI” being brought up in our other articles or in conversations regarding mobile games. But what are they? In short, KPI’s stand for Key Performance Indicators and they can be anything that a developer or publisher finds to be an important metric for a game. For gamers, KPI’s can be:
- How fun is a game
- How many hours of content does the game have
- Amount of Actions Per Minute can you do
- How far can you level your character
- The amount and variety of enemies, skills or abilities
In a gamer’s eyes those are some of the metrics that matter to them. But that’s not the way developers and publishers see them.
Essentially, publishers pay far more attention to creating perfect ad campaigns that drive up revenue rather than creating a game that people enjoy playing. As a result, they look at things like Cost Per Install (CPI), Cost Per Thousand (CPT), Cost Per Action (CPA), and Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). If they ever end up looking at mechanics it’s to see if they need to be adjusted not because they want the game to be fun as a top priority, but to see if that drives more installs/acquisitions.
Why do gamers hate mobile games?
Gamers hate mobile games because they’re more profit than art. Game publishers are driven by KPIs and the desire to squeeze as much revenue as possible from each game. This leads to games that are just engaging enough for people to download but not exceptional enough for anyone to be captivated by.
Where to next?
You’ve reached the end of our article on “Why do gamers hate mobile games”. If you are interested to learn more on this topic, we have a lot more content that goes into even more detail. Am interesting article to read is “How do free mobile games make money” which touches on all the topics mentioned above!
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