Thursday, April 15, 2021

9 Ways to Stress Test your Mobile Game

So many games (and apps) seem like they are developed in a perfect environment: the best hardware, the best lighting, and with the best accessories like stands and headphones. Unfortunately, most of us don't use the games in anything close to those environments, so in order to address that, I have made a list of ways to stress test a mobile game, for developers to follow and make their games more usable to more people.


1) Play on the couch, while eating a bag of chips. 

Take the iPad you are testing on out of the stand and go sit on the couch holding it. Put a bag of chips next to you on the couch. If you hold the iPad with one hand, can you reach all the game controls with the other? Ie, do you need to have a two handed grip because there are buttons on each bottom corner in landscape mode? Check for constraints like that. Maybe your game can't be played with one hand. But then it also can't be played while eating chips, which is a serious trade-off!

Now try laying down on the couch and playing it. Go ahead, just do it.

A screen shot from Gravity Rider on the iPad. Notice the controls are on the bottom left and right. You need two hands to play this. No eating chips and playing this one! (Also the pause is in the upper left... you will probably crash your bike often trying to get up there in time!)





2) Play it on the tiniest screen you can find. 

I know you can play it on phone or tablet and it is the same game, but  go try it on the phone for a long time and realize you might need an interface there that is different because it is so much smaller. 

A fingertip sized button (and buttons shouldn't be much smaller than that!) takes up so much more room on a phone than a tablet.


3) Turn off the sound and play it! 

Many people play with the sound turned off or very low, because they might be in a group setting or it is night or something. Are all the things the player needs to be notified of (especially in a real time game) clear enough without sound? Do you need to make the animations bigger or more central when something happens? Do you need to pause the game with a pop-up dialog?


4) Listen to the music of your game... for 3 hours. 

Did it drive you crazy with its repetition? Because most in-game music does that to me, and I shut it off after the initial play or two. If your game lasts a long time your music should ideally keep up. Maybe you need a dynamic soundscape or computer generated music.


5) Listen to the sound effects at a medium volume, not on headphones!

Are they annoying? To you or anyone nearby? Ask yourself for real. The same goes for the voice acting. Bad voice acting ruins everything. I played Smallworld 2 on the iPad, but the voice-over they had for the die roll win and loss was SOOOO gratingly bad, I had to turn off all sounds. (Partly because there was no option to just turn off the bad voice acting.)

Ok, not this old!

6) Play it on an older tablet or phone. 

Many people hold onto their old hardware until they are forced to upgrade. Does your game take that large audience into account? How did your game function on that older tablet? Was it slow? Did it crash randomly? Did it work at all? Maybe you can't make it work there, but maybe you can. It is something to think about.



7) Give it to someone who doesn't work with you and who you don't know. 

Watch them play it, and don't tell them anything about it. What are they not understanding? What are they not doing? If they are frustrated and acting stupid, that's probably your fault as the designer, not theirs.

I like to playtest a game with people that don't play games much, because it gives me a certain kind of feedback that is more useful and different than from people who play games a lot and have ingrained ideas and preferences.


8) Play your "tutorial" 10 times, and see if you hate the world after, or anytime during it. 

Do you really need that "click here, click here, click here" thing you are calling a tutorial? Because most people know how to play a mobile game. And if your interface is too complex to figure out, maybe you need to have a better interface rather than a boring tutorial that people click to get through and don't learn too much from anyway.

I have quit an enormous number of games due to these type of tutorials. I like if I am given an option to try the tutorial, or just start the game, and I really prefer the term "how to play" to "tutorial".


9) And as I usually recommend, play that game for 100 hours at least. 

And another couple hundred hours after that. More or less, depending on how complicated your game is. Notice anything that becomes tedious in the mechanics of the game, or in the use of the interface, and revise them! Try weird strategies, do random things while playing. 

Games are a dynamic medium and have many pathways through them. This is what makes them unique and interesting compared to other media. But it also means you have to put in more time traveling those pathways in order to make a good game.

If you like board games and this post, go read 7 Ways to Stress Test you Board Game.

Or read more about Digital Games and Design.