Part of our focus here at Under The Code, is to allow the sports gaming community to have their own voice by contributing content to our readers. We call these pieces ‘Community Insights’, and over the course of the year you can expect to see various voices in the sports gaming community lend their voice to our pages and share their opinions on the industry.
On today’s Community Insight, we bring our readers a very special guest – Ryan Lewis. Ryan is currently designing a brand new mobile football title named Pocket Dynasty Football, along with Bryan Bingham. Over the next several weeks, Ryan is going to take some time to fill our community in on what takes place during the development process and his experiences building Pocket Dynasty Football from the ground up.
To start off, Ryan takes a look at some great mobile sports titles and gives us insight into what makes a mobile sports game worth playing.
Just because some mobile games are a dollar (or free), doesn’t mean that we should expect mediocrity. And while there are a ton of mobile sports games out there that are not even worth a dollar, there are quite a few that are just as fun as their $60 console big brothers. But what makes a mobile game great? It’s usually not the graphics, and it’s not even always the league or player licenses. We can’t (and we shouldn’t) compare mobile games to console experiences when it comes to graphics and enormous feature sets, but when it comes to “is this game fun AND do I want to keep playing this game” mobile sports games are beginning to stack up. So, why is a mobile sports game fun and what key traits does a mobile sports game have to have to make it so that we keep wanting to play it?
Simple, Quick Experiences That Are Easy to Pick Up and Difficult to Master
When you sit down on your couch to play Madden or FIFA, you’re probably going to be there for a while. Very few people are going to want to sit and stare at their phone or tablet and play a whole game of football in one sitting. Sure, you can turn it off and come back to where you left it, but there also needs to be a certain level of fulfillment for each play session, or you will forget about it. At the same time, you also don’t want to have to sit through a tutorial or learn some unfamiliar mechanic in a mobile sports game. With a console, people are a lot more forgiving. After all, they paid $60 for the game, so they will probably give it the benefit of the doubt for more than just a few minutes.
With a mobile sports game, you need to be able to figure out the basics of the game mechanics within minutes (if not, seconds) of playing the game. But you also need to have a difficulty curve that makes you want to come back and continue to improve upon what you are doing. One game that is the poster child for simple, quick experiences that are easy to pick up and difficult to master is Score! The basic mechanic is to swipe where you want the ball to go. Pretty simple. You see a line where the ball is supposed to go to recreate classic goals from international soccer matches, and you just swipe on it. The more consistent you stick to the line, the better the result. And you can complete a single goal in less than half a minute.
The depth to Score! comes in the next level of difficulty where the speed and the length of your swipes are sensitive and you have to get more things “right” with how you swipe. It’s funny, because when you boil it down, the game is basically just tracing a line and watching what happens, but it is the epitome of a fun, addicting mobile sports game.
A Mobile Game Experience with a Hard Core Sports Façade
If you think about basketball, hockey or soccer, the most basic idea is to put a ball or puck into a goal or a hoop. There are several other rules on top of that, but, in the same way that Pong is like tennis, mobile games can take the simplest idea of a sport and make a game out of it. While a lot of the current mobile sports games just take a small snapshot of a sport (i.e. kick a field goal or throw a pass to a receiver) there are some games that actually attempt to give a fuller experience that is more representative of the sport they are emulating.
9 Innings Pro Baseball 2013 does an amazing job of bringing the full game of baseball and giving it a great mobile experience. You can play this game with one hand, but the timing for the hitting, the strategy of the pitching and the straightforwardness of the fielding puts this game on par with any great console baseball game that I have ever played. Using simple tap mechanics makes this game perfect for mobile, but it also has a degree of difficulty and strategy that make it deep as well. You can play a full 162 game season with playoffs using real players and real team cities and divisions (the game has the MLBPA license, but not the full MLB license). On top of that, it also has a really fun, card-based, team building layer where you can buy and open card packs and upgrade your players. Don’t worry, you don’t have to use a dime of your real money past the $0.99 the game costs on iOS.
A True Sense of Progression That Keeps You Invested In the Game
There is nothing wrong with leaderboards, but when your only reason to come back to a game is to beat your last score or your friend’s last score, most sports gamers are going to get bored with your game real quick. If the NBA were just based on beating Wilt Chamberlain’s points record, we wouldn’t care as much. We’re invested in our team because they are playing games throughout the season on their path to hopefully make it to the post season and win a championship. There is a sense that they are building towards something. With sports games, players are usually more connected to a game if they can build up a team or a single player over a season and see/feel the improvement as the team or player’s ratings increase.
New Star Soccer understands progression because it is based on building up your player and winning games and tournaments over your player’s entire career. You start out with a pretty mediocre standing in the world, playing in lower tier leagues and you have to progress your ratings and skills to reach the upper echelon of world club soccer (i.e. EPL or Serie A, etc.). At the same time, you have to balance your relationship with your team, your manager, your fans and your sponsors. There is a great degree of risk/reward with this balancing act, and when you are playing in top form, it’s extremely gratifying to try and maintain this balance.
Very few mobile sports games have really nailed the whole “player building” concept, but New Star Soccer really has. The game’s actual soccer mechanics are really simple and addicting, but it’s the tournaments, contracts, transfers, time balancing and player progression that can keep you playing this game for hours.
With nearly 20,000 apps being submitted to the AppStore every month, it’s no wonder that mobile games don’t get a ton of attention from hard core sports gamers; there is a lot of mediocrity to sift through. But there are some mobile developers who have done a fantastic job creating great mobile sports games, and the variety and quality will only get better. If you haven’t tried out 9 Innings Pro Baseball 2013, New Star Soccer or Score!, you’re missing out on a great gaming experience. Plus, these games are either free or $0.99, so you’re not really losing much by trying them out.
– Ryan Lewis
We’d like to thank Ryan for today’s insight into the mobile sports gaming industry. This will be a multi-part series from Ryan, so you can look forward to more from him in the future!