How to Develop for the Mobile Casual Gaming Market

Jesse Freeman talks about designing for the casual gaming market and the role HTML5 will play in the future of game design.

HTML5 is becoming a larger and larger part of game design—so much so that Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman) expects the future of HTML5 gaming to go beyond the browser. In the following interview, Freeman, a technology evangelist at Microsoft focusing on Windows 8 and HTML5 gaming, talks about the future of game design and the intricacies of designing games for the growing casual gamer market. He will address these topics in more depth in a free webcast, “Mobile Gaming: Are We Casual Enough Yet?,” at 1 p.m. PT on Friday, May 10.

What are some key factors to keep in mind when designing games for the casual market?

jesse_freemanJesse Freeman: It’s hard to nail down what will make a game a success in the casual market, but I am starting to learn a few things about what works and what doesn’t work from my own games. I also watch other successful games in the various mobile stores and keep track of what I feel attributes to their popularity. If you play enough successful casual games, you will start to see a pattern emerge that usually revolves around the same five principles:

  1. The game has mass appeal
  2. There are simple game mechanics
  3. It has a clear reward/motivation system
  4. Great replay value
  5. Low barrier of entry

What would you say is the biggest mistake developers should avoid making when designing for casual gamers?

Jesse Freeman: One of the biggest mistakes I always make is assuming that the player will easily pick up the controls. You have to have some kind of introduction screen, instruction screen, or helpful tool tips. It kills me to have to do this, but you can’t assume that a casual gamer has enough past playing experience to figure out how your game works. Chances are they only started playing games recently and missed out on the good old days of Nintendo games that forced you to think on your feet and figure things out as you played along.

How has HTML5 impacted game development, and how might it in the future?

Jesse Freeman: HTML5 games are quickly replacing the hole left by the decline of Flash and other plugin-based platforms. The web is still a huge market and will continue to be larger than mobile for some time. Don’t forget that people also access the web via these new devices, and mobile HTML5 gaming portals are a growing opportunity.

Over the next few years, we will see HTML5 completely replace Flash and provide a much richer experience across all platforms. Even Nintendo is looking to include an HTML5 SDK in the Wii U to entice indie web game developers, and on Windows 8, you can publish your HTML5 games alongside native ones and the end user will never know the difference. I hope that more platforms decide to fully embrace HTML5 games as first-class citizens alongside native games.

Learn from experts at this free, live webcast.

Jesse Freeman

Mobile Gaming: Are We Casual Enough Yet?

Presented by Jesse Freeman
Date: May 10, 2013 at 1pm PT

Register now

In a recent blog post, you wrote, “I believe the future of HTML5 gaming is going to be outside of the browser”—why is that?

I am a big believer in these new “HTML5 wrapper” solutions that take an existing HTML5 game and make it native. As I mentioned, you can already get the same effect on Windows 8 since HTML5 games can be published like native apps, but on other platforms like iOS and especially Android, traditional web-based wrappers like PhoneGap aren’t ideal. Products like CocoonJS and AppMobi are allowing HTML5 game developers a way to package up their games for multiple platforms while taking advantage of native rendering via mapping canvas calls to OpenGL.

These are great solutions if you are looking to get the best performance possible out of your game and distribute them via each platform’s app store. The downside is that they rely heavily on your game being canvas only and not using the DOM for UI or other elements in your game. JavaScript is incredibly fast, and these solutions address the two sticking points around performance, which are sound and rendering to the display. Eventually, sound and performance will be worked out, but for now, using a wrapper is going to be your best solution.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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