Create Well-Designed Systems of Progression in Mobile Games
The mobile games market is a growing one. To stand out from the mass of competing games, you must offer original ideas and smoothly running systems that pick up the player and hold their attention for as long as possible.
People want to be kept busy and, above all, they want to achieve something. Everyone has had a sense of achievement in life, and the joy and satisfaction of reaching a goal is a powerful intrinsic motivator.
So how do I ensure players still like my game after a week, a month, or longer? And why is including a well-designed progression system in my game so important?
First, it is essential (especially in more complex games) not to confront the player with all the features in the game at the beginning. There are two main reasons for this:
A Well-Designed Tutorial
The player can get used to the game mechanics step by step, try them out and internalise them. Often, the essential information is explained in a tutorial. Here the player is taken by the hand, and the game explains the recurring core mechanics, i.e. those functions that the player will repeatedly perform in the course of the game, in the simplest steps.
Depending on the game, the tutorial will finish, and the player will be released into the game with the core knowledge. In our experience, we have found that a hard cut from the tutorial phase into the actual gameplay can cause high churn rates. This leads to my next point.
Gradually Unlocking the Game’s Full Scope
Confusion and overwhelm can result when the player is confronted with a flood of information. Let’s take the case mentioned above. The player has just finished a guided tutorial where, in extreme cases, only an arrow pointed them to selected parts of the screen to indicate where to click while the rest of the screen was blacked out. After the tutorial, the player is confronted with the full, unfiltered extent of the UI and gameplay and can’t find their way around.
Suppose additional features that haven´t been mentioned in the tutorial or the player does not know from other games are offered. In that case, the gameplay quickly turns into hard work, and the player will likely leave the game forever.
Therefore, it is advisable to allow the player to get used to the core mechanics as soon as possible and gradually unlock all the other features. This way, they can master innovation and then face a new challenge.
Next, it’s essential to constantly present the player with new challenges and keep them busy. After all, even the most creative core mechanic gets boring after constant repetition. This is where it helps to work with level systems, for example, which is often the case in games with an RPG focus.
Here, the player is rewarded for certain actions in the game with experience points, which accumulate and eventually reach a predefined threshold. If this is the case, the player moves up a level and, in addition to a reward, gets access to new features or upgrades to the existing ones.
Generally, obtaining a certain currency, like experience points and coins, is a good way to include progression systems, often several in parallel. This is because additional progress systems can also be new features that can be unlocked step by step.
The game uses a level system from the start, where continuously repeating the core mechanics generates experience points that lead to level advancement. At this new level, the player unlocks a mission system in which they must complete specific tasks, which often change daily, and is rewarded with in-game currency.
Players could only use this to upgrade their game avatar or buy skins. However, the level system now unlocks a housing system at the next level, where the player can gradually use the currency generated during the missions to build up their base. Thus, the player has three different progression systems in the game, which constantly give them new goals (level up, complete tasks, upgrades) and ensure they stay busy and don’t get bored.
The Feeling of Success
Speaking of goals, humans crave success. Achieving them is a strong intrinsic factor. When we have a sense of achievement, we are happy, and games have a whole range of possible sensations of achievement that keep the dopamine flowing.
Therefore, one of the most important reasons for a well-designed progress system in the game is to satisfy the player’s need to succeed.
Goals Can Take Different Forms
Sometimes they are specified by the game. They could be in the form of missions or tasks in which a certain number of matches should be won, a certain number of opponents should be defeated, or a certain time should not be exceeded.
Sometimes, however, a path is actively given to the player, such as a Battle Pass. In this system, similar to the previous point, the player collects a special currency to fill a progress bar. This is again divided by thresholds that promise a reward, often consisting of in-game currency, special items or cosmetic customisations. Since a Battle Pass is mainly for monetisation, you can gain additional rewards here through whatever monetisation method, but that’s another topic.
The important thing is that the player feels the goals are achievable and valuable to their gameplay. For example, it doesn’t help if, after investing many hours of playtime to reach a new level, you only get ten coins as a reward when upgrading your character costs 1000 coins.
The rewards and accessibility must be within reasonable limits. Otherwise, even the best progression system won’t work.
Types of Progression Systems
Every game is different and has a different focus. Hence, it’s logical that the way to keep players consistently engaged is different from game to game. No general formula can be applied to all games, but I would like to conclude by listing a few of the most common progress systems.
The most common system I´ve already explained uses experience points gained from the core gameplay to increase their level. This can also be applied to player assets like heroes or minions; the player can summon or recruit in the game.
Also known as tasks or quests, missions are clear goals with predefined rewards. They can have a big impact on retention if they´re used well. For example, designers can provide a list of repeating missions picked from a pool of tasks to create daily missions that motivate the player to log in the day after.
Legacy systems are a principle used especially in idle games, where the player plays up to a certain point and then loses all his progress on purpose, only to start over in the next playthrough with improved stats and a bonus like fast building or the chance of better loot.
Some games use housing or base building as a meta layer and sink for their in-game currency. The base usually contains multiple buildings that offer bonuses to the core gameplay.
Following a story can be very exciting for players and make them spend more time in the game. Narrative elements are also perfect for unlocking other features into context. A story can be started or promoted in the marketing campaign for the game, as games like Merge Mansion or Homescapes do.
In summary, well-designed progression systems are indispensable for the success of a game. They help to pick up the player and introduce them to the game. They ensure the player doesn’t get bored and has a good time.
The more progress on different levels, the better for the gaming experience. And along the way, such systems offer many monetisation opportunities. But we might talk about that in another blog, so stay tuned.