iPhone Game Best Practices

I log more hours on my iPhone these days than on any other gaming device—the games are great, and it’s always with me when I have downtime. Despite all that, there are some things about iPhone games that drive me up a wall. In lieu of a list of top games or some such, here are five best-practice suggestions for iPhone games in 2011.

  1. For god’s sake, don’t reset to my last save when I get a call! The iPhone is a phone, guys, not a dedicated device: your users are always going to be multitasking. Punishing them for it is just mean. Offender of choice: GTA: Chinatown Wars. I should not have to engage airplane mode to play this game safely.
  2. Let me control the volume. I think Steambirds was the first offender I noticed here. If your game is going to let me play my own music in the background, please give me a volume control option for your SFX so I can level the sounds appropriately.
  3. Social Media integration. Canabalt did it well: Give people a very transparent, lightweight way share their scores on twitter. Other games were not so graceful. If I have purchased the game as a stand-alone app, I would prefer it not require me to log into (or worse, create a new) social media account in order to play. I’m looking at you, Rolando. Fix it.
  4. Game Center. This isn’t a strike against developers so much as Apple itself. Why is it so hard to use, and so comparatively useless? Did you forget everything you knew about UI all at once? You’re dominating the market, but you need to get ahead of the XBox Live integration on the Windows Phone.
  5. Tilt controls. They can be intuitive and smooth, but they can also suck. i Love Katamari would have won my instant affection with an option for virtual joysticks—instead, it made me tilt my phone at increasingly extreme angles until I began to feel motion sick. Make them optional, or make your calibration freaking rock. There is no middle ground.

The first point is the kicker. Resume functionality is essential, or we’ll never get past quick-hit casual games on the platform: just because you’re gaming to kill time while you wait for an appointment doesn’t mean you want to lose that time when you have to take a call. I consider it game-breaking to lose progress for any reason out of my control, and I hope that developers (especially those porting games from dedicated hardware) start releasing patches to support the save/resume functionality on display in all the best iPhone games.

The good news? It is possible to patch games, and iTunes makes the process pretty darn easy. Retina display updates, Game Center integration, and control refinements can (and are!) regularly added to older titles, even a year or more after release. It’s encouraging to see developers begin to step away from the fire-and-forget mentality that used to rule the app store. As a gamer I am very glad to have an iDevice, and I am excited to see what the next year brings to the platform

Happy New Year!

One thought on “iPhone Game Best Practices

  1. Kip says:

    I thought this was really cool. You raise some very good points that I probably wouldn\’t have thought of (not being much a gamer anymore, especially not on the iPhone), and it\’s well-written to boot. Keep it up!

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