Mobile gaming remains one of the most interesting corners of modern-day video game development. The impressive technology hidden inside our smartphones has opened the door for some extremely creative and original gameplay mechanics and control methods.

Still, the most successful mobile games don’t throw players into the deep end of complex gameplay right from the start. Instead, they take a very simple idea and iterate on it in such a way that a simple idea becomes more interesting and deep over the course of many levels and challenges.

But how can simple mobile games ideas be turned into engaging, effective, and highly replayable masterpieces? Well, Game Developer and Designer Chihtang Chang (shown above during a gaming conference) has been exploring that question ever since he started his career as a Game Designer and Developer.

Chang has helped create smash-hit mobile games like I am a Salmon, Kitty in the Box, and Kitty in the Box 2. He’s always working on exciting new projects, and so we were very fortunate that Chang found time to give us an interview on the topic of mobile game design and the ways in which mobile games (and any type of video game, for that matter) can entice players to continue playing and slowly prod their imagination and creativity.

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We’ve noticed in recent years that attention spans seem to be shrinking. How quickly does a mobile game need to hook a new player to keep them playing?

Chang: It depends on what genre the game is. Action games may need to hook the player a lot sooner than RPGs. But I think ten minutes is a good rule of thumb, although different countries may have a different cultural impact on this idea.

Online reviews do a lot to promote new video games, but do you think word of mouth still a good way for mobile games to find larger audiences?

Chang: Yes, especially when targeting a specific group of players. An endorsement from someone whose taste they trust would help a game to reach out to them greatly.

So how do you handle progression in your games? Is it difficult to teach players how to handle new mechanics or twists on the central concept?

Chang: I would start with some mechanics that are easy to understand. Next, I would design some obstacles to encourage players to explore the basic mechanics more deeply before I introduce new gameplay elements. But in the meantime, I also feel that sometimes it’s best not to restrict what tools a player can use at first so they can have different ways to approach the game.

For example, in Kitty in the Box 1, players encounter a level variation which requires them to jump. Yet players can always jump from the beginning and the jump function can be used to beat the regular levels, too. In Kitty in the Box 2, some levels require players to learn to bounce off a wall or ceiling in order to reach the box. It’s also doable in earlier levels and can let players do some neat trick shots. I think this kind of learning progress can add replay value to a game.

Is it difficult to balance fun and challenge in mobile games?

Chang: It’s always challenging trying to balance the experience while creating games, whether it’s on mobile or other platforms. To me, I always design the fun part first since it’s easier to create the challenge elements once I get the fun aspect right. And I like challenging games myself so I put some very challenging goals in a game but they are not required to progress.

How can a game encourage players to return?

Chang: Many games provide some sort of reward to encourage players to return, like in-game currencies. They may also have timed events that require players to return later to participate. Those are the two most popular methods for many games. I think they do help strengthen the bond with players because they feel rewarded while playing the games they enjoy.

Do you ever seek out feedback after your game has launched?

Chang: Definitely. It’s very important to learn from the players’ feedback. I bring new games to exhibitions and see how players respond to them. There are also local game developer groups where I can get useful advice and opinions. Fortunately, the local community where I live is quite large and very active so it’s easy to get feedback.

Who do you think are some of the top mobile game publishers right now?

Chang: Many PC games and console game publishers also do a great job on mobile games, like EA, Sony, Tencent, etc. My personal favorite would probably be Nintendo. I also play a lot of games published by Devolver Digital myself.

Would you consider developing/designing games for different platforms, for example, PC or console?

Chang: Yes, actually right now I am working on the console version of I am a Salmon which will have many changes and improvements over the mobile version like multiplayer mode, gamepad support, and different swimmers. It’s always exciting to revisit a game like this, and I’m looking forward to people checking out this new version. 

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Chihtang Chang is Game Designer and Game Developer who helped create the Kitty in the Box series, I am a Salmon, and several other high-performing mobile games.