Skip to main content
Close PromoBar
Get the report Get the report Get the report UserTesting's ROI is 665%—read Forrester's Total Economic Impact™ report to learn more   Get the report Get the report Get the report Get the report

UX Lessons Learned from Android's Top Mobile Games

Blake Bennett  |  May 26, 2015

Every Tuesday, UserTesting’s Research Team studies a different product to share here on the blog. We hope you’ll learn some nifty research techniques and get inspired to run some insightful tests of your own. Enjoy, and check back in next Tuesday!


More than ever, people who don’t consider themselves “gamers” are  pulling out their smartphones to play mobile games in their spare time. In fact, a study projected 16.5% growth in the mobile gaming field for 2015, far surpassing that of other mobile areas.

Many of us have likely downloaded a game based on a friend’s recommendation, or even just simply because of general popularity. That made me wonder: How friendly are these games to non-gamers?

With this in mind, I set out to test the top five games for Android in the Google Play Store. We recruited 10 participants  who regularly played games on their smartphone, but who hadn’t played the games we were testing.  We asked them to give us their impressions of trying these ultra-popular titles for very first time. Here’s what I found.

Controls matter

It may seem obvious, but players can’t play games if they don’t understand how to control them. In many of these games, controls weren’t intuitive to the participants  initially, which often led to frustration.

In this example,  the participant expects tapping to the right of the car would make it  go right, regardless of orientation, but the controls are actually orientation-locked, so tapping on the right side of the screen always causes the car to go to its right. In this particularly egregious case, the player spent thirty minutes before finally understanding this, since the game never directly offered an explanation. This was long past the point she normally would have persisted, leading her to label it the “most frustrating game she’s ever played.”

While most users would likely figure it out quickly after trial and error, many new players appreciate explicit support. It’s great to design games with the goal of intuitive controls, but designers should definitely check that this is actually the case. If not, consider providing direct explanations for those who may need it. Which leads me to the next finding.

Your tutorial isn’t as clear as you think

The option to seamlessly integrate a tutorial into the beginning section of the game offers a lot of positives. It allows you to introduce the story and give in-game context for the instructions, rather than forcing a player to read a long, dry written list. However, these more subtle tutorials also risk players being distracted, or simply not catching on to what might seem obvious from a development perspective. In this clip we can see a participant misconstrue a “tap here” instruction for a “tap anywhere.”

Similar issues cropped up in the other games as well, where participants sometimes completely missed the fact that they should be tapping on flashing, blinking, or otherwise theoretically noticeable options. As tempting as it may be to make your tutorial seem cool, it’s important to not frustrate your players by making them work hard to understand it.

New players don’t know genre conventions

It’s easy to imagine that anyone picking up your game has played similar titles before, but that assumption can create a high barrier to entry for curious newcomers who aren’t familiar to your game’s genre. In this clip, we can see the participant get incredibly confused by a character select screen, as he’s accustomed to mobile games where you tap “Start” to immediately begin the game. Whereas veteran desktop MMORPG players may be accustomed to patches and multiple characters, these elements may be completely foreign to a new gamer.

Players like a challenge

Finding the balance between a fun challenge and frustrating difficulty can be itself challenging, but one thing’s clear: too easy can also be dangerous. When someone downloads your game—especially for free—they expect immediate gratification. If they don’t find a compelling reason to keep playing quickly, they’re liable to just drop it completely and never look back. In this clip, after playing for 10 minutes, the participant has yet to be challenged or forced to think, and doesn’t see any reason to continue playing.

It doesn’t matter if compelling, challenging content exists 15-30 minutes in—a player won’t ever see it if they give up within the first five minutes. Of course, finding this right balance of difficulty can fluctuate, given how varied gameplay and target audiences may be, but watching a player try out a game in a natural environment can help with that.

Fun counts for a lot

Although what constitutes “fun” varies from player to player, one resounding finding is that while our participants noticed things like graphics, controls, loading times, and similar features, they were willing to forgive a lot if they were just having fun. Here we can see a participant who admits she’s bad at the game but thinks she’ll keep playing anyway, because the game is simply fun to her.

Some players may enjoy intellectual challenges, others may prefer dominating other opponents, while some may simply want to beat their own high score. Whatever the case, don’t forget to keep this in mind while designing all the other features of your game. Don’t just assume players will enjoy a feature—be sure to check.


Is every game going to appeal to every demographic? Of course not. But you should make sure that your game isn’t driving away potential long-term players with a simple flaw they encounter in the first five minutes of gameplay. As the player-base of mobile games continues to grow and the number of titles available swells along with it, this new group of gamers will likely become more discerning and selective with where they choose to commit their time. With such a new market, it’s not just important to understand what people are playing—you need to know why. And if you’re not sure how,well, UserTesting is happy to help!

Find out more about how UserTesting can help you improve your mobile game here.

Insights that drive innovation

Get our best human insight resources delivered right to your inbox every month. As a bonus, we'll send you our latest industry report: When business is human, insights drive innovation.

Thank you!
Get ready for some great content coming to your inbox from the team at UserTesting!

About the author:

Blake is UX Researcher at UserTesting, and spends a lot of time dreaming up new and creative ways to better test video games. When not working, he enjoys playing Ultimate, traditional RPGs, and, of course, competitive video games.