Fundamentally, all gamers play for the experience. It therefore is incumbent on all developers to make sure the experiences they deliver are perfect. “Perfect” means that the application works exactly as it is supposed to work every single time someone plays it. Optimally, every app should work well all of the time, but bugs in mobile games, and the impact they have on the “experience”, are especially frowned upon by the users of those games.
Challenges specific to mobile games
Those who don’t play mobile games may not realize just how sophisticated these games are. Beyond graphics, gameplay factors and variables like adjusting the game for a single player compared to multiple players come into play. The success of a game as an app also depends on network synchronization, the ease of interaction between the software that runs the game and the hardware on which it runs, and game flow. Testing (and retesting) for all of the above and more is critical to bring the app to the final gamer experience of “perfect.”
The impact of diversity
As the success of mobile games is dependent on the gamer experience, developers need to pay attention to several factors that go beyond game flow and integrated components.
For a gaming app to succeed internationally, it must match the cultural norms of expectations of each country where it will be available. Sometimes, simple translations of terms is sufficient, such as offering a user interface in as many different languages as countries where it will be played.
Other times, however, language adjustments are insufficient to bridge cultural disparities. An obvious example is the attire on a woman avatar. Western countries might expect the figure to show some virtual skin, while in the Middle East, that would not be acceptable, not even in cartoon form. When the app is developed and then tested, all parties involved should stay attuned to these potential issues and adjust the app accordingly.
Testing mobile games
Let’s note what may be obvious: You can’t test the gamer experience inside the computer laboratory. Gamers have their own playstyles and will use the app under different conditions. Testing must be done in the “real world” to be sure that the app performs as it must under a multitude of conditions. This testing necessarily includes playing the game under all possible conditions — including when the user is a single player and the many variables possible under multiplayer conditions.
What is at greater risk of being overlooked is the challenge of developing apps that present the game in the same way on different platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, tablet … with so many mobile devices, successful presentation for all of them is critical, and to make this happens requires extensive testing on each of the many devices, under all the usual and unusual circumstances.
Connecting the mobile devices to the network presents a similar challenge. Even single-player games sometime need a connection to the server, and that connection must be smooth. Long-time lags in communication from the server to the device will interfere with the player’s experience in a significant, negative way. Connectivity problems should be prevented to the absolute extent possible. Moreover, because 3G works differently in different places, game developers should investigate the potential pitfalls in programming for the same official standard but also for use in different locales.
End-to-end testing means that quality assurance teams make sure that an app works from start to finish in accord with its design. For mobile games, this testing of overall performance is especially important — because of everything we’ve already pointed out about game flow, gamer experience, and the expectation of quality. Also, not every computer event that works perfectly in isolation works perfectly in sequence with other events, and in gaming, if the sequence of events does not take place smoothly, there’s simply no game. The integrated functioning is exactly what the gamer needs and expects. End-to-end testing makes sure that the app is ready for the gamers to give it all they’ve got.
Owing to their unique set of requirements for testing their apps, when it comes to mapping out a testing strategy, gaming developers must ensure that their testers are not only professional, but are based in the key markets the app will be introduced in, can test across device and network type and can work on a “pay as you go” model to help the developer avoid high monthly retainer costs. When all the components work together properly to present a game that those with gaming experience specifically want to play, the developers can rest easy: The market share they are looking for is essentially theirs.
Ran Rachlin is the CEO of Ubertesters, a provider of crowd-based, process management tools for mobile applications.