Touch Control Design: Ways Of Playing On Mobile &Mdash; Mobile Free To Play

Know your AudiencePlaying on an iPhoneGamer StanceCasual ProdderSubway ThumbPlaying on an iPadHardcore iPadderNo-Hands iPadder

Baông chồng in 2012, I was actually writing a book. I had a publisher lined up, but in the kết thúc the amount of time required became overwhelming and the publisher lost faith in the success of the book. Lucky for you, I can now give away this information for free!

While the nội dung was written by myself, the photos và illustrations were done by Jackie Fong, Rocteo Commisso, & Gabby DaRienzo. My old partners in crime at XMG. Many of the photos include games that are owned by XMG Studio.

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Here is a first excerpt of my book which focuses on touch controls for games on thiết bị di động.

Ways of Playing on Mobile

The touch control, how the player uses the touch screen of the device, is always the hardest component to lớn get right. The control mechanics will make or break your game on a điện thoại device.

If users are constantly fighting against the control mechanics or if users cannot understand what khổng lồ vị quickly or if users are required khổng lồ bởi vì too many things with their fingers, it will kill your game. It is also impossible khổng lồ make everyone happy with the control mechanics. Understanding your audience is key.

Using the comtháng mechanics that your target audience is used lớn is extremely important. If your audience is core gamers, use comtháng mechanics with which they are familiar. Don’t be afraid khổng lồ borrow inspiration from your competitor’s games. That is what your core audience is used to! Always take risks & innovate; however, when it comes lớn controls, don’t fight what your users already know.

This chapter serves as reference for designing touch controls that work on điện thoại or small touch screen devices. Focus on designing touch controls that are as inclusive as possible. Allow the player to play your game whenever & wherever the player wishes. It is imperative sầu to lớn always user thử nghiệm.

The only way khổng lồ see what is right for your game is to thử nghiệm with your target audience as often as possible right from the beginning. Take their feedbachồng seriously. Prioritize fixing usability bugs over creating new features.

If you leave usability to the kết thúc of your production, you will never fix them. Adding more features on top of a poorly controlled game will not make the game any more successful. In fact, more often than not, it will cause your house of cards to come crashing down.

Control mechanics won’t figure themselves out. You have to fix the problem right from the beginning.

Know your Audience

The first step in designing a control mechanic is to determine where và how your audience will play your game. Head out into the real world. Find your target audience. Watch them play games. Watch gamers at play:

Watch them play on the subway on their iPhone.Watch them play on the couch with an ipad.Watch them play at the coffee shop with their iPhone & Máy tính bảng iPad.Watch them play as they walk down the street (& walk inlớn that sign post…)

Notice :

Notice where their attention is.Notice how often they play.Notice how long they can play the game.Notice what common distractions are in their environment.Notice where they place their hands.Notice where their fingers can và can’t move sầu.Notice what their fingers cover up when they move about the interface.

Did they notice your awkward stare yet? Good.

Playing on an iPhone

There are many comtháng ways that people hold their iOS devices when playing games. People are inclined khổng lồ operate them in similar ways. The mantra of this chapter is : Always know your audience

Know how they play,Know where they playKnow why they play.

Build your mechanics with that in mind. Here is a menu of playing orientations that I have found most users follow on the iPhone :

The “Gamer Stance” is the bread and butter for most game-experienced players on the iPhone. It involves holding the gaming device with two hands và using both thumbs as controllers.The “Casual Prodder” is how the majority of the world plays on the iPhone. One hvà holds the gaming device while the other hvà (thumb or fingers) control the game play.The “Subway Thumb” comes up when the player is walking along the street or is holding on to a subway railing lớn support themselves. Both the holding of the gaming device & the control of the gaming action happen with the same h&.

Gamer Stance


In the “Gamer Stance”, players holds the gaming device with two hands using both thumbs as controllers.

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Notice the placement of thumbs & where the player stabilizes the phone in the “Gamer Stance” as shown in Figure 2-2. This is how most hard core gamers hold their phone. They’ve sầu grown up on GameBoys. They own a PSP. This is NOT the majority of players. Building a game specifically for this stance is not igiảm giá for casual games. By designing for this orientation, you have made a choice that your game will be built for the nibít of core gamers on the iPhone. This is entirely fine. Many great successful games have been built for this orientation. As the game developer, you just need to be aware that this orientation has its advantages và disadvantages.


As shown in Figure 2-3, there are relative sầu tracking area where players can press with ease & where they can press lớn reach.

Thumbs at the side present some design inferences. Buttons placed along the sides of the screen are best to avoid the thumb covering up the screen. Notice in Figure 2-4 with Inspector Gadget, we kept most of the UI elements to lớn the sides of the screen.


It is important lớn look at which area of the screen players cover up when they press down on the screen. Since the thumbs are at the sides, the farther the thumbs travel into the top center of the screen, the more they cover up the middle of the screen. Buttons, controls, etc. that require the player to lớn press in the top center should have sầu this consideration. The players’ thumbs are going lớn cover at least half of the screen. It will require them khổng lồ reach with their thumbs, making it a very deliberate action. Players with smaller hands will have to lớn let go of the phone khổng lồ reach the top center. Interface control for this orientation should be kept to lớn the outsides of the screen for this reason. Always keep in mind, when designing for this orientation, that this orientation is a nibít market in the AppStore. It is not the core casual audience. Angry Birds, Fruit Nin-Ja, Where’s my Water, Cut the Rope, etc. all use a one-finger mechanic that is better for the “Casual Prodder”. Even games that are geared towards a more core audience allow for control in this way to lớn widen the potential audience.

Casual Prodder


For the casual gaming audience, the “Casual Prodder” is the most prominent way lớn hold và play games. The “Casual Prodder” player holds và stabilizes the phone with one hand while the other hvà pokes the screen.

The gaming device can be held in both Portrait (vertical) and Landscape (horizontal) positions or orientations. This orientation is used in games like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, Fruit Nin-Ja, Jetpaông chồng Joyride, Fliông xã Golf, Bejeweled, Plants vs Zombies, Flight Control, Where’s my Water , etc. As shown in Figure 2-5, notice the finger placement in this orientation. And, notice how it changes based on either the landscape or the portrait positions. Notice also that left-handed & right-handed players will come at the game from different sides, so the hvà could cover the left-h& side of the screen, or the right-h& side.Notice that one of their hands is essentially incapacitated. One hvà is used to lớn steady the phone completely while the other is used for control. This means you cannot push the player EVER to lớn use two control mechanics at once. But you can use a combination of :

Accelerometer controlOne finger tapOne finger tap & holdOne finger tap và drag

(More on these later!) Each of these methods has good tracking ability, so players can use their finger to tap anywhere on the screen without much issue.

Subway Thumb


The “Subway Thumb” is the most casual of all of the orientations. Building a game with this orientation in mind will allow for the game to lớn be played in the broadest areas. With the “Subway Thumb” mechanic, players hold the phone in one h&, và use only the thumb of that same hand lớn control the game. This allows players to hold onto lớn something with their other hand to lớn steady themselves. So when players are in transit, walking down the street, holding a coffee, etc., they can still play the game.   However, as shown in Figure 2-6, since the player is using only one had lớn both stabilize the gaming device và play the game, this orientation is extremely limiting in game control.The “Subway Thumb” orientation is much less stable and much less attractive with the landscape orientation than with the portrait orientation. Small-handed people will not be able to lớn stabilize the phone, và are less likely to feel safe without switching to lớn the “Casual Prodder”. So,the portrait position is usually the way to lớn go.

iBooks (the app) is a great example of the “Subway Thumb”. iBooks (and most book readers) are built on the phone so that reader can hold the device in one hvà and turn the page with just a simple tap or swipe. This allows the player lớn progress through the book with just one thumb & one h& holding the phone, making it much more attractive sầu when the player is doing something with the other hand such as using public transportation. When designing a game, keep in mind the placement of the thumb (for left- và right-handed-ness) và where the players can reach. The bottom half of the portrait screen is the most reachable area for the player to lớn press. For this reason, you should design your interfaces so that buttons & controls are placed along the bottom of the screen.And, rethành viên that this orientation is built for players who can only use one h& to lớn operate the phone (while taking the subway or bus, while walking a dog, etc.) So, keep the following points in mind :

Their attention is most likely not 100% on your gameThey will exit quickly if requiredThese areas don’t necessarily have WiFi or Data access

Just food for thought.

Playing on an iPad

The iPad is a different beast altogether. It is built large và, despite updates being thin và lightweight, it is still a bundle to manage with just one h&. It basically REQUIRES two hands to operate or to lớn be placed on a surface. Immediately “Subway Thumb” becomes obsolete. The player cannot operate the máy tính bảng ipad with one h&. The ipad tablet requires two hands to operate or a stable surface (such as a kitchen counter, some knees on a couch, etc.) to lớn stabilize. If players are at the coffee siêu thị, they are going to have sầu to lớn find a table to lớn use their ipad. However, the fundamental differences between the iPad tablet và the iPhone are the reasons why players play on it. The ipad actually pushes players to play longer & more dedicated game sessions. When a user picks up and decides khổng lồ play on an iPad, it is a much more conscious and deliberate decision. Players cannot play the on the Máy tính bảng iPad on the go nearly as easily as they can play on the iPhone. The Máy tính bảng iPad device itself is better suited lớn the couch, the coffee table or a desk. The iPhone is built around a much more casual sense. It is with the user all the time. The user takes it out as often as possible. Players are more likely to play on their iPhones when they are on the subway, at a coffee siêu thị, while they’re out doing errands, then they will be to lớn play on an máy tính bảng ipad. Keep this in mind when designing games specifically for the iPad tablet.

Hardcore iPadder


There is nothing casual about playing a game on an máy tính bảng iPad. Just as the “Gamer Stance” orientation on an iPhone, a “Hardcore iPadder” holds the device in both hands và uses thumbs khổng lồ control the game (as shown in Figure 2-8).

The iPad works well in both the Landscape and Portrait orientation. However, because of the form size of the máy tính bảng ipad, notice that players now cannot reach all parts of the screen without taking one hvà off of the device. If players are required lớn reach any further areas (e.g., the top of the screen), they are more likely to lớn take their hands off the iPad tablet, place the device down on a table or their lap, & then prod the screen with their two index fingers. This is exactly what you DON’T want to have happen during your game. This means that your game cannot be played with just two hands! It can only be played with a “third hand”, that is a stabilizing base such as on the knees, on the kitchen counter, or somewhere else where the players feel comfortable putting the device down. As shown in Figure 2-9, note the change that Apple made with their máy tính bảng ipad keyboard.


As shown in Figure 2-9, this update has made it so that iPadders can type without moving their fingers across the screen. Users can now type without putting the iPad down. Think like this when designing your game controls on the ipad. Placing buttons in difficult areas will force players to put the device down. Even though the device is weightless, most people don’t feel comfortable holding it with just one hvà for extended periods of time. Keep this in mind. If your game requires two controls at once then keep buttons to the lower outside corners.

No-Hands iPadder


The other iPad tablet orientation is the “no-hands” orientation. This orientation will limit how and when your players can play your game. They can really only play in circumstances where they can lean their iPad on something they deem stable & safe. Any other time (on the subway, in a small chair, in the car, etc.) they may not have sầu that ability.  

Players will play your game until it starts to lớn physically exhaust them. This will limit game time. Or, they will just choose NOT to play your game. You, as a game designer, have made the choice simply by your control scheme. This scheme allows great two-handed “prodding” control, now that the screen is big enough và players don’t need khổng lồ support the device with a hand. They can now have sầu two fingers with which khổng lồ prod the interface. For example, as shown in Figure 2-10, Cows vs Aliens on the iPad tablet cannot be controlled in any other way. The Máy tính bảng iPad must be placed on a stable surface freeing up both hands to lớn play the game. This can be seen as a hindrance or it can be seen as part of the innovative mechanic. As a casual game, Cows vs Aliens should attempt to bring as many users in as possible (lượt thích a board game). If the control mechanic prevents players from playing whenever and however they wish, then it restricts when & how the players will play….. và we want them khổng lồ play.