Hello there, pretty peeps and dainty developers! I’m Peter and I’m going to discuss mobile games and their number of game mechanics!

A common sight on the top lists of smart phone markets is the single mechanic game, games that focus on having one strong game mechanic at its core. It’s not uncommon to see modifiers to this central mechanic. The different birds in the Angry Birds games offer a diversity yet they all use the same core mechanic, the slingshot. A prime example of the single mechanic school of games is Tiny Wings. It has literally one mechanic: touch the screen to increase downwards speed. You can’t really get much more simple than that, can you? So, let’s take a look at games with additional mechanics.

Gun Bros, a successful mobile game on both iOS and Android, has quite simple core mechanics: use one virtual stick to move, another to shoot in a direction. However, outside the core we find several layers of mechanics, from economics to levelling your character. Each of these additional mechanics influence the core gameplay extensively, managing your economy enables you to gain more money and experience points during levels, thus progressing faster through the game. So, what does this have to do with costs? As with most, if not all, software development projects the largest expense for companies are wages. This would lead us to minimize the amount of different mechanics in a game, simply to reduce the time needed to implement, balance and perfect said mechanics. More mechanics may also mean more graphics to represent them, which in itself can be costly.

Does this mean it’s always better to stick with a single mechanic? Of course not! Simply put, the more complex a game, the larger the investment in time to get it done. However, this investment may very well pay off, a complex game might captivate an audience that quickly tires of a single mechanic game or keep players playing for longer. This is particularly important in games that monetize through ads or in-app purchases since the more people play them, the more money the company makes. In theory at least.

Measuring the cost of mechanics is hard, and it gets harder the more mechanics you have. Often several mechanics interact to form complex structures and feedback loops that can take quite some time to balance. On the other hand, the cost of not having them might be even higher. Certain games or certain forms of monetization in games may require a certain combination to really perform optimally, these combinations can make the time cost rise exponentially for each new mechanic. This means that for every new idea you come up with you have to value how much actual worth this has for the consumer (or in certain cases, the opposite, most notably in freemium games). If the increased value doesn’t justify the possibly vast increase in development time you will probably be better off killing your darlings, sad as that may be.

In the end, I can’t say there are any simple answers. As a rule of thumb I’d say that a single mechanic game is a lot easier, not to mention cheaper, to produce. The downside is that it requires that single mechanic to be as near perfection as it can possibly get. In a more complex game it’s easier to accept slight imperfections whereas if a single mechanic game fails at delivering, the entire game feels faulty. Also, if in doubt it’s usually best to take the simpler path, increased complexity does not equal a better game. If you kept it simple and the game fails it will cost you less than if you made a complex game. Still, if you feel that the product you’re making is sub par, you might be better off dropping it in favour of something else.

- Peter