Taking a game from console or PC to mobile is tricky. The controls are far more limited and the screen can easily get cluttered and unreadable. The hardware can’t handle as much physics, especially when that game is a premium title. But the developers at Psyonix did a fantastic job when recreating their Rocket League game into the mobile sensation, Rocket League SideSwipe.
This wasn’t just a copy-and-paste job. Psyonix made some serious changes to the gameplay, design, and mechanics. All for the better. Aside from the obvious theme of rocket-fueled cars, this feels like an entirely different game. In this article, we analyze what exactly those changes are, and what you can learn from them.
Three rules when taking your game from PC to mobile
When making mobile games, you should aim to hit three principles: make them short, satisfying, and simple. When we compared the differences between the two games, we found every change the developers made contributed to one of those rules.
1. Make your game simpler and consider the screen size
There are some key differences and limitations between PC, console, and mobile. But user interface aside, playing on a smaller device is a heck of a lot different to when you have a large screen and controls.
That might mean removing or limiting certain features to make your game work for your mobile version. Or completely rethinking the gameplay itself.
Here’s what you can do.
Understand what limitations you’re working with
You have less CPU power, less space, and less time from your players on mobile. So you need to understand what limitations you have and adjust your game to cater for them.
Psyonix decided to make the game 2D, instead of 3D, for example. Not only did this make it simpler for the player, but this also avoids the massive amount of physics calculations that a 3D game would have. Fewer dimensions, fewer calculations for the device, faster game.
The developers also limited how many players can have in a match. While you can have up to eight players on console or PC, you can only have up to a maximum of six on mobile. This not only makes it quicker to find matches but makes the games less overwhelming and busy.
Build your game to work on a smaller screen
Mobile phones are getting larger, but you’re still comparatively working with a much smaller screen. For example, if the map for Rocket League SideSwipe was any bigger, the player would need to zoom out. Players would struggle to see their own car, with their thumbs blocking most of the action.
2. Keep the session lengths short and snappy
Players don’t have much time when playing on mobile. They could be anywhere. On a bus on their way to work, in a queue at the bank, or even in the bathroom. You don’t always have their full attention for long. So you need to keep your game short and snappy.
Cut out features that don’t add to the mobile experience
On mobile, clutter will cause your players to drop out. Psyonix got around this by cutting out instant replays on their mobile version. This kept the matches shorter and punchier. Because the maps are smaller, it’s also quicker and easier to score a goal. Having instant replays every 20 seconds would just constantly interrupt the match.
Rocket League SideSwipe also removed the chat function and instead replaced this system with stickers. It’s easier and quicker to communicate with your teammates (or mock your enemies).
Test to find the perfect session length
In the original Rocket League, the matches were five minutes long. But in Sideswipe, they’re only a minute and a half on average. This keeps players engaged and decreases any potential dropouts. When we looked at the data from Benchmarks+ (part of our new pro tier), we found that the typical session length for casual games is about 4 – 5 minutes. So for a game like Sideswipe, this is around 2 – 3 matches per session.
This can vary from game to game. So make sure to test what session length works best for your players by watching your retention and drop rate.
3. Make your players feel epic
Your players will naturally spend less time in casual mobile games, so you want to make sure they have a great experience when they do. That way, they’ll keep coming back.
Replace inactive players with bots
Drop rate on mobile is much higher, as players could leave for any reason – lost signal, got a phone call, or reached their bus stop. If your game is online, consider adding bots to replace inactive players, so as not to interrupt the game for everyone else. This is what Psyonix did, and it works fantastically.
Cater for all types of players
With mobile, you’ll find yourself with a lot more casual players. Having an offline option, difficulty levels, or a top-tier matchmaker to pit them against players in their own skill range can make sure your game stays fun for everyone.
To cater for more ambitious players, introduce leagues, training arenas, and competitions. Just remember not to overcomplicate any of these – you’ll need to strike a balance between customization and options, and simplicity.
Make the game rewarding wherever you can
When playing on a console for a couple of hours, overexaggerated sounds, graphics and notifications can get annoying. But this is crucial for shorter sessions on mobile. You need constant feedback and rewards to keep your players satisfied.
Psyonix did this in their mobile version. In SideSwipe, the graphics are a lot more exaggerated when you hit the ball and score. There’s a lot more excitement and colors. Whereas in the console game, it’s less so.
Use data to perfect your monetization models
There are plenty of monetization models you can adopt for your mobile version, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ strategy when it comes to your mobile game. It’ll take a lot of testing and tweaking to strike the right balance of fun for your players, and a healthy ROI.
Rocket League SideSwipe is a completely free-to-play game, where players earn items, skins and cosmetics through levelling up. Nothing more. The mobile version helps Psyonix reach new players for their console version, where they make money through their Rocket Pass subscription, in-game purchases, physical merchandise, sponsorships, and DLC.
In a 2022 interview on GamesIndustry.biz, Psyonix co-studio head Phil Piliero, said:
We’ve seen significant growth in territories outside our core playerbase, especially in international markets where mobile is the primary platform for gaming. This has allowed us to reach new audiences in addition to our console and PC players, and gives these players their first experience within the Rocket League franchise.
What Psyonix did may not be the best route for your own title. You’ll need data to find out what’s best for your games. And a lot of it. Our free tool can help you answer all of your major analytics questions. And if you’re looking for something more advanced, then our DataSuite products can help you out. Get started today, or speak with our team on how we can help you.