Inspiration

iOS Game Design Guidelines for Beginners

We cover some general ideas and resources for game design on iOS platforms (iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch).

Mobile games are a growing marketplace with more kids foregoing the Game Boy in lieu of a modern tablet. Even some adults are drawn into the gaming craze because it’s better than counting the seconds in a solemnly empty waiting room.

Apple’s iOS platform was on the original iPhone which then spawned a fantastic tablet device. The operating system has been around for almost a decade and the marketplace is already renowned across the world.

I’d like to cover some general ideas for game design on iOS platforms. Naturally you do need a great idea, but the implementation of this idea is paramount to success. And while there is a lot of competition there’s always room for a new blockbuster game to go viral, and for the creator to reap pecuniary rewards.

Heavily Customized Interfaces

The iOS platform in general offers a lot of customizability. Typical app designers stick with the Human Interface Guidelines to ensure that the largest audience will understand the app UI.

But in the world of mobile gaming it’s a little different. You can (and should) try to push boundaries so that your interface best suits the game. iOS is heavily programmable to recognize interactions like directional swipes, double-taps, and tap+hold.

space game ios app

Take for example Space Ultimate for iOS 7/8. The game interface takes up the whole screen and feels quite natural. You guide a spaceship through space, shooting down obstacles and avoiding collisions.

But the graphics are also rather interesting. You can tell these were custom-built for the game in a very particular style. Both background & foreground objects match together and create a rhythm within the interface.

Sometimes a re-hashed idea can work out great if you have the right interface. Think about all the different racing games which draw an audience only because of the characters and cars being raced (Mario Kart comes to mind).

But it always helps to include features that offer more replay value.

High-Capacity Processing

Modern smartphones run on powerful technology that has advanced quite a bit from from original models. ARM processors run on almost every smartphone and even date back to Nintendo’s GBA.

It’s possible for game developers to create exceptional ideas without many limitations. Of course you shouldn’t expect graphics at the same quality as a top-shelf Nvidia card – but for mobile games these devices are impressive.

One example is Archer, an iOS app restyled with a Space Invaders feel to it. The screenshots look great but the video preview is even more impressive.

archer sniper ui game

Animations are seamless and not very repetitive. Shots move in a controlled manner while enemies tend to zig-zag based on different algorithms. It doesn’t offer much advanced gameplay but the graphics and animations are more than enough to demonstrate proficiency in processing power.

If you buy the game assets to customize you can also re-skin the design with your own graphics & sprites. Plus you can replace sound files and even customize the animations if you have enough patience to do so.

Intuitive Goals

Some of the most addicting games are those you can pick up right away. Players want to get right into the action rather than be forced through a 2 hour tutorial.

Most iOS games are rather simple but it’s not just about simplicity. Players should be able to instinctively understand the objectives and how to play.

Don’t think this means you have to stick with obtusely basic games. More detail is great as long as usability is still on your mind. Help screens are useful to explain controls as long as they’re short & sweet.

cave run game side scrolling ios

An interesting way to think about mobile gaming is the implied use of items. People may look at Cave Run and assume that the objective is to run through the cave picking up coins. Pretty accurate.

But how do you jump? Can you walk/run or do you always move at the same speed?

These questions can be answered through trial-and-error but you should attempt to clarify as much as possible. When facets of gameplay can’t be implied then create optional help screens rather than forced tutorials.

Simple, Fun, and Practical

Most people would agree that games on any system should be fun and practical. But something you have to keep in mind is that iOS games are limited. They can’t perform at the same level as the Wii, PS4, or PC games.

When designing for iOS take simplicity into consideration. Overly-complicated games may be fun on professional gaming platforms. But mobile users generally want something mindless and silly to play with.

game center ios login

Connectivity and shared results are also a big part of mobile iOS games. Since phones are naturally connected to other people, many game designers connect into Game Center for sharing results with others.

Try to bring fun aspects to the game beyond just gameplay. Angry Birds is now a worldwide name because it’s fun and took advantage of physics & luck within the game. This makes it fun to play and fun to watch.

candydrop pixel game ios

CandyDrop is very similar with a simple yet challenging objective. The graphics are more NES-era pixels but the game runs and feels terrific.

If something is fun and simple it’ll draw players back time and time again. From continual usage you can earn money through freemium ads or even in-app purchases.

Wrap-Up

A good way to approach iOS game design is for fun rather than money. Plenty of games earn a reasonable amount but very few of them reach prosperity at the heights of Mount Everest.

Instead focus on how you can build a great game that entertains your audience. With an intuitive interface and practical controls you’ll learn through repetition how to design amazing touchscreen games for any device.


Get started with these bestselling game templates: 

  1. Cave Run Game – Cocos2D
  2. FIVES | iOS Multi Language Word Game Template (Swift)
  3. Fun Memory Game for iPhone – AdMob Ads
  4. iPhone Game : Dart Wheel – Cocos2D
  5. Corona SDK Endless Runner Template with AdMob
  6. JetpackChallenge-iOS Game-SpriteKit/Swift2.1/iOS9+

Check out all the bestsellers

This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for 2017. 


About the Author Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a passionate writer & digital designer frequently researching the latest trends in UI/UX design and user behaviors. You can find work samples on his portfolio and follow his tweets @jakerocheleau.