Console vs mobile: a study of player engagement

Ever since video games moved from arcades to home consoles we have seen video games develop into the method of development and release which is similar to how board games are released, as a product.  However, with the advent of mobile gaming, specifically phone and tablet gaming, we have seen games return to a games as a service model similar to how games existed within arcades.

When games are developed as a service their design is fundamentally different from  when shipped as a product.  I wrote about the differences in development methodology in my article Farmers and Sharks: how mobile development has changed, and the challenges of shifting from consumer to ludologist in my article Analyzing games: studying vs consuming.  Today I will be discussing the player experience on both platforms, how they differ, and what we can learn from each.

Key differences

  • Overview
 Areas of comparison Console Mobile
Game duration 30 minutes – 4+hours 1-5 minutes
Tutorial usage Light Heavy
Return focus  Return for gameplay Return for new content
Content & Consumption Complete access on release Weekly / Monthly additions
  • Explanation
    • Game duration: Game duration on mobile has to be quick and easy to digest, since that takes advantage of the mindset of the mobile player, on the go, needing to kill some time, and /or  wanting a quick fix.  This is why puzzle games have flourished on the mobile market.  In turn, console games are focused on sit down sessions where the player’s primary focus is on playing the game, thus sessions tend to be much longer.
    • Tutorial usage: On console the focus is on getting the player into gameplay, tutorials are used to help introduce some of the main concepts to the player but are often limited.  On mobile we find much longer periods of tutorial / guided gameplay, this is due, in part, to the need to introduce players to the flow of the gameplay and their monetization systems, to make it easy for players to make purchases when they need help or want certain content.  To hide this from plain sight these game will often use tutorials to condition the player into purchase behavior, I discussed the problems with this in my article Mobile Strike: complexity vs depth.
    • Return focus: When players return to console games they are returning to gameplay whereas on mobile they are often returning to see the latest content additions, or to unlock content through progress that occurs after a set number of real-world hours have passed.  The interesting difference in the player behavior here is that playing a game on console may become habitual in terms of coming home every night and playing a few hours, while mobile games become habitual as a compulsive reaction to downtime.
    • Content & consumption: Mobile games are built to be released and maintained as monetization systems.  Since a majority of mobile games focus on a free-to-play model they need to constantly develop new content to maintain their revenue.  With that in mind, mobile players are driven to continue playing to consume content as it is released. Barring DLC packs, the core content of a game on console is accessible upon release, this means that the motivation behind a player returning to a console game is for the gameplay itself since there is a limited amount of impact the DLC packs will have on the core experience.

Do you play more on console or mobile?  Have you observed the noted differences between the two gameplay experiences? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.



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