Every type of cell-phone game



The mobile games market is where Indie developers bring their creative ideas straight to customers, blady-blah. For real there are mostly a handful of popular types. To save you the time of playing them, here they are. But first a note about guilds: In multiplayer games, guilds -- a set of 25 friends who share a cool guild name and flag -- help form teams. For a 5 vs. 5 match, you can probably find 4 guildmates to play with. But many solo games also have guilds, which seems pointless. The logic is that people will stick with a game if it connects them to other people, so every game needs guilds. To give them a use, those guilds have some daily task. With enough communal points, everyone gets some gems. The theory is that you'll keep playing so as not to let down the guild, and to avoid being kicked out for being a slacker. You can't tell what sort of game it is just because it has guilds.


Most puzzle games use pre-designed levels. You'd think those would run out too quickly and random puzzles would be the way to go. But pre-made puzzles can have unique background art, hand-tweaked difficultly. And most importantly, can give a sense of community -- you can ask your friends how they beat level 47. Most of them also have a degree of randomness or timing. Even if you go online for the solution, you may need to play it a dozen times until fate smiles on you.

Many also let you accumulate cheats. Every Monday you might get a single-use 3x3 blast, usable on any puzzle, max of once/puzzle if you happened to save several. Hopefully, players will decide all puzzles are meant to be solved using a blast, want to play more than once a week, and will buy a "bag of 20 blasts"

Physics-based puzzlers: Physics games are like Cut-the-Rope and Angry Birds (try to knock down a stack of blocks by throwing balls at it). They became popular, and easy-to-create when game-making tools added those features. In game speak, simulating gravity, bouncing, collisions is "using physics".

These tend to be actual puzzles - you have to know what to do. But each level will take a while to beat. Firstly, you'll need to experiment to see how things move and bounce when you do X. Secondly, you'll need precise timing. Or, if you're not so good at that, simple luck. Failing and running out of free attempts for the day can make you frustrated enough to spend some money.

Matching lines: this is a huge market: Bejeweled (the first big one, now out-of-print) and Candy Crush are the most well-known. You have a grid of colored balls and can finger-drag to switch any 2 adjacent. If that makes 3 in-a-row of the same color, they explode, balls from above fall into the empty spaces, and new balls from from the top.

You win by getting X points, or collecting Y red balls, or ... part of the fun is there are lots of possible win conditions. Another part is the chain reactions. The falling balls can make more matches, which explode, dropping more new balls and so on. There's enough luck in what falls that even random tapping can get lucky and feel special. There's a lot of variety between levels in the same game, and between games. Various spaces can be blocked, critters can roam, parts can move, there are lots of special spaces or falling items possible.

An advantage for the makers is how easy it is to tweak the difficulty. If most of your testers can collect 50 red balls in 20 moves, give your players 19, 18 or less.

Monster fighting matching: this is an easy and profitable tweak to line-matching. Instead of only getting a certain number of moves, the monster attacks and you're out of moves if it kills you. You win when you get enough points, which now damage and kill the monster. Sometimes the balls are redone as swords, spells and shields.

An advantage for the game-maker is giving players lots of things to upgrade, which means they have to repeat a level many times to earn the gold. Any time we can make players repeat content is a win for us. Buying armour and health effectively gives more turns. Leveling up the wizard or archer makes various balls do more damage. That's a lot more flexibility than "burst 60 balls in 15 turns".

Hidden Objects: Yes, this is still a popular genre -- find differences between these pictures, find 8 flowers in this other picture. You can't do much to stretch out the levels or re-use them, but making them takes only 1 artist with a predictable time-frame. Crime-solving is sort of sub-genre: you have to circle the clues in the crime scene.

Generic Progress

There are plenty of games where there isn't any game. You log-in every day, do busy work, and increase your power (you have a number displaying it). The only point of the game is to feel as if you're progressing.

These can be sneaky. Maybe you have a space ship fleet with actual ships you add and upgrade. But they boil down to the fleet's power number. Battles are automatic, with higher power almost always winning. There's no game. There's a mission to fight pirates every day. Sounds exciting, but you simply click on the pirates with strength just under yours. The most exciting thing is when you finally upgrade enough to beat the next stronger pirates.

The most famous is a parody game -- Cow Clicker. You click a cow once a day. It keeps a count. Eventually you get more cows which can be clicked once a day. The game was so popular, and made money, that the creator shut it down in disgust.

Some of these are more like timed art projects, so are fine. Some are real games -- they require a constantly changing strategy to grow your number. But most look like there's no game at first, and there never is a game.

Crafting: You might start being able to make and sell toast. Earn enough and you can buy a 2-slot toaster, unlock the buttered toast recipe, and buy more seats.

The best of these have lots of choices, limited raw materials are popular, or multiple possible upgrades. Your progress will nearly stall until you come up with a plan. Those game are somewhat fun. But everything is set to take just a little too long. The nicer ones allow you to spend a few dollars for permanent boosts, then more if you really want to.

The worst of these are just progress games with nothing to do but click all of the buttons and buy the next thing.

Idle games: These make the time you're not playing into part of the game -- they work while you're "idle". You might assemble and equip a team of 4 heroes and set them loose. You can watch, but you may as well log out and come back in a few hours and see how well they're doing. You can then recall them, use the gold to buy better equipment, and send them out again.

The worst of these are simply progress -- upgrading the same team, and swapping in clearly superior heroes. But the best are like little puzzles. As you get better stuff, but also need to go deeper, the best team keeps changing. Some may be fast starters without endurance -- good for quick gold. Other are slow but steady -- for those hard to get magic items. Most also have an extra restart mechanic. You eventually go to the next town, get some sort of bonus, but need to start all over. You get to re-use all of your old strategies, if you remember them, with small changes.

One big drawback is you can't play whenever you want. You can, but often you'll just be watching midway through a run which you don't want to cancel yet. But you can plan out your next team, which is sort of like playing.

Tower Defense

Waves of enemies come at you, which you need to defend by building up gun towers and such. You win by building the right mix of towers in the right places. The most common have a windy path, which the enemies must follow. Enemies are preset types, making these somewhat be puzzle games.

Plants vs. Zombies is the most well-known. Monsters walk down a few pre-set lanes. In each you can set-up a line of defenders. This idea spawned a series of "defend the lane" type games.


A Clash-like is basically a single-player game with two halves. You set up your home base as a tower defense, which other players attack while you're away. You do the same to them. Attacking troops can't be controlled. You pick which ones you want, and where they start, then cast spells and use reserve troops. The battles are the main part of the game. Then, to a lesser degree, replaying when you defended to decide how to improve.

The main thing is the attacks are all in fun. If someone flattens your castle, it's instantly fully repaired. All you lose is some gold. If your attacking army is fully killed, it won't affect your next attack. The players you attack are random. No one can purposely target you. You can't even pick on weaker players.

These games also have a strong progress element. You need gold to unlock upgrades and new items. The most prominent feature is upgrading buildings -- it takes hours of days, with a little fence around them during. Each upgrade gets a new distinctive picture.

Take over the world

These are vicious guild-vs-guild games. Other players can attack your base at will, as can their friends. damage done is permanent. The best strategy is to crush enemies using overwhelming odds, while intimidating others with the threat of a massive counter-strike.

These games are essentially text. There's no active gameplay -- merely instructions for where to attack. Armies have leaders and unit types, but are generally just a single number for their overall power. Attacks are text reports.

These games can be hard to spot at first. The world is big, you start in a corner, and the early stages are three week of just upgrading. You may not realize everyone else is joining a guild, rushing the starting upgrades and moving inward to fight over the valuable land. A hint is if the advertisement shows lots of arrows between castles; or if you see a world map where the same people are always next to you.

These game can also be huge moneymakers if enough people play to make them seem worth winning. Most television Ads are for these types of games.


A rogue-like is a single-player adventure game, where it's possible to win, but death is permanent and can happen from bad luck. They're very "old school".

Most start with a high chance of death at the start, while you find basic supplies. They generally have new challenges as you advance. The cockatrices starting on level 12 can turn you to stone, and you'll gradually learn how to prevent it. But sometimes you'll have no luck and they'll kill you anyway.

Today, most rogue-likes cheat, in a fun way. Playing and dying will earn you overall points, which can help the next time. Eventually you can buy something like "new characters start with a health potion". This doesn't completely ruin them, since you're still trying to get as far as possible and it's still easy to die.


Surprisingly, there are some decent World of Warcraft copies in mobile. I'm going to switch to WoW-speak: these games have 5 and 10 person dungeons. bosses with mechanics, tanks healers and DPS, PvP battlegrounds, swappable customizable skills. Just about the whole thing.

Since you don't have a keyboard, you get at most 6 buttons for special skills. They don't have multiple for each race's starting quests, or as many class-specific ones, so the game is less replayable. There are often only 3 classes. But what's there is often just as good as a real game.

The biggest change is that they all play themselves. They'll complete quests with auto-fighting all by themselves. You can do them manually and enjoy them, but it's sure disheartening to know the computer can do it faster. But it won't work in the dungeons, which is where the real treasure lies. Eventually you will need to leave it running for 20 minutes a day while it auto-runs your dailies.

And then, the monetization corrodes it a bit. You can always do a little better if you spend a little more. You'll meet enemies in PvP who you suspect are big spenders, and may get bumped for a healer who bought a few extra upgrades than you. But the early stages of these game always have lots of free players.

1 vs. 1 games

These games will quickly, within a few seconds, match you with one other randomly chosen player for a 1 on 1 game, usually taking a few minutes. Wins increase your rank, which is used to try to match you against similar players. Obviously, having a large player base is important.

They don't have to, but these games almost always use Progress mechanics. You start with a limited subset of weaker pieces, earning better stuff as you play. Often a higher rank has larger prizes. Spending money in these games feels good -- you get a streak of easy wins while your rank rises; then the advantage is gone.

They often use Daily Quests. For example, your first three wins per day get nicer prizes. You have unlimited play, but for little or no rewards (which implies that anyone playing a game just for fun is some sort of sucker).

Collectable Cards: the great thing about these is that physical collectable trading card games -- Magic:The Gathering, Pokemon -- have perfected the way to make money. For example, it's well established that you get new cards at random, by spending money on packs. And that old card sets time-out after a year. The other great thing is how the computer is better at handling the cards, rules, and book-keeping.

There were dozens of physical collectable card games, many with very different rules. The was an early wave of computer collectable card games, but they tended to be\played against the computer. I assume the new popularity is being able to play against people (now that everyone has a flat-screen cell phone) and people's increasing comfort with on-line spending from inside of a game.

Clash Royale: this is another game from SuperCell that created it's own genre. It's a collectable card game, with all of the money-making potential; but also an action game. It runs in real-time. You use your cards to place monsters on the battlefield, who then move and fight on their own. Spell cards are aimed at specific spots on the map, and act like "real" spells.

The map design is clever. It's one big square that you can see all off at once. Each player has an HQ tower, with two smaller towers, on either side. That roughly creates 3 lanes. That's how you can tell the various copies -- they all feature a map like that.

Other clever bits: you can upgrade the cards. Newer cards unlock as you climb the ranks. It's perfectly playable with a several second lag. The timed chest idea was borrow by many other games: when you win, your prize is in a chest that opens in 4 hours. You've got 3 slots, at which point you can play more, but can't get any more prizes. It makes getting your prizes into a little game, and encourages you to spend for an instant open.

Team-battler / collecting

These are the games where you can unlock 100's of different characters. They're almost always boring progress games. The main things to know: you can rarely control much about the battles; you can't customize them; and you improve by unlocking higher-ranked heroes.

Like regular progress games, you'll unlock new dungeons, tournaments and so on. But they all involve you watching the same fights. The result is more daily busywork. Some of these eventually turn into having your team fight other players, where making your team has some strategy. But that's only once you've gotten all S++ gold heroes, which you will never get even one of.

Slot machines

Today, real slot machines are on video screens -- the days of actual wheels spinning are long gone. They even have mini-games -- after spinning 3 cherries, a brief matching game will pop up, using dollar amounts. So cell phone slot machine games aren't all that different from real ones. Since it's your copy, many can add Progress, unlocking things as you win more.

These are mostly simple progress games. Paying real money to watch your in-game numbers go up. Gambling is illegal in many places -- these games can't pay out winnings as cash. But for people who play real slots mostly for something to do, these games are fine.

Some, I think, link to a real casino, which you have visited and could re-visit to pick up winnings. Scam games that claimed to pay your winnings, but never would, used to be common. But these days it's simpler to make an entertainment-only slots game, slants the odds of winning, and get a steady stream of spending.


Pretty much any game for young children can be called educational. If it uses letters and numbers in any way, or mentions any aspect of the real world, it's educational. There's no review board that checks these things. In practice, there are children's games where you shoot hordes of robots and spend your allowance on upgrades. The education category is merely a promise to be better than that.

You'll also see education games that mention a school district or log-in code. These are for school which require them. Instead of downloading them while at school, it's simpler to put them on the App store.



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