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November 17, 2019
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Show and Tell – Feedback and Notifications for Mobile Games

by Thais Weiller on 06/20/13 09:42:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I sometimes have dreams in which I do every day stuff such as frying an egg. However, sometimes in these dreams I do these things exactly like real life and they turn out a complete failure out of nowhere so I have absolutely no idea what went wrong. Does that happens to you too? Pretty sure it happened at least once. So there is me, frying the above cited egg and then all of suddenly the egg is actually a tiny colorful bird and I’m a sadistic psycho torturing the poor animal and get arrested for this.

But how could I know? That egg was just like any other real life egg! Turns out that our subconscious is a really bad game designer which doesn’t give you the right info before you make decisions. This makes you feel that you were cheated by your own mind. That’s ok on a subconscious since people cannot purchase new ones, but you don’t want to recreate this effect on a game, otherwise player will feel cheated and will surely switch to another game.

Feedback is the most effective way player will receive information about the game and that’s why it is so important on a game. There are two main kinds of feedback, immediate and long-term feedback. Immediate is mostly gameplay oriented and helps player to understand what actions to perform [attacking, jumping], which not to [falling into a cliff, running into an enemy], and what his general status in the game.



For instance, when Mario get a coin we hear that well known pleasant sound and a small number starts to rise, when he touches that brown mushroom-like thing (a.k.a. Goomba) a not so pleasant sound rings and he shrinks. It’s pretty clear what player should try to achieve and what must be avoided.

Angry Birds has numbered stages and different worlds, which provide player feedback of her progress and gives a sense of accomplishment.

Angry Birds has numbered stages and different worlds, which provide player feedback of her progress and gives a sense of accomplishment.

As important as immediate feedback, long-term feedback is that pat in the player’s back that says “Hey, look how far you got! Congrats, man”. Classic games generally used to “pat” by using environmental changes [such as Egypt and Lava stages which basically said “these stages are different and BADASS, great progress”] and by introducing new mechanics and enemies. Though this is still used nowadays, there are other more effective ways to make player’s progress more overt.


Candy Crush Saga map has the same function of Angry Birds' stages but also is designed in a more playful way.

Candy Crush Saga map has the same function of Angry Birds’ stages but also is designed in a more playful way.

But sometimes, your player just won’t be in the game so that we can get feedback long-term. This is especially common on mobile since player can, at any given time, receive an email notification or something of the sort and deviate from the game, never to remember to get back. On mobile, we can use notifications for the “Oh right, I need to get back to this awesome game” effect and that’s why they are indispensable. But you can’t just add notifications and hope for the best without taking in consideration the notifications style best matches the kind of game you are doing.

For instance, games that are based on real world time, as Tiny Tower or D.O.T, generally notify player the exact moment we has something new in the game, but don’t notify anything else after. Tiny Tower always notifies the first floor that need to be restocked after player leaves, but not the subsequent ones, while D.O.T notifies when player’s energy is replenished. This “first event to happen and only” is important because if notification is used too frequently, player may get annoyed and uninstall the game.

Tiny Tower uses notifications elegantly

Tiny Tower uses notifications elegantly

Not real time based games have a more difficult time in choosing the right cue to notify. Notifing too much for the wrong things will make the app look like a spam factory and notify too little may make it dive into the oblivium. One cool thing to do in this situation is to create an event agenda that periodically changes gameplay or items. For instance, each week your infinite runner has a set of different items that are randomly spawned in the level design and player can collect them, it’s cool to notify player every time a new collection is available.

Of course, notifications won’t drive your player back to the game if you don’t have such a good game to start with, they are important but not magical. Used with good sense and in the context of the game, notifications can help your game shine.

 Originally posted at Scoreoid blog.

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