Before I officially started work on Dungeons of Doom, or even knew what kind of mobile game I was actually going to make, I wanted to think very carefully about what orientation it should use: landscape or portrait?
Some of you might be reading this and saying “What does it matter? Let the game design dictate what’s best”. To be honest that’s a fairly valid suggestion and many games are built with that mentality. In fact, that’s exactly what happened with my previous game, Dare the Monkey. I picked the strongest game idea to go forward with, and that was an action-platform game that just happened to suit a landscape orientation.
But since Dare was released I’ve always had a nagging doubt. Would I have received more downloads, gotten more daily active users, and maybe even longer session times if I’d targeted a portrait orientation instead?
Are users more likely to download games that are in portrait as opposed to landscape? At the time of writing this post, 73 out of the top 100 free games in the App Store are portrait. That’s in line with the figures when I first checked at the beginning of this project. Perhaps there’s a reason developers opt for portrait over landscape.
One of my favourite platform games, Mr Jump, first saw the light of day as a landscape game. After all, that genre of game does naturally work best in landscape. But I had noticed that the follow up, Mr Jump World, had opted for portrait instead. The same goes for Super Mario Run. Again, it’s a game that’s perhaps better suited to landscape but instead Nintendo chose portrait. There surely has to be a reason, right?
With the decision about orientation decided, I needed to pick one of my strongest game idea that would actually suit portrait. One of the advantages of portrait is that, if the game can be played with just your thumb, then it lets the player grip their phone with only one hand. Essentially, by only needing one hand, less effort is required by the user to play.
With a list of fairly strong game ideas I had been struggling to commit to just one. Thankfully the extra requirement of being playable with only your thumb really helped me zero in on Dungeons of Doom as the game concept to take forward.
It might sound like I’m worrying about nothing, but anything that requires even a small amount of additional effort by the user, or takes a couple of seconds more, can quickly become a barrier to entry. Being able to hold the iPhone with one hand and play the actual game with just your thumb is about as straightforward and simple as it gets. It just seems to suit casual gamers more. Plus, the user can easily multitask between Dungeons of Doom and the majority of their social apps since most will also be portrait. Basically, portrait just makes things more convenient for people.
Of course, if Dungeons of Doom performs better than Dare then it’ll be difficult if not impossible to tell if orientation had anything to do with it. Both games are so different it would be like trying to compare apples to hand grenades. Nevertheless I’m comfortable with my decision to target portrait.
Who knows, maybe next time I’ll write a game that can be played in both portrait and landscape.