Portrait of a Modern Mobile Gamer

  • 2023-02-20

A preoccupation with ‘gaming on the go’ has fixated online slot developers for a good couple of years now. These days, pretty much all slots are fully-optimised for mobile devices. Netent was one of the first companies to change their approach, soon followed by all of the other major iGaming brands software houses. 

However, the stampede to create slot games for mobile gamers has taken something of a detour of late. There’s now a growing trend among developers to create slots that render and play well in portrait mode. It seems that one-handed play is the latest ‘thing’. So how do you create games for narrow vertical screens? Much like web-based bingo or traditional casino games, it starts with the UX.

One-Handed UX

When it comes to mobile slot gaming, UX is everything, regardless of screen orientation. Without an easy-to-use, intuitive front-end, players tend to get frustrated and look for alternatives. 

So developers take great care to create simple interfaces that don’t get in the way of play. This means tucking menus under hamburger style icons, adding transparency and often stripping away unnecessary buttons.

This approach is especially important when it comes to one-handed, thumb-based play. Even a slightly misplaced spin button or the inclusion of needless icons or sub-menus can make for an awkward and frustrating experience for players. Simplification is therefore the best strategy. 

Then there’s the reel matrix.

Reel Matrix

5 x 3 lay-outs continue to dominate the slot gaming vertical. And the vast majority of these games play well in portrait. The user is merely served with a shrunken reel set that fits their narrow screens. Upon changing the screen orientation, the reel set expands to fit the wider resolution.

While this works perfectly well, such a set-up doesn’t really make the most out of the screen ‘real estate’ available in portrait mode. Once the reels are shrunk, the player is often left with empty space either side of the game area.

As a result, lots of developers are creating games that make full use of each and every pixel. Grid-based slots that feature Cluster mechanics are typical examples. These use square game areas that are ideal for narrower screens. Then you’ve got Megaways games, many of which feature top reel rows: ideal for portrait mode. 

Some slot games also feature ‘leveling up’ functionality in which the player is able to climb expanding reel areas as they progress through the game. Flower Fortunes Megaways exemplifies this approach. 

Striking a Balance

So there’s no doubt that portrait gaming dominates mobile play. Thus, it makes perfect sense for developers to take this into account in the design and build stage. But as Ciara Nic Liam of 

Bettson Group pointed out.  

“While we believe that one-handed play is an important driver in customer comfort and playability of a game...it should not come at the cost of game features themselves.”

To conclude, it looks like developers are going to need to work out what constitutes the best overall experience for mobile gamers. Is feature-laden, game-play the way to go or is simplified, cursory slot spinning the future. Time will tell.