The RPG genre has changed dramatically over the past few years. Going from pen and paper to tabletops, from desktop to mobile, the genre barely looks the same as it did all those years ago.

Despite this, there are a few elements that hold true in them all. And in this post, my goal is to highlight what those elements are, how they work, and what you need to remember when making a hit RPG game.

There are four main sections you can check out, so feel free to skip to something in specific:

  1. Audience
  2. Get your pacing right
  3. Smaller experiences
  4. Customization

Let’s get started.

So, who the hell plays RPG games?

As you’ll probably know, audiences don’t just slip into one neat demographic. There are a ton of reasons why someone would play your game. If you look at the different types of sub-genres that fall into the RPG category: there’s RPG, Puzzle/PRG, MMORPG, Text-based RPGs, Choose-your-own RPGs, Idle RPGs, and more…

So that covers a lot of different types of players. But what we can do is break these audiences down by motivation:

Driven by the story

These are players who are only there for the story. Who wants to be immersed in a new world, and learn about ever-evolving characters they meet in RPGs games. No matter what RPG game you’re creating, you’ll want to make sure you have a gripping story to keep your players entertained.

Completionists

Pretty much all RPGs will have a main story, then a bunch of side quests. Side quests are great for an array of reasons: a break from the main story, new content to keep your retention up, and to appeal to those completionists – players who thrive on hitting that 100% completion mark.

Social players

Some RPGs are actually massive multiplayers – often called MMORPGs – which contain a vast online world full of other players. Although your player might initially play your game for the content, they may stay for the friends that they’ve made (or enemies).

Casual adventurers

Casual games still arguably dominate the mobile gaming world. They’re simple, short, and satisfying, perfect for anyone on the go. But a trend that we’re seeing is more casual games introducing RPG elements. Here’s why.

Some players may want a casual game to play, something that doesn’t invest too much of their time and effort. But something that they can still grow an attachment to. The story element of RPG games can offer a lot here and can give your players a reason to come back.

GameRefinery has actually released some pretty cool info about player motivations and archetypes. I recommend checking it out.

So, now that we know more about player motivation, let’s dive into the meta-features that keep them coming back for more.

Get your pacing right

Many RPGs come from a heavily story-driven start. Which is great, but one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in games is the pacing. Too fast, and the game is overwhelming, meaning even the most epic of battles are dulled. But too slow (which is usually the biggest culprit), then the game is boring and difficult to get attached to.

Here are a couple of techniques you can use to help pace out your game, so you don’t overload them or bore them.

Give your player choices

Now, this in itself is a sub-genre of RPG games and can take a lot of work. ‘Choices’ essentially is giving your player the option to choose in the game – whether this is a route, a dialogue option, or something else. In Various Daylife, a mobile RPG, there are many daily player choices – from your personality to when you work – letting the players to really connect with what they are doing.

Though, you don’t need to go overboard here. Simply allowing your players to make a choice in the game really lets your players feel attached, even if that choice doesn’t affect the outcome of the game.

Appeals to: Story-lovers, casual adventurers

Give them a world to explore

Various Daylife has a beautiful map that players can explore, filled with small side quests. You’ll notice this in a lot of RPG games, and for good reason. Having a large area to explore with small things to do has three main benefits:

  • It gives a break to the main story,
  • it adds some much-needed variety to your game, and
  • it prolongs your story.

Appeals to: Completionists, story-lovers

And focus on timed events

Real or fake, timed events are a great way to add a splash of variety to your game, and keep your players engaged and interested (and get old players coming back). You can make them unique to your story, tie them into the main storyline, or even have them as an optional side quest. Just make sure to do plenty of promotion online and in-game to pump up some excitement.

Appeals to: Completionists

Smaller experiences

As mobile games are often more casual and usually less intense than their platformer cousins, it can be tricky keeping your players engaged for extended periods. Especially on such a small screen.

So there’s even more pressure to make sure your game is as polished as ever. Here are a few smaller features I would recommend looking into:

Automation

Auto-running, auto-jumping, and auto-picking-up. Auto-anything-you-can-get-away-with.

That doesn’t mean the entire game should be automatic. There has to be some input from the player. Otherwise, that’s just dull. However, simplifying and automating aspects of your game that don’t add much value can help keep your game exciting and fresh. Take PostKnights as an example. They have a pretty good balance, meaning the buttons the player presses are more meaningful.

Appeals to: Casual-adventurers

Achievements

Achievements are a great way to get your players hooked on your game. These achievements are fun to collect, especially to completionists, who really enjoy hitting 100%. PostKnights has a lot of achievements that can be unlocked through doing repetitive tasks, which is good motivation to keep trying out levels and getting further

Appeals to: Completionists

Gifts from players

If your game, like PostKnights, is made up of small, repetitive runs, it’s easy for the player to put down the game for a while. But, of course, you’d probably want the player back. One of the best ways that this game draws the player back is through gifts. As you meet new characters, they form relationships, and you can give them presents. They also, while they are offline, send gifts to players which appear as notifications. A great way to draw them back in.

You can also make it so players can gift each other presents. You can do that in Sky: Children of the Light (which is a great game to get inspiration from – the art, story, and meta-features, are all superb).

Appeals to: Social players

Customization

Making it so players can relate to their character is a great way to increase engagement and retention (also IAP, if you offer custom styles). Some games let players choose different characters, outfits, and hairstyles. Whereas other games develop deeper bonds by allowing them to edit their playstyle. Yaga, the Roleplaying Folktale, is an excellent example of this.

Here’s what else you can do:

Reputation

Yaga lets players create a reputation around characters. This means that your choices affect how you are as a person. Often taking the easier route, or doing something immoral, may be tempting, but it can then hurt your character further down the line. This change in the general gameplay can make players more invested in the quests they take on, their choices, and what they want their character to be like. Which is vital in RPG games.

Appeals to: Story-lovers, social players 

Changing Action

When it comes to how the player actually battles, some RPGs have basic systems where players level up whatever armor they have, gaining new weapons that way. Yaga does something different; instead, it has an entire crafting system, letting players build the weapons they like the look of and enjoy, which furthers their style of play and connecting them more to the action.

Appeals to: Story-lovers, social players 

As mentioned previously, RPG is a massive genre that stretches across so many different games and sub-genres. The variety of RPGs out there are vast, but there are quite a few features from popular and modern RPGs that can be used to keep players interested in your game. It’s good to keep some of the above in mind when targeting player bases and trying to make a successful game.

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