An Open Plea to Mobile Game Developers: Please Use Larger Text

What works for a tablet may not work on a smaller phone screen

Key Takeaways

  • A fair number of mobile games don’t seem to take readability on a 6-inch phone screen into account.
  • It’s not an easy fix. Something as basic as adjusting font sizes could still break a game.
  • Designing around a larger default font size from the start could be a solution.
Someone using a magnifying glass to look at a smart phone.

Traimak_Ivan / Getty Images

I’ve only had glasses for a few years, and my eyes are still relatively okay, but I’m baffled by how often I encounter mobile phone games I can barely read.

Granted, I hardly know anything about game development, and I’m sure changing font sizes can create problems like broken text boxes or worse. I do understand this, and I sympathize, but at the same time, I can adjust the default font sizes on my iPhone—so why do I still have to squint at some of my games?

My open plea to mobile game developers is to please consider designing your games around slightly larger default text sizes. Or better yet, if the scope is manageable, give players the option to adjust your game’s font size.

Again, my eyes aren’t all that bad, so I can only imagine how much more of an issue this might be for people with worse vision than me. Take a look at the screenshots below and try to read the text without zooming in at all. It can’t just be me who finds this difficult to parse.

I Know It’s Not Easy

I understand enough about game development to know that it’s challenging work. Designing and then making a game is complex, and even minor changes can create a host of unexpected problems. Madden 2003 teams wind up inside the football, and a bee derails the cart from the intro to Skyrim—adjusting one small thing can break something else. I do get that.

A screenshot from a video game showing how small the text is.

There’s no "simple" when adjusting anything under the hood in a video game. Bumping the text up a single font size could cause dialog or menus to clip outside their intended boxes.

It could create text overlap that makes it much more difficult to read, even for people who didn’t have a problem with it before. Heck, it could invert gravity for all anyone knows. Games are weird and wonderful like that!

I guess my point is that I’m not so much asking that you go in and "fix" the text in your existing games, as I know that could be a massive undertaking. However, I’m really hoping you give more thought to the size of the fonts used in your future games.

Perhaps consider adjusting font sizes for mobile phone ports if your game is already on other platforms. If feasible, maybe even consider utilizing tools like iOS 10’s baked-in font Accessibility options.

There Has to Be a Solution

Despite the hurdles, I can’t help but think there are ways to address the issue of "so small you can barely read it" text, so long as it’s planned for. Much like health bars or jump arcs, I’m pretty sure going in with a plan will be better than trying to change something later. I’m not so cavalier as to believe I know better than you, but I do maybe have one small suggestion.

Screenshot from a video gaming showing how small the text is.

Could you possibly try testing your games on average-sized phones during development?

I don’t mean performance testing, though that is important, and you’re likely to do that anyway since "mobile" encompasses many hardware models these days. What I do mean is, when you’re testing on a phone, please pay close attention to the size of the text on the phone you’re using.

Something that displays well on a computer or tablet screen may not be as legible on a roughly 6-inch smartphone screen.

What’s really sad is I’ve only recently upgraded to an iPhone 12 Pro, which has a bigger screen than my old iPhone 6S, and I still can’t play some games on it. It’s no exaggeration that I had to sit with a desk-mounted magnifying glass between me and my phone when I was looking at My Time At Portia. I enjoy the game, but simply trying to figure out how much of a given material I need to craft something feels like work.

So please, the next time you start designing a game, would you give some thought to using slightly larger text?

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