Micro vs. Macro


Surprisingly, a large number of people in the video games industry expressed ignorance on  the concept of micro vs. macro gameplay. If you’re not familiar, now’s your chance to learn.

It’s an important concept in video games and a concept that raises some interesting questions in the context of a mobile device.

Stop and think: Which kind of gameplay do you think works on mobile devices? Micro? Macro? Both? Why?

Really. Think about it before reading on…

The content of this post covers:

  1. The basic concept
  2. Micro vs Macro gameplay type by platform
  3. Implications for mobile games

1. The Basic Concept:

Let’s first start by explaining the concept for the non-RTS gamers out there:

Micro vs. Macro Diagram
Source: Warcraft 3 Screenshot

Micro (short for “micromanagement”) refers to the level of granular and specific control a user has over game units. See the Warcraft 3 example above. The user’s skill and ability to granularly control their hero and other game units define’s the user’s micro skill.

Macro (or “macro-management”) refers to higher level strategic game considerations. Macro skills therefore do not depend on granular twitch/reflex based control of game elements. Again, using the Warcraft 3 example above as a reference, good macro skill would involve:

  • Strategy: The player’s game strategy to win including issues such as planned attack sequence, game style, and building development progression
  • Resource Management: The management of game resource materials to build buildings faster and more effectively
  • Map Awareness: Ability to predict and properly adjust to what an enemy may be doing by watching map movements (or lack of movement)

A funny example of a player with poor micro ability:

Source: 9Gag.com

2. Gameplay Type By Platform:

Now let’s consider micro vs. macro gameplay by platform. While many games on the PC platform can have a micro, macro, or dual focus (such as in PC RTS), other platforms support these types of gameplay to varying degrees.

Consider the following hypothesis of gameplay type support by platform:

Micro vs. Macro Gameplay by Platform
Do you agree with this assessment? Let me know…

3. Implications for Mobile Games:

Assuming my thesis regarding micro vs. macro based gameplay type by platform is correct, then so what?

Well, if this view is correct then I posit the following conclusions:

  1. Do: In designing games for specific platforms, think about the type of control and type of gameplay that makes sense for the platform. How much micro vs. macro vs. both types of gameplay should be integrated into the game?
  2. Don’t Do: Consider that certain types of games or game genres will not work on mobile devices (e.g., Don’t build a MOBA/DOTA type of game or FPS for mobile devices!)
  3. Improve: Think about the localization of a game design more carefully by platform. How can you modify the game or +1 the game design of a game on one platform to make it more compelling for another platform by changing the micro vs. macro design and gameplay mix?

Industry Example: League of Legends to Mobile = Zynga’s Solstice Arena

A recent industry example of this concept can be seen in Zynga’s attempt to bring a MOBA/DOTA (e.g., League of Legends) type of game to mobile devices… which I just suggested above was a bad idea. 🙂

Based on the concept of micro vs. macro, I would conclude:

  • Mobile devices (not to say tablets however) will not be a good fit for MOBAs and will likely not gain a large audience
  • Tablets may be a viable platform but would require simplification of the micro gameplay
MOBA to mobile?

To date, Solstice Arena has not performed well which seems to corroborate the hypothesis of poor mobile platform fit for this kind of game:

Solstice Arena Download Ranks

However, as the user base for tablets grows and Zynga is able to better adapt the gameplay for tablet devices can this game make a comeback?

I believe the Solstice Arena team did a pretty good job of translating a MOBA type of game to mobile so would expect more success of the game at least eventually on tablet devices.


What do you think?

How important is the consideration of micro vs. macro based gameplay to you?