I'm interested why top game companies put a lot of "background" animations in their games - has it been demonstrated to increase user engagement? Does it take longer for a user to get bored of a game with background animations vs the same game without background animation?

I'm looking at a couple examples of relatively static game Heartstone (card game) for PC and a top selling game "Clash of Clans" for iPad. These aren't action games, and consist of a player moving pieces around every few seconds. The focus is on the piece being currently moved. I noticed that Clash of Clans uses a lot of minor animations of characters walking around, just about every building is either glittering or bubbling or otherwise plays a small animation every few seconds. Even my cat notices that when looking at an iPad:

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Heartstone is another game by a major company which also uses animations - For example in the image below, the griffon head is turning, some flags are waving and the windows of the houses flash. These are non-playable elements.

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  • I'd imagine in a game it would not be so much of an issue but certainly on a website which has goals, conversion paths and call to actions, any kind of animation / movement would be considered a distraction away from matters.
    – zigojacko
    Jan 13, 2014 at 16:28
  • Games are often design to be immersive experiences. However, always be careful of the overall cognitive load of the experience - when you increase the load and you also increase the focus required to complete a task. What context are you designing for? PS. here is a related study on the effect of parallax in web design fastcodesign.com/3023690/evidence/…
    – JDS
    Jan 13, 2014 at 19:16
  • Given this is focused on games, this might make more sense asked here: gamedev.stackexchange.com
    – DA01
    Jan 14, 2014 at 2:18
  • Gamedev moderators would close this question in a heartbeat
    – Alex Stone
    Jan 15, 2014 at 20:26

3 Answers 3


From personal experience and some of my gamer friends, there are different gamer categories:

  1. genre "fanatic": plays anything of the specific genre (nice graphics is a bonus, not mandatory)

  2. casual: will play different games (graphics are important)

  3. "adhd" gamer: will play a lot of games, always looking for new ones (graphics and other perks are required to keep them interested)

Playing "Dinosaur War" on Android, something similar to "Clash of Clans" I think, I had to wait for units to finish training and the flashy stuff entertained me a little while waiting. If the wait times are long, no amount of graphical eye candy can keep the user in the game.

Heartstone and similar games use animations to make them more attractive to gamers, especially to new ones, that have not played this kind of game.

Also, in a market filled with games of similar gameplay, anything and everything is used to gain the edge over the competition.

Microsoft describes the effect of animations and transitions in applications (not sure if it is of use to you, but seems interesting). I couldn't find anything specifically related to games.

  • There's some useful information in that Microsoft link you've referred to there. Can you summarize that? To be honest the rest of your answer is really just subjective opinion that's not really focused on the question itself, but that link is pretty useful (although without any summary included in your answer it's liable to link-rot)
    – JonW
    Jan 14, 2014 at 12:08
  • @JonW I will try to summarize the data in the link in the weekend. As for the rest of my answer... yes, it's subjective, but I've got a lot of experience playing video games :D and there aren't too many studies to be found on the web regarding the impact of graphics in mobile gaming.
    – CristisS
    Jan 14, 2014 at 19:18
  • That is a fantastic link, it goes into details on animation timings (1/6 or 1/4 second in productivity apps).
    – Alex Stone
    Jan 15, 2014 at 20:30

Game development and experience for users has gone beyond static paged scenes that doesnt have life in them. Game developers never taught it useless to just include background motions or animations.

A Game needs Life: Games nowadays is beyond making nice functions for users. Users now consider the whole game concept when judging a nice game play and experience. Don't ever forget that in today's world that we don't see games as what we just come to play and just leave. It is a whole new world with virtual humans that we control.

We now see games as our new "virtual " friend when our "real friend" is no were to be found or is not available. With this, making the environments, scenes or backgrounds that a game is built on look real is a matter worth consideration. Imagine the popular "Angry Birds" without the shooting birds animating or the background being static. infact for me I might take it like a normal oldies game. But they knew that the game has to come to live by putting those animations to foster and improve user game play and experience.

  • This is all very well but it doesn't really answer the question as to whether or not animated backgrounds increase user engagement. All you've really said is that games have gotten more advanced.
    – JonW
    Jan 14, 2014 at 14:57

I wonder if it doesn't turn into a matter of the phenomenon that occurs with banner blindness. The user may notice one or two animated elements (perhaps when the game is new to them) but afterwards it's probably going to be ignored, especially if those things are on the peripheral of whatever action is going on in the game...it's just filed away as "unimportant" in the brain. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/banner-blindness-old-and-new-findings/

From my gaming experience, I think adding little animated parts can make a game look like extra care went into building it, but can occasionally become obnoxious over time, i.e.: if you have to wait for a 5-second animation to run before doing a repetitive task (pausing, checking inventory, at the beginning of every turn, etc.) Provided that the extra animation doesn't weigh heavily on the loading time or make the game lag, and is unobtrusive, it might help the game look a little more rich and "done", but I think it should be a secondary consideration to app speed and gameflow.

  • Interesting read about banner blindness. Animations definitely become ignored after some time.
    – Alex Stone
    Jan 15, 2014 at 20:24

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