Thanks to the advancements offered by modern technology, many game developers are working hard to keep players immersed in their favorite games even when they’re not actually playing them. As the popularity of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones continues to rise, developers are tapping into these mobile resources to provide gamers with a new gaming outlet which has been dubbed the “second-screen experience.” Using mobile tie-in apps that operate in tandem with their console and PC game counterparts, players can take advantage of a large number of different functions such as stat tracking, server browsing, and even social features such as chat and leaderboards. Some of these features are worthwhile and interesting compliments to their games – while others would be better off left behind by developers.
Direct gameplay experiences that affect the connected game
The most obvious way to keep players immersed through second-screen experiences is to offer a slimmed down mobile game that can in turn grant benefits and rewards that are usable in the base game. The discontinued Mass Effect 3 mobile app allowed users to maintain a positive galactic readiness rating for their profile by playing a simple time-based mini game, while the Hitman: Absolution mobile app allowed users to unlock exclusive weapons and disguises for Agent 47 by syncing completed missions with the app’s database. Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s mobile app featured a series of Spider Bot stealth games that granted currency and exclusive rewards for use in the base game, and the Battlefield 4 Commander app allows users to play multiplayer matches as a commander no matter where they are. Ubisoft’s upcoming shooter The Division will allow iPad users to play as a drone companion which can aid other players and comes with its own ranks, progression system, and upgrades.
Offering players a fun mobile mini-game that ties into a base game counterpart has multiple benefits. It allows players to play a mobile version of their favorite games wherever they are, it can offer new gameplay experiences not seen in the base game, and it has the added bonus of providing tangible rewards that can be used when the player returns to the base game. This sort of synergy not only helps to build a game’s positive image, it can also give the game longevity in lieu of a more traditional multiplayer mode or other content.
More than just stat tracking
Even if a mobile companion app doesn’t come with some sort of mini-game feature, it should do more than just let players look at their profile stats or their place on a leaderboard. EA and DICE took that lesson to heart when they updated the mobile Battlelog app from its Battlefield 3 iteration to its current state. While the Battlefield 3 version did little more than let players look at their stats and unlocks, the Battlefield 4 version acts as an all-encompassing second-screen companion that can handle multiple duties. The app allows users to change and equip different weapon loadouts on the fly, browse and join different multiplayer servers, and even acts as a second-screen map during matches that updates in real-time. Those interested in their stats can still can get that information through the app, but it now offers a much richer experience overall.
When a developer decides to make a mobile app for their game, they should consider what sorts of functions players will and try to go above and beyond those expectations. Even something as simple as being able to access in-game info and other resource materials, which Eidos Montreal did for the Thief companion app, can benefit casual and die-hard players alike.
Tone down the “hardcore player” fantasy
When developers talk about their companion apps, they like to throw out popular buzz phrases that make it seem like having the companion app is a vital part of getting the most out of the base game, when in reality that is rarely the case. Will being able to check your stats wherever you are really make you appreciate a game more than you already do? Is the convenience of queuing up a multiplayer match or a custom mission while you’re riding the bus home from work something that you honestly crave? How often will you really find yourself tinkering with your weapon loadouts while you’re bored at work? If developers want us to get genuinely excited about their companion apps, they need to focus on giving us unique and meaningful features, not just more smoke and mirrors.
These unique features don’t even have to be major new additions either; the Mass Effect 3 app allowed players to sync their single-player game with the app so that they’d receive periodic emails from their squadmates after major events in the game occurred. These emails didn’t add much to the game itself, but they were a fun way to make the characters feel more alive and fleshed out since they’d react differently (and send different emails) based on the decisions the player made in the game.
The Hitman: Absolution app rewarded player loyalty by letting users sync past Hitman games they owned in order to unlock further rewards that could in-turn be used in Absolution. Throwing buzz phrases at players may dazzle us in the short-term but if developers really want to turn second-screen companion apps into an essential experience, they need to think outside the box.
Synergy in the palm of your hand
Naturally I’m impressed with all innovations mobile companion apps have brought to the game industry, but I’m also anxious and excited to see how developers will continue to refine and build upon the second-screen experience in the future, especially considering how much more powerful mobile devices will become. It’s exciting to think we’ll one day be able to play triple-A games right on our mobile devices, but for now we’ll just have to take it one step at a time.