Tobold's Blog
Sunday, December 14, 2014
 
Companion apps

A lot of modern games are not very complicated, and don't require you to know or remember much stuff. The ultimate example of that are games with Quicktime events, where you don't even need to remember what button to push, the game will tell you. On the other end of the scale are simulations and open world games, where remembering where stuff was, or knowing the average price of a tradeable good is quite necessary for success. In the past I used a second screen on my PC where I could display such information. But today the more modern version of that concept are companion apps.

For example I recently picked up Assassin's Creed IV : Black Flag at a Steam sale. Nice game, except that is crashes to a black screen from time to time. Anyway, the game comes with a companion app which you can install on basically any tablet or smart phone. Once you synchronize the game with the app, you have a second screen for all sorts of information. Most useful is the tablet holding the map of the game, updating your position in real time; you can even select your next target on the tablet and get the marker beamed back into the game. You can also check the loads of information in your database about people, locations, documents, and so on which you found in the game, again updated in real time.

I know that other games have companion apps as well, for example Destiny or Titanfall. In the new World of Warcraft expansion, you can manage your garrison with a companion app. In that case the idea is that the WoD garrisons work a bit like mobile games, where you are supposed to do some small activity from time to time, and having access to that on a mobile platform is helpful. Watch Dogs has a companion app which lets you control the police and play against your friends who are on their PC/console. So there are a range of different concepts for companion apps, some more useful than others. But as there are less and less people out there without some mobile device, I can only presume that we will see a lot more companion apps for games in the future.

Comments:
I hadn't realised that companion apps were so useful. I am about to start into AC Unity and I am definitely going to try out the companion app.

Aside: I can't help thinking that having to use a second device is more awkward that the old Two screen PC method. I wonder if I can get the companion app to run in an emulator on my second monitor.
 
I don't think there is a companion app to manage garrisons in World of Warcraft. There is the Armory application but it doesn't do anything like that. Many people wish there was an app like that but I think Blizzard stated it won't happen.
 
AlexF, you are right. I confused that with the companion app that is a timer for the garrison cooldowns.
 
Due to Windows and full-screen-switching, I find myself using iPad-in-lap more often than second screen for accessing Web info.

Alas, Bliz is not doing a mobile app for Garrisons:

http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/12/05/world-of-warcraft-developer-ama-highlights/

pyrofox1313 asked:

It seems as if a lot of the elements of Garrisons (follwer missions, work orders, etc.) were designed with the mobile Armory in mind. Will we be seeing an update to the mobile app to include Garrions features?

Josh Allen (Lore): Not likely. It's a really cool idea (one we've heard a lot), but as the Garrison is intended as a Warlords-only feature, there are several other potential improvements we could make to the mobile app that would have more long-term use, if we decided to expand its feature set.


I think if you started designing a new MMO in 2015, the most important new thing would be great threading in order to maximize the use of multi-core processors. And #2 would be having a mobile strategy and integration.
 
Hey Tobold. I'm a software engineer who works on Ads at Google, so maybe that's biasing me, but I suspect that companion apps make a lot of sense from a financial standpoint. I haven't played any games that use them, but I could imagine the companion apps containing ads which would be an un-intrusive way to translate time played into revenue for game companies. I for one would be happy to see this trend if it helps offset the need for f2p (and games that encourage buying to win). What are your thoughts?
 
Strangely enough Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag itself has lots of ads (for the devs, the publishers, for Nvidia) every time you start it up, but the companion app has none.
 
Neverwinter's Gateway is a really well integrated character management 'website app' with a bonus dice-themed game as an extra. It works well in most browsers even on lower spec devices like netbooks. Not so great on a phone's smaller screen but it's still impressive IMHO.
 
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