Mobile devices are clearly cutting into the profits of both portable and stationary game consoles by offering a level of casual gaming that’s priced as such much more so than casual games on dedicated consoles. It’s part of the reason why the Nintendo 3DS is in trouble and is also likely one of the reasons why we see more and more downloadable (smaller) games on consoles. There is another way that these two types of devices is starting to interact though – and surprisingly it’s in a much more friendly manner. I’m talking of mobile devices that are used to complement games, and it’s a trend that’s starting to take off.
Gaming has taken on a much more social aspect over the last few years as consoles of all sorts have become Internet connected. I still remember the early days of playing Mario Kart DS online and how amazing that capability was on a portable consoles. These days all the three major game console manufacturers have their own built-in social networks where you can add friends, see what they’re doing, send messages, keep track of achievements etc. On the PC side it’s a bit more cluttered, but services like Steam or Blizzard’s Battle.net are examples of similar systems.
As with any other social network, these game networks are now getting their own apps. Microsoft has integrated Xbox Live directly into their Windows Phone mobile OS, letting users check their achievements, see who’s online etc right on their cellphone. Sony has apps out for both Android and iPhone that do the same thing, and Nintendo….well, Nintendo still believes that it can stay in-house with everything, which is probably why fewer and fewer people take them seriously.
On the game specific side, there are also several examples. World of Warcraft has its own app on both iOS and Android, which basically functions likea portal into everything but the actual gameplay in the game. You can buy and sell items on auction, participate in guild chat, browse items and so on. The rather ironic result of this is that WoW is easier to “stay in touch with” while on the go than Order & Chaos Online, a WoW ripoff for Android and iOS, because the latter requires WiFi to play while the mobile app for WoW is accessible via 3G. That goes to show exactly how powerful a game connected app can be in keeping players connected with the game world.
Another similar example to WoW is Call of Duty, which is another one of those huge franchises. With the announcement of Modern Warfare 3 (coming this fall) they announced Call of Duty Elite, which is essentially the Call of Duty equivalent of all the above. The new system will let you keep track of stats, achievements, gear etc just like all the other apps have access to similar “infrastructure”.
What what we’ve seen so far, it seems like we’re moving towards two different types of game apps; one for game networks (Xbox Live, Playstation Network etc) and one for huge franchise games. It’s unlikely that we’ll see dedicated apps for every game out there, as there has to be a long term online aspect to the game in order to make it “important” to have access to the back end of the game at all time. In many ways, these apps are gamers’ versions of sports apps, and with literally tens of millions of active players on some of these games it’s easy to see that a market is there.
The big question is where this will take us in the future. Nintendo’s new game console, the Wii U, has a game controller that has it’s own screen and works as a portable console as long as you’re in range of the main console. The concept is rather similar to OnLive (just on a local connection) or the everyAir app (which is now gone, but let people remote control and view computer games from their iOS devices) where you have a more powerful computer/console running the game and a portable device displaying the image and controls. I’m sure we will see more games and hardware go this route in the future, so that one day you can just pause the game on your Playstation 4, pick up your Galaxy Tab 3 and a wireless controller and continue from anywhere. After all, it’s in the game companies’ best interest to keep you playing the game regardless of how, especially if the games are subscription based.