We told you not once but twice. Companion apps have come to stay, and there will be no single AAA game released in the next years without one.
However, this doesn’t mean that all is peaches and cream. There’s a necessity for developers to offer a companion for their games, even when there isn’t any need for it whatsoever. Gamers have gotten used to an app along every major release. We’ve seen great companion apps that enhance players’ experience alongside useless apps whose only merit is to brag of how much a fan you are, plus waste some bandwidth and data storage space.
If there had been smartphones back then…
Although companion apps are only a side product nowadays, they will steadily grow in importance, and soon will be a key part both of marketing strategy (expect them to be launched a few weeks ahead of the game’s release date) and of actual gameplay. Many of the customization options, strategic choices, and social features will be delegated to the app.
This is a list of the most representative companion apps so far, presented in order from what they are to what they should be. There’s a little bit more dissertation after the list, because we were told you never ever read articles til the end.
The two main features of the companion app for Titanfall are 1) a look-up-able source of trivia about Titans, and 2) a way to delight yourself over again with your stats. We wouldn’t even mention it if not for a third and welcome option to act like the in-game minimap when you’re currently playing Titanfall at home, acting as a secondary screen. It doesn’t bring the game out of the house, though, and as such your mom will continue to rant.
Rockstar’s merit was to be one of the first to jump onto the bandwagon of companions with GTA: iFruit. It’s full of good ideas and allows you to customize cars stored in your garage, plus play with Chop the dog. It was laggy and clumsy, but definitely appreciated. Further updates have added a few social features and links to previous GTA games, becoming a sort of nexus app for the Rockstar Universe.
Hitman ICA, Hitman’s companion app, includes not only lore, but also a few options that actively affect the game you’re currently playing. For example, you can purchase clothes, thus leaving you free to actually kill people when you get home. Browse “contracts” (better known as missions) created by other players in the Hitman community and add them to your in-game “to-kill” list.
Assassin’s Creed IV companion was designed to allow you to continue the pirate experience when you aren’t next to your console. You can plan and trace the routes your flotilla will take. The best part is that you can also help friends by sending ships of yours to secure their trade routes, hence porting that little social part of the game to where it belongs best (mobile) and relieving you from the most mechanical parts of the gameplay.
We already talked about Watchdogs CityOS and included it in our 10 most highly anticipated games for 2014 list. Even if it isn’t everything as we’d like, it’s a hint of the companion apps to come. It is great to bother other players and control the city’s systems all through the app. And yet, even in its current state, it’s so innovative that we couldn’t help but give it the top place in this list. Just take into account that all these apps developed in the last year are little more than tests and free merchandising.
Of course, it’s a little bit hard to justify the existence of smartphones in the Baroque setting of this game, so Thief’s companion focuses on the game’s lore, new,s and shameless advertising, plus a little bit of artwork. There’s also a paid version, which was given for free if the game was preordered, including more lore, more news, more shameless advertising, along with links to the merchandising store – and a little bit of artwork.
Will games in the future be rated and reviewed both for their “parent” game and their “mobile accessory?” How much creative freedom will be given to developers to add unexpected features? Will a good companion app save a mediocre game, or can a bad app sink a decent game?
In the end, it’s all about grinding in your bus trips and Playing (with a capital P) when at home. Sooner or later, all the social features will be enhanced and put into the mobile app, heading towards the dream of the never-ending experience. It’s also easy to foresee some bold developers making the most of uniquely mobile features. We’re thinking augmented reality, and, in the long term, gameplay experiences starting at home and ending elsewhere, like exploring a vast open world looking for a treasure map in your very own neighbourhood (there’s a prize awaiting you at the local video game store... Would it be a better way to end a game?).
Perhaps Hyrule Warriors companion app shall be an ocarina simulator and lets you play songs
Likewise, as character creation and customization become a more important part of some games, especially RPGs of all kind, it should be expected that character creations will be done on mobile. And all those games relying so much on stats (war games, but also fighting games) will allow you to play simulacrums and rehearse new strategies and/or combos.
As a side note, after observing how big video game companies have behaved so far, might we wonder what Nintendo will do?
Tell us how companion apps should be in the future in the comments below.