As we inch closer and closer out of the current-generation of consoles and into the new era of Sony and Microsoft's respective home gaming systems, one idea has remained clear with all developers: 2nd Screen capabilities. Is this just a fad? Or are developers like Bungie, Dice, and Ubisoft onto something immersive, new, and fantastic? Welcome, to the rise of 2nd screen gaming!
The concept of 2nd Screen gaming isn't necessarily a new idea thought up for the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One. In fact, for Nintendo fans, you've been utilizing this concept in some way for the better part of the last decade with the Nintendo DS unit and subsequent models that followed. For those of you not familiar with this, it's simple. You utilize one screen for your main gaming capabilities like moving your character. While the 2nd screen will show enhanced options, like a top down look at a map, crafting capabilities, inventory of your character, etc. If utilized correctly, this can be a great addition to gaming because it allows you to circumvent the need to hit the pause button or go into an entirely different menu screen to access the additional capabilities of your game and do everything on the fly. This has been a feature that has allowed the DS and it's later editions to excel greatly in sales and overall satisfaction as a portable unit with the hardcore gaming community and casual users alike.
Also, with the popularity and adoption rate increasing dramatically for advanced smart phones, it was only a matter of time before gaming on the iOS and Android platforms took off as their own entity and business model. Now with Microsoft entering this realm, it's even more evident as they incorporate their Xbox Live services into their new mobile devices as well as their SmartGlass app into the other mobile operating platforms. Game developers are seeing this trend too. Mobile gaming attracts millions of users each and everyday from paid games down to free-to play. With the success Nintendo had with their DS units, developers are now looking to create new ways of interaction with your home console gaming and smartphone device. But how? How can they make this work seamlessly without losing the core gamer in the "traditional" gaming experience? Through Companion Apps.
One of the first ways we've seen this interaction has been through Microsoft's development of Halo Waypoint, the companion app for all things Halo. Now keep in mind, this wasn't necessarily an extension of the game per se, but what it did was more of keeping track of stats, achievements, kills, medals, and overall completion of goals within your entire Halo career. This was a cool addition and added some "extras" to the already fun and addictive Halo experience. We also saw a similar feature set with Activision's companion app for Call of Duty. But these apps are only scratching the surface of what's to come. Companies like Ubisoft have already announced their upcoming releases of Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, Watch Dogs, The Division, and The Crew ALL will include some sort of immersion with 2nd screen capabilities. It's been an entire shift of game design and thought process as Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillermot, believes this is the "future" of gaming, but not in the conventional way we've seen so far. They envision the ability to use your mobile device as a controller or possibly taking your mobile device to a friends house and actually playing the game on your smart phone while your friend plays on their home console. They are also potentially looking to allow their game apps to be full fledged experiences, not necessarily just a companion app. This definitely a different way of thinking from a publisher and developer standpoint, but then again, we are at a completely different stage in gaming than what we were just a decade ago.
Now you may be wondering, "how can I use my phone while I have my controller in my hand?" Don't worry, I thought the same thing at first. Then Nyko came along at E3 and announced their PS4 and Xbox One Smart Clip accessory. It's a simple idea and design. It clips onto the top of the controller and gives you a place to dock your smartphone to your controller, allowing you to easily look down at it while playing your favorite game. Currently, Nyko hasn't announced a price point yet, but I'm guessing we can expect it to be in the range of $19.99-$29.99 for the unit. This could be Nyko's best selling accessory if 2nd Screen takes off as a gaming experience.
While this all sounds awesome and cool, one glaring issue I must point out is this. Nintendo tried this concept with their new console, the Wii U, and so far, the console has been a HUGE flop. Month after Month, the Wii U console continues to be outsold by both the PS3 and the Xbox 360, which is startling considering the success of the Wii just a few years back. Now, this may have absolutely nothing to do with their concept of 2nd screen utilization into their new controller and moving away from the motion aspect that may the Wii Console so popular. It may even be the fact the the specs are sub-par compared to what we will see in a matter of months, and not necessarily an upgrade over what's out currently with the PS3 and 360. It's really hard to say at this point why the Wii U has been a disappointment at this stage in the game, but unfortunately for Nintendo, the Wii U hasn't lived up to expectations since it's release earlier this year.
With all that said, I believe the 2nd Screen revolution in gaming will begin this November. If developers utilize it correctly, I have a feeling this could be a great thing for gamers. Adding extra capabilities, ease of use, and enhanced features can only make your game even more appealing to the masses, especially using devices that are already adopted in the home. This "full circle" type of experience is something we should definitely look forward to, because at the moment, it doesn't seem to be losing any steam and seems to be the wave of the future when it comes to our Next-Gen gaming. You better get ready now and get a batter backup for your iPhone or Android. You're gonna need it!