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Why Are Games Nowadays Obsessed With Mobile Companion Apps?
Tom Clancy’s The Division is one of the stand out games at E3 2013. The game features Borderlands-style looting, PvP, and an intriguing world. During the demo shown at Ubisoft’s press conference, the group of players are attacked by a wave of enemies. The players begin to fight them off and a new ally emerges for them in the form of a helicopter piloted by a player on their tablet device. The new ally helps defeat the wave of enemies and hops off, simple as that. While the idea of dropping into a friend’s game quickly via tablet seems interesting, how much does it really add to the experience?
We do not know much about the tools at a tablet user’s disposable in the case of The Division, but the only concrete thing we saw the helicopter do was spread a damage-increasing buff to its allies. While this is indeed helpful, hopefully the game is not designed so that, in certain situations, you need a friend with an iPad or Android tablet in order to stand a chance against a boss or group of enemies. I am the kind of gamer who prefers to play single-player unless I absolutely have to, and if the game’s difficulty is centered around having four of your buddies playing with you at all times, it would really put a damper on my view of the game. Of course, I understand that The Division is more MMO than single-player experience, which is why I can somewhat understand the necessity of giving players more options to play with.
What bothers me more often is when a mainly single-player game is given a companion app in order to bring in more money with the franchise’s name, or simply give useless functionality that they could have just as easily implemented into the game. For example, Mass Effect 3 was given an app on certain mobile devices that allowed players to get fake emails from their squad mates in the game, as well as a small, bare-bones game that raised their Galactic Readiness Meter in ME3. While the emails give good background information on some lesser known characters, there is nothing saying that Bioware could not have implemented it into the main game itself. Now, luckily for fans of the game, you do not need this app to progress through the game, and players without smart devices did not miss out on much. I found myself pour a little amount of time into this app for my love of the Mass Effect universe, but the mobile game’s simple mechanics quickly turned me off from it.
Neither of the above examples are terrible uses for a mobile companion app. In fact, I would say that the mobile functionality that The Division is offering is a noble concept, we will just have to see if it is used to its fullest. On the other hand, however, the iOS companion app for the recent fighting game Injustice is among the worst examples. The Injustice mobile game allows players to fight battles similar to what they would fight in the game in order to win tokens and costumes for the main game. The iOS game was released a short time before the main game as a way for eager players to mess around with characters and see who would be their favorite. Unfortunately, the game is somewhat overly simplified and the amount of time one must pour into it in order to get the best costumes is absurd for a mobile game. Although not the best solution, Netherrealm could have made the extra costumes DLC. You would have to pay for them, but at least you wouldn’t spend an ungodly amount of time mindlessly fighting for them.
I should say that I am not against mobile companion apps, I just think they should used only when the functionality they provide adds a significant amount to the experience. I do not want mobile apps to be mandatory, nor do I want them to offer rewards for extremely mundane tasks. An example of a game that would benefit from a mobile app is the upcoming Watch Dogs. The entire experience is centered around hacking into things all over the city with your phone, and a fun mobile title could definitely add to the experience if done correctly. We do in fact know that Watch Dogs is getting a mobile companion app, and here’s hoping that it turns out well.
I understand that mobile apps aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, I just hope the quality and quantity of them balances out and they are only used in unique ways and situations.