10 years ago, mobile applications were released for top games: to look into a smartphone while playing. There were even successful ones 🤨

We remember the strangest trend of the outgoing generation.

My recent playthrough Fable Anniversary started with an unexpected artifact from the past. It’s not even about the Xbox 360 logo when downloading the emulator on Xbox One and not about the plot videos in modest resolution: each time you launch the game, it offered to download the Xbox SmartGlass app for devices on Android, iOS or Windows Phone (oooh!). Supposedly with him, I will be able to “interact with Fable like never before”, that is, display the game map on the tablet, read character descriptions and compare images of Fable 1 (whatever that means).

It was only after that that I remembered that at the dawn of the current generation of consoles, this functionality was present in almost every second game: around 2011-2014, it was hard not to get allergic to the phrase “companion application”. Now the trend has faded, and that’s why it is even funnier to remember the recent past of the gaming industry.

Although the studios had sensible ideas.

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Many early PS4 and Xbox One games offered to “improve the experience” with tablets and smartphones
It’s not hard to see why the gaming industry became obsessed with mobile apps in the early 2010s.

In 2010, a global revolution in the world of gadgets was made by the first modern tablet, the iPad. Skeptics scoffed at Apple’s new format device, but it soon gained immense popularity, created a new big niche in the market and even began to look like a potential laptop killer. Also, the iPad helped the growth of the already abnormally accelerating mobile games market – he, in turn, threatened and still threatens to kill game consoles. Therefore, the developers of classic games began to adapt to new conditions: to release fully mobile projects and integrate new gadgets into the usual gaming, so that it seems to seem more relevant.

Mobile hysteria happened just at the release of Nextgen consoles at the end of 2013. Gamers again needed to surprise with some new features besides improved graphics, so one of the first innovations of the new generation was the ubiquitous integration of smartphones and tablets.

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Watching presentations at the E3 show of those years or flipping through the gaming news, it was difficult not to roll your eyes at every “amazing companion app” that was offered to download in addition to every second new game. It was not so much the idea itself that irritated me as the obsession with which it was promoted.

One of the clearest examples of tablet integration was at the debut presentation of the online RPG shooter The Division from Ubisoft. A group of agents explored a half-abandoned snowy New York and stumbled upon an enemy grouping – a battle began. In the fourth minute of the video, a certain Chris connects to the group from a tablet, controlling a drone: he can shoot at enemies, conduct reconnaissance from a height and, for example, highlight enemies behind cover. After a minute, Chris went offline because he needed to go about business. The concept looked cool:

As we know, the game shown was very different from the final version: there was no such cross-play on the release in The Division.

But Fallout 4 has a different, no less successful idea still implemented. Bethesda figured out how to turn the companion app into a copy of Pip-Boy, the hero’s laptop that replaces the entire menu. It turned out organically to take out all functions like inventory and a map to a separate device:

Additional immersion was provided by a Pip-Boy replica with similar functions. It was sold by Bethesda itself (apparently, for the sake of this, the application was originally created), but everything worked fine on a smartphone.

But these two examples are rather exceptions. Most studios have not shown in any way why the companions are cool. The result is useless and boring applications: displaying a game map, accessing codex or journal entries, some basic information about your character’s equipment. This happened with Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag , Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect , Fallout Anniversary and others.

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The first Destiny deserves a separate mention. In its appendix there was a section “Grimoire” containing dozens of entries with information about the game world. In general, the idea is sensible: while you are waiting for the planet to load or a set of people in matchmaking, you can take your phone and study the history of the series. But there was practically no plot in Destiny itself – and it turned out that the optional application is much more informative than even the game’s campaign. The result is a massive fan hate and general bewilderment.

Why did they stop talking about such applications?

For a couple of years, the developers actively forced such functions, and then the hype died – or rather, it never existed.

Companions in most cases only got in the way. In theory, of course, they help to unload the game interface and save the gamer from having to navigate the menu, but such a problem (at least, that acute) did not exist anyway. The developers have long learned to unload the screen: we determine the health scale by the level of reddening of the screen, the amount of gold is displayed only when trading, the icons of weapons and the number of cartridges are hidden in peaceful zones, and so on.

If the information placed in a separate application is of no particular value, then there is no motive to use it. Otherwise, it is inconvenient to turn to the second screen, because for this you need to once again shift your gaze, or even turn your head. In addition, tablets and smartphones need to be put or put somewhere, they can be discharged.

Anyway, constantly ruining your immersion in the virtual world – some kind of sucks.

Companions are barely alive – but some are even useful

You may even use some of them. For example, the Xbox and PlayStation applications are also among them: they can be used to remotely put the game on download or to arrange with someone from your friends list to play multiplayer after work. The Nintendo Switch Companion, in turn, is the only recommended way to organize voice chat. Yes, the console itself cannot do this.

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Another good concept belongs to the Call of Duty app, launched a few parts ago. It allows the user to create and edit sets of equipment for multiplayer characters: if it dawns on you that the sniper rifle should be exchanged for a shotgun, this can be done outside the home or between matches. True, this function for Modern Warfare (2019) on the official page is promised to be added “soon”, and given the imminent release of the next game, the application support raises questions.

Do they have a future?

More likely no than yes. Companion applications for the consoles themselves will remain – they are really convenient in certain cases – but they will practically cease to be released for games. What, in theory, could become a revolution, turned out to be another useless gimmick (a trick for a trick), and given the almost complete elimination of downloads on the nextgen, there will be even fewer reasons to be distracted by a phone or tablet.

* * *

Tell us in the comments if you have used companion apps for games, and if so, do you find any of them useful?

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