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The Second Screen Experience: A Glance at Gaming's Companion Apps

Playing a video game? There's a companion app for that.

At the turn of the century, the Internet rose as the social pillar of a new generation, and with it came more connectivity through smartphones and tablets. As such devices were adopted every single day across the world, a new avenue was paved for entertainment companies to keep the eyes of the populace on their products. That avenue has become known as the second screen experience, now most commonly conveyed through what we like to call a companion app.

Companion apps for video games haven't been around for as long as those first created for TV, but already gaming-related companion apps far outnumber those made for the small screen. Every highly popular video game sure enough has a companion app for smartphones and tablets. On one hand, gaming companies make these companion apps to accompany those who want more out of their video games. On the other, many of these companion apps also serve as additional sources of revenue based on the same video game. Either way, companion apps serve to provide a supplementary experience for players, and there are numerous ways which are used by gaming companies to achieve that.

Social

Many companion apps let players stay connected socially to a video game through the friends they play with. Players can see when their friends are playing, chat with them, send invitations, and compare achievements. Some companion apps also provide forums and groups for players to have discussions about the video game, all without needing to start the game up. One of the biggest reasons players come back to a video game is to have fun with friends, and companion apps serve as a convenient way to keep in touch away from any gaming devices.

 

Information/Database

 In need of help or due to curiosity, most players will try to look for more information about a video game, and a primary source would undoubtably be the video game's official companion app. News, updates, and guides can be found in most gaming companion apps, alongside a game database filled with information about items, activities, characters, places, and lore. A world map is often included, sometimes in real time, as well as the ability to track character progress and statistics. The abundance of information in companion apps allows players to plan ahead, and strategize the way they play the game before they put their thoughts into action.

 

Marketplace/Customization

 One of the most fulfilling things in video games is upgrading and customizing characters and items. It is no surprise then that companion apps which supply customization abilities are sought after by players. The ability for customization is usually complemented by a marketplace where players are able to browse, buy, and sell items and add-ons that are synced to the game along with the customizations. The marketplace is one of the ways gaming companies earn revenue as purchases are made by players in return for benefits in-game.

 

Mini-Game

Similarly to the marketplace, companion apps can take the form of mini-games to give players an opportunity to earn extra benefits in-game. These benefits can range from exclusive missions, rewards, and experience to trivial perks such as a more responsive non-player character (NPC). Revenue can be made through means such as limiting the amount of playtime a player has before needing to purchase it, and allowing a player to purchase boosters that make the mini-game easier for the player.

 

Remote Device

Not exclusive to system apps, video game companion apps can also act as remote devices to control and manage what goes on in-game. The companion app can serve as a mobile touch navigation unit or on-screen keyboard, and start up or close down any part of the game. This acts as an abridged alternative to a normal controller, and instead is available on more devices.

Companion apps come in many shapes and sizes. Although they have been a controversial entertainment medium as of late, they do have a purpose in the gaming industry, and that is to provide a second screen experience that complements a video game and makes players love it even more. It is still too early to say whether companion apps have been a success or a failure, but it is safe to say that they are here to stay.

Published Jun. 13th 2015

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