Video Game Companion Apps
The so-called “companion app” is becoming a common marketing tool for console game publishers. The idea being that you extend the game’s brand to mobile to create awareness of your upcoming console release, or to further build upon the IP. Perhaps the earliest example is Microsoft’s Fable III Kingmaker location-based game for iOS. You could play Kingmaker without the console game, or transfer currency earned in the app to Fable III on the XBOX 360. Last year we had the Deus Ex QR Missions scavenger hunt game. More recent ones include EAs Mass Effect 3 Datapad, Capcom’s Pawns Unleashed / Compendium of Wisdom for Dragon’s Dogma, Starhawk Uplink, Battlefield 3′s Battlelog, and the Soul Harvest location-based game released as part of Darksiders II’s marketing effort.
The idea for a console game companion app is inspired by the fact that most of the target audience has a tablet or smartphone. The obvious question is, instead of putting a companion app on mobile why not put the actual game there? The answer is usually irrelevant, as dinopubs are preventing the game from being on a platform where the audience actually is. Strategies such as this can at least partially explain the AAA publisher slide.
MMOs have a long history of companion apps. Perhaps the earliest example is the iPhone app made for Champions in 2009–although now they are commonplace. Companion apps make a lot of sense for MMOs since the world is alive when you are not playing. An app is a perfect way to perform housekeeping duties on your character or check in on what’s going on while you are away from your desktop machine.
Since most console games aren’t persistent, there’s no reason to run an app to keep up to date on what’s going on. Nothing is happening while your console is turned off. In their current form, console companion apps make more sense as a marketing tool. Put out the app well ahead of the game’s street date and allow the user to unlock content and advance his character before the game comes out. It can be useful as an advertisement and a place to build a community around your game.
Microsoft’s SmartGlass initiative at E3 is evidence that they are serious about this “second screen” experience. Their XBOX Live iOS app is actually quite good, and shows they are putting some effort into this. A smart approach for next generation consoles is to have companion apps part of a core strategy. As for the promotion of individual games–I haven’t seen any companion apps chart very well on the App Store. Nor have any publishers reported companion apps having any positive impact on sales. The killer companion app has yet to be made.