The concept of a second screen has become increasingly sophisticated since the release of Smartphones. Initially, the idea centred around individuals searching for information on a mobile device – such as details about a movie or a television show - while viewing the show on television. As the use of second screens gained in popularity, television networks and production houses began to fund, develop and release mobile/tablet applications to enhance the viewer experience. We at hedgehog lab, for example, had the privilege of creating the companion app for Channel 4’s Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals. Viewers could interact with their mobile application while watching the show, to get the recipe, find out more, and unlock each recipe’s video after it was broadcasted on television.
Nowadays, it’s commonplace for shows and channels to provide similar experiences for viewers. Twitter has always been one of the biggest sources of second screen activity, as many viewers tweet and share their views on TV shows as they are aired. There are other apps like TvTag that enable users to check-in to a movie or a show, allowing them to interact with other viewers using comments. Meanwhile, Shazam enables users to identify songs being played anywhere in the world from their mobile devices. Shazam had utilised this technology for promotional activities, where viewers can tag an advertisement being played on TV to access a promotional offer.
Companion apps are the natural evolution of this growing second screen trend. These apps are specifically designed to enable the user to interact with a related third party product, so it was only a matter of time before the booming Gaming industry tapped into this field. World of Warcraft was one of the first to take advantage of companion apps, releasing World of Warcraft Armory in 2009. Gamers were able to interact with the game to a certain extent, without having to launch the software on their computer. This early interaction of mobile applications with computer games proved to be the start of a new era of gaming for mobile app developers around the world.
In recent years, several console and computer games have released companion apps to enable a second screen experience for gamers. Below are a few examples:
Thief 4 was released alongside a companion app, providing bonus features such as character bios, enjoy art, digital comics, concept art and trailers. By doing so, the app developers enhanced the story of the game for players, as well as allowing them to interact with in-game items such as collectables and documents, and check leader boards and statistics.
FIFA has a companion app and web app that enables users to build their team, manage their squads and quickly jump onto the console game without having to run through the usual process. The app also enables the users to access the game’s Transfer Market and the Ultimate Team Store, to interact with FIFA 15 on the move.
Watch Dogs Companion ctOS Mobile is a companion app for the game Watch Dogs, which allows users to interact with other players’ live games. This app gives the user control of the fictional OS, establishing them as the city’s law enforcer. Users can interact with traffic lights, roadblocks and other similar items from their smartphone, to block the opponent player’s live game progression.
Battlefield 4’s companion app Battlefield 4 Commander has a wide range of functions. Users can become a commander and guide his/her team, communicate with players, review actual game progress, scan enemy territory to provide live information to other players, send support vehicles/supplies to players and launch missile strikes. This in itself generates a new game, enabling users to interact with actual players of the game from their mobile devices.
Grand Theft Auto iFruit is a companion app that enables users to customise their cars before they can be deployed into the game Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto Online. The app also has a virtual pet that users must take care of and play with; a well-trained dog will find hidden items in the actual game, and activate special bonuses.
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Companion app allows users to interact with their in-game map and keep track of their waypoints and mission objectives. One of its most impressive features enables users to send captured ships on missions, to secure routes and collect cargo and currency from the app itself, without having to launch the game on a console or on the computer.
These apps clearly indicate the progression that companion apps have made in recent years. From simple novelty apps and stats-tracking software, companion apps have evolved to become complex features with the ability to interact with games at every level. Some could even be considered as games outright, rather than companions per se.
This rapid development of companion apps demonstrates the immense possibilities for interaction between two different mediums using Smartphones and tablets – and even wearable technologies. These powerful devices open hundreds of wonderful possibilities for mobile app developers to create amazing interactive experiences not just for games, but for any interactive medium.