When Apple launched its much anticipated smart watch model, Apple Watch, earlier this spring, the first question on many an enthusiast’s lips was not related to technology, design features or function – instead, the focus seemed to be on the new timepiece’s usability as a portable games provider. Although debuting with dozens of games available, the watch’s main use was originally described as that of a second phone screen, providing an ‘at-a-glance look’ of content and notifications. Nevertheless, savvy developers were quick to capitalize on consumers’ hunger for quick, on-the-go, entertainment and there is now a flurry of short-burst, wrist watch friendly game apps, optimized for small-screened wearable devices. Similarly, Google’s equally anticipated (yet perhaps not as successful) launch of Google Glass spurred the development of a series of mini-games, allowing players to (literally) use their heads as primary controllers.
The gaming world’s relationship with new technological developments is undoubtedly spurred by changing consumer media habits and the growing popularity of games as a form of entertainment. Today, consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 4 have gone from being dedicated video games delivery instruments to all-inclusive entertainment systems, capable of streaming and playing back a close to infinite selection of video and TV content. As a result, gaming franchises such Halo, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have gained access to the majority of global living rooms, accumulating even greater audiences and dedicated fans as a result. It ought to come as no surprise then that new technologies, such as Apple’s smart watch, will have to find ways to incorporate games into their offer.
As an example, Microsoft’s soon-to-be-launched holographic headset computer, HoloLens, has been described as a “mind-blowing” gaming device, using its augmented reality feature to create a fully immersive and interactive experience. While the company is yet to reveal specifics about what games will be compatible with the technology, Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of Xbox, made it clear from the beginning that they will make up an imperative category for the device(1). In fact, the future plans for HoloLens as a stand-alone gaming instrument are not restricted to the integration of Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest operating system, and related hardware products such as the Xbox console; down the line, the company intends to capitalize on the headset’s gaming potential by opening up development to third-party designers too.
The fact is that the success of most connected devices – be they phones, tablets, wristbands or augmented reality glasses – is often reliant on their functionality as entertainment delivery systems. For example, more than two thirds of the U.S. population owns a smart phone and reports have shown that the majority of these people regularly use them to play games(2). In fact, a quick look at online research sites such as mobile analytics provider, App Annie, confirms that the vast majority of app downloads fall within the entertainment category, supporting the view that games make up a significant part on most technological devices – no matter their original function or intended primary use.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, it is true that game and app developers often have to customize their offers, responding to the fast evolving universe of new technological developments. As discussed in one of my earlier columns, there is a significant difference between big and small screen gaming experiences and the content needs to be adapted in order to suit various types of delivery mechanisms. It is safe to say that innovations such as HoloLens and Apple Watch will have a substantial impact on the creation of games going forward – design and structure will have to be adjusted to be compatible with new, more advanced, equipment. Nevertheless, games are ultimately responsible for introducing new technologies to the masses and without them, the new generation of devices will struggle to succeed.
Dan Amos is Head of New Media of Tinderbox, the dedicated digital division of leading global brand extension agency, Beanstalk.
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