While secondary screens in gaming have been around since the 80s in some form, more and more developers are now choosing to implement second screen functionality in games as powerful tablets, mobile phones and other hardware find their way into our homes. And with the launch of next-gen consoles, it looks like it could be something that’s here to stay.
Nintendo lead the way when it comes to spreading games across multiple screens. Ever since the Game & Watch series launched in the 1980s, the big N have actively embraced dual screens. Buoyed by the unrivalled success of the DS and 3DS handhelds Nintendo decided to go all out in their support for the second screen experience by making it the key component of their Wii U home console. Previously, most DS based second screen functions had been limited to a map, inventory or control screen, but the Wii U brought something new to the table: off screen play.
Nintendo truly picked up the ball and ran with it. While the Wii U hasn’t exactly set the world alight sales-wise, it has shown how important a feature a second screen could be. The ability to play your games on a screen other than the TV was used as a huge selling point for the Wii U, even though it’s a feature that’s not actually available in a lot of titles. When it is available, however, it works like a dream and it’s not hard to see why other companies are taking notice.
Perhaps ‘inspired’ by Nintendo, Sony has also started to embrace off-screen play via its remote play feature. While the feature was present on PS3, very few games supported it. This time round, it’s integral to the console as Sony have mandated that almost every PS4 game will be required to work via remote play (bar games that implement the Playstation camera). Although your experience relies on your home network setup (and requires you buy a Vita), early reports have been favourable.
Microsoft, however, are taking a different approach to the second screen experience. Whereas its rivals are allowing players to take their big screen experience onto a smaller one, Microsoft’s Smart Glass application is all about enhancing the overall experience by taking advantage of technology the majority of users already own.
Smart Glass is currently only implemented in a handful of titles and apps but it does show the most promise, should it be implemented properly. Current applications of the technology range from the ability to control apps such as Netflix and Youtube (as you can on the Wii U) to implementing whole new gameplay mechanics and bonuses in Dead Rising 3.
Other companies are also embracing the Microsoft style companion application. Both EA and Ubisoft have released companion apps to compliment their games on next gen platforms, even making certain aspects playable away from your console. Ubisoft is also planning to integrate second screen technology into its upcoming Watch Dogs title, with the developer promising the ability to influence other people’s games while you are away from your console.
It’s not just in gaming that second screen technology is being used either; everything from TV shows to ebooks & magazines are offering companion apps in some form or another. Gaming certainly offers up the most potential for interactivity, but it will certainly be interesting to see how other usages develop. In the meantime, we’ll be watching just how long the big three platform holders decide to support their various uses of the technology and asking: Is it really time to take to your tablets?