Last E3, Microsoft unveiled their newest innovation, SmartGlass. This new technology allows your existing mobile devices to interact with the Xbox dashboard. Though appearing to be quite a fun gimmick on the surface, SmartGlass is being looked at with a skeptic eye by many.
First of all, it is being introduced at the end of the Xbox 360's lifecycle, meaning developers will have very little time to learn how to use it. Second of all, it will quickly become obsolete as the new Xbox comes out alongside a brand new generation of tablets and smartphones. Third of all, it simply doesn't do anything! The most interesting functionality SmartGlass gave us in Microsoft's E3 press conference was the ability to get extra info on the show or movie you are watching on your tablet. Who wants to do that? I don't want to distract myself by reading factoids when I'm trying to watch a movie; I want to watch the movie.
While SmartGlass might seem like a joke at this point, mobile integration with video games is actually a pretty cool idea. The technology is very real, and we are already hearing rumors about how it will be integrated into future games. Watch Dogs, for example, is rumored to make use of your smartphone or tablet as a controller for the purposes of hacking. While your main character is controlled by a traditional gamepad, you will be able to tap into the grids of your and other player's games by bringing up a companion app. Not only does this make hacking easier—as you would be using a touch-driven interface and a whole separate screen—it also makes it more immersive as the main character of Watch Dogs appears to use his smartphone for hacking inside the game universe.
So what sort of functionality will mobile integration bring to games?
First of all, it will allow us to keep tabs on games when we aren't home. This is especially useful for people who are addicted to MMOs. People who spend all day at the market or auction house can already download special helper apps that allow them to watch the markets of their favorite MMOs while they are away from the house. Certain apps even let you alter what your character is doing on the market. In fact, a wise investor will be able to totally manage their virtual economy remotely, and with markets like Diablo III's that institute real-world money trading, you may be able to make a small fortune on a video game you aren't even directly playing.
And we are getting this functionality even outside of the MMO world. DUST 514, for example, will come with a companion app for the PS Vita that will allow people to do anything short of actually playing the game. Markets, loadouts, and character customization will all be available from anywhere you can access a wireless network. While you still need to be on your PS3 in order to actually shoot your opponents, everything else can be done on the road.
So one of the great things mobile integration will bring us is the ability to more fully integrate gaming into our busy lifestyles. However, this doesn't appeal much to gamers that already have their schedule under control and don't feel like remotely controlling an MMO from a bus. For these gamers, though, perhaps mobile integration is all about new control schemes.
Aside from the "get more info about the movie you are watching" presentation at Microsoft's E3 press conference, Microsoft also said SmartGlass will allow you to hook up with some of the biggest franchises in gaming. Like Madden. Instead of writing your own plays with a clunky controller interface, SmartGlass will allow you to simply draw out your play on a tablet or smartphone. It would also allow you to select your plays silently, without your opponent knowing.
Outside of sports, mobile integration could take the form of any functionality the Wii U has already shown us. For example, RPGs can use your mobile device in order to manage your inventory. Platformers can introduce an external player that can control the stage through the use of a mobile device. Heck, even point-and-click adventure games like The Walking Dead could outline all the interactions and dialogue options on your mobile device while the actual action takes place on screen. Cinematic games like Heavy Rain or the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls could also benefit greatly from this functionality.
However, as useful as these leaps and bounds in mobile technology might be, they come with some challenges. Most notably, they will have to stare our failing economy in the mouth. Not everyone has a smartphone yet, and even fewer people have tablets. In the current economic climate, people who cannot afford these now will most likely not be able to afford them any time soon. It's a significant expense to place on top of an already expensive video game console. If this technology becomes mandatory, games will start being cut off from people who don't own high-quality mobile devices.
Still, mobile integration is coming, and it's coming soon. It's likely we'll see its use increase in the next generation of games until it becomes relatively commonplace. It's just another way that technology is changing the gaming industry.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: September 11, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*