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Companion Apps

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Hello everyone. A while back, Bungie updated the Destiny 2 companion app to allow the player to be able to pick up bounties (little challenges that award EXP and sometimes loot) through the app. This is great because prior to this, if you wanted to get said bounties, you would have needed to travel to the main hub of the game, with a long loading screen, talk to each of the vendors and pick up their respective bounties. And some vendors were on other planets so more loading screen travel. That's in addition to what the app could already do like swapping your weapons between your characters and your vault on the fly without needing to pause the game, travel to the hub and swap characters. Basically, the app streamlines so much of Destiny 2 that it actively improves the experience. Even if all this functionality of the app was available within Destiny 2's own menus, the app would still be superior because of how slow Destiny 2's menus are.

So this got me thinking of other games and their companion apps. What are some ways they add to or not to their main games and are they worth it? For this piece, I consider a companion app as an app that is exclusively designed to complement and help with the main game itself. This excludes stuff like the Mortal Kombat and Injustice Apps as they only occasionally link up with the main game to provide bonuses. For the most part, they are their own games.

One example is GTA V and their companion App iFruit. Through this app, the player can upgrade the various characters' personal vehicles and train Chop the Dog. However, this doesn't work as well as Destiny 2. For one, vehicles customization is very limited. You can only customize Franklin's Buffalo, Micheal's Obey and Trevor's Bodi Truck rather than any car you own and you have fewer customization options for those than in the game itself. There is some value that you can use the App to make a new game file and carry over your upgrades from the original file but that's more of a novelty. Chop's minigames are not particularly interesting and their benefit in the main game, that Chop is more trained, is non existent. Not to mention that the App itself is quite buggy which undercuts many of the benefits.

Taking the idea of using the app to help you in-game, we have Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag. Here, while the app can also help you by providing a map and letting you set way points, the main feature here is that it lets you play the ship minigame. In AC4, you can capture other ships and send them on trading missions and to battle other ships to earn money and materials. However, the minigame to do this is quite boring and a huge pacebreaker when you have to do it in-game. The app lets you quickly engage with it without needing to go and enter a specific location or stopping what you were already doing. This hurt AC Rogue because it didn't have an App to streamline the process. Then again, you could argue that these games didn't need such a minigame in the first place and could have streamlined it far more in the menus and let you access it from any place. That the app was created to solve a problem that could have been solved in the main game itself.

A quick look at Assassin's Creed Unity. In that game, there are golden chests that award extra money and materials but they initially could only be unlocked by playing minigames on the companion app. Eventually, Ubisoft patched the game that the chests didn't need the app to be unlocked.

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One final category is "apps that replicate the menu". In Metal Gear Solid V, you have a little tool called the iDroid that acts as your map when you pull it out as well as what you use to manage mother base, call for supplies and pickup, select missions, play tapes etc. With the companion app, your phone can replicate most of these features. Which helps because while the menus are done as well as they could be, you could use the app to multitask more effeciently. Like using your map on your phone while retaining Snake's full moveset in gameplay since he doesn't need to pull his own iDroid out. Fallout 4 is another example as all the functionality of the Pip-Boy is present on the app. I remember playing with my younger brother once and I have him the app while I played Fallout 4 and telling him to give me healing items or drugs to help me out. Even though I could have done the same through the in-game menu, having this cool feature made it quite fun and faster paced. I'd love to see a concept like this taken further. Imagine a full on survival game where the second player on your phone manages your inventory and keeping you alive while Player 1 focuses on the gameplay on the main screen. Or a Mario Party Style game where instead of joy-cons, players play with their phone and could get some unique objectives and features. Something like Among Us Meets Mario Party where one of the players gets told on their phone they are an imposter and have select objectives to meet while working with the rest of the group or something. I know Jackbox Games did something like this where they have games one person plays on a console and others play using their phone to help or hinder them.

A quick honourable mention to Tearaway Unfolded where you could use the PS4 Second Screen App to draw stuff better than on the PS4's touchpad.

So with that said, what are the takeaways.

Firstly, the best kinds of apps are the ones that bypass issues of the game or streamline much of the process like Destiny 2 and being able to swap weapons and pick up bounties without needing several miniutes of loading screens. However, some apps' functionality can just be better replicated or done in the game itself leaving the app as a flawed solution.

Secondly, there is potential in having multiplayer experiences, either cooperativly or competitivly where one player plays on the big screen and other players helps or hinders them through their phone.

Thirdly, not all games could benefit from an App. Like, I don't see how Call of Duty, with its very linear Singleplayer levels or its straightforward and fast paced multiplayer could use an app. In addition, apps often have to be maintained and updated as phones change software and hardware. So many of these singleplayer apps I have mentioned are not present now on newer devices as they haven't been updated as much. So the game can outlast the app. Something like Destiny 2 doesn't have this problem as much as being a live service game, it's always under developlement which helps the companion app stay updated as well.

So I leave you with some questions. What are some interesting uses of apps you've seen? What are some games you think could benefit from a companion app?

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