If you find yourself fiddling with your smartphone or tablet while watching TV, you're not alone: According to an infographic put together by Uberflip earlier this year, 80 percent of Americans use their smartphones while watching TV. What are people doing on their phones when they could be watching Game of Thrones? They're engaging in social media and shopping online. Now game developers are looking to bring a similar experience to future video games and consoles.
For years, gaming was a largely single-screen activity. Most of the time, you'd hunker down in front of a TV or monitor, only occasionally glancing away to consult strategy guides or use the restroom. All of your game info was on a single screen, and this arrangement would often result in cluttered interfaces or force you to dig through dozens of menus to find the one thing you needed.
When Microsoft pitched SmartGlass, a smartphone and tablet app that connects to your Xbox, at E3 2012, the company sought to solve these problems by adopting what people were already doing with their mobile devices while watching TV. Though not many games take advantage of SmartGlass functionality--currently only 8 games support the feature--Microsoft's competitors have taken note of the potential of SmartGlass, and the company remains optimistic for future multiscreen gaming.
And at this year's Game Developers Conference, Microsoft gave attendees a glimpse of how SmartGlass could fit into all sorts of games. One demo featured a poker game where each smartphone displayed that player's hand while the main TV screen showed the cards in play and each player's bet. The experience was reminiscent of how you can play Scrabble on iOS using an iPad as the main game board, but each player could use their own iPhone or iPod Touch as their tile racks.
Another demo centered around the upcoming Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge; the game's SmartGlass app tracked in-game achievements and brought up YouTube videos related to the player's current location in the game. Being able to find a walkthrough video for the area you're stuck in, without having to go searching for it, could help make games more accessible and more forgiving to new players.
Not one to get left behind, Sony is also looking to incorporate using multiple screens into its forthcoming PlayStation 4. While speaking to developers at GDC, Sony mentioned that it didn't want the PlayStation experience to end with the console and that it was working on PlayStation apps for iOS and Android that would let people remotely connect to their consoles at home. Because PlayStation 4 is designed to be always connected to the Internet, you'll be able to use Sony's apps to remotely browse, buy, and install content on your PS4. Individual game developers could also build apps that connect to their PS4 games, much like Microsoft's SmartGlass, and these apps would offer additional information or unlock bonuses inside games.
So far, Nintendo's second-screen efforts seem much more limited than Microsoft's or Sony's. The company designed the Wii U around having multiple screens, but the whole experience is very locked in to Nintendo's suite of software and hardware.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a good example of this: You can connect multiple Nintendo 3DS systems (each running its own copy of the game) to a Wii U (which also needs to be running a copy of Monster Hunter) and hunt monsters together with a local group of friends. The entire process isn't all that elegant compared to Microsoft's alternative, which only requires you to run a free app on your smartphone or tablet--something many people already have. Nintendo has said in the past that it plans to bring its Miiverse social network to smartphones and PCs by May of this year, hopefully indicating that the company is taking a more relaxed approach to the types of devices accessing its content.
Whether these second screen initiatives fly or fail will be entirely up to consumers. So far, most second screen efforts have felt superfluous, though it looks like there's still a lot that game developers can do in order to better tie them into our gaming experience.