We’re only days away from seeing how apps really work on the Apple Watch. And we’ve already gotten a glimpse of how a variety of different apps will work on the forthcoming Apple Watch thanks to a series of videos shared by Apple, as Tech Cheat Sheet recently reported. But what will games, the favorite time-waster of millions of smartphone owners, look like on Apple’s first wearable?
Re/Code’s Eric Johnson reports that in 2008, with the introduction of the iPhone’s App Store, Apple accidentally became “one of the most important gaming companies in the world.” The App Store lowered longstanding barriers for developers and paved the way for the market for smartphone and tablet gaming to reach $21 billion in sales in 2014. Now, Apple is trying to convince its fans to buy the Apple Watch, and while third-party developers can access only limited functionality on the device for now, there will be games available for the smartwatch at launch.
Johnson spoke to a number of developers creating games for early adopters of the Apple Watch, and explained that he was “struck by just how different the talk about Apple Watch gaming is versus Cupertino’s other devices.” With the iPhone, developers introduced users to casual gaming, in which they’d engage in short experiences spaced out through a day instead of concentrated in a single session. But with the Apple Watch, he reasons, an appropriate form of gaming might be “hyper-casual.” One developers said that his company is targeting sessions of 10 to 30 seconds, while another said even that was too much and is targeting sessions of 5 to 15 seconds. In Johnson’s assessment, potential Apple Watch games fall into one of two different categories. The first is a game like Solitaire, which will provide a self-contained experience on the watch face. The second is a game that will take place primarily on the iPhone, but uses the Apple Watch as a second screen for notifications.
Chief executive Niccolo De Masi of Glu Mobile told Re/Code that his company is interested in the latter type of game. While Glu hasn’t committed to releasing games for the Apple Watch, it does have a team experimenting with new platforms, including Apple’s wearable. De Masi explained, “I think accessories are very powerful extenders of game experiences. They can increase retention and engagement. They can probably increase monetization, particularly for games with a socio-competitive angle.”
Seriously chief executive tells Johnson that his company is planning to offer a similarly complementary gaming experience for its puzzle game, Best Fiends. “You take our lead character Temper on a journey during the day on the watch,” he said. “After you win resources on the watch, you can move him back into the iPhone game at night to level up the characters. We think about it as play at a glance.”
For some developers, the advent of yet another platform to compete for users’ time isn’t exactly welcome. Playing a game on your wrist could lead you to spend less time with the apps on your phone or tablet. But many think that gaming experiences on the Apple Watch won’t replace gaming options on mobile phones, in the same way that mobile games haven’t replaced those that users play on consoles. Joshua Brustein reported recently for Bloomberg that “mobile gaming was tailored toward people with short attention spans; smartwatch gaming takes that concession to a new extreme.” Andrew Webster wrote for The Verge in March that despite games representing the most popular and top-grossing category in the App Store, not a single game was demonstrated at Apple’s Spring Forward event. The reason why there will be relatively few games on the Apple Watch to start out with, in Webster’s assessment, is the Apple Watch’s dependency on the paired iPhone.
“The actual device doesn’t do much calculation at all,” a developer told The Verge. While WatchKit enables developers to build a simple interface and take advantage of a limited number of interactions, they can’t take advantage of “fancy graphics” or implement “many complicated controls.”
One of the first Apple Watch games to surface was Letterpad, a word game from Nimblebit. The studio’s Ian Marsh explains that “Apple Watch support in Letterpad will allow people to chip away at a puzzle right from their wrist whenever they have a free moment, without ever having to touch their phone. Players will also receive notifications on their watches when a friend has created a new puzzle and even get the chance to be the first to solve it right from their watch.” Letterpad’s watch interface will be very simple, as will that of trivia game Elemental and Tamogotchi-reminiscent Hatchi, which will enable users to check up on their virtual pets from their wrists.
While Apple Watch games may not ever reach the same scale as iPhone games, they’re certainly coming. And developers will likely need to create entirely new game genres and concepts to truly excel on the new platform where gameplay sessions will likely last seconds instead of minutes.