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Bridging the console/tablet gap

Ubisoft's VP of digital Chris Early analyzes how consoles and tablets are working together

Console gaming is getting more impressive than ever with next-gen consoles, as graphics reach eye-popping heights. At the same time, tablets are growing so fast in market size and graphics power that some are calling it "the next console." Are these two platforms battling each other for market share? At the AppsWorld conference last week, Ubisoft's VP of digital, Chris Early, argued that the two are complementary gaming platforms.

"There's a gulf between console and tablet gaming today," Early said. "Our poor user is left out in the cold. They want to engage in our console franchises, they want to see them on mobile devices, but we really aren't doing very well at helping them out with that."

Of course, up until very recently consoles were isolated from connections with other devices precisely because the platform creators wanted it that way. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo didn't allow connections between their console networks and other devices.

Now, however, that situation has changed. Console manufacturers have seen the value in allowing the increasingly ubiquitous smart devices to be used along with consoles, and gaming is changing because of it.

"They want to engage in our console franchises, they want to see them on mobile devices, but we really aren't doing very well at helping them out with that"

Chris Early

Early discussed a wide range of tablet apps that connect to console games. The first efforts were mostly utilities to help console gamers. Such companion experiences include the ability to view player stats and leaderboards, but often they also have utility functions such has crafting weapons or changing your console game character's loadout. For some games, the companion app can offer the chance to get more information about the console game background (lore about a fantasy setting, for instance). A more advanced use of a tablet is for second screen purposes, such as showing you a treasure map while you look around the game on the TV screen to find the landmarks referenced on the map.

Beyond utilities, though, tablet apps are evolving into companion games. Early explained that these games can be synchronous or asynchronous, or even completely independent. The latest trend is for tablet games that connect to console games and offer residual or bilateral benefits. For instance, you can earn experience in a tablet game that is added to your console character's experience total, helping to unlock more parts of the game.

Early noted Ghost Recon Network, a companion that works with Ubisoft's Ghost Recon Online. The app lets you see your console game stats, and use the utility feature to configure your console game for future play. "Now, I'm not sitting on my couch," said Early. "I can configure the loadout I'm going to play with later that day. Which is kind of cool because when I sit down on the couch I want to play, I don't want to keep configuring things." In other words, you're optimizing your console time for actual play.

Other notable tablet apps for console games include EA's Battlelog, the companion app for Battlefield 4, "which has all kinds of things you can do," noted Early. There's stats, utilities, a social component, and more. "Battlefield 4 Commander is a game that works in concert with Battlefield 4," Early explained. "When you play it, you play as an independent player on your tablet, and you don't have to be where your console is. You have a commander's-eye view and you can reinforce people that are playing on the server, and your intent is to make it easier for them to win." This kind of view can also be used as a second screen, so you can get a commander's eye view of the battle. The experience you earn playing this game transfers to your character in Battlefield 4.

Looking ahead, Early sees great things for companion apps. "There are even companion games that I've seen that are companions for other mobile games," Early said. "The basic game that the dev wrote takes 30 to 45 minutes to play, but they realized that people wanted to get a quick hit and still they made a 5-minute version as a companion to go along with it."

"Some of the trends that I'm seeing in the newer companion games that have come out this last fall, almost every single one includes a game of some sort," Early said. "The next thing is bilateral interconnectivity: when you play the tablet game you get benefits in the console game, and vice versa. That back and forth cycle is a great way to keep people playing and engaged with both games. Lastly, there's the second screen, being able to use that not only when you're away but when also when you're playing the game."

Wrapping it up, Early showed some footage from the upcoming Ubisoft game The Division, which is a squad level first-person shooter for consoles. The tablet app that goes along with The Division allows you to play a special character not available to console players: the drone. You control a drone with your tablet that gives you a bird's eye view of the battle, and allows you to help your teammates, designate bad guys, or even fire missiles. This is one tablet companion app that console players are going to want to have playing along with their squad, certainly. The future looks bright for the collaboration between console and tablet gaming.

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Steve Peterson

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Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.