In mid-April, we posted some quotes from analyst Horace Dediu supporting the launch of the Apple Watch as a watershed event. Dediu compared the launch to that of the iPhone or Mac before it, and indeed Apple’s newest major product does seem to have that type of potential to establish an entire new tech market of its own. For now though, most consumers are still getting used to the idea and/or functionality of the Apple Watch, and no one seems quite sure what to do with the thing.
To some extent, this is merely due to a learning curve. When it comes to messaging on the device, using it for fitness tracking, or performing other basic functions, one simply needs to devote time to exploring and using the Apple Watch. However, consumers are also unsure with regard to where the Watch goes from here, and just how much we’ll be able to do with them.
One aspect of the Apple Watch’s future that appears to be particularly hazy is gaming. And while this may not seem like a significant category for a device designed to provide simple, on-the-go convenience, the massive popularity of the iOS gaming market indicates that a huge number of Apple Watch consumers will want, if not expect, to play great new games.
Can Apple and app game developers meet that desire with an adequate response?
Here’s What’s Available—And What’s Planned
Two of the most popular early apps for the Apple Watch are related to puzzle gaming (and they’re available on other iOS devices as well). BoxPop and Rules! both make excellent use of the tiny screen in that they’re fun games with limited visual elements, instead relying on intellect and problem solving for entertainment. In BoxPop, you work your way through levels of grids, “popping” boxes in L-shaped patterns with your finger and trying not to get stuck. In Rules!, little animated animals guide you through various challenges that blend brain teasing and brain training into a fun daily activity. Both are well-designed games that demonstrate clear potential for the puzzle and trivia genres—both of which can produce wonderful games with minimal bells and whistles—on the Apple Watch.
Another genre there’s been some buzz about with regard to Apple Watch gaming is that of card playing (and by extension, casino gaming). There is already a blackjack app available for the watch, and it’s playable enough. However, one wonders if this genre could ultimately be a little more boring. Whereas puzzle games easily adapt to smaller screens and formats, casino games generally require more in order to be intriguing. This is why so many casino-themed games in the iOS app store involve cartoon characters, bright colours, and fun sounds. It’s also why Bet Fair, one of the most popular online casino operators in Europe, still offers daily promotions and special deals for its bingo and casino players. Promotions keep games dynamic and keep players interested, even when real money is already on the line, while animations and design elements keep games engaging in apps without real money. The idea of blackjack or any other casino game drawing much of a crowd without these elements seems a tad ambitious.
Perhaps the most intriguing news we’ve heard regarding Apple Watch gaming is the creation of more inventive games, either through starting new genres or simply adapting older titles to suit a small device. Two games in particular come to mind.
The first is Runeblade, a creative little app that The Verge described quite accurately as an “RPG for your wrist.” Basically, Runeblade is designed as a typical fantasy RPG experience, but minimized, in a sense, to be played in short (10-second) bursts here and there throughout your day. This gives users an activity to enjoy and a game to play without expecting them to sit still fiddling with their wrists for hours on end, and it will be fascinating to see whether or not it establishes any sort of sub-genre of gaming.
The other game is Spy_Watch, which appears exceedingly brilliant at first glance. Right on the app’s download page, it is explained that “this is not a game you ‘play’ in the traditional sense but a fantasy you live.” That’s a little dramatic, but it makes sense when you consider the basic idea of the game, which is to command an imaginary secret agent through missions and plot lines that develop in real time. The game notifies you throughout your day with what your agent is up to, and you can react accordingly.
Where the Apple Watch goes from here, with regard to gaming, is difficult to predict, simply because we’re still very early in the game. But while some established genres will translate well and others seem likely to struggle, it’s already pretty clear that game developers have some innovations up their sleeves. And that could mean a brighter future than many expected for gaming on Apple’s newest device.