Although the Apple Watch won’t be released to the public for another few weeks, the tech press is starting to report on the sorts of games that will be available for it at launch.
It seems like a clear pattern is developing:
Runeblade developer Everywear Games is aiming for what it calls “Twitter-sized entertainment.” In other words, a video game that you can play in bursts of 10-15 seconds.
If the iPhone was a boon for casual gaming — short pick-up-and-play experiences that could be spaced out over a day rather than experienced in one sit-down session — then gaming on Apple Watch might be called hyper-casual. One developer told me his company was targeting 10 to 30 seconds of playtime, max. Another said that was too much and was instead gunning for five to 15 seconds.
I hope this turns out to be early-adopter froth rather than a legitimate trend. Our attention is already drawn in a million directions by quick-dopamine-fix distractions; one of the big appeals of the Watch is its attempt to free us from our addiction to a never-ending stream of notifications. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume I’m not a fuddy-duddy yelling about decreasing attention spans and the endless decline of culture. I still say this is lazy.
If you’re out in the world doing real-world things, there’s value in giving you quick access to info on your wrist instead of needing to pull out your phone. But if we’re talking about this sort of casual game, you’re making the conscious decision to check out from the outside world and immerse yourself in some sort of diversion, if only for a few seconds or minutes. Pulling your phone out of your pocket isn’t a particularly onerous barrier to entry, especially given how much richer an experience your phone can provide. Maybe someone will prove me wrong, but it doesn’t seem to me like this sort of game conceptually gains anything with the transition to your wrist.
So what should we be making?
What’s fantastic about the watch is that it gets out of your way when it’s not needed. We should be making experiences that build on top of that affordance.
I know friends who are hooked on Ingress. It’s never really grabbed me: for a game that’s about exploring physical space and appreciating the world around you, it sure spends an awful lot of time expecting you to walk around with your head down while you stare at your phone.
This sort of real-world game could be transformed by the watch. Interacting with the game can now be low-impact enough to not come at the expense of interacting with the world around you. When you’re no longer bound to stare at a 4-6” glass screen in front of you, you can more easily engage with whatever’s around you.
Maybe that means engaging with the outside world, using game-like systems to get people to appreciate physical spaces they may have overlooked, as with games like Ingress. Or maybe it’s other people. Once we get access to the Watch’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and NFC sensors, it’s easy to see how we could design multiplayer experiences like Bounden or Johann Sebastian Joust that make it incredibly approachable and simple to connect with friends through the act of playing a visceral, physical game.
How long will it take?
To be fair, wearables are a relatively new space. Much like the early days of iOS gaming or even pre-iPhone smartphone gaming, the early experiments we see will probably struggle to find real value in this strange new form factor.
I just hope it’s sooner rather than later that people start taking advantage of the huge opportunity wearables present to create games and playful experiences that let us more easily connect to other people and the world around us.