Watch out for iOS 9

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Will wearables be the next big gaming platform?

Almost every new technology platform has eventually ended up becoming a gaming platform, whether it was intended that way or not. PCs were originally work stations, but now owning one is the only way to be a “serious” gamer and engage with the likes of LOL and WoW. Smart phones were, well, phones before Apple opened up the App Store and games came to dominate both downloads and revenue.

So will the Apple Watch specifically, and wearables in general follow the same trend? I think it’s unlikely, but the way that we play on mobile might be about to go through a major upheaval due to the quick replies in iOS 9, which are already being used in my Watch apps.

Wearables suck for gaming

Watches make for very poor gaming platforms for three main reasons:

They are too small

The screen size is so small that it’s very difficult to fit much on there. Even if you focus entirely on UI then you might get four clickable buttons on screen and nothing else. A button and a readable image? … kind of. Descriptive text? … LOL.

Input control are imprecise

The Apple Watch can tell if you tap somewhere on the screen or swipe right across it, as well as giving users some finer control with the crown. Telling where users on the screen is another matter though – as above, the screen really isn’t big enough to fit multiple touch areas on anyway. This really restricts the amount of control that you can give players and actions that you can permit them to make. Games with single input controls are fine, but most current designs are too visual to work on a Watch.

It’s uncomfortable to use for long periods

You can play a lot of games on your phone with just one hand, allowing you to do lots of other things at the same time – carry the groceries, hold onto a bus handle, use the toilet… But that’s not the case with the watch. Although you’re only using one hand to input, you need to keep your other wrist in position to do that, effectively preventing you from doing anything else with that hand. So the watch is a two handed device. That drastically reduces the number of occasions it’s possible to use a watch in, and given the angle that you need to hold your wrist at to see the Watch it gets uncomfortable after more than a few seconds as well.

The watch is a two handed device

That’s not to say that there aren’t some games giving the Watch a good shot: Runeblade and Cupcake Dungeon are both passable idle RPGs, though you would probably skip them if they were on Kongregate or you didn’t have a Watch. Lifeline has done well in the App Store charts, probably because its notifications based story is gripping whether you have a Watch or not.

Actionable notifications are the next big thing in mobile gaming


And that’s really my point. Anything that works well on the Watch works because it has minimal inputs and proactively reaches out to the player. With quick replies in OS 9, any app will be able to do this though, not just ones that you get on your Watch. Now apps can not only let you know that something has happened, but also get your reaction to that information without you leaving the lock screen.


Imagine Fallout Shelter with this functionality. You already get notifications warning you that your dwellers have been in the wasteland for a while and you should check on them before they die. Now you could be given an option in the notification to recall them. Suddenly the notification isn’t a annoyance pestering you to return and play the game, it IS playing the game. Games can reach out to players throughout the day, keeping players engaged and themselves front of mind, and then deliver a longer, more satisfying session when players have the time.

Dual format sessions are already used by some of the most successful games

Players are already used to these sorts of different sessions. In the Fallout example, players might check in to the app to prevent a dweller from being out in the wasteland too long and dying. But they will still want to return to the app for longer later, to see what loot their dweller had found, and dole this out to the other dwellers. In Clash of Clans you often collect your resources 2 or 3 times a day, but might only attack people or reconfigure your defence in one, longer session.

Of course not all genres are suitable for this sort of gameplay. Games that rely on action, graphics and twitch controls will not work at all, whilst games that rely heavily on decision making will work best. But that means genres like strategy, simulation and RPG – some of the biggest top grossing genres on the App Store at the moment – could be adapted to make use of this, and my prediction is that within the next year we’ll see at least one top 10 game with more player interactions through notifications than through the app itself.


As with the analysis that a lot of apps are going to become much closer to messaging, and make much greater use of notifications, games are going to follow suit. The top grossing genres on the App Store currently are ones that could make most use of actionable notifications – strategy, simulation and RPG. Games that make use of actionable notifications will work well on iPhone and Apple Watch alike.


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