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It's been a while since I last posted: life has been busy and my gaming has been predominantly Rift and Alchemy Genetics based, with a bit of Borderlands and Champions Online here and there, which gets boring to read about after a while. I failed to get interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic in any way despite the behemoth PR engine and the obsessiveness of many of my friends (some of whom were barely gamers before it hit). I failed to get Skyrim too, though I plan on checking it out eventually once the price is down and I'm over my Rift phase.

Mobile apps for games and gaming networks aren't new by any means, however it's only in the last year or so that official apps from the producers of various games have started to surface. From Authenticator programs to add an extra layer of account security, to linked chat systems and replication of some in-game playable features; the companies behind the move to integrate the mobile market have been playing catchup to the enterprising third party app developers who've been offering addon support for years now.

Android Market iPhone Store

As an example of such a third party app: those who've played Eve Online with any degree of seriousness will know of Aura, an API-using app that monitors skills, manufacturing, market orders and so on. When I was playing Eve, it was invaluable as it'd let me see at a glance exactly what order on which character had been filled by whom, if I was about to superceede my current clone and also when my next skill was due to pop. It's been around for a good long while (in mobile app terms) and is quite the success story. It's not the only one of course, there's a ton of apps for Eve and the same goes for pretty much every game out there with a following. People like the functionality; they like to be able to stay connected. Games companies have taken heed and have started to produce their own versions.


Playing catchup

The earliest 'Official' apps were the account Authenticators for games such as World of Warcraft. In games with a high profile, and thus sporting a large target for unscrupulous account-breaching activities, keyloggers grabbing passwords are commonplace, as is account sharing and plenty of other means to gain access to an account from the user's end. Authenticators add another layer of security by requiring a code generated by the app to be entered when you login. It's a unique key attached to your account and changes frequently (usually a 30 second window) when synched up with the server. The idea there is that unless someone has your mobile phone as well as your username and password, it's no use trying to keylog the code as it'll be invalid shortly after use.

Now, gaming companies have introduced apps that do more, often linking into game servers' API to allow for communications such as reading in-game mail or chatting in channels, or more. An example of this is the official Rift mobile app, currently in Beta, for the iPhone and Android platforms. It allows you to log in as many of your own characters as you like in order to chat to friends and guildmates, keep track of world events and play minigames to earn small in-game rewards. Whilst the latter is opening a can of worms regarding paying subscribers not have equal access to content and loot unless they own smartphones, the functions offered have proved to be extremely popular (even if it is buggy as all ungodly hell in it's current Beta incarnation). It's not alone: World of Warcraft has had a similar app for some time, as have other games. Some of them are even paid apps that require an initial purchase fee, or else cost a little extra on top of the game's subscription fee in those games that have them, such as WoW's Remote Services app that allows the use of the auction house from a phone, among other things.


Social Networking?

It's not just online games that could benefit greatly from associated apps. Gaming networks, notably Steam, have been bugged for years about releasing apps, or at the very least allowing the API to become available for third parties to develop apps in their stead. It took a while but Valve finally pulled their collective finger out and the Steam Mobile App is now available on iPhone and Android markets. It's a beta test at the moment, and once you've logged in it'll take that as registering interest in beta participation. If you do that, keep an eye out on your Beta notifications (Setting menu in the main Steam client) for an invite and once you've got that accepted and sorted out you can get stuck in. They're being a little slow to send out beta invites but as I understand it everyone who registers interest (i.e. downloads it and logs in) will eventually get one.

Steam Mobile App

I've been using it for the last few days. So far, so good. You can't access your game library sadly, but you can do most other things such as chat to friends and see the friends list, view the store, make purchases and so on. It's also pretty stable so far, which is a plus in my book.


The haves and the have-nots

Clearly there is a future in mobile apps associated with online gaming. There will always be third party apps, some paid and some free, and any online game company that sees itself as a major player will want to have its own suite of official apps. But there are lines being drawn over what constitutes convenience, and what becomes an unfair in-game advantage. Checking a mail message versus winning rewards. Favoring owners of some devices and not others.

My personal line in the sand is at direct manipulation of in game content. Chatting to a friend is one thing, acquiring free loot and manipulating auctions is quite different. Particularly because not every player of a game will own a supported smart device. Computer-aimed software with the same functionality would be an equiliser, because one would presume that if your machine is capable of running the game in question, it's capable of running a small associated applet too. However, I have yet to see such a thing implemented and I do wonder why that might be. It can't be a question of losing money because many of these smart device apps are free, and even if they're not you can charge for applets like any other piece of software.

Finally, let's not forget security issues, and what might happen if your phone goes walkabout. Saved login information and account details could be a problem. Authenticators might end up locking you out of your own account unless you spend hours on expensive support phonecalls and post ID halfway accross the world to prove you're the real account owner, as happened to a friend of mine when her phone was stolen.

All in all, if you have a smart device then there's much on offer by way of expanding your online game experience through apps with varying degrees of integration. I'm riding this wave with interest and looking to see where it might go.

Date: 2012-01-31 12:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quilluck.livejournal.com
The thing I find to be the biggest concern is the fact that if your mobile goes kapoof or gets stolen or whatever, you are, as you say, locked out from the game. And as has been the case in many MMOs as of late, getting any kind of support can take hours, even days from personal experience. But then, I am not sure there is a way to prevent that from occurring, sadly.

As for the extra bit of loot from apps, I don't see a huge problem with the Rift Mobile app. You can get a tiny bit of planarite and some other bits and pieces here and there. For the most part, I am sure there are people who end up with some epic crafting bits here and there, but I am fairly sure that the chance of getting such booty is a very, very rare occurrence. It would be nice to see access granted to users without the proper smartphone via a web-interface or something.

Date: 2012-01-31 02:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] achtungexplosiv.livejournal.com
The Rift Mobile app is a pertinent example. I have won a single item worth about 9 platinum, about 15 itmes that are worth ~2 platinum each but that I need, and a lot of planarite. Enough planarite to make a real difference to one character. OK so I was spending my scratchgame credits almost as soon as I got them so I haven't lost out on too many when the maximum stored cap of 6 is reached, but still. That's in under a week. If I played the artifacts game, there's some on offer that go for 30 platinum or so on the Icewatch auciton houses. Naturally if the supply jumps up from the apps, the cost will go down (as the recent opening of the AH to be cross-faction has shown with plummeting prices for many things) so it will lose it's edge over time, but during that phase those with the right smart device that otherwise would have absolutely no bearing on the game are profiting.

iPhone owners have been able to do that since about christmas. Nothing on the horizon yet for Windows phone or Blackberry users, or those without a smartphone at all.

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achtungexplosiv

May 2012

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