Nine leading games experts speak out on the Apple Watch

Video games dominate App Store downloads, but the category is conspicuously absent from the Apple Watch launch. We talk to Australia’s top gaming experts for their take on Apple’s new smartwatch.

The Apple Watch is officially available for public play, but the media has been getting hands-on with the device for quite some time now. While Apple is pushing its watch as a fashionable wearable for the image conscious technology consumer, for many the App Store is synonymous with gaming. In March 2015, 21.45% of all apps on the App Store were games, more than double any other category.

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In fact, it’s estimated that gaming contributes 75% of all App Store income, with the category making up 90% of the top 20 apps! Despite this, only a handful of games have even been announced for the Apple Watch, let alone to be ready for launch. Why is this so? You can read our opinion on this peculiar phenomenon here, but we also thought we’d get in touch with some of the world’s leading game experts to get their take on the future of the Apple Watch as a gaming device.

Dan Hindes – Editor at GameSpot 

“I already think the available play space on a mobile phone is too small for most games, so the even smaller screen real estate on a wearable means that we won't really see their potential as gaming devices until entirely new types of games are developed. I'd love to see games that don't rely solely on looking at the watch face to play. Imagine something like a game of hide and seek for kids, where the vibration points you toward other people and speeds up when you get closer to them. There are also large outdoor-based games, such as Pac-Manhattan, that could do a lot with wearable tech since their focus is on moving around outdoors in the first place.”

Daniel Wilks – Editor of PC PowerPlay and Hyper

“I think there will be a certain faddishness around the device and it will develop something of the cult appeal of the iPod or iPhone, but it won’t have nearly as much impact. As far as the watch goes, I can see it being used to gamify activities in a similar manner to the sports/fitness wearables around at the moment, but don’t see much future with it when it comes to dedicated gaming. The problem of small screen space and the lack of dedicated controls is common across wearables, so things that require in-game movement will probably be tied to gamified activities rather than using the devices for more traditional forms of gaming.”

Steven O’Donnell (aka Bajo) – Host of Good Game

“Even though I doubt I'll own one, I'm excited about Apple's smartwatch for how it will drive innovation in the industry on all fronts. And how it will drive the idea of what a smartwatch can be. I'm curious to see if there is a game that can work on a smartwatch and of anyone can figure that out, it's probably Apple. For the moment that seems to be about pushing notifications. I don’t know about most people, but the last thing I want is my watch buzzing every time someone favourites a tweet, or tags me in some trash bin Facebook post. Get that digital buzzing out of my life.”

“Right now, in my opinion, smartwatches are barely a gimmick. The ones I've used do what I want them to do about 50% of the time, and 50% of that stuffs up somehow. So 25% effectiveness isn't good enough for it to be a must have. I believe this is mostly due to unintuitive software, buggy and infuriating voice recognition, general hardware limitations and batteries that don’t last long enough. I think the possibilities for why we would want, let alone need, a smartwatch are yet to be figured out, be it gaming or otherwise.”

“So why play a game on your smartwatch when you have a tablet, a smartphone or a portable console or a laptop? I'm not sure. Maybe there's some other type of game... augmented reality related perhaps… that might be interesting! These things do take time, and as much as all Apple products frustrate me, I can't deny the company’s ability to refine design and make tech look lovely – one day I will feel like a future man sent back in time to show off his sci-fi arm device!”

Nathan Lawrence – Tech and Gaming Expert, Multiple Outlets

“I think the Apple Watch will get better in subsequent generations. Like most first-gen things, the technology is not yet at a must-buy stage for games, but the more time developers have to play with it and unlock latent potential, the better it will be. I see wearables occupying a similar space as Microsoft’s Kinect device for Xbox: not an essential (or primary) gaming kit, but an awesome supplementary offering when implemented in a way that makes sense to use.”

Nic Healey – Senior Editor at CNET

“From my perspective, I think gaming will definitely become a feature of wearable tech, but it's unclear right now what approach developers will take. I'd like to think that we'll be looking at something inventive and exciting - the wearable as a peripheral for a mobile game, or perhaps being integrated into a larger alternative reality game (ARG).”

David Milner – Editor of Game Informer AU

“Only a fool would bet against Apple, but I've been called worse things before. The Apple Watch makes very little sense to me as a gaming device... or as a device full stop, really. Apple is almost single-handedly responsible for the fact that most people don't wear wristwatches anymore! We have that information on our smartphones now - to go back and try to make money from a market that you've decimated is odd. It's like IBM making typewriters.”

“In terms of gaming on the Apple Watch, I think we're far more likely to see "gamification" seep its way into other programs, rather than full-fledged games. I can envision a ton of fitness and training apps, rewarding you with points and shiny things if you walk a certain distance, cook a certain meal, refrain from drinking a certain frothy beverage, etc. That will almost certainly take off in a big way. But these things aren't really games, despite what their marketers will tell you.”

“The interface, a tiny touchscreen, doesn't lend itself well to the types of experiences gamers like to immerse themselves in. Even the indie and casual games that work so well on a phone/tablet don't have a true home here – they're simply all better on a slightly larger screen and played with two thumbs rather than one (unless you're super dexterous, there is no way your watch hand is getting involved in the action without unstrapping it).”

Chris Wright – Managing Director at Surprise Attack

“Smartwatches are still relatively new and so the way we really engage with them in our lives is yet to be established. For games in particular there are a lot of questions about whether people will want to play games on the watch directly or interact with their mobile games in a different way than on the main phone or tablet screen. I personally think that the latter is more likely. For example, responding to a notification or performing simple tasks to manage your activity in a game - especially one with timers that are running like Clash of Clans, where interacting on the watch might be quicker and less effort than pulling out your phone.”

“Specifically with regard to local Australian developers, I do think that whenever there is new technology that has the potential to be extremely popular then there are opportunities for studios to rise up because the technology is fresh ground and the established players are not necessarily agile enough or experimenting enough. It happened with the iPhone and Halfbrick (Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride), who found huge success by defining/popularising a particular way of playing a game on a touchscreen. It could potentially happen again with the Apple Watch if someone can figure out a similarly breakthrough way of playing on or with a smartwatch.”

Stephen Farrelly – Managing Editor of AusGamers 

“We’re still a long way off these devices offering anything dedicated to the gaming space. However, there is a small movement towards using these and real-world environments in what we would still consider “futuristic” gameplay ideas. As second screens as well, there’s some value here. A Fallout Pip-Boy special projector casing and a wearable would definitely make that experience special. But I’m probably just being wishful there.”

Chris Stead – Publisher of Grab It Magazine

“As it stands, there’s little reason for anyone to buy a wearable specifically as a gaming device. Very little. However, the rise of the indie gaming scene has seen an incredible variety of experiences flood the landscape and the concept of “what is a game?” is being redefined weekly, if not daily. If the Apple Watch sells even a skerrick of the numbers posted by the company’s other devices, there will be a market. And if there is a market, there will be games. Fun ones, lame ones and many in between. But you can bet your iPhone that someone out there, somewhere, is working on a mind-blowing new gaming concept that’s intimately linked to a wearable. And I want it.”

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