What Is Gaming on the Apple Watch Actually Like?

Information verified correct on October 20th, 2016

apple-watch-sportThe Apple Watch will bring your iPhone experience out of your pocket or handbag, and onto your wrist for easier communication, but what does this mean for your favourite video games?

If you’re looking to pick up an Apple Watch, then chances are you have an iPhone. It is, after all, the critical connective device that will transform your new wearable from a glamorous accessory into a portal to the greater world. And if you have an iPhone, then we don’t need to convince you just how important gaming has become to the smartphone ecosystem. There’s a reason why the app charts are predominantly populated by video games.

In 2014, US$15billion was spent on the App Store, and 2015 is set to blast that record out of the water – over $500million was spent on apps in the first seven days of January alone. There’s a lot of zeroes on offer, and that’s huge motivation for app developers to get their brands available on the Apple Watch as soon as possible, but if you’re a gamer, you may be wondering exactly how that is going to work on such a small screen.

While Apple has done an impressive job converting the app experience to the small 1.5” screen and allowing you to operate it all without shadowing the viewing landscape in your fingerprint, when thinking about gaming on an Apple Watch, you have to think about gaming on an iPhone. The former relies on the latter for all the heavy lifting.

When can we expect to see the first Apple Watch games?

Developers have access to the Apple Watch Software Development Kit (SDK) right now, and have been using it to create new apps or alter existing ones for the device since November 2014. Any app created for an Apple device needs to go through a rigorous approval process with the company, and frequently changes to the experience, or the way it is presented (such as the metadata in the App Store), are requested. Each of these changes requires a resubmission of the app, and the process can drag on for upwards of a month. Especially for new apps or IP (intellectual property) that may not have previously proven themselves to Apple’s staff.

The door has been open for developers to upload apps to Apple for approval since the start of April, and Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that over 1,000 were submitted in the first four days. So it is quite possible that some games could be completed, approved and available for the launch of the device on April 24. However, don’t expect a huge catalogue of new titles to browse through. While being amongst the first games available for the watch would be a huge bonus for developers wanting to gain some traction, the relatively low install base and lack of real-world data on user consumption and interaction could hold a lot of product back.

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What will gaming on the Apple Watch be like?

The indie game development scene has shown us that there is no end to the creativity of developers and the ingenious ways they can get us involved in the act of play. There are so many variations in the experiences these teams have developed from a simple tap or swipe, we’re positive that over the coming months and years we’ll get a run of unique gaming experiences for the Apple Watch. However, history has shown us that we should lower our expectations for the launch window – the initial Apple Watch games are most likely to offer different perspectives and control options for existing iPhone gaming experiences, more than revolutionary new ways to play.

What you can look forward to in the short-term is companion apps for popular games that provide you with bare-boned interactions - or simply information - relating to the grander experience in your pocket. For example, free-to-play titles like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga may prompt you with information about whether you have new units available, or if a certain timer has run out, to encourage you to pull out your phone and power up the main experience.

That said, a number of genres do naturally fit onto the smaller viewing space of the Apple Watch. Puzzle and word games, turn-based strategy titles and one-tap experiences (like the infamous Flappy Bird) come straight to mind. We can also expect titles that tie into the gameification of life – such as those that tie fitness (think Zombies, Run!), geographical location (GPS) or proximity of other players (near-field communication) into progression will also take off.

As new gaming experiences become available to the Apple Watch, we will continue to update this list – be sure to bookmark it, and check it regularly.

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