Opinion – You Need A Second Screen To Read This

One of the weirder trends in tech is the idea of the ‘second screen,’ where your phone/tablet/whatever is beaming additional information while you’re watching something on your main screen. It’s an idea that’s been heavily supported by television networks for a while as a means of getting discussion going on social networks. And thanks to things like Xbox SmartGlass and the Wii U, the idea of the second screen is coming to video games.

And though I still don’t quite ‘get’ it, after some time using various services, there may be some merit to the idea.I’m not going to lie: Whenever I watch some TV or even play games, I always technically have a second screen with me. I either have my iPod, my phone or even my tablet with me. I’m usually fooling around on Twitter, Facebook or checking out other sites.

The most time I’ve spent using a second screen for anything would have to be Xbox’s SmartGlass. Surprisingly, it’s one of the few things from Microsoft that is progressive and interesting, but at the moment there isn’t much on offer that actively uses it or makes for a compelling argument to use it.

My only real experience using SmartGlass has been with Forza Horizon, which uses the second screen as a GPS. It’s a handy little tool which allows you to select a route and change it if necessary, all without accessing the in-game GPS menu. It’s not at all required to fully appreciate the game, but it’s a neat idea that kinda works.

There are other games that use the tech quite brilliantly. Take Dance Central 3, which allows you to cue up tracks in the game’s endless “Party Mode,” so if you’ve got a track you want to play and don’t necessarily want to go back to a menu to pick it, there you are. It doesn’t break the flow of the game, it doesn’t respond in an immediate repeat…it just works. There’s similar functionality in the Wii U version of Just Dance 4. It all means you can just have fun with the damned game. That, and it’s hilariously evil fun to troll people using stupidly complicated dance moves.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really seem like this is the case with the majority of the Wii U’s launch line up. Most of the games just seem to slip into the ‘hey that’s neat’ niche that the Forza Horizon’s GPS stuff falls into, be it pushing the map onto the second screen, easy weapon/power switching, or co-op elements. All useful elements certainly, but nothing really…interesting.

I suppose it can’t be helped; after all, it is the launch window. It’s not like we’re going to see anything truly unique right out of the gate, nor would it be expected of third parties to go too crazy on the ports. Though I’m rather keen to check out the third party situation a year from now; I’m hoping that someone other than Nintendo does something cool with the tech.

While the Wii U and Smartglass are recently released tech, there’s one other player that hasn’t taken any advantage of potential second screen capabilities: Sony. Even back when the PSP was still in its prime, they never really seemed to do anything with it. Remember how Gran Turismo 5 was meant to use the PSP as a rear view mirror? Remember how it never happened?

Now with the PS Vita, Sony are giving it another shot by further integrating it with the PS3. There’s a growing group of games that use the Vita as an additional controller; hell, there’s even a growing group of games that mingle Vita players with PS3 players. Yet there’s nothing at the moment that’s coming close to a using it as second screen.

In their defence, a lot of the current and potential second screen offerings from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are all still quite ‘new’, but there isn’t anything out there at the moment that truly sells you on the concept — and yet, I really want it to succeed. There are definitely some interesting ideas that could exist, it’s just going to take a while to get there.Though it could be worse — it could at the #desperate level that television has gotten to…


Come back on Thursdays for more thoughts and views from the NG+ cast and crew.

[Image credits: MicrosoftSony]