For the last decade or so, a quiet but powerful trend has been changing the way we play games. Like so many developments in this industry, nobody really asked for dual-screen gameplay at first — it snuck up on us, one game at a time, picking up traction with fans as more and more companies pushed it into markets from the top. Everyone eventually met in the middle, and now the second screen is second nature.
What began with Nintendo’s puzzling foray into GameCube-Game Boy connectivity has now bubbled over to the world’s most valuable company. Developer Magnate Interactive yesterday launched SketchParty TV, an iPad-exclusive app that utilizes Apple TV and AirPlay to create an asymmetric, local-mutliplayer game resembling a very modern Pictionary. It’s an interesting mix of new-school tech with the now-uncommon hook of playing with friends on your couch, not the Web. Hopefully those friends are willing to pitch in some cash for the experience, however, as a proper game of SketchParty TV requires at least $500 of gear — not including the HDTV and couch, of course. Like the PlayStation Move, Kinect and Rock Band before it, SketchParty TV will have an uphill battle to make it into consumers’ download que.
But for hardware that doesn’t have two screen built right in, that may be inevitable. Nintendo, realizing that the barrier of entry for dual-screen gameplay in titles like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures was too high, offered a solution that became the world’sfastest-selling dedicated video game system: the Nintendo DS. With two screens built right in, consumers only needed one device while developers could count on a non-segmented market. Nintendo is going all-in with that concept on the Wii U, which is set to launch with an included tablet-like controller later this year. Companies like Sony, meanwhile, hesitantly tout the technical possibility for a similar connection between the Vita and PlayStation 3 — an interesting sidenote, but not one that consumers or developers are interested in.
Dual-screen connectivity allows developers to craft some genuinely novel experiences, but few game-makers are willing invest in the concept when only a fraction of their audience has the right equipment to play their potential products. Even so, a downloadable marketplace like the App Store may lower the barrier of entry just enough that studios like Magnate are willing to give it a shot.
SketchParty TV is available now for $4.99.