Microsoft are going to be pushing SmartGlass integration in the coming generation, and many have wondered just how they’re going to make it anything but a gimmick. I’ve fired up the app on my PC, phone and tablet a few times and always wondered what the point was, but while playing The Witcher 2, and thinking of its sequel which will support the companion app, I think I’ve had an epiphany.

While I’ve been playing The Witcher 2, one thing has occurred to me; I’m not making the most of this epic RPG’s mechanics and content. My gaming time is a bit limited, so when I get a chance to jump into CD Projekt RED’s masterpiece, I don’t really feel like menu-diving for extended periods to read up on the lore, manage my inventory or sometimes even read the lengthy (though enjoyable) quest descriptions in the journal. I have to make myself do it every now and then, meaning I get less time to drive the story forward.

So I was thinking, what if I could do all of that on my PC or tablet when I’m not actually in-game? Imagine if SmartGlass could pull in all of your savegame information and let you access it outside of the game, letting you go through your inventory (equipping or enhancing weaponry and armour, dumping un-needed items, reading in-game texts), view your journal (the app could drag in all your current quests and their respective progress levels and let you read up on current events), view in-game maps and even develop your character by spending earned talents and mutagens. I’d love to have the option to do this stuff when I’m on my Surface, and then load up the game and have everything up to date and ready to dive in and carry on with the story.

I had a similar feeling a while back, when playing Skyrim. I found an app on my phone (Skyrim Guide) that listed walkthroughs and requirements for every quest in Bethesda’s open-world adventure, and while it was useful, I did wonder to myself how much better it could be if it had access to my save file and could track and check off those quests for me. It didn’t occur to me at the time that SmartGlass could be the thing to enable this, but if Microsoft can make their companion app powerful enough, it could enable some fantastic extras like this.

Of course, the thing that could scupper this would be a requirement for the game to be on before SmartGlass could connect with that particular title. But if Microsoft were to make SmartGlass a feature of the Xbox Live app already available on multiple platforms (which already displays your library of games, allows you to send and receive messages and track your achievement progress), I think this could work: You could load up the XBL app, flick through your library, find the game you want and then get all of that game’s SmartGlass integration right there – outside of the game, without the need to have your console on. You’d have one powerful, useful app instead of two limited ones, and at the same time enable a bunch of genuinely useful features for players.

Multiplayer games could also benefit from these features, especially when it comes to stat tracking. Back in the days of Halo 3 and Reach, halo.bungie.net was the place to go to see all of your Halo goodies: you could see detailed breakdowns on your weapon usage, game history, heatmaps and anything in your file share. Did you make a video or screenshot in Theatre Mode? You could view them there. This feature-set has now moved over to Halo Waypoint, which also offers all sorts of Halo media and lore, and apparently also has a feature that allows you to view live maps as you play a multiplayer game, allowing you to see the position of weapons and other elements through the app, though I have never managed to make this work.

I’m assuming Call of Duty and Battlefield have similar stat-tracking websites or apps, but why have disparate destinations for each game when SmartGlass could bring them all under one roof? If all of this functionality were moved over, we’d have one place to go for all our stat-tracking, journal-reading needs. And with this coming generation seemingly going all-out to bring massively multiplayer to consoles in new ways (just look at stuff like Bungie’s Destiny or Ubisoft’s The Division), you can be sure we’ll be seeing more and more game companion stuff to come. I can only speak for myself, but I’d rather have a nice umbrella for all of that content to come under, than have a folder of browser favourites or sit wondering if the app I need will come to the platform I use. I’m imagining being able to go into SmartGlass, send a message to a player I bumped into on a Destiny run, manage my inventory and develop my character for The Witcher 3, then watch some of my Halo Theatre clips before jumping into a chat with my Elder Scrolls Online party members to discuss our next excursion. All from the same app. I don’t know about anyone else, but that appeals to me.

The best part of this? SmartGlass is cross-platform. You can find it on devices running Windows, iOS and Android, meaning that it will have a pretty extensive reach, and if more people can use the app, hopefully more developers and publishers will push content for it.

It’s important to state that I don’t want the features outlined above to be stripped out of their respective games and shoehorned into an app that not everyone will want to use. I simply want that stuff as an option so that I can have access to it when I don’t have access to my console, freeing up my play-time for, you know, play. I hope SmartGlass will provide this, rather than continue to be the (mostly) useless thing it is today.

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