Welp, it finally happened. I'm watching the World of Warcraft panel at PAX West, and the devs announce a free companion mobile app for Legion that focuses on managing the Class Order Hall and monitoring the World Quests in the Broken Isles. The joke about Garrisons became real.
I ain't even mad. Like it or not, mobile apps to handle the busywork end of MMORPGs should've become a thing years ago. So far, only a mobile authenticator and (for a fee) access to the Auction House, but this changes things. (Oh, and it will be available on Tuesday for Android and iOS, usual sources.)
So, why is this a big deal? Player Engagement.
The successful gaming businesses focus around keeping players engaged with the game as much as they can. For MMORPGs in particular, what that means is finding ways to get players to think about and pay attention to the game above and beyond logging in to do a raid or fight in the Arena once they hit endgame. Some go all Merchant Lord and play the Auction House. (Hello, Elvine!) Many are champion bonecrushers that dominate in PVP, and others are veteran dragonslayers for whom the raid game is the game. A lot of folks get into sourcing raw materials for crafters, and those crafters make gear to supply demand.
But most folks have real world commitments or interests that don't allow them to be logged in for more than the length of a NFL Football game (and often less than your standard pro soccer match), so if they're not already in the running for raiding or PVP they often drift off as there is little engagement from the game.
This mobile app, and others like it, provide an alternative to being logged for a significant number of players. This makes the app part of a larger scheme of retention mechanisms designed to prevent players from leaving an active state of participation by allowing them to participate in part of the game when they can't be logged in and playing. As most players are working adults, with other demands on their time, having a thing to permit them to stay in the game keeps them engaged- and engagement means retention, which means more revenue.
For the far-thinking game business, this sort of thing is a logical bridge between introducing a subgame and spinning it off into its own thing. Gwent, for example, from The Witcher 3, is now on this path. Had there been a Gwent mobile app that allowed you to play Gwent using one of your game saves, that would've hit big and showed demand for a stand-alone spinoff.
And no, tabletop people, you should NOT ignore this. Hell, you should've been on this like white on rice years ago with mobile apps for rolling dice, managing character sheets for players and NPCs; to be fair, some of you have done something like this, usually in the context of wargaming, but you RPG motherfuckers need to step up- or allow someone else to fill that niche for you, as you're now doing with Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. Having ways to stay engaged away from the table is a good idea for all gaming media, and finding a way to make it a revenue stream without being scummy about it is what will make it work for you.