Why DLC Isn’t As Evil As You Think It Is

DLC is almost a swear word amongst the gaming community, something that lazy game publishers roll out in order to squeeze some extra pennies from you and inject some extended play time into their games. When we’ve been faced with ridiculous DLC in the past, such as essentially useless horse armour in Oblivion, power ups in Dead Space 3, and new ‘Colour Packs’ for Street Fighter 3, it’s easy to see why DLC is seen as evidence of the industry’s greed.

However, while reading 10 Big Myths About Video Games, Debunked by the People Who Make Them, I was surprised to learn just how DLC can hold a gaming development team together. Elizabeth Zelle told Kotaku:

‘In the past you would see large layoffs when a game submitted because there simply wasn’t any more work for a lot of the devs on a team. The same studio would start hiring back up months later when their next project got to the point of needing a large team again. DLC production, the employment it provides devs, and the bonus income it generates to pay them works to keep game studios out of the layoff-hire back cycles and lets game devs enjoy a more stable life.’

Most gamers, myself included, could honestly say that they never really thought about the livelihood of dame developers before now. Surely once they were hired on by a company, they stayed there? Clearly, that isn’t so. In a global economy where a job for life no longer exists, why did we expect the situation to be any different for them?

DLC, then, serves a higher purpose than simply making more money. When funds are generated through DLC sales, staff can be kept on and producers save time and money in re-hiring every time they need a new dev team.

Of course, this doesn’t help when the DLC put out feels lazy and exploitative, like the above examples. However, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t always the case. The ‘Old World Blues’ expansion for Fallout 3, ‘The Knife of Dunwall’ and ‘Brigmore Witches’ packs for Dishonored, and the ‘Minerva’s Den’ expansion for Bioshock 2 – a personal favourite – meant that these games were given more room to grow and let the player explore their stories, or even let them tell new stories altogether. When done well, good DLC can make it worth your while to buy the full game itself.

When done properly, DLC can be a win-win situation for everybody involved. Gamers get new, quality content for the games they love, and game developers get to enjoy a more stable work environment, therefore being able to put all their energies into creating quality games. When game development is such a specialised skill, it only seems fair that they’re allowed to stay in one job, rather than having to bounce around looking for work once their current project is over. Hopefully we’ll start seeing new developments in DLC soon, with expansions that’ll both keep talented devs working and give gamers more quality content.

App Technology Making Exciting New Progress in Healthcare

It’s probably fair to say that most of us use our phone as handy little distraction machines,  perfect for killing a few minutes playing Candy Crush when waiting for a bus, or checking Whatsapp while waiting in line at the supermarket. However, developers have known that our phones are capable of a whole lot more than that.

One of the rapidly growing markets in app development is healthcare. We talked about this before back in July, but the rush shows no sign of slowing. There are slews of apps that claim to make doctors available to you at the tap of a screen. Mental health is being catered for with apps that allow the user to track their moods and symptoms, and others such as Calm aim to treat symptoms with methods such as meditation.

App technology is really allowing developers to create new solutions to medical care where there weren’t any before. Tyler Skluzacek in the US is just one such developer using the technology creatively to help others. His father, a sergeant in the US army, developed PTSD, in which one of the symptoms are night terrors. Believing that everybody deserved a good night’s sleep, Skluzacek and his team, ‘The Cure’, began to put together ‘myBivy’ during the 36 hour coding competition HackDC.

The app works by monitoring the user’s heart rate and movement while they sleep. If there’s any noticeable change that’s in line with night terrors, the app will vibrate the device, in order to disrupt the user’s sleeping patterns. The aim is not to wake the user up entirely, but disrupt the deep sleep and in turn, the symptoms of night terrors. When the user wakes up in the morning, they can view the data from the previous night, and if they so choose send it to their doctor in order to help with treatment.

The app is currently still being funded on KickStarter, and with the money The Cure hopes to develop versions of it for use on smartwatches such as the Apple Watch, which will make it even easier to track and monitor the user’s sleep patterns while being unintrusive. With 19 days to go at time of writing, the app has made over $15,000 in pledges, when their original goal was a humble $1,194.

Much closer to home, the Thoracic team that runs the Heartlands, Good Hope and Solihull hospitals here in the Midlands, have created their own healthcare app. The Fit for Surgery app aims to bring to bring rehabilitation to lung surgery patients at their own time and convenience, reducing the amount of hospital visits needed and putting patients in control of their own care.

The app, which is currently being trialled, includes a Bluetooth Pulse Oximeter which gives the patient readings on their heart rate and oxygen levels before and after exercise, which can then be sent on to the patient’s doctor for monitoring. It also allows the hospitals to evaluate the rehabilitation programme and make changes when needed.

If successful, the app could be rolled out nationwide and possibly be adapted for other forms of medical care, too.

These are just two of the most innovative uses of app technology being used to improve health in their users.  As the technology continues to improve, we’re sure to see more new ideas coming around soon.

Lifeline: A New Twist on Familiar Storytelling

As an app game, Lifeline isn’t as showy as most, and probably wouldn’t be even looked at twice, due to it’s 79p charge up front and subdued colour palette in the app store. However, after a recommendation from a friend, we here at Dojit have tried the game and have discovered that it really is something special.

At heart, Lifeline is a ‘choose your own adventure’ game. Cadet Taylor (their gender is never specified), crash lands on a mysterious moon, the rest of their crew presumably dead, and their only line of contact is with you.

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At first, you’re simply getting to know Taylor and their situation, but soon they’re asking you for advice and reassurance. As they struggle to survive in a hostile and unfamiliar environment, you’re their only means of support.

The presentation is minimal. Taylor’s messages are a string of what are essentially text messages, and your responses are reduced to a choice of two whenever they ask you a question, or something significant happens. The stripped back nature of the game means that it’s easier to become involved in Taylor’s plight, and become engaged with the story that’s unravelling in real time. If Taylor needs some time to go on a hike and look for help, they’ll say that they’ll check in in an hour. Then, you’ll have to wait for an hour in real time before Taylor gets in touch again.

According to the game’s developers at 3 Minute Games, this was intentional. ‘When people are playing, it’s not just about the time that they’re interacting with Taylor. It’s all the rest of the time when they’re thinking about Taylor. The whole goal was to make something that would become a part of people’s lives.’

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Playing the game, I became absorbed in Taylor’s story quickly, thanks to some clever writing and wonderful characterisation. Taylor quickly became a living, breathing person, someone that I cared about and that I wanted to help save. Presenting the game on mobile devices was a smart move. With most communication these days being through our smartphones, sending and receiving messages from Taylor this way seemed second nature.

The story itself is also fantastic. First, you’re simply helping Taylor get through the night. They ask whether it’d be ok to sleep by the crashed ship’s reactor, and if you’re like me, you actually go and Google whether they’ll be safe to do so. As the story progresses, other mysteries open up and the fate of Taylor’s ship and crew mates is revealed. We can’t say much more, for fear of spoilers, but it’s rare to see so much narrative in full blown triple A titles, never mind an app game.

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In the end, I definitely formed an emotional bond with Taylor, and I was invested in their fate. Lifeline is a brand new twist on a traditional form of storytelling, and I’d personally recommend it to everyone I know. For now, I’m going to wait with bated breath to see what 3 Minute Games comes up with next.

People vs. Peeple

As an app, Peeple has proved to be highly controversial, and it hasn’t even been released yet. Last month, Canadian developers Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough announced their plans to create ‘Yelp for people’, a way of reviewing the people you come into contact with every day. The premise was, if you had the person’s phone number, you could post a review of them on Peeple. Once the review was up, the person you’d reviewed would be notified, and if they wished to, they could respond to that review.

And therein lay the problem. The person reviewed could respond to the review, but they had no say in their inclusion in the app. Once the person had been listed, that listing could not be removed.

Understandably, many people saw some serious issues with this plan. It was pointed out that as long as someone had your phone number, they could say whatever they liked about you, with no repercussions. You could theoretically be bullied through the app, followed by harassers, or tracked down if you had left an abusive partner. Also, it had implications on job prospects, as less than flattering things could be found on the app via Google, if prospective employers are looking you up.

Following this online outrage, the developers found themselves on the receiving end of an outpouring of outrage. Finding themselves buried in an avalanche of angry comments, they began deleting them from their social media pages, causing further anger. The feeling was ‘So you can delete hurtful comments about you, but we can’t delete bad comments about ourselves?’ Cordray uploaded a video to Youtube excitedly talking about how Peeple was ‘on the front page of every media outlet’, but as they both found out, not all publicity is good publicity.

Following such protracted backlash, major changes have been made to the proposed app. In a seemingly 180 move, the developers have proposed that an account will no longer be made for you without your permission, negative reviews cannot be left about you, and you can deactivate your account at any time. Tellingly, all of Peeple’s social media accounts have been deactivated at time of writing. Whatever Peeple was going to be, it’s now something utterly different.

Whatever happens next, the story of Peeple will surely be a cautionary tale to any aspiring app developer. Cordray and McCullough may have had high hopes for their app, and didn’t see any potential problems with their idea, but they clearly didn’t expect such a visceral reaction to their announcement. What we learn from this is to carefully consider whether our idea could potentially offend someone, and if it could, whether it’s worth going ahead with it.

Also, it’s a lesson in integrity in marketing. Cordray insisted several times that Peeple would be an ‘upbeat’ app, focusing on positivity. However, the potential consequences of the app did seem to indicate that it could be a tool for bullying and harassment.

Only time will tell if Peeple takes off as a social media platform. After such a public raking over the coals, though, it seems it’s going to take a lot for people to forget their initial feelings.

Twitch Plays: The Hive Mind of the Internet

Game streaming giant Twitch TV has been responsible for few innovations in the world of gaming, such as the growth of e sports broadcasting, and the live streaming of events from gaming conventions. However, there’s now a new innovation created entirely by the website’s user base, and it’s called ‘Twitch Plays’.

It all started with an experiment in technology by an anonymous Australian programmer around this time last year. They wanted to know if a game could be played by a large viewer base, such as those on Twitch, inputting commands through the chat function on the streaming website. In theory, the chat would act as the controller for the game, allowing viewers to play the game collaboratively.

To test it out, the first game loaded up to Twitch was Pokemon Red, to the TwitchPlaysPokemon Twitch channel. The channel garnered a huge following, with an average 80,000 viewers at any given moment, and around 10% of that number participating. After 16 continuous days, the game was completed.

Twitch Plays Pokemon was fascinating because of the unique challenges it represented. Pokemon Red had been chosen, apart from the nostalgia value, because it had a simple control structure and forgiving turn based battle system. The programmer who created the program stated that they thought it would be difficult to try such an experiment with a non JRPG. It was soon discovered that due to it’s popularity, it attracted trolls who would deliberately sabotage the game by making Red jump off ledges to his death, or releasing Pokemon. These problems were overcome with a new system named ‘Democracy’ implemented by the channel’s owner, where players had to vote for the next move and have their votes tallied, before the game continued. Many players expressed their displeasure with the system, as they felt it was against the original intent of the channel, but in the end players were able to complete Pokemon Red using it.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Twitch Plays Pokemon’s surprise success, many other channels have popped up and are now imitating their methods. The Pokemon channel itself has played many other Pokemon titles since, such as Pokemon Emerald and Pokemon Platinum. The most surprising installments are the Dark Souls and Fallout 3 channels.

Dark Souls proved to be a challenge to get working at first. Known for it’s brutal difficulty curve, players thought that it would be impossible to get working on a Twitch Plays setup. At first, these fears were realised as the player character was stuck in the starting dungeon for hours, struggling to accomplish simple tasks such as climbing ladders, and had smashed one of their only good weapons against the wall. In the end, the stream owners changed the control set up to a more RPG style one. The game would pause every few seconds, allowing players to vote on their input, and then the game would progress. Again, many were upset at the change, but after 904 deaths and 43 days later, Twitch did indeed beat Dark Souls.

The Fallout 3 stream has followed a similar pattern. Currently 11 days in at time of writing, the stream is using a similar input method and is making progress, very slowly but surely. Only time will tell how long it will take to finish this title.

Now, if you Google ‘Twitch plays’ there’s a whole plethora of titles to get involved with. TwitchPlaysPokemon is currently streaming Pokemon Battle Revolution, The TwitchPlaysDark channel has moved, quite sensibly, onto Dark Souls 2, and the Fallout 3 stream can be found on the TwitchPlaysFallouts channel. These new channels have shown the ingenuity of gamers, and hopefully in the future we’ll see bigger and better versions of the programs they’re currently running.

Do we ‘like’ the Facebook ‘dislike’ button?

Facebook users have been able to send a thumbs up in the form of a ‘like’ to other users posts for a while now, but in a recent Q&A at Facebook headquarters, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media site are finally working on a ‘dislike’ button. Zuckerberg said that the button will allow users to express empathy with each other.

Many Facebook users are delighted with this announcement, as a ‘dislike’ button has been requested for years now. The popular opinion is that users want to show agreement or support with a negative emotion being expressed, but clicking ‘like’ would seem as though they’re making light of what the other user is saying. A ‘dislike’ button would make it clearer that the user doesn’t approve of the negative situation that the other user is going through.

Others, though, have expressed concern over the introduction of such a button. The Huffington Post argues that it’s already easy enough to be cruel to others online. With cyber bullying being such a prominent issue, it’s easy to imagine how a ‘dislike’ button could be abused. What’s to stop other people from ‘disliking’ photos of your children, or your announcement of your new job?

Also, the announcement has given way to a whole host of new scams. Posts on Facebook claiming that filling out a survey or ‘liking’ a different page will give users early access to the ‘dislike’ button, when in fact the scammers will install viruses on user’s machines or sell on your personal information.

Why are Facebook introducing this feature, though? Users may feel it’s the site finally giving in to their pressure, but others think differently. Geoffrey Hueter posits that adding a ‘dislike’ button will help Facebook get to know their users better. At the moment, they know gets users excited, as they ‘like’ posts that are positive for them. However, they have much less information on what annoys and upsets them. A ‘dislike’ button would allow them to collect hard data on such things, allowing them to refine their advertising model and eventually make inroads into e-commerce.

Most commenters are saying that a ‘dislike’ button won’t even look like a ‘dislike’ button. It will probably be another way of expressing empathy for others, without giving trolls another tool for their arsenal or reducing negative emotions down to a single button press. However it appears, It will be interesting to see if it becomes part of everyday usage for Facebook users.

Peeking, Poking, and Pencils: What Apple Has In Store for the Future

Lovers of Apple technology were watching closely at the company’s September event, to see what new innovations they’d be bringing to their already sizeable family of products. At the keynote speech, some new products were announced, as well as some upgrades and some surprises. Here we’ve rounded up just what was announced, and what you should be looking out for in the near future.

New Apple TV

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TV was an experiment that Apple tried in the past, but sadly didn’t quite work out. However, in a world full of app ran TV services, such as the Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV, it was clearly time for them to jump back into the ring.

This time, Apple TV features Siri support. Siri can suggest titles to watch based on year of release, director or genre, just to name a few categories. More interestingly, during a film you can say ‘What did he/she just say?’ and Siri will rewind the film and play the section back, with subtitles.

Also, the TV will come with a bluetooth, touch enabled remote. It should last three months on a single charge, and has a gyroscope, which will come in handy for the gaming apps that Apple hope to include on the device. Apple are also launching a brand new operating system, tvOS, which will allow third party developers to create apps specifically for your TV screen.

The iPad Pro

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Apple declared that the iPad Pro is ‘the biggest news in iPad since the iPad’, and that’s true – literally. The Pro is the biggest iPad they’ve made so far, measuring in at 12.9 inches diagonally. Controversially, the iPad comes with a clip on keyboard attachment, a far cry from Jobs’ peripheral free vision and the ‘What would Steve do?’ mentality at Apple. This iPad is clearly making jabs at the Microsoft Surface range, hoping to muscle in on the market.

The Apple Pencil

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As well as they keyboard, Apple have announced a stylus for the iPad, called the Apple Pencil. Like any stylus, it will let you draw and doodle on your iPad as you see fit, and the pressure you put on the stylus will translate into the heaviness of the lines you draw. What will be interesting to see is whether this will tempt artists away from dedicated artist’s tablets.

Fashionable Apple Watch straps

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Not a technological innovation as such, but good news for people who want to be on the cutting edge, but still be stylish. Apple have joined forces with Hermes, to create a selection of handmade Apple Watch straps. They won’t come cheap though, with the basic design coming in at $1,100, and the luxury version at $1,250.

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus

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These are what everybody was waiting for. The new iPhone features 3D touch technology, that will allow you do a whole of slew of new things with your phone. It focuses on the pressure you apply when you touch the screen. For example, a hard press will let you preview a link instead of opening it. Apple have described it as ‘peeking and poking’, which is not the most salubrious way of putting it, but hey, it’s their technology.

Siri’s also received some upgrades. Users can now say ‘Hey, Siri’, instead of holding down the home button to prompt the service.

The iPhone 6s also features a 12 megapixel camera, capable of shooting 4K videos. The camera can also create Live Pictures, which means that it will capture video 1.5 seconds before and after you take a picture, creating a GIF like effect.

If your appetite has been truly whet by the idea of the iPhone 6s, Macworld have the in depth scoop on who, when, and where they’ll be released. They’ll be available on September 25th, so get in line now.

Disney Harness the Power of Unboxing With Their Own Star Wars Live Stream

Last week to prepare for Force Friday, Disney hosted a special live streaming event on Youtube. Spanning 15 locations around the globe in 18 hours, specially chosen guests were selected to reveal and unbox the newest toys in the Star Wars franchise, ready for the release of The Force Awakens in December.

In every location, hardcore fans could be seen eagerly awaiting their chance to lay eyes on a new toy. Many even came in full costume, so there were lots of shots where you could see Darth Vaders and Chewbaccas milling about. In between unboxings, there were adverts for Blu ray collections of the films and the Star Wars Lego range, as well as an in depth feature from Sketchers about their Star Wars shoe range.

It was clear that Disney had managed to whip up a lot of excitement over this product launch. Not long after stores opened, pictures began popping up online of fans’ ‘Force Friday hauls’.

Unboxing videos are a fairly new phenomenon, but Disney have spotted just how successful they are and have come in as the first manufacturers to create one for their own products. Having found popularity on Youtube, they’re often videos of one enthusiast at home, putting a toy in front of the camera and unboxing it, showing the viewer how it works and commenting on the quality.

They soon became big business. One of the most popular unboxers, Disney Collector BR, was the third most watched channel on Youtube last year. Her simple videos show her unboxing toys such as Angry Birds merchandise and Disney fashion dolls. There are thousands more online, and have become so ubiquitous that they have become a target for parody. As you can imagine, they’re especially popular with children, and have become the modern equivalent of browsing through the Argos catalogue, circling the items that you want.

By hosting their own unboxing event, Disney have taken the bull by the horns and are now showing off the products that they themselves create. With Christmas now on most people’s minds, what better way to get your toys front and centre in their imaginations? Google notes that unboxing videos help grow anticipation while giving useful product information, valuable for parents who want to make sure they’re buying their children the right toy.

Now that Disney has kicked off the trend, we’re sure to see others following soon. Whether other companies host indulgent, hours long presentations though, is yet to be seen.

Lego Dimensions: Kid’s Favourite or Adult Nostalgia Trip?

Any Lego fans reading this are probably aware that on September 29th, Lego Dimensions will be released and all hell will break loose. At any rate, a lot of people are going to throw a lot of their hard earned cash at it. Why has a new Lego game caused so much excitement?

It’s because Lego Dimensions is a new player in the ‘toys to life’ genre of gaming, in which games are played with small, collectible figures. The figures use Near Field Technology, or NFC, to work with a gaming console. Anyone who’s used a contactless debit card will understand how the technology works: The figure is placed on a pad connected to the console, and the chips placed within the toy and pad can communicate wirelessly, placing the character in the game. Data for that character is saved on it’s chip, so even if you take the figure elsewhere, you can play with all your bonuses that you’ve unlocked in another person’s game.

The whole craze started with the Skylanders franchise, that debuted in 2011 with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. Using the popular Spyro the Dragon franchise, Activision helped kick start the collecting bug in many enthralled children.

The real joy in these games, according to many players, is indeed in the collecting. Not long after Skylanders appeared, we were graced with the Disney Infinity and Nintendo Amiibo games. Beloved characters from multiple franchises were released, including ones like Mario, Link and Samus Aran from Nintendo, and Elsa, Mickey and various Marvel characters from Disney.

Tech Radar points out that these games popular with children and adults. Children love that their favourite toys and characters come to life on screen, while adults love the nostalgia of collecting their childhood favourites. That nostalgia is being fully exploited by Lego, who are pulling together some major franchises to create their game. Characters available for Dimensions include The Simpsons, Back to the Future, Portal 2, Doctor Who, and even Batman, and that’s just for starters.

Lego Dimensions also has the edge over other ‘toys to life’ games in that the collectible figures are fully functional Lego figures, and can be removed from their bases in order to be played with away from the TV. As the bases are needed for the character to work with the game, this could cause a problem if one or the other is lost, but it’s still a very cool feature to have.

Dimension has been designed with children’s play in mind – especially the way children play with their physical Lego sets. Creative director of TT Games, Jon Burton, said: ‘When kids play with Lego bricks, they build beyond the singular brands, intermixing all of their favourite characters and universes, and we have come up with a way for players to experience that in games.’ Children will certainly get a kick out of driving Homer Simpson around in the Tardis, or using Batman to solve puzzles in the Aperture Science.

Ultimately though, it’s probably adults who will embrace Lego Dimensions wholeheartedly. people who grew up during the 80’s and 90’s are notoriously nostalgic, thanks to growing up in a period where technology developed rapidly, and will appreciate being able to mix their favourite characters together in a new and exciting way. And when they’re not playing, the figures will look good on their shelf.

Fallout Shelter Brings New Ideas to Game Marketing

Bethseda delighted all their fans by announcing that Fallout 4 was in production, just before E3 this year. They also announced a Fallout themed app game, named Fallout Shelter. The app came as a welcome surprise, letting fans get their Fallout fix while they wait for the next installment to be released in November.

Fallout Shelter is a strategy game that places you in the role of the Overseer, building your very own vault and protecting your Dwellers from the dangers of the outside. It runs like many other strategy apps, where the player has to manage their resources and expand their vault.

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It’s a simple game, but we here at Dojit have been hooked on it. We may have lost our first vault after we didn’t look after our Dwellers properly, and a team of Raiders kicked the vault door down and wreaked havoc. Now though, we’ve got a great little vault going on. It relies on three main resources: power, water and food. Let any one of those run low and it could spell disaster.

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To collect those resources, you need more Dwellers. Some may turn up at the door, especially if you’ve built a radio station to broadcast to the outside, but you’re more likely to get more by getting your Dwellers together and letting nature take it’s course. Soon you’ll have a vault overrun with children who’ll grow up to be great workers (or at least their parents hope so).

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Once you’ve got more Dwellers, you can access more room types to build in your vault. Radio stations are great for attracting more dwellers, storage rooms let you keep more weapons and armour, and various training rooms build up your Dwellers’ stats, making them more efficient.

As you can see, the game is fairly simplistic, but excellent execution and a familiar brand name has made it wildly popular. When it was released on iOS, it saw 1 billion play sessions in its first month alone, and 85.3 million vaults were created. People love it.

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The most interesting point to make is that really, Fallout Shelter is simply a marketing tool, something to get fans excited before the release of Fallout 4. It’s not designed to make money. You can buy ‘lunchboxes’, which contain boosts and rare Dwellers, but you can earn some through gameplay and you’re never once pressured into buying one.

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As a marketing tool, though, it’s a powerful one. As a player periodically checks in with their vault, they’re getting updates on the game, and it’s possible that Bethseda will be able to send players perks through the app, such as money off Fallout 4 when it comes out. With Triple A developers getting larger and larger marketing budgets, why not plough some of it into developing a companion app? Fallout Shelter is a fascinating experiment, and it’ll be interesting to see who follows suit in the future.