There’s been a variety of Games Workshop apps available for the last year or two, from the general Warhammer: The App which collects together news and blog posts from across the hobby, to some game-specific companion apps. Not wanting to be left out, Black Library have now got involved with the snappily titled Black Library Audio App, available on iOS and Android.
As the name suggests this is dedicated to Black Library’s audio offerings. For those unfamiliar, Black Library produce two distinct types of audio products – audiobooks, which are simply spoken versions of prose stories, and audio dramas, which generally involve sound effects, music, and one or more voice actors providing narration and/or dialogue. Both types of product were until now only available to download via the Black Library website (they’re not on iTunes), however they’re now also available in the new app.
This sounds like an interesting move so I’ve downloaded the app to take a look at, and I’ve written up my thoughts here.
What does it look like?
I’ve tested the iOS version of the app, on both iPhone and iPad, and it looks…alright. The dark grey background helps keep the focus on the cover images, and while the Store screen is quite busy it’s still largely clear and easy to tell what each section is doing. The rotating banner at the top of the screen is a bit distracting, but that’s about the only real criticism of the main screen – otherwise it’s pretty clean and easy to use, and on the iPad version it’s nicely responsive to changing the orientation from portrait to landscape and back again.
Selecting the View all option for either Audio Dramas or Audiobooks takes you through to a different screen for that audio type, with a brief bit of text at the top describing what an audio drama/audiobook is and then a tiled list of all the available titles. By default this shows all titles, but you can filter it down to look at just 40k, Heresy or Age of Sigmar titles if you’d prefer.
There’s also a section for Series with header images for five series: the Age of Sigmar Realmgate Wars, Garro, the Horus Heresy as a whole, Space Marine Battles and the Beast Arises. Selecting one of the series takes you through to a page specifically for that series, listing the available audios in series order (except for the Space Marine Battles series).
Tap the cover of an audio and an individual page opens (or pops up on the iPad) with a larger cover image, a two-part blurb (About This Book and Listen To It Because) and some useful information regarding the running time, author and a list of the voice cast. There’s also a Preview button which (as long as you’re connected to the internet instantly streams a short sample of the audio if you fancy trying before you buy. Speaking of buying, alongside the Preview button is another showing the price of the audio – tap this to go ahead and buy it.
Enter your iTunes Store password and you’re prompted to confirm your in-app purchase (just in case you accidentally typed in your password, perhaps). Hit Buy and the price button changes to View In Library, and your newly-purchased audio will be available to download from the Library page.
From here you can see all of the audios that you’ve bought, organised by grid or list and sorted by one of various options. Tap one of the covers and you’re switched to the Now Playing page, with pretty standard media player options.
Pros and cons
Let’s start with the positives, beginning with the obvious – it’s another option, another way to learn about and consume Black Library audios. Given that they’re not available on iTunes, this is the next best thing, and might just encourage some people to take the plunge or listen to more. It’s also useful to have things listed by series order where possible, as it can be tricky to know what order some of the audios should be listened in.
On the individual audio pages it’s great to have information like running time so that you can make an informed decision about whether to buy an audio, and the voice cast list is a nice touch as well. The highlight here is the Preview button though, which makes it beautifully easy to listen and try before you buy.
There are however some issues at the moment, not least that (with the exception of the five highlighted series) it’s all a bit messy. Once you’re within the 40k audio drama section for example, there doesn’t seem to be a clear order for the audios, so if you’re looking for one in particular it’s a bit of a faff. You can search from the Store screen, but you shouldn’t need to – there needs to be a better way of organising the audios. It’s also missing quite some titles. According to the Black Library website the app should contain all available audios, but that’s not the case – for a start there’s no Warhammer (i.e. pre-AoS) titles included at all (not even Gotrek and Felix), and the Space Marine Battles series is looking a bit thin on the ground.
This is hardly unexpected for a first release, but it’s still got a few bugs. The price/buy button sometimes just loads endlessly (with the usual spinning wheel) – not for all audios, just some – and the UI sometimes starts to go a bit mad when you scroll through the 40k/Heresy/AoS pages, with image tiles rolling over the series options at the top of the screen.
Finally, there’s a fundamental flaw here – there’s no way of synching the app with purchases you’ve previously made. It doesn’t connect to your account on the Black Library website, so you can’t pull in the files for anything you’ve already bought, and it doesn’t push your purchases to iTunes so you can’t then listen outside of the app. That’s not really surprising, but it is a shame and it’s likely to put some people off.
It’s not perfect then, but overall it’s a decent first effort. Once the bugs are fixed it’ll do the trick nicely, and even now it’s a pretty smooth and simple way of picking up audiobooks and audio dramas if you’re not bothered about having the physical CDs. For it to really take off though, I think it needs to sync with other sources – if it could pull in everything you’ve bought from Black Library then it would be a fantastic resource, as it’s essentially the only thing you’d need. As it stands though, it has to be used in conjunction with another media player to play files that you’ve bought previously. That means it’s never quite going to be essential.
My only other thought is that it seems a shame Black Library haven’t made a bigger noise about the app. It’s promoted on their website but there’s nothing to really drive people to it – no introductory offer, no ‘download now to get a free audio drama’ promotion. It probably needs something to give it a little push and get people really using it.
Will I keep using it? Yeah, but I probably won’t be on it all the time. I think Black Library needs to give me a really good reason to use it – if they do, count me in.
Have you downloaded the app? Any thoughts or feedback? Let me know!