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iPhone game controllers: A solution in search of a problem

by Zaid Kriel (Zaid)  Posted Friday, January 24, 2014 10:48:00 AM

One of the interesting side industries of the video game world is the accessories market. Whatever video game console you own, you can bet there's a plethora of accessories and peripherals available. Whether it's cooling fans, charging docks or off-brand controllers, all these manufacturers promise that their product will make you a better gamer. Now that mobile gaming has become such a huge deal in its own right, it hasn't taken the peripheral guys long to divert their attention that way.  Just yesterday, SteelSeries put their new Stratus Wireless iOS Gaming Controller up for sale.


Press Start

As the name implies, the Stratus Wireless iOS Gaming Controller, is designed for use with Apple's mobile devices. It's not the only example of such a controller, the recent Consumer Electronic Show was full of them. I suppose it's not that much of a surprise, since gaming has become such a big deal in the mobile space, it's only logical that player's would want a gaming controller right? Right? I'm not so sure.

Allow me to make a cute animal analogy. Imagine putting a checkered bowtie on a mackerel-coloured kitten, wouldn't that be cute? Sure it would. The internet is covered in examples of kittens looking awesome thanks to cute costumes. But do they make the kitten better at acting like kitten? Not one bit. Because kittens are awesome regardless of whether they're wearing a bowtie.

That's kind of what these iOS mobile controllers are like. Sure they look really cool and all your friends will look at it and ooh and aah and want to try it, but will it make Angry Birds, Ridiculous Fishing, Infinity Blade III and Republique better games? Definitely not, because none of those games were designed with physical controllers in mind. Just like all games designed specifically to take advantage of the unique features of iOS, Windows Phone or Android. Those games were made to take advantage of touchscreens and because of that, it's allowed us gamers the opportunity to have new, innovative game experiences that we wouldn't have had otherwise. In other words, they're awesome games already without the need for a physical controller.


Loss of Mobility

That's the thing with accessories, they're only worthwhile if they're improving on what's already there or solving a problem in the original design. These controllers do none of that. In fact, all they really do is add a new problem of their own.

Nearly everyone has some kind of cellphone. They're an unobtrusive and convenient device with multiple uses that we all use every day. People buy them because they're a valuable tool for business and communication, that can easily be carried in the pocket. In other words, they're portable. What people don't do is buy iPhones and other smart phone specifically for gaming. That gaming bit, that's a bonus and the addition of a game controller kinda negates one of the smartphones best features,  that portability I just mentioned. And since the majority of games will never require them, why exactly will you be carrying that additional piece of hardware? What problem is this a solution for?


Now, I get that there are games available on mobile devices that could make use of a separate controller, Sonic the Hedgehog is a good example. The thing there is, that game was never designed with touchscreen in mind. It had a perfectly good home on consoles and we all accept that it's functionality on smartphone comes with the caveat of no physical buttons. If you think about it, all the games that would benefit from this are all games that weren't intended for these platforms to begin with. They're ports.

Loosen up my buttons, babe

If you're the kind of gamer that likes to have a controller in hand when playing games, I'll bet you aren't playing your games on iPhone. And if you're an iOS or Android developer designing your game with a controller in mind, then you're making your game for the wrong platform.

All of the games that have succeeded on mobile, achieved their success because they found a way to take advantage of their platforms unique features. It's really that simple. Adding a separate controller with physical buttons to a cellphone or tablet is a solution in serious need of a problem.

So what SteelSeries and it's competitors are asking you to do, is buy something, that you'll likely never need and that's going to take up valuable real estate in your pants region. Makes no sense to me. How about you?

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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