Mobile Mavens

Will iOS game controllers revolutionise mobile, or are they a step towards an Apple TV games console?

Will iOS game controllers revolutionise mobile, or are they a step towards an Apple TV games console?



Following news of a new API to support game controllers, last week saw Apple confirm that it's set to license third-party joypads for iPhone, with the firm stopping just short of launching its own controller.

So, we asked the Mavens:

What do you make of the move, specifically Apple's decision to shirk developing its own controller in favour of supporting third-party devices?

What will this do for games, and – if successful – what might this do for mobile industry in general?

Oscar Clark Evangelist Applifier

As Evangelist for Applifier’s Everyplay platform, Oscar spreads the word on the game discovery benefits of gameplay recording & sharing, how opt-in video advertising can help convert non-paying users, as well as bring in direct revenue.

He has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also currently working on his first book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games, expected in March 2014.


Well this is something I've been hoping for since the iPhone first came out. I even remember arguing about the lack of gameplay buttons with all the major handset OEMs back in the day.

And for good reason: the devices with even a semi-decent controller button earned 2.5 times more than the rest in terms of games revenue. It was gapingly missing from the original iPhone and that caused us to lose buttons of almost every device.

We have seen some brave (daft?) attempts such as the Zeemote, Gametel and SteelSeries - the latter being my favourite ergonomically - but without universal support it's been an impossible task.

Sony's Xperia Play made a brave effort to build in controls, but no one Android device was ever going to have the audience required to support such a change.

So, no surprise that I welcome Apple's announcement of a systematic approach for game-controls at an OS level, then.

Of course, it's something that Android already has, but we still haven't seen widespread take-up. The problem is that, although I have deep help desire for buttons, I suspect that this is a legacy thing and bringing them back might even be a retrograde step in practice.

Controllers aren't all that natural in terms of interface. They often confuse non-gamers and there is part of me that realises that touch combined with tilt, voice, even facial recognition and GPS could produce a more intuitive way to control a device.

So, wouldn't we be better off if we found a better control system using those mechanics? Even if the lack of buttons means that means we can't exactly replicate the games of old exactly.

Then there is the problem that I have to own the controller device and have it on me.

Easier, I guess, if it's the form factor proposed by Logitech which clip around the iPhone, perhaps even including an expanded battery for those longer hours of gameplay. But we will still be faced with the Achilles' heel of all accessories - most people can't be bothered to get them and carry them around.

Finally, as much as a developer might hark back to an older age of controllers and buttons, the facts are that most of them have other priorities.

They probably won't go back to implement the new controls in their older games. They might not seen the value in having to duplicate the control systems with all the associated testing and iteration for with and without a controller. In short, do we really have the time for it?

I really love to use controllers, and I carry with me my SteelSeries Bluetooth twin-stick controller all the time... I just don't have any games I want to play right now on either my iPad or Samsung Galaxy SIII that needs them.

Paul Virapen MD Big Pixel Studios


I don't think it'll have a massive impact on the mobile games industry in the short term.

As Oscar said, who can be bothered to carry the accessory around with them all the time? Although, in the longer term, it could impact the living room/unconsole market if teamed up with an Apple TV - and maybe an official Apple controller.

Also something to bear in mind: It's highly unlikely Apple will allow games to be sold on the App Store that require a piece of hardware that doesn't come included with their device. So surely any games which support third-party controllers will also need to be fully playable without them as well.

[That is indeed the case – Ed.]

Kyu Lee President (Gamevil USA) Gamevil

Kyu has been at GAMEVIL since the beginning in 2000 and has constantly played a key role in the evolution of Korean mobile gaming, continuously introducing innovation to the world.

Kyu graduated from Seoul National University with a BS in Physics and is currently on the board of advisory at GDC Mobile.

After the announcement, I thought about how an iOS controller could change the experience beyond simply utilising a bigger screen via Airplay Mirroring with Apple TV replacing consoles.

I thought it would be really interesting if Apple could connect multiple controllers to an iOS device.

Right now, even the iPad is too small to play with when two people are touching the same screen, but if multiple controllers could connect, this could open another new frontier of mobile gaming.

Imagine playing portable Pro Evolution Soccer on the road with friends. I'd definitely install an iPad in my rear seats!

Jussi Laakkonen CEO / Founder Applifier

The wraparound controller is nice, but the real harbinger of home console disruption is the dual stick wireless pad.

That controller is obviously intended to paired with an iPad or Apple TV tethered to the TV in your living room, and the announcement will likely come in the next keynote Apple holds in September - potentially paired with a TV content licensing deal.

I could easily imagine coming home after work, digging out my iPad from a bag and placing it on a dock next to the TV, calling out "Siri, start Shadowgun" and picking up a controller to start firing away at baddies powered by tech that is roughly at par with Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.

Why would I buy a dedicated console any more? It's an exciting future!

Volker Hirsch Co-Founder / Board Member Blue Beck

Alongside multiple industry roles, Volker is the co-founder Oystercrowd, Blue Beck, and Digital M. Former posts at BlackBerry and Scoreloop add to an enviable CV, which also includes the co-founding of Connect2Me

Just a quick note: BlackBerry 10 supports gamepads already. There is already a raft of controllers supported - MOGA Pro, SteelSeries, Gametel, Nintendo Wii Remote, with more to come.

It also works with Unity - as far as I am aware, we are the only mobile platform that supports that. There are a bunch of games that support this live already.

Will Luton Game designer Doctor Monolith

Not only BlackBerry, but a whole host of Android and even iOS controllers exist, like the iCade and 8-Bitty. They're pointless, useless bits of plastic.

This will have no impact on mobile gaming whatsoever - the mode of use on mobile is quick and simple, controllers make gaming longer and more complex.

This is surely something for a TV play.

John Ozimek Dimoso

According to his Twitter feed... John is co-founder of dimoso, the bestest new marketing and PR agency you'll find. Also an all-round nice guy...

I think Paul and Will have stated the obvious here.

The very fact that the move to touchscreens and app stores has created the biggest market we've ever seen for mobile games shows that a bespoke controller is not a necessity to a great experience.

As Paul says, I can't see Apple allowing games that don't support touchscreen play, so this appears to set us up nicely for app integration into Apple TV sometime soon.

If this does happen, it'll be a blessing and a curse for companies like Ouya, as it both proves their business model and gives them an almost-impossible-to-beat competitor at the same time.

As Will said, this is all about the TV experience, where it's far more natural to sit with a game controller. Ironically, this may mean that our mobiles will be a fantastic way to play lots of retro games that are never available for consoles due to licensing issues.

For me, an Apple TV with support for my favourite mobile games plus the ability to use a quality wireless controller would make it a must-buy, and I can see something like that dominating the Christmas retail period if it was to be released in good time.

Oscar Clark Evangelist Applifier

As Evangelist for Applifier’s Everyplay platform, Oscar spreads the word on the game discovery benefits of gameplay recording & sharing, how opt-in video advertising can help convert non-paying users, as well as bring in direct revenue.

He has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also currently working on his first book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games, expected in March 2014.

Jussi and Will have both got a great point. As a TV play, this is very potentially dynamite.

And, if this is the start of the relaunch of Apple TV as a micro-console concept, then we are likely to see another market dominated by Apple. That doesn't means that Xbox One and PS4 won't sell, but I do think it is a step closer to the demise of the games console as a hardware play.

I still think Samsung could challenge this by bundling a $20-$30 DLNA dongle with all its devices. The dongle could serve as an Android- based slave device to enable the file download, connecting wotj your phone or tablet and TV... but then I often have stupid ideas.

John Ozimek Dimoso

According to his Twitter feed... John is co-founder of dimoso, the bestest new marketing and PR agency you'll find. Also an all-round nice guy...

Oscar, you actually make a lot of sense there!

If you think about it, of all the companies in the smartphone market, only Sony and Samsung already create smart TVs and other living room technologies.

You'd think it was obvious to integrate Android connectivity into the TV, so that apps and games could be easily shared onto the big screen and played in a home environment using Bluetooth or wireless controllers.

Sadly, as you'll know only too well from your time at PlayStation, good ideas are usually not implemented by big companies with many different divisions, all with their own bottom lines...

Oscar Clark Evangelist Applifier

As Evangelist for Applifier’s Everyplay platform, Oscar spreads the word on the game discovery benefits of gameplay recording & sharing, how opt-in video advertising can help convert non-paying users, as well as bring in direct revenue.

He has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also currently working on his first book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games, expected in March 2014.

The problem is, building it into the TV means it won't be able to be updated easily and will be dependant on all customers having only your brand of devices, which is unrealistic.

The dongle approach is more practical... but as a direct result is counter-intuitive to the ethos of those very companies who could do it. Plus, adding $20-$30 to the cost of every package would be quite difficult to swallow, even if it could buy market share elsewhere.

Worse still, with Google Play having no affiliate payment scheme there is no software revenue from that approach unless you build your own store. That's the biggest barrier and one which Google will come to regret if it doesn't change its policy.

Keith Andrew Editor With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. As PocketGamer.biz editor, he has the pleasure of monitoring the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.

I think those who see this more as a TV play are bang on the money.

As I stated in last week's Pocket Gamer podcast, I think Apple is going to use these third-party gamepads as something of a testbed – both to get iOS games on the market that are compatible with controls, and also to see if there is consumer demand for it in the first place.

If the latter proves to be the case, then I think we could expect to see an official controller that works with iPhone, iPad and an app-equipped Apple TV. That's Apple TV's major stumbling block – the fact that iOS games are built for touch.

If these controllers can help breed a new range of games that work both with touch and control pad-based play, then Apple would be free to launch an Apple TV unconsole complete with an App Store already full of applicable games.

But, it's worth pointing out here that I don't think this is a market Apple would walk. Apple TV in its current form is pretty lacklustre – something that I think analysts and commentators overlook when proclaiming the firm's forthcoming dominance in the app TV arena.

Any Apple TV 'console', as it were, would need to be a hell of a lot better than the current offering.

Even then, this is only mirroring what's already happening. Even putting Ouya et al aside, I'd be very very surprised if Sony and Microsoft don't move to get their new consoles either built into TV units in the years ahead, or make better use of game streaming services such as Gaikai.

Apple is walking into a market that, already, is preparing for its entry.


Editor

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. As PocketGamer.biz editor, he has the pleasure of monitoring the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.

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Robin Clarke Producer at AppyNation
"I could easily imagine coming home after work, digging out my iPad from a bag and placing it on a dock next to the TV, calling out "Siri, start Shadowgun" and picking up a controller to start firing away at baddies powered by tech that is roughly at par with Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.

Why would I buy a dedicated console any more?"

I don't think you can make a credible case for ShadowGun being in the same league as even the weaker end of console or PC offerings, so this argument is kind of silly.

Rendered sillier by the fact you'll be able to buy consoles that blow any mobile kit out of the water for the price of an iPad Mini by Christmas.
Simon Edis Game Designer at Ezone.com
The main thing missing right now is a game controller standard, and Apple building it into the SDK is a huge plus for devs. I'm in the process of adding Ouya, GameStick, NVidia Shield, generic bluetooth HID support to our Android games and there is a lot of duplicated effort. I'm hoping Google will follow Apple and bring in a single standard for controllers too.

Phil has an excellent point. We shelved our Hover World project a few years back because it didn't work that great with touch input. But now with the unconsoles and Apple's controller framework we have dusted it off and are getting excited about it again. We've even included a HoverWorld demo level in Diversion for GameStick and Ouya so players can get an idea of what it will be like playing it with a controller. Exciting times ahead!!
jon jordan
I wonder if it will make the design process harder as devs try to come up with systems that work well for touch and pads?

I assume we'll see a rise in releases of FPS and other twin stick games though.
Phil M
I have the distinct impression that there are lots of dev's who would love to bring particular types of games to iOS but have refrained because they just didn't work as well with touch, and now that's all going to change. For that reason alone I think controllers is going to be big for iOS.
Glenn Corpes Director at Solid 60
The fact that supporting iOS game controllers will mean that, when your game gets ported to Android, it'll be easier to get it working on Ouya, Gamestick and their descendants is a good enough reason on its own.
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