PGC Digital: The rise of phones as controllers

Snap Finger Click's Joanna Haslam hosted the session

PGC Digital: The rise of phones as controllers

Smartphone devices being used as controllers across social gaming is continuously on the rise, proving no barrier to multiplayer and easy access for a casual audience.

That was the message delivered by Snap Finger Click design director Joanna Haslam during her session on 'Hold the Phone: Smart Devices as Controllers in Social Gaming' at PGC Digital #6.

Haslam outlined further advantages that the phones bring over game controllers, including creating a consistent experience across platforms and being able to stop players from getting distracted, with the root cause commonly attributed to the devices.

For developers, though, minimising the drain on battery life, handling breaks in gameplay for messages and call, as well as being aware of complex controls (such as multi-button presses) were cited as drawbacks if not planned for properly.

Just Dance and The Jackbox Party Pack series were noted as early innovators that still use the phones to great success today.

"New genre"

"There's a new audience out there," said Haslam

"It's becoming more common in pubs and other venues to use smartphones to do pub quizzes and things like that. This could be an interesting new space that we can start developing for, where people could get their phones out at the venue and join an event in a gaming context."

"There's a rise of a new genre in gaming," she added.

Looking to the future, Haslam believes that game controllers are getting more features but accepts they're getting more expensive, whereas smart devices are getting more versatile and powerful.

The pandemic has also raised the demand for social gaming that can be played remotely. This is something that the design director believes will long continue, now that casual audiences have been introduced to the idea of taking your phone out at venues or pubs and joining an event.

Haslam previously appeared at PGC Digital #4, speaking on why Twitch's 3.2 million monthly streamers offer "endless free user testing".

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Deputy Editor

Matthew Forde is the deputy editor at and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @MattForde64 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.