Is there still a place for the Controller in the Modern Gaming Industry?
Let’s take a look at the first challenger. Gesture recognition was first introduced to the mainstream gaming public with the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. Aggressively marketed as a social-oriented, family-friendly console, the Wii sold spectacularly well in its first year. Sony and Microsoft soon followed suit, releasing the Playstation Move and Kinect add-ons for their respective consoles. The Wii and Playstation both have stick-like devices that the player waves at the screen, whereas the Kinect takes the bold step eschewing any kind of controller, having the player use their limbs. And while the technology is by no means perfect – Nintendo essentially had to patch the Wii’s recognition software by releasing the Wii MotionPlus in 2009 – by and large the response to this new type of gaming has been positive. The only real problems that some developers are still trying to figure out how best to build a game around these new mechanics. The quality of games that heavily utilise or rely entirely upon gesture recognition has been a bit up and down over the last few years, with a few good examples (Child of Eden, Wii Sports) and a few lack luster efforts (Fighters Uncaged). All in all, though, gesture recognition’s accessibility is proving to be a hit with people who would not necessarily be inclined to play video games.
Touchscreens are the other great innovation in gaming technology today. As control methods go, it is definitely one of the most intuitive ways to interact, perhaps even more so than waving a stick around. The mobile and tablet market is definitely the place where this has had the most profound impact. This intuitiveness does often necessitate the development of very simple games, however: for example, Angry Birds, one of the biggest hits in recent years, couldn’t be simpler, being controlled with one finger. Generally speaking, attempts at more complex control methods, or even to replicate a controller-style interface on a touchscreen, have been unsuccessful. Some more recent games have found a way round this, however, by managing to create the illusion of complexity with simple control methods. Rayman Jungle Run is a great example of this, constructing a fully-fledged platforming environment around a control scheme which consists simply of tapping the screen at certain points.
Despite these apparently better alternatives, though, the controller persists. Games like Call of Duty show that there is still a huge market for controller-based games. The reason for this is simply that it is still the best way to play a game like COD. Imagine trying to play it with a touchscreen, or by frantic gesturing. It wouldn’t work. Furthermore, a quick look at the release schedule of AAA games for the coming months illustrates the dominant position of the controller. The biggest new games this Christmas – Assassin’s Creed 3, Halo 4, COD: Black Ops 2 – are all controller games. So is the controller on the way out? The answer is probably not, for the time being at least, as the two alternatives cater to the more casual market, whereas the controller is reserved for hardcore gamers. Until we see a new control method for these blockbuster AAA titles, the controller can coexist quite happily alongside gesture recognition and the touchscreen.