Mobile gaming controls just aren't up to scratch. How could they be better? Paul Briden investigates

Gaming is becoming an increasingly popular pastime on mobile devices, but touch controls can be something of a barrier to a satisfying experience. Going forward, how are things likely to change and improve? We investigate.

Portable gaming is dead. Long live mobile gaming

The era of purpose-built portable gaming devices is coming to an end, mobile gaming on iOS and Android is, by all accounts, killing Nintendo 3DS’s and Playstation Vitas of the world.

It’s because smartphones and tablets are pretty much always there for a considerable section of the population. Together with the diverse range of devices on the market, this offers a much wider scope of content development and distribution, as well as cheaper costs for both the developer and the end user.

It’s a question of market penetration and, as usual, money.

Flurry Analytics recently made the point at the GDC Europe conference, citing the growth in the mobile gaming sector as ‘the biggest content revolution that we've ever seen.’

Meanwhile, Cevat Yerli, founder of Crytek, a leading light in the gaming industry recently warned that consoles ‘could fall behind tablets in terms of being the first thing people reach for when the time comes to play games.’

Likewise, Nvidia’s head of marketing, Ujesh Desai, is on record saying there is ‘definitely is a change going on with an increasing number of people playing games on tablets and smartphones.’

Out of touch

But one thing which seems to be hampering an even more decisive boom in mobile gaming is the issue of control input for players.

Cracking the gaming controller conundrum is a significant hurdle to be jumped, because not only will having better and more precise control attract more people to play extensively on mobile games, but it’ll also encourage a greater quantity and more diverse range of games to be developed.

At the moment mobile users are quite limited in their gaming options. You can either persevere with the often clunky touch control overlays or abandon the whole endeavour altogether.

The third choice of opting for a different control input is not particularly well-catered for, meaning it’s often rather sensibly ignored.

There's a handful of third party gamepad devices on the market but the majority of them are not particularly well executed and compatibility is often an issue. By no means is there any kind of well-established standard.

This creates a situation where, even when devices come with an alternative input method which could possibly be used for gaming purposes, it is often unusable.

Take, for example, the Asus Transformer range, or indeed the Asus Padfone, which shares the same keyboard dock concept. These are powerful devices equipped with cutting-edge hardware, meaning they’re easily capable of running some graphically complex and demanding titles.

But, you’re still limited to getting your gaming from app stores such as Google Play, Amazon’s App Store and Gameloft’s distribution portal.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but it means that in all cases the titles are therefore made, as things stand currently, purely with touch controls in mind.

So, even when you have a fully functioning keyboard you can’t use it to control the on-screen action, because that kind of input simply isn’t taken into account during development.

You can’t, for example, play games such as Shadowgun or Dead Trigger as you would on a PC using the mouse and keyboard keys.


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