Evolution of the Console Controller – The Modern Era

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Console controls are in a major transitional period. Traditional buttons and sticks are combining with or making way for brand new controls like voice, motion sensitive remotes, and even whole body motion sensors. This section reviews how each major console maker has approached controls on today’s hardware and notes successes and stumbles. The effect these controls have on the games and gameplay they enable is also explored.

This console generation’s primary controllers – those included with the console itself – neatly fall into three categories: traditional (Xbox 360), alternative (Wii), and hybrid (PS3). Nintendo was the only console manufacturer to release their console with a fundamentally different controller, and the immense popularity of the Wii took both competitors by surprise. For this reason, they have followed Nintendo’s capture of the alternative controls market with the later release of Kinect and PS Move. The modern alternative controllers generally remove a layer of abstraction between the player and the game. Instead of “press a button to swing your sword,” it becomes “make a motion like you’re swinging a sword to swing your sword.” Players have responded well to this more immersive and immediate experience.

Traditional and alternative controller styles have sold the better than hybrids. This might be an argument for focus in controller design – choose a distinct set of control functions and do those especially well rather than incorporating as many styles of control as possible. Although controller design alone does not determine console sales, it may affect the player’s response to a game.

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