Integrating Smartphones and Game Controllers

Have you all looked around lately?  Gamers from the 80’s like me are getting older.  In fact, in a study done by the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 35.  I hate to admit it, but I no longer have the time to sit down in front of my TV for a 6 hour long gaming session due to that awful thing adults call responsibility.  Although I do still find time to play my PS3, I’ve turned to my android phone for quick on the go gaming.  Because I always have my phone, I’m just seconds away from playing a game at any time of the day.  But, I’m not the only one gaming on my phone.  Last year, PopCap, the makers of Plants VS. Zombies, did a survey of people in the United States and United Kingdom, asking if they play mobile games.  To my surprise, 44% of those surveyed say they play mobile games, with 45% of those people playing daily.  Now I know that many of these people are not hardcore gamers like me, and just want to play a simple, casual game to kill some time, but that’s a really large group of people.

So, the question I ask today is why are systems like the Vita and 3DS still around when almost everyone already has a smartphone?  Well right now, systems like the Vita and even the 3DS target hardcore gamers.  The games are more robust, and carry a much higher price tag.  But why is this?  Just because I like games that are generally longer, more detailed, and more polished, does that mean I have to lug around an extra system that costs upwards of $150, and then pay around $40 per game when I have a perfectly capable minicomputer in my pocket at all times?   What gives?

The answer, I think, is in the hardware.  The main thing that separates mobile phones from mobile gaming systems like the Vita is the control pad, or lack thereof.  There are tons of games on the android platform such as the Real Racing series and the Modern Combat series that would benefit from having physical controls instead of motion or on screen controls.  To me, playing these games as they are is like playing with a handicap.  The controls are just not responsive enough for hardcore gaming, and it can get frustrating pretty quickly.

So how do we fix this?  Some companies have already attempted a fix in the form of Bluetooth add on controllers such as iControlPad, GameTel, Steel Series Free, and PowerA Moga.  They even have an app that allows you to use your Playstation controller with your phone, and attach it using something called Game Klip.  For some people this is perfectly fine.  But to me, this is not very convenient.   Everywhere I go where I might have the slight possibility of wanting to play a game, I’ll have to lug along a controller that won’t fit in my pocket or be clumsy to carry along.  Even a controller like the GameTel, which flips open from your phone, and looks like a great solution, can’t stay attached to the phone all the time.  If you need to answer the phone you either have to take it off, or look like an idiot with a controller dangling off of your ear.

Although it looks pretty cool, think about making a phone call with this on the side of your head.

Although it looks pretty cool, think about making a phone call with this on the side of your head.

The other problem is compatibility.  Some controllers work with some games and some phones, and others don’t.  It’s like the “PC VS. Console” debate.  One of the biggest arguments against PC gaming is all of the setup it takes to get it working properly.  With console gaming on the other hand, you just put the game disc in and play.  Don’t get me wrong, I love PC gaming but I am a bit partial to console gaming because I just don’t have the time anymore to tweak all of my settings the way I like before I even get to play.

The real answer is a smartphone that has a controller integrated.  No setup required, no compatibility issues, no 3rd party controller purchase, and no lugging an extra piece of hardware along with you everywhere.  All we need is a phone that is also a true gaming system.  I don’t think anyone has successfully combined the two.  If they did, both Sony and Nintendo would be in big trouble.  Instead of gamers having to buy an additional handheld device to play mobile versions of their favorite console games, they could just buy a device that not only acts as a game system, but is a full-fledged, full featured phone.  In addition, all of the games would be available for quick download whether you’re using Android or iOS.  This would probably even increase game sales due to instinctive purchases commonly made through online sales.

I wonder which phone manufacturer will be the first to see the light and actually create a phone that caters to hardcore gamers.  If I had to guess though, my money would be on Samsung.  They’re the phone company to beat right now, and even though they recently made a wireless Bluetooth gamepad for phones, I think they’ll be the one to take it to the next level and give gamers what they want.  Also, many people don’t know this, but Samsung actually manufactured Korean versions of the Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, and Sega Saturn due to the fact that Japanese products were banned in South Korea until 1998.

This is not the Sega Genesis most of us remember.

This is not the Sega Genesis most of us remember.

Until a phone like this exists, I’ll still be playing the more hardcore games for smart phones.  You might even be able to spot me online.  I’ll be the one driving off the road with the motion controls for Real Racing and running into a wall because of the touch controls of Modern Combat.  Maybe I should just stick to Angry Birds?

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