Will gaming ever go fully controllerless?

If you hadn’t noticed, PlayStation VR is out. Alex has picked one up, and we’ve been putting out a load of VR related content on the Facebooks. I also recently started a discussion around the best controller ever made. Which, in my opinion, is the 360’s. All of which has got me thinking about the future of gaming. In particular, the future of the controller.

From the mouse and keyboard to the humble pad – controllers have always been a part of our gaming experience. But with the release of PS VR, and the development of more powerful VR machines like the Rift, it does make me question if controllers will be around for much longer.

I like the idea of VR. I’ve played different VR machines over the years – and I’ve enjoyed them all. But I still kind of feel like it’s a bit of a gimmick. Like motion controllers on the Wii or PlayStation Move. Or the Kinect and Eye Toy – all of these ‘revolutionary’ experiences rarely last. In general, they’re novel but they’re not game changing. For me, I kind of see VR in the same light. At least for the next few years.

Perhaps the console market is saturating. Perhaps gamers aren’t looking for the next console, but instead are looking for the next experience. In that case, VR will probably take off. But that relies on a number of factors. Ease of use is key. Creating exciting, accurate and fully functioning experiences is important. But full support from big developers will also be important for the success of VR. If you can get all of that, then I can see your usual console experience of controller and screen slowly fading away. But it’s series like Call of Duty, FIFA, Battlefield, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and the rest that will probably decide the fate of VR. If the big developers and publishers like Activision, EA, Bethesda, DICE and the likes get behind these devices – that’s when we’ll see success. With the EyeToy and the Kinect, the big developers never really took notice. That left smaller developers creating unique (and often uninspiring) experiences for the peripherals – and people switched off.

But all of that relies on two things. The most important of the two is early adopters. If enough people pick up these machines – particularly PS VR – those that make and sell them will take notice. More sales means that they’ll be more likely to support it. More likely to look for big publishers to create great experiences for the games. Taking the original Kinect as an example – the Kinect didn’t sell overly well, and Microsoft didn’t get any decent games on the platform. Thus, people lost interest. It’s predicted that Sony will sell over 1 million VR units this year. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an impressive number. But Sony has sold around 50 million PS4s so far – and that’s probably going to keep rising. Is 2% of the PlayStation audience picking up VR within the first year a success? Potentially.

EA, on the other hand, sold 1 million copies of FIFA 17 in the UK, within the first week. And Black Ops III sold over 16 million copies on just the PS4 and Xbox One. That’s 16 times the predicted sales of the PS VR. Would EA and Activision bother to publish standalone titles for VR, if they’ll only sell a million copies? I’m not sure. They might. But, when you consider that the sort of person who would buy a VR headset early isn’t your ‘average gamer’ – the initial set of players may not even be interested in those types of games. But if you want to entice the ‘average gamer’ – getting CoDs, FIFAs and Battlefields on-board is the way to do it. I guess it’s a catch 22. These sorts of products rely on people getting in early, and them selling well. But the people buying them expect great games and exciting experiences for their cash. To warrant investment you need sales, to help generate sales you need investment.

So, for me, the future of the controller relies on the success of VR and, to a lesser extent, AR like the HoloLens (duhh, Alec). In hand, it also relies on game developers and publishers supporting these new platforms with fantastic content. Sony have managed to get Rocksteady on board for a Batman VR game – which is a great start. Hopefully, other popular developers and publishers will throw their weight behind it too. Without that, I can see it falling flat on its face and we’ll be back to the controller and screen of old – but I guess only time will tell.

But maybe I’m wrong! Let me know what you think of the future of games consoles in the comments below!

  • Fear Monkey

    To this day, I still believe the best controller I have ever used was the Spaceorb 360, and really wish we had something like that today. The Xbox 360 controller is the best gamepad but the Spaceorb was something special.

    It had a learning curve but for FPS games and 3D games like Descent, nothing has beaten it since. It even surpassed mouse and keyboard players.

    Sony should bring back the Navigation controller or maybe a newer version with a light in it. It would be very useful in certain games, Loading Human could have greatly benefited from it.

    Head tracking in VR does help alot with controls and works great, It also makes it far more immersive. When PSVR 2 or a future headset with eye tracking releases, it will be even more so.

  • Fear Monkey

    To this day, I still believe the best controller I have ever used was the Spaceorb 360, and really wish we had something like that today. The Xbox 360 controller is the best gamepad but the Spaceorb was something special.

    It had a learning curve but for FPS games and 3D games like Descent, nothing has beaten it since. It even surpassed mouse and keyboard players.

    Sony should bring back the Navigation controller or maybe a newer version with a light in it. It would be very useful in certain games, Loading Human could have greatly benefited from it.

    Head tracking in VR does help alot with controls and works great, It also makes it far more immersive. When PSVR 2 or a future headset with eye tracking releases, it will be even more so.