Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Jun. 13th
One of the dominant, and actually positive, themes of this year’s E3 was the evolution of gaming well beyond the traditional console borders. Even gaming peripheral maker Power A– whose engineering acumen is usually focused on building controllers for the professional gamer set– is getting in on the action.
Their new system, the MOGA, is a device shaped like a traditional gaming controller. A piece of plastic in the middle of the controller flips up and allows for a phone to be cradled inside horizontally. That cradle is adjustable, and can accommodate even large devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note with a firm grip. The controls synch over bluetooth, and once a phone is paired with the MOGA subsequent play sessions are a snap.
With a phone inside the grip, the MOGA feels like a grown up version of the Nintendo DS. The ergonomics of the MOGA reflect the best of modern controller design, so much so that thoughts of a “one controller future” began to creep through my head as divisional V.P. of product development and marketing John Moore walked me through a demo of the MOGA’s features.
Moore showed me a tennis game with the controller synched to the phone. The combined devices felt right in my hand in terms of weight and my hands rested as comfortably on the controls as they do on that of an XBox 360 controller. The game was incredibly responsive, and Power A is quite proud of the middleware tools they’ve built for helping developers convert their touch based games to control inputs. Moore said they’ve whittled down a process that used to take weeks considerably.
“Sega was one of our first partners that come on board,” said Moore. “I think their first game took them a couple of days, I think it was Virtua Tennis. The second game they did took just a couple of hours.”
This, along with a free app Power A is introducing called “Pivot” which will corral MOGA capable games into a single launch interface, is an important tool for the company. The mobile phone controller market is one that is beginning to pick up heat. Competitors like the Duo line and Nyko are all chomping at the bit to become the dominant force in the hybrid market.
One big challenge, naturally, is the fragmentation of the Android marketplace. Moore told me that the MOGA will support Android devices running version 2.3 and higher of the OS. Power A is also confronting the colossal number of Android devices head on.
“We’re testing, painstakingly, every single device with all the games that we have to make sure they work.”
A device like the MOGA could spell the end of the traditional handheld market, so I asked Moore– a games industry veteran who worked at Nintendo during the Wii and DS launches– if the MOGA was a threat to the console makers’ portable efforts.
“I don’t know if I necessarily see this as a threat or as a competitor. I think consumers vote with their wallets, as one of my marketing mentors used to tell me. People have pre-determined that they like playing games on mobile devices. They also like playng games on Vita, they also like playing games on 3DS.”
Moore sees the current trend as a broadening of the market.
“Really good games, really good content will sell.”
Power A has both the MOGA, which folds up nicely and fits slimly in a pant pocket, and a more traditionally sized controller aimed at the tablet market– the MOGA Pro– on track for a wide release this year. While the device is launching on the Android platform, Moore responded to my inquiry as to whether the MOGA is destined for iOS and Windows Phone devices by letting me know that Power A is out to own this product space.
With the power of phones and tablets rivaling that of consoles, the battle to own the portable controller space just might be the first real skirmish in the next console war.