Your Android phone is a console: how MOGA pushes for core gaming on mobile devices

Your Android phone is a console: how MOGA pushes for core gaming on mobile devices

The market for gaming on smart phones and tablets is huge, but it’s also limited by the touchscreens of the various devices players carry with them. There have been products that tried to marry a physical controller with mobile devices, but they’ve either been of low quality, or have been delayed and seemingly stuck in limbo. The MOGA controller may be the peripheral that actually gets it right, as the Android-ready device avoids the mistakes made by its competitors.

“These guys know controllers,” JJ Richards, the divisional VP for Moga, told me over the phone. The peripheral was designed by people who have been working on peripherals for years, and understand what it takes to create something people will want to use. This isn’t a Kickstarter project, or a product designed by a few guys in the basement. “The team behind it is not new, whatsoever,” he assured the Penny Arcade Report.

Creating a controller for mobile devices isn’t an easy task. The analog nubs need to be responsive, but they must also sit almost flush with the unit so they don’t get caught in your pocket when you’re carrying the hardware. It needs to be small, but not uncomfortable to hold. It needs to connect to a variety of devices. The MOGA hardware deals with all these challenges well: It feels good in your hands, and disappears when you’re playing a game. Within minutes I felt like I was playing on a standard portable or console controller. 

The controller holds phones with an arm that flips up from the middle of the hardware, and a telescoping cradle grabs and holds phones of different sizes securely. If you’d like to use the controller with a tablet you can close the arm, sync the controller to your device via Bluetooth, and play just as you would with any console controller. I had a little trouble making sure the arm didn’t hold down the volume controls on the phone, but other than that one issue it was smooth sailing.

The device sports two analog sticks, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, start and select, and a recessed power switch to save the two AAA batteries when the controller is not in use. I spent around an hour playing Virtua Tennis, a game that requires precise movement and timing with the button presses, and the controller handled everything very well. It didn’t feel like I was making many compromises while playing a game on a mobile phone; I was simply playing a game. 

Developer support

“It’s not a piece of hardware, it’s an SDK, which makes that controller really useful and done the way the developer wants. It’s super-easy for the consumer and it’s designed for the game,” Richards said, listing the reasons he thinks the Moga controller will stand out.

The SDK makes it easy for developers to add support for the peripheral, and it also ensures the buttons are mapped correctly and do what they’re supposed to. I asked how difficult it’s been to get developers on board, and Richards claims that, as long as someone is working in the Android space and is focused on core games that would benefit from a controller, it’s been simple to drum up support. You can check out the list of games officially supported on the official web page.

Finding games doesn’t have to hard, however, as the company has also released an app that allows you to browse a list of games that will work with the controller. The Pivot app works like a store front: You can browse games that are compatible with the controller, select the ones you’d like to buy or download, and it zips you off to the appropriate storefront. Discovering games has always been an issue with Android gaming, and the Pivot app side-steps that problem by only showing you games that will work with the controller.

I was told MOGA doesn’t take a cut of sales of the titles, none of the games listed are being sold directly through the app. It’s merely a way of showing people what’s available.

The controller has another advantage over the competition: the MOGA is going to be displayed in interactive kiosks in Best Buy and Toys R Us locations, so players will be able to put their hands on the device and try it for themselves. Mobile gaming may be a huge market, but it’s rare to see high-quality, non-gimmicky third-party peripherals such as this sold at retail. Opening the Pivot app, selecting a game, and getting a feel for the controls before buying makes the controller an easy add-on sale for retailers.

“For mass market consumers, people that own smart phones and people that own tablets and want to get into gaming? Or gamers that went to take their gaming mobile? We’re going to be right there across all the channels. I can’t think of anyone who can get anywhere close to that,” Richards said, pushing the strength of their retail partnerships. 

This is a great thing for Android gaming, but what about iOS? “Every day, the number one request, the number one thing we want to do… we’re talking to do those guys all the time,” he explained. “It’s a matter of getting it done on their cycle and in their way. As soon as we can, we will.”

Going all in

Other products may attempt to bring console-style controls to phones and tablets, but using them is like watching a dog ride a bike. It’s never very good, but you’re kind of impressed it’s happening at all. The Moga controller, on the other hand, actually feels like a high-quality piece of hardware, and it’s fun to use. They’ve solved the issue of discoverability, and the clever design allows it to work with a variety of devices. iOS support would be icing on the cake.

This is an impressive push for core gaming on smart phones and tablets. The controller is well-designed, feels good in your hand, and works as advertised. It feels like a serious peripheral, not a toy, and after a few days of using the device it’s hard to go back to virtual buttons on games like Sonic CD.

The $50 price tag is fair, compared to more expensive and less capable products that do similar things. The retail presence in well-traveled stores will allow people to try the controller before they buy it, and the nifty design means it will work on current and future Android devices. This is the best mobile controller I’ve seen and used; now it’s just a matter of finding out if there is a market for such a thing.