Google has finally unveiled its vision for the future of video gaming. While I think there is plenty to talk about regarding this ambitious new platform, both good and very bad, I mostly just want to congratulate Google on creating the blandest controller I’ve ever seen.
I’ve lamented the unification of controller design for a while now. Just look at what controllers from the fifth generation looked like:
Compared to the eight generation:
We’ve gone from controllers with their own unique form factors, button layouts, and features to a bunch of near identical controllers (the Switch’s Joy-Cons being the largest exception of course). Now, with the Stadia controller, we have reached the true gamepad singularity. I am convinced that if you fed the above images to an AI and asked it to come up with a controller based on that knowledge, the result would look extremely close to this:
Given Google’s obsession with algorithms, automation, and generally just trying to get machines to run the world, can we actually be sure that this isn’t the origin of the controller?
Now, I get it, this is my own personal pet peeve. The controller probably works great and it makes sense that controller design has trended toward homogeneity. It’s easier for game designers in building ports and cross-platform play, it’s easier for gamers to hop systems, and, in the big and volatile business that is video games, it’s easier than taking a risk with something new.
What upsets me is not really controller design itself but what the controllers represent. Along with their controllers, gaming platforms themselves have become such similar experiences over the past few generations (again, Nintendo being the exception here) that it begs the question, why do we even need Playstation, Xbox, and Steam as separate services? If they all play the same games in the same way with the same controllers, don’t they cease to really mean anything? This, of course, has given Google the perfect moment to step in and create (or at least claim to create) the unification of gaming platforms as we know them.
In that sense, the Stadia controller is perfectly emblematic of Google’s approach to gaming. They are taking everything that has come before them, claiming it as their own, and then trying to make the companies that built this multi-billion dollar industry obsolete and they are doing it in the most boring, algorithmically-designed, fashion possible.