Concerning Controllers

Yesterday I got into a spirited conversation on Twitter about game controllers. Apparently people have opinions.

This honestly came as a surprise to me. I use game controllers all the time. I use Xbox controllers and Playstation controllers and Stadia controllers and Switch controllers and… I don’t really think about them very much. If you don’t use game controllers, a lot of the spirit of this post (that people have very different reactions to peripherals) could also apply to keyboards. There are people who are PASSIONATE about keyboards and spending $300 on a keyboard makes complete sense. Then there are people who’re completely fine with using the $10 keyboard that shipped with their PC. (I’m somewhere in the middle on that debate.)

But today is about controllers. The folks I was talking to HATE the Xbox controller. Like, it seemed as though their feelings were strong on this topic. It took a while to get them past generic gamer responses like “it sucks” to start to understand what they hated. One thing that came up was that the d-pad on the Xbox controller is too loud. That surprised me so much that I went and grabbed an Xbox controller and pushed the d-pad around. “Huh, what do you know, it does make a clicking sound.” I muttered. I had never noticed it. Of course now I’ll never not notice it so my friend owes me a beer or something.

The other issue that both friends had was that the sticks on the Xbox controller are too “loose.” I tried to understand this. I grabbed a Dual Sense and an Xbox Series X|S controller and wobbled the sticks on both and they felt the same to me. If anything, the Dual Sense felt looser but it was a really subtle difference. Then I was told that you only notice it while in-game and that FPS are hard to play on the Xbox. As someone who plays FPS on the Xbox this left me really confused.

Talking more, one friend who loved the Xbox 360 controller hated the Xbox One controller, and that same friend hated the PS3 controller but loves the PS4 controller. If only he could’ve seen my blank stare because I was like “Wait, they feel different?” Now remember, I play console games every damned day, and I switch between consoles frequently, sometimes several times a night. I just don’t notice these changes.

I don’t have any great revelation to share, I just thought it was really interesting. Maybe I’m just not a good enough gamer to care?

But as long as I’m on the topic, here is MY comparison of the PS5 Dual Sense controller and the Xbox Series X controller. These are the aspects that do matter to me:

Batteries:
The Xbox has removable batteries. I spent $20 to buy a charger and 8 batteries, which gave me enough batteries for both the controller and various TV remotes. I only need one controller and I always have a fresh pair of batteries sitting in the charger.

The PS5 controllers are rechargeable. My past experience with the PS4 is that over time they hold a charge for shorter and shorter periods. Because of this I felt I needed to purchase a second controller and a charging station for the PS5, total cost around $95. I make a point to rotate the controllers to try to ‘wear’ the batteries evenly. It’s a pain in the ass, but over the course of the PS4 generation I think I bought 4 controllers as batteries kept essentially failing (going from full charge to dead in 30-40 minutes).

Physical Comfort:
First, this category is SUPER personal. What is comfortable for me might not be comfortable for you.

The PS5 Dual Sense feels ‘harder’ to me. Like I feel like I’m holding a very rigid piece of plastic, and towards the end of a long gaming session the outer edge of the grips start to cause pain in my hands in the area between the base of the pinky and my wrist.

I find the Xbox controller very comfortable and I can hold it for more time than I ever have available to play games, and not have any pain.

Features:
The Dual Sense controller is kind of a marvel. The haptics can be almost startling. There are times when it feels like there’s a little creature inside the controller scratching to get out. I love the added immersion of (as an example) different guns having different trigger tensions. Another example is being able to feel the terrain your traversing via the slight vibration in the controller changing.

Now I don’t think haptics are for everyone. In a lot of cases they make games harder. Sometimes my trigger finger actually gets tired from having to work to pull the trigger due to increased tension. Fortunately you can turn all of this off, but I LOVE the added immersion.

The Dual Sense also has a speaker and a microphone. Some games make great use of the speaker to enhance your experience. I’m not sure I’ve seen the speaker used. I guess in a pinch you could use it for voice chat but I’m guessing the quality wouldn’t be great. Honestly haven’t tested it though.

The Xbox controller has none of these bells and whistles. With the Series X we finally got a share button. The Xbox controller (including last gen) has some “advanced” rumble features but honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever really noticed them, or I’ve been using the controller for so long that it’s become so normal that I just accept them. Remember the Xbox Series X supports Xbox One controllers so effectively this is a last gen controller, with the one addition of the Share button (which Playstation has, and had last gen).

And…that’s really where my comparison of the two controllers ends. As far as functionality I really don’t notice much difference between them. The Dual Sense haptics is huge, but if I’m playing a PS4 game that doesn’t support the new haptics…it’s just a controller. Like every other controller.

Am I broken? Does everyone else have strong feels of this vs that controller?

2 thoughts on “Concerning Controllers

  1. I’ve used an Xbox style controller for my PC for a fairly long time now, but had an el cheapo (but still classic!) Logitech F310 until quite recently. Ironically, *after* buying an Xbox Series X (mostly as the family room device though truth be told; the Gamepass is just so much better than the ‘old way’ for that use case) I bought myself an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller… For the PC. xD

    I loooove it. Although I did take all the paddles off, I have no use for those given they can’t (with the native apps, at least) be bound to anything other than a standard button. If I could use them as, for example, a keyboard bind or something of that nature, I’d be all about ’em.

    In any case, I also have the PS5 controller on my desk. Despite being the more technically advanced of the two, it doesn’t feel quite as nice to use as the Elite. Very much a mass-manufactured, light-weight feel to it by comparison. Cos… you know… it is.

    Like you though, I can happily use either. The transposed position of the dpad and left-stick doesn’t overly bother me in switching between the two and I don’t think I really have a preference between the two positions either, whichever is fine.

    On the basic Xbox controllers out in the lounge though — I’m going to say the fact they use normal batteries by default is… not good. I do not like it. I’ve since bought a recharging deck and battery pack combo for the two controllers out there and it’s much better. It wasn’t even that expensive, AND, as you say, does protect the devices against battery wear and tear moreso than the PSx setup.

    But when you pay that much for a console and then get that whole, ‘Batteries not included’ feeling (I actually don’t recall if some standard batteries were included or not, they probably were) it feels like quite a gut punch of a customer experience.

    Switch controller though, ugh! Get out of here! xD I bought a Switch Pro controller and even that wasn’t enough to save it for me. Still seems too floaty for my tastes but probably the worst thing is their decision to move the confirm/cancel button positions as compared to both the Xbox and PSx. Even after using the Switch for extended periods of time I would still find myself naturally reaching for the wrong button and I think that got me even more than the floaty controls. Although certainly it was the latter that decided me on waiting for Monster Hunter: Rise to come to PC rather than getting it on Switch despite my excitement for it at the time.

    1. OK on the whole transposed confirm/cancel thing for Nintendo systems, I do agree with that issue, But I don’t see that as a hardware issue so much as a Nintendo developer guidelines issue. Like if you figured a way to sync an Xbox or PSx controller to the Switch, those buttons would still be ‘backwards.’

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