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Sony’s New Back Buttons: Design Change Welcomed

Image Credit: Sony

Sony recently announced a new peripheral for the PS4 Dual Shock controller that will add two additional paddle buttons to the back of the controller. Buttons that, fingers crossed, will become a standard in controller design across the industry. I say “fingers crossed” because, unless you’re Nintendo, keeping to a standard, tried-and-true form is much easier and more cost efficient than branching out to try something new.

But hear me out on this: paddle buttons need to become the new industry standard for gaming controllers.

They’re perfect. They’re absolutely perfect little design additions. They aren’t new, by any means, SCUF controllers are high-quality, customizable controllers that already offer back buttons for players who feel like spending the extra cash, and the Xbox Elite Controller offers players the additional inputs, as well.

Even so, paddle buttons should be more than just a bonus. They should be more than an additional charge on an expensive controller. Paddle buttons deserve to become the next “normal” for game controllers. They’re functional, they’re comfy… they’re just great.

What I’m saying is, paddle buttons deserve to be the next big shift in controller design, and it’s my hope the industry embraces them as the new standard.

It’s Time for the Next Design

The general flow of game controller design can be said to dance between four major factors:

  1. Comfort
  2. Utility
  3. Gimmick
  4. Cost.

The controller needs to be comfortable in a player’s hands, something cumbersome or painfully-small will only discourage people from playing. It needs to be able to easily perform the functions demanded across an industry-standard design of games, and, more often than not, it needs something fresh and unique to attract new players. Then, the cost, it simply needs to be worth mass-producing.

The evolution of game controllers has been a wild progression to watch, with controller design going through phases. You have the initial stick-plus-action-button layout of the Atari generation, which became a handheld controller with the NES, then the addition of more face buttons and shoulder buttons with the SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo, then a crazypants glam-rock phase with the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, and finally, everyone seemed to settle their rustled jimmies on the designs made standard by the Playstation and Xbox.

So, stop and think about that.

Sony introduced the Dual Shock in 1998.

For over twenty years, the Dual Shock’s layout has been the basic design-standard for the industry: two analog sticks, D-pad on the left, four input buttons on the right, two shoulder buttons on each side, start, and select. The other bits-and-bobs that have come and gone have only been used to amplify the standard design, as well as changes with each company’s preferred layout.

For twenty years, aside from Nintendo’s explorations into the wild unknowns of fresh design, game controllers have largely remained the same.

We need the next design.

We need something that adds beneficial utility. Gimmicks are fun, but ultimately come with a countdown-timer on their welcomed lifespan. Controller design has, more or less, hit perfection of comfort. I would argue that the Xbox 360 designed the perfect ergonomic fit, and it’s not surprising that Nintendo’s pro-controller takes a lot of design cues from it (though, a lot could be said for the amazing piece of hardware that was the Gamecube controller). As far as cost goes, I don’t know the price-per-unit increase that would happen from adding the new buttons, but they would easily be compatible with current software and hardware design.

It’s time the industry found the next step for a design standard in utility.

The Benefits of Paddle Buttons

As far as the next step for gaming controllers goes, adding paddle buttons feels like an obvious, “Why hasn’t this been done yet?” choice.

As of current controller design scheme, there’s currently an industry-accepted standard of multiple face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and two shoulder triggers. If we count the press-in function of joysticks, the current expectation is for players to control one joystick and ~6 buttons per thumb and two shoulder buttons per index finger, and that’s not counting the PS4’s center touchpad.

Meanwhile, for most players, the other three fingers on each hand do nothing but grip the controller. Our hands are nimble machines, capable of an incredible amount of dexterity and functioning. From a utility standpoint, ignoring those six unused fingers is like having a shed full of power tools and using only a hammer and drill for every job.

The simple addition of paddle buttons would improve gameplay for players across the entire board.

Need to hold circle to run but also have to aim with the right stick? Swap that run-button to a paddle.

Need to swap items in Bloodborne but are doing your ding-dangdest trying to not get mauled by a giant werewolf? Swap that item-swapper button to a paddle.

Tired of using L3 and R3 as joystick press-ins? Bip-bop ‘em to the paddle buttons.

I’m prattling off the absolute most-basic thinking of how paddle buttons could work. Search for comment threads out there about paddle buttons and you’ll drown in the amount of ways players could find beneficial uses for the new inputs.

Increased Accessibility is a Good Thing

Human ingenuity is an incredible thing, and watching disabled players create unique ways of enjoying video games is nothing short of inspiring. What’s better is the way the gaming industry has embraced accessibility over the years, making regular improvements to hardware and software design in an effort to make games more enjoyable for everyone.

There’s the Xbox Adaptive Controller, an ingeniously designed controller meant to help disabled players enjoy gaming. Color Blind Mode has become such a common standard in game design, it’s now an almost-expected feature in most AAA games, and even among a wide range of indie games, as well.

The industry, as a whole, has become much more mindful of players with disabilities, and that’s a good thing. It gives more people the chance to enjoy playing video games.

Paddle buttons, I will vehemently argue, are the next natural step of accessibility design.

Hoping for a Future with Paddle Buttons

While the upcoming Xbox’s controller has already been revealed, it sadly won’t include paddle buttons. The PS5’s final controller specs haven’t yet been revealed, but the company has confirmed that the paddle-button attachment for the PS4 controller will not be compatible with the new controller. Nintendo, as always, is going to Nintendo, meaning they’ll focus on a wild design that has the possibility of selling extra peripherals.

But if any designers out there are listening, if I could wish on some kind of “let the industry move in this direction” star, it would be for the simple addition of paddle buttons as a controller-design standard.

The first controller to implement paddle buttons as part of its standard design will be the founding image of controller generations to come. I write stuff on the internet, so you can trust me on that.

Written by Destry Cloud

Destry Cloud is a contributing blogger and gaming enthusiast. He writes stories and books in his spare time, and wishes to one day win a lifetime supply of free ice cream. He enjoys tabletop RPGs just as much as video games, and he will totally roll a tank if the party needs one.

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