Longtime gamers have seen many fads come in and out of their consoles over their playing years. It is evitable that companies will try to mimic what has sold well in the immediate past and this can often bring us improvements to genres and a refinement of ideas but what about those fads that seemed to come out of nowhere. We all remember the additions to our gaming lives that seemed forced and left us wondering, “who the hell is enjoying this?”
Now I have to admit that there must be some people out there that enjoy these fads. Many hardcore gamers would love to see the end to the chapter in gaming titled Motion Controls and with the low sale numbers of the WiiU and Microsoft removing the policies of necessity surrounding the Kinect that day very well may come in the years to come; but there are still many gamers out in the world enjoying these features that many others could do without.
The PlayStation Eye might as well be nonexistent but there is another fad that Sony is giving gamers; a touchpad. With the rise in popularity of touchscreen gaming, through the Nintendo 3Ds and every smartphone and tablet, casual and hardcore gamers alike are getting more comfortable sliding their fingers in every direction in order to play their games. This leads to a question of whether or not this fad of touchpad gaming will disappear or if it will become a staple of future games.
The first thought that comes to mind for me when thinking of smartphone and tablet gaming is the fall of social media gaming. In the spring, Electronic Arts decided to shut down The Sims Social, SimCity Social, and Pet Society. Zynga games continue to lose players every day now that everyone has broken their addiction of the deadly drug referred to as “Farmville.” Fortunately I no longer have to delete daily invites to play games I have no interest in on Facebook but people still use Facebook everyday just as people will still be using their smartphones for years to come; does this suggest that the smartphone and tablet gaming fad will be dead before we know it, similar to social media gaming, and what does that mean for touchpad gaming on Sony’s PlayStation 4?
In case you haven’t seen a picture of the PS4 controller let me make you aware of the existence of a fairly large touchpad that sits on the top center of the controller directly between the right and left triggers. This touchpad is constantly raising the question on the internet of “what are we expected to use it for?” That is a question for developers to answer but that doesn’t stop the world from speculating at the possible uses or missed opportunities for this addition to the improved controller and the more important question; whether or not anyone actually wants to use these features.
On Machinima Respawn’s Talking Heads segment they had the opportunity to talk with Jared Gerritzen, Studio Director at Zombie Studios, and his most telling statement about the PS4 touchpad was that it would have to be used for passive moments in the game, expressing the concern of slowing down the quick action of the free-to-play game, Blacklight, on the PS4. He specifically mentioned how it would be used for taunting and opening and closing menus during a match for the game. Although he does suggest that the touchpad helped in mapping out the controller to better mimic a computer keyboard he added that it would not be used for any important features in the game.
There are many potential uses for a touchpad on console gaming and I’m sure developers will be able to come up with ideas that are far superior to anything I could come up with on my own but what worries me is possibility that the touchpad will be used for unimportant and passive gameplay only. Gamers do not need to use their fingers to scroll through menus when the D-pad works similarly. They also will ignore features that do not improve the gaming experience. I admit that I am often critical of new fads (I still do not see the point in the Xbox Kinect or the PlayStation Move) and I can admit that there is potential for the touchpad to add impressive gameplay elements but as of this moment developers are only talking about using it for features that feel tacked on.
Using the touchpad to open up newly received messages from friends could be a nice feature but can hardly be seen as a full use of the touchpad’s potential, especially if it becomes the primary use for the touchpad a few years down the line. Killzone: Shadow Fall will allow the player to call in an owl drone to help clear out enemies and add support, whether by allowing Shadow Marshal to zipline from point-A to point-B or by providing a shield, but in an intense firefight, where the player is so bogged down that drone assistance is crucial, wouldn’t it be simpler to avoid moving their fingers off of the analog sticks? In Watch Dogs PS4 users will be able to mimic the touchscreen features on Aiden Pearce’s smartphone; possibly the only interesting, although possibly annoying, use of the touchpad mentioned so far.
Gamers will surely see many features of the PlayStation menus enhanced by the touchpad but if the only additions to gameplay are things that could easily be achieved by pressing another button then the touchpad will be seen as a failure and will go by the wayside faster than motion control gaming. Developers are in control of whether or not gamers will use the touchpad. If Ubisoft’s use for the touchpad proves to hinder gameplay gamers will be inclined to believe that the touchpad is not beneficial, thus discouraging developers from taking the time to create new touchpad controls. Unless Sony can provide an incentive to using the touchpad or a revolutionary feature is thought of early on in its lifecycle I do not expect to see much use out of the touchpad fad other than moving through menus and checking scores in multiplayer. As much as I dislike Microsoft and Sony’s motion control devices I expect to see them both outlive the use of the PS4’s touchpad.