MOGA Interview: Discussing the Game Controller for Android

For many people, the only thing holding Android back as a gaming platform is its lack of physical buttons. There’s a limited range of inputs possible with a touch screen, and even then accuracy tends to lag way behind a controller or a keyboard and mouse. That’s why MOGA exists. It’s a line of game controllers by PowerA specifically designed for Android.

As a companion piece to my review of the MOGA Pocket, I interviewed MOGA Game Content Test Lead Mike Sindona over email about the benefits of MOGA’s controllers for developers and gamers, the differences between products in the line (there are currently two models, with two more on the way), mobile gaming, and more.

What drove you to create the MOGA controllers? How do you think they improve the Android gaming experience?

As our company is filled with some old-school, die-hard gamers, we experienced some frustration towards playing advanced mobile games that had “virtual controls” on screen. We felt that they’d be better played with a real, physical controller over touch-screen controls. If you play the games listed in our Pivot app with a MOGA and without, I’m sure you’ll agree with us.

For many games currently available, and new games we’re testing that are not yet released, using a top-quality physical controller like the MOGA Pro or Pocket instead of the frustrating touch-screen controls is literally a game-changer. You get tactile feedback with a controller in your hands, using the analog sticks, face buttons, and triggers. Your thumbs are moved off of the screen so you’re able to see more of the game while you play on the go. While at home, if your device supports it, you can connect it to your TV via HDMI and game with a true-console experience while you sit back on your couch with a MOGA in your hands.

The MOGA Pro controller, showcased in a press shot.

The MOGA Pro controller, showcased in a press shot.

Do you think gaming on an Android phone or tablet has the potential to be as good as it is on dedicated gaming devices? How do you see Android+MOGA as different to, say, a PlayStation Vita?

Not just “as good as” but much better. A dedicated gaming device is pretty much just that: Another digital device only for gaming. But thanks to the MOGA, your “gaming device” is not just for gaming; it’s your mobile device used for phone calls, internet, GPS/maps, email, etc etc. It’s only a gaming device when you need it to be. Plus, the average mobile game is around $1-$2 (if not “free to play”), while most “portable gaming system” titles are usually $20+ per game: that’s around 10 MOGA Enhanced games for the price of only one Nintendo DS or PS Vita game. The value is definitely there too when you consider that the MOGA controllers are less than 1/4th the price of the typical portable gaming system.

What kinds of issues did you run into during the engineering and design phases? Does Android have any problems handling Bluetooth controllers, and are there any compatibility issues across devices that you had to worry about?

As Android is kind of an “open market” with tons of different devices, we strive for compatibility with all devices running Android 2.3 and higher. We are not aware of any compatibility issues with Bluetooth. Overall, we have hundreds of different mobile device models here at MOGA HQ and our controllers work with all of them.

How is Mode A better than Mode B on the MOGA Pro controller? Were there any problems getting the MOGA controllers working with existing apps?

Mode A is our “SPP Bluetooth” mode for the MOGA Pro (and also the only mode for the MOGA Pocket). We initially offered the Mode A to allow all older phones still running Android 2.3 to 4.0 the ability to enjoy gaming with a controller. At the time, only devices 4.0 and higher could use the HID controller mode in any game. Now that newer phones are released out of the gate with Android 4.0 and higher, and the population of non-4.0+ phones is dwindling, there are other benefits to using the MOGA SDK (Mode A – SPP).

Our population of MOGA owners is currently around 60-70% MOGA Pocket. If, as a developer, you do not add Mode A support (via our simple-to-implement SDK), you’re effectively preventing 70% of our population from enjoying (and paying you money) for your game. Most of the hard work when adding controllers to your mobile game is in the production and design steps (wrapping your head around HOW a controller should work with your game). The actual coding part is easy. Once you do it using our SDK (for Mode A), later adding HID support would take maybe a few hours max.

That's me playing some Quake on the MOGA Pocket.

That’s me playing some Quake on the MOGA Pocket.

We offer our developer partners other benefits if they decide to implement our SDK, like free tech and testing support, and potential co-marketing efforts like getting their app listed in our Pivot app, social media blasts, MOGA website space, demos at gaming events, & etc.

The only challenges we faced in the beginning was to convince “mobile-only” developers that their games would actually be “enhanced” when played with a MOGA. Some “got it” right away, while others needed a bit more encouragement. We’ve met with many developers in person (at events like GDC, PAX and E3) to show them the benefits of MOGA gaming first hand. A majority of the time, once they got their hands on a MOGA and wrapped their heads around it, then they’d join us. The other bit of positive feedback is that most developers state that implementing our SDK is a piece of cake. Anywhere from just 2 hours to a few days max of coding. That’s a minuscule investment of resources when you consider you’re opening up your game to our dedicated population of hard-core MOGA gamers who are always excited for that next, new MOGA title.

All the Android game developers I spoke to at the PAX Australia games convention in July seemed really happy with the MOGA controllers. What’s the feedback been like from devs and from gamers?

Devs and gamers alike, once they get their hands on a MOGA, love it. We are working with hundreds of developers currently and have MANY games coming out in the next 6 -12 months that are going to be MOGA enhanced. We get constant emails from our MOGA owners asking “When is X game coming to MOGA?!? It NEEDS to be on MOGA now!!” We usually agree with these fans and politely ask them to propose that question to their favourite game’s developers as well 😉

The buttons on the MOGA Pocket feel very flat and click-y compared to the MOGA Pro, which is more in line with the softer convex style of console controllers. Was this to keep the profile down? How do you think the controllers compare with each other in terms of the gaming experience?

We designed the Pocket with mobility in mind, hence; the smaller size, the thinner profile, and the flatter analog “sticks” and buttons. We designed the Pro based on consumer and developer feedback, who demanded a console-quality and styled controller even if it meant losing a bit of that portability (of sticking a controller in your back pocket). Currently, most of the games listed in Pivot are both Pro and Pocket compatible. Some older games aren’t perfect experiences with the newer Pro (due to some developers not wanting to spend any more resources on an older game to update it for the Pro) while a very few of the newest games’ devs focused on the Pro only and aren’t perfect experiences on the Pocket. When anomalies are identified, we here at MOGA work hard to convince those games developers to resolve these issues, but ultimately it’s their game and they choose to update it or not.

The buttons on the Pocket have a very low profile.

The buttons on the Pocket have a very low profile.

What are your favorite Android games? Anything from the console or PC gaming world you’re hoping to see on Android soon?

I’m personally a Shooter fan, but I’m nostalgic for the classics. I love the old-school Sonic games as well as Another World (called “Out of This World” in the USA). We have a large team here and I’m sure everyone has their own favourite genre and game title. I’d love to convince EA to re-release the old Sega EA NHL games onto the mobile platform and then let us play with a MOGA. That’d be a dream come true.

To wrap things up, could you tell us a few things about your future plans? What’s next for the MOGA team?

We’re always working on new great things, so keep checking back with us!

Thanks, Mike

I’d like to say a big thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer our questions, and to wish him and the team good luck for their future endeavours.

You can order the MOGA Pro or MOGA Pocket direct from the MOGA website, or from a variety of retailers, with the Power Series additions (which charge your phone while you play) set for a fall release in the States. But before you make your decision, be sure to check out our review of the Pocket.