Google’s Stadia announcement laid out an ambitious plan to move the gaming industry past pricy consoles and PCs toward the era of cloud gaming. But while Stadia wants to kill the expensive hardware that’s required to play today’s best games, it also wants to perfect the device that allows gamers to venture into expansive virtual worlds: the game controller.
The only physical component of Stadia (on the consumer side, at least) will be a universal controller that is compatible across a number of displays. Though its design is familiar, the Stadia controller will feature unique buttons that have never been seen before, as well as at least one Easter egg that’s already accessible.
At a glance, the Stadia controller seems like a fusion of a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controller. Its soft, rounded edges resemble what you will find with Microsoft’s console, but its side-by-side joystick placement is identical to Sony’s DualShock 4. That gives the impression that Google isn’t really trying to reinvent the wheel here, but we won’t know for sure until it’s release.
Google VP Phil Harrison waxed poetic about the endless potential that Stadia has to revolutionize gaming in the future, but gave little in terms of details. But a close-reading of the GDC announcement may give us a better idea of what the future holds for Stadia’s controller.
Stadia Controller: Potential Price
There was no mention of a price point for the controller during Stadia’s unveiling, which leaves us looking to competing products for estimates.
A brand new wireless Dualshock 4 from Sony costs $60 while a wireless Xbox One goes for $50 at Best Buy. Seeing as Stadia’s controller will come with a few unique features, it will probably fall on the higher end of that range.
It also seems possible that Google will offer the controller as part of a bundle that includes a Stadia plan. The gaming service is expected to be available for a PlayStation Now-like subscription fee, but Google also failed to address that detail during its presentation.
Stadia Controller: Potential Release Date
All we know for certain is that Stadia will become available in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe sometime during 2019, possibly longer.
A Google spokesperson told Inverse that because the controller is Wifi enabled, it will need to be authorized by the Federal Communications Commission before Google can begin selling it. If Stadia drops before the controller is cleared, users will have to wait longer for it to become available. This may not be a huge problem, though, Google says that Stadia will be playable using any third-party controllers, keyboards, or touchscreens. The controller, then, is more of an enhancement.
Stadia Controller: Compatibility
Stadia will run entirely on the Google Chrome web browser, and should be accessible through desktops, laptops, TVs, tablets, and even smartphones. Google stated that the controller will support “all the screens Stadia supports.”
That means that users could in theory link their controller to their TV, play for a while, and then switch it over to their smartphones if they want to continue their game on the go.
Stadia Controller: Wifi Enabled
Unlike traditional gaming controllers that are directly synced to consoles, Stadia’s will use wifi to connect to Google servers. This gives it a hurdle to jump with the FCC, but it will be crucial for delivering a smooth, lag-free multiplayer game streaming experience down the line.
That’s because gamers will essentially need to send their inputs to Google’s servers, which would then send them to, say, Apex Legends’ servers. Even with blazing fast internet speeds, this could double the delay. By connecting the controller directly to Stadia’s servers, Google hopes to circumvent this issue.
There are other plans for the controller even further down the line. Eventually, Google hopes developers will create their own games built on Stadia, cutting out the issue of a third-party server altogether. It has already announced partnerships with game engine and software companies — including Havok, Unity, and Unreal — so the future looks bright.
But until then, the controller will hopefully keep delay to a minimum, but that remains to be seen.
Stadia Controller: Google Assistant Button
The Stadia controller’s most notable feature — and one that’s never been seen on another game controller before — is the inclusion of a Google Assistant button. Users will be able to press a button found on the center-left of the device to ask the voice assistant for help while they are in-game. In the longer term, this function will eventually be multipurpose.
“It allows players to immediately access the controller’s built-in microphone so they can get help from the Assistant for special, in-game features,” explained Harrison.
It will be incumbent on game-makers to come up with imaginative ways to incorporate the microphone function into future games, but in the meanwhile it should still prove useful if you need advice on a boss fight that is giving them trouble. For now, Google is still relying on developers to integrate the feature into future games. But in the meantime, it will immediately serve as a way for gamers to quickly ask for gaming tips when they’re stuck on a certain level.
Stadia Controller: Capture Button
To the right of the Google Assistant button lives the Capture button. It serves as a shortcut to let gamers take screenshots or record their nuttiest in-game moments which they can then share with friends or upload to YouTube.
Currently, many streamers and professional gamers have to go back and snip their best gaming clips together into a montage, or rely on their fans to record their game play for them. The expression “clip that” is something that’s often thrown around on Twitch when a player is in the midst of pulling off a galaxy brain play and doesn’t have time to note down a timestamp.
With the Capture button streamers could trim the best part of the broadcast with a simple click.
Stadia Controller: Other Features
The rest of the controller seems to be par the course. It has the ABXY buttons placed on the far right — just like the Xbox One or Nintendo Switch — a D-Pad to the left, PS4-like joysticks, and four top bumpers.
It houses a USB-C port on top for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom if you need to game in silence. It will also come in white, black, and teal color variants. What was most surprising was the Konami code inscription that appeared below the headphone jack in Google’s unveiling video of the controller.
The Verge got hands-on time with the controller and made no mention of the Konami code, so it is unclear if the commercial version will come with it. But, the special combination of buttons that originally appeared in Konami games in the late-80s can be used to unlock a secret page on Stadia’s homepage.
Stadia Controller: Website Easter Egg
If you type the classic sequence — up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A — on your keyboard while you’re on Stadia’s website, it will reveal a 3D render of the controller that can be spun around. This hidden feature was first spotted by Polygon on the day of Stadia’s announcement.
The Konami code was made popular after it appeared in the original Contra video game. Plugging in the combination would give players 30 free lives, and it has since been used to access Easter eggs in countless other games.
It would have been nice to get some clarity as to when Stadia will be released. But at least in the meanwhile, fans can have a little fun while they try to figure out the details for themselves.