The Google Stadia Controller Is Surprising Because of How Normal It Is

During my time speaking to Google’s Phil Harrison about the Google Stadia reveal, I got to actually see and hold the Stadia controller. And the biggest surprise about it was that, for a controller paired with a streaming platform aiming to spark a revolution, it feels so familiar.

I didn’t get to play anything with the Stadia controller but holding it felt immediately comfortable and recognizable. It had the rough shape and grip of a Nintendo Switch Pro controller with the symmetrical analog stick layout of a PS4 DualShock 4 controller. There’s a nice heft to the controller, getting close to that indescribable dream controller weight midway between a hollow piece of plastic and a smooth rock.

Half the controller had a more textured, rubber-y feel to it, while the more plastic faceplate seemed sturdy and well made. (A representative for Google declined, however, to discuss specifics about the manufacturing elements of the controller — as soon as we learn more, we’ll be sure to let you know.) The bright white of the controller I held looked beautiful, though I imagine it will be easy to see any dirt and grime buildup, while the pop of orange offers a nice stylistic accent to the black-and-white design.

And the button layout felt familiar and responsive. The analog sticks moved as well as I would expect, button and triggers clicked and sprung back well, and the few additional elements, like buttons for Google Assistant and video capture, never got in the way of the more traditional button setup. (And while the Konami Code appeared on the controller in its reveal video, the version I went hands-on with did not have the code inscribed on it.)

Overall, the controller felt as well-produced as any other first-party controller I would expect, and I’d be pretty happy to comfortably spend a few hours straight playing a game with it. I came away impressed by the design but also surprised by the familiarity of the build Google went with. While I initially thought such a traditional, hardcore controller was at odds with the additional buttons, they make sense in context.

As Google endeavors for Stadia to bring streamers and players more closely together, giving every player the option to just press a button and capture gameplay to upload to YouTube blurs that line even further. The capture button on the Switch and PS4’s Share button on the DualShock 4 are great progenitors to the idea that game experiences should be shared. And the Google Assistant button, while definitely more helpful, in my mind, to players less initiated in gaming, but, let’s be honest, we could all use a little help now and then with a difficult boss fight or puzzle.

I asked Harrison about that discrepancy, though, in wanting Stadia to reach a wide audience, possibly those who don’t play traditional console or PC games as regularly as others, with a controller that is so similar to what we’ve already experienced.

“To reach the biggest possible audience, probably a one-button controller is what you need,” Harrison joked. “But that would be a little bit limiting from a game design point of view.

“I don’t think we’re done with our user interface options for the long term. But for now, this is the controller that will start Stadia. Our platform can support multiple input methodologies in [the] future, but nothing to announce today.”

Harrison did point to the fact that other third-party controllers that are HID compliant — which include the “vast majority of controllers enjoyed by PC players today,” according to Harrison — are also functional with Stadia. But, he spoke of the Stadia controller as having “the fully rounded experience” for those wanting to take advantage of Stadia’s many sharing and AI features.

We have much more about the Google Stadia on IGN, including Harrison’s remarks on Google Stadia’s plans for third-party support, and that there were “never” plans for a Google Stadia console, despite pre-announcement rumors.

For more on Stadia, be sure to check out IGN’s comprehensive breakdown of Google Stadia’s reveal and our opinion piece on why Google is so well situated to bring game streaming to players with Stadia.

Additionally, be sure to check out what Google’s claims about Stadia’s teraflop power exactly mean.

Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s News editor and PlayStation lead, as well as host of Podcast Beyond!. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.

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