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Can the MOGA make mobile gaming work for the hardcore?


Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

Power A is working on a true gaming controller for Android devices. But is there a market?

Even though Angry Birds has been downloaded over 100 million times, there remains a large swath of the gaming population that won't touch mobile games with a ten-foot pole. Some of this might due be the antiquated notion that mobile games are not real games (perpetrated by years of dreadful Java releases and Nokia's Snake), but there's another large factor: Some types games are simply not much fun to play on a touch screen. Platformers, first-person shooters and sports simulations are particularly pesky, and since these are some of the most popular genres, it's a shame that they can't be as well represented on modern mobile devices. What they need in a physical device, akin to a PS3 DualShock or a 360 gamepad. And that's just what Power A is trying to offer with the MOGA.

The MOGA is, well, a mobile gaming controller (hence the name), planned for release this holiday season. It comes in two flavors: the standard version, as seen on the right of the image at the top of this power, and the pro version, as seen on the left. Our sister site, The Verge, spent some time with the standard version back at E3, this time we were to check out the Pro and learn a bit more about what makes this device different from offerings like the iCade and Nyko's mobile gaming offering.

Mobile game controllers often have to take some liberties with design in the interest of portability. The standard MOGA is intentionally pocket-sized, and with that comes smaller analog sticks and flatter buttons. The Pro version, however, is a full controller with two full-sized anlog sticks, four trigger buttons and four face buttons. The layout is almost identical to that of a 360 gamepad, but with one nifty difference. The center of the controller (where the 360's guide button would be) flips up into a frame that works with just about any mobile phone thanks to a rubberized clamp. So, instead of having to prop up your phone on a bagel or something during your commute, the clamp does all the work.

Both flavors of the MOGA feature this clamp, but it's entirely optional, especially if you're trying to game on a tablet and would prefer to sit back from the screen.

Of course, a controller is only worthwhile if the games it supports are improved by its inclusion. That's where the MOGA may have the most difficulty. We were able to test out two games with the MoGa device. The first was Sega's Virtua Tennis, a series that demands controller precision. The MoGa performed quite well and felt comparable to playing on a dedicated handheld gaming device, handling movement and shot aiming without a hitch. The second game we tried, Gameloft's Modern Combat 3, faired less well, with a stuttering framerate and inconsistent input recognition.

And therein lies the problem. The MOGA won't work with every game on Android. Games have to be developed with the MOGA in mind. And while it will be easy to find MOGA-supported titles (Power A will have a MOGA-specific digital storefront), the quality of the experience rests on the effort the developers put into making the controller work well with their games.

This added step is what separates the iCade from the MOGA. While the iCade basically translates specific controller inputs into touch inputs on-screen, acting almost like a middle-man, the MOGA is a true, direct input device. This allows for analog controls rather than relatively basic, binary controls. But direct controls are only as good as the games you can play with them. If a developer drops the ball, Power A could just remove that game from their storefront, but given that Modern Combat is being used as a showpiece in a pretty so-so state, that standard of quality may need to be bumped up a bit.

Why no iOS support?

Which brings us to the question: Why no iOS support? Power A reps mentioned that, in their talks with Apple, there was an indication that Apple was uninterested in having external controller support, especially if it required a separate storefront to house all of the MOGA-friendly games. Power A hasn't ruled out the possibility of Windows Phone support, however.

Both flavors of the MOGA are planned for release this holiday season, with the standard version selling for around $50 while the pro version will sell for around $60. It'll be interesting to see what sort of demand there is, specifically whether hardcore gamers are champing at the bit to play the sorts of games that have never faired well on a touch screen.

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