Controllers are an essential part of any gaming experience. But what really goes on when a company is designing the peripherals that we will have intimate knowledge of over days, months even years. We spoke to Alan Jones the General Manager of Gioteck about how his company go about designing their range of products and how the company’s philosophy of creating a Better product for a better price actually affects the products we buy.
1. What does Ergonomic design mean to you?
We treat design a little differently to other companies in our market. All products are designed in the UK and then sent for away for production. We do not take an already produced piece of plastic and rebadge it. Our design is about marrying the form and function of the product for the use by enthusiastic gamers or what we would call a core gamer. These players would spend a significant time playing on a weekly basis and see gaming as a core part of their lives. Whether it be using a controller, wheel, headset or whatever we do not want to design a product that does not suit the gameplay or have a good feel when playing for a long amount of time. It’s a matter of form following function really.
2. How many hours on average are you looking at when considering a core gamers’ time spent playing?
It varies a lot, you hear incidental stories about players playing regularly on the weekday evenings and then bumper marathon sessions at the weekend, online with friends either locally or internationally. This is a significant amount of time, hence we bear this in mind when we are designing our accessories. Our products are suitable for casual gamers as well, we do bear in mind that there are people out there playing for 20-30 hours a week and we have to build a product that they will find comfortable too.
3. Evolution instead of revolution is a term that springs to my mind with your products. Do you think that the control interface is the best it can be or do you see it changing in the future?
The way we look at the interface of the controllers is very much based on the games people play and the feedback they give us and video game publishers, as well as other accessory companies. A great example of this is to compare the Sony controller with the Microsoft controller.
One of the most popular gaming formats right now is first person shooters (FPS) which contain well known titles including Halo, Call of Duty, as well as other numerous games that fit that mould. Very early on gamers said that the way the buttons are configured on the Xbox controller (where you essentially have juxtaposed thumbsticks , one towards the top of the pad and one at the bottom right) is more intuitive to playing these games as opposed to having the two sticks centred at the bottom of the pad. This is for both ease of movement and access to the buttons. So we produce a PS3 controller using a button configuration that is very much like that of an Xbox controller, this was based on directly listening to consumer feedback.
We are not a company that is trying to break the wheel, revolutionise and start again. Be it controller, headset or cable we are looking at the functionality of the product. We believe in looking at what works, improving it and then offering it at a great price. Our mantra commercially is ‘Better Product Better Price’. So I don’t think we are thinking about radically overhauling the layout of any of the control devices out there, we just want to improve the ergonomics and the experience of the people using them for long periods of time.
4. Is this why you have the GC1 controller (pictured below) for the PS3 but no Sony styled controller for the Xbox?
We don’t believe that the Playstation set up is ideal for the majority of players who are playing FPS and we have seen from market feedback that they want the offset thumbsticks. That’s why we have taken this onboard and developed the product in this way instead of copying what Sony have done. Again this is a tweak or evolution of an existing product and in many case this is more than enough, the triggers are a classic example of this. They were one of the first products we launched as a company five years ago. It was a relatively simple idea but it sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of units worldwide. This is because players realised that in the heat of battle or playing a racing game it’s very easy for your fingers to slip off the triggers. So by having a redesigned rubberised extended trigger it gives that little extra touch to improve performance and that’s appreciated as its only £2.99 to buy.
5. Was this by done by feedback or you realising that there was a gap in the market?
It was very much discovery. Our creative director and design team are gamers as well as being in the business. Just when we start to think critically about the gaming accessories, commercially and design wise we find things that aren’t quite right and instinctively try to change them. Going forward as we become a much bigger company we are using more market research. Historically it was based on intuitive feel and what our own staff found needed to be changed within the market.
6. How long do your products spend in development before they come to market?
We have a cycle of around six to twelve months but typically its nine months. So a product will go into design phase around November/December time with a view to having the product in the shops by September/October.
7. Controllers generally have the wrist in a neutral position whereas mice have the wrist in a pronated (palm facing downward) position. Do you think this is why we see less RSI in console gaming when compared to PC gaming?
I think quite probably, one of our products which show’s this is the FR-1 racing wheel (pictured above). It’s a freedom wheel, so its wireless and you can use it anywhere in the room and play F1 for example. The key thing we noted with the Microsoft product that was launched last year was that when you played with it, the shaping of the arms meant your wrists were in a cocked position and so when playing a Grand Prix or even a whole season, you are going to put strain on your wrists causing pain quite quickly. We noted that and have angled the arms of our wheel inwards so your wrists are in more of a straight line. This goes back to what we talked about in the beginning, we understand that serious gamers put a huge amount of hours into gaming and we need to take these factors into account when considering our design. At the moment this product is being tested with all the major racing games to make the functionality as good as it can be. The tech can be tricky as we have to make the gyroscopes responsive but not oversensitive.
I would say the PC mouse was never designed for serious gameplay. Obviously there are now gaming mice but essentially they are not radically different apart from that they have more knobs and whistles on them, but essentially they are still the same product that has always been. Because they were designed for an office space they probably never envisioned people using them as much as they do even in offices now. You can see by the way you hold a mouse and the position your wrist is in compared to the way you hold a controller, it’s very, very different and I think that the gaming industry and accessories industry have taken note of this when designing their products.
8. Do you see yourself as a primarily a console accessory company or are you going to venture into the PC realm?
No, we know that console gaming is our heritage and we have gamers in our business who are passionate about their Xbox and PS3. We will always design products for consoles and our range will grow when the new consoles arrive in perhaps 2015. A new line we will move into is the tablet market, we believe tablets and lightweight PC’s are going to become the new portable gaming option.
A trend is emerging where most people are not interested in buying a Vita or DS because ultimately the cost of the machines and particularly the software makes it prohibitive over time, particularly in the economic situation we are in at the moment. When you have a tablet format which will be primarily open source and therefore featuring either free or low cost games, with the addition of being lightweight enough to sit in your rucksack while you’re on the train, why not use that as your gaming platform for half hour of casual gaming instead of a three hundred pound piece of kit that ultimately is not as good as an Xbox or PS3 in your home? With the games you are compromising the quality due to the size of the screen and so my view is that the days of the Vita and the like are long gone.
A lot of people now will look at tablet technology and I think you will see Microsoft do this and to a degree Nintendo with their Wii U. We are looking at having a small range at the start of 2013 for the Wii U. This range may grow as the installed base increases but we are taking a bit of a wait and see approach. Nintendo’s Wii did phenomenally well and from an accessories point of view sold a lot of accessories for companies around the world, but it’s been in heavy decline for the past year. As retailers are being conservative about stock we will be conservative on the products we produce. We will have a look and we will have a headset, controller and other accessories available in January but as yet we are not convinced.
9. Your premium products are rubberised what’s the thinking behind this?
We feel the tactile nature and look of the product gives a feeling of quality. Also in terms of graphic design things can be more impactful than when added to plastic. This feeds into our idea of doing things a little differently, with a feel that if you are going to hold the controller for a long time why not make it a more pleasurable experience.
10. Your EX-05 Headphones (pictured below) push the lightweight band they are constructed with. Did you notice this being a problem with other headsets?
It’s lightweight and made out of mesh which means you are able to wear it for longer before it becomes uncomfortable when compared to some of the heavier leather feel headsets. The leather makes the product have a premium feel, as well as adding extra weight, but this may not be what the consumer wants. So we were very careful in our design to make them lightweight and breathable, not just with the band but also the cups. They are made of Micromesh which is breathable and reduces sweat making it more comfortable for prolonged use. This is because we are thinking of gaming from the ground up and not starting with a premium headset features that are not appreciated by the majority of users anyway.
11. Do you have a particular age group in mind when you design a product?
Not really, as our products have a wide range of appeal. We pride ourselves on our understanding of gamers and build our products from the ground up because we play games. It’s more about their attitude to gaming than about their age. We are looking at anyone who has engagement with the category and view them as potential users of our products.
12.Related to the previous question, is grip size a consideration when you are designing a product?
The primary design is based around an average adult. We are aware of this and are considering a range of specialist controllers for sports gamers like we have done for FPS player. We are aware that the playing habits of our younger users mean they play racing games and sports games, most regularly via multiplayer or with their friends while on the couch. With this in mind we have made the controller not quite as deep and more comfortable for younger players. It’s not radically smaller but it should be comfortable for non fully mature hands.
13. Could you give some idea of your upcoming products?
We have a line of racing chairs (RC-1 and the RC-1 Premium pictured below) which have been designed to be more like a real seat with an ability to recline so you can look at higher placed screen as well as being on a pedestal so you do not have to sit on the floor. It edges towards a bucket seat to improve comfort and styling. These principles we feel are fundamental to get a gaming chair right in making a chair that suits core gamers and long periods of play.
Our Controller range will be available from mid September to the beginning of October. We will also be previewing our controllers at Eurogamer both with a retail partner and our own stand. This will enable people to try the products out as we will have working samples at the show.
Our range also includes cabling that is flat to avoid the cats cradling that can occur behind the TV. These cables can curl around things without the risk of twisting. We also have power solutions in the ammo clip and box to fit in with the FPS players in terms of styling. These are helpful in terms of storage as the clip is the size of a DVD cover and this can help you store it neatly when it is not being used to charge controllers. The Ammo box can fit up to four controllers and is a great storage solution to help keep everything together in-between play sessions.
My Thanks to Mr Jones for an enlightening Interview about some of the work that is being done to create a better designed controller for casual and core gamers alike.
We look forward to bringing reviews of the key products when they come on the market. We do have further information on our site at the Watch List for lots of the products that Gioteck are bringing out this year or you can go directly to their site by following http://www.gioteck.com/