Annual Review: Six Gamepads

A Dog Eat Dog Of A Market

To say the least, new gamepad releases do not exactly proliferate during this time of the year, even though some Christmas commercial-crazed shopping malls in the U.S. are already putting up Christmas decorations while retailers around the world are getting pumped up to sell new gear.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First, sales have plummeted, especially for joysticks and even more so for wheels, while gamepad sales are flat. Games now mostly are played with the keyboard and mouse. Flight simulators, for instance, where the joystick is in its element, are getting more rare. On the other hand, car racing is still very popular, but that doesn't mean more wheels are sold; in fact sales are down.

The real reason is simply lack of innovation. Now that the wave of force feedback and replica wheels has receded, it's hard to see what new invention they can come up with. The same goes for joysticks, which apart from the wireless ones released last year, have seen no new features in a long time. And if you already have a joystick or wheel and are happy with it, why change? Furthermore, since Microsoft has discontinued the SideWinder, the market is not likely to be boosted with so few major players in it.

It is not easy to explain why the pad market is doing so well. Of course, you can see why a simple pad is a good idea for combat games (there aren't any more for PC) or sports games, but personally I still can't see the point of a console-like pad for PC - the analog sticks are second-best solution to a keyboard-and-mouse system or to a real joystick or wheel which are hard to use on a console. But keyboard-and-mouse games gain nothing by being played on PC with the pad. Action games, apart from 3rd-person 3D ones (Tomb Raider, Hulk, Spiderman, etc.), are much better controlled by a joystick and car racing games are designed to be played with a wheel. Maybe it's the all-in-one aspect that is attractive. Personally, for playing the sort of game I like to play, I'd rather buy the right instrument to go with it and a game or two less. Take car racing, for instance; there aren't that many really good games about, so it's better to spend money on a good wheel and stick to that. That said, since sophisticated pads seem to sell well, the new models are included in this review.