Editorial

Razer Junglecat - Mobile Controllers and the Future of Mobile MMOs

By David Piner -
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Razer is coming out with a new product that's going to be launching sometime in the near future. It's the Razer Junglecat, the latest edition of a product that could make something awesome but is more or less relegated to the good idea, impossible implementation. It's essentially a case for your phone with a slide out gamepad. Which sounds awesome, in theory, actually beyond awesome. However, there are a few problems with the design and the use that Razer is going to have be sure to aware of for it to be any kind of success.

Let me give you an overview of what the device is. It's a case specifically for the iPhone in which there is a d-pad and a four button gamepad that slides out, creating a sort of handheld gaming console out of your iPhone. Which is freaking awesome, except every device that's come out so far has had very poor adoption rates and software isn't really hoping on the trend because most people are content with using the touch d-pad controls.

One thing we always talk about is MMOs in the mobileverse and the hardest part of an MMO making it to the phone is that you have so little screen real estate in combination with clunky controls, plus having to use the phone's net to tie everything together. This creates some interesting and difficult problems. How do you fit multiple players on a screen no bigger than your hand? How do you coordinate? How do you do the social things?

These questions might as well be mysteries of the universe, because Razer's new product doesn't sell me on a fix, instead, bringing around an idea that has come and gone and failed. It's failed so bad. I've actually never seen one of these devices in the wild. Why would Razer do this? What is the reason? Why take something that doesn't work, "make it better," then release it?

What's the point? Can someone tell me? I'd love to turn my phone into an actual mobile console and that'd be awesome because then we could play MMOs on it. Imagine playing Diablo III on your phone with an actual controller to provide input, so you have enough keys for your skills. The jokes on us, these devices just suck. They suck for the following reasons:

  • They add an insane amount of bulk to a phone, a huge amount of bulk. I have a super thin designer luxury case for my phone and it's still too thick, even though I paid like $30 for it. Imagine that.
  • The use case for pulling your phone out and sliding out the keyboard is rare, there are very few moments in time that you want to sit down and start up a game that requires the use of a physical controller. I mean, considering it just slides out is cool and all, but it's still sort of awkward.
  • The fact that you're essentially talking into a game controller.
  • Mobile phones and gaming have had sort of an odd history together, the PSP phone (Xperia Play) is a terrible phone. It does essentially the same thing as this, but no one liked it. Because for some reason combining something you shove to your face to talk and a gamepad is too much.
  • Did I mention bulk?
  • The price - a hilarious $99.99. Come on. You can get a used Nintendo DS for drastically less and have a huge library of games and a device that actually works really well for what it wants to do.

I mean, I might come off as some NDS fanboy trying to hold on to the last remnants of portable gaming consoles. Yet, at the same time, I sincerely question why the market keeps bloating itself out with all of the peripheral bloat that always ends up in the clearance section.

This brings me to a completely off-topic point: what would it take to get MMOs into the mobile sphere? How could we take our MMOs on the go with us? This obviously isn't the solution, it's just the first of a ton of upcoming devices that take advantage of iOS 7's gaming API that lets controllers actually work as controllers. Would it be a wired controller that you prop a tablet on a table and play like any other controller? A wireless bluetooth controller?

I think the iOS controller API is going to open some interesting new innovations in the mobile scene and I hope we can take more than Hearthstone with us when we head out into the mobile-verse, but at the same time I'm not specifically sure if yet another "phone case that has a controller built in" is going to be the answer, especially at $99.99. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

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About The Author

David "Xerin" Piner
Get in the bush with Xerin every week for his column, Respawn, as he analyzes the hottest trends, buzz topics, and absurdities in MMO gaming. In addition to his ongoing war against early access titles.

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