Credit: USPTO We can't imagine that it's easy to design a game controller. They have to be familiar enough for people to feel comfortable as soon as they start playing, unique enough not to be confused for a competitive product, and versatile enough to suit a wide variety of people. That seems like a hard balance to strike. Keep that in mind when you see these purported renders of a controller Google made for an upcoming game streaming platform.
The renders were shared by Reps, an amateur YouTuber focused on PC gaming hardware, on Twitter on March 8. Those renders depict a controller similar to PlayStation and Xbox controllers. There's a D-pad on the left, two analog sticks, four buttons on the right, and four trigger buttons on top. But there are four other buttons worth mentioning: a home button, a menu button, a multicolored "G" button, and a button with a microphone icon.
We can guess at what the home and menu buttons are for. Modern game controllers have to give people a way to return to the primary interface--as seen by the PlayStation and Xbox buttons on their respective controllers--so a home button is key. A menu button could be used to present the console's menu, pause a game, or show in-app options. The real question is what the "G" button and microphone-adorned button are for.
Normally we'd assume the "G" button is the home button, in keeping with other consoles, but the presence of the menu button makes that seem unlikely. Maybe it's supposed to offer quick access to Google services. The button with the microphone icon (which sounds like the title of a Stieg Larsson novel) could be used for Google Assistant. Or it might also be for use with a communication platform. It's hard to tell with Google.
This might seem like idle speculation, given that Google hasn't even announced a game streaming platform. But the company invited journalists to a presentation at GDC 2019, and even though the invitation didn't reveal any information about Google's intentions, reports indicate that it plans to introduce a streaming platform code-named "Yeti." The company's also hosting separate events related to mobile game and cloud development.
It also filed a patent for a game controller that looks very similar to the one in the renders. Google applied for the patent in October 2018, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published it on January 31. The company focused on a notification system that would let the controller display a notification from in-game services and, if the game isn't currently running, let the player launch the game with a single button press.
We have our misgivings about the controller as depicted in the renders--it doesn't look particularly ergonomic--but it's easy to believe that Google plans to introduce a game streaming platform. Many companies are rushing to introduce the "Netflix for games." Microsoft has Xbox Game Pass, and Sony has PlayStation Now. Services from Electronic Arts, Amazon, and other companies have either been announced or revealed in news reports.
Apple is said to be planning a game service, too, so at this point, it would be weirder for Google not to introduce its own take on the concept. The company has plenty of experience with cloud-based services, Android is a huge gaming platform, and a game service could offer even more ways to collect information about people to inform ad platforms. Or even just get paid directly by consumers, as it does with YouTube Premium.
GDC 2019 kicks off March 18. Google's announcement is planned for March 19, so it shouldn't be too long before we know more about these efforts.