We need better game controllers for the Mac

At its 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference Apple held a session about support for dedicated third-party gaming controllers for iOS devices as part of its MFi Program (“Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad”). At the time I thought it might mean better game controller support for the Mac, but so far that hasn't happened.

Many of us have a games console (or two) at home and love the use of joysticks, gamepads, etc. They’re easy to use. Hardcore computer gamers say that nothing beats the precision of a keyboard and mouse, but some of us prefer a dedicated game controller.

It is possible to use PlayStation and Xbox controllers with your Mac. However, you’ll have to use software such as Joystick Mapper, GamePad, etc. As useful as these utilities are, they can be cumbersome to set up, as they involve installing software, configuring keystrokes to a particular game controller, and more.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Macs came with built-in game control support and developers  supported it with games that “just worked” with controllers? Apple could make it own OS X (and iOS) game peripherals. If not, the company could work with companies such as Logitech to make this happen.

Apparently, this is something that Apple has been considering for some time. The company filed a 2012 patent for a “system and method for simplified control of electronic devices.” It involves, among other things, game controllers (note the enclosed graphic).

So what is MFi? It’s a licensing program for developers of hardware and software peripherals that work with the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. During a 2013 WWDC session, Apple announced that it would include official game controller APIs (application programming interfaces) in the latest SDKs (software development kits).

The Game Controller framework, added in iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, was designed to make it easy to find controllers connected to a Mac or iOS device. Once discovered, your game reads control inputs as part of its normal gameplay. Per Apple’s info to developers, there are three kinds of controllers available:

° A standard form-fitting controller: An iOS device sits inside the controller and the player can access both the iOS device’s screen and the controller elements.

° An extended form-fitting controller: An iOS device sits inside the controller and the player can access both the iOS device’s screen and the controller elements.

° An extended wireless controller: A controller that wirelessly connects to an iOS device or Mac.

° The standard and extended controllers have specific, predictable control configurations.

The game controllers are supposed to work on both iOS (7 and higher) and Mac OS X (10.9 and higher). However, the ones released so far — at least the ones I've tried — don't work on Macs. The problem seems to be that the Bluetooth protocol is different for iOS and OS X devices, and developers don't seem to feel there are enough Mac games to justify creating a dual-mode device. 

Until some company takes the plunge, we can only hope the upcoming Steam pad game controller (pictured) fills the bill. The Steam Controller is currently in the testing stage. Cross your fingers, Mac gamers.