Thoughts on the MFi Controller Program

9to5Mac posted an informative article that has been making the rounds, diving in to some of the intricacies of Apple’s MFi controller program.

Behind-the-scenes information is great to have, but some of the claims they present and conclusions they draw don’t quite fit the facts.

Price and Value

9to5mac tries to answer the question of why these controllers seem to be so expensive:

One of the biggest pain points for consumers so far has been the price of MFi controllers: Does the added engineering that goes into having an iPhone dock right into the controller via Lightning connector really justify the roughly $40 -$50 premium over your average game console controller?

[…]One issue is that Apple’s MFi program requires manufacturers to source their pressure sensitive analog switches for buttons and thumbsticks from a single Apple approved supplier.

This is the primary issue that 9to5mac dives in to, but there is a bit more to the story than that. It isn’t simply a matter of “added engineering” to connect to a lightning connector.

The current crop of controllers include integrated batteries for powering the iPhone – 1500mAH for the Logitech and 1800mAH for the Moga. Buying a decent battery case can easily cost more than these controllers – JUST for the battery.

Audio output is another factor, at least in the case of the MOGA. Unlike the old 30pin dock connector, Lightning does not include analog audio output. Any device that purports to output sound out of the Lightning port – every speaker, dock, and adapter cable – actually include an entire integrated USB sound card. If you’re wondering why the iPhone 5 dock took so long, or why the lightning-to-30pin cable costs so much, theres your answer – they include a relatively high quality digital-to-analog converter chip small enough to fit in the end of a cable.

Developer Adoption

9to5mac asks:

Why aren’t more developers updating their apps with controller support? Implementing Apple’s APIs in iOS 7 for game controller support is relatively painless, but some app developers we’ve talked to aren’t satisfied with the controllers

This article keeps implying that developer support for these new controllers is minimal. The facts don’t bear that out.

There are about 175 games out right now that support these new controllers to varying degrees. Not bad games, either – serious, major releases are already supporting MFi controllers.

Keep in mind, MFi controllers have only been out for about 2 months. 175 games are supporting this “niche” product In 2 months. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft would kill for a “failure” like that.

A Different Conclusion

9to5mac concludes that unless Apple steps away from their draconian MFi policies, this entire experiment is doomed to failure:

With Apple TV, MFi controllers, and mobile devices becoming increasingly powerful every year, iOS devices could quickly become a serious competitor to traditional console gaming in the living room. Before that happens, however, Apple and manufacturers will have to go back to the drawing board to come up with something developers and gamers will embrace.

Thats not what I see happening here.

This first crop of controllers aren’t sub-par because of Apple’s policies. Contrary to how the controller manufactures might be framing it, analog pressure switches don’t cost THAT much.

There is no need to look for conspiracy here – these controllers are less than perfect because they are first generation products that were (probably prematurely) rushed to market by their manufacturers in time for the holidays. This isn’t the first time products have been rushed out for Christmas, and it won’t be the last.

Even with rushed and buggy controllers, far from flopping with developers, controller support has been embraced by a huge number of major publishers – Sega, Namco, Rockstar, Zynga, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Rovio – and that’s just the console guys. Important, respectable independent studios – Hello Games, Crescent Moon, Team17, Bulkypix, True Axis, FDG – all have jumped on board and launched major releases with controller support. All this within 2 months of the launch of this new platform.
This is not developer’s ignoring a platform – not by a long shot.

Apple has historically failed to understand gaming. Their success in gaming has historically been accidental, sometimes even in spite of some of their decisions. I don’t see anything different about now. No matter what Apple’s MFi policy is – no matter what mistakes they make – it hasn’t mattered much before, and it won’t now.

Developers are already supporting the platform, hardware manufacturers will figure out how to get the prices down and the quality up, and a whole generation of gamers who grew up on iOS games will be begging for these things next Christmas.