How expensive gamepads for consoles differ from cheap ones

Branded gamepads for consoles cost 4-6 thousand rubles, that is, about the same as games for them. Let’s see what they ask for that kind of money and how expensive controllers differ from cheap ones. Let’s touch on materials, internal components, additional buttons and more.

Materials (edit)
Console manufacturers Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo make different controllers, however, in essence, they are similar. Typically, a gamepad is a compact device that fits comfortably in your hand. Its “working” organs are face buttons, “bumpers”, triggers, analog sticks, a cross and service buttons.

Bumpers, or shoulder buttons, are much less common. Developers can hang on them, for example, a combination of buttons in a fighting game, so that the gamer does not press several buttons at once (on gamepads, due to their small size, this is inconvenient), but one.
Triggers / triggers are typically used to fire and accelerate / decelerate while driving. They are equipped with vibration motors in order to emphasize the bright moments in the game, such as explosion and drift.
Analog sticks are needed to control the character and the camera. Both “accept” commands for the forward / backward and right / left axes.
The cross, aka D-pad, sometimes functions as a left stick, that is, you control the movement with it, sometimes it serves to use an object in the thick of a fight.
Crosspiece and DualSense sticks

Service buttons: exit to the menu, record video, and the like.
On cheap controllers, buttons can squeak unpleasantly, break quickly and stick – skip pressing. Their markings do not always repeat those of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. There are numbers instead of letters – for someone who does not play often, this is confusing.

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Sticks on replicas, especially Chinese ones, have noticeable dead zones. The dead zone is the range of stick travel where the controller does not capture anything. You rejected the stick to a minimum or maximum, but the controller did not count. As a result, uncomfortable movement, shooting into nowhere and jumping past the nearest platform.

Vibration motors in copies are inferior to official solutions. The DualSense controller adequately transmits the ride on various types of surfaces, the tension of the bowstring, the recoil of the machine. It’s a pity, the real potential of DualSense is revealed in a few games, for example, in Astro’s Playroom.

A cheap controller may not have any sticks at all. Such manipulators are designed for old consoles and projects from the era when the industry had not yet switched to 3D, and 2D games took the lion’s share of the market.

But let’s go back to our days and finish the paragraph on materials. A copy from a third-party manufacturer is often produced by low-quality plastic. It is hard, with gaps at the joints of the elements, slippery. You won’t sit for a long time with such a gamepad – your palms will sweat. Proprietary controllers, in contrast, have textured grips and perforated sticks.

PlayStation DualSense Wireless Controller for PS5 White

Console manufacturers sometimes experiment with additional elements. Let’s say Sony has equipped the DualShock 4 with a touchpad. In games, it performs a variety of functions, one of the obvious ones is that a card call is assigned to it.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo gamepads also have a button for recording gameplay and taking screenshots. Convenient, because you don’t even have to get up from the couch to keep the moment of interest. Or take a speaker on the same DualShock 4. Sometimes, surrounding characters speak to your hero through it, which enhances the immersion.

With wires, everything is clear: transmitting a signal through them is more reliable, but the cables get tangled underfoot. Wireless transmit a signal using a proprietary protocol or Bluetooth, are not limited by the length of the wire, but require recharging.

Console manufacturers approach recharging in their own way. Sony’s DualShock and DualSense have a built-in battery. Nintendo Switch Joycons need to be plugged into the console to power it when it is docked. And Microsoft insists on using AA batteries.

Nintendo Switch and Joycons

Confusion can occur with replicas. Either the wire is fragile, or the battery is stunted.

Let’s move on to data transfer. There are two APIs (Application Programming Interface) through which controllers issue commands to the game: DirectInput and XInput. Both APIs were developed by Microsoft. At one time, they replaced the outdated DirectInput with XInput. XInput has a standard layout of buttons, but in the case of DirectInput, you have to tinker with setting up controls in each game.

Microsoft gamepads communicate with Xbox and Windows PCs via XInput. Sony chose DirectInput. For consoles, this moment is almost irrelevant – of course, if you buy a third-party controller, sharpened for the same PlayStation, it will work with the console. However, if you plan to use the gamepad not only in tandem with the console, but also play on the computer, then you will have to think about it.

Microsoft Aqua Shift gamepad is blue

Some budget manipulators are “friendly” with one API, some – with two. All games over the past decade and a half have been released on PCs mainly with XInput support. The fighting community reacted extremely negatively to Capcom’s move to release Street Fighter 5 with XInput only. DirectInput-gamepad is useful only for lovers of classics.

Potentiometer and Hall Effect Sticks and Triggers
It is believed that console gamepads use sticks and triggers on Hall sensors. It is only partially true.Sticks and triggers are the most sensitive elements of a gamepad. Let’s start with the sticks. They are based on potentiometers – variable resistors. Each stick has two perpendicular potentiometers (forward / backward and right / left). These sensors contain rubbing parts that wear out over time, plus plastic dust accumulates on them. The spring is also gradually stretched, returning the stick to the “zero” position. As a result, stick drift (or drift) appears – when it is in the “zero” position, the character is pulled to the side.

Modules with sticks for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are supplied by the Japanese company Alps. They are rated for 2 million cornering cycles and 0.5 million pressing cycles. The iFixIt YouTube channel calculated that for DualSense, this is 417 hours of play. Enough only for a year, if you walk around virtual worlds for a little more than an hour every day.

Stick drift cannot be eliminated by simply calibrating the controller. You will have to disassemble it, clean the potentiometers, order a new stick or even a gamepad. Here branded and third-party manipulators are close. The problem of breakage of analog sticks is relevant for both.

The only console gamepad equipped with a Hall-effect stick was the Sega Dreamcast controller. Sega installed a magnet in a stick and placed four Hall sensors on the board below it. When you move the stick, the magnetic field acts on the sensors. The advantage of this solution is the absence of contacting surfaces and the accuracy of reading the magnetic field fluctuations.

The hammers in the Dreamcast are also Hall sensor based. The idea was borrowed by Microsoft in the controllers for the Xbox One and Xbox Series.

Modification and customization
Oddly enough, console gamepads can be tweaked and modified. Take the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 as an example.

On the bottom of it there are four removable petals. They replace the face buttons. In games, you often need to run, rotate the camera and perform some third action, for example, a jump. If the thumbs are busy with the sticks, how do you jump? Microsoft advises using petals. If you want, you can hang other functions on them, because the Xbox Elite 2 has three custom profiles for storing the layout.

Noteworthy is the adjustment of the trigger travel. There are three positions – long move, medium and short. Long travel is relevant for racing, medium and short – for shooters. Finally, the Xbox Elite 2 allows you to change the D-pad on the fly (from a standard cruciform to a flat / concave one) and sticks – we are talking about the shape of the caps and the height of the legs.

Modifications sometimes take on a global scale. This is when the console manufacturer releases a gamepad stylized for a specific game: Xbox Wireless Controller in Gears 5 Kait Diaz Limited Edition or DualShock 4 in God of War Edition. Outwardly, they differ greatly from standard counterparts. Third party companies usually cannot offer this due to lack of a license.Gamepads from console manufacturers have a number of advantages over replicas: they are more reliable, they have more functions, and sometimes they can even be customized. If you overpay, you will definitely get a good product. Yes, in batches there are defective copies with a drifting stick, a sticky button and an inoperative trigger, but this is rather an exception to the rule. The problem is not widespread, unlike the market for budget copies.