I’ll tell you that as a hardcore iOS gamer, nothing has been as big of a disappointment to me as the whole MFi controller ecosystem. For years we wished that Apple would officially support controllers for iOS games, but once they finally did it was an extremely mixed back. We covered just why that was shortly after the first batch of MFi controllers came to market in late 2013, but let me quickly summarize. The “standard” and “extended” versions of MFi controllers needlessly split support and created confusion for developers on which one to use, it should have just been the extended version all along. Build quality of those early MFi controllers was also on the low end, but prices were on the extremely high end, especially compared to actual 1st party offerings from console manufacturers. Here we are nearly 5 years later and although prices have come down a bit, there still hasn’t really been a controller that’s felt super premium and durable for the price. Finally, since Apple never made any effort to denote which games in the App Store supported MFi controllers, it’s been difficult for players to actually FIND the games that they can play with the controller they bought.
The whole thing has just been kind of a mess from the beginning and, much like Apple’s foray into making the Apple TV a gaming console, just felt like a mountain of squandered potential. The Nintendo Switch has been absolutely killing it for a year and a half now, but that could have easily been Apple. They had all the pieces in place for the portable/home console hybrid that has been such a selling point of the Switch, but lacked any sort of concerted effort to push for decent hardware to make it possible. Like solid MFi controllers to start, but also some sort of drop-in docking station or the like for TV support in the living room. Apple COULD have totally done this, but the Switch jumped in and ate their lunch.
All that said, there IS a very dedicated contingent of MFi gamers out there who absolutely adore their controllers and wish that every game that made sense to do so would support them. The problem is that this is a pretty small niche of players, so it can be questionable whether or not it’s viable for a developer to go out of their way to support controllers. Still it does seem like a good majority of new games support MFi nowadays, and those who have found what they feel are the best MFi controllers seem incredibly happy with them. For our money, the best currently available MFi controller has been the Steelseries Nimbus which offers fairly decent build quality and is often on sale for pretty reasonable prices.
So, all that lead up is just to say that… maybe there’s still hope. Back in September around the time Apple released iOS 12, all-around great tech person Steve Troughton-Smith noticed that in one of Apple’s iOS 12.1 builds there was the inclusion that seemed to point to MFi controllers being able to support clickable analog sticks for an L3 and R3 button functionality like what is common on home consoles. This would finally make the “extended” MFi controller (does anyone even make a “standard” MFi controller anymore?) able to match up one-to-one with console controllers, thus making it that much easier to bring console and PC ports to iOS with no control compromises.
I wasn’t really sure what to make of that news at the time, but iOS 12.1 just launched this week and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the first ever MFi controller to support the L3 and R3 functionality has also been unveiled this week. It’s from a group called Rotor Riot who are a collective of drone enthusiasts who also make a variety of high-quality components for drones. That might sound like an odd fit for someone to produce a game controller, but it actually makes a ton of sense. Many drones utilize your smartphone or tablet as its controller, and use virtual control setups that are very similar to those you see in games. It stands to reason that even drone pilots would like some tactile feedback once and a while, and if their physical drone controller can ALSO play any MFi capable mobile game, then that’s just a really awesome bonus, right? Enter the Rotor Riot Wired Video Game & Drone Controller.
As you can see in the pictures above, the Rotor Riot controller is wired, which I actually think is a great design choice. First of all you don’t have to worry about lag input from a Bluetooth connection, and second of all you don’t have to worry about batteries as it’ll run off the juice from your device. It has a screw on clip that will hold smaller devices like iPhones, but it seems the wire will likely be long enough to accommodate iPads comfortably too. The controller connects to the device via Lightning and will work on iOS devices with iOS 7 or above, but they’ll also be simultaneously launching a USB-C version of the controller for Android devices that use that input. And I guess the new iPads that use USB-C too, huh? I’m primarily an iPhone gamer and have always preferred the MFi controllers that included a clip to hold the device, and I absolutely loathe the finickiness of Bluetooth connections, so the Rotor Riot is pushing all of my buttons over here.
As an aside, Rotor Riot is partnering with an app called Ludu Mapp (Free) that supposedly encompasses all of the MFi supported games on the App Store (and Google Play as well, thanks to an Android version). Just poking around the app for a few minutes and it seems to be just as advertised and something a lot of us have dreamt about for years now: A complete one-stop source to find all the MFi compatible games. The layout is nice and the first featured game is Tesla vs Lovecraft ($3.99) which just launched last week, which makes me think this app might actually stay relatively up-to-date unlike similar efforts from others in the past. Even if you’ve already found the MFi controller of your dreams and are perfectly happy with it, you’ve definitely got to download the Ludu Mapp app to have a comprehensive guide to MFi compatible games.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Rotor Riot controller of all is that it’s going to cost just $49.99. Due to Apple’s strict requirements about where manufacturers are able to source their components for controllers, not to mention the fees involved with getting a product MFi certified through Apple’s program, MFi controllers have always been super expensive compared to equivalent devices on Android. Fifty bucks used to be the “bargain bin” price for an older controller. I’m not sure how Rotor Riot is pulling this off. Perhaps they’re taking a door busters approach and are willing to forego profits on the controller itself in hopes that it brings more customers to their drone product offerings that support the controller. Whatever the case I am NOT complaining about the price.
The Rotor Riot controller is said to be shipping around November 5th, so currently you can check out the Rotor Riot Store’s website and sign up to be notified by email when the device is in stock. They are also going to be sold at Best Buy and on Amazon. As a big MFi controller cynic, I am VERY interested in getting my hands on one of these and would love nothing more than for the MFi ecosystem to completely turn itself around and realize its full potential. Or perhaps I’m just once again getting my hopes up to just be let down. Either way, time will tell.