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Editor's take: I don't know how you feel about touch controls for mobile gaming, but I can't stand them. The lack of any tactile sensation makes it hard to tell if you are hitting the right part of the screen to make a button press, and often you aren't. However, virtual gamepads are gaining some popularity with Xbox Cloud Gaming players.
When Microsoft launched Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud for simplicity's sake) just over a year ago, Minecraft Dungeons was the only game with an on-screen gamepad for playing on mobile devices. Since then, more than 100 titles have received touch control support.
Surprisingly, its virtual controllers are being used—in some cases—exclusively. Xbox Senior Program Manager Monty Hernandez told The Verge's Tom Warren that 20 percent of xCloud players solely use touch controls.
"[Twenty] percent of our Xbox Cloud Gaming users use touch as their exclusive method of playing games," said Hernandez, a senior program manager at Xbox. "As such, it's important to us that the touch-enabled games we launch are relevant and, most importantly, play well with touch controls."
The kid approves of this new #XboxGamesPassUltimate feature on #SurfaceDuo - quite fascinating to see them just start to play as if it was the most intuitive thing ever. Also yes I picked the game 😁 pic.twitter.com/dOKRx9NN17— Carolina Milanesi (She/Her) (@caro_milanesi) May 24, 2021
Of course, 20 percent is a minority number, but considering the problems presented by non-tactile control schemes, the figure is significant. Furthermore, for specific games, like Hades, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Minecraft Dungeons, and others, the stat jumps to 30 percent. That means almost a third of Yakuza players—a game that requires a lot of fighting—prefer on-screen controls over a physical gamepad.
The popularity is growing as more developers add touch controls to their games. Microsoft has made it very easy for studios to patch games to use virtual gamepads by posting a customizable template on GitHub.
"We've seen, on average, a 2x increase in usage for titles available via Xbox Cloud Gaming, across genres, that implement touch controls," said Hernandez.
Admittedly, Microsoft's implementation of touch controls on its Surface Duo looks impressive enough that I might consider giving it a try. Of course, those are not directly on the screen like they would be on a single-display phone or tablet. Regardless, xCloud players seem to be taking to them, so more developers are sure to add them to future and past games.