DualShock 4

The evolution – or not – of the DualShock

As you may have noticed from the flood of coverage online this week, Sony have unveiled the PlayStation 4. Or haven’t, in that we didn’t get to see the box itself. But we could argue over semantics all day. (We won’t.) They did show the new DualShock 4 controller, so let’s focus on that.

I wrote a piece nine years ago entitled ‘Sony, Change Your Pad’. The thrust of it was this: the DualShock concept is fundamentally flawed, because it evolved from the original PlayStation pad, but didn’t keep evolving. Amazingly, that’s still the case. What do I mean? Let’s take a closer look at that evolution.


PlayStation Controller
PlayStation Controller
Dual Analog Controller
Dual Analog Controller

The original PlayStation launched in 1994/95 with the standard digital-only PlayStation Controller. The position of the d-pad was, presumably, optimised for comfort. The short-lived Dual Analog Controller was introduced in 1997, adding the titular sticks in the controller’s armpits – and rumble, but only in Japan.

The DualShock launched in 1997/98, rendering obsolete the Dual Analog, which was discontinued in 1998. There were a few changes in addition to the vibration feedback, most obviously shorter arms, and a move from smooth concave thumb sticks to textured and convex. With the majority of the PlayStation catalogue at this point not using the analogue sticks, the d-pad was understandably left in its original optimum position.

PlayStation 2

DualShock 2

New console – new controller? No, Sony just copied the DualShock, and called it the DualShock 2.

The only meaningful change was to make all the buttons take analogue input. Otherwise, according to the very thorough Wikipedia article, the changes were only to weight, colour, stick stiffness, screw position, logo and connector shape.

Sony can’t have failed to appreciate that the d-pad was not going to be the primary means of direction control. Yet they left it in the original, optimum thumb-position. What they should have done seems obvious: move the left analogue stick to that optimum position. But they didn’t.

PlayStation 3

DualShock 3

There’s no point distinguishing between the SIXAXIS controller which launched with the PlayStation 3 in 2006/07, and the DualShock 3 which followed in 2007/08 – the latter did nothing more than reinstate force feedback once a patent dispute had been resolved.

In fact, externally, there’s not much to distinguish between the DualShock 2 and its PS3 successors. A move to wireless and the addition of motion control were the big changes. But that d-pad is still up there in the prime position. Baffling.

PlayStation 3 'boomerang' controller

Part of the explanation could be the reaction when the PlayStation 3 was first shown, alongside it a radically different ‘boomerang’ controller. It was – probably quite rightly – laughed out of town. So maybe you can’t entirely blame Sony for being ultra-conservative with their second attempt.

PlayStation 4

DualShock 4

Which brings us up to date, with the big reveal of the DualShock 4 this week. It’s definitely the biggest change to the DualShock form in its 15 years, with less pronounced shoulders and rounder arms. And of course there’s the small matter of a front touch pad, PlayStation Eye sensor, and share button.

But there he is, in the same position he’s been in for nearly 20 years, the bloody d-pad, stubbornly refusing to budge from under your thumb’s natural resting place. Or at least that’s how it looks: the redesigned arms might change the way your hands rest on the pad. I’m not holding my breath.

I’m cheered to know that I’m not the only one with this bugbear. As the very first commenter on the DualShock 4 reveal post on the official PlayStation Blog Europe put it:

“i cant help but feel a little disappointed that you didnt move the left stick to the dpad position.”

Hear hear, Coody-Baroody, hear hear.


Jake has been here since the beginning, with hundreds of reviews and countless other guff to his name. These days, not so consistent.

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  • “i cant help but feel a little disappointed that you didnt move the left stick to the dpad position.”

    The asshole who said should bury his had in sand. Thats tha only reason why the ps controller is superior cos the analog stick is widely used and getting the d pad out of the way is important. Also for racing games which used the d-pad it sits in a comfortable position

  • New controller is fantastic. I must say I fully disagree with you, I don not like the D-Pad in lower right segment of the controller, aesthetically it looks unappealing and logically it doesn’t really make sense either (majority of natural thumbs land closer to the bottom)

  • I don’t see the benefit of one thumb resting higher than the other and how that would be more ‘natural’. The most natural seems to me to have both thumbs at the same height.

  • Both thumbs would be the same height if the left is on the analogue stick and the right on the buttons.

    You’re right though if you’re using both sticks simultaneously.

  • for as many that want the stick to move… there are just as many who want it to stay right where it is… piss people off moving it… piss them off leaving it there… better to not make the change.

  • ”But there he is, in the same position he’s been in for nearly 20 years,
    the bloody d-pad, stubbornly refusing to budge from under your thumb’s
    natural resting place. Or at least that’s how it looks: the redesigned
    arms might change the way your hands rest on the pad. I’m not holding my

    Why does your left thumb ‘naturally rest’ higher than your right thumb? I don’t get it.

    Why only replace the D-Pad with analogue stick, why not move the buttons too? Oh I know, because that’s still parallel like your thumbs naturally sit…

  • So did the Dreamcast pad, and the GameCube pad… because it’s sensible ergonomics. I can understand why Sony haven’t bothered changing it though.

  • Thank GOD the stupid D-Pad is in the Same Position. Otherwise shit storms will brew about with MS complaining that there was copyright infringement and law suits start blowing their shit tornado’s. Know what happens during a shit tornado?? The winds of Shit pass by spewing shit debris all over the shit neighborhoods.

  • For me the biggest problem with the DualShock 3 was the complete lack of resistance in the analogue sticks, making it rubbish for FPS games. It looks like they might have improved that for the DualShock 4 and made the sticks and pad grippier, so I’m actually fairly happy with it. The D-pad position is a bit of a waste but I’ve grown used to it.

  • Well, the way I see it, either Sony got it wrong in the first place with the original PlayStation Controller, or they’re wrong to have not swapped them. In my opinion, it’s the latter. Didn’t think it would be so contentious!

  • D Pad is essential for lots of games. There’s no problem with it there for Pro Evo Soccer or Street Fighter or whatever.

    However, the touchbad doesn’t make sense and looks like a waste of place.
    And the look of the controller, overall looks cheap due to the speakers and touchpad.
    This is not at all a big jump in my opinion, it’s still a DS3 with a few quirks, but will be used as a dual shock since that touchpad is too small and useless.

  • Sweet it stayed where it was. Any turd that wants it changed can go buy a aftermarket one. Then suck it, Cus it will always b there. And thank u Sony. I prefer it there!!!!

  • Sony if you don’t want to move the thumb stick where the d pad is then release a new controller with that design for us gamers who are fed up with thumb pain after 10 mins of game playing. Let us choose what pad we want to buy with our console. Problem solved.

  • To be quite honest there are controllers on the market for playstation that have the controller design of an xbox controller and vice versa. So get over it. Plus in my opinion since i am a diehard playstation gamer never owning an xbox i would say that the xbox controller is unwieldy especially the d pad which is connected so i have to be extra careful when playing games like mortal combat where there are d pad combinations

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