A Comparison Study of the Smartphone Gaming Control

Abstract: Digital technologies have changed human behavior, especially the characteristics of products and their functionalities related to interface and interaction. Smartphone users had to accept touchscreen interfaces without sufficient evidence of the effectiveness of these digital interfaces over physical analog interfaces. Moreover, smartphone gaming industries have introduced mobile games with touch-based interfaces that may or may not be effective for game users. This study aims to find empirical evidence for the effectiveness between analog and digital interfaces for smartphone game controls through two usability tests: (a) a pilot study to compare the data values between direct and indirect input control with six participants and (b) a main study to investigate the effects of tap-only afford between digital and analog input control from the results of the pilot study. Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used to analyze the usability test. A total of 81 participants were enrolled in the main study and divided into two large groups to compare one-handed and two-handed input controls. Nine participants in each group played smartphone games that were based on different input control tasks. This study found that direct touchscreen interaction was more effective for two-handed input control tasks and indirect physical input control was more effective for one-handed input control tasks. 
Pilot Study: The purpose of the pilot study was to compare the user comfort level in smartphone gameplay using either finger-touch control or a game controller. The usability test compared the user interface between the digital (touchscreen) and the analog controller for smartphone games to assess the participants’ satisfaction level, error rate, and accuracy. ​​​​​​​
Result and findings: According to the results of the pilot study, participants were more comfortable with finger-touch controls on the touchscreen for Games A and C. For Game C, all participants completed the game in 5 minutes using both the finger touch or the game controller. Four participants answered that Game C was the most comfortable to play longer with finger touch on the touchscreen. The game controller was more effective in Game B, which required two different input control tasks. This finding proves that finger touch was more effective for one-handed single-finger control gestures that continue to stick/tap/swipe on the touchscreen. However, when the game required multi-task input control actions, the game controller was much easier to use when performing input control tasks (see Figure 5). Even though most participants’ responses were positive with finger-touch input control on the touchscreen, their preferences were not positive only for finger touch. 
Main Study: Based on the related work in the literature called “Direct Manipulation Interfaces” (Hutchins et al., 1985), the usability test was comprised of nine different conditions for collecting data values to compare input control differences between finger touch and a physical controller attached to the touchscreen. Two groups were divided into one-handed input control (Groups A–D) and two-handed input controls (Groups E–H). Group A, B, E, E-1, and F conducted gameplay with finger touch directly controlling the graphical interface on the touchscreen. The other four groups (Group C, D, G, and H) implemented gameplay with physical game controllers: a built-in stylus (Samsung Galaxy Note S-Pen) and a joypad controller (Smart TACT) for replacing the finger touch graphical interfaces on the touchscreen.

Findings: The one-way ANOVA test was applied to find significant effects between groups. We found that there were significant differences between groups: Q1, F(4, 40) = 3.28, p = < .05 and Q2, F(4, 40) = 4.32, p < .05. This result requires the Scheffe’s tests to confirm where the differences occurred between groups through Q1 and Q2. Question 1 was related to the efficiency of the input control when rotating 360 degrees and changing the direction. There were significant differences between group means, as determined by the Scheffe’s tests, between Group E and Group H (p < .05) and between Group F and Group H (p < .05). This result indicates that participants in Group E and Group F were more comfortable with finger-touch input control rather than a physical input controller on the touchscreen. The results of the mean values measured in gender comparisons showed a significant impact of the user experience in this study. In the measurement of collected data, this study found that (a) the dependent variables of time length and total game score in Groups A–D (Table 10), and (b) the dependent variables of total game score, level, and accuracy rating in Groups E–H influenced gameplay achievement differently between genders (Table 11). There were significant gender effects between Groups A-D: t(34) = -3.08, p < .05 showing that male participants earned higher scores than female participants; and t(34) = -2.10, p < .05 showing that male participants played the game longer than female participants. 
Conclusion:  In conclusion, the empirical results of the usability test provided answers to the following research questions: If smartphone users are satisfied with the use of the digital touchscreen interface, would they have a positive experience with smartphone games on the touchscreen?If smartphone users are more familiar with the digital interface, does it mean that the touchscreen is the best solution for all apps? Is there any empirical evidence comparing the digital interface to the analog interface on smartphones since various types of physical game controllers for smartphones have been introduced to the game market?  First, this study recommends that a physical input controller is more effective with one-handed touch input control for the single task of changing directions and movements. This finding indicates that the stylus pen and joypad are comfortable graphical input control interfaces that allow users to reach game achievement efficiently. Second, the empirical usability study argues that finger touch-based input control by two hands is more effective for dynamic interaction with multi-tasking such as movement and shooting in arcade games. This result indicates that direct input control on the touchscreen shows a greater satisfaction with gameplay than using a physical game controller. However, game achievement based on game scores and levels reached is not significantly different between finger-touch input control and a physical game controller. Third, the measurement results of accuracy levels show that finger touch-based input control is more accurate once users become familiar with finger gesture-based input control. However, one-handed finger gesture-based input control was not effective when compared with a physical game controller. Therefore, the hypothesis of this study is not true that experienced smartphone users are absolutely positive about smartphone games on a touchscreen. With all findings in the usability test, this study argues that smartphone game developers should consider input control methods in the smartphone gaming environment rather than focusing on only finger-touch screen control.  
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