There’s a long-standing debate that can be found in gamer forums that may sound pretty shallow but actually is a big deal, and that’s the idea that domed sticks are better. Since its inception in controllers back in 1982 with the Atari 5200 (which was non-centering unlike the later innovations all the way to the current designs in controllers that we have now), gamers have found a greater liking to using it as the default input device for movement compared to the directional pad.
The deal within this debate, however, is when it comes to which surface on an analog stick gives better performance. Earlier analog sticks featured a flat surface that, despite serving its basic function of defining input from the stick’s position in relation to the center position, was a bit uncomfortable because it would place a lot of pressure at the middle of the thumb (creating soreness in that area), not to mention instill markings on the thumb from the edges. So when Nintendo showcased the N64 back in 1996 featuring a ridged, convex controller, the reception towards analog sticks had led to its practical standardization for spatial movement and camera view to this very day (not to mention was far more comfortable to use).
So what’s the skinny on the analog stick’s curvature then?
Since gamers gravitate towards the use of analog sticks as input devices nowadays, a sudden emphasis on how the stick is contoured becomes a common topic in terms of aesthetics, comfort, and overall performance. Which brings us to the debate of convex vs concave – or to put it simply (because both terms can be confusing, even for myself), domed vs. beveled.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had my experience using both domed and beveled analog sticks, so I can see why gamers could possibly have lengthy discussions on which is better, not to mention the number of controller manufacturers who also create stick extensions for one curvature or the other, and I understand the general merits that either one has over the other. I guess my thumbs are flexible to understand the benefits and disadvantages of either design, and what means were put in order to combat these disadvantages.
Advantages of Convex, or Dome sticks
Convex sticks refer to outward curves which produce a “dome” top. This kind of analog stick is most noticeable with the DualShock controllers from PlayStation and is said to be the better choice when it comes to first-person shooters.
Convex sticks allow gamers to place a minimal amount of pressure on the analog stick, and in doing so creates a rolling feel of the stick from one direction to another. Because of this, there is more proximity control between a full-tilt direction and a semi-tilt – in a first-person environment, this allows an easier transition from slower to faster camera aiming because the thresholds are easier to find (with minimal effort, too).
The most common downside expressed with Convex sticks is that due to its design (more so than the material used for the stick), the gamer’s thumb will have a tendency to slip off. This becomes glaringly more obvious when the gamer’s thumbs start to sweat, making the analog sticks even more slippery. Of course this issue can be resolved by placing a slight bevel on the edges (just like the shape of the analog sticks in a PS4 controller), but as long as the ends of the dome curves are reached by the thumbs, expect a bit of a slide-off.
Advantages of Concave, or beveled sticks
An easier way to remember how concave sticks look is by deriving the “cave” part of the name – concave sticks refer to how the surface of the analog stick curves inward, creating a small pod that can hold a larger surface area on the gamer’s thumbs. The concave stick is more popularly seen in the Xbox controllers and can be argued to be more suited to games with emphasis on movement.
With concave sticks, the gamer’s thumb pushes towards full-tilt more effectively. This is because the larger surface area on the stick travels towards the direction with more momentum, while easing off on the push makes moving back to neutral direction more immediate as well. Concave sticks also seem to be more comfortable to touch as a good majority of the thumb’s tip are nested nicely within the beveled edges of the analogt stick.
Their are drawbacks with concave sticks, and that there is a lot of effort needed to get to half-tilt. The gamer essentially has to be aware of the amount of pressure placed in one direction, making a “slow move” more challenging to pull off (compared to going straight towards a particular direction). There is also a bit more effort needed to go the opposite direction as well, where limits are defined by emphasized edges on the stick. Design considerations that circumvent this would be more rounded edge of the stick (that will help transfer some of the force from pushing one way), as well as adding ridges to the stick’s surface (thereby giving a better grip when doing slight tilts).
So the winner between these 2 choices is…
When it comes down to it though, either contour on an analog stick has its pros and cons. For me personally, I feel that both of them suit the needs of different games, as well as gamer preference. Not all of us are born with thumbs that favor either curvature, and so the feel of how we define the relation of the stick from the center becomes relative to the size of our thumbs.
An ideal scenario (for me, at least), would be to have one of each – I would like to have the absolute feedback for movement that I can get from a concave stick, but I would like the precision with minimal effort in aiming or camera movement which I can experience with a convex stick. I would definitely, however, want to have the ridging on either stick in order to maintain a good amount of control in terms of input. So while I may not definitely think that domed sticks are better, but having the best of both worlds would certainly be my preference.
Of course, these are of my opinion, and I’m sure you would feel otherwise and favor one over the other. What’s your choice, do you like convex sticks or concave? Let me know in the comments section!