The Evolution Of The PlayStation Control Pad

The Evolution Of The PlayStation Control Pad

It’s perhaps the most iconic design in the world of game controllers, and definitely the longest-serving. Today in Total Recall, we look back at over 15 years of PlayStation control pads.

The primary PlayStation controller’s basic appearance has survived with only minor changes since it accompanied the first console to the marketplace all the way back in 1994. Considering some companies radically change their pads every console, which can mean every 4-5 years, Sony’s persistence (which some will call stubbornness) has resulted in a controller design which anyone familiar with a PlayStation pad since the mid-90s can pick up and be instantly at home with.

Alongside its iconic “handlebar” shape, PlayStation controllers have also become known for their use of symbols to mark their face buttons in place of letters. Sony’s Teiyu Goto, the man who designed the controller, says “Other game companies at the time assigned alphabet letters or colours to the buttons. We wanted something simple to remember, which is why we went with icons or symbols, and I came up with the triangle-circle-X-square combination immediately afterward. I gave each symbol a meaning and a colour.”

“The triangle refers to viewpoint; I had it represent one’s head or direction and made it green. Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink. The circle and X represent ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision-making and I made them red and blue respectively. People thought those colours were mixed up, and I had to reinforce to management that that’s what I wanted.”

Scroll through the gallery above to read up on the history of those controllers, from the very first pad from 1994 right through to those used today. Note that only primary PlayStation control pads are included, not optional peripherals or controllers like light guns or the PlayStation Move.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.
(Top photo by kennymatic | Flickr)


PlayStation Controller – The first PlayStation controller released alongside the PlayStation, obviously, in 1994. Beginning the trademark “handlebar” design that persists to this day, the original PlayStation controller seemed designed with one eye looking forwards (with the inclusion of shoulder triggers) and one eye looking back (the only primary inputs remained a d-pad and four face buttons, exactly the same as the Super Nintendo). It lasted from 1994 to 1997, with only one minor revision being released in 1996 (which made slight changes to the controller’s cable).


Dual analogue Controller – An experiment of sorts, the Dual analogue Controller was Sony’s attempt at improving camera and directional controls in a 3D game by giving the player more precise input than a d-pad and trigger buttons could afford. Featuring two thumbsticks, it also included a central “ANALOG” button that, should a PlayStation game support the pad (earlier games obviously weren’t coded to take advantage of the technology), when pressed would enable this improved control.

The Dual analogue Controller didn’t just introduce new controls, though. Its first release in Japan also introduced rumble to the PlayStation controller family (again, though, only for titles which supported it), though the feature was quickly removed when it was found that the rumble engine used was highly unreliable. The Dual analogue Controller was first released in early 1997, yet was off the market only a year later.


DualShock – The reason the Dual analogue Controller had such a short life was because Sony had come up with what it felt was a superior take on the design: the DualShock. While it kept the same general design as the Dual analogue Controller, it had a number of important changes. Firstly, with the inclusion of two rumble engines (hence the name “DualShock”), the feature was able to be retained and released across all markets.

Secondly, while the Dual analogue Controller’s plastic thumbsticks had inverted recesses for the player to rest their thumbs on, the DualShock’s pads featured protruding rubber tips. Thirdly, the Dual analogue Controller’s trigger buttons were “ridged”, a small plastic bump helping players know where their fingers were resting; on the DualShock, this ridge was removed. And finally, the DualShock’s handles were a full 1.5cm shorter than those found on the Dual analogue Controller.

The DualShock first entered the market in 1997, and while originally an optional accessory, it soon became the “official” PlayStation controller, included with all new consoles.


DualShock 2 – With the release of the PlayStation 2 in 2000 came a new DualShock, though at first glance, you wouldn’t pick it. The DualShock 2 was almost identical to the DualShock in appearance, the only real differences being that the DS2’s face buttons were pressure sensitive. Aside from that and some colour differentiations, though, they really were almost exactly the same pad; you could even use DS2 controllers on a PS1 and DS1 controllers on a PS2.


The Boomerang – When the PlayStation 3 was first shown off to the public, the most interesting thing about it wasn’t the console’s size, but the design of the controller, which with its sweeping curve looked set to be Sony’s first major control pad overhaul in over a decade. Sadly, the company scrapped this design in favour of something more traditional by the time the console actually reached the marketplace in late 2006.


Sixaxis – A public relations disaster for Sony, the Sixaxis was the controller originally shipping with the PlayStation 3. While again almost physically identical to the last two DualShock controllers, the Sixaxis omitted rumble technology in favour of cramming some basic motion control functionality into the pad, a move which upset many users.

This Sixaxis wasn’t a complete write-off, though: it did introduce Bluetooth wireless connectivity to the PlayStation family of controllers.


DualShock 3 – With the Sixaxis a bust, Sony was quickly forced to revert to a more trusted design, and in 2007 revealed the DualShock 3. Again using the same basic design as all previous controllers, the DualShock 3 packed the wireless and motion sensing tech of the Sixaxis, but also found room to squeeze rumble back into the pad. It remains Sony’s primary control pad to this day.


  • God I hate those controllers. I was so happy when it looked like Sony were going to do SOMETHING innovative with the PS3.

    Heres a challenge – apart from the second control stick (which is a brilliant idea), name a single innovation to that controller over the past 15 years which didn’t appear on a rivals console first.

    Winner gets a hug.

    • I’m pretty sure that the original ps controller was the first of any console to introduce two shoulder buttons on each side. i.e. L1/L2, R1/R2. I could be wrong as I’m not familiar with the sega controls.

      It’s only mildly innovative I’ll admit, but it was something that springs to mind.

      • Doubling shoulder buttons isn’t innovation. It’s just a numerical evolution over the previous. Just as two thumbsticks on the controller wasn’t innovating (compared to the N64’s one), it was just their game of one-upmanship with Nintendo. It was a while before the first game to use 2 thumbsticks well came out (Ape Escape) and even that credit isn’t Sony’s.

        Controller innovations are things like motion control, first D-pad, first analogue stick, pressured buttons. And in almost every case, Sony has mostly been taking their rivals’ ideas then throwing in an extra thumbstick, button or making the nunchuk wireless.

        The PS Vita is a textbook example of the Sony scattergun approach. Shove in basically every input mechanism known to man. D-Pad, thumb-stick, buttons, touchscreen, BACK touch surface, gyroscope, camera, microphone etc and just hope a creative dev comes along to use them.

    • ummm… Foggy that’s a pointless challenge. perhaps its worth reminding you that Sony came up the walkman, discman, Playstation, Bluray, Beta and so on… what have you come up with lately… maybe its you that needs a hug.

      • It’s an article about Sony controllers. Sony’s done plenty of great R&D in consumer electronics, but dualshocks are not one of them.

    • don’t fix whats not broken, it doesn’t need some innovative new gimmick, at least not until the console itself requires it. The xbox controller only evolved out of necessity, if u remember the original design, it was freaking huge. And though the Wii’s controller was innovative, it was also restrictive and is impractical for many of its games.

      • Clearly is DOES need some innovative new “gimmick” such as analog, rumble, motion, wireless ect. because Sony keeps adding stuff to the controller.
        The argument is that none of the “gimmicks” are innovative by the time Sony gets around to it when it comes to controllers.

        Case in point – Playstation Move.

    • FFS.. It’s not about being “innovative” especially with a freaking controller. It’s about creating something that works and gamers are pleased with.

      Sony found something their avid gamers and fanboys love and appreciate. Why screw that up?
      Sure – its playing it safe. But Sony’s intentions aren’t about creating something drastically different with every console, its about improving upon it. Offering the real stuff under the hood, not on the surface.

    • Sony was the first to have a ergonomic controller, first in having rumble, first to have pressure sensitive buttons, first to have dual sticks. Your argument is flawed and has no logic. Every one else has copied Sony, with the ONE exception of move based controlling which Sony has improved on with one to one motion and sensitivity. When the xbox come out, people complained about the controller being to big so Microsoft changed their ‘gimmick’ and made it smaller. The only reason the two sticks are off set, it’s a gimmick to be different, not be better. Kinect is a gimmick too aimed at kids, has no place in the core gamer scene.

  • In between Nintendo’s desire to radically change their controller with every console, and Sony’s stubbornness to keep it the same as it possibly can, i’m actually siding with Microsoft in the controller wars.

    The Xbox controller was not without it’s flaws, even when they introduced the smaller model.

    However, the 360 controller is easily the most comfortable controller I’ve ever used. It feels like it was designed for an actual, flawed, human being, instead of Sony’s controllers being made for gaming robots.

    • See, I’m the exact opposite. I find the XBox controller too big in my hands, even the smaller ones they have now, never mind the original monstrosity.

      The PS controller fits perfectly in my hands, and is very comfortable to use for hours on end. The main thing I don’t like about it is that the analogue sticks don’t feel quite “tight” enough. I also prefer the layout with the two sticks positioned symetrically.

      I’m very glad they ditched the boomerang idea – that looked absolutely horrible.

      • That probably explains it, I have pretty big hands.

        It’s also more than that, I prefer the Analogue sticks to be diagonal, although many of my friends like the horizontal.

  • Yeah I personally can’t stand the PS3 controller, it just feel very akward in my hands

    360 controller is my fav, its just a lot more comfortable

    • Yeh, WaveBird is still my fave alltimer. Sprung shoulders, Proportionate A-for-Action button, lovely analog, wireless. Wonderful. Except for when playing Wii GoldenEye. By Christ it was absolute shite for that.

      After that tho, PS controllers are just an integral part of gaming for me. Even the Freestyler kid carried one around on his person.

  • I have a lot of Asian friends and we constantly argue about the best controller. Xbox or Playstation.

    In my view the playstation controller is a light skinny little thing that doesn’t fit my hands properly. The Xbox controller however feels the right size, shape and weight. My Asian friends argue they hate the Xbox controller for the reasons I love it.

    I guess when you design a controller you have to decide what size to make it. Sony = Asia, Xbox = US/Europe/etc. Your demographic determines your designing.

    On a destruction side of things, XBox controllers fair the best when thrown in frustration. Mates have lost PS and Nintendo controllers, but never heard of a destroyed xbox controller. I guess they’ll be there for the cockroaches after the world ends :D.

    • You should vist my friend Dave’s house – There are 7 360 controllers there, only 2 have all buttons functioning properly.

      Modern Warfare 2 was a real low in his life….

  • I haven’t used a 360 controller very often, I dont have an Xbox. But I like the PS3 controller, and I really really like the feel of the PSP. I think Sony are good by sticking to their strenghts, look at Nintendo. The Wiimote, and now the WiiU.

    The Wiimote has to be the worst controller invented…ever.

    • It was trying to do something new, which the PS controller, apart from putting an extra control stick and rumble feature on, hasn’t managed yet.

      If you’re comfortable with the controller because it ever changed, then I understand why Nintendo controllers scare you.

  • I quite like the familiarity of the DualShock and the few changes they’ve made over the years has helped keep it up to date without sacrificing anything (sixaxis being the exception).

  • Two things bug me about my PS3 controllers.

    1. Square Circle Triangle X. Horribly unintuitive symbols that make quick-time button bashes much more frustrating than they need be, even after years of thinking you know which one is which without looking.

    2. Convex tops of the analog sticks. These can be easy for your thumbs to slip around after a while and I much prefer the look of the concave tops on the Dual Analogue Controller.

    • Who needs to look at their controller while they play? you could literally put images of anything on the buttons and after a very short time you would remember where they are and be able to press them when prompted to. It’s not hard to remember four symbols and their place.

      I like the design and glad they don’t change it. If this controller existed for any other system people would say that it is genius and that is why it hasn’t be radically changed. But because it is a Sony product it gets a lot of unfair hate.

      I also find it interesting that a lot of third party controller are almost carbon copys of the dual shock. Logitech, Polaroid, Genius, Thrustmaster etc.

      • “you could literally put images of anything on the buttons and after a very short time you would remember where they are and be able to press them when prompted to.”

        I wish that were true, but even after owning a PS2 and a PS3 I still occasionally stuff it up.

        It’s easy to instinctively know in my head that “that one’s jump, and that one’s attack, and that one’s the other thing”… but then I quickly stop thinking about them as square, triangle etc.

        So when the game suddenly starts demanding on-screen that I hit ‘square’ or whatever the heck pattern it wants, I find that I do sometimes forget which symbol each command is. If it said hit ‘jump’ repeatedly it’d be fine, but it doesn’t. Something that was vaguely intuitive (say, triangles pointing up down left right similar to the way D-pad moves are displayed) would be a lot more effective as intuitive controls.

  • I personally favour the ps3 controller the most. It’s most comfortable to me and it’s totally symmetrical which cooperates well with with my cognitive abilities, but only with triggers I can snap on, I hate the convex standard triggers.

    I cant stand the 360 though, it’s still really big even after it’s downsize, I have bigger hands than most women but I think the ps3 controller is the right size for me.
    I can’t stand the battery pack at the back of the controller, not only is it a stupid idea, but it irritates my finger tips wrapped around the back.
    Don’t get me started on the dpad, we all know it’s awful. And final pet peeve with the controller itself has to be the buttons itself, rounded tops which makes my thumbs feel as if they’re treading barefoot on stones. A B X Y? I still to this day can’t decipher this little code – someone please enlighten me and I could go on, but overall I don’t really favour the 360 as a console either. It has some great games, but stupid hardware.

  • I personally really like the PS controller. It’s always just felt right to me. I know there is a lot of people who agree with me on this one.

  • ps controller is a million times better than the xbox one, ill take a controller that ISNT crappy, chunky and uncomfortable. i also hate that the left analogue stick is where a d-pad should be in the xbox. The ps controller just makes sense.

    • Why’s this a bad thing? The left analogue stick should be where your thumb rests in the neutral position. Nintendo got this right with the N64, then Sony put it under the D-Pad because they were building on the very first PSX controller.

      Every subsequent PS controller has this problem. Most games use analogue sticks over D-Pads, so it makes sense to have it where your thumb doesn’t have to stretch to the bottom of the controller. I go out of my way to pick up 3rd party controllers for my PS with the correct analogue stick placement.

  • IMO the best controller was the Gamecube’s. The original, not the wavebird. It just fit so perfectly in your hands

  • I thought vibration was removed in the SIXAXIS following a lawsuit with (was it?) Immersion Technologies?

  • I thought rumble was originally omitted from the PS3 Sixaxis controller because of patent infringement law suits that were going on. My understanding was that Microsoft paid up the big bucks straight away, but Sony took a lot longer to settle the dispute. This being the reason it took a couple of years until the DS3 was released.

    • That is correct.

      Sony eventually gave in and forked over the money because they kept copping (richly-deserved) shit for not having rumble.

      This also had the bonus of making the controller a bit heavier. I found the original SixAxis much too light – putting the rumble back in gave the DS3 a little bit of extra weight which makes it feel a bit sturdier and better balanced.

  • “The circle and X represent ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision-making and I made them red and blue respectively. People thought those colours were mixed up, and I had to reinforce to management that that’s what I wanted.”

    I always thought they were backwards. I’d love to see further explanation of why he thought “X” meant “yes” and “O” meant “no”.

    • Easy explaination for the Circle and X as yes and no. Japan does not and has never used a tick as yes/correct. They use a circle.

  • I only own a PS3, but I’ll admit I get a little jealous when I get to play a friend’s 360. The controllers just make so much more sense.

    Does anyone know of a (good) 360 like controller for PS3?

  • I love this controller and hope it never changes – although I am biased because I’ve had Sony consoles since the first playstation. I hate the high-low positioning of sticks on the xbox/gamecube controllers and the battery pack on the wireless 360 contollers is so annoying that I find it almost un-usable. Could they really not hide that inside the case somewhere? Wired version is better, but then you’re tethered. I just wish there was a way to have the playstation shape for xbox controllers controllers (vice versa if you really must)

  • “Sony’s Teiyu Goto, the man who designed the controller, says “Other game companies at the time assigned alphabet letters or colours to the buttons. We wanted something simple to remember, which is why we went with icons or symbols”

    Funny, that is the complete opposite effect I find them to have. I’ve been playing with mates’ playstations ever since the first model, yet even just the other week playing MK9 on my friend’s PS3, every time I tried to get him to tell me what button did I found the words he threw at me to have absolutely no meaning at all.

    Also, the PS controller’s d-pad is horribad. I would honestly rather the Xbox one.

      • Yeah no… I’d much prefer the new Xbox d-pad over the PS one any day. I’ve never, ever been a fan of the segmented design of the dpad. It hurts my thumb after a while, and I feel the need to push on it way to hard. Best d-pad ever? Sega Saturn controllers. Best EVER.

      • Admittedly the majority of that complaint comes from that same MK9 session 😛 As I put it when discussing with someone else recently: it just feels to me like it has no tactile response, you can’t tell whether you’re pressing the button or not. At least with the Xbox d-pad, you know when you’re pressing it. You may not be entirely sure what direction you’re pressing it, but you know you’ve done it.

  • I absolutely loved the european version of “Dual analogue Controller.” It had big fat handles. Everything else PlayStation controller related suxs (for me.)

  • Exhibit B: First Dualshock controller. Sony copying Nintendo at the 11th Hour by literally jerry-rigging control sticks on the bottom of their controller (But it has TWO!)

    Move: Sony copying Nintendo at the 11th Hour by literally ripping off the Wii remote and nunchuk.

    Oh Sony, don’t ever change.

      • Actually, I dig Sony. I jumped from the N64 to the PS2 and later to the PS3. But the worst part about it, by FAR, is the controller.

        After using Nintendo gamepads, the Sony ones just don’t cut it. Thumbsticks sit too low, not stiff enough, caps are too large, stalks too short. I actually wished they’d stuck with the (now-derided) dildo controller. At least it would be something new.

        So now I use a 3rd party Nyko 360-style controller for my PS3 which has a much more sensible analogue stick layout. Love my PS3, hate the controller.

  • If I recall correctly the reason behind almost everyone but Sony using letters stems back to Nintendo on the NES you had B and A (also start and select) the Master System had 1 and 2. The Mega Drive switched to A, B and C and the Super Nintendo had A, B, X and Y. (Did SNES have shoulder buttons? I owned a Mega Drive) Sega released a 6 button controller which had, A, B, C, X, Y and Z. They repeated this design on Saturn and added shoulder buttons.

    Now consider that the PSX controller looked like a SNES controller with the clip on handles did they really want to use the same letter code as Nintendo?

    As for what they are? useful for telling a friend hit A or circle or whatever when he’s playing a game. But I don’t press A when I want to jump, I press Jump. Heck I can’t tell you if Super Mario 1 on the NES if A or B was run, but put the controller in my hand and I’ll be able to play it.

    That being said, I prefer letters it sure as hell makes things easier to read online, but there’s more to it than that. Sony’s always felt a little arbitary to me.

  • I find the PS2 and PS3 controllers really uncomfortable. Having smaller hands, my thumb is permanently stretched at an awkward angle to reach the sticks, like they were added as an afterthought. The bottom tail bit never sits right either. However is still better than the analog nub on the PSP. Did no one try to hold it when they were designing it?
    My favourite is still the N64 controller. It sat well in my hand and the stick was designed to be the primary input.

  • I still love the ps controller. It’s been around so long that it would be weird if it were to change. But I do think that it probably needs to change a bit. Nothing drastic though. Thank god they didn’t go with that boomerang one though.

  • I’ve always, thought the PS controller has always been a PoS (see what I did there?)

    The fact that the sticks are together at the bottom centre of the pad is the issue – I just never found it comfortable. Although the only other option at the time was the N64 pad – which was no better in retrospect.

    It was the release of the Xbox and Gamecube and the changed placing of the left stick on their pads that made me understand what was wrong with the PS controller, and I’ve never looked back.

  • Oh bitch bitch to the people claiming Sony doesn’t innovate

    Personally, I like the Dual Shock, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. And the Dual Shock as far as I’m concerned isn’t broke….just look at Logitech, they’ve modeled many PC controllers after the Dual Shocks design…so Sony must be doing something right.

    By the way, everyone steals from everyone kiddies…Nintendo wasn’t the first mob into motion controls…there was Microsoft who had a primitive motion controller for the PC back in the day…and Sony of course had Eyetoy in the PS2 generation that a lot of people conveniantly forget.

    Everyone steals and inovates all the time…its just the way buisness is

  • This feels like Zoolander’s Calendar. These controllers are the gaming world equivalent to ‘BlueSteel’.

  • I wonder if Kotaku were part of the gaming journalist elite that bashed son so hard over the boomerang they had no choice but to change?

  • I personally just wish that Sony had the balls to issue the boomerang controller when they released the PS3. That controller showed promise.

    But no; Sony wimped out and gave us the god awful PS3 controller that only fitted child sized hands. And then they spent the next 8 years giving us variations on their parlous design. You could get ‘limited edition’ gold PS3 controllers, or ‘limited edition’ pink PS3 controllers, or blue ones or green ones or khaki camo ones. Problem was you still couldn’t get a Sony PS3 controller that was anything other than woeful.

    I think Sony has done a lot for controller design; their pathetic design gave major opportunity to and inspired the designers of after market controllers. Do any of you remember just how spectacularly good Namco’s NeGcon controller for driving games on the original PlayStation was? It gave full analogue steering by a twist of the wrist and probably still has not been equalled some 20 years later. Anyone who has tried to play Wipeout on the PlayStation with Sony’s sad joke of a digital controller would have benefited from Namco’s design.

    The PS4 controller is much better than the PS3 family of controllers. That’s like saying a Pentium 90 PC from 1995 is much better than a 486 PC from 1994. It really is not that much of an improvement.


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