Why Nissan Turned a Car Into a Sony Video Game Controller

November 17, 2015, 3:13 PM UTC

Nissan and partner agency TBWA\Helsinki have built the world’s first automobile video game controller. Using a parked Nissan Qashqai crossover SUV plugged into a Sony PlayStation 4 game console, gamers can sit in the driver’s seat and control soccer players on a TV screen playing Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 2016.

Players pass the ball with the brake pedal and shoot on goal with the gas pedal, controlling the direction of players with the steering wheel. The windshield washer lever handles cross passes, the phone button makes players sprint, and the turn signal is used to navigate up and down.

Mikko Pietilä, creative director at TBWA\Helsinki, says his team hacked the PlayStation controller to understand how it could work with the signals the car emits from the on-board diagnostics port. The car emits 2 million signals that are filtered and translated to match the game’s functions.

“Project Controller” is a collaboration with Nissan (NSANY), UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), Sony (SNE) PlayStation, and Konami. It took six months to evolve from idea to working “proof of concept.” The Nissan controller will make its worldwide debut on Nov. 25 in Malmö, Sweden, before the UEFA Champions League game between Malmö FF and Paris Saint-Germain. (Like Nissan, both PlayStation and Konami are official sponsors of UEFA Champions League.)

Pia Porko, Nissan Nordic Europe manager of marketing communications and brand deployment, says Project Controller was created from an ambition to push the envelope in terms of how people experience the Nissan brand and products within its sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League.

“Nissan’s mission is to be the most engaging Asian car brand,” Porko says. “This requires us to create platforms that live in culture and are fine-tuned together with our audiences. Our target audience is native in games and to be relevant we can be bring added value to games. It is very rewarding to work with gamers and YouTubers. They are always excited and receptive to new thinking.”

Porko says early results from Project Controller have already proven that the idea and the phenomenon are universal. In the short term, she says it will remain relevant technology to activate audiences at events and online.

“In the midterm, this could be an accessory or a Nissan product for car and gaming enthusiasts to play any PlayStation game with their car,” Porko says. “In the longer term, this controller is breaking into the space of automotive entertainment. The question of what people will do in their cars when cars drive themselves is very exciting for us.”

Nissan launched GT Academy in Europe back in 2008 and has worked with PlayStation to use its Gran Turismo game to turn virtual racers into real drivers. Top gamers from the virtual competition graduate to real cars in the Silverstone racing circuit for a chance to win a spot as a Nissan Pro Driver.

A dozen gamers have become real Nissan drivers since 2008 through this program. One of those drivers, 2011 GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough, also took part in the live test of Project Controller in Sweden.

“For us using gaming in marketing, it’s not enough to be in a game; we want to be the game,” Porko says. “This goes for Grand Turismo Academy as well as Project Controller. Gaming communities are very loyal and enthusiastic when engaged with.”

Steve Brown, content director at TBWA\Helsinki, says this car controller would work with many types of games outside of soccer.

“We were curious about this question in the beginning and we will continue to work on that,” Brown says. “Another interesting question is what kind of cars does this work with? Think about playing a racing game while sitting in a Juke Nismo RS. That could be a whole new test drive experience.”


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