Sony’s Back Button Attachment is a glimpse at the PS5 controller we didn’t get

Over six years after it was first released, Sony suddenly created a new set of buttons for its DualShock 4 controller.

The Back Button Attachment was a bizarre product, both conceptually and in terms of timing. The vaguely wing-shaped accessory had two extra buttons and an OLED panel on the back that allowed players to add new functionality to their controller. And it was released in January 2020 — just months before Sony revealed the PlayStation 5 and its feature-packed DualSense controller.

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Sony’s sudden interest in offering back paddles on the DualShock 4 fit with existing trends in the console world. Microsoft’s Elite controllers offered similar removable paddles, and third-party controllers with swappable parts and advanced configuration options like the Scuf Vantage or the Astro C40 TR had risen in popularity. Gamers, it seemed, wanted easier-to-reach buttons for triggering abilities on cooldowns in RPGs or for swapping weapons in shooters where every second counted.

But instead of making its own ultra-premium controller like Microsoft (its second-generation Elite controller costs $179, or more than half as much as an Xbox Series S console), Sony took a different tack. It released a $30 puck that could simply clip onto any DualShock 4 controller, offering the flexibility of the extra buttons without the need to buy a new and pricey pro-level controller.

As actual buttons go, the Back Button Attachment makes the most of its grafted-on style. The buttons — while not actual paddles, as seen on other pro controllers — are clicky and sturdy, and the whole thing slots together really nicely. The OLED panel (used for remapping standard buttons to those back buttons) is also a clever addition. It allows for all the remapping to be handled on the device itself, meaning that you’re able to use the Back Button Attachment on the DualShock 4 even when it’s connected to devices other than a PlayStation, like a phone or computer.

And at $30, it’s relatively affordable for someone looking to experiment with the idea of back-mounted buttons — assuming you can buy one (the attachment has been notoriously hard to find).

But what I find the most interesting thing about the DualShock 4 Back Button Attachment is what it didn’t do: pave the way for the PS5’s controller to standardize back paddles. Given how late in the PS4’s life cycle it was released, there was some speculation that it was meant to warm gamers and developers up for the next-generation console, which could feature fully integrated back buttons in its controller.

As the reveal of the PS5’s DualSense controller showed, Sony didn’t end up adding back buttons. In fact, the new controller isn’t even compatible with the accessory, nor did Sony announce a new version of the back button hardware that would work with it.

Instead, Sony is exploring things like improved haptic feedback and triggers that can adjust their resistance — ways to make the existing functionality of the PlayStation controller better and more immersive, rather than just adding more buttons on. (Stay tuned in the coming months for a column that dives more deeply into the DualSense’s unique buttons!)

It’s hard to say what the future holds. Perhaps Sony does have plans for its own Elite-style controller that will look to Microsoft’s pro-level controller for inspiration, with more customization and input options. Maybe there’ll be a back button attachment for the DualSense somewhere down the line. Or maybe Sony has viewed the entire experiment as a large-scale form of market research and decided that more buttons just isn’t the way to go for mainstream controllers.

Instead, Sony seems to have settled on offering the same suite of buttons on its next-generation controller as it has for years, leaving back buttons — for now — as an interesting option that’s still stuck catering to professionals rather than mainstream players.

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