Its use is prevalent in 3D games, where more than 8 directions are needed (which is all that was offered on the d-pad). Using a D-pad in a 3D game greatly limits the ability to move. For example, in a 3D platformer like Super Mario 64, using a D-pad would allow Mario to move forward, left, and forward-left, but nothing in between. Some early 3D games like Resident Evil overcame this limitation by assigning the Left and Right directions on the D-pad to spin the character instead of making the character move in that direction. However with the prevalence of analog sticks, the aforementioned limitation of the D-pad no longer became an issue.
Two analog sticks offer greater functionality than a single stick. On some modern game controllers, the position of the first stick is where the left thumb usually rests, usually to the upper left of the D-pad. The position of the right stick is usually to the lower left of the face buttons. Although this is a slightly awkward position for the right thumb, it is understandable seeing as the buttons that normally appear on the face on the controller are used more often. Systems with this configuration on first-party controllers include the GameCube, Xbox, and Xbox 360.
Some controllers instead have the two analog sticks in a symmetrical configuration with a D-pad on the left thumb position and face buttons at the right thumb position, with analog sticks below and closer to the center on both sides. Sony's PlayStation-series analog controllers: The Dual Analog Controller, DualShock, DualShock 2, Sixaxis, and DualShock 3 all use this configuration, with the remainder of the controller layout closely resembling the original non-analog PlayStation controller. The Classic Controller for the Nintendo Wii maintains a similar layout.
With genres such as action, adventure game, platforming, and shooting, the left stick normally controls the protagonist while the second stick controls the camera. The use of a second analog stick alleviated problems in many earlier platform games, in which the camera was notorious for bad positioning. The right stick not only allows for camera control in third-person platform games, but is almost essential for most modern first-person shooters such as Halo. In Katamari Damacy and Beautiful Katamari, both by Namco, both analog sticks are used at once to control the player's character.
The PSP has been criticized for the lack of a second analog "nub" to accompany the left-hand one.
For many years, consoles ignored analog technology, instead using the digital D-pad. It wasn't until the emergence of 3D gameplay that the analog stick was brought back for widespread use.
In 1995, Sony (realizing that analog technology could be useful) created a potentiometer-based analog joystick for use in Flight-Simulation games. The Sony Dual Analog FlightStick featured twin analog sticks and was used in games such as "Descent" to provide a much greater degree of freedom than the typical digital joysticks of the day.
In 1996 Nintendo introduced a modern analog stick called a control stick on their Nintendo 64 controller. Unlike the D-pad, the control stick allowed for varying levels of pressure and 360-degree control, translating into more precise movements in games such as Super Mario 64. (Incidentally, the later port of Super Mario 64 to the d-pad-only Nintendo DS portable system in Super Mario 64 DS was criticized by some for imprecise control due to lack of an analog stick on the Nintendo DS.)
Super Mario 64 was released in Japan on 23 June 1996. On 5 July 1996, Sega released Nights into Dreams... for their Saturn console in Japan; bundled with it was the Saturn 3D control pad which featured an analog pad intended to give the player more fluid control over that game's flight-based gameplay.
During this same period, Sony was also creating a similar analog stick, based on the same potentiometer technology that was used in the larger Dual Analog Flightstick. Released in November 1996, the Sony Dual Analog controller featured three modes of analog (Flightstick, Full Analog and Analog-Off), and dual plastic concave thumbsticks, while Nintendo and Sega's controllers only had a single stick.
In 1997 Sony released their third analog revision to the market- the Sony "Dual Shock". The controller featured similar twin analog sticks to the Dual Analog, although they were convex and rubber tipped. Sony also removed the third analog (flightstick) mode and replaced their own previous rumble feature with Immersion's haptic technology. (Note: In 1999, Ape Escape became the first major video game to require the use of two analog sticks.)
Since then, all major video game console controllers have included two analog sticks, with the exception of the Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo's non-classic Wii controllers. Sony even included one in their handheld game console, the Playstation Portable.