Microsoft may be preparing a new weapon that could change the balance in the endless console wars: the mouse. Wait, do you say, did not they promise that years ago, and are not there any devices available yet? Type of. But passing through PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, by flanking Sony.
The mouse and keyboard are, of course, the control method of choice for many PC games, but they have remained elusive on the consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible, and years ago, Microsoft said that it would add mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has proven frustrating in practice. More pointing on the screen was done with Wiimotes by far.
Windows Central received an ostensibly internal presentation from Microsoft detailing what could be a full-screen press on the mouse and keyboard, a feature that the company is best placed to try.
In fact, you may very well wonder why this has not been tried before. The problem does not implement it but the changes that need to be made downstream of this implementation.
On the one hand, virtually no game supports the control method out of the box. They have all been designed with very specific hardware and it is not useful to add a pointer to the menus, to change the relative motion of the camera to absolute motion, and so on.
And for another, the mouse and keyboard are simply a form of top entry for some games. Certainly for the tastes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of precise menus and clicks – which explains the relative lack of those on the consoles. But more importantly in the game economy, first-person shooters are overwhelmingly dominated by mouse users.
It may seem like a glove on the ground between PC and console players, but this argument is played before many times and mouse and keyboard players always come first, often with embarrassing margins.
Usually, this is not a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You simply do not have any correspondence between the mice and the controllers.
This is starting to change, however, with the introduction of large multiplatform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch and PC players on the same server, the latter probably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.
And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in terms of attractive sales and exclusives. A new game that extends the Xbone into a growing niche – for example, professional and competitive games – would be a huge advantage pretty much now.
That is why the document received by Windows Central is quite logical. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB keyboards and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including those that work wirelessly via dongle. This would dramatically change the game, so to speak.
Devices should relate and be monitored, of course: it would not be good for a game to think that it is getting a controller input but rather a mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on. Thus, device IDs and the like will be carefully monitored.
If and how to implement the mouse and keyboard controls will always be left entirely to the developer, note the slides, which obviously leaves us with the same problems as before. But allowing any mouse to be used, combined with a huge amount of players doing it on a major property like Fortnite, is to create some kind of critical mass.
At present, the handful of players with custom and costly setups to move the mouse into a handful of games is simply not enough for developers to devote significant resources to the accommodation. But let's say that a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare devices to the console? Suddenly, it's an addressable market – it offers a competitive advantage to be the developer that supports it.
Mouse support can also provide the bridge that allows old Microsoft to merge at least some of its Xbox and Windows ecosystems. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally transfers the Xbox One console from a dedicated console to a standard, low-cost, high-performance gaming PC.
This may have the additional effect of putting pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near-monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share successes and save games, have gameplay parity, etc., this is the kind of fascinating multi-platform experience that Microsoft has been flirting with for years.
Imagine this: a Microsoft ecosystem that includes PCs and consoles, which encompasses competitive games at all levels and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no office activity to exploit, and Valve's own attempts to cross the console gap were largely unsuccessful. In a way, it seems like Microsoft is ready for a critical hit – if only it manages to take advantage of it.
Will this be the last chapter of the long story of the failure of mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft planning a major change in its approach to the video game world? We have not seen anything at E3 this year, so the answer will not be given, but Microsoft could be encouraged by this leak (assuming that is true) to make the program a little bit more public and to speak more concretely of this potential change takes place.