For decades, couch-friendly controllers have been the go-to input method. Joysticks shrank, triggers crept, and the d-pad became secondary. However, PC gaming has typically revolved around the keyboard and mouse, offering greater mobility in first-person shooters (FPS), and allowing for games to be far more complex, such as real time strategy games (RTS).
It looks like this is all set to change, with the coming of mouse and keyboard gameplay options on Xbox One. Minecraft's "Better Together" beta already supports it, and more are on the way.
What does this mean for Xbox gamers? How will it be implemented? Let's look at the facts, as well as the pros and cons (with a side of speculation).
One of the biggest fears about keyboard and mouse support is the idea Microsoft will force Xbox gamers – who have enjoyed controller-only setups for years – to compete with other users on a keyboard and mouse. The very idea that you'd be able to just hook up a keyboard and mouse to play competitive shooters and similar games would destroy all notion of balance and fairness. Millions of gamers who have enjoyed balanced controller-only play for years would have to relearn how to compete and figure out how to fit a keyboard and mouse into their living room. Hopefully, that's not going to happen.
Speaking at PAX, Xbox Platform Chief Mike Ybarra said Microsoft was taking great care with the implementation. The first games to implement it will be co-op focused, such as the aforementioned Minecraft, and quite possibly Sea of Thieves, which recently announced both Xbox controller and PC keyboard and mouse players would share the same servers. Other games like the RTS Halo Wars 2 don't feature cross-play at all because it would simply unbalance the game, even in co-op play.
So how will Microsoft solve these issues?
Ybarra said that Microsoft will create an environment where multiplayer pools can be separated by input, presumably at a software level. It certainly seems as though Microsoft will have the capability to achieve this through the Xbox Live and Universal Windows Platform (UWP) APIs that Microsoft has complete control over. Ybarra said developers will be coached to be cautious about mixing controller types, due to the unfairness and imbalance they could create.
The key takeaway here is that Microsoft doesn't want to destroy the experience for those who have chosen controllers over keyboard and mouse, while, at the same time, offering new options for gamers and devs.
Certainly, the key pro here is that you'll have the option of playing with a keyboard and mouse, obviously. Mouse controls in FPS games can offer more precision when aiming, without sacrificing fast turning and directional mobility.
Judging by Ybarra's recent comments, and older reassurances from Xbox head Phil Spencer, there will be separate playlists for keyboard and mouse players. Microsoft already implemented this on Gears of War 4, where Xbox players have the option of competing against Windows PC players or remaining on controller-only playlists.
Additionally, bringing full mouse support to Xbox One will massively reduce the development time on some games.
Management games like Cities: Skylines didn't hit consoles for years purely because the UI and control schemes had to be completely reworked and redesigned to be squished onto the relatively limited Xbox controller. Imagine a world where developers port cRPGs, RTS, management, and MOBA games to Xbox One without needing to worry about controller inputs. It could lead to a huge, huge boost for the Xbox Store, and thus the Windows 10 Store, as APIs become fully aligned and cross-platform capable.
Ybarra said Microsoft would leave it up to developers in how they implement mouse and keyboard support, which could, in theory, lead to annoying scenarios where keyboard and mouse input is favored by devs coming in from PC. Maybe the developers of the next big FPS decide that there won't be separate playlists at all, and controller players would just have to deal with getting wrecked by the faster mobility and accuracy of a mouse player. Ybarra said developers would be coached against doing that, but that by no means sounds like a guarantee.
Turning up the joystick sensitivity for faster turning sacrifices cursor precision prohibitively on a controller.
Even if Microsoft does succeed in creating API-level separation of input types for creating segregated playlists, that could harm the size of player pools. In games like Battleborn, which suffer from really small player pools, dividing those players by input type will only make matchmaking times even longer, reducing the quality of skill-based matchmaking in the process.
For players who are happy with the current landscape and have no interest in keyboard and mouse gameplay, any implementation that negatively impacts existing Xbox customers could push them to other platforms such as PlayStation, which probably won't get keyboard and mouse support anytime soon.
Speculating on the future
While Windows PC gaming is experiencing growth, the PC market in general is in free fall decline. Mobile gaming has become a contender not just for casual gamers, but increasingly, core gamers, too. That's becoming a huge problem not only for Microsoft but also for Valve.
Valve runs the biggest gaming platform on PC by a large margin, and despite flirting with macOS and Linux, Windows PC gaming remains the dominating force in that sector. The failure of Windows gaming could mean the failure of Steam, and thus Valve, and while I'm by no means suggesting Windows PC gaming is in trouble, it looks as though Windows and Steam could become increasingly dependent on each other for growth.
This seems to be the driving force behind Valve throwing its lot in with Windows Mixed Reality, which will include SteamVR games and support. VR won't grow if companies fight against Windows, which is required to power a lot of these experiences.
The dialogue between Valve and Microsoft also seems to have led to the opening of cross-network play between Steam and Windows 10 Store UWP games. Rise of Nations, an RTS recently remastered for Steam and Windows 10 UWP, enjoys cross-network play, despite using the Xbox Live APIs. Previously, UWP games on PC, like Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, have been segregated from the Steam version, creating pathetically small player pools for the Windows 10 Store version. I was told Steam was directly involved with making cross-network play a reality.
If Microsoft is to begin supporting keyboard and mouse playlists on Xbox One, perhaps bringing Steam PC players directly to Xbox Live could solve the player pool issues. Some games, like Rocket League, already feature cross-network play, but there's no need to separate by input, as neither control method gains a significant advantage.
If Microsoft and Valve play nice, perhaps Xbox and Steam can enjoy full cross-network capabilities in the future, where even PC players can opt for controller-only playlists, restricted by Steam's own APIs, lining up with Xbox's. Xbox could become a proper companion console for hardcore PC gamers who maybe want a solid 4K gaming device in the living room, with Xbox gamers enjoying larger player pools and higher quality matchmaking across the board. Killer Instinct is coming to Steam soon, and I'd throw down money to bet it'll feature cross-network play.
Xbox beyond gaming
Additionally, Xbox gaining mouse support further opens it up to non-gaming UWP apps, such as Office and other productivity apps.
For certain audiences, an Xbox could become a great budget gaming PC and light productivity machine, flipping between games, OneNote, or Word. As long as it is UWP native, Xbox will be able to run it without any changes required by developers.
The combination of Xbox and Windows Mixed Reality_requiring_ native UWP applications could lead to increased adoption of the format, particularly if Microsoft positions Xbox as an app store for the living room with developers. The new Xbox customizable Content Blocks, available in the 1710 update coming to Xbox One, have already been teased by Mike Ybarra as supporting third-party apps in addition to games, using Twitter as an example.
Gamers concerned Microsoft is suddenly going to flood Call of Duty with keyboard and mouse players should rest assured that the company will strongly discourage that sort of scenario, if not ban it outright. Competitive games will get separated playlists at best. And I doubt the major players in the industry will have the balls to screw with the tried and tested formula for console gaming until Microsoft proves that it won't ruin the Xbox experience first.
As for non-competitive games, or games where keyboard and mouse input offers no advantage, like Killer Instinct, expect larger player pools, better quality match making, and potentially, a vast amount of new games that are too complicated or simply too costly to be redesigned for controller inputs.
There's also the prospect of Steam and Xbox gaining closer cross-network support, as the two companies work together to define the future of core gaming and VR, in a world where mobile seems increasingly unstoppable.
I believe Xbox gamers should trust Microsoft to get this right. Microsoft has no mobile platform, and PC gamers are skeptical of pretty much anything the company attempts in this space.
Microsoft (hopefully) knows what's at stake here.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
"Imagine a world where developers port cRPGs, RTS, management, and MOBA games to Xbox One without needing to worry about controller inputs." This is the only part of this story that really matters. There are currently entire generes of games that simply cant be played on console right now due to input limitations.
I used to play a lot of fps games on the pc back in the day (still awesome at original unreal tournament 😉 ) and definately prefer it over the controller even now. Does it really have an advantage? Probably especially if you have a long history of keyboard and mouse. However, I've seen people who use nothing but the controller play incredibly well that it would seriously give your keyboard/mouse player a run for his/her money. I would love the option on Xbox live to be able to test myself against mixed controller players as well as opting to only play against similar controller types.
Dude, seriously, YOU GET IT. This is the exact argument I've been making for years when people say KBM is better. Yes it can give an advantage, but nothing makes up for pure skill in a game. I keep saying, implement a skill system similar to Halo 2 so you're always playing with ppl on your level and not only is it fun, it's balanced.
I generally prefer to use a controller for ergonomics, but a mouse has distinct advantages over a controller for FPS: The larger physical area over which a mouse moves is a clear advantage over the smaller physical area for motion of a gamepad thumbstick.It allows for more precision in aiming because the physical motion of the player is larger A mouse for an FPS is more like absolute motion. (ignoring mouse acceleration for now) if you move the mouse 3 inches to the left, your character moves a certain number of degrees, regardless of how fast you move. A gamepad changes only velocity, so it involves how long you hold the joystick at its maximum position. You can more quickly change orientation direction because you don't need to move the mouse back to a "center" position to change which way you are turning. The maximum speed of rotation with a joystick is fixed in software, whereas the maximum turn velocity with a mouse can be bounded only by the quickness with which the player moves. Combined with the above points, this makes for significantly faster & more precise aiming with a mouse versus with a thumbstick. However: In my experience, the circle strafe is much easier to do with a gamepad & thumbsticks than with a keyboard & mouse. Also, keyboards are binary, so only allow one (maybe two with a toggle) speeds of movement. A thumbstick offers more precision of movement than a kwyboard. Both have advantages, and I believe they can be made more equal with careful design, but it certainly makes sense (at least in FPS) to have a player community that is segregated by controller type.
Hmm, i think what you have basically described are, in effect, the pros and cons of both controller types for an FPS game. I would also say that as a player you would generally prefer one over the other because of the benefits the controller gives you over the other. Because of this, and just my personal point of view here, you could have a multiplayer FPS game with mixed controller types that wouldn't necessarily give an advantage one way or the other. You can customise a controller quite a bit nowadays particularly with the elite controller and there are similar options with kboard/mouse setups too. I would love to test myself against some of the more hardcore controller players out there.
Interesting points, thanks
You see, I have never ever cared about the skill levels of the people I play in FPS games. I KNOW I'm gonna get my arse kicked. But I'm okay with that because I enjoy just playing the game using the KBM. I loved the old WONNet and games like Day of Defeat where you could specifically choose servers and make a list of favorites to play on. Quite often you could find servers where you were largely among similarly skilled players.
This! Exactly this!
I play FPS on both KBM and controller and can say I'm competent on both.
I'm not amazing at either, but can switch with ease so a skill system for whatever input would benefit me better as well as all the other "casual" gamers.
You kind of sum it up best when you use the term casual gamers. Until you are in an official controlled setting, you're casually playing.
If you're talking games like Call of Duty or Halo? Sure. Actual twitch shooters like Quake and Counter-Strike? Not a chance.
All we need now is crossplay between the Xbox platform including the windows store and steam. Somehow they managed to do this with Rise of Nations.
I would wager it will come in the not too distant future.
No time for this jez, go play Destiny2
If the Xbox gets decent kb/m support and its actually implemented properly in at least 90% of games I might give the Xbox One X a try over PC gaming as I need to get a new PC anyway to be able to play new games at high res; All is up to MS on whether they screw up once again or for once do something properly;
"or for once do something properly" Being worth more than $300Billion, I'd say they did some things right.
Lol, Samsung (the king of mobile) worth $300Billion, Microsoft is almost double at $569. Google is $636.
While I am not a fan of the K/M combo for gaming, it would be nice just to add the additional STEAM players and games to add to the player pool. As stated in a response, it's totally upto skill on how you game. I know people on Battlefield 1 that can snipe with ease using a controller as if it was being done with a K/M setup. Some games may benefit with K/M, others will still thrive with a controller. As long as the servers line up everyone according to the peripheral of choice, then we should all be happy playing with new players from around the world. Game On!
Star Citizen!! Make it M&K only and with Scorpio power. I think that game would benefit hugely from Xbox player pool options.
I will only play games that I can use keyboard, mouse and, in some cases (like Elite Dangerous) a joystick. I will never ever play a game that requires a controller. I don't really care that "millions are used to controllers". That's their choice. If Microsoft wants people like me--PC-only gamers--to buy into their console environment, they'll have to suck it up and include full options for interface. Chasing the "fairness" aspect is a made-up issue. There will ALWAYS be people who are better, for whatever reason. When I play Call of Duty, even though I'm using keyboard and mouse, I suck at it and I get routinely owned. But I don't CARE because I'm still ENJOYING PLAYING. There's no universe where I enjoy using a controller, even if I could own every competitor. In fact, I'm absolutely positive that, in a combined environment, there are plenty of controller players who could easily kick my behind with me using KM. Again, I DON'T CARE as long as I'm actually enjoying playing. So, Microsoft, sandbox the thing or whatever. Just get off your lazy butts and implement the full range of optional interfaces for the Xbox One. Then, and ONLY then will I ever buy console games or even consider buying an Xbox One X.
@ScubaDog, I used to the think the same thing. I both looked down on controller players (gaming on their toy consoles) and found controllers horribly clumsy for all games. I don't actually recall how I got started with consoles, but I think it was because Sony brilliantly included a Blu-ray player with the PS3, making it the cheapest way to get into HD movies. I bought a PS3 as the first console since something my mom bought me before the Atari 2600 came out and made console gaming a home standard. With the PS3, I started playing some games that looked good that I couldn't get for my "real" gaming system, my PC. They were fun. Years later, and a migration to Xbox with the One, and now I game more on my Xbox One then on my PC (with a One X already on pre-order). I'm still not sure why I've mostly shifted, but I think it's because a controller is more comfortable than a mouse and keyboard for lazy play on a couch. I still think serious gaming is better on a PC with a mouse and keyboard, but I find I almost never care about "serious" gaming. Maybe it's just because I'm older and lazier. :-)
It also depends on the game as well, something like the Batman series I wouldn't think to play with a keyboard and mouse, But on the other hand, I wouldn't play Starcraft with a controller. Certain game types lend themselves to differing control methods.
Joypad are much better fir platform and fighting games which need quick simple digital commands. I pretty much only use a joypad to pay Street Fighter II type games these days.
doesn't PS4 have mouse and keyboard capability already so it's not that big of a deal
Even the PS3 had it, actually even the PS1 had it. The only way this will matter is if consoles from now on will come with both controllers and K&M
Can't wait to see the first programs to trick the platform into thinking the input method is a controller!
It should be simple to produce a raspberry pi with a keyboard and mouse connected to it through USB, emulating joypad commands. But you would lose much if the advantage of using a mouse because it would act like a thumb stick with all if the limitations that one has.
amazed that in 2018 people are still playing on devices designed to type faster and point at icons. 👍
This would be perfect for me.
I've been on the brink of upgrading my now somewhat "outdated" Asus ROG G20 to have a GTX 1080 but lack of PC gaming friends and costs have stopped me. I use my PC for video editing mainly, hence the mid range graphics card build (G9 390), but for gaming I use my Xbox One as that's what my friends have. If they bring KBM support then purchasing the Xbox One X is a no brainer for me: Potential ports for PC games, 4K, all my friends, a suitable "pc" for office, etc... My pc would therefore only be for legacy apps and the GTX 1080 isn't needed. As much as I would choose KBM for FPS games, I know the benefits of a PC with a GTX 1080 still outweigh the Xbox One X. However, I'm not MLG level gamer, so a skill system for matchmaking with whatever input would greatly benefit my gaming, regardless of GPU power.
So when can I build my own PC and install Xbox OS on it? Or run Xbox OS in a VM? Or run Xbox OS as a separate program like Steam/Origin?
I get why it is such a big deal doing mixed playlists, but firstly at the pro level, surely they would all just get KBM? Secondly surely a £$€20 wireless kbm solution would then give everyperson the ability to use during an FPS, also there are bundles that are cheaper than an official game pad in the first place. Lastly, the number of people that complain about hackers/aimbots etc etc online anyway, people complain when they get killed by someone regardless, this would just be another OMG he used KBM (when actually he can just aim with gamepad).
I think that this will end up being one of those controversies that will be more internet drama than anything else. At the end of the day hard core gamers and gaming enthusiasts have always been able to buy modified controllers that they believe will give them an edge, so its probably nit been a level playing field for many years. Extra buttons, ergonomic controls, programmable buttons, macro support. These have all been available for ages. This is just another iteration. I'm not aware that any games segregate you for having a programmable joypad that let's you chain attacks together in fighting games, or adjust the sensitivity of thumb sticks in FPS games.
Given that a basic mouse and keyboard can be brought for less than a single wireless joypad (literally under $10 each), any gamer who feels disadvantages can just pick up a mouse at Target and gain the same advantage. It might feel a little weird, but its not much different from swapping between joypads on different consoles. A good gamer will adjust very quickly.
I would like Elite Dangerous to be on the list of games adding enhanced KB support, and I want it now! Then bring on AoE with full KB&M and I'll be very happy.
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