Microsoft confirms coming keyboard support for Xbox One games

It’s been nearly a year since Microsoft’s Phil Spencer promised we were “not years away, it’s more like months away” from full support for mouse and keyboard controls on the Xbox One. At the Build Conference this week, Microsoft confirmed that full support for keyboards (but not mice) on the console will be available through UWP cross-platform development and the still-in-preview Xbox Live Creators Program.

“I’ve actually spoken to two developers in the last week that have actually expressed interest in implementing keyboard support on the console,” Microsoft’s Senior Program Manager for Game Developers Andrew Parsons said in a technical presentation at the conference. “They’ve got games they’ve published on Windows and they want to publish on console, but the game kind of needs chat, or kind of needs the ability to type in a bunch of text.”

“Yeah, you could put it on a chatpad on a controller, but it’s not really the experience they are hoping for, and they feel it would probably diminish the experience on their game,” he continued.

“Having the ability to use a UWP game and put it on a console with direct keyboard support really excites them, so that’s something to think about.”

The Xbox One actually launched with limited keyboard support in some of its apps—we exploited that feature to test the box’s potential as a work machine years ago. Parsons presentation, though, confirms that this support will be extended fully to app and game developers via the Xbox Live Creators Program in the near future.

Before you get excited about bringing your mouse-and-keyboard FPS skills straight over to your favorite Xbox shooters, note that Xbox Advanced Technologies Group’s James Yarrow told developers that they can’t rely on mouse input in their Xbox One apps and games, at least for the time being.

“Keyboard… that’s absolutely supported, develop your interesting keyboard console apps, that’s fantastic,” he said. “But don’t be reliant on mouse input because it probably won’t work, and so if you need a mouse to get past your main menu, you probably won’t be able to play your game.”

Digital Trends followed up with Parsons after the presentation, who told them that “initially, most models of mice won’t be compatible. However, a handful of mice will be, and Microsoft hopes to add support for all mice over time.”

Even then, though, developers will have to code support for the new control system into their games. That could be easy for games that are already being developed for Windows with UWP porting in mind, but it might be a bigger lift for more console-centric developers.

The debate continues

The coming introduction of keyboard-and-mouse controls in some Xbox One games probably won’t fully settle the long-standing debate about which control type is superior, especially in the highly competitive first-person shooter space. Back in 2013, Halo developer Jason Jones boldly suggested that “we made the game run without a mouse and keyboard, and now nobody plays shooters the way they used to play them before Halo ’cause nobody wants to.”

More recently, Microsoft allowed controller-based Xbox One players to play competitively against keyboard-and-mouse-based PC players in Gears of War 4 as a public test. The results of that test found “closely matched performance between users on both platforms,” leading Microsoft to permanently introduce competitive cross-platform play in the game’s “Social Quickplay” mode.

Overwatch developer Jeff Kaplan recently spoke out against third-party input devices that convert keyboard/mouse inputs to signals that work with many traditional console games. But Kaplan also said that providing “open and easy support [for] mouse and keyboard for all players” would be an acceptable solution for the issue, suggesting the keyboard-and-mouse’s finer level of control isn’t the core of the issue.

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