Traditionally consoles have been all about playing games, it's only in the last eight years or so that consoles have been more than just games players. I haven't done exhaustive research. I am sure there have been PDA type software for the Super Nintendo and Megadrive. But the PS2 was really the first useful diversion with it's ability to play DVD's. Since the growth of the mobile phone it has become unthinkable not to cram your gadgets with a plethora of potentially useful items. The mobile phone has become ipod and camera. The PSP became the portable do everything box with UMD video and all it's music and web browsing features. In this climate the newest consoles have to compete. We see the Xbox 360 and PS3 being able to play video and music from hundreds of sources, and download, web browse etc. In fact the PS3 and Xbox 360 have more in common with a pc than ever before. Apart from one thing in the case of the Xbox 360, the mouse. The PS3 supports mouse control from it's operating system, it has basic drivers, and a mouse can be used in its web browser and in games that support it. The Xbox 360 can't, why?
The use of a mouse on a console isn't new, there was a paint program for the SNES called Mario paint that was bundled with a mouse, The Playstation one had an official mouse and some games might even have supported it. My interest was lost at the time when Quake, which was touted to support mouse control announced that they weren't going to bother and in disgust i never went back to being interested in buying the PS1 mouse.
So if it isn't a new feature why was it left out of the Xbox 360? The SNES could do it, the Playstation one and i presume 2 could do it. the PS3, the main competition, can do it. So why on earth doesn't Microsoft?
There may be an answer to that question, one that isn't that particularly hard to find out. Nobody seems to want to use a mouse when playing a game on a console, of course on the PC it's a different matter.
There is thriving in game mouse usage on the PC, indeed I painfully remember my initiation to mouse and keyboard control on FPS games. It was 1995, doom 2 and I had just bought my 14kpbs modem and found a bulletin board to connect to and left an advert to play doom. I got a response from a nice bloke called Gary, who called me and we set up a game. He made mincemeat out of me, you see, i was playing with my nice Gravis joystick and he with mouse and keyboard, the score was around 80 to 1. Not deterred I found out that he was using mouse and keyboard and after much fiddling with .ini files got it up and running, found it total murder, but persevered. I played with Gary many more times, and after a few weeks was beginning to frag him almost as much as he was fragging me. By that time the internet proper had hit my backwater and online games began to become easier to find. The lessons were learned though, one, even though in my own house at the time I was raining doom champion, once online i found out that in the wider scheme of things I was really bad at it. The second lesson was that on PC mouse and keyboard is the only way to go with FPS games.
So what is different on a console. The controller seems to hold some key here. Controllers are important pieces of console history, consoles have been made and broken by the quality of their controller, well maybe not, but atari jaguar, i am looking at you here. The controller is great, you can slouch on the couch and control the whole thing, game developers have to be inventive to fit all they want to do onto a handful of buttons, which leads to some nice innovations that inform all aspects of user interface design. Is it simply down to that, we like to be comfy on our couch, floor, beanbag etc rather than sitting at a desk? The older attempts always had cables, is that the key? Imagine the usual console setup it's under the tv somewhere. Unless the supplied cables were really long that would mean that you would be sitting in the middle of the floor trying to use the mouse mat on the floor to get anywhere. Is lack of wireless technology the reason that the mouse went the way of the dodo on the SNES/PS1 etc?
For older 2D games and some 3D games, racing games come to mind, a controller is more than adequate, it's only real time strategy and FPS games that suffer from the want of a mouse and keyboard. The Xbox 360 has had a few, Middle earth, Command and conquer and is getting Supreme Commander, all of them use controller.
I wonder to myself if the PS3 got a good real time strategy game with mouse and keyboard control, what would happen? As much as it pains me to say I think it would bomb, which is a shame. I don't think the user base of the PS3 would buy it in significant numbers to prove me wrong. I would love to be saying here that a PS3 real time strategy game with mouse control will sell 3 or 4 million and force Microsoft to rethink, imagine if it did, we would see a mouse for the Xbox 360, with patches for Middle earth and C&C to use mouse so i can finally play them without becoming frustrated.
Maybe someone could point out to Microsoft that there is money to be made here. Package a gaming mouse, i am sure Microsoft already make such a mouse. All they would need to do is include an extra code in the circuitry that says to the console, here I am, I am an official Xbox 360 mouse, why you ask? So that we can't just pull out our PC mouse when we aren't using it. Simple really, Microsoft get more of our cash and also support mouse and keyboard for FPS and RTS games. I would buy it without a moments hesitation, why because I want to play the two games which I already own with comfort. Also I wouldn't mind trying FPS's with mouse and keyboard as well.
What happens when some hapless PC gamer buys an Xbox 360 and wanders innocently into a forum and wonders to the world, "wouldn't it be good if you could play Halo 3 with a mouse and keyboard?" I will tell you what happens the person gets 100 plus posts in return, all calling him every kind of derogatory name under the sun and besides that, is firmly told, that no thank you, the Xbox 360 community would not like mouse and keyboard support for Halo etc.
What is the reason for this? Have these people been the ones who played PS1 games with the mouse and shudder thinking back to the sore back they got playing cramped up on the floor at the end of the cable leash? Are they scared that they would not be able to play FPS's with mouse and keyboard and would look like newbies online? It is true that mouse and keyboard control does take a bit of learning, though I would say that controller FPS skills also take some learning for the uninitiated.
Let's try and see this from Microsoft's point of view. You would need to have mouse drivers that support every mouse out there, or at least 80 percent of them. The other alternative is to badge a current Microsoft mouse product for the Xbox 360 and only provide a driver for it and disbar any other mouse out there through the use of proprietary technology. That way makes money for Microsoft, the downside is internet backlash from all the people who feel that wireless adapters and hard drives should be off the shelf versions and much cheaper. Before all that though you would need to have a demand for a mouse in the first place. Microsoft must be torn, they see reviews of RTS's with "needs mouse and keyboard control" stamped all over it, and on the other hand they see the reaction to mouse control in FPS's which seems to be a firm no. RTS games are something that microsoft seems to want to encourage, lets look at the sales
Battle for middle earth 290,000
Command and Conquer 3 : Tiberium wars 480,000
(data from vgchartz)
Hmmm, Houston we have a problem! Now which came first the chicken or the egg, did the RTS sell poorly or did it sell poorly because people knew that playing it without a mouse was going to be an exercise in frustration.
Another topic here is the XFPS sniper, a gizmo that you can plug into the usb port of the Xbox 360 which maps a standard usb keyboard and mouse to the controller allowing you to play game with a mouse and keyboard, after a fashion, it isn't true mouse control you see, no matter how quickly you move the mouse the aiming still moves only as fast as the controller would move. It's passable, but somehow not the same. The fact that you can't buy one of these on your high street is testament I think to it's popularity.
Something occurs to me, couldn't game developers making a real time strategy game for the Xbox 360, just make their own. They could cobble together a mouse driver for their game, something that would only work whilst that game was running i.e. not at dashboard/guide level. Make it support a few big name mice and there you go, You can advertise that your game has mouse support, though only for x y and z mouse and get a little deal with the manufacturers of the mice for promoting sales of their product, win win all round. The only way that wouldn't work is if Microsoft has specifically stipulated that developers aren't allowed to do it. I mean I can't program very well, when I did my programming it was on an Amstrad CPC 464 and at college on 286 PC's, when basic, pascal and cobol were the languages of the moment, C was only on the distant horizon. All that aside I can't imagine that a mouse driver is that hard to write for people who make today's games. Secondly if Microsoft forbid it, what is the reason?
It seems that console gamers don't want mouse and keyboard control for FPS games, it's only gamers who migrated from the PC or have an Xbox360 as well as a PC that seem to want it. The real time strategy genre doesn't seem to be selling particularly well for anyone to get off their arse and do anything about it. It looks bleak for me getting my mouse to play C&C! You would think that all the PS3 users posturing about Unreal tournament 3 on PS3 supporting mouse and keyboard would provoke a response from Microsoft, after all who would it actually hurt to provide mouse support. Only a few want it, but making a few people happy is what it's all about, if you always aim at making everyone happy you end up making a generic summer blockbuster, and we all know that they have little substance, cater for the art house fringe that wants the odd stuff and you never know where it might lead!