The vast majority of PlayStation and Xbox gamers play with first-party controllers made by Microsoft and Sony or officially-licensed versions from other providers. If you’re willing to tangle with the sometimes squirrely setup, though, you can get a mouse and keyboard connected by way of converters and play games with those. It’s a neat idea, and it surely makes some single-player games easier to play for some players. Jump into multiplayer gaming with that, though, and some might call it cheating. Now, Blizzard is calling for Microsoft and Sony to ban players using these devices according to Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan.
“We have contacted both first-party console manufacturers and expressed our concern about the use of mouse and keyboard and input conversion devices,” Kaplan wrote in a post to the Battle.net forums. “We have lobbied and will continue to lobby for first-party console manufacturers to either disallow mouse and keyboard and input conversion devices or openly and easily support mouse and keyboard for ALL players.”
Kaplan then encouraged Overwatch players to reach out to the two companies and express concerns “in a productive and respectful way.”
It’s like playing ball against Terminators
One crucial element to making competition fun is making sure that the victor is decided not by the equipment they bring to the field, but the skill, talent, and teamwork. Imagine showing up to a pick-up ballgame at the park only to find out that the other team was literally robots. They’re going to have fun (assuming robots can have fun, I guess), but you’re not. You’re going to get stomped.
In the same thread, there were claims that the majority of top-level Overwatch players on consoles use a keyboard and mouse via converters. It’s not exactly a far-fetched claim. Everyone is welcome to their preferences regarding controller type, but mouse and keyboard controls are objectively better than analog sticks for accuracy and speed in shooters. If some players are using them and others aren’t, they’re going to find themselves rising quickly up the ranks past people they might normally lose to.
So, is it cheating? Strictly speaking, no. The player is following the rules of the game and controlling the character themselves. It’s not like the aimbots and such we see people using on PC. But it does provide those players with an objective advantage over the other players, and it seems like something does need to be done.
As VG247 notes, PlayStation 4 supports mouse and keyboard use for many system functions, and developers can even make the mouse and keyboard work in their games (Overwatch is not one of those). While Sony doesn’t make a mouse or standalone keyboard for the PlayStation 4, accessory companies like HORI offer up officially-licensed options like the TAC Pro, shown below. You can also just plug in a mouse and keyboard directly. In the rare game that supports them, they should just work.
The Xbox One, on the other hand, doesn’t have any built-in mouse support. Keyboards can be plugged in for code input, but not used in gameplay. Microsoft has talked before about bringing support for mice and keyboards to Xbox One – as recently as the last couple weeks. And then there’s the Xbox Play Anywhere program, which has players owning games on both Xbox and PC and, in the case of games like Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4, even playing across platforms. Microsoft is actively trying to unify Windows 10 and Xbox One gaming into one single, amorphous and indistinguishable mass.
Whether we’re talking about Microsoft or Sony here, it seems unlikely that either company is going to lock out the hardware completely.
So, what are the options?
As Kaplan suggests, making mouse and keyboard support as universal as it is on PC would be one potential step. Most people have access to mice and keyboard, and while it would still be a balance issue, it wouldn’t require people to spend $150 on a hardware converter.
If Microsoft and Sony can detect when these converters are plugged in, they could also allow Blizzard to block those players from playing while those devices are plugged in. As it is currently, though, neither Blizzard nor any other company has that option right now.
And, if they can detect those converters and decide to allow mouse and keyboard support universally, Blizzard could then split the console playerbase into those using controllers and those using mice and keyboards.
There’s the argument to be made that the players using these converters aren’t doing it to cheat and win, but more because the console is what they have access to play on or don’t want to tinker with getting a gaming PC up and running. Those players should be able to play how they want. But there are surely some who choose that method because they like winning. Victory is victory regardless of the means or the rules broken. It’s only cheating if the system doesn’t allow it. There’s no way to differentiate between the intent of those two groups, though, and the end effect on players who use regular old controllers is identical.
If the two companies can’t detect these devices, then opening up mouse and keyboard support is likely the only real solution, and it might be the only long-term solution, as gamers aren’t known for giving up easily when locked out of one door. They’ll just find another way in. Instead of trying to pretend like these mouse-and-keyboard players aren’t there, giving them their own playground to play in would help to mitigate the problem plaguing so many players.
Overwatch can’t be the only place where this is happening, but it’s one of the most popular games across the three biggest platforms right now, and it’s popular on all three – it’s likely going to be the most prevalent. Blizzard (and Overwatch Director Jeff Kaplan) in particular is more transparent than many other developers in talking about the problems the community is experiencing and their plans to tackle them, too.
I’d like to see Blizzard, Sony, and Microsoft find some common ground on this so that players can have fun, and, heck, maybe Blizzard can be one of the first big companies to bring cross-platform competitive play to consoles if things open up.