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Microsoft Should Stick with Hardware… Just Not Consoles

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By Nelson Schneider - 08/20/17 at 03:49 PM CT

In recent years, I’ve had ample opportunities to field test Microsoft gaming hardware… and I really like it! This praise may come as a surprise in light of my constant exhortations that Xbox is a plague upon console gaming and should never have existed in the first place. However, my view on the Xbox itself has not changed in the slightest. I do, however, love Xbox peripherals.

One simple truth that has held for nearly the entire duration that videogaming has existed as a form of entertainment and a hobby is the fact that buying third-party peripherals is not a particularly good idea. Companies like Mad Catz and Nyko have been around seemingly forever, peddling their shoddy, cheap knock-off controllers, memory cards, etc. and leaving gamers with malfunctioning piles of junk. While it is true that some third-party companies, like Hori, manufacture some acceptable-quality specialty controllers – things like Fighting sticks or Racing wheels – unless you’re buying something weird, you’re better off buying your peripherals from Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft themselves.

There was a brief window in time during the Golden Age of the ‘90s, however, when one company bucked this trend: ASCII. ASCII Entertainment was the American satellite of the Japanese ASCII Corporation. Before branching off into software development with AGETEC in 1998 and going defunct in 2008, ASCII produced some of the finest third-party videogame peripherals in history. Their ASCII-pads were phenomenal in their quality – which was just as good as their first-party competition – as well as their added features, like turbo-fire and auto-fire switches for every button. I owned ASCII-pads for both my SNES and original PlayStation. Unfortunately, my mother stepped on my SNES ASCII-pad and broke it – I was never able to find a replacement – and I never once saw an ASCII-pad V3 with the DualShock form-factor in the wild (I didn’t even know it existed until writing this article!).

Having switched almost exclusively to gaming on my custom Steambox since 2012, I’ve been exposed to more third-party peripherals than I have seen since ASCII dissolved. As an “open” platform, no single first-party “owns” PC. Yes, Microsoft does loom large in the running for ownership of the platform, but they don’t make all PCs. Valve, the company behind Steam, and CD Projekt, the company behind GOG, could be said to hold just as much potential for “owning” PC gaming, since their platforms supply almost all of the actual games and licenses to PC gamers. And when it comes down to it, Valve, with the Steam controller, and Microsoft, with their variety of PC-compatible Xbox peripherals are the only parties standing between PC gamers and the unthinkable fate of being forced to type our games to death.

There are lots and lots of shady Chinese companies pushing PC peripherals. Out of all of them, MayFlash is about the only one with any quality in their products. The rest of the competition in the PC peripheral space is either shoddy, overpriced or both. Likewise, many of these oddball peripheral companies sell situational things, like adapters for old console hardware instead of new, quality, standard devices for the modern PC gamer.

Then there’s Microsoft. The XBONE controller and its Elite version are fantastic on PC. The XBONE chatpad and variety of first-party headsets are fantastic on PC. Microsoft’s line of “touch” mice are fantastic on PC. Are you seeing a pattern, here? Not only does Microsoft publish the world’s most popular operating system in Windows, they actually are capable of making some damned fine devices that allow people to interact with it.

Instead of continuing to waste time, money, and energy in the bottomless pit of Xbox consoles, Microsoft really needs to double-down on creating excellent PC peripherals for gamers. We know MS is incapable of making a good gaming storefront on PC, as we’ve seen from the atrocious Windows Store. First-hand evidence doesn’t lie, and from what we’ve seen since Xbox became a thing, it’s a thing best enjoyed via USB ports and Windows.

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