Fortnite is slated to get keyboard and mouse support on Xbox. (Credit: Epic Games)

It's no secret that the 2013 launch of Microsoft's Xbox One game console didn't go over well. For example, in this new vision of the platform, spearheaded by former company executive Don Mattrick, the Xbox One would come with an accessory called the Kinect -- a camera that was always on and could not be detached, which bumped up the price of the console by $100.

There were also unprecedented restrictions on selling and trading used games, and a requirement to purchase an Xbox Live Gold subscription to stream Netflix and other services. Pretty much all of these puzzling and unpopular decisions were eventually reversed, but the damage was done, and it arguably spurred the rival Sony PlayStation 4 to an early lead just by continuing to do business as usual with used games, subscriptions, and accessories.

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Microsoft has been catching up ever since, because Sony not only had better messaging at the beginning of its launch, but then followed up with a steady stream of high-quality games that were only available on the PlayStation 4. Microsoft now no longer publicizes how many Xbox Ones it sells, but they are generally believed to be at 2:1 disadvantage or more.

But Microsoft has a plan. Under the new leadership of Microsoft veteran Phil Spencer -- who reports directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella -- the Xbox division has been bending over backwards to win gamers back, and its latest project is to bring mouse and keyboard support to Xbox games, starting this week.

There's already the Xbox Game Pass, which gives you a Netflix-like library of about 100 games that you can download and play for $10 a month; and Xbox All Access, where you pay for a console in monthly installments of $22 or $35 a month (the higher price is for the much beefier Xbox One X) and get 24 months of Game Pass and Live Gold.

However, these kinds of initiatives take a long time to set up, whereas the Xbox One is basically a Windows 10 machine. So it should be able to recognize a mouse and keyboard with much less effort on Microsoft's part.

This new input option was announced in late September, and Xbox director Jason Ronald said at the time, "At Xbox, we're committed to bringing gamers more choice in what they play, who they play with and how they play. We're also equally committed to providing developers with the best platform to create and deliver the best gaming experience on Xbox."

It was an idea pitched at both gamers and game developers, the latter of whom have favored the PlayStation 4 in a sort of positive feedback loop where Sony's console gets traction because more people are buying it, which makes more developers interested, which produces more games on the platform, which motivates more buyers and developers to join the platform.

Microsoft makes clear, however, that Xbox developers are not at all required to implement this feature, and they're free to decide how it behaves. It's simply an option. For example, in the case of Fortnite (Android, iOS), players with keyboards and mice will be kept separate from people who are using gamepads (and the game will presumably have checks to prevent people from switching after they've joined a match).

GameSpot has the full list of games whose makers have announced support for keyboards and mice on Xbox.

If you've played a first-person shooter with a mouse and keyboard before, you know the advantages it can confer. A mouse lets you control your view with greater speed and tighter accuracy, and a keyboard gives you many times more buttons to perform a wider range of actions. But not all keyboards and mice are created equal.

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Vermintide 2 is also getting the "KB M" treatment on Xbox. (Credit: Games Workshop/Fatshark)

So what kind of keyboard should you use?

For this new program, Microsoft has partnered with Razer with a set of peripherals branded as "Designed for Xbox," with an Xbox key replacing the Windows key, plus support for RGB lighting effects. However, Razer doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to build quality, either in the gaming community or among hardware journalists.

For example, to make a backlight shine through a keyboard key, Razer paints a translucent key black. Over time, this paint can fleck and chip off, causing the key illumination to become overly bright and distracting. Razer keys themselves are also made of relatively thin ABS plastic which can cause them to rattle when tapped on. Lastly, Razer uses non-standard key sizes that can make busted keys difficult to replace with third-party options.

However, Razer has the production capacity to scale to the Xbox user base, and some of the complaints about its build quality may be due to the sheer volume of units that they sell. If a million people people buy your product and only 1 percent of the purchases are sent back to the store, that's still 10,000 rejected products, which can be more than enough to generate an unfavorable news headline.

Razer's cited design decisions are also par for the course; Corsair, Logitech, and other major brands have walked this same path over the years. If you're looking for a high-quality mechanical keyboard, you may actually have to go digging, because the truly durable choices don't have the advertising budgets of the big guys.

Brands like Ducky, Leopold, Filco, Cherry, and Vortex hardly resonate in America, but they arguably make the best types of keyboards you'll find. You may be able to hunt these down on Amazon or at a savvy electronics store like Microcenter, or a dedicated website like MechanicalKeyboards.com. These choices will cost more on average, but they tend to last longer and have more replacement parts and modification options.

As a rule, these brands use standard key sizes, thicker keys, and often "doubleshot" keys where there are two different pieces of plastic layered in. Here, the inner layer can be translucent to enable backlighting. With doubleshots, you'll never encounter paint chipping, because the keys are dyed rather than painted.

At the top of the food chain is doubleshot PBT, because the standard ABS keycaps will develop something known as "shine," which is a sort of cumulative polishing effect that can make the key look greasy even when there's no oil present.

PBT retains its texture, as evidenced by the IBM keyboards from the 1980s which you'll still see floating around on eBay. (Note: If you're interested in buying one of these tanks, be aware that they may not operate with a modern PC, or they may require special adapter cables to work. They're also quite noisy.) But because of its added cost, you'll rarely find PBT keys pre-installed on a keyboard available at retail.

As for mice, Razer's generally fare better than its keyboards, though we would also definitely look at Logitech, Corsair, and Steelseries. Either way, you don't need to spend a ton of money to make a good selection. Any of these brands in the $50 to $75 range should be fine for most gamers.

This Ducky keyboard gets fancy lighting and a design that should last. (Credit: Ducky)

Takeaways

  • Microsoft's initiative to make keyboards and mice work with Xbox games is starting this week, and the list of compatible titles includes Fortnite.
  • However, its official partner Razer may not be the best choice, at least if you are shopping for a mechanical keyboard. You may also want to look at Ducky, Leopold, Filco, and Vortex, among others, on Amazon or at MechanicalKeyboards.com.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.