Out of every single video game purchase I’ve ever made in my life, across games, consoles and accessories, I don’t think I’ve made a more sensible purchase than Microsoft’s Xbox Elite controller.
First released in 2015, it was—and remains, even with a successor on the way!—expensive as hell. As Phil Spencer said at the time, it was “an elite controller for the elite gamer”. Back then, based on just Microsoft’s original pitch, I saw the price and got ready to ignore the entire project, saw the customisation options I would never use and figured the controller to be a luxury, and figured the whole idea was just something for rich kids and people who are sponsored to sit in Gamer Chairs.
It was being sold as an indulgence, targeted at a niche, implied it was something fancy, something optional. It was wrong, though, to think of the Elite controller in those terms. It was more like a good pair of boots. You wouldn’t think twice about spending £150 on a pair of well-made winter boots if you walked miles in them every day, and as someone who plays a lot of video games that’s how I’ve come to view my investment in an Elite controller.
I know £150 is a lot of money to pay for a video game controller, but the Elite’s greatest quality isn’t its extra thumbsticks and paddles, its...well, the quality. From the materials used to the premium feel to the heft of the controller in your hands, when you’re using an Elite you feel like you’re using something durable, a pad built to last.
If this is starting to sound like a review of the controller, sorry (we did that already!) I’m just bringing up everything I love about the Elite so that I can use it as context to make a polite request that Sony and Nintendo follow suit.
Sony at least has seen promise in the premise, but has yet to fully commit to it. Instead, they’ve been content to dip their toes in the water, partnering with third parties to release a number of Elite-ish controllers that, while being fine, haven’t been able to match Microsoft’s first-party offering. Plus there’s the fact they’re not first-party, which (no offence to those involved in making them!) means they’re just not the same.
Nintendo is also kind of onboard, as its Pro Controller is a more serious Switch offering that is very well-made (it’s probably the most solid standard pad in recent history), even if it’s nowhere near the Elite’s level of quality or customisation.
But I don’t want dabbling. I want full-blown premium pads here. The pitch here isn’t hard. Imagine a DualShock 4 or a Switch Pro Controller. Or, hell, even Joy-Cons. Then imagine them having the Elite’s fancy-yet-rugged qualities. Smash tournaments would never be the same, and I might actually be able to enjoy shooters on a PlayStation console more if I could use longer thumbsticks.
I get the reasons (or potential reasons) why Sony and Nintendo haven’t followed Microsoft into this market. Even standard controllers are expensive, so costlier ones would be destined for a minority of purchasers. It’s also one more item for shipping and retail inventories, one more thing to have to research and build, one more thing to occupy PR teams with.
But with the Xbox Elite controller having done well enough to warrant a sequel, I think the benefits are there to be seen—at least in the case of an elite DualShock 4—and that goes double when you consider that other major gaming platform, the PC.
The Xbox Elite controller would have gone down in history as a nice but prohibitively expensive pad for the Xbox One had it not been for the fact that, like the standard Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers before it, it found a home on the PC as well. As PC gaming continues to grow, from the smallest action inside to the biggest AAA ports, Microsoft’s rivals would do well to remember (and to Sony’s credit, with the DualShock 4's compatibility with Windows they’re partly aware) that there’s a whole other market out there for their controllers beyond home consoles.
I know this isn’t a pressing issue. There are far more important things we could and should be asking to be addressed in this industry before companies get around to producing luxury control pads. But hey, just because it’s not the #1 issue doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to dream. Sometimes it’s nice to have nice things, and these would be very nice things!