Microsoft's E3 put a heavy emphasis on hardware rather than Sony's game-heavy approach, and one of the most interesting battles fought this week was the war for your hands.
The Xbox One S will launch alongside a redesigned controller with textured grips and Bluetooth support as well as Microsoft's expected proprietary software. This is a nice upgrade: The controller should feel a bit better in your hand and work on your existing hardware without the need for a hardware dongle. Adding Bluetooth made the controller much more versatile.
You can also create your own customized controllers with a variety of color options, and laser engrave your gamertag or any other 16 character message that doesn't trip Microsoft's profanity filter. Even if you don't want one, you can still play with the customization options and kind of think about ordering one of the first batch, which ships in September.
There's also the Elite controller, a $149.99 monstrosity that improves the original design in every way as long as you don't have kids who would eat it the first week. It's another controller that gives you options.
"Swap between a variety of metal thumbsticks and D-pads for personalized control and ergonomics," the official website states. "Discover configurations that can improve accuracy, speed, and reach with thumbsticks of different shapes and sizes. The Xbox Elite controller adapts to your hand size and play style. You’ll experience better control whether you play FPS, racing, fighting, or other genres. The new, faceted D-pad enables easier and more reliable combo execution, while the traditional D-pad provides precise control to change weapons or call in a strike."
Microsoft wants your controller to look and feel like your controller, and the company is hoping that people are willing to pay for that privilege. The $299.99 Xbox One S will come with a single controller, but getting one customized with your favorite colors and gamertag will cost you close to $90. Your custom controller won't impact your game, but it's pretty snazzy. People like to feel special.
And the Elite controller will absolutely positively impact your performance in many games, due to the use of the paddles on the back of the controller. A lot of the fit and finish improvements are nice, but being able to hit multiple buttons without taking your hands off the movement controls is a plus. You're paying your way to better performance, especially in online first-person shooters where every millisecond counts.
The console experience is being stratified, and so far Microsoft is leading the charge. Who knows what controller will ship with the Project Scorpio?
We're not all going to have the same experience while playing our console games anymore, and you can buy your way into better controllers on the Xbox One. The PlayStation 4, thus far, is sticking with a single controller, and you can argue that this means they did it right the first time. But Microsoft seems dedicated to introducing a premium console experience, for people who don't mind paying a little, or a lot, more to stand above their peers.