By no means do I consider myself an expert in MMO games, more of a recently converted aficionado. Since taking up this hobby, I’ve become feverishly obsessed with hardware peripherals designed to make the lives of MMO gamers easier or better. I recently had the opportunity to play with the Steelseries World of Warcraft Cataclysm MMO Gaming Mouse and thought I would write up some insights about it.
To begin, the first impression this thing makes is its size. There is no way around it: this is a large mouse. Initially I was a little worried about how viable that would be, but I think the large size actually added a sense of stability, comfort and relaxation because my hand fell into a more open position while holding it.
The button layout is thoughtful, but some of the buttons are more convenient than others, especially when in combat. For combat situations, the buttons aligned with the thumb were the only ones that I found reliably accessible enough to depend on their accuracy. I was worried about the button that sits under the pinky, because it seemed like something that I might accidentally hit if I gripped too tightly. That concern turned out to be unfounded, as in practice the button needed a little push before it actuated. The other buttons have a really nice feel to them. There’s a little play with how they sit on the device, so I could feel my way around them and figure out where each one was in relation to the others without having to look at the device. When I wanted to activate them, they required just the right amount of pressure. I never felt like I was smashing the buttons down or dropping actions because of missed button presses.
The design of the device itself is really nice as well. My preferences run towards more tasteful and unbranded devices without a lot of production art. I really appreciate that they designed it with a layer of abstraction which makes it a little more functional. By that I mean that the design of the device makes it look like something you could find within the game world, indicating a piece of armor or a shield. The more tasteless route would have been to put a picture of Deathwing on it and call it a day. Instead, I have what looks like an artifact from Azeroth sitting on my desk pulsing mysterious golden light. It’s not great if you’re trying to make it as a low profile gamer, but it makes a nice piece of desk ornamentation that’s not just a nerdy poster of your favorite WoW character.
I tried out the software for the mouse on both the Windows and Macintosh platform. Steelseries has done a truly stellar job both with the software outside of the game, and with the integration of the mouse within the World of Warcraft client software itself. They made the decision to forego depth for simplicity, and along the way added some really nice touches to make the hardware more accessible to people who don’t want to spend a ton of time messing around with settings.
Outside of the game client, the software interface for the mouse presented me with multiple views of the device so I could see all the buttons, and a tray on the side that contains any commands found in the game. To re program the buttons, it was as easy as dragging and dropping the command I wanted to the button I wanted. There are slots for adding custom out of game macros, but I feel a little leery using out of game macros on any device. It’s a practice that seems to verge a little too much on having a piece of hardware play a game for you. It also felt like that feature was included as a concession for people who want to go deeper. The manual explaining how to record the macros is a little difficult to parse, and includes a big scary warning message about how game publishers might frown on using them. The touches of being able to add my in game character’s picture to each profile and change the color of the lighting depending on which profile is active are really nice, cosmetic, and serve a practical purpose as well. I do think it’s a shame that in order to change profiles while in game I had to dedicate one of the buttons to “next profile”, but since some of the buttons are kind of out of the way it’s not a huge deal. The pinky finger button I mentioned before seemed like the best candidate for this.
I also toggled the mouse in the software to work in game. The software blocked me from setting my own programming in the software at that point, but the bindings I had set still seemed to hold. Once inside of WoW, I had to flip a switch to get the game to look for the mouse.Once that was done I could very easily bind buttons to commands through the in-game key bindings window. This is really slick and simple and seems like a really good option for people who might play on different machines because I believe key bindings are stored on the server.
I was a bit concerned about the viability of the mouse for use in games other than World of Warcraft. The tightness of the integration seemed like it could potentially be a barrier to using the mouse in other games, but with some work I found that not to be the case. When programming the interface in the Steelseries software, it just takes a little reverse engineering to figure out which commands map to which buttons on the keyboard. A lot of buttons are the same across MMOs in any case, so buttons like using the letter ‘m’ for the map works just about anywhere. I tried the mouse out in Guild Wars for a while and was able to make do, and in cases where I couldn’t remember the command in WoW I just created a simple macro in the mouse software to fill the gap.
While I was researching this article, it occurred to me that the manufacturers of these high end gaming peripherals serve two audiences: the professional gamer and the demanding enthusiast. The devices for the computer gaming professional are light on flashy features but have specific performance and build quality features, while the enthusiast devices seem a little more focused on making the lives of gamers easier. For example, programmable macro buttons might not fly in a tournament but save MMO gamers from repetitive strain injuries. This device and other devices on the market fall into the latter category, but borrow features from the pro devices. As I said before, my personal tastes run away from heavily branded devices but I really appreciate the higher end features that get included in these devices. I’d be really interested in a similar device without all the WoW branding, but in terms of performance, build quality and software integration I think they have a very clear idea for this device and they have executed on that idea impeccably.