Microsoft Touts Xbox Adaptive Controller at Games for Change Festival

NEW YORK — Microsoft used the Games for Change Festival June 29 to showcase its new Xbox Adaptive Controller, which makes playing games on the Xbox One video game console and Windows 10 PCs much easier for a wider range of players, including people with movement disorders such as cerebral palsy.

Inside the device, which was in development at Microsoft for a couple of years, is a standard Xbox controller, according to Chris Kujawski, Xbox senior industrial designer. But instead of featuring a standard set of control buttons, there’s a row of connections on the back of the unit where the user “can plug in any different combination of buttons,” he said during a panel discussion, adding the buttons can be customized to meet the specific needs of each player.

There are other ways to play Xbox games with limited mobility, but the Adaptive Controller — $99.99 at the online Microsoft Store — is a “much more affordable” option that makes it “more accessible to a broader audience,” he said.

Despite the fact that “we take a lot of pride in the design” of the standard Xbox controller and “all the work that went into it,” he said: “A couple of years ago, as the idea for the Adaptive Controller was growing, I kind of had a shift in my perception … and I realized that, although [the standard version] is a great controller for some people, it’s actually the thing that prevents some people from playing Xbox games.”

That’s because the standard Xbox controller was designed with “a lot of assumptions,” including that the person using it has “two hands to hold it, you can hold it for a long time, that you have very fine motor control with your fingers, that you have the dexterity to press the buttons quickly and in rapid sequence — and that’s not the case for everybody who wants to play Xbox games,” he explained.

Erin Hawley, a disabled digital content producer and creator/editor of The Geeky Gimp website, told attendees the new controller indeed makes it easier for her to play Xbox games.

During another Games for Change session, Entertainment Software Association President and CEO Mike Gallagher called the Xbox Adaptive Controller a “powerful statement from Microsoft” that it’s out to support the entire gaming community. There are 2.6 billion gamers globally and that number is growing, he noted, adding: “This is a worldwide, diverse population we’re seeking to entertain, and we have to embrace that in how we run our businesses and who we hire and how we treat them, and also [with] the gamers themselves, making sure that we’re being respectful of everyone and welcoming everyone into the experiences of interactive entertainment.”

While announcing the Adaptive Controller in May, Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, said at Microsoft’s Xbox website that the company has “been on a journey of inclusive design, which celebrates and draws inspiration from people who are often overlooked in the typical design process.”

Spencer added: “By taking an inclusive design approach and considerations of gamers who might not be able to reach all the bumpers and triggers or hold a controller for an extended period, for example, we were able to design a controller that provides a way for more fans to enjoy gaming…. The solutions that exist today are often expensive, hard to find, or require significant technical skill to create. A number of individuals and organizations are creating custom solutions, but it has been often difficult for them to scale when most rigs need to be so personalized.” The Xbox Adaptive Controller was developed in partnership with organizations including The Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Microsoft
“worked closely with them and directly with gamers who have limited mobility to assist in our development,” he said, noting the controller works with “common adaptive switches that gamers with limited mobility may already own” and it has two large buttons built in.