For most gamers it is no problem at all: you buy a console, take one or more controllers home and then enjoy them for years to come. However, there are also people for whom this is less self-evident. In fact, more than 1.2 billion people worldwide suffer from a disability. We are talking about people with a certain physical disability, but also, for example, people with a disability in the field of sight or hearing. For this group, playing games in an adequate manner is often accompanied by a search for devices that make this possible. This often involves specially made-to-measure objects, which is cumbersome and expensive. Somehow that makes sense. After all, it is difficult to come up with a device that someone with, for example, one hand can use just as much as someone without arms, or someone who is ‘just’ missing a few fingers. Still, Microsoft is making an effort. The company will release the Xbox Adaptive Controller in September, which will work with Xbox One consoles and PCs running Windows 7 or later. At E3 we were able to preview the controller, and to get straight to the point: we think this controller can significantly change the lives of many gamers with a disability.
The Adaptive Controller is an elongated object that most closely resembles a keyboard without keys. Instead, on the top of the controller you will find a d-pad, some menu buttons and two large, round buttons that compare well with the buttons that gamers with disabilities often use. What immediately stands out at the top is that the controller is made in the Xbox house style. The device looks stylish. That was an important point for Microsoft. The Adaptive Controller should be seen as a normal controller, not something weird. With this design, the company succeeds in this aim.
However, the added value of the Adaptive Controller is not at the top, but at the back. There you will find nineteen ports, each related to the various buttons of a standard Xbox One controller. Each port has a 3.5mm jack input that allows you to plug in any accessory with a mini-jack connection. Microsoft brought various buttons and other accessories to E3 to show how it works. It turns out to be as simple as it sounds. For example, put a big button in the hole that corresponds to the A button, and that big button is your A button. Do you prefer it on the left trigger or on the ‘arrow forward’ function? Then plug it in and you’re done.
Microsoft also demonstrated a variant where a foot-operated pedal was plugged into one of two “wild card” ports. These do not correspond to any of the standard buttons on the Xbox One controller, but can take on a variety of functions. The pedal was given the function of a shift button, while the employee played with a one-handed controller. He only had one stick and two buttons at his disposal. By holding the shift button with his foot, however, the buttons and the stick took on a different function, so that in total there were enough forms of input to at least play Minecraft smoothly.
It is a simple and effective system that offers seemingly endless possibilities. It actually has no limits. As long as you can connect an accessory, you can use it, and if you want you can use all nineteen ports. That may not be the most convenient way to use it, but it works. Also nice is that the controller works with Copilot. That is a function where the Xbox One connects two controllers together and sees their joint input as the input of one controller. So you could use a normal controller with one hand, and the other functions, which you miss because you don’t use half of the controller, somehow catch up with the Adaptive Controller.
The possibilities are therefore almost endless. The only questions are what you need and what it will cost. It looks like the damage will be minimal. The controller costs 100 dollars in the United States and 90 euros in Europe. Of course, the price of the accessories you want to use is also added, but as mentioned, the device supports many existing peripherals. That’s part of Microsoft’s strategy. The Adaptive Controller is not intended to cheat gamers with disabilities. In fact, Microsoft invites hardware makers to create objects that interact with the controller. Normally, if a hardware party such as Logitech makes something for the Xbox One, it has to pay a ‘licensing fee’ for it. However, if the same company now makes something for the Adaptive Controller, then no ‘fee’ is involved. If it’s up to Microsoft, even ‘rival’ Sony PlayStation will do something with the accessibilty-oriented device at some point. Xbox boss Phil Spencer announced in the first stage that as far as Microsoft is concerned, there is no competition when it comes to accessibility. So if PlayStation wants to learn from Microsoft and the new controller, Microsoft is open to it.
Can change lives
Not only will many gamers look forward to the release of the controller, Microsoft itself is also looking forward to September with some excitement. Only then will the manufacturer see how gamers with disabilities will use the controller, and whether the item is easy enough to set up for caregivers to arrange for their clients. It is also a matter of waiting for us, if only because it is of course difficult for us as gamers without motor disabilities to estimate how such a device can ultimately help someone with a disability. However, we are confident that the Xbox Adaptive Controller will succeed. In any case, the device is among the most interesting and potentially most ‘life-changing’ things we’ve ever seen at an E3.