PAX West 2018: Insights form the Xbox Adaptive Controller Panel

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By Elvis Walden:

Convention panels are the meat of conventions like PAX West, they bring people together and highlight important issues within the community. This PAX West  I had the opportunity to attend the panel for the brand new Xbox Adaptive Controller, a gaming controller made to meet the needs of limited mobility gamers in order to make gaming more inclusive and accessible.

The panelists for this event were Craigums (Program Director, AbleGamers Charity), Dave ‘Robo ‘Crouse (Director of Veteran Services, Stack Up), Cherryrae (Accessibility Advocate, Independent Streamer), the_3 (PhD Candidate, University of Washington), and Bryce J. (Inclusive Lead, Microsoft), moderated by Major Nelson (Major Nelson, Xbox). These panelists all had a hand in regards to the design and build of this controller. Each panelist has their own unique disabilities, capabilities, and insights that led to the final product. Every inch of this controller was designed in mind of someone with accessibility issues. When I say everything, that’s also including the packaging.

Bryce is the main designer and lead build for the controller. Throughout the entire panel, he did what he could to not tear up. His eyes were misty from the pride he felt, listening to the feedback he was receiving not only from the other panelist but the crowd itself.

The controller itself has 18 ports, mostly 3.5mm jacks. Every jack is easily labeled on top and from the back so you can’t miss it. They also designed the jacks so that it’s easy for someone with an accessibility issue to plug it in themselves. They’re designed to be guided in and easily snap in place. Every last inch of detail in this design was worked and reworked time and time again in order to make sure that it is the most easily accessible tool for anybody to use. The ability to connect joysticks, buttons, mounts, and more allow the controller to be customized to each user’s unique needs. 

The panelist went down the line one by one describing how they helped with the design, the build, the testing, and the tooling of it. While the hardware is impressive, the software is as well, although it had initially been overlooked. The controller itself can be mapped in any game so that the game developers don’t have to actually build out a special button mapping for this controller, allowing it to be usable across games. Because of this, the Xbox One and Windows 10 will not read this as any different than a standard Xbox controller. CherryRae also mentioned that during her testing phase she was able to get a look at the software in the Xbox itself to allow standard Xbox controllers and the Xbox Adaptive Controllers to work simultaneously together, co-piloting.

All in all, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is here to even the playing field. The cost itself is only $99.99. The ease of accessibility for anyone with varying accessibility issues is amazing. The design was a labor of love, not profit. The biggest kicker of all is that the Xbox Adaptive Controller will work on any console as long as the console developer is willing to allow it – we’re looking at you Sony. Xbox/Microsoft’s goal of an inclusive community means that will never keep accessibility from anyone and are prioritizing the ability to play over exclusivity.

I was moved by the amount of love in the room, from the audience and the panelist.  And I left the panel with my respect for Microsoft and Xbox increasing tenfold.