Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft Story Labs has a great piece by in-house writer Deborah Bach about the development of the Adaptive Controller. It’s great storytelling through and through; chock full of touching stories, business cases, and design implementation all the way down to the packaging.

Here’s the opening story:

Dan Bertholomey awoke in a hospital in June of 2010, four days after a hit-and-run driver almost killed him while he was riding his motorcycle, to the sinking knowledge that he’d lost the use of his right arm and hand.

As he lay in his hospital bed, Bertholomey pondered his future. He thought about his daily life and the things he loved to do. How am I going to game again, he wondered? He’d been an avid gamer since age 10, when an original Pong console from Sears magically transformed his family’s television set into an electronic playground that he could control. Bertholomey was instantly hooked. He loved the competitiveness of gaming, loved the places it took his imagination.

Bertholomey continued gaming into adulthood, playing often with his son and daughter. In 2005, when he was 40, Bertholomey placed sixth on “Madden Nation,” a televised competition of the U.S.’s best “Madden NFL 06” football video game players. For him, gaming wasn’t just a hobby, something he did in his spare time. It was a lifestyle.

“You can’t fathom losing something that you love so much, said Bertholomey, 52, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. It’s incredibly devastating.”

Bertholomey began looking for ways to play with one hand. He found someone to hack him a foot pedal that connected to his Xbox, but it didn’t work well for him. He eventually taught himself to play with his left hand, but it was awkward and he couldn’t play at anywhere near his previous capacity.

The solution Bertholomey needed is now a reality — and it has the potential to make gaming accessible to players with disabilities worldwide. The new Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will be available later this year, can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving gamers with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. The most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company, the device can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games and supports Xbox Wireless Controller features such as button remapping.

Bertholomey, who is among a select group of gamers who have been testing the device, said the controller makes it easy to create different setups for various types of games and seamlessly switch between them. Gamers can set up three different gaming profiles on the controller and don’t need to reset the device every time they change games, as they sometimes do with modified controllers.

This controller is really something else. There should have been steps taken to get to this point a long time ago, but this is wonderful, nonetheless.

I’ve recently wondered how to make games more accessible. The thought (rather shamefully) finally occurred to me while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch in handheld mode. I have perfect eyesight, but the text was just small enough to be uncomfortable to read. Seeing as the game was originally intended for a TV experience on Wii U, it’s not terribly surprising that the experience wasn’t tailored for the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen. However, with the success of the Switch and Breath of the Wild, it’s surprising Nintendo hasn’t patched the text size while in handheld mode.

More recently, I’ve been playing God of War on a 720p TV. Golly, is the text tough to read.

Software accessibility is difficult, let alone manufacturing a piece of hardware for a niche audience. But it’s a niche audience that must to be considered. Where many companies seemingly glance over serving mental and physical handicaps, it’s wonderful to see Microsoft doing the right thing by enabling play for as many people as possible.

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