May 20, 2018 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Microsoft announces Xbox Adaptive Controller for players with disabilities [The Verge] “Microsoft has announced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, an Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities. The device was leaked earlier this week. It has two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.” [YouTube][How It Works]

• How gamers with disabilities shaped the Microsoft Adaptive Controller [Eurogamer]
“This has been a long time coming. The video game industry is only just beginning to understand its responsibilities to gamers who don't fit into the able-bodied metric that we sometimes take for granted. This is, after all, a commercial industry and that can mean a massive focus on the supplying the majority. But with two billion people now playing video games, and one billion people in the world living with some kind of disability, the ramifications of non-inclusive design are becoming more pressing. What Microsoft has shown is that inclusive design from the outset can have life-changing results, especially if it is guided by genuine consultation with those affected. "The disabled community has a saying," points out Evelyn Thomas. "Nothing about us without us." Solomon Romney, the 80s arcade brat, who felt left behind by gaming puts it more prosaically. During a demo event for the controller, he's spent the last twenty minutes telling his story, but finally he goes quiet for a few moments and shrugs. "As a gamer with a disability, this thing felt like a love letter to me," he says.”
posted by Fizz (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Fizz at 9:52 AM on May 20, 2018


The thing that both surprised me... and then when I thought about it, didn't... was the use of the 3.5mm jack for the additional devices. Eventually I need to make a post about the jack itself and the many times that it's been used in an unexpected manner.
posted by isauteikisa at 10:02 AM on May 20, 2018 [11 favorites]

My initial reaction was surprise that the device was "just" a d-pad and two huge buttons, but reading about the way that the 3.5mm jacks enable hooking up a huge variety of different single-action inputs to any arbitrary controller action was eye-opening. And the fact that this is about 1/3 the price of the alternatives on the market, even at what seems like a fairly steep price of over $100.

I'm also kind of impressed that Microsoft's solution to this problem is something that actually enables a healthy third-party controller ecosystem rather than trying to replace what already exists with a proprietary solution.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:08 AM on May 20, 2018 [11 favorites]

Thanks for sharing that Ars Technica article isauteikisa, it's much more nuanced in explaining the build/research process. Definitely worth reading through. Also, this bit made me smile, and it sounds heartfelt.
“Strangely, nobody talked at the event about one use case this device enables: more assistive hardware use on computers in general. It's a slam-dunk device on most Windows machines, while Bluetooth opens up possibilities on pretty much any other operating system—Linux, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The existing Xbox Accessories app lets users pre-load three custom button remapping settings into the device, which can be swapped by tapping one of the menu buttons. Unfortunately, these are currently limited to Xbox button commands—meaning, you can't tell the XAC to treat its "Y" button port as a space bar. (On Windows, you can use an app like ReWASD to open this possibility up, at least.)

For now, the company line is about accessibility and gaming—and not about being the industry's leader in the sector.

"I will never turn this into a Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft [competitive] thing," head of Xbox Phil Spencer said at the event. "Anybody, literally anybody who wants to learn from the work we’ve done here—or even try to do more than that with the work we’ve done here—I’m completely open to that. it doesn’t have to have an Xbox logo on it. Let's just allow more people to play."”
posted by Fizz at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2018 [13 favorites]

It seems an incredible piece of tech, but even as a abled person who at worst has to deal with guitar-finger and wrist soreness, there are games that I find very difficult to play because they require lightening fast response and coordination on 4 or 5 (or even 6) fingers at once, or for some reason don't allow key bindings and have to go against instinct to play them. If MS starts pushing developers to take accessibility and this device into account, it could be a a literal game-changer, even more if they do keep it as open and as simple as possible to develop hardware for.

What is truly shocking is that between all the bullshit peripherals during the NES era through all the modern plastic instruments and super expensive GT wheels, no leading manufacturer ever said "let's make this easier for people with disabilities" until now.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:21 AM on May 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I KNOW! MICROSOFT being forward thinking and disabled friendly, RIGHT? Wouldathunkit!

(Seriously, yay, Microsoft on THIS topic.)
posted by Samizdata at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

this is so good and i want one for playstation immediately thank u
posted by poffin boffin at 11:07 AM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Unfortunately, these are currently limited to Xbox button commands—meaning, you can't tell the XAC to treat its "Y" button port as a space bar."

There's an app on Mac called ControllerMate that can remap just about any button or control to any other input action. It's good for automation and setting up really custom keyboard shortcuts, too.
posted by Quackles at 11:33 AM on May 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Likewise, there's JoyToKey for Windows machines. The old Sidewinder control panel allowed to create profiles with key binding and even macros, so this is something that could be addressed in the future, particularly if MS releases a SDK.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

As someone who works for an open-source assistive tech not-for-profit, this is a BFD. The price point is amazing: it's selling for only a little more than single-function buttons do, and all they are is a single microswitch (admittedly, quite a nice Honeywell one) in a big injection-molded ABS case. The fact it can take so many inputs, and uses the 3½ mm jack that everyone else does is just the best.

The expected use cases are well and good: it's the unexpected ones that will be mindblowing. As I'm learning with assistive tech, each person's utilization of what's available is frequently well outside what any designer could consider. Hobby electronics like Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Makey-Makey feature heavily in assistive tech, and 3D printing is just becoming a thing to augment the old stand-bys of cold-forming resins, cut-open tennis balls and (yup) duct tape.

As with the curb-cut effect (where an assistive technology benefits many more than its intended audience), this controller opens new interaction possibilities for all users. It's not often I say this, but: Well done, Microsoft!
posted by scruss at 3:35 PM on May 20, 2018 [10 favorites]

This is fantastic. Now, if only there was something on the Xbox for people to actually play! ;-)
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:50 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a pretty significant disability and, for decades, I've played PC games with a headmouse and an on-screen keyboard. I can't play games that require quick reflexes, but most strategy/RPG/adventure games are accessible to me. It's so exciting to see a major corporation recognize that people with disabilities can enjoy gaming if they are provided with flexible hardware and software. I hope that other companies take note and make a concerted effort to be more inclusive of gamers with disabilities.

I also hope that game designers give more thought to how to make games more accessible to everyone. I've already seen great strides in this area (Blizzard and Electronic Arts really understand accessibility), but there's always room for improvement.
posted by wintermute2_0 at 6:08 PM on May 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

I am really hoping that this sells well enough to start a cascade of interest in creating thoughtfully designed accessible controller options.
posted by Samizdata at 6:46 PM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

With all the jacks in back it reminds me of a MIDI/trigger pad like the Beatstep Pro or something. Maybe you could even use it as one.
posted by neckro23 at 8:11 PM on May 20, 2018

Yeah, my first thought was that this is going to be a device that Microsoft can rebrand and sell for years for PCs, in the same way that their ergonomic keyboard has been a nice little earner for them, getting a visual refresh every few years. There's lots of nice design touches on here that I love: the core concept of 'big couple of buttons and then jacks for every button on the controller', the little grooves above the plugs, the way the controller is mountable.
posted by Merus at 12:27 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's 2018 and Microsoft is open and Google thinks evil is no longer unacceptable.
posted by srboisvert at 4:58 AM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's 2018 and Microsoft is open and Google thinks evil is no longer unacceptable.

And yet there's still so much progress that needs to be made. This happened.

PlayStation Twitter Account Appears to Make Fun of Xbox Adaptive Controller [Game Rant]
“Since its announcement, the Xbox Adaptive Controller seems to have gotten a great deal of praise, as it will allow people who struggle to play video games better enjoy the medium. However, it seems as though the official PlayStation Middle East Twitter account has actually criticized the controller’s design in a tweet that appears to have been deleted.

In a screenshot captured by Twitter user amiR151, PlayStation Middle East responds to a picture of the unannounced Xbox Adaptive Controller, in a tweet that apparently translates to, “Add a little salt and pepper and place the food on the new controller for 10 minutes.” We were unable to verify with complete certainty if that is in fact what the tweet said, however.”
I'm hoping its a misunderstanding and not someone being grossly insensitive. But it is 2018 and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a bad joke.
posted by Fizz at 3:16 PM on May 21, 2018

It does kind of look like a stove. I think that's not a particularly cruel joke as these things go.
posted by RobotHero at 2:53 PM on May 23, 2018

Though now it's got me thinking about the aesthetics that often differentiate "helpful appliance" from "gamerz gaming" like to meet Playstation approval it should have some angular parts and speed ridges?
posted by RobotHero at 9:11 AM on May 24, 2018

A plain rectangle can be acceptable, but only if you cover every available surface with RBG LEDs.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:31 AM on May 24, 2018

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