Microsoft’s Stride Towards Accessibility and Inclusivity in Gaming

According to numerous articles over the course of this past year, the game and eSports industry is bigger than the movie and music industries, combined. Video games are only growing in popularity as a modern entertainment pastime.

This year, in 2020, the “Console Wars” are in full force as both Sony and Microsoft are less than a month away from releasing their next-generation Playstation and Xbox consoles, respectively, to the public. These next-gen consoles bring a host of significant changes, such as higher visual fidelity through improved graphics and enhanced lighting techniques like ray-tracing, as well as SSD storage with near-instantaneous load times.

But as games have increased in mechanical complexity over the years, it has become harder and harder for players with limited mobility to keep up with these developments. Thanks to Microsoft, however, next-gen consoles and their games can be accessible to a broader audience of players than ever before, namely through the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

Released on September 4th of 2018, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is the first adaptive controller designed for people with limited mobility that is being mass-manufactured by a leading tech organization.

Photo: Xbox Adaptive Controller

How Does the Adaptive Controller Work?
The controller features two large domed face buttons, a large D-pad, and some general system buttons. While this may not seem like very much for a modern controller (this is basically the same number of buttons as on the original NES controller), this is where the “adaptive” part of the controller comes into play. Along its sides, the controller features a series of USB-ports and 3.5 mm jacks that are capable of connecting to a host of external hardware peripherals: analog sticks, additional buttons, pedals, and even microphones. On the software side of things, the Adaptive Controller’s numerous inputs can be button-mapped however the player chooses, meaning that the player is able to decide the control configuration that works best for their personal movement needs.

Are Other Controller Options Available for Players with Disabilities?
What makes Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller so significant is that other controllers of this nature do not seem to exist. The lack of effort from other major video game hardware developers to provide these resources seems to indicate that Microsoft is currently the only company concerned with not only this issue of accessibility, but also this discrete yet necessary portion of the market. Without other developers providing this sort of hardware, Microsoft will continue to hold a monopoly over these players. It would be to everyone’s benefit that other companies look to follow in Microsoft’s footsteps and consider these issues more critically.

What is the Cost of Accessibility?
As great as the Adaptive Controller is, this improved accessibility comes at a price: the price of the controller itself.

The standard price for a Xbox controller is $64.99- MSRP.
The price for the Xbox Adaptive Controller is $99.99- MSRP, a pretty significant increase.

However, for the controller to be fully functional, it is necessary to buy add-on hardware kits. The Xbox Adaptive Controller’s primary add-on kit, The Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit, costs the same as the Adaptive Controller itself at $99.99- MSRP for its twelve buttons and triggers.

A player with disabilities would have to pay at least more than double the amount that an able-bodied player would pay to play the same games.

What is the Future of Adaptive Gaming?
While Microsoft is definitely doing a great human rights service to players with limited mobility by creating the adaptive controller, hopefully they will put in more work down the line to try and lower the price in order to make these controllers more economically accessible.

Still, Microsoft has provided players with limited movement the opportunity to play alongside their peers. Microsoft has also confirmed that Xbox Adaptive Controller will be compatible with the upcoming Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, meaning that the jump to next-gen will be just as seamless for these players.

While Sony, as well as other major gaming hardware developers such as Nintendo for that matter, has not released an adaptive controller of their own, Playstation fans need not fret, as the Adaptive Controller is not hardware-locked to Xbox, and talks have been underway with Sony, Nintendo, and Valve about making Xbox’s controller compatible with their hardware.

How Can Adaptive Controllers Impact eSports?
Regardless of its current potential drawbacks, the Microsoft Adaptive Controller is a definitive win from a human rights standpoint. The Adaptive Controller’s applications in eSports holds limitless potential. While specialized tournaments have already been hosted for players with disabilities, it would be incredible if these players could one day compete alongside other players, instead of having to do so in separate brackets and tournaments. For many people, especially on the competitive level, gaming is a social experience that brings players together. Accessibility and inclusivity should be treated as basic human rights, and everyone should have the opportunity to play the games they love together.

Microsoft deserves to be recognized for what they have achieved with the Xbox Adaptive controller. It would be to the benefit of all gamers that other companies throughout the game industry as a whole continue to make strides to provide their experiences to all players. Let’s make the next generation of games one that everyone can enjoy.

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