It doesn’t look much like a controller. In fact, in the images Microsoft has made available, where it’s often shot against a pristine white background devoid of other objects, the new Adaptive Controller for Xbox looks like something you might use with your feet. It certainly doesn’t look like what you might imagine an Xbox controller for people with neurological or muscular issues might look like.
This has often been a major issue when it comes to gaming. While I no longer have the magazine issue, the game company Sierra On-Line used to publish its own magazine detailing upcoming products and titles. I remember reading about a father who had modified a joystick so that his quadriplegic son could play and beat King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder. The ability of technology to bring experiences to people who otherwise would not have been able to enjoy them is one of the most fundamentally positive uses of technology that exists.
But as Microsoft’s blog post notes, designing commercial solutions that can address the varying needs of a wide range of people at a scale and price point that make sense for commercial manufacture is often difficult. Microsoft designed the controller in partnership with The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Craig Hospital, SpecialEffect, and Warfighter Engaged, and states its goal was to make the device as adaptable as possible, to work with common adaptive switches gamers with limited mobility may already own, and with two large, reprogrammable buttons.
This flexibility is where the “Adaptive” in the Adaptive controller comes from, and it’s a very smart move. Microsoft writes:
To make the Xbox Adaptive Controller a viable solution for the widest possible range of gamers with limited mobility, we’ve worked closely with third-party manufacturers to support external inputs which can be plugged in to the new controller. These inputs include PDP’s One-Handed Joystick for the Xbox Adaptive Controller, Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro Joystick, and Quadstick’s Game Controller. We couldn’t be prouder to have their support in introducing the Xbox Adaptive Controller. More recommended partner devices can be found here.
A video about the controller is embedded below:
There are 19 ports on the back of the controller for 3.5mm hardware to attach to various devices, including external thumbsticks, buttons, and triggers. There are USB ports and the two, front-mounted large programmable buttons. There’s support for a stereo headphone jack, dedicated buttons for specific Xbox functions, and even a USB-C port.
This controller is explicitly designed to address one of the most fundamental problems in bringing gaming to people with neurological or muscular disabilities. In many cases, these solutions must be custom-designed to fit the needs of the individual in question. A person with cerebral palsy has different challenges than someone who might have lost a limb in an accident, to pick two simple examples. Because the number of people with any single condition tends to be much smaller than the overall gaming peripheral market, it can be difficult to get companies to pay attention to the needs of such customers. Providing a single overarching way to control these peripherals and integrate them into the console and PC ecosystem could encourage vendors to pay more attention to the product category. And don’t let the “Xbox” logo fool you — the base is fully PC compatible.
Ars Technica spent some time with the controller in the lab and has some additional information on which peripherals work with the platform. Instead of trying to build a single controller that could spread across every potential use case (a practical impossibility), Microsoft focused on building a platform that could be the starting point for a custom Xbox or PC controller at the low price of just $ 100. It won’t solve the affordability issue on its own, but it may encourage more companies to build hardware in this space, thereby leading to longer-term cost reductions.