Games For All: The Xbox One Adaptive Controller

Controllers over the years. From left to right: Xbox One, Xbox 360, Sega Dreamcast, Super Nintendo.
Credit (left to right): dronepicr, Brian Flores, Bryan Ochalla, cody dudgeon

Anyone who knows me personally knows I’m an avid Playstation fan. Simply put, I think Microsoft has unequivocally lost this console generation. Microsoft bungled the reboots of some of their most beloved franchises like Halo and Gears of War. They launched a few new IP’s that were met with lukewarm reception at best. Console sales show Microsoft at the bottom of the pack in total consoles sold, losing huge market shares to Nintendo and Sony. But as a fan of video games with an interest in the health and development of the industry, I believe Team Green did something monumentally right. I think they’ve released the single most important piece of gaming hardware in the past decade. There’s an argument that it’s the most important piece of gaming hardware ever. Released in 2018, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is a remarkable input device that was designed to meet any and all needs that differently abled gamers with accessibility needs might face.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller.
Credit: Martin Hajek

According to the product page for the controller Microsoft believes that “When everyone plays we all win,” —a sentiment that I can get behind. Accessibility is a real issue with video games. Tons of gamers are barred from this entertainment medium. Some of these barriers are, unfortunately, insurmountable. The economic cost of gaming is high. But another barrier to entry is the input device. Generally speaking, game controllers haven’t really adapted since their inception. There has been a standard for these controllers for decades. You hold them with two hands, use two joysticks to control movement and the angle of the camera, use a directional pad for simpler tasks, and use face buttons and shoulder buttons mapped to each individual game functions, depending on the game. The issue with this ubiquitous design lies in its ubiquity. Gamers are diverse and don’t all conform to one controller design. Before the adaptive controller, some games had options to remap the individual buttons on the standard controller to help gamers who play differently than others, but in some cases this wasn’t enough. The fact that this barrier to entry existed up until 2018 is, quite frankly, disappointing. But better late than never. The Xbox Adaptive controller is truly the first of its kind. It’s nearly infinitely customizable and built to meet the needs of a diverse population of gamers to ensure that everyone can play to the best of their abilities.

The Xbox adaptive controller comes stocked with a large directional pad and two large circular buttons on the top of the controller that can be mapped to any function. It is designed to sit in any way possible. It can be on a lap or a table and includes a mounting system to ensure the controller remains secure. The adaptive controller sports “Nineteen 3.5mm ports and two USB 2.0 ports for external inputs. One 3.5mm stereo headset jack for audio.” Each of these nineteen ports supports a multitude of external devices like joysticks, extra buttons, other trigger inputs, and more. The best part of the controller though, is its price. For an input device this advanced, I had assumed it would cost hundreds of dollars. The controller clocks in at a mere $99. For reference, it’s only $30 more than the standard Xbox one controller. According to the Able Gamers Charity, the price is only $5 more than it costs to produce.

The Adaptive Controller’s 19 3.5mm adapters.
Credit: Martin Hajek

This is a moment for the games industry that all companies should be celebrating and emulating. It makes me proud to be a fan of the industry. Microsoft is taking a big financial leap in the name of inclusivity and accessibility. The industry has finally bridged a gap that has existed since the first gamers got their hands on Pong. I think accessibility and inclusivity are the two biggest challenges that the gaming industry needs to confront in the near future. Graphics, advanced artificial intelligence, and sprawling digital worlds mean nothing if everyone can’t experience them. Microsoft took the first step to ensure that the Xbox One conforms to the gamer instead of asking the gamer to conform to the console. I can only hope the likes of Nintendo and Sony will follow suit.

There’s only so much that I can write about the Xbox Adaptive controller’s impact. The gamers who use it tell their stories better than I ever could. The following commercial aired during the 2019 Super Bowl to advertise the device. But really, it does more than that. It’s a shining example of exactly what video games can do. The kids showcased here have all had their lives changed by Microsoft. Using this controller, they are able to play their favorite games exactly how they want to. No longer do they have to work around the standard controller. With this ad Microsoft showed off not only their latest invention but these wonderful, inspiring kids on one of the world’s biggest stages. You can’t watch this commercial and not have a smile on your face. And while other companies might be innovating with bigger, better and faster consoles and games, Microsoft is focusing on the place that really matters: making sure all of their players are enjoying their games to the fullest.

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