Despite being a multi-billion pound industry with significant cultural importance, the gaming industry has been slow to cater to the needs of players with physical disabilities. Disabled gamers and their carers have had to rely on the works of specialised charities such as Able Gamers to create customised controllers to play titles for many years. Of course with the huge number of different conditions and their different extents, many controllers are created as one-offs. This only adds to the problem of integrating them with the demands of the PC and Xbox gaming platform.
Thankfully, that picture is starting to change with Microsoft’s announcement of the new Adaptive Controller – which promises to open up the world of both PC and Xbox gaming to users with physical limitations.
In place of the traditional thumb controls the main feature of the Adaptive Controller is the two large, soft pads – which replace the fiddly thumb controls found on traditional gaming controls. The functions of these pads can be reconfigured to fit the needs of certain games, potentially bringing games within reach of a whole generation of physically impaired gaming enthusiasts.
The next big improvement from an accessibility standpoint is that the controller does not have to be physically held in a player’s hands, but can be rested on any flat surface. As you would expect from a company like Microsoft, the Adaptive Controller has a great fit and finish – with sturdy build, rubberised feet, and the ability to be mounted to any surface to suit the best angle of use.
With the bewildering number of different configurations for different gaming genres, as well the demands of specific titles, you might wonder how the Adaptive Controller can handle these differing needs. Well, Microsoft have thought of that too and have included no fewer than nineteen 3.5mm jack ports which enable the controller to be hooked up to the many customised controls that have been built over the years by inclusive gaming charities and amateur hackers.
The product stems from Microsoft’s engagement with the disabled community that began in earnest in 2015 to look at the problems faced by physically challenged gamers. The company quickly realised that they were never going to be able to create a truly universal controller. Instead, they would have to work to create an adaptable bit of kit that would make it easier for third parties to integrate with PC and the Xbox control systems without the need for super complicated, one-off solutions that were basically hacks.
Many videos have been posted to YouTube to show the lengths gamers have gone to in order to make games accessible. Some even going so far as to cut the standard Xbox controller in two to make it possible to spread the buttons out to be more reachable for users with limited mobility. With no two people’s impairments truly alike, the Adaptive Controller is an attempt to make these custom controllers far easier to plug into the games ecosphere.
Some at Microsoft questioned whether the project was commercially viable, but the team’s passion had soon won over the bean counters. It became a simple moral matter of whether Microsoft could present itself as a truly inclusive company if its core gaming products were inaccessible to a significant part of the population.
By 2016, early versions of the product were showing sufficient promise to developers for it to be demonstrated at Microsoft’s Hackathon even – where the company’s software and hardware engineers are given free rein to challenge the company’s direction, be exposed to its latest ideas, and throw their own ideas back at the company.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t a charity and the Adaptive Controller commands a premium over the regular controllers – weighing in at £75 over the usual price point for controllers of around £45 – but in comparison to many specialist pieces of equipment this is a relatively modest mark-up.
Not only that, but apart from the large pads, it is still more about offering a way for hackers to better integrate with the Microsoft gaming platform than an end point in itself, but it should make the design and integration of custom controls far, far simpler than it has ever been – and this can only help make gaming more inclusive to people with physical challenges.
The great news for Trabasack customers is that the Adaptive Controller fits snugly onto your Trabasack Curve and, thanks to its rubber feet and the Curve’s own non-slip surface, will help to create a stable gaming experience.
Learn more about this the Adaptive Controller in this great video from Microsoft themselves.