Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller helps players with disabilities game more comfortably

It leaked earlier this week, but Microsoft confirmed today that the Xbox Adaptive Controller is real, a device designed to “remove barriers to gaming by being adaptable to more gamers’ needs.” Created in conjunction with AbleGamers, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and more, it marks the first time a company’s created an official first-party controller for people with limited mobility.

And that’s a huge step for the industry. Despite all the lip service people pay to the comfort of the Xbox One and DualShock 4 controllers, fact is they’re unusable for a significant segment of the population—hard to grip, with lots of small buttons crammed into a small space. It works for many people, but not all, and prior to now the only solutions were expensive custom setups either hacked together at home or bought from a handful of third-parties.

Enter the Xbox Adaptive Controller ($100 preorder on the Microsoft Store), which actually incorporates that hacker/maker vibe into an officially sanctioned product. The heart of the controller, the Super Nintendo-looking rectangle, is dominated by two oversized black buttons—not Steam Controller-style trackpads, as people assumed when images of the gamepad leaked. You can map any two controller functions to those buttons, and you can even mount the unit if it’s better used at a different angle (or use it on the floor). It’s also larger than I expected, measuring probably 11-inches long if I had to guess from the photos Microsoft provided.

For some, the Xbox Adaptive Controller’s core is all they’ll need. Using the Copilot tech Microsoft introduced last year, which allows a person to use two Xbox One controllers simultaneously, players can use a standard Xbox One controller for most functions and then the Xbox Adaptive Controller as a supplement—for the triggers maybe, or actions that require clicking in the analog sticks. Adaptive.

Xbox Adaptive Controller Microsoft

But the Xbox Adaptive Controller’s core unit is really just the proverbial tip of the iceberg here. The key is on the rear of the device: A row of 3.5mm ports, 19 of them in total, plus a USB port. Here, users can plug in any number of peripherals. Microsoft’s images show off a number of setups, mostly button-based—large, colorful, and easily rearranged into any pattern or put on the floor and used as foot pedals. No word yet whether Microsoft will be making its own compatible peripherals or not, though it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

In any case, third-party peripherals are supported. “Common adaptive switches that gamers with limited mobility may already own,” said Phil Spencer, writing for the Xbox Wire. This includes Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro joystick, PDP’s Wii Nunchuck-looking One-Handed Joystick, and QuadStick’s popular mouth-operated joystick. It also, from what I can tell, supports Rock Band 4’s drum pedal, which connects with a 3.5mm jack.

Some of these third-party peripherals have required cumbersome adapters of their own in the past. Simplifying it all to run through the Xbox Adaptive Controller, no hitches, is great.

Xbox Adaptive Controller Microsoft

It’s all great, really. As controllers have become more and more homogenized, the lack of options has long been a sore spot—among everyone, not just those who require a more flexible gaming setup. To see a company like Microsoft, which has traditionally been reticent towards third-party peripherals, open up and build something like the Xbox Adaptive Controller? It’s pretty inspiring.

[ Further reading: AbleGamers’ Player Panels could make future games more disability-friendly ]

I’m hoping to get some hands-on time with the Xbox Adaptive Controller at E3 next month, and Microsoft’s promised more details about it at that time too. For now, it’s available for preorder on the Microsoft Store for $100. Not cheap by any means, but cheaper than a lot of the more niche/handcrafted solutions that have existed up until this point. Look for it to release later this year, and look for updates from us soon.

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