Xbox Adaptive Controller inventor says gaming accessibility has hit “a plateau”

Open access

Accessibility in video games has thankfully improved greatly in recent years, with developers and hardware manufacturers increasingly offering players with disabilities options ranging from colour-blind modes to modifiable inputs. However, a key figure in the creation of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a bespoke and customisable controller to allow better physical access, has said efforts to further expand access have hit “a bit of a plateau”.

The comments were made by Bryce Johnson, co-inventor of the Xbox Adaptive Controller and Inclusive Lead at Microsoft Devices, speaking to PC Gamer.

While it might sound like a major problem, it’s surprisingly come from a relatively good place, with devices such as the XAC having helped address many of the problems players with disabilities may face.

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When Microsoft first released the XAC in 2018, it was a massively important move towards greater accessibility. The Xbox accessory allowed people with disabilities to better engage with the video games they love, thanks to an array of add-ons that could cater to their specific needs.

The main deck of the XAC offers two large main buttons, which can be mapped to any function using the Xbox Accessories app. Other components can be added to this core, with USB ports to the sides and nineteen 3.5mm jacks at the rear.

Each corresponds to a particular function on a standard Xbox controller, allowing players to connect a host of devices, including switches, individual buttons, and larger thumbsticks, that help them use any particular feature.

The hyper-modular nature of the XAC – combined with a deliberately low entrance price of £74.99 ($99.99) for the main deck, plus cross-compatibility with Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC – has resulted in the plateau Johnson speaks of, with most modern gaming control quirks largely replicable for less mobile players.

“We don’t know what to do next,” Johnson told PC Gamer, adding that “all the low hanging fruit has kind of been picked.”

However, Johnson is also optimistic, saying that “in a very short time, the gaming community has really done quite a bit to promote and to make games more accessible.”

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Elsewhere, EA has released several of its own accessibility tools for free, relaxing its patents on five technologies it hopes will help other developers “put accessibility first”.

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