Accessibility in games is an uphill battle, but the folks over at Microsoft have been leading the charge with this initiative in an effective and powerful way. Through the adaptive controller to development tweaks, Team Green has been making positive waves in terms of how we, as an industry and a community, can make gaming available for all.
We sat down with Microsoft’s Senior Gaming Accessibility Program Manager Brannon Zahand to learn about how accessibility in terms of gaming influenced the very design of the Xbox Series X and S, in addition to what the industry needs to do next to ensure complacency doesn’t settle in.
Both the X and S have unique designs, some for hardware preservation reasons. What was the motivation behind the unique designs and how do the designs help gamers?
It’s one small piece of the overall design, but I think our tactile indicators on the back of the console are a great example of being intentional and inclusive in design. Whether you are a user who has low or no vision, or simply someone like me who has their console in a position where it makes getting to the back of the device difficult, those bumps can help you figure out which cord goes where. Another example is the textured grip you’ll find on the new controllers, something that helps gamers whether they have a fine motor disability that makes it harder to keep a grip on the controller or just tend to get sweaty hands during a heated match.
Even the packaging seems more accessible with the new systems, is that just in my head? How does the community impact decisions like even packaging adjustments, especially with advocates like AbleGamers?
I think the packaging is something that most people take for granted, but if you’re shipping a product that is intended for everyone to use in a box that is difficult to open, it doesn’t really make much sense. The inspiration for the Xbox Series X|S packaging was inspired by the packaging for the Xbox Adaptive Controller – our goal was to make sure the packaging was accessible and inclusive of the entire community. It’s simply easier for everyone to open, and anyone who has ever wrestled with stapled boxes and thick packing tape will hopefully appreciate it.
Microsoft isn’t just working with physical accessibility, but financial availability as well with programs like Xbox Game Pass and Play Anywhere. Why is that such a big focus going into a new generation?
I think it really speaks to our ultimate goal of empowering everyone to play where with whom and what they want. There’s basically an option for every player: a choice of consoles, at different price points, plus access to over 100 games with Xbox Game Pass across console, PC, and Android mobile devices. You can buy the console outright or get one through Xbox All Access for a monthly subscription.
Regarding things like backwards compatibility, it goes back to that smooth and frictionless experience and giving people the freedom of choice. Everything we do is about putting the player at the center. I think about scenarios, like if a group of friends wants to play a game together but one player isn’t sure they want to purchase it because they aren’t completely sold on it or are concerned that their disability may prevent them from being able to play. With Xbox Game Pass, the risk is gone… you have an incredible library of over 100 games which you can try to see which ones fit your gaming style and needs.
The spirit of these experiences, where it’s just easier and more accessible and more fun, is what we want to deliver with every new product, feature, service, etc.
Zuhand also spoke with us about areas previously ignored during discussions about accessibility, what he wishes people would understand that are opposed to this initiative, and how the adaptive controller has drastically evolved and will continue to do so going forward.