New Xbox Groundbreaking Accessibility Development

Last Modified: May 20th, 2024 - Category: Accessibility, News, Physical UX, UI Design
2015 words, 11 minutes estimated read time.
Cover image for the article Xbox Groundbreaking Accessibility Development

Time for an article on accessibility development and Physical UX. In our industry, it’s sometimes tempting to consider UX and UI as mere offshoots of digital design, when in fact, UX predates personal computers and smartphones by decades (you can read the article on the History of UX here). But more importantly, it’s even more tempting to consider that UI is exclusively related to desktop and smartphone apps, or sometimes GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces), when in fact, those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to UI application.

So, in this article, we’ll explore accessibility development (especially motor accessibility), UI design for physical products, and Physical UX, all in one comprehensive discussion. And what better way to illustrate these concepts than with a well-known physical product and its incredible new development for motor-disabled individuals?

As someone who was deeply involved in the gaming industry (I was the CEO of a gaming company), I am thrilled to share the exciting advancements Xbox has made in accessibility development with the introduction of the Proteus Controller. Developed in partnership with Byowave, this modular gamepad is a testament to the ongoing commitment to making gaming more inclusive for all players, particularly those with disabilities. As part of the Designed for Xbox program, the Proteus Controller showcases how thoughtful design can empower a diverse range of gamers.

The Proteus Controller: A Game Changer in Xbox Accessibility

xbox accessibility development: Image featuring haptic controls
2×2 haptic control modules for one-hand manipulation

The Proteus Controller is a groundbreaking piece of hardware. It consists of palm-sized cubes that can be configured in numerous ways to suit individual needs. These cubes come with interchangeable faceplates that include standard controller buttons, analog sticks, and a directional pad. This modular design allows players to customize their setup, whether they prefer using the controller with one hand, flat on a desktop, or as part of a traditional gamepad.

What makes the Proteus Controller truly remarkable is its adaptability, especially in terms of motor accessibility. Players can tailor it to their specific requirements, making it possible to enjoy their favorite games without the physical constraints that traditional controllers might impose. The kit includes various components: two power cubes, two analog cubes with Hall effect sensors, one half cube, two spacers, and several swappable peripherals such as a D-pad, triggers, single buttons, a mini analog stick, and the Xbox home grouping. Additionally, it comes with handles to create a traditional gamepad and socket and plug covers featuring Byowave’s mascot. A USB-C charging cable and a Bluetooth dongle are also included, ensuring a comprehensive package for gamers.

Enhancing the Gaming Experience with Haptic Controls

One of the standout features of modern controllers, including the Proteus Controller, is the incorporation of haptic feedback. Haptic controls provide tactile responses to in-game actions, offering a more immersive gaming experience. These feedback mechanisms can range from subtle vibrations to more pronounced pulses, depending on the intensity of the action within the game.

For players with disabilities, haptic feedback can be particularly beneficial. It adds an additional layer of sensory input, which can help convey important information about the game environment. For instance, a slight vibration might indicate nearby danger, while a stronger pulse could signal an in-game collision or impact. This sensory input can enhance situational awareness and improve overall gameplay.

The Proteus Controller’s modular design means that haptic feedback can be tailored to the user’s preferences. Players can adjust the intensity and type of feedback they receive, ensuring that it complements their unique gaming style. This level of customization is a game-changer for accessibility, providing a more personalized and engaging experience for all players, focusing on both motor and physical accessibility.

Compatibility and Future Plans

Initially, the Proteus Controller will be compatible with Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Windows 10 and 11. It will not support PlayStation 5 or Switch at launch, but Byowave has expressed interest in expanding compatibility in the future. The team is also hopeful about potential integration with the Steam Deck and encourages players to reach out for more information.

The controller’s development was closely aligned with Microsoft’s gaming teams, ensuring it works seamlessly with Xbox hardware. This collaboration is part of the Designed by Xbox program, which includes other prominent partners like Razer, Turtle Beach, PowerA, and Logitech. However, the partnership with Byowave highlights a new emphasis on accessibility standards, reinforcing Xbox’s dedication to inclusive gaming.

Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day

The announcement of the Proteus Controller coincides with Xbox’s celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Xbox has been a pioneer in accessible gaming hardware since the launch of the Adaptive Controller in 2018. Designed in collaboration with organizations like AbleGamers, Warfighter Engaged, SpecialEffect, Craig Hospital, and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, the Adaptive Controller was the first major hardware piece to focus on players with disabilities. Priced at just $100, it allows users to connect third-party peripherals to create their ideal gaming setup.

Xbox accessibility: Photo featuring the Adaptive Controller
Xbox accessibility standards were already high with the Adaptive Controller (Image credits: Microsoft)

This year, Xbox is giving the Adaptive Controller a significant update based on community feedback. The update will expand support for more accessories connected via USB port, enhancing the functionality of various accessibility peripherals. Each port on the Adaptive Controller will now support up to 12 buttons, a second stick, and a hat switch. This update will be available to Xbox Insiders first and then rolled out publicly through a controller update prompt in the coming months.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of players with disabilities and highlight the importance of accessibility development in gaming. With over 450 million players with disabilities worldwide, Xbox is committed to creating an inclusive and thriving gaming community. This commitment is reflected in every aspect of their work, from hardware development to game features and community engagement.

Xbox Accessibility Development Efforts and Tools

New Xbox Groundbreaking Accessibility Development 1

Xbox’s accessibility efforts extend beyond hardware. They provide tools like the Gaming for Everyone Product Inclusion Framework, which empowers game developers to create more inclusive games. The Xbox Adaptive Controller User Guide Hub offers valuable resources for players, and Xbox provides accessibility support at major events such as the Xbox Games Showcase, Gamescom, and the Xbox Partner Preview. These initiatives ensure that accessibility is integrated into every facet of the gaming experience, focusing on both motor and physical accessibility.

In addition to the Proteus Controller, Xbox has announced several new updates and features to enhance accessibility. These include improvements to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, investments in accessibility-focused hardware, and partnerships with accessibility hardware manufacturers. Xbox is also listening to community feedback and working to address the needs of players with disabilities.

Enhanced Support and Resources for Physical Accessibility

Finding the right accessibility features is now easier with new Xbox Support articles categorized by disability. These articles detail the available features for players with specific needs, including speech, cognitive, vision, mobility, and hearing. This resource makes it simpler for players to access the tools they need to enjoy their gaming experience fully.

Gaming is about bringing people together, and Xbox is dedicated to fostering an inclusive community. Starting in June, players can earn the new Xbox Ambassador Accessibility Ally Badge for their profiles by completing quests and knowledge checks on the Xbox Ambassadors website. This badge recognizes players who are committed to learning about and promoting accessibility in gaming.

Continuous Investment in Motor Accessibility

Xbox’s investment in accessibility (especially motor accessibility) seems to be ongoing. The company acknowledges that gaming with a disability is highly individualistic and that a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist. Therefore, Xbox remains committed to innovating and investing in accessibility offerings, taking feedback from the disability community and nonprofit organizations into account.

Not only hardware: Physical UX means an improved UI

Recognizing the importance of expanding gaming for people with disabilities, Xbox is accelerating and streamlining the onboarding process for accessibility hardware manufacturers to become authorized Designed for Xbox partners. This initiative ensures that more players have access to high-quality, accessible gaming equipment.

Xbox accessibility standards: image displaying a detail of peripheral buttons
Xbox accessibility: detail of peripheral buttons

But of course, physical UX is achieved through constant development of UX standards. In some cases, it’s also about UI. Physical UX doesn’t necessarily require a UI (in fact, it’s more common NOT to have a UI), but in some cases, like IoT (Internet of Things), physical controls, and electronic devices, users need a user interface to control them. Gaming interfaces and controls are a paramount example of UI applied to physical products, especially since they use a wide range of sensory stimuli, even more than the most sophisticated digital counterparts.

Therefore, it’s quite obvious that accessibility development for an Xbox controller will feature many improvements in the UI design department. And Proteus is no exception. With its customizable modules that can adjust to many different configurations catering to various physical accessibility scenarios, it’s a masterclass in physical user interfaces. Furthermore, this is not just for disabled individuals; anyone can use this peripheral. It’s a well-designed and beautiful object.

If I had to pick a weak spot, I’d say that accessibility standards aren’t fully validated in this physical design. As you can see in the different images, and especially in the one in this section, cognitive and visual accessibility are somewhat neglected with those carved controls lacking color, making them difficult to see. However, I think this is because they focused on a motor accessibility first approach. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to aim for full accessibility while we are at it.

Improved Filtering and Sorting in My Games and Apps

Xbox has also improved the filtering and sorting options in the My Games & Apps section on console. Players can now filter and sort games based on the accessibility or technical features they support. For example, if you want to find games with narrated menus, you can filter by Accessibility > Narrated Game Menus and find your next game to play.

Preordering the Proteus Controller

The Designed for Xbox team has worked closely with Byowave to develop the Proteus Controller, a modular adaptive kit that gives disabled gamers the tools to build their own way to play. The Proteus Controller is available for preorder today at byowave.com, providing gamers with everything they need to play their favorite Xbox and PC games right out of the box.

Xbox Proteus Pricing and Availability

The Proteus Controller is available for pre-order at a discounted price of $255. Byowave is offering the controller in tiers, with just 150 units available at the VIP price of $255. Following this, 500 kits will be available at $268 (Early Bird), and 1,000 kits at $284 (Pre-Order). The standard price will eventually be $300. This tiered pricing structure aims to make the controller accessible to as many people as possible.

Technical Specifications

To give you a clear understanding of the Proteus Controller’s capabilities, here are the detailed technical specifications presented in a table format:

ComponentStandard Kit
Power Cube2x
Charge Spacer1
Analog Cube1 Left, 1 Right
Half Cube1
Edge Spacer2
Xbox Peripheral1
XYAB Peripheral1
Dpad Peripheral1
Trigger Peripheral1 Left, 1 Right
One Button Peripheral2
Mini Analog Stick1
Socket Cover9
Plug Cover1
Plug Mount Cover1

Final Thoughts on Xbox Accessibility

What can I say? You know I’m an “accessibility first” person, so when Microsoft announced this new product, they had me at “accessibility development”!

But seriously, while the press releases paint the Proteus Controller as a big leap forward in accessibility, I’m curious to see how it performs in real-world use. The modular design has a lot of potential, but its success will depend on the level of customization it truly allows and how intuitive it is for players to set up.

As I mentioned previously, cognitive and visual accessibility is a bit “iffy,” and it’s a shame they didn’t go the full mile for a completely accessible device. Yes, I know this is clearly aimed at motor accessibility, but I think this is a missed opportunity.

However, the fact that Xbox is prioritizing accessibility standards with the Proteus Controller and other initiatives is a positive step. Hopefully, it paves the way for a more inclusive gaming experience for everyone.

Note: all images copyright of Byowave, except when stated otherwise

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