Gamers Deserve a Better Accessibility Solution than Microsoft’s New Xbox Elite Controller.
During their E3 press conference on Monday, Microsoft came out swinging with announcement after announcement of incredible looking games, tantalizing exclusives and much requested features (backwards compatibility hype!). A good portion of the industry labeled the conference a rousing success, but one announcement that put a bad taste in my mouth was the new Elite controller for the Xbox One.
Marketed to gamers that want “pro-level customization for a competitive edge,” the Xbox Elite Controller features interchangeable buttons and thumb sticks, enhanced accuracy and speed, and interchangeable back paddles that can all be programmed and remapped using the accompanying Xbox One or Windows 10 app. Yes, in order to get custom controller remapping, you must drop $150 on a “pro” controller.
The Competition Does it Better
On March 26th, Sony released the Playstation 4 System Update 2.50 that included a plethora of accessibility options, free of charge, which works with every game that ever was and ever will be released for the console. It was a groundbreaking moment for accessibility that took onus off of developers to include these options and provided consistency for gamers. Switching your controller layout is as easy as going into a menu and pressing a few buttons. Every gamer has the opportunity to do this, with the confidence that it’ll work on whatever game they feel like playing.
Tying controller remapping to a $150 “Elite” controller is a half measure, and marketing the feature to “pro” users is insulting to the millions of gamers with disabilities that rely on these options. It’s a shame too, because the accessibility options in the new controller seem to surpass the potential of the PS4’s options. The Xbox Elite Controller boasts multiple controller profiles that can be switched between freely by using a switch on the controller, while the PS4 currently only allows for one set of remapped controls.
Also, let’s not forget Sony added more than just controller remapping in the 2.50 update. While the Xbox Elite Controller might actually provide gamers with more remapping capabilities, Microsoft has yet to come close to the breadth of options its main competitor boasts, and they have given no indication that further accessibility options are something that is being considered. Announcing this controller could have been a great way for Microsoft to tell gamers that customization and options are important to them, and this is just the first step towards making Xbox One the most gamer-friendly place to play.
The Price is Wrong:
$150 is a steep price for a gaming accessory, but even more so when it out prices the competition. Scuf Gaming, for example, makes a similar controller with adjustable paddles on the back that starts at $109.95 for its Xbox One variant. Evil Controllers, another company that specializes in custom controllers, starts their Xbox One offerings at $70. While Microsoft’s Elite controller may offer more features due to its integration with the UI, similar products can be had for less than a third of the price.
No Solution is Perfect
I have to give Microsoft some credit; Controller remapping for console games needs to be the standard in this day and age, and props to them for finding a way to implement the feature. However, with this solution, Microsoft is putting basic features some gamers need behind a paywall. The message Microsoft is sending is that accessibility is a privilege: a $150 price tag that enables gamers to play the way they “want” to play, completely ignoring the gamers that desperately need these options, not to be “elite” or “pro,” but to play the games in the first place.
Perhaps the most depressingly powerful message this sends is that truly free controller remapping won’t be coming to Xbox One any time soon, because doing so will lessen the value of their new product. For far too long the gaming industry has looked at accessibility as a choice instead of an obligation. Now, Microsoft sees accessibility as a useful and requested feature and recognizes an audience to pander to. This is wrong on so many levels, and in the end it may not even be intentional. Microsoft may not even be thinking about accessibility and the impact this has on disabled gamers, but I’m not sure if that would be better or worse than intentionally charging disabled gamers for accessibility features.
In the end, I’m still happy to see companies providing gamers with more options, but tying a $150 price tag to it feels disingenuous. The last two AbleGamers Accessible Game of the Year winners were developed by Japanese studios. Sony, a Japanese company, has the most comprehensive set of accessibility features built in to the console itself, all for free. It’s time for American companies to follow the lead and make the right decisions regarding accessibility. Moral decisions, not business decisions. It’s time.