Here's Why One Of Microsoft's Most Important Products Almost Never Saw The Light Of Day

Playing video games is supposed to be fun, but it can be tough to have a good time when you can't use the controls. For people with disabilities and mobility issues, this has been a challenge for as long as video games have existed. To help make gaming more accessible to all gamers, Microsoft released the Xbox Adaptive Controller in 2018, but shockingly, it was nearly canceled before it even went into production. 

The specially-designed controller is ingenious in its adaptability. A row of 3.5mm jacks and USB ports allow users to customize their controls by plugging in an array of peripheral devices. It also supports button remapping with savable profiles and can be paired with a standard controller in co-pilot mode.

Not only does the Xbox Adaptive Controller make it easier for many gamers to play, but for some, it's necessary in order to play at all. According to Microsoft, one group of gamers who benefit from the accessible controller are injured veterans who may have traumatic brain injuries or amputations that interfere with using a standard controller. If the Xbox Adaptive Controller had been scrubbed — which was the way things were headed — the entire gaming community would have been impacted by the loss. When games can't be played by everyone, it makes the community smaller; it means when friends and families gather to play, people get left out.

The Xbox controller levels up

The Xbox Adaptive Controller didn't just come into being overnight. The design journey began back in 2014, and it went through several iterations, multiple hackathons, and reviews with partner groups including The AbleGamers Foundation, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, SpecialEffect, Warfighter Engaged, and community members (via Microsoft). Bryce Johnson, a senior inclusivity designer on the Xbox team at Microsoft who worked on the project, explained, "We're not trying to design for all of us, we're trying to design for each of us. If we design for people who have a unique need, it benefits people universally."

In an interview with The Verge, Microsoft's corporate VP of Windows and devices Robin Seiler divulged, "There was a point in time when the Xbox controller that was designed for accessibility was on the cut list." This was amid a period of budget cuts at the company. Thankfully, the teams involved refused to let the Xbox Adaptive Controller get axed, eventually making the case that its value was greater than what could be measured by profits. It's lucky for everyone that they did, because the lessons learned here are making their way into other products, and there's no reason to think Microsoft is going to turn back now.