The Xbox Adaptive Controller Team, L to R: Navin Kumar, Bryce Johnson, Evelyn Thomas, Scott Wang, Gabi Michel, Chris Kujawski, James Shields, Matt Hite, Kris Hunter (horizontal), Leo Del Castillo, Bree White, Yaron Galitzky | Photo credit: Will Austin
Ask anyone who watched the Super Bowl this year what they will remember about it months from now, and they may be more likely to mention the inspirational advertisement about the Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) than any highlight of the game itself.
In the ad, kids with physical disabilities exult in playing video games with their peers using the new controller, which was designed for gamers with restricted mobility and is compatible with most existing assistive technologies (i.e., switches and other devices that enable people with mobility limitations to control a video game using different parts of their body, such as their feet, head or mouth).
The campaign engendered a collective, simultaneous “aha” and “aww” moment for viewers, and it signals that Microsoft embraces not only the need for affordable accessibility solutions to empower the tens of millions of video game players with disabilities, but understands the life-changing experience and social connection afforded by accessibility technology for people with impairments. As the Super Bowl ad states, “When everybody plays, we all win.”
Kris Hunter, a director of devices UX research and accessibility with the team, gives credit where she believes it is due: “The real superheroes are the gamers, caregivers and nonprofits that have spent years hacking together solutions — they are the ones who inspired us to create the adaptive controller. Without their passion and their engagement and help developing the adaptive controller, it probably would not have happened.”
Navin Kumar is a director of product marketing with the Xbox XAC team, and we talked to him about the company's focus on inclusive design and its mission to use the power of video games to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.
Your team is making game playing more accessible to people and kids with disabilities. Where else in the gaming industry are you seeing an emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility?
I think there’s a lot of great games out there that are making accessibility improvements. For the last few years, there’s a franchise of ours called “Gears of War” that has included a variety of accessibility features — things like color-blind mode, separate audio adjustments for different audio streams within the game so players can listen to voices differently, and sound effects. They’re adding subtitles, they’re adding different layouts for individuals who can’t reach all of the buttons and triggers. They’re also adding audio cues in the game to help visually impaired gamers with wayfinding. They’ve been doing this for quite a while, so I’d say they’re at the forefront of this focus on inclusivity.
Did you have any idea that the Super Bowl commercial was going to command so much attention?
That was a surprise to us, too. We didn’t know what the impact would be. I’ve heard internally that we generated over 600 different media articles and a lot of recognition for it being one of the most memorable commercials of the Super Bowl, if not the best thing about the Super Bowl.
What makes you most proud about the work you do?
Getting positive feedback from our fans. The thing with the gaming industry is that fans will tell you whether or not they love your product. I get a chance to interact with our fans at different events. I read their comments online, and when we hear that our products are making a difference in their lives or in how they interact with one another, it’s rewarding. Feedback like this also helps us think about opportunities that we can develop going forward.