After failing to disclose accessibility information and provide suitable accessible features and design practices in one of this year’s biggest games, Xbox’s positive messaging surrounding their commitment to accessibility is once again being questioned by disabled players. Xbox recently announced that third-party accessories and controllers will no longer be compatible with systems after an upcoming update. For many disabled Xbox gamers, this decision will ultimately impact their capability to play.
According to a story first reported by Windows Central, Microsoft is banning the use of select third-party devices on all Xbox consoles beginning November 12. After sharing a list of approved pieces of tech on their website, many disabled individuals took to social media to express their concerns and disappointment. Speaking with IGN, disabled players explored how these changes will impact their setups, the overall cost of their equipment, as well as money lost, and the ways in which the community is reacting.
First things first: devices like the customizable Xbox Adaptive Controller and its subsequent accessories are not affected. Dr. Kaitlyn Jones, Gaming Accessibility Program Manager for Xbox confirmed the news on her X/Twitter, stating, “Regarding unauthorized accessories on Xbox, please know that there is NO impact to players using the Xbox Adaptive Controller nor any compatible peripherals plugged in via the controllers 3.5mm or USB ports.”
Reached for comment, Xbox replied to IGN with a similar statement, but also added additional information as to why these changes are occurring.
“In order to maintain the performance, security, and safety of Xbox consoles – Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S – players may receive a pop-up warning when attempting to connect an unauthorized accessory to their Xbox console,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “We work to ensure minimal impact on current player setups so long as accessories are authorized, designed, and manufactured to our quality standards and do not compromise the gaming experience. In some cases, the unauthorized accessory will be blocked from use to preserve the console gaming experience. If you do not receive an error code, then your accessory will not be impacted.”
But the disabled experience is incredibly individualistic. While those who utilize the XAC can continue to play without fear of losing access to their setups, many disabled individuals still took to social media to alert others and share different concerns. After Jones posted the official note, replies questioned the viability of other accessibility tools. X/Twitter user Xbuds asked if it was possible to “test Chronus Max and post back?” AlterGreenBean shared an image of their setup which includes two mice connected to a Cronus adapter that enables multiple profiles. This is beneficial as they can only use “just 5 buttons.” Similar posts across the platform demonstrated immense fear and uncertainty for the disabled community. Without proper clarification or any official acknowledgment from Microsoft regarding the problem, many disabled players whose needs are not fully met by the Adaptive Controller fear they will lose access to their Xbox systems.
Inability To Adapt
Kelly Marine’s disabilities relate toward chronic pain and fatigue. With tendinitis and hand tremors, she cannot utilize standard controllers without experiencing immense discomfort as well as gradual loss of strength and dexterity. She has trouble with repetitive motions, especially moving her thumbs from sticks to buttons. Currently, Marine plays with an Xbox Elite Series 2, an XAC, a PC trackball with 3.5mm inputs, and several arcade fight sticks. But with Xbox’s new regulations, many of her setups will be rendered useless.
“Much of my gaming is best done on arcade sticks, which are a good compromise of form and function for games requiring quick and precise inputs that would otherwise cramp my hands up quickly on a standard controller,” Marine said. “All of my sticks have been customized in some way, and all of them either date back to systems outside the scope of Xbox backward compatibility, or are completely custom and made from scratch, and make use of Brook boards or dongle adapters to operate on modern systems.”
Despite the overall success of the XAC, it cannot fix every barrier that disabled players encounter. It’s a solution for hardware inaccessibility, but in Marine’s case, as well as other physically disabled individuals, it is not the solution. Being disabled means problem-solving beyond official means. Whether it’s simple modifications like taping a popsicle stick to the back of an Xbox 360 controller or spending a “four-digit number” on third-party equipment like Marine, disabled people need options and alternatives – often unconventional – to perform the same actions as their able-bodied peers. And with Microsoft’s latest decision, Marine is unsure if she can even play on her system, even after purchasing a brand-new third-party controller.
“I invested in the crowdfunded all-button customizable Glyph controller which offers Xbox support through the Brook adapters I already own, primarily to evaluate it as a possible path for accessible lapboard style controllers with ergonomic layouts and easily activated buttons,” she said. “The campaign was successfully funded right as the Xbox policy change happened, meaning by the time I can even try out this newest potential solution, it’ll have been made obsolete before it can even be shipped to me.”
Currently, no fightsticks or fight boards are listed as compatible devices with the new update. Unless changes are made, Marine will have wasted money on a controller that cannot function on Xbox systems after November 12. And she isn’t alone.
Money Spent, Money Wasted
Adaptive equipment in all facets can be costly. The XAC and Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit cost approximately $200, and disabled individuals can expect to pay far more for joysticks and other accessories that they need to complete their setups. Occasionally, disabled players like Marine will spend money on products unsure if they would even work for their needs. And while there are inexpensive alternatives like Mayflash Magic converters – USB devices that allow individuals to use first party controllers across different systems – Microsoft’s decision now forces others to choose specific and pricey devices if standard controllers aren’t accessible.
X/Twitter user PS2Man discussed the negative effects of Microsoft’s new rule, especially from a financial perspective. With De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis – a condition which impacts the tendons near the thumb – he is unable to use standard Xbox controllers due to the concave nature of the control sticks, which cause severe pain and fatigue. As a result, he relies on third-party adapters to find suitable devices, as well as the capability to replace control sticks when needed.
“I use a Brook Wingman XB2 converter. It lets me use a Dualsense which I’ve customized,” he said. “I switched to a Dualsense Edge so I could finally stop needing to disassemble the controller itself — the analogue sticks can be easily accessed, altered, and replaced as needed. But I don’t usually use the stock convex sticks that came with the controller. I disassemble the stick modules and use convex sticks from a different manufacturer as I’ve mentioned because they have a better grip – although they are less durable long term – than the convex caps included so I don’t have to push them as much [resulting in] less strain.”
Currently, the converter costs approximately $50, and his Dualsense Edge was $257. Combine that with needing to consistently replace sticks, and he is spending approximately $53 for the product and import costs. Despite being able to use this solution on his PS5, he has yet to find a suitable substitute for his Xbox Series X. And until he does, he will need to spend even more money to be able to play comfortably and efficiently.
“If I encounter the error, until I find a replacement controller, I would no longer be able to play my Series X,” he said. “It’s that simple. I’ve been worrying that my converter is going to stop working as it comes up as an ‘unauthorized device’ in the Accessories app and these are intended to be blocked. There’s a lot of uncertainty. I’ve seen someone claim that a Brook product they use called the Ras1ution – a converter for racing wheels – has gotten the error. I can’t verify that. I’m just waiting until November 12th to see what’s going to happen.”
“Disability Tax” is a common phrase in the disabled community. The cost of being disabled often exceeds fixed income limits of many individuals, forcing them to choose between accessibility or simply being left behind. Removing third-party devices not only limits the myriad of accessibility tools that disabled individuals need, but it also adds unexpected financial barriers that cannot be challenged.
Microsoft’s current decision is a stark contrast to Xbox’s motto of “When Everybody Plays, We All Win.” To build trust with disabled players by consistently advocating for accessibility and the disabled experience only to then quickly and surprisingly remove the tools that disabled players need is shocking to much of the community. Disabled players can no longer comfortably assume their Xbox will remain accessible after November 12. And for individuals like Marine, restricting choice means breaking trust.
“The wording on the new lockout alert claims that third-party accessories can ‘compromise my gaming experience,’ but I fail to see how they could do that more than a firmware update that disables the controllers I’ve been using to play the games,” she said. “At least the PS5 will look the other way while I use the devices I already own through a Brook USB adapter. Of course, now I have no reason to believe I’ll always have that option.”
Currently, Sony and Nintendo allow the use of third-party adapters and equipment to customize the way others play. Despite the lack of an accessible first-party controller with Nintendo, and with the addition of PlayStation’s first attempt at accessible hardware, both companies will offer significantly more alternatives after November 12. For Marine and others, accessible devices aren’t necessarily designed for disabled audiences. By restricting accessories and controllers, Xbox is now behind their competitors.
“Regardless of whether the hardware was designed with the goal of assisting disabled players or not, if I’m using it to help me play games painlessly as a disabled gamer, I consider that device to be an assistive accessibility accessory,” she said. “To deny me use of those devices in the name of safeguarding my ‘gaming experience’ is simply insulting.”
Grant Stoner is a disabled journalist covering accessibility and the disabled perspective in video games. When not writing, he is usually screaming about Pokémon or his cat, Goomba on Twitter.