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Accessible Gaming Tech: Old Dog, New Sticks

Recently, we brought you a look at the newly-announced (but as yet unavailable) Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will undoubtedly get a lot of folks with disabilities into (or back into) gaming. As I mentioned before, that controller is one of the coolest pieces of adaptive tech I’ve seen in a very long time, and I hope that its advent is a mark of things to come.

That being said, however, it does bring up a very specific question in my mind, dear readers. Namely, why are we JUST NOW seeing something like this hit the market from a major gaming company? The answer, in a word, is most likely “money”. Companies do need to ensure that they’ll be able to make some sort of profit off of the tech that they create and market, even if it is to a smaller subset of their audience(s). This means that the money which they invest in things like research, development, and marketing, needs to be made back with interest on the sales of any given product. Part of the problem, however, is that because these are niche products, there’s not going to be much room for marketing at first blush, so consumers may not be as aware of the products as companies would like.

In addition, there’s always what I like to call the “disability surcharge” that comes into play. This is where something that could be considered relatively banal gets an extra charge tacked on to it when it’s marketed to people with disabilities. In my experience as a wheelchairian™, this happens for one or more of three reasons:

  1. There’s a niche market for it, so companies jack up the prices.
  2. More R&D and marketing costs go into a product, necessitating a higher price point to get a better return on investment (ROI).
  3. People with disabilities NEED this product in order to participate in something for which others can just get stock equipment, so companies have those consumers by the proverbial short & curlies.


I’m not sure if you knew this, developers, but having a disability in America is expensive!

So how do we solve these issues, friends? Well, in talking to a friend this week, I believe I may have the beginnings of a rudimentary solution.

Frankly, I believe a lot of the issue lies in the marketing of these products. As I mentioned earlier, because products like the Xbox Adaptive Controller are made for a smaller subset of the gamer population (i.e. gamers with disabilities), marketing typically has to be fairly targeted to that group. What if that marketing was expanded, however?

Confused? Don’t be. Allow me to explain.

When a piece of adaptive tech like this is announced and marketing begins, companies tend to focus solely on gamers with disabilities (i.e. those who would benefit most from these products). However, I feel like there might be a missed opportunity here. In order to cast a wider net, it would seem to me that companies like Microsoft could benefit more from saying something like, “Look at this adaptive controller we’ve come up with. It can help gamers with disabilities by allowing you to do [x], [y], and [z]. Oh, and by the way, if any gamer out there is looking for more of a professional set-up for their gaming experience, the fact that this controller can do all of these things would be great for you as well!” Focusing on both the core audience (gamers with disabilities) as well as an expanded audience (non-disabled gamers who want more customization in their controls) when marketing these items would allow for companies like Microsoft to reach more consumers as a whole. In turn, larger sales could potentially result in a slightly lower price point, without meaningful impact to the company’s bottom line.

PS4 Pro Controller

The PS4 Elite Controller is not far removed from a customizable piece of adaptive gaming tech

Even in today’s era of highly digital communication, “word of mouth” is a thing, and is still one of the biggest driving factors in people trying out new products. So, why not cast as wide a net as possible, and see where that takes your product? When you market to a wider audience, more people are invariably going to try out your product, and talk about its pros and cons. The more discussion a product generates, the more visibility it gets. The more visibility a product gets, chances are it will sell better (provided it’s solidly produced in the first place).

So what have we learned here today? Well, for companies who want to make adaptive gaming tech: First, I applaud you roundly. You’re doing great things for the community as a whole, and making it far easier for those of us gamers with disabilities to further enjoy what we love. Second, when you get to your marketing phases, make sure that you’re not pigeonholing your product into a single niche. You’ll get wider visibility, more interest, and most likely make far more money.

As a parting thought, let me just say this: It’s 2018, and disability has become more and more of a mainstream topic in many aspects of media – be that television, movies, comic books, and of course gaming. So, I am calling on all gaming companies to take a look at your products, your R&D departments, and especially your audience(s). Ask yourselves, “How can we make our stuff more inclusive, and reach a wider audience?” Seriously, people: it’s a win-win situation.

About Doug T. (491 Articles)
A lifelong gamer, disabilities advocate, avowed geek, and serious foodie. Doug was born in South America, currently resides in Northern VA, and spends the majority of his time indulging in his current passions of gaming & food, while making sure not to take life or himself too seriously.
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