LONDON, United Kingdom: With large buttons arranged in a circle and a joystick on one side, Sony is launching a PlayStation controller from December, designed to make gaming easier for people with disabilities.
The gaming giant has been under pressure to address an issue seen as long neglected by the industry despite rivals bringing similar products to market in recent years.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see able-bodied people using it” said impressed gamer Jeremy Lecerf, aka Gyzmo.
Sitting in a wheelchair, the Frenchman specializing in video games and disability was invited by Sony to London to test its new device, which overturns the design of traditional controllers.
He suffers from myopathy and is an ambassador for the French association HandiGamer, which supports disabled gamers.
The new controller “is extremely well thought-out”, according to Lecerf, because the company has tried to make it accessible to people with a range of disabilities.
“It’s good to see that the industry is really taking the plunge” on the issue of accessibility, added the 39-year-old, as he tested the “access controller” on “Stray”, an adventure video game in which the player takes on the role of a cat.
“More and more (video game) publishers are playing the game,” he noted.
Two-thirds of disabled gamers face barriers to playing games, and 40 percent have bought video games that they were unable to use because of poor accessibility, according to a 2021 report by UK disability equality charity Scope.
But the issue now appears to be in the crosshairs of the major studios, publishers and manufacturers, seemingly driven by both ethical and financial arguments.
“Video games have enabled me to have a life that is closer to normality, to have a social life,” said Lecerf.
They are an “extremely inclusive tool that opens you up to the world,” he added.
Taking accessibility issues into account is “an industry-wide trend, not limited to PlayStation,” explained Alvin Daniel, Senior Technical Program Manager at PlayStation.
“We wanted not the player to adapt to the controller but the controller to adapt to the player.
“No two people experience a disability in exactly the same way,” he added.
The new device can be placed on a table or fixed to a stand and orientated in any direction.
Each button can change shape thanks to magnetic caps, making them easier to press or grab, and the user can assign any function to them.
“For me it was a bit big, and the buttons are a bit stiff to press, but you can attach external buttons to it, which is a good thing for me to have,” said Melanie Eilert, a German game player. She is also an accessibility consultant and suffers from spinal muscular atrophy.
Eilert, who can play only with the right hand, came with her own coloured buttons — there are many accessories on the market developed by third-party manufacturers.
They have adapted to the disabilities of players, sometimes activated by a movement of the mouth or by breathing, for example.
Eilert said it was too soon to compare PlayStation’s new controller with its competitor, launched five years ago by Microsoft for Xbox — which also allows external devices to be connected.
But the development of these kinds of devices is essential for her.
“I was playing as a child and then I couldn’t play for about 15 years,” she said, citing the emergence of her disability. “So I waited very long to be able to play again.”
At Sony, the project to develop the controller started in 2018 and took time “because we were given a blank sheet of paper”, according to Daniel.
Several different designs were tested on three continents, with the help of associations and experts, before arriving at the finished product.
The controller will be available from December 6 at a recommended retail price in Europe of 89.99 euros and $89.99 in the US, around the cost of existing classic models.