Sony will release a PlayStation controller with large buttons placed in a circle and a joystick on one side in December, aimed to make gaming easier for individuals with disabilities.
Despite rivals bringing similar items to market in recent years, the gaming behemoth has been under pressure to solve an issue perceived as long overlooked by the industry.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see able-bodied people using it” said impressed gamer Jeremy Lecerf, aka Gyzmo.
The Frenchman, who specializes in video games and handicap, was called to London by Sony to test its innovative device, which reverses the design of regular controllers.
He has myopathy and works as an advocate for the French organization HandiGamer, which helps disabled gamers.
According to Lecerf, the new controller “is extremely well thought-out” because the business aimed to make it accessible to people with a variety 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.
According to a 2021 analysis by the UK disability equality charity Scope, two-thirds of disabled gamers suffer difficulties to playing games, and 40% had purchased video games that they were unable to use due to insufficient accessibility.
However, the issue looks to be in the sights of the major studios, publishers, and manufacturers, who appear to be motivated by both ethical and commercial concerns.
“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.”
According to Daniel, the initiative to design the controller at Sony began in 2018 and required time “because we were given a blank sheet of paper.”
Before arriving at the final product, several potential designs were tested on three continents with the assistance of associations and specialists.
The controller will be released on December 6 for 89.99 euros in Europe and $89.99 in the United States, which is comparable to the price of existing classic models.