Xbox Series X — Q & A with Microsoft’s Brannon Zahand

With the launch of next-generation gaming upon us, we at Can I Play That? have been waiting in anticipation for what this generation means for inclusive gaming. Over the last few years, we’ve seen publishers and developers alike make new innovations in the way everyone can play. 

Microsoft hasn’t been subtle about its enthusiasm for changing the way disability and technology intersect, and our editor-in-chief, Courtney Craven, had a moment to pick the brain of Brannon Zahand, senior gaming accessibility program manager at Microsoft, about what Xbox Series X and S mean for the future of access in gaming.

Our goal was to design the packaging with a larger group of people in mind so that the consoles are inclusive of the entire community.

Brannon Zahand

Courtney Craven: Why the focus on continuity as opposed to, for lack of a better term, what’s shiny and new? 

Brannon Zahand: “We prioritized the continuity and compatibility of features and accessories that are available for Xbox One with Xbox Series X|S because we know this is valuable to our entire community, including gamers with disabilities. We’ve received feedback that our existing accessibility features–such as copilot, narrator, speech-to-text and text-to-speech–are important to our players and so it was crucial to bring them ahead to the new consoles. We also made the Xbox Adaptive Controller compatible with Xbox Series X|S in order to lower barriers; players don’t need to learn new technology or buy new peripherals to enjoy next-generation gaming.”

CC: Was the packaging designed with the XAC in mind and its ease of access? 

BZ: “Yes, the packaging for the Xbox Adaptive Controller was intentionally designed to be accessible and easy to open, and those same principles were applied to Xbox Series X|S. Our goal was to design the packaging with a larger group of people in mind so that the consoles are inclusive of the entire community.” 

CC: Can anyone speak to the testing of the controller? For ex, did young people (or people with small hands) and disabled people test it?  

BZ: “The new Xbox Wireless Controller was tested with a variety of individuals, including those with smaller hands, and those with disabilities. This helped us realize we could make it more accessible to a broader group of individuals if we designed it to be slightly smaller. This also led us to the inclusion of texturized grips and refined geometry for improved precision and comfort during gameplay for all gamers.”

Inclusivity for all players is a huge priority for us at Xbox; it’s our goal to remove barriers and invite everyone to play.

Brannon Zahand

CC: The design of the entire experience, from unboxing to setup to in-game experiences, feels like it was all done with particular attention to community feedback and ease of use/access in mind. Is this the case? 

BZ: “Inclusivity for all players is a huge priority for us at Xbox; it’s our goal to remove barriers and invite everyone to play. In addition to the focus on backward compatibility and continuity with Xbox Series X|S, we also introduced small but meaningful updates, including tactile indicators on the back of the console for ports to support people who are blind or low-vision. This can also help users who might have their console in a location which makes finding the right ports to plug cables into difficult. Additionally, the consoles’ accessible packaging is another meaningful update that will benefit all gamers.”

CC: Anyone worried about losing the “innovation race” with Sony and it’s completely overhauled UI and UX? 

BZ: “Not at all, our main priority was to focus on the continuity of the experience from Xbox One to Xbox Series X|S to allow for a smooth and familiar transition for all players, something of particular importance for many members of our Gaming & Disability Community.”

CC: And one last one I’m betting no one can answer but I’ll shoot my shot anyway…last gen brought us the XAC. Any inclusive gaming projects we can look forward to for this gen? 

BZ: “While we don’t have anything new to announce at the moment, we are always exploring new ways we can make Xbox, and the games that run on our platforms and services, more accessible for all players.”

For even more on Xbox Series S and X, make sure to check out Courtney’s review of the system, as well as their Xbox Series X unboxing with author and professor Kishonna Gray. For all things accessibility and next-generation, head on over to our hub page.

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