(This article was published shortly before the Xbox Series X was released, and I am too sleepy to retroactively change all the references to time haha)
A week or so before this video / article originally went live, I received a retail Xbox Series X from Microsoft for review. I can’t talk much about the console right now due to NDAs and embargo’s, but earlier today I published an unboxing video, which you can find linked down in the video description.
However, I wanted to take the time today on Access-Ability to talk a little more in depth about Microsoft, and in particular their gradual shift towards accessible packaging. Because, over the past few years, Microsoft has been investing increasingly in accessible packaging technology.
Microsoft as a company has been working on tech designed to make gaming packaging easier for disabled users to open unassisted. They’re making use of it on some of their disability focused hardware releases, but certainly not across the board.
So, today we’re going to look at how Microsoft is making it easier to open up their disability focused gaming peripherals, and the areas where unboxing the Xbox Series X succeeds and falls short in this regard.
So, let’s start a little over two years ago, back in September 2018. Microsoft released a gaming peripheral called the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a modular controller base that players could plug first and third party peripherals into, designed to help disabled gamers play more comfortably and effectively.
It certainly wasn’t the beginning of custom controllers for disabled gamers, but it was perhaps the biggest push we have seen from a major publisher to make a modular controller mass produced, and more affordably accessible.
Microsoft created the Xbox Adaptive Controller with support from Special Effect, a charity focused on helping disabled gamers find ways to be able to game. A lot of their bread and butter is creating custom controllers, and they’re very tuned in on the needs of disabled gamers.
When unboxing an Xbox Adaptive Controller, it’s very clear that a lot of thought was put into the controllers packaging by Microsoft and Special Effect.
Rather than traditional packaging stickers, which sit flush to packaging and require fine motor control to peel up at the edges, or the use of scissors or other blades to cut through, the Xbox Adaptive Controller exterior packaging features packaging stickers connected to large loops. These loops are not stuck down to the packaging, making them easy for players to grab and get a grip on without fine motor control. These loops make peeling off packaging stickers much easier for many disabled players.
From there, the exterior box of the Xbox adaptive controller features a fabric loop, which again can assist disabled players, and those with fine motor control issues, having an easier time opening up the box.
Inside the box, the Adaptive Controller itself doesn’t feature any unnecessary additional packaging to remove. The adaptive controller doesn’t require unwrapping, and the cardboard instructions underneath it feature a large cardboard loop, making it easier to pick up for users with fine motor control disabilities. Even the charging cable, which is housed in a cardboard sleeve, features a handle to make it easier to pick up and open.
Looking beyond the Xbox Adaptive Controller itself, you can see many of these same design considerations in place with the Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit, a bundle of button and switch peripherals designed to work with the Xbox Adaptive Controller. The peripherals were designed with help from Microsoft and Special Effect, and again, there’s a lot of thought put into the peripherals packaging.
If you order the Adaptive Gaming Kit online, the exterior packaging it is mailed in features the same loop based design as the Adaptive Controller, used to make it easier to open the mailing box up. Once inside, the Adaptive Gaming Kit itself doesn’t feature any fiddly tape holding it shut, instead being held shut by small strips of velcro. This once again removes some of the need for fine motor control when opening up the packaging for the first time.
While many of the items inside the packaging are stored in individual plastic packaging, Logitech have ensured that all plastic packaging used is open at one end, and is not taped shut. By holding the closed end of the plastic and tilting, the item will come out of the packaging without needing to open fiddly tape.
Each of the cardboard compartments inside the package are clearly labelled with large images and numbers. No words are used on the compartments, and it’s clear at a glance what kind of peripheral is in which portion of the packaging. Each of these cardboard compartments features a large gap in the cardboard to make it easier to remove without relying on fine motor control. Peripheral cables are held together with velcro, which can be pulled apart more easily than unfastening twist ties found on other packaging.
So, with those out of the way, let’s take a little time to look at the process of unboxing a retail unit of the Xbox Series X. We’re going to look at what makes this console slightly more difficult for disabled players to unbox unassisted than Microsoft’s accessibility peripherals, and talk about why I would like to see Microsoft extend some of its accessible packaging practices beyond their disability focused peripherals.
When first opening up the Xbox Series X, the first thing players will have to deal with is the stickers on the outside of the console’s packaging. In Microsoft’s defense, the stickers on the Xbox Series X packaging are a step above those of their competitors, they do feature a small strip at one end which is not stuck down, which does make them a little easier for the average user to remove. You don’t need fingernails to peel up the edges, but they’re certainly not as easy to remove as the looped stickers on the Adaptive Controller packaging. They require slightly more manual dexterity, as you need to be able to grip the sticker between the tips of your index finger and thumb to comfortably remove. It’s a step above the competition, but a step below what they do with their disability focused peripheral packaging.
Additionally of note, the Xbox Series X retail box features these stickers on three different sides of the console, requiring repeated lifting and rotating of the console’s large and heavy box compared to the single side seal solution of the Adaptive Controller.
Inside the box, the Series X itself is wrapped up in multiple layers of additional and unnecessary packaging. The console is wrapped in a foam based wrapping paper style material, which is taped shut on both ends, then additionally wrapped in a cardboard sleeve around that. While for many this will not be an issue, the console does need two hands and an amount of finger dexterity to be easily removed from those layers of packaging.
For some more points in Microsoft’s favour, some paper instructions in the Series X box do feature a large loop, to make them easier for disabled players to pick up, if they find small movements with their fingers difficult. Microsoft has included some of their design elements from the Adaptive Controller packaging in the packaging for the Series X, but they have not done so consistently.
The cardboard compartment at the back of the box does feature a decently sized hole, to make it easier to open up, and the cables for the console are held in place by tape that features easy to peel strips to make them easier to open up compared to cable ties.
The new Xbox Series X controller is wrapped up in foam packaging, which has its open end taped shut. This could have been left open on that end, and been easier to open for disabled players, or simply left loose in its compartment of the Series X box.
I absolutely love that when Microsoft releases a disability focused peripheral, the company makes sure there are as few barriers as possible to disabled players unboxing the peripheral without assistance. That said, disabled gamers don’t only purchase disability focused peripherals. They often also buy the consoles that go with them, and seeing as Microsoft already has the tech and knowledge to make their packaging accessible, I’d love to see that apply to all the products they release.
The Xbox Series X packaging is far from the least accessible I’ve seen for a console, but there are some aspects of accessible packaging that Microsoft makes use of with disability peripherals, and opted not to with this console. They’ve already invested in loop box sticker tech, they already realised it’s easier for disabled players if they avoid unnecessary extra packaging. They’ve already worked out that fabric tags can make it easier to get packaging open.
Microsoft is, in comparison to their competitors, already ahead of the game in making their packaging accessible to disabled players. The Series X packaging is a step in the right direction compared to its competition, but I would love to see it take a few steps closer to the packaging of their accessibility peripherals. In a perfect world, it’d be just as easy for a disabled gamer to open their new console as it is to open the specialist controller they plan to use with it.