If you have any interest in video games as a medium, you’ve likely noticed over the past few weeks that both Microsoft and Sony have recently released brand new games consoles, the PS5, and the Xbox Series S and X. They’re fast, they’re powerful, and they both give me a bunch of new things to discuss on this show.
One of the biggest accessibility differences at launch between the Xbox Series consoles and the PS5 is support for legacy controllers. The Xbox Series S and X support all Xbox One controllers out of the box for use on next gen games. The PS5 supports PS4 controllers, but not for use on next gen specific software.
So, this week on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about the reasons Sony is forcing you to use a PS5 Controller, the reasons we know old controllers could easily be supported, and why it’s so important to disabled gamers that Sony follow Microsoft’s lead, and support using older controllers for more modern games.
So, to start, let’s summarise where Microsoft currently stands when it comes to legacy controller support. The Xbox Series S and Series X both feature full legacy support for all last gen Xbox controllers. The controller that shipped with your Xbox One, your spare wired 360 controller, or your unofficial third party controller with a turbo button should all work day one out the box on Xbox Series X.
The new Xbox Series controller features only a single new button, a dedicated share button for capturing screenshots and videos. With that exception, all old Xbox controllers are fully featured, and are entirely able to make the most of next gen games.
This allows for Xbox gamers who already have a working controller that suits their accessibility needs, like a controller with unusual button placements or a turbo button, to continue using them on the next generation of Xbox games.
Additionally, the Xbox Series X and S support the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a mass produced modular accessibility controller designed to help disabled gamers play games, by allowing for a variety of non standard inputs to be mapped to various buttons. While the Adaptive controller is a lot more readily available and cheaply produced than other bespoke disability controller setups, it’s still fairly pricey compared to a standard controller. As such, the fact it doesn’t need to be replaced going from last gen to next gen removes a barrier that might have prevented disabled gamers moving up to next gen hardware.
Put simply, microsoft is a perfect example of the importance of supporting backwards compatible controllers on new hardware. You don’t shut out gamers who have unofficial custom controllers that help them game, and you don’t leave disabled gamers in the position of needing a new custom disability controller, which can be expensive to acquire, in order to keep playing new games.
With that all out the way, I want to take some time to focus on Sony, and their approach to controller support on next gen hardware. Put simply, there’s no technical reason you can’t play your PS5 games with a PS4 controller, something we actually have proof for. Additionally, shutting off legacy support for controllers is a bigger deal on Sony platforms than it would be for Microsoft, because disability focused controllers are in many ways more difficult to come by on Sony systems.
I mentioned earlier in this video that the new Xbox Series controller doesn’t feature any major new features that would prevent past generation controllers being used to play modern games. By comparison, the PS5’s Dualsense controller does feature two major new features, and they’re features Sony is trying to push hard at the launch of the console. Haptic Feedback, and Adaptive Triggers.
Haptic Feedback is basically fancy rumble, able to mimic different intensities and patterns of rumble, from different positions across the controller. The controller’s adaptive triggers can resist being pushed, mimicking the sensation of clicking a camera shutter, or of pressing on a spring to condense it. Both new features provide impressive immersion that Sony is eager for players to experience, but both are also barriers to accessibility, which Sony allows players to completely switch off on a system level.
With Haptic Feedback and Adaptive Triggers turned off, the Duelsense is functionally identical to the PS4’s dualshock 4. In theory, there’s no reason why PS4 controllers couldn’t be used to play PS5 games. In fact, we know they functionally work, because there is a work around to play PS5 games with a PS4 controller.
If you own both a PS4 and a PS5, you can load up the Remote Play app on your PS4, and use a PS4 controller to play your PS5, streaming gameplay over your home internet connection to your PS5.
PS5 games are totally playable with a PS4 controller, demonstrably so. The only reasons I can think of not to support them on PS5 natively are a combination of desire to push their new controller’s optional features, and a desire to make money selling additional controllers.
So, why is it such a big deal that the PS5 doesn’t support PS4 controllers for next gen games? Well, because limiting PS4 controller support shuts a lot of gamers out of upgrading to the new console.
First, there’s the simple issues. PS4 controllers are generally smaller, lighter, and narrower than the Dualsense controller for the PS5. if you’ve got an unofficial controller with unique button placement or other accessibility features, you won’t be able to transfer it forward, and will have to wait long enough for third party manufacturers to start making similar controllers that work with the PS5.
But, perhaps most importantly, any gamers with a custom PS4 disability controller will likely have a much more difficult time replacing it than Xbox gamers would in this situation.
Sony doesn’t have an equivalent of the Xbox Adaptive Controller for PlayStation consoles, a mass produced and easily available modular disability focused controller. If you love PlayStation’s first party titles, but need a custom controller to game, chances are high you’ll need the help of a charity such as SpecialEffect, who specialise in making custom game controllers.
Charities such as SpecialEffect have limited budgets, and a lot of people at any one time require their help and support. Where an Xbox gamer can buy a set of modular parts online to get themselves gaming, someone on PS4 likely would have needed a bespoke controller built for them to keep them gaming.
The fact that those bespoke disability controllers won’t be supported on PS5 sucks. It means that players will either need to join the queue for a new custom built accessibility controller, or be left behind, unable to continue playing the Sony games they love.
Sony’s refusal to support PS4 controllers on PS5 is totally something they have the power to change. They’ve already, to differing degrees, made it happen. Several brands of PS4 fighting game sticks and racing wheels are supported on PS5, showing that support for PS4 controllers is definitely possible, and within Sony’s control.
Sony, I know you love your new controller’s features, and want to see them properly adopted by gamers and developers alike. Here’s the thing, your new haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are incredibly cool. You don’t need to encourage their adoption by forcing people to use them, they’re cool enough most players are going to actively want to use them, if they are able. I get what you’re trying to do, but the price of your push towards these new features is that disabled gamers are being pushed away from upgrading to your new hardware.
Please Sony, look at what your competition is doing. Dedicated disability controllers, allowing legacy controller support, and not shutting out players who need custom last gen hardware to game. Microsoft’s support for backwards compatible controllers is wonderful, and your unwillingness to make that jump yourselves is really hurting disabled players.
The sheer number of disabled gamers this week who have tweeted me telling me they can’t get a PS5 because their custom controller won’t work on it is heartbreaking. Sony, don’t put pushing new features ahead of keeping Disabled PlayStation gamers able to play.