Back in January of this year, Sony announced that they were developing a modular accessibility controller for the PlayStation 5, at the time codenamed Project Leonardo.
The controller, which consists of a circular ring of customisable buttons and an adapted analogue stick, with inputs for external 3.5mm accessibility peripherals, was shown off being used as part of a pair of adaptive controllers, alongside a Dualsense, in early promotional images.
The controller seems to take a different approach to accessibility compared to Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller, including the option for all controller face buttons and both analogue sticks to be accessible out of the box, but only if you purchase two of the adaptive controllers.
Last week, as part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Sony formally announced the name of their new accessibility controller would be the PS5 Access Controller, a simple and to the point name that gets to the heart of what the device is aiming to be.
However, when the name was announced, I did feel a little bit anxious about what the name might imply. I hope that I’m wrong, but my first instinct was to assume that the name might be indicative of a fundamental difference between Sony and Microsoft’s approaches to hardware and controller accessibility.
So, to rewind slightly, back when the Xbox Adaptive Controller was released back in 2018, the primary Xbox console on sale at the time was the Xbox One.
While the Xbox One had its own specific controllers, you could in theory use a last generation controller for the Xbox 360 when playing games Xbox One games on your Xbox One. The system supported last generation controllers without issue.
When it was time for the Xbox Series consoles to release in late 2020, the new next generation consoles also offered controller backward compatibility, allowing Xbox One controllers to be used on day one with these new consoles and their new games.
This was important, as it signified the first time that a next generation console had ever launched with support for an existing accessibility controller available on launch day.
People who owned an Xbox Adaptive Controller already wouldn’t need to buy any new adaptive hardware to upgrade to the new console generation.
This move was important for a couple of simple reasons. If a disabled gamer needs an adaptive controller to play games, they are already being upsold an expensive controller that they ideally shouldn’t have to replace too frequently, and they should be able to jump in excitedly on day one with their friends, rather than having to wait years for a new controller to become available.
This brings us back to the PS5 Access Controller, and where Microsoft and Sony have historically differed on controller support for legacy systems.
The PS5 does not support playing PS5 games using a PS4 controller. This is not a hardware limitation, you can play PS4 games with a PS4 controller on the system, and if you remote access your PS5 via a different piece of hardware like the PS4 you can play PS5 games with a PS4 controller that way, it’s technically doable, but a PS5 game on its own hardware will look for and require a Dualsense 5 specifically to operate in most circumstances.
This is a choice made by Sony.
This was a problem when the PS5 launched, because a lot of disabled PS4 owners who needed custom accessibility controllers either had PS4 controllers bespoke modified by charities like Special Effect, or were using the Xbox Adaptive Controller via adaptors like the titan Too, designed to make them appear to be PS4 controllers to PlayStation hardware.
This meant that while the Xbox Series consoles supported an accessibility controller from day one, the PS5 cut off support for PS4 owners accessibility controllers, not offering them a new bespoke solution until now, a few years later.
So, to be clear, I am really excited that Sony is offering their own accessibility controller for the PS5. The fact that their solution comes out of the box, in some configurations if you get two of them, with full controller layout functionality without needing external switches is a really interesting choice, and the confirmation that two PS5 Access Controllers can be used alongside a Dualsense as a single user mirrors the way that Co-Pilot Mode functions on Xbox, something that has been long requested on PlayStation.
The controller’s existence is definitely a net positive and a step forward for the industry.
But, the thing I can’t stop thinking about is the fact that, unlike the Xbox Adaptive Controller whose name is not specific to any individual Xbox hardware, PlayStation’s controller is specifically named the “PS5” Access Controller.
Now, maybe I’m reading too much into this. I hope that is the case, and I hope I’m ultimately proven wrong, but given PlayStation’s track record of not supporting moving controllers forward to next gen systems, I worry that the PS5 Access Controller is only intended for use on the current PlayStation hardware generation, and that Sony may not have considered whether they plan to make the controller compatible with whatever the next generation of PlayStation hardware might eventually be.
Maybe it’s too early to be considering this. Perhaps Sony will simply rebrand the controller as the PlayStation Access Controller down the line once the naming convention matters a little more, and maybe the name today is just meant to signal that it doesn’t work on systems prior to the PS5. There’s a lot of ways that Sony might ultimately surprise me on this one, and I’m not ruling any of those options out as possible.
But when I see PS5 in this new Access Controller’s name, I feel the need to ask Sony to please understand that carrying support for this controller forward to the inevitable PS6 is important.
When that next console eventually launches, having an existing accessibility controller that works day one on next gen, and doesn’t require an expensive repurchase from disabled players, is incredibly important.
Xbox already understands that, and your naming convention here makes me a little concerned that maybe you don’t.