Currently, if you’re an Xbox gamer, you’ve got a great deal of control over which controller and peripherals you use on Xbox consoles.
While there is a list of companies who have officially partnered with Xbox to produce licensed controllers and peripherals over the years, the company has also not gone out of its way to prevent unlicensed third party devices from being produced that work with their consoles.
This had led to a market offering cheap alternative controllers, controllers with unusual form factors and layouts, as well as controllers with unofficial functionality options offered by companies that might not have Xbox’s official seal of approval.
The reason I’m bringing this up today is because of a new warning screen being shown to Xbox owners after the latest system update, if they have an unlicensed peripheral connected to their console, giving their device a fast approaching expiration date.
Error code 0x82d60002, which began surfacing in images posted online over last weekend, warns players that they have been detected using an unauthorised peripheral. The error message states that unlicensed devices “compromise your gaming experience”, and as such support for them will be ending on November 12th 2023, around two weeks after the message first appeared on players screens.
For many gamers this will not be a big issue, a lot of third party peripherals available today are licensed Xbox products which have paid to have official Xbox branding on their packaging. But, some devices will cease to function, and it’s important to talk about that, because it is going to in some cases limit accessibility for certain disabled players.
To kick this off, I want to talk a little bit about myself. When I was in my early 20’s, I was a disabled gamer without much income. If I wanted to purchase a new game, that often meant taking my old games in to sell in the process. Money was very much tight for a while, and that impacted my ability to access officially licensed controllers, particularly those with more specialised features that might help me from an accessibility perspective.
For several years, I used an unlicensed third-party controller with my Xbox One. It was a cheap wired controller, and not terribly well made, but it was affordable, and had a few really useful features. It had symmetrical sticks, which I found more comfortable to use. It had programmable paddle buttons on the back. It had a turbo button, so I didn’t have to button mash, and it had a macro button which could be set to press multiple buttons with a single press.
It was cheap, and it allowed me to play.
While third party controllers will definitely still exist after this November 12th shutoff, there will be limits to the ways they can exist.
I suspect that Xbox will require, for example, an asymmetrical stick layout that matches their official brand guidelines, regardless of if a symmetrical stick approach is more comfortable for some players. Controller makers probably won’t be able to offer multiple console support, as some unlicensed controllers currently do via mode switches. There will be a shrinkage of the market for external devices, and that isn’t a positive for accessibility.
Additionally, some unlicensed peripherals on Xbox consoles exist specifically to avoid using Xbox controllers on Xbox consoles at all, as some users find other companies’ controllers a better fit for their needs. Adapters which allow, for example, an Xbox owner to play using a PS4 controller, will likely never see an officially licensed alternative, shutting off that avenue of accessibility for disabled gamers who rely on it.
This kind of support was super important in the early days of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, where gamers used devices like the Titan Two adapter to use an Xbox Adaptive Controller on their PS4 consoles, something that no longer functioned correctly once PlayStation moved to the PS5.
These kinds of adapters allow accessibility input device flexibility, which will likely be shut out by this update.
If you, for example, had a custom PS4 controller made by a charity such as Special Effect prior to the release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and you’ve been using that on Xbox via an adapter, that is an example of support that will likely be discontinued by this update.
I get it from Xbox’s perspective. Unlicensed devices are the wild west, and with that comes risk of poor quality products being associated with your brand. Higher ups likely don’t want someone buying a cheap little Xbox controller on Wish or Temu, finding it low quality on arrival, and thinking that Xbox controllers generally are cheap and unreliable. I understand this from a practical, brand protection perspective.
There are also rumours that this is part of a move for Xbox to more readily allow licensed Xbox controllers to connect wirelessly to their consoles, something currently fairly limited with third party controllers.
I can recognise that, and understand the reasons for this shift, and still think this move will have negative consequences.
Unlicensed controllers are such a positive for accessibility explicitly because they are the wild west. When you don’t have to follow brand guidelines, there’s a lot of room to make something that might be a perfect fit unexpectedly for someone.
If you’re someone who struggles to hold a controller in a way that doesn’t damage it with extended use, cheap controllers might be a better idea long term.
If you need some weird obscure button that Xbox doesn’t officially want to allow, an unlicensed third-party can offer that.
If you struggle to reach all of the inputs on a controller because they’re spread out, a smaller than standard size controller might work well for you.
Maybe your controller is just an unusual shape, and someone finds it easier to play with single handed.
If you’re trying to create a custom controller for someone, a cheap unlicensed controller might be a great option if you’re just planning to strip it and solder things to its PCB.
Unlicensed controllers and peripherals can get weird and niche, and for many disabled gamers they’re an affordable gateway to make playing games more accessible.
It is important to note, to the best of my understanding, there is one area of exception to this new rule. It seems that unlicensed third-party 3.5mm and USB inputs will still be supported for use with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is a really important caveat. One of the best things about the Xbox Adaptive Controller is that it supports such a wide variety of unlicensed peripherals, helping to ensure affordable custom setups are viable.
I want to be clear, this is speculation on my part based on testing XAC inputs I have access to, which are not officially licensed, and have not caused the error message to appear. This is not an officially confirmed stance by Xbox, and is something we need them to officially state one way or the other.
It seems like XAC inputs are unimpacted, and I am working under that assumption presently, but will be a lot more critical of Xbox if it turns out that is not the case.
If it is correct that XAC inputs are uneffected by this update, then Xbox clearly does understand that there is value to allowing unlicensed peripherals on their console, and that for accessibility purposes it can be vital. Xbox isn’t able to, as a company, create devices that are a good fit for every disabled gamer’s use case, and as such they keep the door open for third parties to help ensure variety in that ecosystem. For Xbox Adaptive Controller users, Xbox is willing to trust that they know what they’re doing when they buy an unlicensed accessory, because it happens to fulfil a niche need for them.
That approach however seems to no longer apply outside of Xbox Adaptive Controller users.
Xbox moving to limit the use of unlicensed third-party peripherals shouldn’t be shocking, both PlayStation and Nintendo already disallow the use of unlicensed peripherals on their consoles to varying degrees, but until now Xbox has been the one console maker to keep these doors reasonably open, and as a result there are specific use cases for accessibility which will now be shutting off.
I understand why it’s happening, but there are undoubtedly disabled gamers out there today, who won’t be able to use the same controller that currently works for them two weeks from now.
It’s going to take some time to properly catalogue which devices are and are not impacted, and that lack of clarity is certainly leading to a lot of uncertainty from disabled gamers.
Right now a lot of people with unofficial setups are worried they may lose their ability to play on Xbox.
There’s no real silver lining to that, it just is what it is.