One drawback of the classic Xbox and it’s successor, the Xbox 360, was the size of the controller. Xbox One has now left that problem behind by designing more female friendly controllers. While the average gamer back when the classic and it’s large controller was designed usually consisted of teen boys who had slightly larger hands than their female counterparts, it was not a huge problem.
As gaming became more popular, the target demographic of all gaming consoles began to change. The Xbox 360 had the same size controllers that the classic had. This kept a lot of female gamers from becoming enthusiastic fans of Xbox games. Certainly the games themselves were more geared toward the male population; first person shooters such as the iconic Halo: Combat Evolved first appeared in 2001 and it was definitely aimed at the young male audience.
Young ladies who were interested in the games were in the minority and even if they wanted to get involved the sheer size of the controllers made playing the games difficult. In a lot of cases console popularity boiled down to the ease of controller use for smaller handed girls. Even teenage boys with small hands had difficulty using the large controller.
While Sony controllers have always been smaller and easier for feminine hands to use, there were some games that were exclusive to the Microsoft console that girls could not play on the Sony console. Halo was the first wildly popular exclusive on Xbox and it was, admittedly, aimed at a young male market.
There were other exclusives to the Xbox that were not aimed at young teen males. Electronic Arts released Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2002 on the console this was definitely aimed at the younger female fans of the television show. The game itself had a difficult beginning. This was, technically, the second iteration of a Buffy-verse game with the first being described as horrible. The project started as a Sony Playstation game but was shifted to Dreamcast and then to Windows for PC play. Finally all these versions were axed and the game wound up on Xbox.
The game was a hit with reviewers who were enthusiastic and positive in their reviews. Despite this, games aimed toward females tended to be lackluster and not very action oriented. Probably due to the fact that not many girls would put up with consoles that were difficult for them to use. Times have changed, even if the Xbox 360 controller size did not.
Controller size has now changed. It seems that not only is the gaming industry crying out for more women to join the ranks of game development, but, Microsoft have recognised that their “too-large” controllers aren’t the right size for all potential gamers. The senior principal creative director at Xbox, Carl Ledbetter, revealed that the Xbox One controller was put through some “unique tests.” These tests look to have been responsible for making it more female friendly.
Apart from over 40 improvements to the controller, that have nothing to do with size, the team went through great pains to ensure that the controller could work for a wider range of hands. Carl said that they actually set up a group of 3D hand models that included the smallest and the largest hands that could be using their new controller.
Ledbetter explained that they made “fake hands” in a large range of sizes to make sure that the new controller fit as many hands as possible. He said it was hard for designers to “visualise” something as intricate as gamer’s hands.
The 3D models and fake hands enabled the design team to solve problems that could affect a range of gamers and the obvious hand size differences between players. The aids helped them to highlight the challenges behind making the new controllers more comfortable for all players.
As part of this process, the Xbox designers built over 200 controller “prototypes” that took into consideration not just size, but, shape, controls and things like location of the batteries. After making these prototypes the team spent over 500 hours testing the controllers in “1,100 pairs of hands.
The end result of all this testing was an Xbox One controller that was female friendly. For the first time since the Xbox first appeared, “girl gamers” do not have to stick to Sony games because the controllers are easier to “control.” Well done Microsoft and Xbox.
By Michael Smith