For those who prefer Super Bowl commercials about farting Clydesdales, or whatever, look away. Microsoft’s new, 60-second spot, which will air during the fourth quarter this Sunday, is a surprisingly heartwarming mini-documentary produced by McCann Worldgroup, about a group of kids with disabilities who love to play video games.
The children discuss their experiences growing up as gamers who have difficulty using standard controllers–including the standard Xbox controller that cost $100 million to develop–and how that changed with the Adaptive Controller for Xbox One. Microsoft released the product earlier this year. It ditches the tiny switches you find on most controllers for two giant buttons and supports a dozen hyper-specific peripherals like sip-and-puff sensors (which enable control through breath) for people with disabilities.
The controller is a classic example of inclusive design. Inclusive design is a process that brings overlooked populations into the product development lab, talking to them about their experiences, and spotting cases where building things for 99% of users can ostracize the remaining 1%.
In an ideal world, inclusive design creates better products for everyone. (A more legible typeface might help people with vision impairments read content on screen, and maybe it could help everyone else read faster, too.) Even when that isn’t the case, inclusive design should lead to products that can accommodate our differences rather than presume our sameness. For the Adaptive Controller, Microsoft spent a year working on the packaging alone, to ensure that when people received their fancy new Xbox toy, they’d be able to enjoy opening it, whether they had limited mobility or not.
No doubt, by buying a Super Bowl spot, Microsoft is cementing its very well-planned, multi-year blitz into claiming inclusivity as its point of view as a company. It’s not even the first time Microsoft has advertised the Adaptive Controller. For the holidays, the company released a very Hollywood-feeling story in which an entire neighborhood gathered together to watch a boy named Owen Simmons (who is also in this spot) “get a high score.” It wasn’t terrible, but for me, it had a strange sense of artifice–made worse as it was filtered through a vision of what gaming looked like in the 1980s, before we all played together online instead of in person. The “making of” of that commercial was actually better than the commercial itself.
The new spot gets rid of any staged storytelling. Instead, it puts the kids front and center, talking to the camera, telling their real stories. They bring a sincerity to the product that no copywriter ever could.