Cannes Lions winner: Microsoft adaptive controller brings gaming to everyone

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Developed in partnership with the accessibility community, the Xbox Adaptive Controller enables gamers to customise their controller set-up in a manner that works best for them. The campaign won a prestigious Cannes Lions award.

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Case study summary

• New, adaptive Xbox controller that made for easier play for people with physical disabilities.
• Super Bowl 60-second ad followed the stories of passionate young gamers,
• TV commercial, YouTube instructional videos; and e-sports tournament for gamers of all abilities, received 1.1 billion impressions

The challenge

Microsoft wanted to create a more inclusive experience for disabled gamers- but how can yiou create a controller that can cater for many different disabilities?

“Changing the Game” saw the creation of a new, adaptive Xbox controller that made for easier play for people with physical disabilities. Children who would be using the controller were consulted in its creation and created unboxing videos to spread awareness about how it functions.

“Our intent with our ads is to illustrate a product and a human truth, and [to] deliver on our mission of empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more,” said Kathleen Hall, Microsoft’s corporate vp of brand, advertising and research, at the time of the ad’s release earlier this year. “In this instance, the Xbox Adaptive Controller helps the children enhance their gaming experience and compete in new ways. What better message for a premiere sporting event?”

The solution

During the Super Bowl in February 2019, Microsoft aired a 60-second ad titled ‘We All Win’, the latest installation in the company’s journey of empowerment and inclusion — showcasing how the Xbox Adaptive Controller is designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility.

The ad follows the stories of passionate young gamers, including nine-and-a-half-year-old Owen, rising to the top of their respective games with a little help from their friends, family, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller. The story illustrates Microsoft’s commitment to building accessible technology that levels the playing field and creates opportunity for all, ending with the line: “When everybody plays, we all win.”

The extended spot, done by m:united//McCann New York, shows kids with limited mobility talking about how they interacted with a regular Xbox controller, with some definite difficulties. They are then seen taking the Adaptive Controller out of the box and with it, they can more easily play games, interact with friends, and gain confidence.

The parents of some of the kids get emotional when talking how the new controller has helped their kids in both gaming and life. Microsoft first introduced Owen in December 2018 during its holiday spot, ‘Reindeer Games.’

The results

The campaign won the the Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2019.

The Super Bowl spot, YouTube instructional videos; and e-sports tournament for gamers of all abilities, received 1.1 billion impressions, according to the brand’s case study.

The Grand Prix was awarded because it "not only changes the relationship the brand has with its consumers, but it has a disproportionate impact on people's lives," according to jury president Jaime Mandelbaum, Chief Creative Officer of VMLY&R Europe.“There were several contenders and some intense debate, but this was the one that really provided an end-to-end experience."

He added: "If you look at video games, it's the one thing where people can fly a plane, or drive a car in another reality, but these kids were finding yet another limitation. When Microsoft did is level-set the experience that they were having, and it generates a new relationship between them and their peers."

Although it was an emotive campaign (Mandelbaum said he noticed several people at the press briefing "tearing up" as the video was shown), that wasn’t why it was chosen, he told Ad Age. “It wasn’t like we saw that one and we were all crying–at some point you have to take a step back and look at what it’s actually doing for the brand."

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