How the Xbox community helped create the game’s largest customizable controller

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At E3 2016, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox Design Lab, a program that gives customers the proverbial keys to the design realm. Controllers and Special Edition hardware have long been staples of the gaming industry, but now Xbox gamers would be able to design a controller the way they wanted, without relying on a preconceived notion of identity.

And while Monique Chatterjee, a senior designer at Xbox, attributes the basic idea of ​​allowing consumers to have more say in designs to the fans themselves – and such discussions have been going on for years – she also mentioned the rising tide of customization that the teams were seeing in other products, such as NikeiD sneakers, custom Converse and even bikes.

“So it’s just kind of continuous curation that I feel like it shows up, you know, it shows up with a lot of projects that we do by the industrial design team,” says Chatterjee. “And for the controllers… the time had come. [It] seemed really appropriate because controllers are so personal to people.

But how do these controllers end up in the hands of the players? How does something like factory-built controllers, which consumers are typically told what colors to choose, with no options, manage to meet the demands of controller fans and connoisseurs?

Well, some things are the same. The controllers themselves are made with the same supplier network, manufacturing process, and Microsoft partners, but with some technical differences. Chatterjee said they also need to come up with additional and more complex tools that can handle a myriad of resin colors at a higher speed or flush out colors faster. A small amount of each of the color options is kept and monitored, to ensure that nothing runs out as well.

Of course, when it comes to managing that supply of coins, not all Rainbow Specters are created equal. Not everyone will want neon green and purple controllers in the most vivid hues imaginable.

More polarizing colors like purples, pinks and yellows might not see the same amount of product stored

“So I think part of it is probably based on numbers, and then part of it is just sort of coming in with some knowledge of what we think we are mostly selling,” Chatterjee says.

The team has “a lot of education” about the colors people typically gravitate towards: Neutral colors on major parts of the case like black, whites, and grays tend to be popular, with Chatterjee possibly putting blues and grays. the reds after these. However, “more polarizing” colors like purples, pinks and yellows – sorry fans of those colors! – may not see the same quantity of stored products.

“So there’s knowledge in there, and then also, you know, sort of using the data,” Chatterjee says.

If you think choosing and coordinating the colors of an outfit is tricky, just imagine picking out a wardrobe for a whole line of customization. Determining the exact palette to offer on the Lab was a challenge. They had to decide how many colors to offer and how those colors would work well together, while still ensuring that the selection offered variety. But the more colors there were, the more problems with manufacturing and logistics arose. Some colors made sense, however.

“We tried to develop the colors based on the most popular colors and some cultural references or similar play for each color,” says Chatterjee.

This meant that popular colors like blue had different variations, such as midnight blue, photon blue, and a more pastel ice blue. Yellow, on the other hand, was more streamlined: the team took inspiration from race cars and chose a shade that was more widely applicable.

And of course – this is Xbox we’re talking about – so we can’t forget the brand’s signature green either.

“Green was really interesting to us because Xbox has a cultural connection to green, so we wanted to make sure we had the super bright, punchy green that is reminiscent of 360,” Chatterjee explains.

Given the brand’s penchant for FPS titles, they also added a military green to the selection.

“Xbox has a cultural connection to green, so we wanted to make sure we had the super bright, punchy green that is reminiscent of 360.”

Monique Chatterjee

“Yeah, so coming up with this color scheme that sort of speaks to Xbox fans and the kind of culture around that space, as well as the color preferences of people in general, was like a big challenge,” Chatterjee says. .

On top of that, taking those colors and then applying them to specific and individual parts of each controller was another hurdle. Darker colors can be used on thumb sticks, upper cases, D-pads, triggers, bumpers, and lower cases, but the parts are all made of different resins – different plastic compounds – so get similar UV stability across the board was something that had to be locked away.

“And we basically had to bring our resin formulas to a specific specification where we are confident that if you leave your controller in the sunlight it will still look good in a few years, all the parts will fade a bit out of the way. the same rate, ”says Chatterjee. “They shouldn’t fade much at all, but they all meet the same degree of UV stability… so just getting all the resin formulas on par with each other was a huge challenge for this program. .

Different areas of the controller are currently only available in certain colors. For example, thumb sticks are only in darker colors, and while Chaterjee says that lighter thumb sticks are doable, they may have taken longer to meet the same standards. And, well, it’s easier to keep dark thumb sticks cleaner.

Other buttons – such as the A / B / X / Y buttons – are also available in fewer colors, due to the technical process behind their creation. Called triple-shot buttons, they are created by injecting three different plastics: the background and letter colors, then the top transparent color. This means even more stock that would have to be kept to change each of these colors. The display and menu buttons are dual, and the tools for those buttons are more delicate as well, and Chatterjee says the process of changing colors would make them even more complicated to create.

Once a controller is designed, it is then transformed into a string of code – each number of which corresponds to a specific color – which then travels to the factory. The controllers are also all assembled by hand and then delivered within 14 days.

“It all comes down to ultra-intelligent logistics”

Monique Chatterjee

Chatterjee believes this speed of execution is due to careful inventory management, as well as making small groups of parts and keeping specific quantities in the assembly room.

“Yes, it all comes down to super-smart logistics,” says Chatterjee.

Internally at Microsoft, setting up the project was in fact akin to the creation of a new company. It involved bringing together teams that usually don’t work so closely, which was “huge,” Chatterjee says. The creation of the Design Lab brought together teams including the Interactive Design Team, Xbox.Com, the Microsoft Store, as well as the creation of new relationships with their factory.

“… What’s really exciting about bringing all these groups together and understanding this process is that we now have a platform to do it, and so it’s developing a whole new business model for us, ”says Chatterjee.

And while starting such a program required an investment, and there was a minimum amount of sales the team had to reach to cover that – a number Chatterjee wouldn’t share – convincing people that the program was something Microsoft should do was not difficult at all.

“… There was so much enthusiasm in doing something like that, just because of the enthusiasm we had from the fans before we even started trying to do something like that, all along we have.” did more research as we got closer to actually shipping this kind of product, and just from all of those points, there was so much consumer excitement … it was pretty obvious that meeting that minimum quantity shouldn’t be difficult, ”says Chatterjee. “People were really excited and really ready for a product like this. “

However, there was an initial discussion of how custom fan controllers might impact other segments of the Xbox business, such as the limited edition controllers that Microsoft itself designs. He was quickly swept away.

“It’s really different to tell a game story through the material than to tell a personal story.”

Monique Chatterjee

“There was definitely a lot of talk about this potential conflict early on, but I think we got past it pretty quickly when we realized that the value of Design Lab was really to put in creative control, or the means of expression. , in the hands of the fans, ”says Chatterjee. “It’s something totally different and totally personal in a very different way than what we do with special editions and limited editions, where we understand a game IP or a game genre and really try to relate. a story through the material. It is really different to tell a game story through the material than to tell a personal story.

Microsoft was finally able to “reconcile” the value of each product line, and Chatterjee thinks they see how the Design Lab means different things to consumers. So far, the site has received millions of views, with hundreds of thousands of designs created.

And when it comes to the future of the Design Lab, the team is looking to expand into other markets, as well as the possibility of more colors on the road.

“One of my favorite parts is checking out the community pages and seeing the names people have given their controllers… just seeing what people have named their designs gives you a little taste of it. ‘where they were when they designed their controller, and you can just tell that everything is so special, ”says Chatterjee.


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