A multi-year collective effort resulted in the Xbox Pride Controller, customizable and available anytime

Elliott Hsu, one of the leading hardware designers, created the Surface Pride Type Cover keyboard. Her inspirational message came from Fedorov, who presented Hsu with the flags of the many LGBTQIA+ communities that span many gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual and romantic orientations. And every year, they and the teams they worked with found that more and more people resonated with the design.

“We love the rainbow flag. I think it’s fantastic,” says Fedorov, who along with others working on the design wanted to focus on the idea of ​​intersectionality coming together between communities. “At the same time, we have to understand that the community is not a monolith. Everyone’s experience is different and there are many communities under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.

Each year, Hsu and Fedorov wanted to challenge themselves and the teams working on Pride products (such as the Surface Skins shipping in 2020) to make designs more meaningful and maintain momentum.

“We wanted a way to show our commitment through a Microsoft product and use our design skills to build it,” says Hsu. “It was a very creative project that speaks to a lot of people.”

Eventually this design would lead to the Pride Controller, a project that spoke to people across the company, attracting hundreds of people who helped develop, refine, and release it to the public – a monumental effort with many pieces mobile over the years.

“The goal here was to make the gaming world a more inclusive space and Pride was an opportunity to take a good step in that direction,” Ruiz said.

In 2021, with the pandemic still affecting the supply chain and many other constraints, this collective decided to put the flags (at the time, 18) on an Xbox wireless controller – an idea that had been percolating since 2019. Knowing that they couldn’t mass-produce under the conditions of the time, they created a limited-edition controller that they wouldn’t sell, but sent out to around 100 gamers and creators in the LGBTQIA+ community.

The reaction was unexpected – people loved it but were upset that they couldn’t buy their own controllers, lighting up social media with both praise and dismay. This reaction ended up proving the internal case to a wider audience, sparking more conversations with the engineering and marketing teams that committed to the project. These teams and the other teams working on the controller were invigorated by the focus on the prototype and how people wanted more of it. June 2022 became the focus for the grand entry and availability of the Pride Controller. This would give the teams plenty of time to develop the design, as it’s typically a one to two year process to produce a custom controller (which includes testing and trials as well as myriad tweaks to color).

“While some fans were super disappointed that they couldn’t purchase the Pride controller, the creators who received the controllers were super thrilled,” Ruiz said. “They were really thrilled to be recognized in their communities. So our biggest takeaway at the time was that the gaming community had an appetite for a Pride controller they could buy.

July 2022 Xbox Ambassador of the Month, itsMikeytho, shows off his Xbox Pride controller.

Jen Nichol, senior business development and partnerships program manager at Xbox, was part of the collective effort that led to the proposal and strategy to bring the Pride controller to the Xbox Design Lab. She has also been integrated into the Xbox community (through her previous work with Microsoft Mixer and as Community Management Manager for Xbox Studios) and is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, both as an ally and as the parent of a daughter who identifies as trans.

“My understanding and connection to this community is personal. It is my family. They are my people. So it wasn’t hard to find out how important it was,” she says. “Through play, you build really strong relationships that last for years with people on the other side of the world. It’s community. And there’s no way to embrace the community without embracing everyone and recognize that people are valuable.

For her and the rest of the team, this project was a love letter to the community; a way of saying, “We see you and we want you here.” She also charted a course to give back to this community. To add to how Microsoft supports LGBTQIA+ communities, Teams made initial charitable contributions totaling $170,000 to several nonprofits supporting these communities.

“It would ensure that we do so in a way that shows real support — not just words — and that we donate whether we sell it or not,” Nichol says. “We all agreed that it was better to do it this way than not to do it at all, because it is important that positive and real change takes place.”

While the Surface Type Cover and Skins were flat, the 3D shape of the controller proved to be much more difficult from a design perspective – especially when the “+” part of the community was so massive – and the team wanted to continue to expand its representation.

What you design here impacts someone who can see themselves depicted on a product,” says Hsu, who had experience designing previous custom controllers, such as the one tied to “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and Elite Series 2. “You have to put every flag in there and make it look like a flag. It’s tricky to have 34 elements. We generally try to reduce design elements.

But everyone on this project agreed: the controller should maximize inclusion through these flags.

“Every little thing matters to increase acceptance and inclusion for LGBTQIA+ communities. We know that visibility matters, representation matters,” says Fedorov. “When people see their flag represented, it changes lives. We have 34 flags and some of them are not seen often, they are not common.

The teams continued to work on it, balancing and recalibrating. Hsu and other designers have made sure that each flag still fits and looks like a flag. Fedorov says the intention of the design is to show many communities (to try and give fair treatment) and draw attention to those who are often the most marginalized. The end result illustrates intersectionality within the community and between communities, while at the same time creating a sense of unity, of people coming together through the groups.