Interviews

XtendPlay – Interview with the creators.

Whenever a new gaming accesory is released it always catches my interest, and XtendPlay is something very different indeed.
Judging from the pictures it’s understandable that you might be a little suspicious of the product.
It claims to make holding the controller more comfartable and eases the infamous gamers claw, an affliction so many of us serious gamers have encountered.

So I sat down (figuratively) to speak with the Dave & Mark Sparling, the creators of this rather odd product, in an exclusive interview:

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:   XtendPlay is quite an unusual product that’s entering our gaming world, can you tell us a little about it?

Dave Sparling:   You’re right–XtendPlay is definitely an outside-the-box product!  With it we’re trying to push the dial on the status quo by asking gamers to try something new and different in terms of the way they handle their controllers.  The distinctive benefits it offers revolve around the core idea of being more comfortable and relaxed while using a controller, yet at the same time remaining fully engaged.   Some may find it unconventional looking, but in this case form follows function.  Countless hours of development, testing, and refinement led to a solution to a real problem.  For some gamers this will mean they’ll be able to play longer, and for others it’ll be more about quality of game play than quantity.

The idea is pretty simple, actually:  XtendPlay does the work of holding the controller for you, its shape and size promoting comfort and better ergonomics in a number of ways.  Greater comfort/improved ergonomics = better and more enjoyable game play.

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:   How did you come up with the product? What inspired its design?

Mark Sparling:   The initial inspiration for XtendPlay came from me.  Back in the day I logged a fair number of hours on SSX Tricky on the PlayStation 2.  After a little while playing I really started feeling cramping, soreness, and fatigue in my fingers and hands.  As a gigging drummer in LA my hands need to be well-rested for me to perform like I want to.  They we’re definitely getting compromised by my gaming and I needed to find a better way to play since the standard controllers weren’t cutting it.

If you hold your hands with your palms facing you in a naturally relaxed position, you won’t be making a fist, nor will your fingers be completely straight (i.e. karate-chop style). Your hand and finger muscles have to work to maintain either of those positions.  I realized that when using the controller my hands were gripping the thing in a claw-like way, and that’s what was bringing on the discomfort.  So I thought that if the shape of what I was holding onto when gaming kept my hands in that more open and relaxed position, it could really reduce the discomfort I was feeling when using the controller.  I created an initial prototype to prove out the concept and it worked quite well–I was now gaming a lot more comfortably and playing a lot better as a result!  With this early XtendPlay prototype I pushed my SSX Tricky score even higher.

 
Wolf’s Gaming Blog:   Was it a long development process or did you find your initial idea to be fairly close to the finished product?

Mark Sparling: It was a pretty lengthy process.  The initial prototype wasn’t much bigger than the actual controller, but it definitely fulfilled the purpose of encouraging the hands to remain more relaxed during game play, but a lot of hours play-testing the prototype got me thinking that I could take the idea even further.

Having knocked the hand discomfort out of the picture, I started to notice that my arms and shoulders were also experiencing the same kind of soreness I’d had in my hands.  Wondering if that could also be addressed, I started experimenting with increasing the size and shape of the area between the controller and my body, the goal being to make it possible to keep my arms in a more supported and relaxed position.  This thinking led to product’s size and shape–basically what was needed to solve the arm/shoulder problem.  And it really worked.  The bigger size allowed the controller-XtendPlay pairing to rest against my midsection or on my lap in a way that was a lot more comfortable than before. Comfort and better ergonomics in the fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders…while gaming with a controller!  

From that point, there was still a lot of evolution in the design, both in terms of size and proportions as well as material type.  And even in the latter stages we were improving the design– for example, adding and figuring out the best positioning of the Airflow Channels and the type of surface texture.

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:   You’ve gotten quite the endorsement from famous Gamerscore addict Stallion83, who is trying to reach one million Gamerscore. How happy are you to have gotten him on board?

Dave Sparling:   We’re definitely jazzed that Stallion83 really took a shine to the product.  To us his enthusiasm for it really illustrated that XtendPlay could appeal to gamers at all levels, from those at the top of the game to more casual gamers.  We think it says a lot that he now refuses to play without XtendPlay.  And that should help him get to 1 million a lot faster than it took him to get to 500,000.

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:   Being gamers yourselves you know how hard it is to please us, we always find something to complain about. Do you think gamers are going to willingly accept XtendPlay?

Mark Sparling:   We’re aware that XtendPlay represents a different way to game, and that’s initially going to be met with some skepticism out there in the world.  Even Stallion83, when he first took a look at the product, had his doubts.  Once he gave it a fair shake, though, and gamed with it for a bit, he realized how big a difference it made for him.   There’s no question that for a lot of gamers using XtendPlay is going to feel different at first.  When you’re used to tightly clutching the lobes of a controller, your hands closer to a fist-like position than a relaxed position, there’s a good chance you’ll have a bit of an adjustment period.  But even during that period the benefits will kick in.  You’ll feel the difference.  We know the product works, and brought it to market because we truly believe it helps gamers play better.  As more and more gamers experience it and realize the impact it has on their game, the less outside-the-box it’ll become. 

At the same time, it’s certainly not lost on us that we introduced XtendPlay shortly after Sony and Microsoft released their motion-control peripherals, Move and Kinect.  From the first reveals of those devices there’s been a lot of speculation about the place of the beloved, standard controller over the long haul.  While there’s no doubt that the new hardware can open up a lot of gaming experiences that aren’t really possible using a controller, there’s a pretty vocal component of the gaming world that feels they’re no longer the main focus of the hardware makers.  Meanwhile, here we are with XtendPlay, which helps gamers feel even more connected to their controllers.

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:    Obviously you’ll be hoping for an absolutely stunning reaction from the gaming world, but realistically how well do you see yourself doing with XtendPlay?

Dave Sparling:    Since launching earlier this month we’ve had interest from gamers around the world, and we’re putting into motion plans to roll XtendPlay out internationally in early 2011.

We realize that there is a conceptual divide we’re asking gamers to cross in taking to this product; however, it bears repeating that this is truly a product in which form follows function. It has been very carefully developed to provide its unique benefits to the user.  As we said earlier, it was invented to solve a problem set that Mark was experiencing playing video games.  It wasn’t even thought of as a mass-market product initially, but after hours and hours of gaming with the early prototypes we both came to realize that this product could be a great success in helping people get more out of their gaming experience by reducing the discomfort and fatigue that often accompanies game play.

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:   I’m going to be a little mean here to you guys :) I’ve noticed on the Xbox 360 version of XtendPlay there seems to be no gap for wired Microphones such as the Official Xbox 360 Wired Headset to be plugged in. Was this a deliberate design choice?

Mark Sparling:    The Xbox 360 version of XtendPlay actually is compatible with many wired headsets, like the current, official Xbox 360 Headset from Microsoft, that use an L-shaped or low-profile connection to the controller.  There’s a headset-jack recess in the controller cavity.  We specify that XtendPlay for Xbox 360 isn’t compatible will all wired headsets, particularly older-generation models that use a bulky housing (often where the volume control is located) to connect to the controller.  For those headsets that are compatible, you plug it into the controller before slipping the controller into XtendPlay.

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:  This interview may be about the product, but a product is only as good as the people that design it. Was getting to develop your own gaming related product a dream come true for you?

Mark Sparling:  We’ve always been tinkerers and problem-solvers. The process of developing XtendPlay and introducing it to the world has been immensely gratifying.  We know the product delivers its benefits very effectively, that’s why we wanted to share it with the world.  We believe it will make gaming more enjoyable for anyone out there whose willing to try something new.  

Wolf’s Gaming Blog:  XtendPlay is hitting the market soon, so are you already working on your next ideas to develop or are you going to sit back and see how XtendPlay?

Dave Sparling:  We’re focused on growing the XtendPlay line and moving forward with our other products.    

 
Wolf’s Gaming Blog:  The final question, and it’s the question that just has to be asked: name your favorite game and tell us why it’s just so damn good?
Mark Sparling:  I’ve been in ASSASSINS CREED mode lately.  I just finished AC II and am about to launch into “Brotherhood”.  I love the depth of the story line, the amazing attention to details in rendering the world, the complex puzzles that need to be solved and of course leaping from a 20 or 30 foot high ledge with a hidden blade is pretty cool!

Dave Sparling:  I’ve been playing a lot of racing games lately, and really digging THQ’s MX v. ATV Reflex. Particularly the Freestyle stuff.  It’s just a kick in the pants, flying off those ramps, trying to nail crazy combinations of flips, spins, and tricks.  The physics, the quality of the graphics, and the precision of the controls really make for an engrossing experience.  I’m eager to get my hands on the next installment in the series, which I think will be MX v. ATV Alive.

I’d like to thank Mark & Dave Sterling for their time, and I thoroughly look forward to getting my hands on the product when it’s released in the UK.

For now, check out the official website at: http://www.xwerxonline.com/

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