Accessibility is important - in all areas of life. In videogames, it allows people with disabilities to play and socialize without having to climb unnecessary hurdles. And although game studios have begun making strides to address inaccessibility - think super accessible games like Last of Us 2 and indie game HyperDot - there’s still a lot of work to be done for accessibility to be standardized across all games. If you’re a game developer, consider this: Why wouldn’t you make your game accessible? We can almost guarantee that the reasons popping into your mind are unfounded.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Tara Voelker, Gaming Accessibility Program Manager at XBOX, and Mark Barlet, Executive Director and CEO of The AbleGamers charity, about accessibility, game development, and the games industry. In the process, they debunked various myths about accessibility in games and we’re here to set the record straight.
Misconception #1 “Accessibility doesn’t affect many players”
Accessibility (or lack thereof) affects more people than you might think. Whether a gamer has a visible or invisible disability, a newborn child that takes up serious arm space, or like all of us, is simply aging, accessibility has a major impact on a large portion of the population.
In the Unites States alone, 26% of people live with a disability, and most people are likely to experience a temporary or permanent disability at some point in their lives. Mark also pointed out that there are more gamers above the age of 50 than there are under the age of 18, which means a large population of gamers will increasingly turn to more accessible options.
Here’s more food for thought: People with disabilities are a valuable market with money to spend. In an era saturated with countless games released by AAA studios and indie developers on a weekly basis, making your game accessible can make it stand out from the rest and increase its chances of success.
Misconception #2 “Accessibility is expensive”
Accessibility can be expensive, but that’s only if you hadn’t planned for it from the start.
Tara explained that she worked on retrofitting accessibility into Evolve when it came out on PS4, XBOX One, and PC. The studio was supportive of the retrofit, but backtracking ended up costing them a pretty penny. “Our color-blind mode was the most expensive thing we built, because of how our VFX pipeline had been previously set up” she said, “to make it color blind accessible, we ended up having to make three different versions of these effects that people could load in with. And that was obviously incredibly expensive to just literally triple the size of some of this VFX work.”
Based on this experience though, the team learned to prioritize accessibility from the very beginning of their next projects. The VFX artist who had worked on retrofitting Evolve for example, was now able to recognize when she had a received a concept that wasn’t colorblind friendly and would immediately send it back to be updated, saving both time and money.
Misconception #3 “Accessibility is complicated”
If you don’t know anything about accessibility, it could seem complicated, but accessibility is generally straight forward and easy to implement. Tara suggested that if you have no idea where to start, you should start by optimizing four simple things that can make a big impact: colorblind mode, text size, control remapping, and strong subtitles. Better yet? Check out some of the accessibility resources below to make sure you can cover the basics.
Tara suggested checking out the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAGs) which are a set of best practices developed in partnership with industry experts and members of XBOX’s Gaming & Disability Community. She also recommended the Games Accessibility Guidelines, which filters various accessibility best practices through basic, intermediate, and advanced guidelines, which allows you to start small and ramp up as you get more accessibility-savvy.
Mark and his organization AbleGamers, used extensive user research to create the Accessible Player Experience (APX), which is great comprehensive resource. APX is a card set of 22 design patterns created to aid game developers looking incorporate accessibility into their videogames. Fun fact: Last of Us 2, a game celebrated for its accessibility, was built on APX.
Prefer more of a classroom setting? APX was also expanded into an online 2-day course called the Certified APX Practitioner Course which equips participants to identify potential accessibility issues in the design cycle and implement solutions to fix them. They've certified developers in some of the largest AAA studios, including Blizzard Activision, Square Enix, Avalanche, Volition and more.
Making your game accessible can have a big impact on the lives of many with minimal effort, and it can seriously set your game apart in a saturated market. If you’re ready to start creating more inclusive and accessible games, be sure to check out the games accessibility resources provided above.
For more on Xbox accessibility
For more on AbleGamers