Why we need to include Accessibility in the concept phase of game development


Gaming Without Barriers:

Not Your Typical Player?

There are a lot of people out there that don’t play the way you do. As a game developer it is important to consider the variety of players, the beautiful mix of people, the individuality of a person. Of course it is almost impossible to make the game valid for every single one of them. But what if there’s a group of people with similar habits?

According to a study done by PopCap Games, 20% of casual players are impaired.

A total of 13,296 casual game players responded to the survey, with 2,728 respondents (20.5%) identifying themselves as “mildly” (22%), “moderately” (54%) or “severely” (24%) disabled. Of those, 46% indicated that their primary disability was physical, 29% said it was mental, and 25% stated they had a developmental or learning disability. Over two thirds (69%) of disabled respondents were female, and a third (35%) of all respondents had another person — parent, adult offspring, spouse, guardian or caregiver — assist them in taking the survey.

That’s quite more than you would expect, isn’t it? There are not many games for these players, many of them manage to play through games despite the lack of accessibility. Famous example is Terry Garrett, a blind gamer who beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time after five years.

Honestly, what would you do? As a kid, I couldn’t understand English and I still played English games, despite not understanding a word. I somehow managed. My passion for games was greater than the language barrier. And imagine how it would be if it was still like this, you still don’t speak the language of the game. You would still try to play it, wouldn’t you? But it would be nicer if the game was in your language, so you could fully enjoy it. This is probably how many of the impaired players feel.

Fortunately, accessibility is getting more recognition, which is wonderful. Lirin, an AudioGames-user, who also happens to be one of our accessible mode testers, compiled a list of mainstream games with accessibility. Also indie games are aware of the topic. On Itch.io for example you have filters for accessible games.

It’s great to see that AAA companies are considering impaired players. Karen Stevens, EA’s accessibility lead, even reached out to me on Twitter to let me know that quoted texts in the AudioGames forum are not recommended and leads to users skipping / ignoring my posts (because of lots of repeating texts).

Accessibility as part of the concept phase

Some games are harder to make accessible, some are easier and it’s definitely harder to achieve accessibility when the game is already half-way done. I encourage everyone to think about it before developing and about which parts of the game are already accessible. Can you make simple changes to the concept to incorporate inclusiveness or make it playable to more people?

When you use colors for example, don’t hard-code them, but use a database or references instead. This way you can easily swap a color-set for colorblind-friendly ones. Is the game voiced? Great! Just make sure to have subtitles or dialog boxes for deaf people. Can you remap the controls? That way you can make sure that everyone can adjust to their play style. Find the links at the end of the articles for more questions.

There are many more simple tweaks that help with accessibility and the more you think about them, the more you come up with.

Here are some helpful links: