Accessibility After Launch

With modern gaming, it is not only possible, but expected for titles to include accessibility features. Options to control text size, activate subtitles and even customize controls are commonplace for AAA and indie developers alike. Yet, the implementation of assistive mechanics is no easy task to perfect, and games still release without features that benefit disabled individuals.

Despite the occasional initial lack of accessibility options, developers work hard to ensure that their titles accommodate a bevy of disabilities post-launch. If a game releases in an unplayable state, many disabled individuals take to social media sites or game forums to discuss their concerns with development teams. For example, an accessibility review from DAGERS, and a tweet from Can I Play That’s founder, Susan, alerted Far Cry 5 developers to glaring accessibility barriers at launch.

“While we weren’t able to address all of this feedback in Far Cry 5 at that point, we were able to react quickly and turn on subtitles by default in a title update,” Ivan Kulbych, lead game designer at Ubisoft Kiev said. “We also based a lot of accessibility improvements on that feedback for Far Cry New Dawn, for example, speaker names for subtitles and SFXs visualization.”

To coincide with Far Cry 5’s update, other Ubisoft development teams resolved accessibility issues with their games, namely through accessibility-centered events. In fact, Ubisoft Massive directly involved disabled individuals with varying patches, utilizing specialized feedback to make Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 an inclusive experience.

“[J]ust after we shipped the game, Ubisoft Massive invited players from the Deaf/HoH community to our internal user research facility (the Games Lab) for a user test,” Patrick Görtjes, Project Manager at Ubisoft Massive said. “One of the most common pieces of feedback was that our directional marker for subtitles and closed captions, which shows you what direction a sound or line of dialogue comes from, was too subtle. So, we improved that with the help of our UI team.”

Creating accessible games is not just an exclusive mission for AAA development studios. Despite the difference in budgets and manpower, indie developers also utilize their skills to provide entertainment for everyone, regardless of physical or cognitive limitations. Again, interacting with disabled individuals, as well as inclusive ideas, proved crucial components when designing games such as Freedom Finger.

“There were two sessions at GDC (one about general accessibility and one about subtitles) that were incredibly helpful,” Jim Dirschberger, Creative Director of Wide Right Games said. “After launch, we asked for and received feedback from players. The most important lesson I learned was that expanding and adding accessibility options should be an ongoing discussion with players. Ask what they need and respond. [It’s] not a simple item you can just complete and move on from.”

While these examples are indicative of a positive shift in disability acceptance within the gaming industry, many developers and studios began projects with little-to-no accessibility knowledge, nor an interest in adding said features. However, this lack of understanding was never meant to be an act of ill will toward disabled individuals.

To help educate the overall gaming community, disabled players inform their audiences through constructive game reviews and playthroughs. Whether written or broadcasted through videos or streams, these constructive critiques provide concise examples of missed opportunities to implement accessible features. With each comment from the disability community, developers can begin the arduous journey of transforming their titles into accessible games without diminishing on exciting content.

As disabled players continue to vocalize their concerns, developers can add their suggestions into future titles. While it is feasible to fix minor accessibility barriers with updates and patches, content such as remappable controls and text-to-speech are better implemented at the start of a development cycle, notes Kulbych. Regardless of when a feature is designed, developers want to ensure that disabled individuals are validated with their criticisms.

“Overall, I’m seeing a lot of teams “compete” with each other now when it comes to developing accessibility features, and as a result, everybody wins,” Görtjes said. “As the industry progresses in this area, many things that are currently labeled as “accessibility features” will just become standard user customization options, and it will become unthinkable to ship a game without them – the same way we wouldn’t ship a game these days without letting the player invert the Y-axis.

The push for video game accessibility is sweeping, and modern games are a testament to that fact. Through the addition of accessible features, disabled players can fully escape into beautifully crafted worlds, living out their fantasies as hardened warriors, professional athletes, or trainers of exotic pocket monsters. And behind these experiences are developers who, as Dirschberger notes, are doing their duties as designers to share their games with everyone.

“After learning about accessibility features, I’ve come to realize that my job as a developer doesn’t stop once players buy the game. I should be offering them whatever they need to fully enjoy the game in the way they want to. Adding these features is an extension of that obligation.”

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Grant Stoner

Grant Stoner enjoys running in video game worlds because his legs won't let him do so in real life. You can follow his accessible thoughts and ramblings on Twitter @Super_Crip1994