Let me be upfront about this. If you can share details about a customizable dick in your video game, you should be able to share details about your accessibility features.
That wasn’t specifically a dig aimed at CD Projekt Red —it kinda was— but it was a dig at the way marketing and shared information about video games works and what is, and not allowed to be talked about. We’re always learning about gameplay features such as the ability to shoot from cover, or that NPCs are going to be procedurally generated. However, we’re rarely offered information about how a game can be played and the accessibility features available.
For many players, they only care about the quality of puddles, if the story is pushing an agenda, or if a game has a playable and historically inaccurate woman added. For disabled players, we’re worrying the game isn’t going to be accessible to their needs. Will it have decent subtitles? Will there be controller remapping? Can I use eye-tracking? This worry is never sated until much closer to launch, sometimes not at all.
I’ve reached out to studios months prior to the launch of a game to ask about the state of accessibility for a news post. Being so close to launch means the options would be there, surely? Not only that, what about those games that are delayed and were due to launch? The options should have been ready? In response to my emails, I’m usually told that there’s nothing to share at that moment in time.
But months later, developers and directors will be in interviews revealing the scale of the map, talking about day-to-night-cycles, and occasionally talking about difficulty modes if prompted, such as the Ghost of Tsushima interview.
So, why is it possible to share information like, “these clouds have 32 layers,” and “you can play as anyone in the city,” but not mention anything about actual, helpful information about playability and accessibility? What does your studio have to lose in talking about subtitle presentation plans? Menu narration implementation? Scaleable HUDs? Why is this information a no go when asked about it?
A lot of this problem seems to be because the video game industry is shrouded in secrecy. Production has NDA and confidentiality restrictions in place that stop information from being shared unless given approval. It prevents leaks, it keeps reveals exciting, and protects developers from talking about features that might end up being cut later in development. I understand this, and I respect it.
Part of me wanted to reach out to developers and talk about what restrictions come into play, but I have a feeling NDAs and confidentiality agreements put a block on such discussions. There’s also the chance that talking about these restrictions sways them into a grey area. So really, I’m merely having to share my assumptions and experience in signing NDAs in the past.
Maybe the accessibility features fall under the umbrella of production topics that are soaked in NDAs? NDAs I’ve signed tell me I can’t talk about anything that was discussed in meetings, and that includes mentioning accessibility will be present at all. So really, if this is the case for employees, perhaps the industry needs to look at the restrictions they’re imposing on vital information that deserves to be shared when ready rather than locking it down.
Keeping accessibility information secret is only damaging the player’s hopes for the game, and their trust in the brand. I never like bringing up the incentive of money for adding accessibility features because they should be added regardless. But it’s true — knowing if a game is accessible sells.
Allowing gaming outlets to preview and report that your game will have a fully customizable range of penises and a singular vagina is obviously going to spark a wide reaction. It’ll bring clicks, it has meme potential, it gets people talking about your game, I know how this works. It’s worth noting that CD Projekt Red didn’t reveal the customizable genitalia thing, but it’s something that they had front and center during the character creation during the previews the other month.
But it’s not offering any information regarding whether or not a game is going to have features required for disabilities. At the moment, gaming outlets don’t see the clicks in accessibility so they don’t always look for these features, disabled creators are rarely given the opportunity to try games early on alongside outlets, so it falls to the developers, publishers, and PR to make the effort to inform us.
It could be so simple. If your game is 100% going to have subtitles or color blind modes? Make a tweet about it and show them off. Work with teams to make an accessibility trailer showing confirmed options or listing them. Create a roadmap to let us follow your progression. Have you been looking into accessibility from the start? Mention that. Send accessibility focused press releases so that outlets can focus on that for a news post.
It feels as if studios don’t know the impact that marketing accessibility features would have on the disabled community. Disabled players want to spend their money on video games, but because we’re never marketed to, we don’t splash out. Christy, for example, discussed why marketing needs to include us more.
I’m absolutely not saying that I want to see studios announcing accessibility options just for the sake of announcing something. Make sure you have solid plans before announcing anything, even if it’s only a few options. Let us know we’re being thought about in development, and realize the importance of sharing useful information over “RTX shadows”. There’s also the added bonus in sharing design choices that can lead to feedback and avoid having, for example, multiple subtitle presentations.
I want to see the community involved and informed as early on that some level of accessibility support is going to be included. Take The Last of Us Part 2 for example. Accessibility was in the works for years but only revealed a week before launch. The game was one of Sony’s fastest-selling exclusives, but imagine how many disabled players purchased it after finding out about the accessibility features. Now imagine how many disabled players might have preordered if even a handful of accessibility features had been revealed months in advance.
Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Legion allowed us to see what the state of accessibility is like months in advance through actually inviting disabled players and outlets, such as Can I Play That? to try the game early. A first for the industry. However, the game was due to launch in Fall 2019, then March 2020, and I don’t believe we saw anything about accessibility being teased until we were invited and were able to explore it all.
I guess, in the end, what I’m trying to say is, if you can allow details such as having customizable dicks in your game, you should be able to share information about accessibility features. We need to see these accessibility features treated like everything else. Tease them, reveal them, market them, talk about them, build the hype surrounding accessibility for that part of your audience that is far too often forgotten about.