What was the last game you pre-ordered without a second thought? You were so excited to play it and get those pre-order bonuses that “Take my money!” was your only reaction to seeing any content covering the game?
Joining in the social media hype, pre-ordering, memeing, and wishlisting. These are but a few of the ways people share their excitement for an upcoming game. These are such core components of the culture surrounding video games that we often take them for granted. But there is one large group of gamers that are routinely denied the ability to participate in this part of the culture.
More and more we’re seeing developers release basic accessibility info for their titles, and while this is fantastic progress, it’s still not nearly enough for a disabled person to make an informed decision when buying a game. In addition to seeing what options and features are available, disabled people need to know how things actually perform. So a game has “captions.” Are they actually proper captions or are they simply subtitles? And if they’re scalable, by how much and what do they look like? Where are they on the screen? You can remap buttons but are there so many button assignments that you’re still forced to map things to buttons and triggers you can’t actually use? And what does “simplified UI” mean? Does it really make a difference for players with low vision?
Buying a game is always a gamble when you’re disabled. Unless you’re buying it on Steam or the Epic Games Store, you won’t be able to get it refunded if it turns out to be inaccessible to you, which in itself seems silly. We all remember Cyberpunk 2077 being so buggy at launch that everyone was offered a refund, no questions asked, and the game was removed from the PlayStation store. Why don’t disabled players have that same expectation of being able to refund a game if it is unplayable for us? Too often, disabled players are left waiting until they can either read a post-launch review on CIPT or watch a playthrough on Twitch to find out if they will be able to access a game, obliterating any hype surrounding the game for us.
Disabled people in the US alone have $21 billion in annual discretionary income. When half of the US population play video games, it’s a very safe assumption that game studios are losing a lot of money by denying disabled people this essential info on accessibility.
In a first for Can I Play That and perhaps the industry as a whole, I was able to write a hands-on accessibility preview of Returnal, the upcoming PS5 exclusive from Housemarque. Returnal, as most games do these days, comes with a handful of pre-order bonuses. Maybe they’re simply cosmetic items or maybe they’re early access items that will make for a different play experience. Regardless of their function, being able to give disabled players all of the accessibility information they need as well as some commentary on how it actually functions, disabled players now have a full week to make an informed decision on whether they’ll be able to play Returnal and have plenty of time to still get those pre-order bonuses.
Why is this such an important consideration for game studios? Two reasons:
- It just sucks to be left out. And we are, over and over and over again. This is such a frequent occurrence that we launched a whole site to address it!
- Disabled people in the US alone have $21 billion in annual discretionary income. When half of the US population play video games, it’s a very safe assumption that game studios are losing a lot of money by denying disabled people this essential info on accessibility.
While our accessibility preview of Returnal will be less impactful right now because PS5s are so hard to come by and the player base is severely limited, being able to do an accessibility preview sets a necessary precedent in the gaming industry. Disabled people need more time than the usual one or two day window on review embargos (though even review copies for disabled journalists are still a rarity) prior to a game’s launch because there is so much to consider before dropping $60-$100 on a game. The full week in advance we were allowed to share this information for Returnal is a tremendous step in the right direction.
Our full review will be able to go into much more detail regarding accessibility, but being able to scratch the surface and provide disabled players with the full, hands-on accessibility information quite literally changes the game.
In the end, everyone wins by allowing disabled journalists and content creators to share this information prior to review embargos. Studios stand to make far more money and a much greater chance at selling the deluxe or premium editions of their games to disabled players and disabled players will become more loyal fans of brands that give them this ability.