When people talk about Google Stadia, the majority probably scoff at the prospect of another Google initiative destined to fall flat on its face. The reality is, that has happened. As revealed by the official blog post, Google Stadia will now no longer be supported due to not reaching the traction the company had hoped for. However, with the gradual erasure of Stadia from the gaming space, we should be looking at what the platform did right for accessibility.
Regardless of Google’s frequent shifts in the tech industry, one thing I like to see is how accessibility is thought of in the majority of products. YouTube, for example, is set to release an audio track feature that can be used for audio description tracks. Google Pixel introduced live captions for phone calls and text-to-speech. And more Android updates for braille support for TalkBack and more were announced earlier this year.
For Stadia, accessibility was present in various areas, although Google didn’t really make much of a fuss about it. Our accessibility impressions of the Google Stadia Premiere Edition weren’t exactly positive. The controller was described as big, slippy, and awkward to hold. There was only one accessibility feature at the time of the review as well, which was the screen reader. So what exactly am I talking about when I say we can learn from Stadia?
This was something that had never been seen before on any platform at the time to my knowledge. The built-in Stadia store where players can purchase and gain instant access to their games included an accessibility section. This section sat alongside other customer information such as game modes, supported inputs, and genres.
This feature sparked my conversation about why gaming platforms need to start listing accessibility features. They allow players to know what to expect before they buy a game. Without them, there’s the chance that they realize they’ve wasted money on something that’s inaccessible.
As it happens, later down the line, Xbox and PlayStation had been secretly in the works on something similar. Xbox announced its new Accessibility Tags feature for the Microsoft Store, a way for players to see what features are present in a game before purchase. PlayStation also published something similar, a website showing accessibility for its consoles and first-party games, but not as in-depth, nor store-wide as its competitors.
Other platforms, such as Steam have not added anything such as these accessibility mentions despite them being important. In fact, the lack of this feature on Steam has found some developers listing accessibility features in the store descriptions. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an example of this.
So what can we learn from Stadia here? Well, accessibility listings are important. Having them clearly viewable is important as well. At the end of the day, you want a customer to know whether the game will have features they may require.
If you have the space on your store page, list the features. Go the extra mile as well. List your features on your own website like Ubisoft does for its launches, months before release. Include accessibility information in your marketing and PR, and let players know they’re included in your creation.
Stadia Tandem was a feature added that worked in a similar way to Microsoft’s Co-Pilot feature. Tandem allowed players to not only link up an alternative controller such as an Xbox Adaptive Controller but to also use a secondary controller in tandem with the primary. This feature would be lovely to have on all gaming platforms for those that want different controller layouts and playing setups.
The lesson here is slightly different and a bit more complicated. Tandem and Co-Pilot can open up a lot of games to more players who rely on this type of feature. Tandem could be used to offer multiple playing setups, perhaps using half a controller on the desk and another controller on the lap. If a game doesn’t have remapping available, Tandem could be the way for a player to bypass that barrier and reach inputs with less struggle.
However, players who only have access to this platform may have been able to play their current and upcoming games comfortably thanks to Tandem. With Stadia’s demise, those players may now need to lose access to that level of accessibility unless they invest in another platform that supports similar.
The lesson, then, could be seeing the importance of software level remapping that works across platforms. Keyboard, mouse, and controller remapping at a software level can ensure a player’s peripheral is comfortable for them. As is, rather fittingly, allowing players to use a keyboard and controller in tandem.
Allowing players the option to play the game in a variety of ways only enhances the gameplay experience and widens the audience.
Goodbye Stadia, I Hardly Knew Ya’
I never got to use Google Stadia, but then I never had the internet capabilities to handle cloud streaming. In saying that though, Stadia has left behind some things that we can all learn from when it comes to accessibility. We’re already seeing accessibility booming across the industry, but at the time, Stadia was silently doing wonders where others weren’t. I just wish there was more noise surrounding Google’s efforts in this area.
Maybe we’ll see accessibility listings becoming the norm across other platforms in a similar way, such as how Microsoft has achieved its own. Maybe we’ll see more remapping available at a software level or maybe more platforms will look into Tandem and Co-Pilot type features to allow more players more ways of playing.
For now, though, it’s a fond farewell to Google Stadia.