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Game Accessibility: An Epic Primer

by Ben Lewis-Evans on 06/01/17 10:41:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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Earlier this month for Global Accessibility Awareness Day the User Experience team at Epic Games put together a brief primer on Game Accessibility to share within the company. We also want to share it more broadly, so here it is! 

What is game accessibility?

Game accessibility is about allowing a broad range of players to experience and play games.

Accessibility creates great user experiences: Accessibility features improve the user experience, and can result in better retention, onboarding, and monetization. For all players. In fact around 60% of able bodied people also use accessibility features when they are available (subtitles, subtitle sizes, mute, difficultly settings, etc).

So you can keep on playing: Disabilities can impact any of us. If you break your arm, get an eye infection, or simply get older maybe you can’t play or enjoy playing games anymore. Alternatively perhaps your play environment is restrictive, too noisy, or has to be quiet (as to not disturb others). Perhaps your room can’t be setup to have an optimal viewing distance to the screen or gets bad screen glare? Accessibility design can help.

An untapped market:  20% of the population of the USA currently has a long lasting disability.  70% of these disabilities are invisible (color blindness for example). For individuals with a long term disability games can be a vital form of entertainment and socialisation. A way to enjoy the world that is otherwise not possible.

Accessibility Resources

The top ten ways to improve game accessibility:

(Modified from the website of the IGDA special interest group)

  • Allow all controls to be remapped: This allows for players who need to use special controllers to play your game. As well as accommodating the preferences of all players.

  • Add closed-captioning for all dialog and important sound effects: Allows player with reduced or no hearing to play your game. It also provides help to those playing in loud environments, in places where they can’t have sound on, and for those who may not speak the language fluently.

  • Provide documentation in an accessible format such as HTML or plain text: This allow the documentation to be translated by screen readers for those with low to no vision. PDF’s and images are not accessible in this way.

  • Provide assist mode such as auto-targeting, training options, etc: This helps those with accessibility needs and can be leveraged to help teach the game to new players.

  • Provide a range of difficulty levels: This not only caters to all players, but also allows those with accessibility needs to play at difficulty levels that may not be as intense or demanding.

  • Make interface fonts scalable: To assist those with low vision and players who may have to sit far away from their screens or who have small screens.

  • Allow for high-contrast color-schemes: Helps those with low vision as well as generally increasing the readability of the game.

  • Add audio tags to all significant elements including actors, doors, items, user interface elements, etc: Allow for those with low to no vision to play as well as increasing the usability of the game in general (see this video of a blind gamer playing Killer Instinct).

  • Allow for a varied range of control over play speed: As with difficulty levels this not only helps those with accessibility needs it also helps players learn and play the game at a pace they enjoy.

  • Announcer accessibility features on the packaging and website: This allows those who need them to easily find them before they make a purchase and will help drive players to your game.

Useful websites and articles:

  • Game Accessibility Guidelines: A range of different guidelines, from basic to advanced. Covering general, motor, cognitive, visual, auditory, and speech based accessibility guidelines. With examples from best practice games.

  • Includification: Guidelines for mobility, hearing, vision, and cognitive accessibility.

  • IGDA Accessibility Special Interest Group: The international game developers association game accessibility special interest group. Contains resources on how to provide accessibility in games, including visual, cognition, mobility, and auditory disabilities.  As well as a way to contact and chat with developers working in the area and links to many other websites.

  • Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit: Inclusive design toolkit put together by Microsoft. This includes an introduction to the area, some activities, case studies, and videos.  

  • BBC Accessible Game Standards: The BBC accessible games standard lays out some accessibility standards that they follow.

  • BBC Subtitle Guidelines: Considered the best practice for subtitles.

  • Game Accessibility Conference: The first Games Accessibility Conference was held alongside GDC and all the sessions can be watched here

  • Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2017 Summary: A summary of all the game accessibility events held on Global Accessibility Awareness day this year [added now that Ian has provided this]

Useful talks:

Unreal Engine:

  • Color blindness simulation is built into the UE4 Editor. It is under Edit -> Editor Preferences -> Appearance -> Color Vision Deficiency Preview Type

One useful tool:

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