Sightless Kombat: 10 Things We Learned About Accessibility
On Thursday 24th May SightlessKombat Website, Twitter, YouTube came to Splash Damage HQ to spend a day with the developers; talking to specific projects, various disciplines and the company at large about accessibility in games.
For those that don’t know, SightlessKombat is a gamer-without-sight, and an incredibly adept gamer at that! In between educating our staff, he made time to beat some of our most ardent fighting fans at Killer Instinct, one of the games that helped him rise to prominence.
Throughout the day we learned a whole lot of things, some specific to projects that we can’t talk about, but here’s a handful of things we learned about accessibility in games generally:
Accessibility Is Better For Everyone
There are a massive number of things that make games accessible, things that we often take for granted.
Subtitles, something designed for those who are hard of hearing, is used by a huge number of gamers. Haptic feedback (which covers things like the rumble of a control which we’ve all grown to love) is particularly useful for gamers without sight, especially if it’s well-designed! Slamming into cover in Gears of War 4 feels good, but is also a great way for gamers without sight to simply know that they’re in cover.
There are audio-only games
As SightlessKombat was delivering his talk he walked us through a level of Grizzly Gulch: Western Extravaganza. While it “hasn’t aged that well” it served as a reminder to everyone in the audience that sound design, even almost 20 years ago, is crucial when designing your game. The creak of the tavern door, the clink of glasses toasting the evening, the pistol firing into the ceiling; these helped to create a real, believable and living Western scene – demonstrating the power of audio for all of us watching.
Make menus accessible
It’s not just about making the game bit of your game accessible, but being able to navigate to the game is just as important. HUD volume sliders, an optional voice-over telling you what option you’ve selected, or specific sound cues for specific things – there are a lot of ways to make the menus more accessible.
Have some accessibility options on by default
If you’ve done a lot of great work making your menus accessible, and some of your game, you need to think about how people are supposed to navigate to those options to enable them. Consider having some options on by default so people can navigate to the options to customise to their own preferences.
Think outside the box
Some of the features in your game might be perfect accessibility tools without you even realising. Halo: The Master Chief Collection has an ‘auto-centering’ feature that automatically repositions your gun as you walk forward. In Gears of War SightlessKombat told us that his co-op partner would rev the Lancer chainsaw to help zone in on their location. While these are cool ideas for most people, they also works fantastically well as accessibility tools. As developers we solve problems in creative ways anyway; when dealing with accessibility we should be thinking of creative ways to solve these problems as well.
Accessibility is good for business
“This may sound crass,” SightlessKombat said to us, “but the more accessible your game is; the more people will buy it. That’s good for business.” As our industry finally opens its eyes to more and more types of players, players with accessibility issues should be considered as well.
Always be thinking about accessibility
Subtitles. Haptics. Gun re-centring. HUD volume sliders. When designing anything we as developers should always have that voice in the back of our heads reminding us to be thinking about accessibility. How might a certain feature be engaged with? How are our audience going to read this fighting game move list? How are our players going to know they’re going the right way? We need to be thinking about accessibility from the moment we start developing a title, rather than crow-barring accessibility features in further down the line when they become more difficult to implement.
Co-Pilot is Co-Op
Copilot is platform-level functionality on the Xbox One that allows two controllers to act as one single controller. If you’re wondering how to make your specific title more accessible, but aren’t sure how, copilot allows you one player to handle movement, and one to handle shooting (or however the players choose to share responsibility!)
Accessibility outside the game
We as an industry spend a huge amount of time designing the perfect websites, specially curated patch notes, spending hours working on tone of voice documents and brand guides – but rarely do we think of accessibility when designing many of these things. How do we make our update notes more digestible for people with specific accessibility needs? What about our websites? What about the events we host? Launch events? Livestreams? Gamers with accessibility issues are just as involved in the hype and the excitement and the community around a game as anyone else, and we need to make sure we’re remembering that.
Always be open to feedback
While we might make some decisions with people’s best interests at heart, it’s always better to speak to people who are experts. Solicit feedback, talk to people with accessibility needs, invite people to the studio, focus test – anything you can to make sure what you’re doing is as useful as it can be.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as accessibility explorations go. We’re committed to doing the best we can going forward, but if you’d like to learn more about accessibility in games check out some of the links below.
Microsoft Gaming for Everyone – https://www.xbox.com/en-US/developers/gaming-for-everyone/communities/di…
EA Accessibility portal – https://www.ea.com/able
Sony – https://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/accessibility/