London, 3rd September 2012 saw the launch of a comprehensive developer guide to addressing the accessibility issues faced by over 20% of video gamers. www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com has been created by a group of developers and experts, coordinated by Ian Hamilton, an accessibility and usability specialist with a background in game development. The website offers all developers guidelines on how to better serve the needs of gamers with a range of visual, hearing, speech, learning and motor conditions. The hope is that by highlighting the relatively simple changes needed, the games industry as a whole will be able to ensure that they quickly become part of its normal working practices.
According to Ian, “Studios and publishers often don’t realise the huge number of gamers who struggle with existing games due to barriers which could be easily addressed as part of the development process. Recent research by PopCap showed that as many as 20% of gamers are disabled. On top of that, 15% of adults have a reading age of below 11 years old, almost 10% of male gamers have some degree of red-green colour blindness, and many more have temporary impairments such as a broken arm, or situational such as playing in bright sunlight. Developers are usually very keen to work around these barriers, and are simple solutions too, such as combining colours with symbols, or allowing text to disappear on a button press rather than a timer. Often all they need to make their games more inclusive is just a bit of information to start from.”
Other simple but important suggestions in the guidelines include configurable controls, choice of difficulty, clear text formatting and visual cues for audio information. All of these are easy to implement if thought about early enough, and are generally part of good game design that benefits all players.
At the same time they have tremendous benefit for certain players: for example, a woman became so frustrated at being unable to understand cut scenes without subtitles she resorted to lobbying games publishers on their forums; or the quadriplegic gamer who felt the need to plead via Twitter for developers to give him the ability to move the fire from the trigger to a face button so he can play the same games as his friends.
For Ian, creating the guidelines has been a six month process, driven by his desire to do something about the number of studios who unwittingly ignore the needs of players through a lack of knowledge about the barriers disabled gamers face when trying to play their favourite games.
“The guidelines started really a few years ago as a personal project triggered by work I did whilst at the BBC, which included creating games and products for disabled children. That expanded into advising internal teams and 3rd party game studios on game accessibility, which made me realise firstly to what degree gamers were unnecessarily being shut out by the games industry through lack of awareness, and secondly the huge value that games have: it’s not just about delivering access, it’s about entertainment, culture, socialising, the very things that are the difference between existing and living. Gaming really does have a huge impact on people’s lives,” said Ian. After requests from working with the wider industry he gathered a group of studios, accessibility experts and academics to develop them further, including Blitz games studios, Headstrong Games, Aardman Digital, OneSwitch and Stockholm University. “
“Through the process we’ve spoken to developers around the world, from small indies to large triple-A studios, and the support has been fantastic. There are already several games in development that are using the guidelines to deliver the best possible experience to as many people as possible.”
One of the developers that the guidelines have already helped is Poland-based Vivid Games, who sought Ian’s help when creating a PC version of its recent mobile and PS3 game, Speedball 2: evolution.
“When we were developing the mobile version of Speedball 2 we included a special mode for colour blind gamers, which changed the palette and increased the contrast to ensure that all the on-screen action was still visible.” said Remi Koscielny, President of Vivid Games. “For the PC version we wanted to increase the accessibility of the game, so we worked closely with Ian to ensure that every part of the game was optimised for impaired gamers. Having learnt what a major difference can be made to so many people with just a little extra effort, we certainly hope that all developers take on board the fantastic work that Ian has done.”
www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com is an open and free resource for anyone involved in the games industry around the world to use. It will continue to evolve, and feedback from developers is welcomed via the website.