Why accessibility matters
Accessibility means avoiding unnecessary barriers that prevent people with a range of impairments from accessing or enjoying your output.
15% of the population are disabled, rising to 20% amongst casual gamers (PopCap). Other conditions that aren’t registered disabilities can also hit barriers. 14% of the adult population have a reading age of below 11 years old (NCES / BIS), 8% of males have red-green colour deficiency (AAO), and many people have temporary impairments such as a broken arm. Many more have situational impairments such as playing in a noisy room or in bright sunlight, and all players have different levels of ability – there’s no ‘typical gamer’.
As well as the numbers making good business sense, there is human benefit. Games are entertainment, culture, socialising, things that mean the difference between existing and living. For profound impairments this goes even further, with games meaning therapy, pain relief, escapism and independence.
When my injury happened, I got extremely depressed. Because I had no finger movement, I figured there was nothing I could really do any more. Eventually I found help to mod a controller. Thanks to remapping options I’ve been gaming ever since.
Manny Wooden, gamer & online FPS fan.
How to work with the guidelines
These guidelines are in three categories – basic, intermediate and advanced. These levels are based on a balance of three things:
Reach (number of people who benefit)
Impact (the difference made to those people)
Value (cost to implement)
They are then grouped in sub-categories that relate to types of skill / impairment: motor, cognitive, visual and speech, and also some general considerations that apply to all areas.
To get the most out of them, follow this process:
Review the guidelines before any work starts. If you do this at game design document stage then the work needed is greatly reduced, as many guidelines can be met just by a simple design decisions. The later in the project the more likely retrofitting will be needed, so costs increase significantly with time.
2. Evaluate & plan
The guidelines are an umbrella set for all genres and mechanics. They won’t all be relevant to your game, so first decide which guidelines are appropriate for your mechanic. The Excel checklist download can be used as a tool for this.
Often you can allow the same mechanic to reach a much wider audience by just providing a few extra options, for example Bayonetta’s automatic mode. For some players, that mode will be just as enjoyably punishing a test of motor skill as hardcode more is for other players.
3. Prioritise and schedule
Once you know which guidelines you’re aiming for, check which ones have more of a production impact if implemented later on in development, and get them into earlier milestones / higher up the backlog.
Even amongst the guidelines that are relevant to your mechanic, you may not be able to do as much as you would like to. This is fine. Do not let that put you off, doing something is always better than nothing, every single thing you do will simply allow more people to have a better experience with your game. The levels on the site are a prioritisation aid; prioritising the “basic” guidelines will allow you to reach as many people as possible with the resources you have available.
Guidelines are a good start, but to get the best results you also need to test your prototypes with disabled players, and research & seek advice when needed. Just including some disabled players in existing play-testing sessions makes a huge difference, and you’re likely to have some people with impairments in your studio too, colour-blindness in particular. Use them, they’re a great asset.
As you’ve put the work in, make sure that people know about it. List key accessibility considerations in the features list on your site. As well as more customers you’ll gain SEO goodness too. Don’t hide accessibility options away in settings menus, also talk about them in tutorials, loading screen tips etc. Also let accessible gaming review sites such as Unstoppable Gamer, DAGERS and GameCritics know what you’ve been doing, accessibility features can net you good review scores and awards.
6. Review & learn
Telemetry is extremely valuable. Gathering data on usage of accessibility features allows you to compare cost to develop against number of players who used them and value per player, resulting on precise figures on profitability. This can then be used to make solid business cases and inform backlog priorities for future projects.