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  • Top Considerations For Prioritizing Accessibility

    [05.12.20]
    - Ian Hamilton

  • Quick wins

    Amongst those solutions you should find some quick wins. Time & money needed for implementation is an entirely valid reason to prioritise. www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com takes it into account, the categorisation there is based on an equal weighting of how many people a feature benefits, disabled or otherwise; how much of a difference it makes to the people who need it the most; and time/money to implement it.

    Three other low effort ways to identify quick wins are to look at the individual variables that your difficulty presets affect, Look at the individual variables that you tweak while balancing, and look at the options that you implement for your own benefit while debugging. Consider exposing these existing variables to players. 

    Every option you can present in a game has some accessibility benefit to someone somewhere. So if it's easy for you to implement something, it's generally worth doing. But when doing so, pay attention to usability of settings menus, as complex menus are an accessibility barrier in themselves. Presets and nesting are great tools for mitigating this.

    Breaking your mechanic

    In the process of figuring out which accessibility considerations to focus your attention on you'll identify barriers that can't be avoided without breaking what gives the experience value. This is 100% fine, part and parcel of how game accessibility works. No game can be accessible to everyone, challenge is part of the definition of what a game is, and any challenge will be an impassable barrier to someone. 

    Accessibility is a process of identifying which of the wide array of barriers your game presents are in fact unnecessary, and rather than supporting the kind of emotional experience you want your players to have are in fact getting in the way of them experiencing it. So rather than viewing accessibility as a universal bar to hit or miss, think of it as optimisation. Regardless of whether you're optimising frame rate, network lag or how many players can have the experience you want them to, every bit of optimisation has value, regardless of how much or how little optimisation it is possible for you to do. 

    Legal issues

    Just a brief mention here as it's a long topic that needs its own dedicated article to explain - CVAA legislation. The short version is that any game that has text or voice chat functionality and can be played by players in the USA must by law ensure that the chat functionality and any UI/info used to locate, navigate to or operate is accessible. This will inform your priorities, and not just in the obvious direct way of prioritising what's needed for compliance - if you're putting functionality in place for CVAA compliance anyway, applying that functionality to other areas of the game may then become a quick win and so move higher up your backlog.

    Demographics

    This one is a bit of a break from the others - something to avoid. It can be really tempting to look at demographics for prioritisation purposes, questions like "but how many people actually have [insert impairment here]?" are common across the industry. But I can't stress this highly enough, demographics are not a valid means of prioritising, as considerations generally have much bigger use than the core demographic. 

    For example around 2% of the population are deaf, prioritising based on that would mean that many games wouldn't have subtitles. But 60% of Assassins Creed Origins players turned on the off-by-default subtitles, and 95% of Assassins Creed Odyssey players left the on-by-default subtitles turned on.

    Prevalence of having one hand is around 1% of the population, yet Uncharted 4's one handed mode was used by 33% of their players.

    There isn't any data available on how many people are physically unable to operate a gyroscope, but it would not be large - yet Into The Dead's non-gyro alternative input methods were used by 75% of their players. 

    It is not hard to picture the reasons why the above numbers might be the case. It is rare to find an accessibility consideration that doesn't have wide impact like this, more often it's just good design that benefits everyone.

    In closing

    While approaching accessibility can be daunting, especially for the first time, there are some easy ways in. Some sensible general things to start with. Core considerations that are widely used, easy to implement, and that match your mechanic well, and some simple ways to start figuring game-specific solutions even if you don't have access to experts or user research or time to familiarise with big sets of guidelines.

    The most important thing though is just to do something. As mentioned a couple of times already every little thing you can do simply means more people will have a more enjoyable experience, and you'll learn a ton from it too - gaining knowledge, player feedback, experience and an existing accessibility featureset to take forward and build upon for your subsequent games.

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