Truly great games can create memorable experiences that can have an unforgettable impact on people. They can create instant communities, and even “tribal” following within the gamer universe. Accessibility is key to removing barriers that often mean people with various impairments are not able to be part of that experience.
As a game developer there are plenty of reasons for seriously considering accessibility, not least the fact that your game has a wider audience.
As well as working directly with SpecialEffect we have developed a Wish List of accessibility considerations that we hope can assist developers when creating games.
Accessible Gaming Wish List
Make a start with designing your games for accessibility! There are many wishes listed here, we admit. But no-one expects all of these to make it into any one game, and many overlap. To include even just one item from each list would be a wonderful start. If you'd like us to be more involved with the development of your game's accessibility, get in touch.
Make it easy to discover your game’s accessibility features
- Give people an easy-to-find digest of all the controls necessary to play and access menus: Highlight significant
assist modes and alternative control options.
- Explain hearing accessibility features or design: Can the game be played without sound? Are there subtitles?
If so, how basic or comprehensive are they? Are there separate volume controls to help make key sounds/speech more distinct?
- Explain sight related accessibility features or design: Can the game be played well with a range of colour-blindness
issues? Are there allowances for people who can’t distinguish small fonts or items? Ultimately, can the game be played
- Explain cognitive related access features: Is there a quick start mode? Are there free practice modes? Are
there assist modes or options to make play significantly easier bearing in mind there’s no such thing as too easy for some?
Is there consideration for people unable to read text well or at all?
- Detail if voice input is critical to any game elements: Detail if there are speech alternatives such as symbols
or emoticon communication, speech to text, text to speech, etc.
- Within a game, accessibility features should be easy to find and equally easy to ignore if not needed: Consider
adding an accessibility wizard upon initial starting up. Always offer the player an easy way to get to accessibility options.
Cognitive Related Accessibility
- Game menu accessibility: Can menus be easily navigated with a simple control scheme? Is that scheme shared
for the most part with the game-play controls? Is there a quick-start method? Is there consideration for those who cannot
read text? Are accessibility options easy to reach? Is it quick to set the game to its easiest level?
- Broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer a way to meaningfully adjust the difficulty level of a game to suit the player. Assists where suitable such as extending time, increasing powers, reducing obstacles can enable a range of abilities to compete. Consider making what might be considered 'cheats' to some, available as accessibility options. Examples of this include invincibility, infinite tries, auto-targeting and steering correction. Bear in mind that for some players, there is no such thing as an 'easy' game. Best to describe the easiest settings as 'easier' and 'easiest' rather than 'easy'.
- Speed/Time Pressure Options:Give consideration to people with slower reactions. Could extra or unlimited time
be offered? For a game with QuickTime Events, could these be slowed, easily skipped or removed if required? Could the entire
gameplay environment be slowed?
- Training, playground/sandbox and experimental modes: Trainer levels can help people become more proficient
at areas they are struggling in, as well as giving easier access to favourite areas of a game. Sandbox, free-play and even
experimental 'Doodle City' areas can free players from the constraints of game missions and rule sets. In turn this provides
a much less pressured way to get used to the game controls and/or environment. These can provide a huge amount of fun in
and of themselves no matter the ability level of the player.
- Avoid berating players if using the easiest setting: Having a game constantly rubbish your efforts (boos,
groans, insults, etc.) can be galling if you have the game on the easiest level and you’re doing the very best that you
Hearing Related Accessibility
- Include individual volume controls if beneficial: If your game plays music and sound effects simultaneously,
offer a way to adjust the volume of each separately, down to silence. Give thought to making essential sounds and spoken
dialogue as clear as you can, otherwise parts of a story, rules or events may be lost.
- Include subtitles/closed-captions for all spoken dialogue: Use coloured clear text of an easily readable
size to help denote different speakers. Ideally include captions for essential and mood setting sounds and music. Theres'
more good practice information on this here: http://switchgaming.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/subtitles-closed-captions-1985-1997.html
- Include subtitles/closed-captions for all spoken dialogue: Use coloured text to help denote different speakers,
and ideally include captions for essential and mood setting sounds and music.
- Synesthesia (sound alternatives) Use alternative sensory feedback such as visual effects, text or force feedback
linked to your sound. Think about what is lost in the game experience with the sound muted or turned off, then try to put
it back via alternative output.
- Make your game playable with no sound and no microphone: Ensure your game can be played through with the sound
off, via good design choices. Make use of visual and/or haptic alternatives to sounds that are essential to the game. If
appropriate, offer an alternative method of communication for players unable to make use of a headphones and microphone
setup. This may be via an emoticon based communication system, that can be optionally converted to speech if needed.
Input Related Accessibility
- Allow players to reconfigure their controls: This takes into account players who are uncomfortable with the
standard preset control scheme/s, such as people finding it impossible to reach shoulder buttons, etc. Reconfigurable controls
can make play possible and comfortable. Overwatch (Blizzard) allows you to remap your controls for each character on all
platforms. Seek to make control remapping options as versatile and easy as you can. Allow for sensitivity adjustment if
using analogue control, such as for steering in Project Cars (Slightly Mad Studios).
- Reduce control demands. Seek to offer, at least as an option, a control scheme that uses a small number of
controls, such as FIFA 18’s (EA) 'Two Button' control scheme. Consider adding assist modes to further simplify the demands
on players unable to cope. Examples include steering, braking and acceleration assists in Forza 7. Things like auto-aiming
can help. Toggle modes can help so players don’t have to hold a button for a long time, where that may be painful. Avoid
menu navigation that requires very precise control. The ultimate in reduced controls are one-button games with no need
to move a finger, or mouse pointer from a single fixed point to start, play and restart.
- Provide alternative controller access: Give gamers a way to play using something completely different from
the default controls. Some people cannot cope with motion controls (such as for VR), but could be given access to the same
game with a gamepad. Some might be unable to use touchscreens or track pads, but could manage a joystick. Some may struggle
with a keyboard but could get on well with a pure mouse-based system. Seek to offer at least one alternative method of
- Speed control: Give consideration to people with much slower movements. Avoid gameplay that, on the easiest settings, demands a rapid succession of inputs. Could elements of the gameplay be slowed down or even the entire gameplay environment, as is possible with Celeste (Matt Makes Games).
Sight Related Accessibility
- Offer broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer ways to adjust the difficulty level of your game. A visually
impaired player may need more time to track and take in what is going on, so offering a way to slow the game down can make
things more usable. Likewise, visually impaired players might reasonably be expected to make more mistakes in some games,
so offering a way to increase lives, time, energy, or whatever is most appropriate, will again even things out and make
playing a more enjoyable experience.
- Improve menu access for visually impaired players: Many vision impaired and blind players do not get along
with the likes of pointer-based (mouse like) user interfaces, finding them unintuitive. Offering stepped navigation of
menus via digital controls can make things much easier. Bolstering this with clear sounds, vibration and/or bold visual
indicators will help further still.
- Use speech and audio to aid comprehension: Provide text-to-speech and clear sound effects for menu navigation.
Attach unique identifying speech or sounds to essential game objects, elements and occurrences. Imagine a first person
shooter where a gateway to the next level opens in the distance. Without an indication that this has happened via a sense
other than sight, a visually impaired player may never be aware of it. Consider going as far as adding audio description
for scene and context setting. Ideally, seek to make your game playable without the need for a screen.
- Use speech and audio to aid comprehension: Offer high contrast and high visibility graphics: Ideally offer these as optional features, or integrate them into your game design by default. Take into account colour blindness and the barriers it can pose. Consider how difficult it would be to play many sports games if both teams look the same. Would accessibility be improved by dimming non-essential graphics or switching them off completely? Is there a way of magnifying/highlighting elements of the game? Is it possible to avoid small or hard to read fonts? Consider using the WebAim Colour Contrast Checker.