Making gaming accessible to the masses

At TechShare Pro 2019 we were pleased to have on our Accessible Gaming panel Lauren Moore of the BBC, Mark Friend of Sony Playstation and accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton.

TechShare Pro is the leading UK accessibility and inclusive design conference. With many senior and influential people in attendance our panelists spoke about the importance of making sure 'fun' and entertainment is accessible. We can't ignore the importance of disabled people being able to complete daily tasks, such as online banking and groceries shopping, but entertainment plays a vital role in good mental health and enabling human connections.

Investing in accessible gaming

Ian Hamilton on stage at TechShare Pro 2019 speaking about Logitech's Adaptive Gaming KitIan Hamilton has been working as an accessibility specialist in the gaming field for some time, and is well known for his efforts helping studios to create inclusive games. Within the last few years Ian has seen an increasing focus on accessibility within the community, and speaking at TechShare Pro 2019 about the significant changes within the last year he commented, "This isn't an accident - these are companies that have dedicated, full-time accessibility staff."

It was quite serendipitous that the day before Ian was speaking at TechShare Pro the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines were released. Also within the week prior to the conference the Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit was put on-sale, designed to make gaming more accessible to disabled people and described as the 'most extensive kit on the market' of its kind. The price of the kit was noted by Ian as being 'very affordable' compared to other similar items on the market. The Xbox Superbowl advert, which cost an estimated $9 million, is another great example from Microsoft of the recent steps taken to educate people about the importance of accessibility. It's a sign of the efforts being made within the gaming community to put accessibility at the forefront of people's minds.

There's still a way to go though - Ian mentioned the dispute earlier this year that started online when one person from the community commented that accessibility destroys the ability for game creators to be creative. A swift response from Cory Barlog, that was endorsed by others, corrected what people might otherwise assume is a shared sentiment:

Being an Accessibility Champion in gaming

Lauren Moore is a Design Researcher who, at TechShare Pro 2019, highlighted the BBC's ongoing journey to create highly accessible and inclusive games. Lauren was attending and speaking at our event in her role as a BBC Accessibility Champion - part of a growing network of people who champion accessibility and share relevant knowledge across BBC departments, teams and beyond.

Lauren Moore on stage at TechShare Pro speaking about BBC GamesLauren detailed the accessibility journey her team are currently on with their online games for children, which started when the need for guidelines was identified. Although the BBC own the user interface internally they commision the development and too-often received games for testing which did not have accessible gameplay. "It's like inviting a child to a party and not letting them in." said Lauren at TechShare Pro, who hated the idea of letting children down having spent time empathising with their needs.

Although Lauren and her team do continue to have some day-to-day challenges - including the very quick turnaround on their games which limits them to 1 day of user testing - they have been able to develop BBC GEL - their Global Experience Language which describes a minimum level of accessibility a game must achieve to be published. They are also currently planning a research piece with 3 tiers to further develop the accessibility of their games which will involve home visit interviews with 20 families with disabled children under the age of 10 and interviews with industry specialists and business stakeholders.

Accessible gaming how-to

Mark Friend from Sony Playstation on stage at TechShare Pro 2019Attendees of TechShare Pro 2019 were very fortunate to receive a hands-on walkthrough of an accessibility review for a game from Mark Friend who is the Principal User Researcher and Accessibility at Sony Playstation. Mark described how they have 4 internal pillars for testing at Sony Playstation: their guidelines which have seen as many as 41 draft iterations, testing which involves bringing in real-life users to play a game and feedback, workshops and reviews.

The aim in the gaming sector, as it should be in any sector, is to consider accessibility needs from the beginning. Considerations can include those for people who have issues receiving a stimulus, those with issues processing and determining a response and also those with issues providing an output.

At TechShare Pro Mark shared some of the common best practices in games which include communicating information in multiple ways i.e. red and green for good and bad, but also the plus and minus symbols. It's also important to offer flexibility - have multiple solutions for an action to allow as many people as possible to enjoy the gaming experience. When doing a review Mark and his team will consider colour, contrast, audio, text and userinterface, subtitles, controls, difficulty and assists. Further to this they will also look a tutorials, menus, save systems and online communication. It was enjoyable to see Mark do a live accessibility review of a game on-stage.

Further reading

Interview with Ian Hamilton, video game accessibility specialist and advocate

5 ways accessibility in video games is evolving

The Xbox Adaptive Controller - Gaming for Everyone

TechShare Pro 2019 - full programme and details