Game Design Accessibility: Making Games Available to All Players

Game Design Accessibility

Accessibility is a video game feature that is not talked about enough. But it needs to be.

Video games allow people of all cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and physical and cognitive abilities to come together and share a positive experience. But it is not a default feature yet, unfortunately. It is the responsibility of the game design studio to ensure that it incorporates accessibility in its game development process.

For the players, it is an opportunity to be included more, and for the developers it is an avenue to expand their customer base. A win-win.

And there are resources for that, for example, accessibility guidelines. They provide recommendations to game developers on how to make their games more accessible. The Game Accessibility Guidelines (GAG) and Xbox Accessibility Guidelines are two such frameworks.

In this article, we showcase the major obstacles that exist to accessibility in video games, and the best game design principles and best practices to tackle them.

Barriers to Accessibility

Challenges to game design accessibility can be segmented into physical, visual, auditory, cognitive, and socio-economic. In this section, we take a look at what these challenges entail.

(The statistics are provided by the AbleGamers Charity)

Physical Barriers

Traditional gaming interfaces, such as controllers or keyboards, don’t work as well for gamers with mobility issues. Moreover, limited dexterity or range of motion need to be considered as they make precise movements difficult.

To play comfortably, 64% of gamers with disabilities require controls to be remappable, while 57% need adjustable game speed or difficulty levels.

Visual Barriers

From color blindness to partial or complete blindness, visual barriers hinder gaming accessibility. Colorblind modes help 44% of gamers in accessing the desired gameplay.

Issues like poor contrast, small font sizes, and reliance on color cues can be troubling, no matter how good the game character animation is. If screen readers or alternative text options are unavailable, it can be very hard for some gamers to understand the context of the quest they are in.

Auditory Barriers

Games that rely on visual cues or dialog for gamer feedback become inaccessible if alternative visual aids are not available.

48% of gamers with disabilities rely on subtitles or captions to understand in-game dialog.

Cognitive Barriers

If a player has ADHD, dyslexia, or autism spectrum disorders, it can be harder for them to process information and navigate complex game mechanics. The culprits can be poorly designed interfaces, overly complex instructions, or overwhelming sensory stimuli.

Socio-economic Barriers

High costs of specialized gaming equipment, lack of internet connectivity, or affordability of the games, stop gamers from marginalized communities from accessing them.

Principles of Accessible Game Design

There are certain fundamental principles that can help tackle the lack of game design accessibility from the get go.

Universal Design

Develop games and game infrastructure that can be accessed by a wide audience of people, without the need for augmentation or specialized design.

Flexibility and Customization

Allow the game to be customized to the players’ preferences and needs. For example, adjustable difficulty levels, remappable controls, and intuitive, customizable interface elements.

Clear Communication

Use plain language, intuitive symbols, and consistent visual and auditory cues. This ensures that game interfaces, instructions, and tutorials are presented in a clear, concise, and understandable manner.

Input and Control Options

Make the use of varied input devices possible. These can be controllers, keyboards, or touchscreens. Moreover, make alternative control systems like one-handed controls or simplified button layouts available.

Audio and Visual Options

Enable customizable audiovisual settings, subtitles, closed captions, and colorblind modes. This makes the games accessible to players with audiovisual disabilities.

Best Practices in Accessible Game Design

There is some good news!

The Global Game Jam shows that the percentage of games with accessibility features rose to 20% in 2023 from 7% in 2018. The number should be higher and with time, it surely will be.

Let’s take a look at the best industry practices for game design accessibility that will raise this number further.

Inclusive Game Testing

Hire more recruiting testers with disabilities, providing them with appropriate tools and support. Solicit feedback on their experiences to iteratively improve the game.

A survey has shown that 57% of game developers have conducted accessibility testing on their games, and 48% have implemented accessibility features based on the results of these tests.

Collaboration and Advocacy

Open dialog and collaboration between the game developers and the disability community is paramount. There must be engagement with accessibility experts and organizations, and participation in accessibility-focused events and initiatives.

Conclusion

Accessibility is the future. It is the most rewarding principle for all parties involved and it cannot be implemented fast enough.

With the barriers noted and the solutions and best practices presented, game developers have the tools to make their projects more inclusive.

Overcoming these barriers also becomes easier with an experienced game development studio like EDIIIE. Want to know more? Come tell us your game design plans!

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