We are honored to publish this transcript of this podcast exploring the latest trends and innovations in the gaming industry. For this episode the topic is accessibility in games. Big thanks to Andy, the podcast host and all the guests for their insight and inviting us. Special mention to Cari Watterton for her assistance with the transcription.
If you prefer to listen to the audio version you can find it here.
Andy: Welcome to another instalment of the Evolution Exchange podcast. We’ve got a great topic today. Really important topic called making games accessible, and we’ve got some great guests to speak on this as well. So, we’ve got Emilio, who is a UX and UI craft development manager at King; Cari, who’s a Senior Designer of Accessibility at Rebellion; Gabriel, who’s a Talent Acquisition and Diversity Manager at Kinda Brave; and Antonio, who’s an accessibility reviewer at Nexus. What we’re going to do, as usual, we’ll go around and do some introductions. And then we will go into our questions. So, first Cari, please, could you introduce yourself?
Cari: Yeah, absolutely. So, hi, I’m Cari Watterton, my pronouns are she/her. I’m the Senior Designer of Accessibility at Rebellion, which is a role that I started about a year ago and before that I was in UX design. And I fully believe games should be for everyone and I’m passionate about making games more accessible and inclusive.
Andy: Fantastic. Thank you very much. Gabriel let’s come to you.
Gabriel: Yes, hello. My name is Gabriel Eriksson Sahlin. My pronouns are he/him and I’m an openly queer transgender man and I’m the Talent Acquisition and Diversity Manager and the world’s first LGBTQI certified games company, Kinda Brave. And I’m also a lecturer within LGBTQIA Sociology at universities and companies around Europe. And I strongly believe, just as Cari said, that it’s very important that games are accessible and that we showcase that games are for everyone and everyone can enjoy them.
Andy: Perfect. Thank you, Emilio.
Emilio: Hi my name is Emilio Jéldrez. My pronouns are he/him. And I’m currently UX/UI Craft Development Manager at King. But additional to that I have been pushing the advocates group accessibility at King for the last three years, where in those three years, we managed to add two accessibility menus in Candy Crush Friends and recently in Candy Crush Soda. So yeah, we are really passionate about this and I’m really happy to be here to share the experience.
Andy: Amazing. Thank you very much. And lastly, Antonio, please, can we have your introduction?
Antonio: Hi, I am Antonio Martinez. My pronouns are he/him. I am an advocate and accessibility consultant from Spain and I am the founder and Editor in Chief of the Accessibility Nexus where we review games, testing their accessibility and commenting and informing the audience about what features what gameplay they can find, and also giving feedback to developers to make sure that all parties get the best information that we can give to improve their products, so everywhere everyone can play games the best way they can.
Andy: Fantastic. Thank you every one of you. We’ve got a great panel to discuss a really good topic as well today. So, let’s go straight into it with Cari’s first question.
Cari: Yes, absolutely. So, my question is what features do you think engines need to include or improve for overcoming barriers during development and testing?
So, I think this question is really important because not only do games need to be accessible, but we need to make sure that the engines are accessible. Most people can go and download Unreal or Unity and start making their own games, but there are still a bunch of barriers that exist for creators with disabilities or impairments. So for example, I’m working on a prototype with SightlessKombat at the moment, and one of the reasons that we’re working together is because the engine isn’t accessible to him. It’s not screen reader accessible; so he needs a friendly developer to come and help out, sort of implementing and building that for him.
I think that making engines more accessible is also just a great way to have more people be able to create things that suit their own capabilities, and through that innovation we will find more ways to design games that avoid or solve access barriers.
Yeah, I’ve got another point which I can hop into unless anybody wants to talk about some of the engine inherent accessibility-ness?
Antonio: I have a point.
Cari: Go for it.
Andy: Yeah. Go on, Antonio.
Antonio: I was thinking that yes, as you said it is difficult or impossible right now for SightlessKombat to be part of creating this game or this project, it would be also the same for people with low mobility because oftentimes, you know, many pieces of software – not just engines for games – use like complicated multiple key presses and stuff like that, and that is absolutely a big barrier for us. Also they need to type long lines of code all the time. Like, I remember back in the day when I was a coder, I could do fine, but then in the end I couldn’t work as a coder because it relied on me having to type code for, like, hours. And my hands couldn’t handle it as my condition progressed so definitely, making engines more accessible is going to be, as you said, more people making their own attempts at creating their own solutions like modders do sometimes.
I think that would be also a good way to have modders come into the into the scenes. We have different modders like the one that created, you know that mod for Hearthstone or the other mod for GTA Online. You know, I think it’s very, very important that we also consider all types of disabilities and how we can make this more inclusive from not just the user point, you know, as a player, but as a creator because a lot of people understand that some menus could be very friendly and is it very important too. As you just said, bring more people into the ideas and the creation.
Cari: Exactly. Yeah. Diversifying the creators. I mean, even you’re talking about, motor accessibility there. I’m thinking about the visual scripting and Unreal, which is what I usually use. And that’s a lot easier for me to process cognitively than lines and lines of code. And it does simplify lines and lines of code down into nodes. But one of the biggest interactions that you’re then doing is dragging the execution line to the next node, which is a click and drag, which is incredibly taxing for people with different abilities. So there, it’s like, can there be a different way to access that, that we can easily chain those nodes together?
Yeah. Did anybody else have any other thoughts on…?
Gabriel: Yes, I’m thinking as well that when it comes, for example you mentioning that the click and drag can be difficult and such that I believe that it’s very important for people that make engines to actually talk with people that have interpretive precedence within the field that are aware of how it feels that actually live with it every single day. So one might think, oh, but it’s just dragging. Yeah, but that can be very tough if you maybe don’t have the strength or certain veins in your hands or similar. So I think it’s important to actually talk not only with developers but with hobbyists as well, try to gather information and it’s also relevant to find OK, maybe you have issues opening a milk cotton that is going to be relevant for how you make tools as well. It doesn’t specifically have to be people with experience in gaming or engines. All type of experiences can absolutely help to try and make it more accessible.
Andy: Emilio, did you wanna say something?
Emilio: Yes, I was thinking about this topic and how I’ve been also developing, before being a manager, and games and every engine is different, right? I think the one I mostly use was Unity and I think like even the text is so small, you know? And at the end of the day I was like, you know, my eyes are super dry before, you know, working 8 hours looking at reading these texts on the screen. But yeah, I think like everything the most important part is like engines need to talk with the developers, right? Need to understand the user, about what are the biggest concerns and specifically with, you know, persons with disabilities, right? Who are trying to develop and trying to understand what are the barriers they have. And this is not just the massive ones like Unreal and Unity, right? I think, like, even at King we have our own engine and that’s the thing, is like, even that’s one of the things that also, we’re trying to push more and we’re trying to, you know, making sure like because I think that’s a big topic, right? I think we’re gonna cover more on that later, but yeah, how we make sure not just our games are accessible, but how we make sure our companies are accessible for other people, right? But yeah, I think it comes a lot with research.
And, also I think the next step is; a lot of the features they do sometimes, this is because it happens in games too. It’s because someone in the team is, putting in quotes, you know, colour blind. So, they create a colourblind filter because this person couldn’t check that. And I realized that’s more common than I expected. And that’s why things happen sometimes in companies is because someone in the team has some kind of barrier and they try to fix it for them and then, you know, expand it to everyone else. Right. Yeah, well, luckily that happened in those cases. But ideally, yeah, we can expand to things broader than that.
Andy: It’s really good point. Cari, did you wanna come back on? And you said you had another point as well?
Cari: Yeah, exactly. It kind of ties into that what you’re talking about, Emilio, with like the actual implementation of the features, because I think that having inherent tech in the engines is really important for promoting accessibility in games. For example, inherent functionality for integrating with screen readers; for control remapping; for creating subtitles; text scaling; contrast modes. A lot of those things, if they were included as part of the starter content for Unreal, for example, that would break down a lot of barriers for developers. Because they’re quite generic in the way that there isn’t lots specifics to go through in terms of a gameplay perspective; but they do solve a lot of high level access needs that require a lot of technical knowledge otherwise to implement. So having that kind of functionality already there, like out-of-the-box just means that it will be much more approachable to people who are downloading these engines and the games that they make, they will have that accessibility and it will be able to make games more accessible from even the smallest indie dev.
So yeah, that was kind of my other point. I think, like I think there’s a lot in terms of like especially looking at Unreal and the starter content that it provides; having people moving around and having, like, interactions with objects and stuff. Where’s the starter content for accessibility?
Andy: Cari, do you think this has changed like within the last years or so? Is it becoming more prominent like more of an issue in more people are bringing it up or is it still like there’s always a lot can be done and more can be done, but has it been a change over the recent years?
Cari: I think that it’s definitely over the past, like, decade or so, I think it’s become more fuelled. More brought to the attention, but I think it’s been something that has existed for a while, like going back to the kind of creation of games and different controllers that people could buy depending on what kind of mobility needs they had. It’s always kind of been around, but I think through a lot of the advocacy and a lot of hard work, I think it’s something that’s just kind of coming into games. Like, we always think about access needs when we’re creating buildings or creating workspaces like, you know, do we have wheelchair access ramps? This kind of thing, that’s kind of something that’s gone into the building of the architecture around us and our environment. And it’s kind of taken a little bit for it to get more into games.
Andy: That’s a really good point, and it’s a really good first question to start on as well. I don’t know. Go on Antonio, do you wanna say something else before we move it on?
Antonio: Yes, I was. I was thinking about what Cari said about, you know, remapping. I see a lot of games, especially in Unreal engine, for example, or in Unity that always have one barrier that is basically like one of these staples in the industry which is like in order to open the pause menu or the options then you have to press Escape. And sometimes you know, developers say, well, you know, that’s because the way that the engine handles it, because it’s hard coded or whatever. We want to add a remapping for that; we have to create like a secondary mapping and all that stuff that’s complex, takes time. And if we could have those features already implemented, as Cari said, you know within the engine in a way that, if you cannot press the Escape key, you are not forced because well, if you cannot, you’re not forced because you literally cannot do nothing and that’s a big barrier for many people. I have seen in the years like some engines start to implement that feature. The fact that I can go into a game and be able to remap the menu keys, pause key, from Escape to anything else, it’s like; finally, finally! And it feels like a big win for many of us. I know it’s a tiny change, but I think if you ask the people who use the engines, who code for the engines and make the games, how much of a pain that feature is for them, how much that helps the user. You’d be surprised.
Andy: Gabriel, did you wanna come in?
Gabriel: Yes, I want to come in a little bit as well that Emilio, before you mentioned when it comes to colour-blindness modes and similar, and it’s not maybe specifically engines but related to development itself, of like when it comes to programs you use specifically when it comes to creating art in the game. I’d love to be able to see that instead of just having colour swatches where it’s just circles of colours, they’re actually able to maybe write underneath that, “oh this is the colour you use for trees”, so you don’t continuously have to go back to your external colour swatch or take at the paint from another piece you’ve already painted, so you can just “oh the tree is here, that is here”. But also, to be able that may be the integrate recommendations for colour swatches like hey these colours usually work with a normative colour view. Here you have that you can play around with a little bit to be able to bring those type of colours to maybe someone that can’t see it and they can trust that the program is helping them. I don’t always have to go to someone and take their time and ask hey could you check this, for example. I think that would be great.
Andy: Some really, really good points and Cari it’s a fantastic first question, so thank you very much for that. Cari, did you wanna mention any last things before we move it on?
Cari: No, no, I’m all good. Thank you very much.
Andy: Yeah. Brilliant. OK. Well, we’ll go onto our second question then. So Gabriel, we’ll come back to you because it’s you it’s gonna come from.
Gabriel: Yes, it’s gonna come from me. Indeed. So, Cari, just asked for barriers when it comes to engines are making more inclusiveness when it comes to development and testing. And I want to take a little bit further. Look at that bit more from another aspect. So, what I’m thinking about here is accessibility when it comes to creating games and what then publisher should take an extra look at to make the creation process more accessible and disability friendly. And then I’m specifically thinking by, for example, equipment types of communication, proper mentoring and similar. So just as Emilio mentioned before, how can the organization make itself more accessible and more accessibility and disability friendly? So that’s a little bit what I want to take a closer look at as well. Should I say my thoughts first or does anyone want to hop into the ballpark before me?
Andy: Well, Emilio, why don’t why don’t we come to you on it? Because I’m interested to hear your thoughts obviously, with your work at King as well. And then we’ll come back to you, Gabriel.
Gabriel: Sounds fantastic!
Emilio: Sorry about Gabriel’s question, right?
Andy: Yeah, yeah.
Emilio: I think that this is like I mentioned, this is a really tricky and you, well, not you the whole company, need to check the whole process, right. This is exactly like, you know, doesn’t matter if they game is accessible if the store where you download the app, the game, is not accessible. So, you know, whoever’s playing with disabilities not gonna get to the game because of all the barriers just there, right in between. So I think the whole process is just bigger than just the tools, right? I think the tools of course are needed to be accessible, right? And I think computers, I will say, are accessible. And I think when you start getting to specific tools that you use, whatever you use, I don’t know… Miro or Zoom, Teams, whatever, is things you use. Does it have closed captions on default all the time? So there is a lot of things that is; you need to look like the whole spectrum, and not just like a “are you gonna develop? OK”. It’s just, you know, you can get a text editor and just use that for, you know, as a scripting right. But it’s everything right? It’s the communication with your team. It’s making sure the all hands are accessible if you’re working abroad or working from home. And I think like, I think companies are trying to make the effort. I think it’s moving that way.
And it’s also because software itself I think also it’s going, it’s being more accessible and more inclusive. I think what is missing more is you know and it’s how you make sure, you know, people also want to apply to this work, right? I think there is. There is there is a thing in between. You know, I’m not gonna get the job right because of whatever barriers, of my disability. And I think that’s something companies need to push more, right? I think like that there is a lot of work to do though, more around PR around like you know being inclusive, I think there is. A lot of companies push diversity and inclusion just around gender and it’s way more than that, right, anything like obviously we are here about a specific topic around inclusiveness. But there is even more expanded than right, like, you know, race or, you know, even socioeconomic, you know, where you coming from. I think that’s still starting there.
But I think like everything, you know, we are moving forward and I think it’s very common in in this topic like “oh, this is, you know, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Like, you need to go step by step. But I think, like, yeah. I think like, we are going in the right direction. I think it’s up to us sadly also like there’s a lot of advocation to do here. You know, we need to push in our own companies about what is missing and I think it’s important to highlight this. You know, I think it’s important to highlight this also. I don’t know even in sometimes company events. You know, it’s not accessible because there is no ramp or because there is flashy lights in the event you know the party. There is a lot of things that sometimes people just put things there and don’t think about it, right. So I think it’s important to, “oh, you know, I notice this”, right. And I think like, we need to speak out if we don’t speak out, nobody’s else gonna do it most of the time. And I think that’s a big, you know, I notice we already have a lot of extra task around this and but yes this is another thing that we continually need to do in in our you know things to do, that is not probably covered in the job description that we have. Umm yeah, that’s my two cents.
Andy: No, it’s a great two cents. That’s it’s a brilliant point, or couple of points. Gabriel so, we’ll come back to you on the other thing you wanted to mention.
Gabriel: Yes. So once again, just as you said there, Andy, fantastic points there, Emilio and I want to take a further look at them as well. So, as you mentioned, is something that the organization continuously have to work with and me then being in HR, there is also a lot of work that HR specifically has to do to make sure that people, for example, in their ads actively feel welcome and want to apply because one might think that ad is very welcoming, but minorities might not apply because they think, oh, I don’t reach up to specifically that word. Well, then, let’s look at the accessibility language that we’re using. Can we use some other terms? Sometimes there might be easier to understand. Do you truly mean exactly this word? Is this truly mandatory for this role? And really analyse that to make it as accessible as possible for multiple people. And then what I think that we do Kinda Brave is that we have anonymous recruitment as much as possible to limit our implicit and explicit biases as well. So we don’t see people’s names, we don’t see their pictures, for example. And we always make sure that we hire not only based on competence, but potential as well. So if you want to get more senior women programmers into the industry, we need to make sure to actively make it accessible, to give them the opportunity to become senior programmers. And that is a very important accessibility aspect as well; to get more minorities into the industry.
But another thing that I also want to point out, well not point out to take a look at, and that I think is very important as well is that, in a lot of countries, for example in Sweden, companies are by law required to provide an employee with economic equipment that can help them do their job. So, it’s important for HR to be, for example, up to date with the laws. What can we provide? So have a continuous conversation with the economics department and with the IT department. Where can we spend the budget? What can we provide and what can we help with? And maybe create a standardization even the onboarding process that OK; for all artists, we offer this set. And for all programmers we offer this set of things. But then also be aware that treating people fairly and with the quality doesn’t always mean giving everyone the exact same thing. Because some people just you mentioned Emilio, when we looking for example socioeconomic aspects as well, there might be specific means or things that that person needs that someone from another socioeconomic position might not need. So it’s important to take a look at let’s say for an analogy. That you were standing in front of a fence one is very tall and one is very short. The tall person, they need one specific height of a chair to be able to watch and you give all of them the same height. They’re tall person is gonna be able to see, but the short person isn’t. So you need to give them a taller chair so they also can watch the game that the tall person can. So I think it’s very important to have that knowledge and to continuously think about that and make sure that we make it accessible for everyone. And know that some need different things than others to make sure that we are diverse, that we are fair and that we treat everyone equally.
Andy: Some really good points, Gabriel. Go on, Cari.
Cari: Sorry, I’m just gonna hop in with the tiniest little thing here, which is, I relate so hard to the short aspect. I am 5’2” and so whenever I go and see shows, I always want to sit in like the Grand Circle or like the Royal Circle, because I will then have the height to actually see what’s going on. When I go and with some people like, “oh, I wanna sit in the front row” it’s like, I’m not gonna be able to see anything like at all. And it’ll be my luck that there is some 7-foot person sat right, directly in front of me, so I’ll have a great view of the back of their head for the show. But sorry, yep.
Gabriel: I completely agree. I’m like 165 centimetres. It’s like, let’s go to the cinema. I’m gonna be behind the tall person. That’s just. I’m gonna look at my boyfriend and be like, can we switch seats, please? So maybe I can see something.
Cari: Yes, absolutely! Antonio. Please go for it.
Antonio: I just wanted to mention that I think cinemas, as Gabriel says, is probably one of the biggest issues for that. We all share priority here are, but in terms of like equipment as you said, I think it’s very, very well said that not everyone is going to need the same thing, but they all need to have the same access. Like, for example, when I was doing training course in coding back in the day we had this issue where we had to share the computer with the evening class, right? So for example, every morning when I went in, it would have the text size set to like, I don’t know, like 60/80 pixels per character. You know, on an old monitor that was, like, super huge. And I understood that the person that was doing that same course in the classes in the evening was someone with low vision, so they needed that feature. Now in my case what I would need these days, for example, is something like, a good on-screen keyboard. You know, not one like some like the one that Windows gives you by default, but one that allows me to create macros, one that allows me to create fast copy and paste, something like that. Commands that allow me to code more efficiently and be as productive as I can be because I have the right tools. And in the same case again a person with low vision would need a bigger monitor than usual because they would need to set the font size bigger to be able to check the code or whatever. Or maybe have good screen reader support as we mentioned before.
But hardware is very, very important because like for example if the table is not well designed for someone that is a wheelchair user, you cannot get close enough to the table to be able to use the mouse. That’s something that used to happen to me and lot of times in trainings and courses because again, my arm wouldn’t be able to reach the mouse and if I cannot use the mouse, I cannot use the keyboard. So, in the end I was unable to do much of my work until I could fix that issue, you know? Yeah, absolutely. Equipment needs to be something that is absolutely considered and evaluated and not seen as “oh, this is going to be a problem for us”, no. This is an opportunity; you’re having someone that is going to bring talent, diversity and a different point of view and it’s going to enrich with their experience exactly your company, your studio and is going to bring much more value to your stuff.
Andy: Go on, Cari.
Cari: Yes. So, to sort of answer the question properly and not just make a joke about my height. Uh, yeah, I think everybody’s made amazing points, especially Antonio. I think like you bring so much in terms of your own knowledge and experience that it’s so great to have that representation here. I think that one of the big things that’s provided a lot of flexibility for people and a lot more access to jobs, is remote working. I think it’s actually something that’s been really good that’s come out of the pandemic. It’s that you might have your own setup or your own access needs and having remote working allows you to still work and have the setup that’s most comfortable for you as well.
I think hand in hand with that flexibility is working hours. Having flexibility of working hours is really important, because all of us will be at different levels during a week. Some days we can only operate at 10% and some days we can only operate in 90%. I think that’s something that we need to preach regardless of physical or mental capabilities; we are all fluctuating day on day in what we’re able to do. But flexible working can really help with that because maybe you are on a day where you’re like, OK, I’m feeling about 10%. I’m just gonna work the core hours that I need to and then I can make up another day. Or the inverse. Perhaps you’re working really, really well and you want to work those extra hours to give yourself some breathing room later on in the week, if you need it.
And also to mention mentoring, which you brought up in your question, Gabriel. I think the biggest thing for accessibility mentoring is getting in the subject matter experts; getting in consultants, people that are living with this, these kind of things and different capabilities to get their experiences because they are the experts on their experience.
Andy: Emilio, did you wanna jump in there as well?
Emilio: Yeah, I just wanna because Gabriel has a lot of points that I love. Since he’s mentioned working on the HR side. I think like one of my biggest part of the job now is job descriptions. When you know, like and I think it’s a key part to making sure like people when they read it, they feel included, right? It’s things, like, and I think it’s a common thing that. For example, like woman doesn’t apply if they don’t have all the criteria, right? Then it’s like when men is like I have two of ten. I’m gonna be fine, you know? And it’s like I think, like, sometimes what we have to do is try to have the same, you know description of the same role like twice, you know a senior and a midway just to make sure more people apply. And then you have to take all that and put it “Oh yeah these people are senior but they don’t consider themselves.” Right? Sometimes, because of imposter syndrome, whatever reason. But you know that happened, that’s very common. And I think that’s also trying to make it more accessible in some way, more inclusive, so sometimes what I think is really tricky because you don’t want, you know, or they don’t know what they want when they have like, you know oh, junior middle, you know, senior. It’s like it could be anything. No, it’s not because we want any or we really wanna senior. But you know we want everyone we just want to make sure more people apply to it. So we are making sure what sometimes people again they turn down their own experience you know and it’s like it’s really hard and again I think like. Trying to cover more how to make sure people with disabilities try to apply to this role, I think that’s. I think that’s another talent and I think that’s something that I’m trying to still to tackle, just making sure like people can feel like, yes, you know they can do they are a good fit you know and but so they feel, you know, comfortable applying to the role. Right. I think that’s still a barrier. Yeah.
Andy: Cari, you can come back in on that if you want. Just very quickly before we move it on just conscious the time but go on.
Cari: No, that’s totally fine. I just wanted to kind of highlight quickly to do with we’re talking a little bit about like women and getting women involved in hiring. And I just want to stress that that’s definitely more diversity and not accessibility. Like accessibility is designing things with impairments in mind to remove barriers, and approachability and diversity are different things. So, I just want to kind of, yeah, add on to that briefly.
Andy: Yeah, absolutely. Go on, Gabriel.
Gabriel: Yes, I just wanna say that that’s a great addition Cari that they go a little bit hand in hand, but they are two separate and very important aspects as well.
And just when we were talking there, when I mentioned before when it comes to economics, and I also want to clarify that in Sweden it’s about providing the information of how to use things and be like, OK, how do you use this equipment? How are you supposed to move? And then offer what can we do to make sure that you maybe feel comfortable and have the tools that you need. That type of education is just as important as providing things. Just as if you work at a construction site, you need to educate on how to carry properly and safety equipment. That is just as important within the games industry because you can damage your wrists, you can damage your hands, so you need to provide that information, provide that education, and then see what you can do. And I love that in Sweden that is a legal requirement to make sure to actively work within that, and I hope that more countries continue working within that as well to help and make things more accessible at the workplace.
Andy: There’s some really good points there, Gabriel, fantastic question as well. So, thank you very much. Yeah, well, that’s the halfway stage. We’ll move it on to the third question. It’s gonna come from Emilio. So, Emilio, please, can you give us your question then?
Emilio: Yes. It’s really simple; how to make mobile games more accessible?
So like the industry, video games, are still super focused on AAA console PC games and you know, every new AAA game there is release has like the block about what is, you know, accessibility features coming for whatever new title is coming and that’s great and I’m really happy that’s like it’s trending and you know that’s continually happening and probably, I’m happy to continue [to see it] happening during the following years. But the mobile is being super quiet.
You know, I think like a set like a couple of games that are pretty much cross-platform and exactly the same and they have to adapt it to mobile, which is great because they have already accessibility features. For example, Fortnite, you know, it’s a good example. They had to adapt the whole game, imagine to a small screen, and they did very well. I will say and in fact that’s one of the first probably appearance like you know of visual cues for hearing things. Right – when there are shooting, footsteps and then they have this rather 360 that you move around and now it’s something that pretty much all AAA has it now, right. And I think like it’s in all these shooters and I think that’s great. It’s like a good progress. But, you know, it’s funny because started for mobile, right? Because a lot of mobile players didn’t play with sound. And you want to cover that?
And then I think like again, but if you check probably the top ten grossing games in mobile; not all of them, probably none of them, has accessibility features like per say, right? They probably they have some things because they cover it, the design itself was more inclusive. But, you know, then also the distinction, like probably Cari was mentioning, like about accessibility and also inclusive design, right. And that’s also the approach we’re trying to change now because yes, we are more accessibly kind of more reactive, right? Do you have something, and you need to, they have the barriers, and you need to fix it right, and then you have to. And well inclusive design you try to step back and it’s like; how we can design this from the scratch to making sure everything is inclusive right and you have all the options? And obviously the more tricky and that’s something probably one of the biggest barriers we have in mobile, is the train has being moving for years, right? All these top grossing games being live, right. Everything is live is not you know it’s not a disk, right? It’s like so it’s Candy Crush being 10 years, right? So, like 10 years ago, there was not a lot of accessibility things going on, right. I think it’s like it’s and I think like now it’s like, OK, how we do it now? But just jumping into a moving train is really hard, right? And I think like that is when advocate advocacy is really important. And, you know, making business cases and I think right now at King the ball is moving like we release it at least in two games so far. We have a lot of learnings and that’s great. I think like that’s it’s when you start also it’s understanding, you know, how many players with disabilities do you have, right? Where are their barriers? And I think that’s key for all these communications, especially also when you have live games right because it’s an entity, right? It’s live right? It’s or is alive. You know, so it’s interesting to understand your audience.
And that’s another thing like, you could have more senior audience in some games you know and that means probably more type of disabilities. Or, you know, for that specific audience that a game that is for more of a younger audience which still could have some disabilities but probably different ones, right? So I think this is like, there is no universal design here. There’s no solution gonna fix all the problems and for all the games. And I think it’s really important to understand that, understand your audience, understand who is playing your game. And I’m from there. Like, and I hate this because a lot of time when we try to, you know, start development in accessibility it’s like; OK give me what is the low hanging fruit? No, I don’t want to go there. I want to go with what’s gonna be the most impactful thing, right. I want to know what’s the biggest barrier do we have? And then we should start. It’s not about just, I don’t know. Whatever it is, just do it because it’s easy to do. It’s about having things that is gonna have impact to our players and the most of the players, because this is really severe to them too, right? It’s not just it’s because, you know, they they’re having pain or you know it’s chronic pain for them or whatever it is. We’re solving that for them, right. And then now they can play longer sessions because they don’t have pain, right or they are not suffering and you know and I think that’s key to make decisions. Right. And I think that’s still like how we should start making starting conversations, with our stakeholders.
Andy: Cari. Did you wanna come in?
Cari: Absolutely, sorry. Antonio. Did you want to say something? I think you had the hand up longer than I have.
Andy: Oh, I’m sorry, I think you’re on mute there.
Antonio: It’s fine. You go first.
Cari: OK, no worries. So yeah, a couple things kind of off the back of what Emilio said. Really great question in terms of the trying to find out what things are most impactful in terms of the barriers, it’s always a balance of scope. It’s always looking at like, OK, what stage of production are you at? How long do you have to get these things done? And then what is the cost impact kind of thing? So it’s like yes, one of the most impactful things could be like screen narration, but actually that is a huge cost which isn’t going to fit within the scope that we have for this project, kind of thing. So there’s always, kind of, there will always be compromises that you have to make. And it sucks, especially as an accessibility person, it will suck that you have to make compromises. And because you’re often directly liaising with the people who would benefit from these things. So, it’s very hard not to kind of take it personally and to understand that it’s just the way the game dev works and it’s not something we can do this time, but it’s things that we can work towards. I think one thing that mobile has definitely got running for it is that, like you said, it’s a live thing. So, updates are something that is fluid and constant and it’s things that you can build towards a lot more and build up.
But yeah, so going back to you or how to make mobile games more accessible, I haven’t personally worked on mobile games, but I think one of the interesting things that I can talk chat about is that my partner developed a mobile game for student competition last year and his game won the Accessibility Award in that competition! Probably because he has to put up with me complaining about a lack of accessibility in every game or media that I digest. So, bless him for putting up with that. But he pushed for things in this game like the controls only needing a single finger and one press at time; colour blindness settings and he designed this amazing tutorial on boarding system that used like multiple visual channels to help reinforce how to play the game and introducing things like slowing down time and stuff. So, I was really, really proud of him. He did amazing already and he was showing it off at EGX London and I was down because I was doing a panel and I met SightlessKombat there for the first time and took him over to go and see the game that my partner been making. So, this game was like a bullet hell/shoot ‘em up type thing and Sightless had a bit of a look at it and was sort of immediately like, “right, OK, this isn’t gonna work for me. This isn’t accessible.” But he then went and talked about the ways that it could be made accessible. Things like spatial audio and haptic feedback. So, for example, when the waves of enemies are coming in, you have spatial audio to say these enemies are coming in from the left and then SK can use that to adjust where he’s which direction he’s shooting in. And also, one of the things that’s key to the game is that you change colours. So depending on what bullets are coming at you, so you might be changing between like red and blue or things like that. And if you’re blue and you get hit by a blue bullet, you absorb it, and it’s great if you get hit by red bullet bad times. So, there was the kind of suggestion of having different audio cues slightly different for like colour A versus colour B. And that way that would help to inform Sightless on which colour he needed to be at any one time. So, through those kind of audio cues, which for you and I and might seem we might think initially that’s gonna be really overwhelming. But actually, when you see SK playing games, there’s so much sound of the ambience and everything that just makes things inherently accessible. He’s so in tune with all this kind of stuff that, yeah, being able to put in front of him and stuff that would look, stuff that would appear to sighted players as just really nice audio design would then be really informative.
One of the things I like to talk about is that I played a little bit of Sniper Elite 5 with Sightless and we picked up an item and he said, “what was that?” and I was like “a bandage” and then we went a little bit further along, we picked up some more items including some ammo. And he was like, OK, we picked up another bandage, because it was a bandage there as well. And I was like, how did you know that? And it’s because it was different sounds for the different objects, which I fully had not picked up on at all. And then when I told the audio team they were so happy. And that’s one of their favourite things now is to go through and make different sounds for different objects so that it’s informative sound design.
But I think maybe the biggest take away for making mobile games more accessible is just to get more people playing them with different capabilities, like having Sightless just try to play the game that my partner had and then saying, OK, these the little things that you could do. They weren’t overwhelming. They weren’t massive. If it’s a mobile game as well, it’s something that can be added into that live game. Yeah, just so much knowledge and so many ideas. So, sorry I rambled on a bit, but that’s my…
Andy: Not a problem. This is all really good information. So thank you, Cari. Gabriel go on then!
Gabriel: Yes, we were talking a little about now when it comes to physical accessibility and also wanted to just take a look at an area that people maybe don’t think about, which is neurodiverse accessibility as well. That is very important for example to remember that certain things can be too much sensory output, or input, like for example too loud sounds and such. So, an easy thing like don’t have the sound at 100% volume the first time you start it. Lower it a little bit and showcase like oh you can change the sounds here and similar to just be able to limit that. For me, for example, I know that I’m very sensitive to sound. So when I start a game and it’s blasting full volume, I need to go hug my partner and just hide for a few moments because it’s just too much input. And then another thing is, well, when it comes to neurodiversity is also trigger warnings. And even though there might not be a lot in some mobile games, in others there might be. So, for an example, this isn’t really a mobile game, but the Stanley Parable Deluxe edition that came out. They have multiple endings. And at the start of the game, one of them, they said, OK, this ending can be triggering because of X. Do you want us to warn you when you can get to that ending? And you were like yes or no. And then when I got there, they were like, OK, now it’s time. This is the trigger. Do you want to leave? And I was like, Nah, it’s fine. Because then I had managed to get that warning. I knew what I was getting into. So that is great as well to be able to provide maybe a list of trigger warnings so that a pop up a little bit every again.
And then also when it comes to just as, and both you and Emilio and Cari mentioned, like how do you provide information in a game when we’re mentioning pop-ups as well to try and limit, OK, it’s maybe a lot of instructions of how to games work. Try to make the information as short and concise, but informative as possible with as few clicks and as few pop-ups as possible. So you can provide like; here you go, short amount of info, this is all you need to know. You can find more on the this menu if you want to. So you don’t have to continuously click on the screen and remove something to limit that so it doesn’t maybe strain a hand or similar, but also makes it easier to take in if maybe you have issues focusing or something. You don’t need to read a super long text or eight pages. You can just be like “OK, nice! Now I know this, now I can let my energy go somewhere else for a little bit before I come back and I still remember that short text.” So I think it’s important to also have a think about neurodiverse accessibility because a lot of phones can be very accessible for more people then maybe a PC, so think OK you can have a bigger player base here. So how do we make sure that everyone has the possibility to play and to learn as well, when they play some mobile games?
Andy: Fantastic. Thank you very much, Gabriel. Yes, some great points. Uh Antonio lets come to you.
Antonio: Yeah. So my point was about, you know, I don’t play many mobile games specifically because most of the games that you find on mobile, you know one of the most classic interfaces is, you know, you need to hold and drag your finger around the screen, or sweep left, up, right, like whatever or even. You know, just accessing the option your profile wherever is always set at the top of the screen and it’s really hard to reach. So for example, one of the things that I’m using my phone is I double tap on the bottom of the phone, I reduce the screen size, you know, now I can reach out, check my profile, go back. Now, that’s because the phone supports that functionality. If, for some reason, the game doesn’t support that it’s going to be a problem for a lot of people because they may not be able to, as happens to me, have as much strength in their fingers as they have in their wrists or in their whole arms. So that’s one of the big things, you know. Hold and drags tend to be a big problem because mobile games tend to rely too much on that feature. For example, one game that I’m playing right now is, you know, Marvel Snap. In the first place I was like, oh, this is a great game! A card game: I love it. Deck building: I love it. Marvel; sign me up for it, please. The problem then was you need to hold and drag the cards to the positions and once you have done it, maybe you do it wrong. You’re like, OK, I need to undo the move, right? No. OK, now I need first to remember in what order did I play the cards and then I need to drag them back to the original position and then redo my move. If they had something like, you know, an undo feature or simply a way where you could, like in other card games, yes, click on the card, click where you want to put it – and that’s done. That would be much, much better.
And again, as Gabriel said, good tutorials, have your information simple, simple gestures. We don’t analyse for example, in Nexus many mobile games, but it’s not because we don’t like them or whatever, it’s because they are not accessible. But we analysed one for the first time like one month ago and it got the first perfect score in our history, a 10 out of 10. We have never got in a game for low vision because it had exactly what it needed. It had, it was using all the features in the phone, all the features that game could have, like 3D binaural audio, audio description, simple choice selection. And all that made it gain that score. Now, the score is not important, is the fact that the person that played at the game had no barriers from beginning to end. Absolutely none. And that means that everyone who can play that game in that way is going to be going for that game. So, it’s a market for you and for any mobile creator you know.
Andy: Cari, did you wanna come in, just very quickly again before we move it on one last time? Oh, you’re on mute, Cari, sorry.
Cari: I’m so sorry! I pressed the wrong button! Yeah, I want to hop in very quickly on the points of, like, cognitive overload and lots of information. I adore a game that has a built-in wiki, so things like Planet Zoo that have a little, like, open this up and find out what all of these terms mean. Brilliant. I hate having to play something like Stardew and constantly googling what I need to do for this thing, or when this thing grows, or when this person is in this location. So, like having a source of information in the game that is there is something’s always really, really important to me! But, yes, sorry.
Andy: No, I say, don’t be sorry! It’s a great point. Emilio, fantastic question, so I hope you’ve, you know, managed to take a lot away from that as well in terms of mobile. Yeah, perfect. So really good points from everyone as well there. So, we’ll move it on for the last time and we’ll come back to Antonio for the last question please.
Antonio: Yeah. So my question is more related to how to create a program internally. So, my question is, what advice could you give or do you think are the best for someone who’s trying to start pushing internally for accessibility within a studio?
Now when I say pushing, I don’t mean like pushing people around to do accessibility, you know, I mean more like how to convince them. And in my experience as a consultant, I think it has been very helpful to do things in different ways. So, for example, one of the first thing that you need to do is make sure that you are involving everyone as much as you can. Not just people, you know, from coding because you think that’s where your features are going to be going or not involve every person you know from art, narrative, visuals, audio, whatever. Every department, I mean, even PR, like every department has to be part of it. And you need to talk to them in a way that you don’t sound like you’re bossing them around at all, because that’s not how it works. When I am brought to a studio or something for a workshop for, you know, any kind of advisory, what I need to do is first I need to explain about the experience. Then I need to talk to them in a way that feels like they have done something right. For example, I look at the last game that they did and I looked at what things have they already done because in a lot of cases people seem to be like a bit resistant or scared of accessibility like oh, this is going to be a lot of work, it’s going to cut our budget, it’s going to be a problem. But it’s not the case really in many occasions because you go there and you tell them, hey, I played your last game and you had great remapping, you had very good sound design and all that is accessibility, believe it or not, you have options to turn off motion blur – which by the way, nobody seemed to like it by the way, in the industry. I don’t know why it’s always on, but every time I go to a studio and I’m like you know I hate motion blur, it makes me sick. They’ll be like yeah, we all hate it too and I’ll be like, why do you put it in then? And they’re like, well, you know, like creative vision or whatever and like, fine, creative department also needs to be there.
And it’s important to talk to them, to developers, in a way that they realise that you understand their challenges. That you understand that they are not resistant to accessibility because they don’t like it or whatever, you know. It’s just the fact that; what’s the problem, maybe it’s the engines, maybe it’s the time, maybe they don’t have the budget. How can you help them? And you are not there again to tell them what they need to do. You are going there to explain them the barriers that you’re going to face more commonly and then you can let them like ask questions and you can build a relation with them based on trust and empathy. Because if there’s no empathy is going to be very difficult to have these conversations going because a lot of people are often times, kind of reluctant to talk about disability because they think it’s like uncomfortable feeling, or awkward, you know, and it’s not at all for us to talk about disability and our experiences in a way that can be helpful for them and helpful for us because we are all on the same side in this. So it’s important that you bring in people like consultants, players with disabilities, you talk to other peers in the industry because they are always going to give you some good advice. Especially people with high experience, higher procedures, you know?
And in the end, I think the biggest take you’re going to have is that, it’s the right thing to do, which sounds like, yeah, but that’s not the selling point. The selling point is, you’re going to sell more games because more people are going to be able to play your games. If I play your game and it’s not accessible for me, I’m going to leave you a review that isn’t going to it’s not going to be harsh or whatever, it’s going to be to constructive. It’s important to understand that developers do their best always to make the best that they can. So when we get that feedback, we need to be respectful and we need to be considering what challenges they might be facing and if that conversation starts going fluidly like they said, well you know my problem is that I don’t know how to do this feature. OK, maybe you could give them some examples. Maybe you could direct them to certain guidelines or any other resources that you know that could help them. And in that way the relation starts going forward and forward and before you know it, they are no longer resistant, now they are an ally, they are a champion. They are working, not for you, but with you to make their game the best that they can. And I think that is probably the best way to start doing activity from within.
Andy: Yea really good points Antonio. It’s a fantastic question and everyone’s hands up, so everyone wants to speak on this as well, which is which is great. So, Cari, I think you were first from what I remember, so I’m gonna come to you.
Cari: Thank you. I don’t know how to follow that up. That was amazing. I feel like I have 101 things to say about this anyway, because that is what I’m doing at Rebellion; I’m leading this accessibility initiative; leading the Rebellion Accessibility initiative. But I think 100% you’re right, one of the huge things is building empathy in your team like getting people in. And I think you’ve said it beautifully. So I’m not gonna repeat it other than just saying empathy, empathy, empathy.
If you want, like, the cold, hard business stats for really trying to persuade higher ups, then at least 20% of gamers experience some form of disability. That is 1/5th of your audience. So that is not a small number. And that is definitely gonna get some people interested if you’re facing that kind of resistance there. One of the big things I would suggest doing if you’re trying to push for internal initiatives is getting together some guidelines or heuristics to create checklist that people can use to self-review their own work. You can hand it off to the UI team and it could have things like testing that the text works at the larger scale that needs to be at, and that you’re not just relying on colour as one channel of communication. And by handing off those kind of little checklists, it can be like five or six points, it can help to just weave it into that process. Like Emilio mentioned earlier, inclusive design, making it part of the process so that there isn’t as much retrofitting that needs to be going on at the end.
But I mean genuinely, I think the best thing that I can recommend is going and watching David Tisserand’s talk from GAConf US last year; “Don’t let your vision be a dream” because it is incredible. It goes through a lot of things in his journey and how he started with accessibility at Ubisoft. It was so validating to watch as someone who has been doing this for just shy of a year and it was so relatable. It has a lot of really great takeaways and really good places to start. If I had to just summarize three things from it. It would be; be the accessibility support class! Like help everybody in your team to make those choices be the one that finds out the knowledge that they need. Small early wins will build momentum like yes, impact is really important, but those small little things are gonna give you a way to kind of get the ball rolling and finally be humble. I think that was the best ones. And yeah, like Antonio said, go and speak to other people. I actually spoke to David after saying this was an amazing talk and it was like an amazing experience. He’s wonderful and lovely. So yeah, go speak to people – we’re mostly great.
Andy: Fantastic, fantastic, bit of advice, Gabriel, I think you were second as well. So I’m gonna come to you and then to Emilio after if that’s alright. Go on, Gabriel.
Gabriel: Yes. So, I want to talk a little bit, like you both of you are talking about some fantastic areas, some great points. What I want to bring a little bit forwards then is some very specific like tips or maybe how you can make a change and seem like how you can present it. So, if you are in a company one of the best things you can do at the start is start talking about smaller and easy changes to make because if they’re smaller and if they’re easier, people are going to be more agreeable to implement them because they’re going to be easier to implement. And then you are going to start getting them on the track when it comes to talking about accessibility and then when you present your suggested changes, make sure to refer to maybe information and sources you can find online, maybe to other companies what they are doing or other games to provide as some concrete examples.
And then also then state why is this change going to be good, just as Cari said that 20% of your gamer base have some type of disability. So to bring that type of information to showcase. Hi this is a really good idea and this is why, and then also I think it’s finally important to remember that not everyone knows a lot about this field and it’s not always about ignorance, for example, but maybe they’ve just not grown up talking about it. Maybe they don’t know anyone they dare to talk about it too. Or maybe they think it’s stigmatized to mention something because it might be afraid of using the wrong terms and similar. So do be aware of everyone’s knowledge and try to create a friendly and welcoming space where they feel like they can open up, where they feel like they can learn and educate themselves and listen. So make sure to dare to talk about the subjects and the more we talk about it, the more we bring up accessibility, the more aware people will become and the more they will think about it. Which means that it will be continuously on their mind and we can then easily a direct them on the tracks of getting them more implemented into the games and also the organization as a whole. So that’s some tips and tricks of how to do that.
Andy: Yep, brilliant. And I hope a lot of people take them away as well because they sound fantastic. Emilio let’s come to you.
Emilio: Thanks, great tips and I think like I’m gonna just go with that, I think like the others have been said. So, on my side what I have in work a lot is having hack days, I think hack days is good opportunities. Every team at King has them in different ways, but they’re supposed to do days that you can do whatever you want to improve the game and that’s exactly where a big opportunity for accessibility advocates to put accessibility. In fact, the two accessibility menus we have in the game live are coming from there. Again, it changes from game to game; some game have it like every quarter they have like 2 weeks, like a Sprint, some of them have it every month but it’s like, just a day. So it depends it’s up to every game to do that.
But I think having, you know, fighting to, you know, everyone do something different. So at least you can, you know, advocate and push together make a group of developers, Artist, UI, UX and making sure you are covering all areas. You are good to go and start developing that, you know start. I think the most important part in all this is having the menu, you know once the menus in it’s really, especially like games, it’s really easy to start slipping things in and every update you know since the game is already there, the menu there, right? You know, which is which is probably the hardest part is adding a new thing in the game. After the new thing is in if you just start updating that part new feature for the menu, you know, new option for players to do that. But I think that the key part here is when you do the work right and I think hack days is a good opportunity and for that it’s like you know, again I think it’s what you’re gonna do there in hack days. And so, I think it’s important to come already with really defined idea; what is missing in the game, what you can improve in the game, what’s gonna have the biggest impact in our in your players. And if you want to go, yeah also maybe at least the first time, yes, try something quick and fast just to make sure at least you know just released the menu with something the players can use right away. But yeah, I will say that’s something really important.
And from that area too I think, to keep in the loop and something we also have in our accessibility menu is a contact point for players for them to, you know, tell you what is missing, you know like “oh, you know I have this type of disability and this is a barrier I have” or you know or whatever. Even kudos. We receive a lot of kudos also in those like “oh this is great; I love to use it”. Like, this, but also like, you know, I think it’s important to like educate, also, players sometimes about accessibility and you know, I think a lot of players with accessibility, once we release them, some players like why do I have this? I don’t have disabilities, you know. And it’s like, dude, this it’s not. It’s not about that, you know. It’s like, it’s really tricky and a lot of and some kind of complaints around this area which they shouldn’t write. It’s like about, this is for everyone and I think like some games don’t even say accessibility, but there is just settings and there’s a lot of accessibility things there, right. I think a lot of that’s pretty much accessibility is just a collection of specific settings. You know at the end. So it’s how you frame it anyway. Yeah. Hack days; I will say that’s my two cents on this.
Andy: No, it’s a really good tip and Antonio, it’s a fantastic question. Hopefully a lot of listeners to this will have taken away a lot of points that all you guys have mentioned and then, ultimately, games become more accessible and people are pushing for it in their own individual companies, which would be fantastic. And obviously that’s what it’s all about, if more people can play games, then that’s amazing and that’s what we want. So, Antonio, thank you very much. And that concludes the podcast guys. That’s all everyone’s four questions, so I will take this opportunity to say thank you to Cari, to Gabriel, Emilio and Antonio. Some great input, great questions and a really, really great topic. So, thank you very much for joining. If anybody else would like to join any other podcasts or talk about anything else in the future. Please drop me a message and we can make it happen, but until then, we’ll see you next time. Thank you, guys.
Andy Bargh. Senior Game Design consultant at Evolution (Nordics) & Podcast Host. Andy Bargh
Antonio I. Martinez. Accessibility Consultant, Founder and Editor in Chief of Game Accessibility Nexus. @Black1976
Cari Watterton. Senior Designer of Accessibility at Rebellion. @CariWatterton
Emilio Jéldrez. UI/UX Craft Development Manager at King. @ejeldrez
Gabriel Eriksson Sahlin. Talent Acquisition and Diversity Manager at Kinda Brave, Lecturer & Streamer. @Babblinggoat
Antonio I. Martinez has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3 and has been a gamer for most of his life. His background formation in computer programming and English compose his basic skill set. Previously mobility editor for Can I Play That, founded this new project to inform other fellow gamers and offer actionable feedback. As consultant, his work includes publishers like Xbox, Ubisoft and Rebellion. Beyond self-advocacy, he’s done webinars, talks and participated in many interviews on different media channels to educate about the importance of accessibility in games. Judge for The Game Awards and the AGDAs. You can contact him on Twitter/X at @Black1976