Industry Research

For a recent essay, I was required to interview industry professionals to get some insights into the gaming industry. By contacting professional game designers, it allowed me to get an idea of the current state of accessibility within the industry and professional opinions on the potential for improvements in this area.

Richard Warner – Avalanche Studios

Richard is a Lead Artist at Avalanche Studios, Stockholm. He has been in the games industry for eight years, starting at Stainless Games on the Isle of Wight, then moving to Sweden to work at Starbreeze and then Avalanche.

Do you think that the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Richard talks about ‘enforcement of the CVAA law’ and how the ‘games and technology industry include a base line implementation of accessibility features within their products.’ He goes on to talk about Microsoft’s companywide standards for games and platforms making them‘champions for accessibility.’He also sent me links toMSFTEnableandXbox Guidelinesas they are ‘great resources for what Microsoft wishes to allow their users to change for a comfortable experience.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

Richard says that Avalanche studios adhere to the above standards at launch but that‘current live projects are adding these features through updates.’He goes on to say that they‘actively follow the Game Accessibility Conference.’ This is a source I will keep a close eye on during my MA.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how we as an industry could be more inclusive to our disabled players?

Richard suggested ‘employing staff who are affected by disabilities and will help promote a more inclusive product. This can be developers who have dyslexia, ADHD, colour blindness or other mobility disabilities.’ This is an idea I can whole-heartedly support, and I agree that consulting and hiring people with these conditions is an invaluable help to the games industry.Richard also suggested consulting‘advocacy groups and charities like Able Gamers and Special Effect will ensure standards are met.’ Another brilliant idea to get insight into how to expand gaming to be more inclusive.

Alex Bellingham – Freelancer

Alex currently works as a freelance UX/UI designer. He worked for Sony Playstation defining UI practices for VR that have now been adopted by most VR studios. Since leaving there he has ventured into designing UI for VR, web and mobile for companies such as Red Bull, IBM, CT, Cisco and Burberry.

Do you personally think that player-based customisation through UI would be a valuable and achievable step in improving accessibility?

Alex states that he wishes ‘all games had the option to customise all aspects of UI’ but that it should not just be for disabilities. He believes that game developers should ‘allow players to augment the player’s own individual experience’. I love this idea of personalisation for a better experience.

He goes on to say that achievability is ‘another question entirely’. He said that considerations must always be taken ‘on the size of the team’ and their ‘capacity to implement and account for every case’. When paired with ‘milestones, tight deadlines, budget restrictions and user testing’, this can create a multitude of issues in a company’s ability to meet accessibility guidelines.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how we as an industry could be more inclusive to our disabled players?

Alex’s advice for this was centred around ‘doing as much research and planning as possible up front before development even begins’. He said that the focus should be to ‘figure out what users you’re designing for, which accessible features are achievable, how long it will take to implement, and how long it will take to test’.

He then goes on to say that ‘this is dependent on the context, project, and specific disability; sometimes you simply can’t make it inclusive’. Alex said that, no matter how controversial ‘sometimes you have to consider that making something fully accessible can actually be detrimental to an experience’ and that ‘in some cases the question has to be asked; is it better to have a bad experience or no experience at all?’ This is the unpleasant truth behind accessibility in gaming and that sometimes you must accept that you cannot please everybody.

Nicola Hynes – White Paper Games

Nicola is a Junior 3D artist working for the indie studio, White Paper Games. She has been working for White Paper for around 6 months and focuses on creating gameplay assets for the game world.

Do you think the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Nicola believes that‘there is always room for improvement.’ She thinks that the influence of games on connectivity between people and even its teaching capabilities make gaming‘without a doubt one of the best things for downtime and taking a break from hard times in life.’ She concluded by saying that she would ‘love for as many people as possible to have access to it.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

She listed all White Paper Games current accessibility tools; I have included a screenshot of these below:

Do you think that improving accessibility through player-based customisation would change the way you design games?

Nicola states that ‘accessibility needs to be a focus throughout the design proves of a game to make sure it is implemented properly.’ She goes on to say that accessibility options ‘need to work well with the original intent of design and not be forgotten about because it is not the default setting.’

It is clear from these answers that Nicola and White Paper Games place high value on accessibility. The fact that UI accessibility does make a difference to a 3D artists’ workflow, but this is viewed as a standard challenge in the design process gives me hope that we can continue to improve on accessibility.

Jack England – Deep Silver Dambuster Studios

Jack is a Junior Level Designer at Dambuster Studios. He has been working for Dambusters for just over half a year and mainly focuses on overseeing development on quests in game and liaising with seniors on how to improve these.

Do you think the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Jack believes that ‘the game industry could always be more inclusive for people with disabilities.’ He went on to say that despite ‘big steps on this front in the past decade, the industry should strive to make gaming accessible for everyone.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

He states that ‘as a junior [he is] not aware of the steps going on behind the scenes to improve accessibility, though it is something that has and is being discussed throughout the development process.’ I had not considered the lack of information for juniors, but this is something I feel should be taught early in designers’ careers. The sooner accessibility considerations are learnt, the more normalised those considerations become.

Do you think that improving accessibility through player-based customisation would change the way you design games?

Jack says he believes that ‘there is a limit to what [level designers] can do to help improve accessibility.’ He went on to say that he thinks ‘areas such as technical design and game design are more involved in those processes.’ It would be interesting to contact people in these job roles so I can also gain their opinions on accessibility.

Catarina Martins – Supermassive Games

Cat works as a Level Designer. She started work at VR studio, nDreams and worked there for 8 months before moving to Supermassive. She has been in the industry for just over a year now.

Do you think the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Cat believes that ‘people with disabilities don’t get to enjoy games like everybody else mainly because of the lack of in game options to support it.’ She explained that this can also sometimes be ‘due to the design itself’. She gave the examples of ‘puzzles that require audio queues’ and ‘platforming without alternate routes or difficulty adjustments.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

She said that while she ‘can’t speak on behalf of [her] employer’ she can speak as a player. She gave examples of Supermassive game, Man of Medan. She mentioned the accessibility option to ‘hold QTE buttons rather than mash QTE buttons’ in timed events. She said that there is also the option to ‘disable the QTE timeout.’ These subtle options can drastically change a disabled player’s experience.

Do you think that improving accessibility through player-based customisation would change the way you design games?

Cat thinks that accessibility would affect her work due to the ‘broad amount of different customisations to help each individual’s needs.’ She goes on to say that it is important to have ‘a design that gives a similar experience regardless of the option chosen.’ These design options would mean that a player with a disability would not ‘feel less challenged/rewarded because they chose an option to help them play the game.’ She said that it should be ‘a balance to make sure accessibility doesn’t compromise experience.’

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