Knocking down barriers: Improving accessibility in games

Knocking down barriers: Improving accessibility in games
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

July 8th 2014 at 1:40PM

Ian Hamilton discusses considerations developers should have in mind to make games open for everyone to play

Developers can improve accessibility in games for people with disabilities and medical conditions if they consider them at the beginning of development.

Speaking at the Develop Conference, designer and accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton said he keeps seeing the same mistakes being made by studios, with effort often focusing on the small details of game design, but ignoring levels of accessibility.

He claimed this mindset was "wiping out" a large potential audience for games.

Solving barriers faced by people with disabilities by considering potential issues early on can open up games to more players, and the considerations can sometimes be as simple as changing team colours from green and red to accomodate for those who are colour blind.

"If you can be aware of the barriers present, you can prevent them from actually happening. That is what is known as accessibility," he said.

According to government statistics, the percentage of people in the general population classed as disabled is 15 per cent. Eight per cent of males are colour blind, and 14 per cent of people are illiterate.

Hamilton cited a survey conducted by Plants Vs Zombies developer PopCap that revealed 20 per cent of gamers who participated in the survey had disabilities of some sort, higher than the general population.

For practical applications on how developers can overcome these barriers, Hamilton offered examples of developers using simple sub titles, displaying sound in text form or simplifying complex controls as ways to overcome a large number of potential disabilites

He explained that rather than thinking about all the different conditions individually, it was easier to think of five core issues: hearing, sight, operating a controller, speech and memory.

He said that if developers spend 30 minutes at the beginning of the project looking at potential barriers for players, developers could easily find ways to prevent them from affecting people, while also improving the experience for other players.

Examples of the benefits of such an approach include MUDRammer and Solara (pictured).

12 per cent MUDRammer players are blind, which meant an immediate profit on investment for the developer.

In Solara meanwhile, the average revenue from blind users was said to be significantly higher than from other players, as they were spending more on in-app purchases.

"As well as the benefits to people and to business, there's also real opportunity for innovation," said Hamilton.

"There's so much ground that hasn't been trodden on and still a chance for developers to make a difference."