Accessibility Testing in Video Games
The gaming industry has been expanding significantly and becoming more open to everyone. As such, it's important to put accessibility as a high priority to make outstanding gaming experiences, further reduce the barriers, and make sure that players of all skill levels can enjoy your games. Actually, accessibility can benefit every one of us - for example, subtitles make the game more perceivable, adjusting controls or difficulty levels can help to beat some frustrating bosses, and so on.
Developers are making the newest games more and more accessible. For example, the Forza series and Diablo IV provide wide accessibility settings and features. Forza is making its most accessible game for blind players by providing Blind Driving Assists - understandable haptic feedback and sounds (beeps and boops), in addition to voiceovers so the player can more easily navigate. Also available are overall accessibility features like screen narration, one-touch driving, dynamic audio descriptions, and text-to-speech and speech-to-text features. Other notable features are colorblind modes, filters, subtitles, and text scaling.
Diablo IV has over 50 accessibility features, including text assistance, control remapping, vision assistance, colorblind filters, expanded difficulty settings, and much more. The game provides a built-in screen reader while also supporting third-party screen readers such as JAWS and NVDA. By providing all of these options, the game has received excellent feedback: “..it’s also one of the most accessible RPGs I’ve ever played!”
Accessibility testing is a way to evaluate and improve the gaming experience while ensuring that players can use the controls to understand sound and visual clues, user interfaces, and game mechanics. So, we will explore some reasons why game accessibility matters, accessibility feature examples that could significantly improve the gaming experience, and some key considerations for game accessibility testing.
What are the benefits of accessible video games?
Accessible video games are inclusive and diverse, allowing gamers with disabilities to take an equal part in playing and assist with socializing. By taking into account the needs of players with visual, hearing, motor, cognitive, or psychological limitations, developers can create more diverse video games, increasing the overall gaming experience and benefiting all players, not only gamers with disabilities.
Accessibility-focused games are more likely to appeal to a broader audience, as these games receive support not only from gamers with disabilities but from their friends and family as well. At caniplaythat.com, players with disabilities share their reviews and gaming experience, discussing accessibility settings for specific games and giving feedback if the game can be played and is enjoyable. That helps other gamers with the same or similar disabilities to determine if the game will meet their accessibility needs before buying it.
What accessibility features can improve the gaming experience?
Implementing these basic but important features can significantly improve the accessibility of your game. But remember, needed accessibility features depend on game specifics.
- Allow controls to be remapped to accommodate player needs and preferences. This is especially important for players with motor disabilities, as they may need alternative input methods and button configurations.
- Adjustable difficulty levels allow players to adjust the game mechanics to their skill level, allowing people with different levels of ability to get the same level of experience.
- Include subtitles or closed captions for in-game dialogue and important audio cues. This feature is important for players with hearing impairments. This also benefits all players; for example, when players can't increase the volume, the subtitles help them perceive the sounds and dialog.
- Include an option to adjust the game speed and pause the game during critical moments, which can be beneficial for people with motor or cognitive disabilities.
- Provide alternative visual cues or indicators for important audio cues in the game. This helps players who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand critical information, such as enemy presence, alarms, or environmental sounds. Also, add cues and hints that are repeated, for example, in dialogs in the game or a carousel on the loading screen. Users can also access them later if needed.
- Use an easily readable default font size, provide an option to adjust the text size, and also provide high contrast between the text and its background. This is particularly beneficial for players with visual impairments or reading difficulties.
- Support alternative input methods such as mouse and keyboard (for consoles), touch controls, or adaptive controllers. The whole game should be accessible with that input method, not only gameplay but also UI elements. This ensures that players can choose the input method that best suits their abilities and comfort.
Considerations for Accessibility Testing
First, spare some time for research, as it is important to read and understand accessibility guidelines and recommendations. For example, Game accessibility guidelines (GAG) include guidelines in three levels (basic, intermediate, and advanced) and recommendations about motor, visual, hearing, and speech cognitive disabilities and also general recommendations and good examples from actual video games. GAG is structured similarly to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - levels of recommendations, sections for recommendations, and examples. Additionally, Microsoft has developed Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, which are created for developers and test teams to use as a source to get ideas for design and as a checklist to validate accessibility. Xbox Accessibility Guidelines are more compact; however, all the recommendations from XAG can be found in GAG, but not the other way around. It’s also good to familiarize yourself with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to get a better understanding of accessibility overall.
Consider creating a test plan. The mentioned guidelines can help to create a testing plan and a checklist. Examine your game's interface, mechanics, audio, etc., and find out the exact accessibility standards, advice, and best practices that will be used as testing benchmarks. Create a checklist with the accessibility features that will be relevant to your video game.
If your game is to be released on multiple platforms, test on these platforms with different devices. Ensure that you test your game on a range of platforms and devices, including PCs, consoles, and mobile devices. For phones, consider testing on devices with different screen sizes. Each platform may have its own accessibility considerations, so it's important to cover as many as possible while using different input devices such as a mouse, keyboard, controllers, gamepads, and voice commands. This will ensure that your game works efficiently using each input method.
When considering accessibility, it’s important to look into different assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and adaptive controllers. It is important to test using screen readers to ensure that all game content is readable, understandable, and perceivable. Ensure your game is compatible with adaptive controllers, as these controllers get more popular among players with specific accessibility requirements. Some of the popular controllers:
- Xbox Adaptive Controller is one of the best controllers for users with limited mobility. The controller also supports additional controllers/buttons from Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit and others, so users can create the best setup that will meet their needs.
- Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick, which is compatible with PCs. It provides an ergonomic hand grip, twelve programmable buttons at the base, precise twist rudder control, and a weighted base for stability.
- Leonardo for PlayStation 5 is a customizable accessibility controller kit with a modular design. The user will be able to take apart every button and joystick, customizing it to suit their needs.
A good and beneficial practice can be to assemble a diverse testing team that includes testers with different types of disabilities so they can evaluate different aspects of your game. This will help to get a unique perspective, assisting in the detection of specific accessibility issues that may have been overlooked.
Accessibility is the best way to promote inclusion and improve the overall gaming experience. For developers, it is essential to pay attention to accessibility early in production and work together with testers. For a successful and accessible product, the expected accessibility features must be defined. Including diverse testers can help to identify specific issues. And finally, as accessibility is an ongoing process, reviews from players with different disabilities and skill levels can help with continuous accessibility improvements.