There are few things in life as complex as making a videogame, free-to-play or otherwise. From pre-production to launch there are hundreds of steps and thousands of decisions to make. So, why complicate things more and make the game accessible?
For Kait Paschall the answer is clear: “Accessibility helps you to create community. The more inclusive your product is, the more your audience will grow. What’s more, from January 1 2019 it will be mandatory in key markets such as the US”, she says. This is what made her talk at F2P Campus on how to make free-to-play mobile games more accessible so hotly anticipated.
What is disability?
According to the World Health Organization, ‘Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interactions between features of a person’s body and the society in which he or she (or they) lives’. These disabilities can be something permanent, temporary, or the product of a situation in which the person finds themselves. One can have hearing problems because of deafness, having an ear infection, or being in a noisy environment.
It may seem like only people with health problems make use of these functions, but statistics such as the fact that 78% of players use subtitles prove that a vast majority do. That’s why including accessibility options in your game is so important.
Integrate accessibility into every stage of development
In her talk, Kait Paschall advised the F2P Campus teams to think about accessibility at every stage of the development of their game.
- Pre-Production. Consider design features, mechanics, and input methods. Consult the GAG and test your concepts with disabled folks, so you don’t have to go back and retrofit later!
- Prototype/Alpha. Easiest time to make changes. Movement mechanics are determined now. Selected color palettes and all gameplay mechanics should be UX tested before finalizing.
- Beta. More player and QA testing. Tweaks and UI rebuilding. Core mechanics are locked in by now. Focus on expanding settings menus and getting more feedback.
- “Gold”/Release. Prepare for real-time customer feedback. Have accessible and public places they can communicate with you (virtual or face-to-face).
- Post-Release. Get community feedback, and keep conversing with your players. When feasible, make accessibility patches and then share the news with players and media.
To do this, she gave tips such as using social media like Reddit, Twitter and Facebook to gather opinions, and doing playtests with a diverse population.
How to make more accessible Free-To-Play mobile games
Although without a doubt the most interesting part of Kait Paschall’s talk was when she explained how to make mobile games more accessible. Small options and settings such as using sliders make a big difference to many players.
- Input remapping/regrouping
- One-button input is best!
- Difficulty settings + examples
- Adjust gameplay or character speed
- Adjust enemy health or remove enemies entirely
- Invert X/Y axes
- SFX (slider)
- Music (slider)
- Volume (slider + tap to mute)
- Size, font, color, etc.
- Voice chat (however, don’t rely on this for in-game player communication!)
- Subtitles (w/options)
- Low power mode
- Cursor/crosshair choice
- Effects like screen shake, anti-aliasing, motion blur, lens flare and bloom, force feedback, etc.
- Allow players to pause
- Enable speech input
- Use multi-modalities of sensory input for:
- color or shape
- motion controls
- Use as many easily recognizable symbols as possible for communication to minimize localization, e.g. symbol-based chat
Finally, Kait reminded us that players appreciate options, and recommended innovation when implementing all of these.
Many thanks to Kait Paschall for sharing her knowledge of accessibility at F2P Campus.
If you would like to learn more about accessibility in games you can attend conferences such as GDC, AbleGamers, EU GA Conf, Special Effect, Games Aid UK and NZGDC. There are also online resources such as Game Accessibility Guidelines, AbleGamers, Special Effect, GamesAid and Microsoft Inclusive Toolkit.