GA-SIG Roundtable Meeting Notes (GDC-16)

As promised, here are Game Accessibility resources and meeting notes from our roundtable discussion at GDC 2016. Please note: It is a slightly updated version of the list posted on our mail list a few days ago, and edited for better readability.

If you would like to stay plugged in with the group and its activities, join the mailing list. If you are interested in getting involved, take a look at the GA-SIG Action Plan and see if there is anything that you would like to work on. Please consider myself (chad [at] anacronist.com), Ian (i_h [at] hotmail.com), and Thomas (thomasw [at] westin.nu) as resources if you have any questions and/or comments.

Resources

IGDA Game Accessibility SIG

Other (just a few of them!)

News

Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

Legislation passed in 2010. It was originally intended for full compliance to be achieved by October 2013 (consumers would be able to start filing complaints after this date). A new waiver for game software only was granted until January 2017. The video games industry originally requested an extension until 2021, but was only granted a waiver until October 2015.

CVAA’s captioning requirements are for broadcast video only: they do not include video in the games. The FCC does not regulate captioning of home videos, DVDs or video games; DVDs have captions most of the time because TV shows, movies, etc. must contain captions in order to be broadcast (to be in compliance).

Any device that offers Advanced Communication Services (ACS) must make those communication services available to people with disabilities unless it is not “achievable” to do so. The CVAA defines ACS as:

  1. interconnected VoIP service
  2. non-interconnected VoIP service (does not require connection to the public switch telephone network); for example TRS (Telecommunications Relay Service)
  3. electronic messaging service (including text messaging, instant messaging, email and two-way interactive messaging through a social networking site)
  4. interoperable video conferencing service.

Three categories exist in the CVAA for video games: (I) game consoles, (II) game distribution and game play networks, and (III) game software. Products released before the expiration of the waiver are exempted (PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, etc. are technically exempted). Businesses and organizations with less than 30 employees are exempted.

At the FCC’s discretion, requirements can be waived for equipment and services that are capable of accessing Advanced Comminication Services, but are designed primarily for purposes other than using ACS.

Consoles, software and online distribution services that offer broadcast video, such as television shows or movies, must provide users with a set of options so they can manipulate how subtitles are displayed. For example, YouTube, Netflix, iOS, Android, etc. currently offer full control over text size, font, and letterboxing when viewing online videos.

Accessibility features on consoles

Xbox One

  • screenreader
  • magnifier (also in-game)
  • closed caption presentation (with API)
  • high contrast
  • limited button remapping (at the system level)

Playstation 4:

  • limited screenreader
  • magnifier (also in-game)
  • closed caption presentation
  • high contrast
  • bold text, large text, text speed
  • limited button remapping (at the system level).

Nintendo Wii U and 3DS:

  • Nothing as of yet – probably won’t appear until the next round of consoles are released.

Steam:

  • Nothing as of yet – this potentially puts the company out of compliance with the CVAA, but it may depend on how the exemption for preexisting devices and services is interpreted (for example, what constitutes a major update to the service?)

Publisher-level accessibility evaluations at SCEE and BBC

The game user research team at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe has started to offer accessibility evaluations as an internal service. Offers expert game review, player-behavior observation testing, diary studies, and general analytics. 2. This internal tool consists of two parts:

  1. A spreadsheet with a straightforward list of possible accessibility considerations, with additional columns to indicate whether each is relevant to a gameplay mechanic, how feasible it is, and recommendations for implementation
  2. Detailed support document with precise specifications for platform-level certification of accessibility features

This is currently an optional internal service at Sony Europe, but it will eventually be shared with the wider business and game user research community. The BBC produced a similar list/procedure this year for use across its first and third party games

  1. The BBC is publicly funded so has a strong accessibility culture, meaning their list is a set of requirements and is not an optional service
  2. Requires its games to comply with as much of the list/procedure as is reasonably possible

Continued increase in accessibility implementation in the industry

Big increases in developer considerations, in particular for accommodating epileptic and colorblind gamers. There was a strong social media reaction to the lack of colorblind friendliness in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and The Witness; this is compared to only two years ago where games such as Sim City and Borderlands 2 considering colorblindness was unusual enough that it received significant press coverage.

Two AAA console games intentionally patching in accessibility for completely blind gamers

  • Mortal Kombat X added optional extra sound cues for background objects and power meters
  • Killer Instinct received a patch to add a HUD UI slider and additional sounds for moves that didn’t yet have unique sounds

Other accessibility considerations outside of developing features

  • Turtle Rock Studios published an accessibility statement for its game Evolve, which details what considerations have already been made; the company also made a public commitment to further work in this area
  • The Witcher 3 received many accessibility patches by its developer CDProjektRed in the weeks following its launch; the developers prioritized accessibility features in a critical fix; this included full controller remapping, colorblind mode, and improving the size and contrast of text
  • Harmonix was actively soliciting for accessibility suggestions on their forums during development of Rock Band 4; this has resulted in more than 18 pages of suggestions from players

Awards

  • Rocket League and MLB: The Show 15 winning AbleGamers awards
  • Heroes of the Storm winning DAGERS award
  • Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be winning the accessibility category at the Australian Game Developer Awards

Work of accessibility advocacy organizations

Accessibility charity foundations have seen increases in their donations which has allowed them to ramp up their outreach work.

Special Effect recently opened a Games Room in Oxfordshire along with the Prime Minister, other members of government, and industry professional. The Games Room helps people with disabilities benefit from the fun and inclusion of video games and other forms of leisure technology

AbleGamers launched AbleGamers Expansion Packs which are bundles of assistive technology to be installed in various locations that serve people with disabilities, such as group homes, special needs daycare facilities and long-term living centers. Also launched the AbleGamers fellowship, aimed at improving diversity through scholarship funding and mentorship for disabled students.

GA-SIG Action Items

This is a follow-up what has been done since GDC 2015 where most of this action list was defined.

Accessibility of sessions at GDC

  • Not much in the way of improvements over previous years. There are still significant distances to travel between accessibility talks—it was requested that these sessions be grouped together to make it easier for attendees to get from one to another
  • Some grouping coincidentally occurred in the West Hall, but the advocacy track expanded significantly making scheduling requests like this unrealistic to accommodate (sometimes six advocacy sessions were occurring at the same time)

Educating Tool and Engine Developers about Accessibility support

  • Traditionally engines have been a sizeable barrier for accessibility. Unity now allows full controller remapping at the system level; Unreal includes a colorblindness simulator; both have built-in captioning
  • A well-established engine developer has shown some interest in the GA SIG’s list of possible improvements that tools and engines can make for game accessibility
  • A significant future step to advocate for is fixing of screen readers in games for blind gamers; multiple technology layers (OS + middleware + game engine, etc.) are currently hindering adoption of screen readers, preventing developers who want to develop blind accessible games from being able to do so

Educational Material in Higher Education

There are a number of people collaborating between the IGDA Education SIG and Game Accessibility SIG on a Game Accessibility education framework. Contact Thomas Westin for more information

IGDA GA-SIG Website

  • Hosting moved to the IGDA web servers
  • Need to update the theme and general structure of the websit and move the content

Accessibility Information in Storefronts (such as Steam)

  • Some small developments with Steam: now filters games that have captions
  • Nothing for colorblindness, button remapping, etc
  • Itch.io offers these types of filters
  • Evaluation of how Itch.io works and filters its games would be very valuable, if anyone is interested in working on this

Advocating for fixed-point mode for Switch users on iOS

  • Switch accessibility means allowing access to custom controllers based on one or two simple on/off controls; for example, a sip/puff tube, headrest button, blink detector, etc.
  • iOS and Android (to a lesser extent) offer built-in support for switch accessibility when using native interface elements
  • iOS has a workaround for apps that aren’t developed natively (i.e. most games): the game scans the screen and the player interacts when the desired coordinates appear
  • There are thousands of one button mobile games that should in theory be switch-compatible, but the fixed point mode doesn’t work with them, as it is incompatible with games that require any kind of timing
  • Barrie Ellis of One Switch / Special Effect created a video with wide backing from the game accessibility community about what works about it and what doesn’t; Apple have since implemented an additional mode (switch recipes) that allows repeated presses on a single point, removing the incompatibility issue from all of those thousands of games overnight

Presenting at Conferences

  • Over 20 talks by members on a wide range of topics at a wide range of different conferences, both industry and academic
  • Five accessibility talks at GDC with record attendance (three years ago, average attendance was about 30, in 2016 average attendance was about 130)
  • Six gaming sessions at CSUN (cross industry accessibility conference—a lot of web and apps

Expanding Accessibility at Global Game Jam

  • Global Game Jam (GGJ) and other game jams have proven to be powerful awareness raisers for Game Accessibility
  • GGJ hired accessibility advocate Giselle Rosman as an executive producer to oversee the organization of the 2016 event
  • Six optional game development themes related to game accessibility (e.g. one handed controls, no visuals)
  • Thousands of developers took up one or more of those six optional game development themes
  • AbleGamers planning to offer a 24 hour hotline operational during GGJ 2017 to offering game accessibility support and advice

Film Victoria Refresh

  • Film Victoria is a government funding body in Australia for game development and provides accessibility criteria to developers to help determine how to allocate funding This was out of date due to advancements in technology, but was recently made current
  • In the three years the Film Victoria funding has been available, there has never been a single developer to fail to fill out the optional accessibility questions
  • The Melbourne game development community in general is really knowledgeable of game accessibility, largely as as result of Film Victoria
  • It is important to increase engagement with funding bodies so that game accessibility is a consideration for funding allocations
  • Creative Europe, an EU-wide funding body, now has similar accessibility criteria and used Film Victoria as a case study

Accessibility Awards

  • Further push for embedding accessibility awards within general industry awards
  • TIGA awards in the UK accessibility award was replaced this year by a diversity award; looking to bring it back in 2016
  • Australian Game Developer awards through Giselle Rosman has been offering an accessibility award for the last three years

Coordinating Blog Posts

  • Ian’s post at Gamasutra about best practices for subtitles in games; see article here
  • In general, anyone who writes an accessibility-related article or blog post should ensure that it is reposted to sites such as Gamasutra for higher visibility

New Action Items

Accessibility at GDC 2016 (and what to do for GDC 2017)

There was a big line up for press people to use the wheel chair lift; the press area was located upstairs and the Moscone Center was working on its elevators so these areas could not be reached by people that could not use the stairs

The session Audio Driven Gameplay was essentially about blind accessibility in games but was on the Audio Track and not the Advocacy track. It was intentionally put on the Audio Track because it was expected that it would have broader appeal; however, this limited the number of people that could attend (because advocacy sessions are open to all types of passes)

Accessibility Summit at GDC 2017

  • Would be similar to 2005’s GA-SIG GDC event: Selection of talks/activities/mini-expo (for potentially half a day) to allow control over accessibility of venue, distance between sessions, and a greater number and variety of sessions than the regular GDC Advocacy Track can support on its own
  • Invite people from ALT.CTRL.GDC that have created gaming hardware that lends itself to game accessibility; presenting these devices within an accessibility context will drastically change how they are interpreted (a lot of people just look at these devices like they are these fun, goofy inventions)
  • Invite hardware manufacturers that produce accessibility devices to present, such as Gimp Gear
  • Don’t schedule summit in a way that will conflict in any way with the Game User Research (GUR) Summit as there is potential crossover between the audiences of both summits. GUR summit tends to shift between Monday and Tuesday

General discussion

Storytelling: include diverse character roles that account for accessibility representation

  • Some gamers would not like to choose to play as a disabled gamer in a game, because they play games for escapism
  • Other gamers have strongly identified with characters that have minor or major impairments
  • A German indie game called The Unstoppables has four different characters with different accessibility obstacles; it is a puzzle game where characters must combine their abilities to progress through a level

 

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