Text to speech for system UI alone has some real benefits, due to the number of non-gaming applications that consoles now support. But opening up a means for it to be utilised in-game would dramatically increase the usefulness of gaming platforms for blind customers. There are currently developers who want to implement accessibility for blind gamers, who have a mechanic that is well suited to it, but are unable to due to the cost and time barriers that result from the output of engines not being compatible with platform level screenreaders.
This isn’t the case outside of frameworks. iOS native app development being a perfect example, it just works. The first that Zynga heard of Hanging with Friends being blind accessible was when CNN got in touch with them about a news story they were writing about it.
There are obviously barriers, firstly needing to collaborate with engine developers, although the climate there is rapidly changing, there are now engines which are expressing an interest. The other being the system resources needed. There’s no way around it though, there does have to be some degree of system provision, developers simply are not willing to take on the cost of doing the work themselves each time when for other devices it is handled at platform level.
A quote from a studio head that summed it up perfectly – “we get requests all the time. I would love to implement it, but we simply can’t justify the cost of building it ourselves. If it was something I could just put a developer on for a week and have it work reliably… I would do it in a heartbeat”
Middle-ground is possible, sharing the overhead between the engine and the platform. For example, the engine handling focus management and manually pushing out text strings to the platform, which then only needs to handle synthesis. This is the approach taken by the new Xbox text-to-speech API.
The benefits are not just player facing; a recent example being a game developed for PC that was able to make use of system level text to speech as a stand-in for in-game speech in early stages before voice actors were hired. They later had to spend money for interim recordings specifically for another platform that did not support text to speech.
Blind-accessibility for no developer effort, due to dev tool compatibility with OS text-to-speech
Next: Speech to text