October marks the start of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Microsoft is celebrating the occasion in a big way: with the debut of a massive Xbox Accessibility Showcase. The 45-minute video, which features large subtitles, plenty of descriptive language, and frequent use of American Sign Language, highlights the work being done at Xbox Game Studios to build and champion accessible games and accessible game design. Many of the new features are astounding.
Game Accessibility Feature Tags are a godsend for game discovery
If you’re playing games with a disability, one of the very first questions you may have when launching any kind of software is whether or not it’s something you can play. Obviously, every person’s individual situation may be different, but Xbox aims to provide guidance in these matters with new store tags for the Microsoft Store on Xbox. While initially set to debut on that one platform, they’ll soon be migrated to Xbox.com, the Xbox PC app, and Game Pass in the coming months.
These tags operate much like genre tags on any digital service, except these focus on an ongoing list of 20 accessibility features including Narrated Game Menus, Subtitle Options, Input Remapping, Full Keyboard Support, and Single Stick Gameplay. Disabled gamers will be able to search for games using these tags to help find software that’s best adapted for their needs.
And, to help make that discovery process as seamless as possible, Microsoft has set high standards for how these tags are earned. To be worthy of the Subtitle Options tag, for example, subtitles must be large enough to read and be resizable up to 200 percent. In other words, games worthy of accessibility tags will hopefully encapsulate the cream of the crop in adapting to different types of play.
Also launching soon on the Microsoft Store is the Accessibility Spotlight page, which is a space specifically designed to highlight games that best fit those above-described tags. So, in the event you’d rather not spend as much time searching for a perfect fit, Microsoft will also be putting together a curated list of accessible titles that are worth checking out as well.
The first implementation of Game Accessibility Feature Tags is available today, exclusively through the Xbox Accessibility Insider League, a free opt-in testing branch where all gamers can experience and offer feedback on accessibility-related features. For more info on how to sign up, check out this official FAQ.
While the new store tags will be available to try now, there are some additional features Xbox hopes to bring to its audience a little further into the future as well. A Quick Settings menu will allow gamers to tune system-level accessibility features without leaving their games, color filters will make all games more adapted to colorblind users, and Night Mode ensures harsh display colors never disrupt your vision during play.
On the software front, Xbox was perhaps most excited to show off December's Halo Infinite, a game that will include adjustable subtitles, adjustable gameplay font, menu narration, customizable team colors, UI tweaks, full controller mapping, and more. So, while not every major accessibility feature will be arriving this month, there’s plenty more to come beyond then as well.
What this means for the community
Speaking as a member of the disabled gamer community, I can say without a doubt that the concepts Xbox seems to be pioneering here establish a strong foundation for this popular platform holder. While competitive studios may still be in a class of their own in terms of offering accessible feature sets, Xbox putting a new focus on the discoverability of accessible software helps gamers find relevant products in what will hopefully be a frictionless way.
It also helps that company standards remain high when grading titles for their accessibility too. It means that, in order for their games to be seen by the largest group of people, developers will now have to go above and beyond to ensure their games meet the metrics for what Xbox deems as accessible.
In an ideal world, it means the days of barely legible subtitles, menu text, and gameplay text might soon be behind us. While it’s true only a tiny percentage of players will likely take advantage of these tags, at least initially, they can feasibly be hugely helpful to those who need them now and could be instrumental in pushing for long-term change.