Making games can be awfully tough. It can take hundreds of people and several years to release a single title to the public. One concern that developers have recently given more attention to is the need to make games more accessible for all players, with studios like Naughty Dog putting accessibility front and center in The Last of Us Part I. A big obstacle that most developers face is not knowing how to start on the journey to accessibility. During its second annual Accessibility Showcase, hosted by content creator and accessibility consultant Steve Saylor, Xbox announced new initiatives to make this first step easier.
Xbox has made expanding accessibility in the gaming industry for several years now. Director of Accessibility at Xbox Anita Mortaloni told Inverse back in June, “Play is a fundamental human need.” In order to deliver on this philosophy, Xbox has created several initiatives to help players and developers become more acquainted with accessible gaming.
For developers, one of the greatest assets Xbox provides are the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, which lay out a foundation for studios to refer to during development. They cover topics such as subtitling, best practices concerning mental health, and newly added guidelines for touch-based controls.
During this year’s Accessibility Showcase, the team at Xbox also announced an expansion to the Microsoft Gaming Accessibility Testing Service (MGATS) which was created in February 2021. The new MGATS Players with Disability Focus looks to help developers who may not be ready to test against the over twenty accessibility guidelines Xbox has outlined. Instead, it will focus on connecting developers to players with disabilities who can offer direct feedback on core settings.
Xbox offers this option to all publishers and developers throughout development, even for games that have already been released, in hopes that it continues to encourage the industry to consider the role of accessibility in games. Mortaloni shared during the showcase that feedback from developers on the MGATS program has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Several upcoming games were shown off and the developers discussed the role Xbox’s accessibility initiatives have had in improving their game. Storybook adventure game Stories of Blossom took advantage of the MGATS and found that getting feedback from people with disabilities was integral to helping them know what they were doing right and what needed more work when it came to accessible features. Medieval mystery game Pentiment will require a lot of reading, and while the period fonts look nice, they can be hard to read, so the team at Obsidian developed an Easy Read setting that improves legibility throughout the game’s numerous menus and dialogue boxes.
To help players find games with the accessibility features they need, Xbox has special search filters on the Xbox store. There are four categories of accessibility features, they are gameplay, audio, visual, and input. For those who want to learn more about all the accessibility features Xbox has to offer, the newly redesigned support hub is a centralized site that can direct visitors to multiple resources.
Throughout the showcase, Xbox highlighted stories from players with disabilities who have benefited from the company’s push for a more accessible gaming industry. This included spotlights put on SpecialEffect and The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB). SpecialEffect is an organization that focuses on helping gamers with disabilities to find accessible games and create control inputs that are unique to each player, often through the use of Xbox’s Adaptive Controller. The RNIB is the UK's leading sight loss charity and is partnering with Xbox to support blind and partially sighted members of the gaming community.
With so many new features and initiatives, Xbox Accessibility Showcase reaffirmed the company's commitment to accessibility in gaming. While helping gamers with disabilities play what they want, the focus on helping developers consider accessibility from the start of development has the potential to help transform the industry.