· 7 min read
Access All Areas: How to Make Your Game More Accessible
As developers, accessibility is often one of the last things we think about – that’s if we think about it at all. Which is a shame, because we could be alienating a huge group of players. The good news is that making a mobile game more accessible really isn’t difficult.
Hang on – what’s accessibility?
Before we get into the details, let’s talk about what accessibility actually means for developers. It’s about designing apps that all people can easily use, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. So that’s things like including subtitles for the deaf or hard of hearing, or adding options for people who are visually or cognitively impaired (among other things). Simple, right? And when you look at it like this, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want the widest range of people to be able to play your game? Because more players = more downloads.
Choices, choices, choices
Once we get into the specifics of accessibility you’ll notice a common theme – options. And that’s because (and it might seem obvious but it’s worth saying anyway) people are different. So the most important thing you can do to make your app more accessible is to give lots of different options, whether that’s for subtitles, difficulty levels, or controls.
Here’s a quick round-up of things you should consider adding to your game to make it as accessible as it can possibly be. Some of them are musts, like subtitles. And some of them are nice-to-haves that will really make you stand out from the crowd.
It’s simple – if you have any type of speech or sound effect in your game, then you must include subtitles. We’ve previously published a blog that covers subtitling dos and don’ts, so we won’t go into huge amounts of detail here. But as a minimum, you’ll want your subtitles to be in a large, easy-to-read font that contrasts well against the background. Ideally, they should also include the speaker’s name, as well as off-screen indicators. Even better, give players the options to choose how their subtitles appear – they should be able to change the size, color, and background. You could also include a specifically dyslexia-friendly font like OpenDyslexia.
Let people read text at their own pace as well – players with cognitive impairments might need a bit longer to process words. The best way to do this is to get your player to press something once they’ve finished reading – don’t just move on automatically after a set amount of time.
You should also subtitle sound effects (called captioning).
We’ve all seen warnings in games about flashing images. These can give people migraines and, in the very worst cases, trigger seizures. But rather than just including a warning, why not give people the option to turn stuff like this off completely? This can help visually impaired people too, as rapid changes in light can cause problems for these players. You might also want to add an audio description for cutscenes to help players like this as well.
You should also think about people who suffer from motion sickness. Consider adding on/off options for things like depth-of-field effects (when you blur things in the background), motion blur (an effect which makes surroundings appear blurry to give the impression the player or their surroundings are moving quickly), and head bobbing (moving the camera up and down as a character walks to indicate movement).
Be careful with color too. Color-blind players struggle to distinguish some colors from each other. So if different colors play a big part of your game, for example, to get important information across or show which characters are enemies, you could be alienating these players completely. One easy way to check how color-blind players will experience your game is to use a color-blind preview tool or simulator – there’s lots of information about these online.
3. Difficulty levels
Including an easy or ‘assist’ mode, for example one that slows down combat, regenerates health more quickly, or includes auto-aiming, auto-collection of items, etc., can be really helpful for players with certain disabilities. (It can also be useful to very young or old players, or people just getting started with mobile games,) Options to slow down game speeds are very helpful for visually impaired players who need extra visual processing time.
You might think doing this will reduce the challenge or enjoyment of your game. But for a gamer with low mobility, it can be a dealbreaker – they might not be able to carry out tasks in ‘normal’ difficulty that need precise timing, or long fights which involve lots of tapping. Giving them the option to have unlimited lives or even skip boss fights altogether could be the difference between someone downloading your app, or finding another one that does have this mode.
4. Remapping controls
Remapping just means giving people the option to change a control configuration to a layout they find easier to use (or just prefer). This is particularly useful for people who have motor impairments, whether they’re permanent, for example, if they’ve had a stroke, or temporary, like a broken wrist. They might need to hold their device in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to tap some or all of the buttons. So if they can change this, then they’re good to go. It’s also helpful for people with visual impairments who need to hold a device closer to their eyes than other players do.
You should also remember that some people might not be able to press for a long period of time to (for example) walk or run. So give them the choice to change this to a single tap. Button mashing is another thing some people just won’t be able to do. So again, consider adding an option to change this to a single tap or brief hold instead.
Players who have memory or cognitive impairments can struggle to process instructions. That means they might not be able to remember a game’s objective or quest. So it’s great if you can include a summing up of these in a menu or on the pause screen – somewhere that’s easy to find. The same goes for the controls and tutorials – these should be easy to get to at any time during play (so don’t bury them in an obscure section of your settings menu). This is also useful for new players, or people who’ve been away for a while.
6. User interfaces
Keep these as uncluttered as you can. And again, give people options. For example, if your app includes a map, let people toggle different information on and off. Some players struggle if there’s too much information and won’t be able to find what they need. Giving them the choice of what to see solves this problem.
Where to go for more information
This is just a taster of some of the ways you can make your app more accessible. If you’d like more detail on any of the things we’ve talked about today, check out the reference guides on Can I Play That?, a review and news site for all types of accessibility information in games. And Game Accessibility Guidelines has a big list of options you might want to include.
You’re never going to be able to make a game that every single person can play. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your game as inclusive as possible. Because every accessibility feature you add means that someone who couldn’t play your game before can now. And that’s got to be a good thing, right?
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