[games_access] Accessibility 2.0

Eelke Folmer eelke.folmer at gmail.com
Wed Mar 14 15:56:16 EDT 2007

Hi All,

I didn't get the response I hoped for but at least we are talking,
which in my opinion is an improvement already. We can look at the
past and blame individuals for what went wrong but its better to look
forward and see how we can make this SIG better. Because we can
always improve, the biggest room is the room for improvement right?
Even if we had a 100 visitors we should still go for 200. We can
always improve.

That said, let me get a misunderstanding out of the way. I deeply
value people's individual efforts because they are all part of the
learning process of making this SIG successful, however I also think
we need to be moreopen towards constructive criticism to be able to
learn in the first place. When people take criticism personal I think
we are doing something wrong since this is a joint effort and not a
one man show. This SIG will never be successful based upon individual
effort it will always be a group effort and it is important to
recognize that.

Also we need to be reflective by looking back upon what we have
achieved. Running this SIG is not different from developing a game
and despite how much effort is being put in if no one buys your game
your are doing the wrong thing. We all want games to be more
accessible right? Now, how much have we achieved so far? how many
commercial games have been made more accessible ever since we started
this SIG? (apart from halflife 2?) I don't want to focus to much on
the attendance of developers at our events but surely no one can
object towards increasing this number since these are the people that
can directly influence game design. Increase the number of people
that attend our events should be our prime goal. The way I see it now
we are still not a bleep on the game developers radar despite our

Now without further a due, I give you my five step plan:

1. How can we "sell" Accessibility?
One thing that can be concluded so far is that accessibility does not
sell... and that's a bad thing because the games industry is all
about money, especially now with the increase in development costs of
3rd generation console games. Let me just make some observations. I
went to this talk called: "making games for the other 90%" which was
presented by David Amor of relentless software. The room was packed
(>200?). David presented a talk on the game Buzz: the music quiz
which uses a one button controller and discussed many accessibility
issues and explained why this game was very successful particularly
among the elderly, as it used a very simple interface and tied into
something they already knew (Tv shows). I went to a talk called
"challenging everyone: dynamic difficulty deconstructed" by Aaron
Cole. They discussed the dynamic difficulty they implemented in the
enemy's AI of the game Sin, which allowed for a wider variety of
people to play the game, even older people performed better with this
game. Again the room was pretty much packed (albeit smaller). The
miyamoto talk clearly illustrated how easier to use controllers such
as the wii mote contributed to his wife playing more games. There is
definitely an interest for game developers to expand their markets,
especially since the cost of development games has exploded. I
propose we start selling accessibility by the need that developers
seek those new markets. Sadly, the way we sell accessibility now it
only gives game developers the notion that they have to design for
the exclusive "few" with no financial gain. The game industry is all
about MONEY, if you don't have anything useful to say at GDC to
someone who pays $1500 that can help him or her to sell more games
you have no reason to be there. And frankly I think with what we have
now we can easily achieve that, but we need to narrow our scope and
look at what has worked in the past. I think Reid has been very
successful with his closed captioning mod. Why not have Reid (only if
he wants to) do a talk next year called: "how to bump the sales of
your game with 10 million units: adding closed captioning support".
(assuming there are 10M people with auditory disabilities in the US).
I wonder how many people will attend that session just because we
sell it differently? We need to discuss and think about how we can
sell accessibility solutions rather than continue on selling
accessibility as it is, because by now we know that doesn't work.
There is a trend towards exploring new markets and accessibility is a
big part of that and we should explore using this trend to our

2. Focus & learn from past experiences
Do less things but do them better: Rather than organize numerous
events that 1) lead to a lot of stress 2) get no attendance 3) are
poorly prepared and have no clear focus and goal I (the two talks on
tuesday) think it is better to concentrate on a smaller number of
events but do them better than we do them now. We are doing the
people that pay good money to go to GDC a poor service when we just
organize talks and just sit there and say "this is us, and this is
what we do". They demand high quality talks that are focused,
organized and that presents them with specific topics that are
beneficial & relevant to their organization. We need to recognize
that. Its better to do a smaller number of events that have a deep
impact rather than too many events that no one will visit. Some
events as the accessibility arcade are fun but then again when a game
developer steps in are they really going to consider developing a one
button game? Accessibility arcade at Brighton hardly had any visitors
now again this year at GDC hardly anyone, is it really necessary to
go through all the trouble of doing this again next year? not to
mention all the stress arranging it brings being detrimental to the
quality of other events we organize? The one button game concept is
very useful for the mobile gamers but then we need to have a clear
understanding of what they do and what they expect from us again just
sitting there "this is us and this is what we do" is not gonna cut
the mustard for them. All the camera teams at GDC are nice but does
that really reach our audience? I'm not convinced of that. We should
focus on the people that have the power to change the design of games
at that's why we are at GDC in the first place. Additionally, this
SIG should also serve as an incubator for people doing research on
accessibility. there are still many open research question At our
scheduled meeting on monday I wanted to talk about research but some
SIG members were having lunch and were too busy with the camera team.
When I made a comment, the response was well the other SIG's don't do
anything either at these meetings.(....???) Why did no one but me and
Sander talk to this french professor that attended our accessibility
arcade that came all the way from Paris just to show his cool audio
game? We are as strong united as we are divided. Getting more people
involved in this SIG is also a gain and we should never forget that
focus. Also we need to update our webpage, several people are listed
that are not involved anymore and new members need to be added, which
hopefully goes faster that the 8 months of lobbying I needed to get
my name on there. That webpage is one of the first things people find
when typing in accessibility and games.

3. Work from within rather from the outside
I think it is also important for us SIG members to be present at
related events, because we can have a much bigger influence there. I
was at Microsoft's usability testing tutorial on monday and there
were about 120 people there. When I asked whether accessibility
testing could be incorporated in their playtest process the feedback
was very positive and some discussion started on someone who had a
test person who was colorblind. Thomas told me he was at the OpenAL
talk and at the QA he asked whether their sound component supports
closed captioning. Asking such questions in front of +200 engineers
has a much bigger impact than all the events that we have organized
at this GDC. The Education SIG is pretty popular, Games and
accessibility will be a very important topic in the future, we even
talk about it in our presentations, but why is no one of us
represented at that SIG? I think we suffer from tunnel vision by
preaching to much to our own choir without realizing there are so
many other interesting talks and things going on where we can spread
the word of accessibility and have the impact we dreamed of.
Jonathan's blow experimental gameplay session is always very
successful ( +500 or more people), why didn't we put the donation
coder challenge in there? Experimental game play -- one button games?
surely he must be interested if we keep it short and focused. why
don't we start a new challenge right now?? one way to achieve this
is setting up task forces, every SIG member should think about which
particular topic of their interest that they like to be active in. We
need to quit working from the outside organizing our little events
that no one attends and start working on infiltrating relevant
events/ sigs and spread the word from within, without being obtrusive
that is. This will also allow us to get a better understanding of
accessibility issues related to that topic and contribute to those
events and SIG's as well.

4. Call to arms!
Surely the low attendance of our events is proof that game developers
don't listen or want to listen to our talks, well why don't we try
something radical? Why don't we stand outside for five days between
Moscone North and West at GDC with some disabled gamers holding big
signs saying: "We demand Accessible games!!!" At the same time we can
hand out small flyers with 10 accessibility problems & solutions, and
promoting the one talk that we organize. Cost: small, Impact : huge.
I gladly donate next year's GDC pass (if I get any) to a gamer with
disabilities so he or she can walk or ride around at GDC and help us

5. Management
The success of this SIG depends on a strong organization &
management. In my opinion a good chair is:
- professional: no matter how stressed you are, and no matter how
much effort you put in the organization, as a chair it is your duty
to be professional and the benefits of someone providing constructive
feedback on working towards the greater goal of putting accessibility
on the roadmap of game developers should by far outweigh any
inconveniences caused by crushed egos or hurt feelings when you
interpret that as criticisms on your efforts. Someone efforts are
never wasted as it will allow us to learn from the things we have
organized. constructive criticism on your behavior can only help you
become even better in doing what you are already good at. But you
have to be open to learn from your mistakes and the only way to know
whether you are doing the right thing is listening to your peers.
Nobody is perfect there is always room for improvement.
- vision: where are we going? what do we set out to achieve? having a
clear goals and a unified vision will mitigate stress as everybody
will know what this SIG is up to. Running from conference to
conference and manage everything by exception will burn you out.
- in control, even if you are stressed try to express to the outside
world that you are in control, use the power of being part of a group
to delegate things. I have successfully contributed to organizing
conferences and workshops in the past with no stress, just because we
were able to split up the work amongst different people. This SIG
should not be a one man show. We are much more powerful as a group. I
have offered several times to help out organizing events, but I'd
feel more valuable if it is something more than carrying suitcases.
- positive: So what if no one shows up at your events but making
comments to the audience that so few showed up only gives them a free
pass to leave without feeling guilty.
- communicative: informing SIG members what is being organized, why
and how. A chair should welcome individual feedback and a serve as
catalyst for communication between its members which can only be to
the greater benefit of this SIG. It will make members feel valued and
part of a group rather than monkeys doing their little trick at a
circus act. A chair is a facilitator who can distill a vision from
its individual members into a strong combined vision to the outside.
- recognition: We all work hard towards accessible games in our own
ways. Some of us have full time jobs but still manage to make
contributions. A good chair will honor and recognize those
individual efforts how small or big these efforts may be and will try
not place him or herself above the rest by stating anything about the
amount of effort being put in by the chair. If you can't stand the
heat, get out of the kitchen.
- rotation: being a chair takes a lot of time and energy, and in
order to prevent people from getting burned out why not have the
chair function rotate yearly among its members like Thomas initially
set it out to be? This will avoid tunnel vision and will guarantee a
"fresh" view on things.

Now you don't have to agree with any of my plans but let there at
least be discussion.

Sincerely Eelke

I should actually add a 6th point and that is to find an alternative
to the mailinglist as it works now since there is just too much
information on it for it to be effective. I'd like to split it up
into a high priority list where each member can only send 1 mail a
week and a low priority list for all the chatting.

Eelke Folmer Assistant
Department of Computer Science & Engineering/171
University of Nevada Reno, Nevada 89557
Game Quality usability|accessibility.eelke.com

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