[games_access] Roundtable Meeting Notes from GDC 2016

Chad Philip Johnson chad at anacronist.com
Fri Apr 8 18:37:23 EDT 2016

   1. Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
         1. Legislation passed in 2010
         2. It was originally intended for full compliance to be 
achieved by October 2013 (consumers would be able to start filing 
complaints after this date)
         3. A new waiver for game software *only* was granted until 
January 2017
         4. The video games industry originally requested an extension 
until 2021, but was only granted a waiver until October 2015
         5. CVAA's captioning requirements are for broadcast video 
only:  they do not include video in the games
         6. The FCC does not regulate captioning of home videos, DVDs or 
video games; DVDs have captions most of the time because TV shows, 
movies, etc. must contain captions in order to be broadcast (to be in 
         7. Any device that offers Advanced Communication Services (ACS) 
must make those communication services available to people with 
disabilities unless it is not “achievable” to do so.
         8. The CVAA defines ACS as:
             1. interconnected VoIP service
             2. non-interconnected VoIP service (does not require 
connection to the public switch telephone network); for example TRS 
(Telecommunications Relay Service)
             3. electronic messaging service (including text messaging, 
instant messaging, email and two-way interactive messaging through a 
social networking site)
             4. interoperable video conferencing service.
         9. Three categories exist in the CVAA for video games:  (I) 
game consoles, (II) game distribution and game play networks, and (III) 
game software
         10. Products released before the expiration of the waiver are 
exempted (PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, etc. are technically exempted)
         11. Businesses and organizations with less than 30 employees 
are exempted
         12. At the FCC's discretion, requirements can be waived for 
equipment and services that are capable of accessing Advanced 
Comminication Services, but are designed primarily for purposes other 
than using ACS
         13. Offer a fixed set of customization options for the 
subtitling of broadcast video (full control over text size, font, 
letterboxing and so on is available on YouTube, Netflix, Smartphones, etc.)
     2. Console accessibility features for Xbox One and PlayStation 4
         1. Xbox One:  screenreader, magnifier (also in-game), closed 
caption presentation (with API), high contrast, and limited button 
remapping (at the system level)
         2. Playstation 4:  limited screenreader, magnifier (also 
in-game), closed caption presentation, high contrast, bold text, large 
text, text speed, and limited button remapping (at the system level).
         3. Nintendo Wii U and 3DS:  Nothing as of yet--probably won't 
appear until the next round of consoles are released.
         4. Steam:  Nothing as of yet--this potentially puts the company 
out of compliance with the CVAA, but it may depend on how the exemption 
for preexisting devices and services is interpreted (for example, what 
constitutes a major update to the service?)
     3. Publisher-level accessibility evaluations at SCEE and BBC
         1. The game user research team at Sony Computer Entertainment 
Europe has started to offer accessibility evaluations as an internal service
             1. Offers expert game review, player-behavior observation 
testing, diary studies, and general analytics
             2. This internal tool consists of two parts:
                 1. A spreadsheet with a straightforward list of 
possible accessibility considerations, with additional columns to 
indicate whether each is relevant to a gameplay mechanic, how feasible 
it is, and recommendations for implementation
                 2. Detailed support document with precise 
specifications for platform-level certification of accessibility features
             3. This is currently an optional internal service at Sony 
Europe, but it will eventually be shared with the wider business and 
game user research community
         2. The BBC produced a similar list/procedure this year for use 
across its first and third party games
             1. The BBC is publicly funded so has a strong accessibility 
culture, meaning their list is a set of requirements and is not an 
optional service
             2. Requires its games to comply with as much of the 
list/procedure as is reasonably possible
     4. Continued increase in accessibility implementation in the industry
         1. Big increases in developer considerations, in particular for 
accommodating epileptic and colorblind gamers
         2. There was a strong social media reaction to the lack of 
colorblind friendliness in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and The Witness; 
this is compared to only two years ago where games such as Sim City and 
Borderlands 2 considering colorblindness was unusual enough that it 
received significant press coverage
         3. Two AAA console games intentionally patching in 
accessibility for completely blind gamers
             1. Mortal Kombat X added optional extra sound cues for 
background objects and power meters
             2. Killer Instinct received a patch to add a HUD UI slider 
and additional sounds for moves that didn't yet have unique sounds
         4. Other accessibility considerations outside of developing 
             1. Turtle Rock Studios published an accessibility statement 
for its game Evolve, which details what considerations have already been 
made; the company also made a public commitment to further work in this area
             2. The Witcher 3 received many accessibility patches by its 
developer CDProjektRed in the weeks following its launch; the developers 
prioritized accessibility features in a critical fix; this included full 
controller remapping, colorblind mode, and improving the size and 
contrast of text
             3. Harmonix was actively soliciting for accessibility 
suggestions on their forums during development of Rock Band 4; this has 
resulted in more than 18 pages of suggestions from players
         5. Awards
             1. Rocket League and MLB: The Show 15 winning AbleGamers awards
             2. Heroes of the Storm winning DAGERS award
             3. Ryan North's To Be or Not to Be winning the 
accessibility category at the Australian Game Developer Awards
     5. Work of accessibility advocacy organizations
         1. Accessibility charity foundations have seen increases in 
their donations which has allowed them to ramp up their outreach work.
         2. Special Effect recently opened a Games Room in Oxfordshire 
along with the Prime Minister, other members of government, and industry 
             1. The Games Room helps people with disabilities benefit 
from the fun and inclusion of video games and other forms of leisure 
         3. AbleGamers
             1. Launched AbleGamers Expansion Packs which are bundles of 
assistive technology to be installed in various locations that serve 
people with disabilities, such as group homes, special needs daycare 
facilities and long-term living centers
             2. Launched the AbleGamers fellowship, aimed at improving 
diversity through scholarship funding and mentorship for disabled students

*Action Items*
     1. Accessibility of sessions at GDC
         1. Not much in the way of improvements over previous years
         2. There are still significant distances to travel between 
accessibility talks—it was requested that these sessions be grouped 
together to make it easier for attendees to get from one to another
         3. Some grouping coincidentally occurred in the West Hall, but 
the advocacy track expanded significantly making scheduling requests 
like this unrealistic to accommodate (sometimes six advocacy sessions 
were occurring at the same time)
     2. Educating Tool and Engine Developers about Accessibility support
         1. Traditionally engines have been a sizeable barrier for 
         2. Unity now allows full controller remapping at the system 
level; Unreal includes a colorblindness simulator; both have built-in 
         3. A well-established engine developer has shown some interest 
in the GA SIG's list of possible improvements that tools and engines can 
make for game accessibility
         4. A significant future step to advocate for is fixing of 
screen readers in games for blind gamers; multiple technology layers (OS 
+ middleware + game engine, etc.) are currently hindering adoption of 
screen readers, preventing developers who want to develop blind 
accessible games from being able to do so
     3. Educational Material in Higher Education
         1. There are a number of people collaborating between the IGDA 
Education SIG and Game Accessibility SIG on a Game Accessibility 
education framework
         2. Contact Thomas Westin for more information
     4. IGDA GASIG Website
         1. Hosting moved to the IGDA web servers
         2. Need to update the theme and general structure of the website
     5. Accessibility Information in Storefronts (such as Steam)
         1. Some small developments with Steam:  now filters games that 
have captions
         2. Nothing for colorblindness, button remapping, etc.
         3. Itch.io offers these types of filters
         4. Evaluation of how Itch.io works and filters its games would 
be very valuable, if anyone is interested in working on this
     6. Advocating for fixed-point mode for Switch users on iOS
         1. Switch accessibility means allowing access to custom 
controllers based on one or two simple on/off controls; for example, a 
sip/puff tube, headrest button, blink detector, etc.
         2. iOS and Android (to a lesser extent) offer built-in support 
for switch accessibility when using native interface elements
         3. iOS has a workaround for apps that aren't developed natively 
(i.e. most games):  the game scans the screen and the player interacts 
when the desired coordinates appear
         4. There are thousands of one button mobile games that should 
in theory be switch-compatible, but the fixed point mode doesn't work 
with them, as it is incompatible with games that require any kind of timing
         5. Barrie Ellis of One Switch / Special Effect created a video 
with wide backing from the game accessibility community about what works 
about it and what doesn't; Apple have since implemented an additional 
mode (switch recipes) that allows repeated presses on a single point, 
removing the incompatibility issue from all of those thousands of games 
     7. Presenting at Conferences
         1. Over 20 talks by members on a wide range of topics at a wide 
range of different conferences, both industry and academic
         2. Five accessibility talks at GDC with record attendance 
(three years ago, average attendance was about 30, in 2016 average 
attendance was about 130)
         3. Six gaming sessions at CSUN (cross industry accessibility 
conference—a lot of web and apps)
     8. Expanding Accessibility at Global Game Jam
         1. Global Game Jam (GGJ) and other game jams have proven to be 
powerful awareness raisers for Game Accessibility
         2. GGJ hired accessibility advocate Giselle Rosman as an 
executive producer to oversee the organization of the 2016 event
         3. Six optional game development themes related to game 
accessibility (e.g. one handed controls, no visuals)
         4. Thousands of developers took up one or more of those six 
optional game development themes
         5. AbleGamers planning to offer a 24 hour hotline operational 
during GGJ 2017 to offering game accessibility support and advice
     9.  Film Victoria Refresh
         1. Film Victoria is a government funding body in Australia for 
game development and provides accessibility criteria to developers to 
help determine how to allocate funding
         2. This was out of date due to advancements in technology, but 
was recently made current
         3. In the three years the Film Victoria funding has been 
available, there has never been a single developer to fail to fill out 
the optional accessibility questions
         4. The Melbourne game development community in general is 
really knowledgeable of game accessibility, largely as as result of Film 
         5. It is important to increase engagement with funding bodies 
so that game accessibility is a consideration for funding allocations
         6. Creative Europe, an EU-wide funding body, now has similar 
accessibility criteria and used Film Victoria as a case study
     10. Accessibility Awards
         1. Further push for embedding accessibility awards within 
general industry awards
         2. TIGA awards in the UK accessibility award was replaced this 
year by a diversity award; looking to bring it back in 2016
         3. Australian Game Developer awards through Giselle Rosman has 
been offering an accessibility award for the last three years
     11. Coordinating Blog Posts
         1. Ian's post at Gamasutra about best practices for subtitles 
in games; see article here: 
         2. In general, anyone who writes an accessibility-related 
article or blog post should ensure that it is reposted to sites such as 
Gamasutra for higher visibility

*New Action Items*
     1. Accessibility at GDC 2016 (and what to do for GDC 2017)
         1. There was a big line up for press people to use the wheel 
chair lift; the press area was located upstairs and the Moscone Center 
was working on its elevators so these areas could not be reached by 
people that could not use the stairs
         2. The session Audio Driven Gameplay was essentially about 
blind accessibility in games but was on the Audio Track and not the 
Advocacy track
             1. It was intentionally put on the Audio Track because it 
was expected that it would have broader appeal; however, this limited 
the number of people that could attend (because advocacy sessions are 
open to all types of passes)
     2. Accessibility Summit
         1. Would be similar to 2005's GA-SIG GDC event: Selection of 
talks/activities/mini-expo (for potentially half a day) to allow control 
over accessibility of venue, distance between sessions, and a greater 
number and variety of sessions than the regular GDC Advocacy Track can 
support on its own
         2. Invite people from ALT.CTRL.GDC that have created gaming 
hardware that lends itself to game accessibility; presenting these 
devices within an accessibility context will drastically change how they 
are interpreted (a lot of people just look at these devices like they 
are these fun, goofy inventions)
         3. Invite hardware manufacturers that produce accessibility 
devices to present, such as Gimp Gear
         4. Don't schedule summit in a way that will conflict in any way 
with the Game User Research (GUR) Summit as there is potential crossover 
between the audiences of both summits
                1. GUR summit tends to shift between Monday and Tuesday

*General discussion*
     1. Storytelling:  include diverse character roles that account for 
accessibility representation
         1. Some gamers would not like to choose to play as a disabled 
gamer in a game, because they play games for escapism
         2. Other gamers have strongly identified with characters that 
have minor or major impairments
         3. A German indie game called The Unstoppables has four 
different characters with different accessibility obstacles; it is a 
puzzle game where characters must combine their abilities to progress 
through a level

*Tri**via Questions and Answers
/Super Hard/

Q: What games company adapted a range of their coin-operated arcade 
machines to make more accessible to disabled people in Japanese 
day-centres and rehabilitation clinics?
A: Namco.

Q: In what decade were the first skill based electronic coin-operated 
one-switch games first created?
A: [we think] The Rotary Merchandiser in the 1930s.

Q: Who wrote the one-switch PC game Donkey in 1981, possibly the first 
ever "PC" game?
A: Bill Gates and Neil Konzen for IBM.

Q: Why were keyboards invented?
A: The first working typewriter was built in 1808 as a way for blind 
people to be able to write letters.

Q: What type of games did Matthias Nordvall present on at GDC 2013? (or 
easier.... what demographic of disabled players rather than what type of 
games might give people a better chance?)
A: Haptic games for people who are deafblind

Q. Name one of the earliest game console controllers, by a big company, 
designed to enable physically disabled players.
A. The Atari Kids Controller 1983 (designed for young children who found 
the standard Atari joystick too unwieldy to use) or The Nintendo USA 
Hands-Free Controller 1988 (designed for chin and sip-puff use for 
players paralysed from the neck down).

/Super Easy/

Q: Name a common types of colourblindness?
A: Deuteranopia, protanopia, tritanopia (will accept deuteranomoly, 
protanomoly, tritanomoly, or red-green, or blue-yellow)

Q: What are the four main categories of disability?
A: Motor, hearing, vision, and cognitive, as defined by the world health 

Q: Name a current gen console that has accessibility features
A: XB1 and PS4 added accessibility features for the first time in 2015

Q: Apart from the SIG, name another game accessibility organisation or 
A: SpecialEffect, game-accessibility.com, AbleGamers, DAGERS, 
abilitypowered, audiogames.net, accessiblegamer etc etc

Q: Name a funding body that has accessibility criteria
A: Film Victoria or Creative Europe


Q: What year was the Game Accessibility SIG founded?
A: 2003

Q: Which popular game engine has a built-in colour-blindness simulator?
A: Unreal

Q: How many iOS games are listed on applevis.com as being fully 
A: 230 (within 50 to get it right).

Q: Who is the #1 ranked chun li player in the world?
A: Mike Begum. He can't operate a controller with his hands due to 
arthrogryposis, so plays using his mouth

Q: Why do Ubisoft require subtitles in all of their games?
A: In response to complaints about the first Assassin's Creed game not 
having any

Q: When gamer Brice Mellen challenged Ed Boon, creator of Mortal Kombat, 
to a game of Mortal Kombat and beat him, why did it get so much coverage?
A: Brice Mellen is blind*

Chad Philip Johnson
Anacronist Software

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