Why your games should play well with disabilities

Carter Dotson makes the moral call

Why your games should play well with disabilities

Accessibility in games is one of those things that many people without any sort of disability don't even think about.

I'm lucky to only have to wear glasses - there's little else preventing me from playing and enjoying whatever game I want to play to its fullest capacity.

But for many people, an number of disabilities can hinder their enjoyment.

And as a developer, there's many things you could be doing with your games that are making them difficult to play for an interested audience - and it could be costing you money and valuable users.


One of the more glaring issues as far as accessibility goes is designing games to be friendly to the colorblind.

Being colorblind doesn't mean that someone sees everything in grayscale, necessarily, but they may have trouble differentiating between different colors. The UK-based Colour Blind Awareness organization estimates that 1-in-8 men and 1-in-200 women across the world have some form of colorblindness.

How can having colorblindness affect a game? Let's look at Satellina, a game which was announced and lacked a colorblind mode until an update right at launch. Thanks to Vischeck, we can simulate what the game looks like for people with deuteranopia, a form of red/green color deficit.

As you can tell, the game with its default colors makes some of the orbs that you're supposed to collect almost impossible to tell from one another. And protanopia - another form of red/green color blindness- makes it literally impossible.

Thus, the game becomes unplayable for colorblind people in its default settings.

Having control and display configuration options can go a long way toward accessibility.

Thankfully, the developer caught wind of the potential issue before the game's launch, and got an update just in time for the worldwide release that addressed the issue by making alternate color schemes available.

Granted, these do detract somewhat from the original color scheme, which uses the red-yellow-green traffic light system to indicate which orbs are collectible, which ones come next, and which ones come last to collect.

That scheme relies on natural information to educate players the goal of the game, and the alternate color schemes take a bit away, but not so much as to ruin the experience.

And they actually helped me while playing, as at high speeds, the green and yellow sometimes blurred together. It was one of the helpful side effects of the options - it helps people who need the functionality, and it may help others who don't.

The point with the game is this: by accommodating to these needs, the game became accessible to anyone who desired to play it. Now someone with colorblindness wouldn't have to hesitate to pick up the game.

The need for Includification

Of course, it can help for a game developer to avoid these problems in the first place. After all, some players might not even jump into the options menu to look for these settings.

If you're designing a match-3 game, it might help to not just rely on color-coding for objects, but to also provide symbols to differentiate each piece.

And there's many more things that can be done - having control and display configuration options can go a long way toward accessibility. One small option may be the difference between someone being able to play a game or not.

A great resource for developers looking to make their games accessible is AbleGamers' Includification guides.

AbleGamers is a charity that helps people with disabilities to enjoy video games, and they made this guide as a helpful resource for developers looking at factors on how to improve the accessibility of their games.

It's worth reading through as it not only covers colorblindness, but other forms of disability that you may not have even considered, or valued for more than their pure gameplay value.

Easy difficulty modes can be key to making a game more accessible to people with physical disabilities who want to experience the game.

Welcome all

Why do all this? Most importantly, it's the right thing to do from a moral standpoint to make your game as accessible as possible.

There's some games where it may be impossible to make it completely accessible for everyone with some form of disability, but as a developer, you can take key steps towards that goal.

It's the right thing to do from a moral standpoint to make your game as accessible as possible.

But also, while fewer people have accessibility issues than able-bodied people, they're a not-insignificant chunk of your audience. Are you willing to throw away a not-significant portions of your audience because your game has accessibility flaws?

For example, if you have a game that is aimed at male users, if 8% of your audience may be colorblind, would you want to make a game that would possibly anger them and turn them off from spending money?

Are you willing to put up with the potential negative feedback from users who run into issues that you could have easily avoided by solving accessibility issues before release?

In a market where every penny is hard to come by, are you going to willingly let paying customers slip away because you couldn't accommodate basic accessibility options?

Apple love

Accessibility can be big business, too. Apple has made accessibility a key part of iOS, and you will regularly hear praises for their accessibility support in lieu of Android's lacking support.

While iOS is not perfect, someone who has the need for accessibility options is likely going to consider an iPhone or an iPad long before they go for an Android phone or tablet because they may not be able to use it at all.

Tim Cook has come out multiple times in defense of Apple's accessibility initiatives. I talk to players with accessibility needs periodically, with one friend who regularly needs to know if she can physically play a game. These people will gravitate toward accessible games and give them their business.

That's because by being accessible, it helps to create loyal customers. By making your game one that is as accessible to as many people as possible, that's what you can do.

You can get happy customers that will trust your game now and in the future if you make your game as accessible as possible.

You should work towards strong accessibility because it's the right thing to do - but there are more people that need these features than you might think. And their money is just as good as anyone else's.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!