“Leaving money on the table” — How accessibility makes games better for everyone

Accessibility considerations help gamers, developers, and publishers
God of War Ragnarok's accessibility options were wide-ranging and effective.
God of War Ragnarok's accessibility options were wide-ranging and effective. / Sony

“We’re talking billions and trillions of dollars that companies are leaving on the table.” 

That’s what Améliane Chiasson, a games accessibility lead at Player Research, tells me when we sit down to talk about the spending power of disabled consumers worldwide. A fifth of all people worldwide identify as having some sort of a disability, Améliane says, and almost a third of gamers in the US and UK have a disability. 

Améliane’s job is a complex one — she works in all aspects of the accessibility pipeline, from filling out reports and spreadsheets and sitting through meetings to prepping resources for internal and external teams and organizing play tests, where players with disabilities play early builds of games to help gauge what needs work. As I said, it’s a complex job, where, Améliane says, every day and every project is different. 

Her job also involves a lot of advocating for accessibility considerations, for big developers and small. Sometimes, she says, those developers come to consultants like her, but there’s a lot of arguing for the importance of accessibility, too. There’s a big business case for accessibility, and corporations both big and small need to be paying attention. 

“We do have people who are just sending us a message like, ‘hi, help, we don't know what to do, help us’,” Améliane says, “But then we also reach out to to clients if we identify a certain opportunity where we're like, ‘hey, we actually really want to help with this’ or we're identifying a big opportunity for collaborations or something that we feel would be really impactful.” 

A photo of Améliane Chiasson
Améliane Chiasson is an accessibility lead at Player Research / Améliane Chiasson

Consultants like Améliane don’t just come in and start giving orders. Instead, they work with clients to help identify the unique selling point of a game – the core thing that gives the game its identity – and then start to build accessibility around that main core. Once that’s tightened down, it’s easy to make the case for other aspects of the game improving in accessibility, too. 

“We build from the core, we build from the pillars and then we expand to secondary components and secondary things,” Améliane says, “It’s a very bespoke approach depending on where the client is and also what their level of maturity in the accessibility field is. We want to meet people where they are instead of trying to force them into a box where they’re maybe not ready to go.” 

Things are a little bit trickier when it comes to audio description, which is very much in its infancy in the video game world. Audio description, put simply, is a service that targets the blind and low vision community, where visual components are interpreted, put into words, and then turned into audio to be inserted between the dialogue or key sound effects. It aims to describe what’s happening on the screen, and it’s a crucial accessibility consideration for people who have sight limitations. 

There are only a handful of games, so far, to implement audio description, but that is changing, thanks to people like Rhys Lloyd, the studio head at Descriptive Video Works. The company has been operating for over 20 years, mostly working on film and TV, but in recent years it’s also started working on video games.

A photo of Rhys Lloyd
Rhys Lloyd is the studio head at Descriptive Video Works / Rhys Lloyd

It’s been an interesting transition because, as mentioned, we’re in the early days of audio description in video games, and it’s still finding its feet. Rhys points out that there are no guidelines, and no formal process, for introducing audio description to a game. It’s a unique experience for every game, he says, because different games require different solutions. 

In film and TV, audio description is often done after filming has wrapped – on the tail end of production – but in video games there's an opportunity to work with developers earlier in the process, offering more flexibility in terms of design and implementation. It also provides challenges that aren't present in more traditional media, due to the non-linear nature of interactive experiences. Still, despite the unique challenges that come with video games, the fresh perspectives that video game developers bring to the process means there’s always an interesting solution. 

“One of the things that’s very cool is that there’s some amazing minds in game development,” Rhys says. “And because they’re not working from an established expectation, like we would be in linear media, they can take this thing and go ‘oh, I wonder if we could do this or that?’” 

Rhys also spends a lot of time advocating for accessibility in video games and outside of it, and tries to hammer home that accessibility is not as cost prohibitive as it seems, and that it’s a net benefit to both the company and the community at large. Those conversations are getting easier, he says, as more companies become aware and proactive in approaching accessibility in their products. 

Both Rhys and Améliane agree that we’re moving into a state where the games industry at large is more aware of accessibility concerns, and are trying to not only implement options for disabled gamers, but also design for them in the first place. 

Améliane – echoing words from veteran accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton – says that companies are moving away from asking why accessibility is important and more towards the “how do I do it?” 

“We’re getting more questions about how to do it rather than ‘why do I need to care,’ which I think is a good progress already,” she says. “We’re seeing more and more accessible games with both optional settings as well as inclusive design considerations

“I think we’re understanding more and more as an industry in general that accessibility is more than optional settings — it’s also from the design level baked into the design, that there’s a lot of barriers that can be prevented to begin with.” 

Améliane also says that while things are improving, there are still plenty of games, both big and small, launching without many or any accessibility considerations. She says that there are people who assume that big triple-A games are all launching with greater accessibility by default, but that’s not really the case. Still, even if some of those steps are small, they are steps forward, not backward. 

“I find that smaller teams have this very impressive resourcefulness in integrating accessibility objectives into their designs,” Améliane says, “And I also see more companies being more transparent and proactive in sharing accessibility information ahead of launch, because that’s really important for people to make informed purchase decisions.” 

A screenshot of Celeste showing Madeline dashing through the air above spikes
Celeste was praised for its granular accessibility options upon release / Maddy Makes Games

This communication is the groundwork for trust between players and developers or publishers — a player who buys a game and gets disappointed because the accessibility options weren’t advertised probably won’t come back for the next game, especially if they spent a lot of money on the game. A player that knows what a game offers, though, and makes a more informed purchase will start to trust that developer more, and that trust and communication helps make games even more accessible in the future. 

There won’t ever be a point where accessibility is “solved” — it’s an evolving discipline that will need to change as gaming does, evolve alongside it, and keep marching forward. But accessibility helps everyone — from developers and publishers to players of all skill and ability levels. 

“Accessibility ultimately makes experiences better for everyone and more accessible to everyone,” Améliane says. “We’re entering an era where we’re understanding that this just needs to be a part of everything. Accessibility touches all experiences, whether it’s digital or in the physical space.” 

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Oliver Brandt


Oliver Brandt is a writer based in Tasmania, Australia. A marketing and journalism graduate, they have a love for puzzle games, JRPGs, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and any platformer with a double jump.