May 30, 2024


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How accessible are game engines, and what work still needs to be done?

How accessible are game engines, and what work still needs to be done?

Game development is, in some ways, easier than ever before. Between the ease of use of engines like RPG Maker and the release of titles like Game Builder Garage that tinker with the development process itself, there are countless ways to develop a game that don't require prior programming or design experience.

“One of the biggest obstacles to accessibility in video games is gadgets.”Ines Rubin

The opportunity to get creative with engines like Unreal, Unity, and more is huge. But — as with issues with accessible games themselves — there are still hurdles to overcome when it comes to making these engines available for everyone to use.

This has major implications for the gaming industry: the International Game Development Association's 2021 Developer Satisfaction Survey found that 29% of survey participants consider themselves to have a disability Type of.

Cameron Keywood is the director of Wales-based studio DragonCog Interactive. He explains that given broader recognition of the business and ethical imperatives around making game development accessible, larger engines are making it a priority.

“Major engines like Unity and Unreal Engine have made great strides in integrating accessibility features, providing support for screen readers, keyboard shortcuts, and customizable interfaces,” he says.

“These engines also contain robust documentation and tutorials on how to implement accessibility features in games developed using their engines.”

He also points out that while larger engines typically have the resources to implement accessibility features for developers, independent engines often do not. This is a view supported by Carrie Waterton, Senior Accessibility Designer at Rebellion Studio, who stated that the variety of technical support varies greatly by engine.

“Standalone engines tend to offer more customized solutions. For example, there have been some game engines that were designed specifically for blind developers but they are often limited to creating audio games. In comparison, mainstream engines cater to building a wider variety of game types, so they often There will be broader support for accessibility features.”

Ines Rubin, client developer at Space Ape Games, says a lack of internal resources is often the main reason accessibility features aren't implemented. “One of the biggest hurdles in video game accessibility is tools,” she says. “A well-intentioned team may not be able to From this we are able to achieve their accessibility goals if the tools were too difficult to obtain, because we are all working to tight deadlines and budget.”

“Accessibility in development is lacking… and it's hard to find developer help”Jess Molloy

Clay John is the developer of Godot, an engine developed primarily by volunteers. He acknowledges that resource shortages often compound, making it difficult to include accessibility features in the long term.

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“While accessibility is important to us, we lack the personal strength and experience to do everything we know is possible. To be clear, we do not have an accessibility expert on the team.

“Our current team size is ten people. We have a few people in the ecosystem looking for more accessibility tools – screen reader support is the largest – but they tend to lack the expertise to contribute. We hope that getting proper screen reader support will help solve “Chicken and egg problem and encourage more experienced people to help.”

However, he remains optimistic that accessibility for game developers is a growing concern among the industry, noting that it was a recurring, high-profile issue discussed at this year's Game Developers Conference.

Pictured above, left to right: Clay John, Cameron Keywood, Jess Molloy, Ennis Rubin

Inclusion and representation

However, there is a feeling among some developers that even the best well-intentioned accessibility features are a secondary concern for game engine creators. This in turn limits their effectiveness when implemented.

Jess Molloy is a game designer and Certified Accessible Gamer Experience Practitioner (industry course offered by Accessible Games and the AbleGamers charity). She explains that even the largest game engines sometimes avoid making their tools available or avoid making them accessible: “Unfortunately there is no accessibility in development… and it's hard to find help for game developers.”

She points out that this help, more often than not, must come from third parties: “Popular game engines have plug-ins to make content more accessible that were created to help developers comply with CVAA requirements for blind users.”

She cites plugins like ReadSpeaker, as well as the Speech Engine SDK for custom game engines, as examples of third parties that have to support capabilities built into some game engines.

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Phoebe Hesketh is a researcher and founder of the education and advocacy group Take a Mo. “Accessibility is not something you try to implement once or that you can take advantage of when the program is complete,” she explains. “It is something that needs constant attention, application, and follow-up.” Feedback is especially important as end users with disabilities must participate in the analysis and review of accessibility features.

As a result, advocates point out that including people with disabilities in the development process from the beginning is vital. Maren Rongen is a member of the Can I Play That team, which tracks accessibility choices within games. Doing so gives benefits to engine manufacturers as well as their end users, he says.

“Accessibility is not something you try to implement once or turn on when the program is complete.”Phoebe Hesketh

“Having people with disabilities on the team can help raise ongoing awareness of accessibility, and help include accessibility early in the design and development process, where integration costs less effort and money.

“If engine builders and key development tools, such as Unreal, Unity, etc., are accessible, it makes the biggest impact as fewer developer-specific solutions will need to be invented at companies using these tools.”

It's a view supported by Space Ape Games' Robin, who explains that making game developers more accessible means that the games they produce are usually more accessible in turn, which increases their appeal.

“The more accessible the product, the larger the customer base,” she says. “More money for engine builders, but also a more diverse development team means a more creative and accessible final product which in turn will be beneficial to the entire player base.”

To illustrate just how much is left on the table, UKIE currently estimates that there are over 100,000 players who could form new gaming audiences from disabled communities.

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Pictured above, from left to right: Maren Rongen, Dom Shaw, Carrie Waterton

technical requirements

The issue of engine accessibility for game developers is closely related to broader considerations about the limitations and pressures placed on game developers. While the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) is credited by organizations including AccessibilityUnlocked as helping to ensure the technical needs of developers with disabilities are taken into account, it is still far from a silver bullet.

For example, Mo's Hesketh notes that game development as a whole is often an arduous process that is particularly difficult for some developers with disabilities.

“Third-party developers can help make the tools accessible, while producers and studios can make the working environment more accessible [by] Allow part-time or work-sharing, allow remote work, provide more modifications, and be clear about these opportunities for developers with disabilities.

Ensuring that all aspects of game development are accessible also means that a wide range of live experiences can be taken into account when creating new tools for developers. Dom Shaw is EDI Coordinator for trade body UKIE. “When developers have access to tools that meet diverse needs, they can explore new ideas and methodologies that might otherwise remain unexplored,” he explains. “Features like keyboard shortcuts, customizable interfaces, and comprehensive documentation can boost productivity and workflow efficiency for all developers, not just people with disabilities.” “

Beyond games themselves, asset creation within engines like Unreal has become part of non-gaming activity as brands create 3D models of their products for use in augmented reality and virtual spaces. In 2022, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners teamed up with Epic Games to create an introductory game development course for brands looking to do just that.

But for engines to deliver on their promises—commercially and technically—they must be accessible to developers with diverse needs. Despite the progress that has been made, there is still a gap to overcome before this promise can be realized.