Accessibility should be accessible. That might sound really obvious when I put it like that, but it’s really important to understand what that phrase actually means.
It should be easy to find out what accessibility settings are going to be in a game before you make a purchase. It should be easy to find the accessibility settings on your first boot up of a game, in time to have them in place before the game begins, and it’s really important that accessibility settings be available to everyone, and not be locked behind a paywall.
Now, thankfully all three of the above points are starting to become standards somewhat in the video game industry, but unfortunately one of the three is starting to waver a little bit right now, as two big budget releases from later in the year seem set to put a paywall of sorts behind accessibility settings access and disabled players.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Resident Evil: Village and The Last of Us: Part 1. We’re going to talk about the accessibility settings that are coming to both of these games, the way that those accessibility settings have been placed behind a paywall, and the impact that has on making accessibility accessible to all disabled players.
First up, let’s talk about Resident Evil: Village and the third person mode coming later this year to the game.
As a gamer with pretty moderate and persistent motion sickness issues, I often struggle to play first person games, resorting to short bursts of gameplay at a time to progress. Games with head bob, a lack of clear centre screen reticle, certain levels of motion blur, or a narrow field of view can often cause me to feel physically ill when I should be enjoying playing the game.
This is part of why I was excited to hear that Resident Evil: Village is due to receive a third person mode in an update later this year, making the game fully playable from start to finish without playing in first person. For me, this is very much an accessibility feature, and will allow me to replay the game in future with far fewer struggles with physical illness.
However, this third person mode is not free to access for all players. The Winters’ Expansion DLC for Resident Evil: Village, which launches as a paid expansion in late October, bundles more substantial content, such as a story expansion, with the new third person camera mode. You can’t play the game in third person mode to avoid motion sickness unless you either purchase the new DLC, or purchase the game’s Gold Edition which will release on the same date bundling in the DLC.
While I understand in part that this is being done because they want to emphasise third person gameplay as a central feature of this new paid update, the new story content for example is only playable in third person, it still frustrates me.
Third person mode is an accessibility feature, and it’s being locked behind a paywall to access, which is not best practice for accessibility settings.
And, before people query whether motion sickness support is a form of accessibility for disabled gamers, motion sickness is more common in gamers with certain other coexisting disabilities, such as dyspraxia or autism, and this DLC is charging disabled players money to access a solution to their discomfort while playing.
Next up, let’s talk about The Last of Us: Part 1, the PS5 remake of 2013’s The Last of Us, which is releasing in September of this year.
When The Last of Us 2 released back in the summer of 2020, one of the most notable things about the game at release was how high of a bar it set for accessibility in video games, a bar that two years later is rarely if ever met by other titles. From a huge number of gameplay tweaks for players with mobility disabilities, to high contrast mode for low vision players, right up to a system where the game was playable start to finish via audio only by totally sightless players, the game set a real benchmark for what video game accessibility can be when given proper attention.
Now, we don’t know for certain how many of the accessibility settings from The Last of Us 2 are going to be carried over to this new remake of the Last of Us: Part 1, but it was confirmed in a PlayStation blog post that the remake will feature lots of new accessibility features that the original game did not contain.
Even if we do not see the full suite of accessibility features from The Last of Us 2 carried over as many of us would hope, it’s still confirmed that the game will have more accessibility support options than either the original PS3 release, or the PS4 remaster, which did receive an update to look nicer on PS5 last year.
However, there has been no announcement of these accessibility settings being added via a patch into either of the prior releases of this game, and it seems like in order to play Part 1 with these new accessibility features, players will have to purchase a new copy of the full priced remaster of the game. This means that players with existing copies of the game will not have access to accessibility support unless they pay up for a more expensive copy.
This particularly stings as the PS4 version of The Last of Us, which as I reminded you has has PS5 stuff in it, has been available for free to PS5 owners with PS+ since the launch of the console, only being removed as a free game very recently.
Sony has had a version of the game available to most PS5 owners for no additional charge for a decently long time, but players who need access to accessibility settings, at least if they want to play this remake when it comes out at launch, will most likely need to pay full price to play the shiny new version of the game.
I can see why some people might argue that it’s not in a developer’s financial interest to spend time adding free accessibility updates to older versions of video games, but it’s certainly not unprecedented. When Spider-Man: Miles Morales was released in 2020 with new to the series accessibility settings, those settings were not only patched into the PS5 remaster of the original Spider-Man, but also into the last gen PS4 version as well, to ensure that people who owned older releases of the game did not have a paywall between them and updated accessibility support.
Now, obviously, I can’t say for certain whether these two games releasing with accessibility content behind a paywall are going to be the beginning of a trend, or if they’re just two coincidentally near each other isolated examples, but at this point these games haven’t released, and there is a chance that, you know, this could be rethought, and I think it’s important that now we talk about the fact that this is a problem, and not something we should be encouraging happening going forward.
I don’t expect either of these games to necessarilly change their plans at this moment for games releasing in a few months, but if we talk about it now, hopefully we can get developers to see that this shouldn’t be how this is handled in the future, and maybe we won’t see other games follow in this trend going forward.
Accessibility settings should be available to all players, and should never be hidden behind a paywall. If someone has purchased your game, and wants to be able to play it on an even footing with another player, they shouldn;t have to go “Okay, well I don’t really want this DLC with extra story content” or “I don’t really care about this visual upgrade, but I’m going to pay money for it just to get those accessibility settings I need”.
That’s never a position you should be putting disabled players into.
If at all possible, you should be bringing your accessibility settings to every player who owns your game, regardless of whether they purchase whatever new thing you’re trying to sell them.
While it would obviously be wonderful to see either of these games reconsider having their accessibility be tied behind a paywall, honestly what I’m really crossing my fingers for here is that these two are the end of it. That we don’t see this become a bigger trend in the industry, because using accessibility settings to encourage additional purchases, or more expensive versions of games, is not a future we should be aiming to work towards if we want our industry to be accessible.