Thanks to a PS5 system update released toward the end of last week, we’ve now moved one step closer to video game storefront accessibility tags becoming an industry standard.
Back in November of 2021, Xbox introduced a series of Accessibility Tags that appear when browsing games on the Xbox digital games store.
These tags, which were initially seen primarily on first party developed video games, advertised accessibility features which could be found in those games, sorted into common categories of disability type.
While third party developers could apply to have accessibility tags listed on their games in the Xbox Store, Microsoft was clear up front that they had internal thresholds that developers would need to meet to receive one of these new accessibility tags. The examples given at the time included that a game couldn’t receive a subtitle tag simply for containing subtitles, those subtitles had to be of a sufficient size and legibility quality, to ensure that disabled players knew they could rely on these tags having a meaningful impact on accessibility.
These tags were introduced on Xbox around a year and a half ago, and have done a lot of good since their introduction. They’ve allowed disabled players a greater degree of ability to find out if a game is likely to be accessible for their disability, from within the console’s online storefront, without having to go to an external website and look up accessibility reviews, like the ones seen on this channel, before deciding whether to make a purchase.
In early April 2023, a little over a week ago, PlayStation announced that they too would be introducing accessibility store tags on the PlayStation 5’s online game store, starting with primarily first party titles, and expanding the selection of games with these accessibility store tags over time.
The Accessibility Tag system for PS5 is now live, and so I spent some time this week checking out how the new system works in practice.
The short answer? This is a great step forward toward standardising this important feature, and undoubtedly helps provide useful information to disabled players prior to purchases, but PlayStation’s rollout isn’t without some issues that need addressing.
Looking around the PS5 store at the time of writing this video script, on April 11th 2023, support for the new accessibility store tags system seems to be exclusively limited to first party PS5 exclusive titles, with no third party titles supported at all.
While I understand this as an aspect of launch rollout, I do hope that we quickly see third party titles that have accessibility tags on Xbox getting support for the feature on PlayStation as well.
PlayStation has not been as clear as Xbox in its messaging about whether or not they have internal quality standards that need to be met to receive one of these store tags for an accessibility feature. I would assume this is the case, but it has not been publicly communicated the same way that Xbox did.
At the time of release the tags that appear on games, with one strange exception we’re going to get to shortly, do seem to suggest that the tags are only applied when the relevant setting is of an appropriate quality level.
Once you find a game that has accessibility tags on the PS5 store, those tags are laid out in an easy to follow manner, separated into common disability categories, and given one sentence descriptors to help ensure that players understand exactly what support is provided by a setting, if they’re not familiar with that setting by name.
Not every first party PlayStation exclusive title on PS5 that you might expect features accessibility tags on the digital storefront at launch.
While some of the titles that lack accessibility tags, like the PS5 Demon’s Souls remake, make sense, as that title features very little in the way of accessibility settings support. That said, if Demon’s Souls isn’t accessible enough to have warrented getting accessibility tags, if that’s the reasoning, that’s a little, that’s a little weird because the game does show up in the Discover Accessibility section of the PS5 store.
Other titles such as Horizon: Forbidden West lacking any kind of accessibility tags feel like a more notable omission, considering that that game did feature a lot of useful settings designed to support disabled players. Horizon: forbidden West does also appear in the Discover Accessibility section of the PS5 store, which again really hammers home that it’s a little weird that this particular first party title doesn’t have any accessibility tags.
In addition, some games at present are missing accessibility tags that I would have expected to see listed on them, such as The Last of Us: Part 1’s support for Audio Descriptions in cutscenes. It’s possible the system doesn’t currently have an accessibility tag for audio descriptions as they are an uncommon figure, but it still feels like a big feature to not mention in these accessibility tags.
However, more egregious than that, some games feature tags that advertise accessibility features that those games do not support, or whose one sentence descriptions are misleading. In particular, a lot of games at launch are incorrectly tagged as “Playable Without Subtitles” because, as the one sentance descriptor says, “the game does not include spoken dialogue”.
This is a theoretically useful accessibility tag; For players who struggle to read subtitles and cannot hear, games like Journey being playable without audio or subtitles are inherently more accessible. The issue is that, at present, this tag appears on Spider-Man: Miles Morales, God of War: Ragnarok, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Ghost of Tshuchima, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure, among others, all of which do contain spoken dialogue.
The most charitable guess that I can make right now is that the intention was to communicate that these games can be completed by players who cannot follow subtitles, or hear, because the spoken dialogue is never used to communicate vital gameplay information that isn’t communicated other ways? Maybe they’re trying to communicate with this tag that not being able to read subtitles or hear won’t be a definitive progression blocker? That directly contradicts the stated meaning of the accessibility tag, and the description given of it, but the alternative is that this system has launched with a very lax approach to checking the accuracy of the tags applied, and multiple games have simply had an accessibility tag applied in error, without that being caught, which feels like a worse explaination, I would rather hope that someone applying these tags kind of misunderstood what the tag was meant to be used for.
The reason this is an issue should be obvious. Accessibility store tags exist so that disabled players can make informed choices about whether a game will be playable or not for them without having to do external research. If you advertise an accessibility feature that does not exist, you may lead to a person purchasing a game, only to later discover they cannot actually play it as advertised.
Beyond that, my main critiques of the accessibility store tag system on PS5 at launch are fairly minor.
I wish that the Discover Accessibility section of the PS5 store, which lists video games that are “Accessible for All”, contained accessibility tags for all advertised titles in that section at launch. I recognise that many of these are third party releases, but if PlayStation feels confident enough in the accessibility support seen in these titles to advertise them as “accessible [for] all”, you would hope that they could list which accessibility settings those titles that they’re highlighting include.
At present, that section of the store includes titles like Ikenfell alongside titles like Fifa 23, which feature very different levels and types of accessibility if you’re, for example, looking for a game that supports content warnings, and avoids randomised microtransactions because you struggle with addiction issues.
just saying that they’re accessible, but not having tags, really highlights the disparity right now in how that section is functioning.
Lastly, I hope that down the line PlayStation offers a way for players to search for a specific accessibility tag, to see which games offer that support type to players.
I know I’m perhaps being a little critical here of PlayStation’s execution of accessibility tags on the PS5 store, but I promise my criticism comes from a place of positivity. I am incredibly glad to see Sony get on board with implementing this feature, and I want to see the execution improve because I think the feature is incredibly helpful when done correctly. This is going to help a lot more disabled gamers feel confident in their purchases, and that is a great step forward for the industry.
Nintendo is now the only one of the three main console manufacturers not to support any kind of accessibility tags in their online game store, at least for their first party titles. I hope seeing PlayStation get on board alongside Xbox encourages them to get on board too, as this is a wonderful feature to see being offered.
We’re slowly moving toward standardisation of accessibility tags on console game digital storefronts, something I’ve been pushing to see become a standard for a while. While PlayStation’s execution could definately use some work, I am glad we’ve seen the effort made to introduce the feature to more players.