A lot of the time, when discussing video game accessibility in this series, I focus on the accessibility settings and accessible design choices found in the video games we play.
For many gamers, much of the time, whether or not a game is accessible comes down to the state of the final product on release day, and our ability to play that finished product.
However, that rarely paints the whole picture of a game developer or publisher’s level of accessibility. Often, factors outside of a game’s shipped final release are equally factors in whether a game’s developer has been generally accessible. Have players been told in advance what accessibility options are available in the game? Were trailers and pre-release materials accessible? Were preview events for the game such as conventions accessible? These sorts of factors all play a role in determining how much a game is, even before launch day, accessible to disabled gamers.
This is why I wanted to take some time this week to highlight a couple of advancements in video game accessibility that Xbox has announced during October 2023 that, while not directly tied to in-game features, are still important steps forward more broadly for video game accessibility.
Let’s start by discussing an update to a fairly recent episode of Access-Ability.
Back in August 2023, I attended Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, a huge gaming convention with both private areas for press, as well as a public facing show floor full of demos for upcoming game releases.
I made a video after attending Gamescom discussing Xbox’s booth presence on the event’s public show floor, which included a number of accessibility features designed to ensure the area was approachable and accessible for disabled players. This included gentle ramps for wheelchair users to reach raised areas, accessibility controller setups available upon request, earplugs being available, American and German Sign Language Interpreters, and a quiet room hidden away from the lights and sounds of the show floor to help anyone in need decompress.
I bring this back up today because earlier this month Xbox released their Playbook for Accessible Gaming Events, or PAGE, an online document which collates all of the best practices Xbox has learned over the past few years attempting to make their in person events more accessible for disabled gamers.
The Playbook includes advice on everything from accessible demo station setup, to training videos on how to be respectful when discussing disabilities, and a whole bunch more tips for people looking to create accessible events.
This new playbook very much feels in line with Xbox’s overall attitude toward accessibility, in that the company seems to have taken the approach that it is not enough to be accessible themselves, but also important to make information they have learned on how to be more accessible available for others to learn from, as seen from their accessibility guidelines and accessibility education basics training materials being made available for anyone to learn from over the past few years.
Beyond that, Xbox also seems to be pushing forward in terms of how they present game trailers online, now that they have access to a new YouTube feature currently being rolled out to select creators.
YouTube is currently rolling out access to an audio tracks feature, which will allow video creators to offer alternate audio tracks within a single YouTube video upload, for things like different language dubs of a video. Xbox recently got access to the feature, and made use of it to offer an audio description track on their recent video celebrating their acquisition of Activision Blizzard King.
They’re not the first game developer to make use of this functionality, Ubisoft recently started making use of this feature too, and it’s great to see this becoming more commonly adopted by companies that have access to the feature.
Coming back to Xbox consoles for a moment, I wanted to throw in a mention of a few new system level console features Xbox has rolled out, or are in the process of rolling out, which are worth noting.
Users will soon be able to pair a new Xbox controller to their console without having to press the physical pairing button on the console, or plug their controller into the console via a USB cable, with the option to use an existing paired controller to navigate to a menu in the system settings and activate the console’s pairing mode remotely.
Xbox Adaptive Controller users will also soon be able to map Xbox Adaptive Controller inputs to keyboard keys, with an adaptive controller input being able to be mapped to either a single keyboard key, or a combination of multiple inputs.
Lastly, Xbox has added a new Accessibility in Games page to the Xbox store, to make finding games with a wide variety of accessibility tags easier. You’ll also be able to filter games by whether or not they have specific accessibility tags that you require, making it easier to filter games by whether they’re likely to be accessible to you or not.
I know this is a bit of a shattershot news roundup, but Xbox has been doing a bunch of cool stuff this month which isn’t specific to game releases or game settings, and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of that work being done. They’re publishing resources that are likely to be helpful for other developers to learn from, making their pre-release content more accessible to disabled gamers, and making it easier to find which games on their store are accessible using their existing catalogue of accessibility store tags.
Xbox is doing a lot right at the moment when it comes to big picture accessibility initiatives not just focused on granular game settings, and it’s important every now and then to stop and appreciate that work. A lot of these stories don’t really justify an entire episode of Access-Ability by themselves, but it’s important to bundle them all together and talk about this stuff sometimes, because Xbox is doing really cool things right now.