Games have become even bigger last year, partly due to many people being stuck at home. As prevalent as these interactive digital experiences may be, most of them have been designed with majority of gamers in mind, a majority that is made up of able-bodied people. Although some games do try to cater to gamers with disabilities, many still don’t especially on more locked-down platforms that don’t make it easy to customize games and controls for this subset of people. Continuing a journey it started in 2019, Microsoft’s Xbox is starting a new program that will help game developers design their games with accessibility in mind even before the title is launched.
The Xbox has admittedly made huge strides in the accessibility department in the past years. One highlight was when it launched the Xbox Adaptive Controller in 2018, providing not just Xbox but other consoles and PCs as well with a customizable input “hub” for all kinds of accessibility devices. Last year, Xbox released the first version of its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines or XAGs but a set of documents might not be enough to guide developers on all things related to accessibility.
Microsoft said that, even with the XAG available, game developers still approached it with questions and doubts about compliance with those guidelines. It might also be easy to overlook some aspects that might look good on paper but not in practice. That is why Microsoft is starting what it claims is an industry-first, platform-provided game accessibility testing program that will let Xbox’s Game Reliability Engineering and Gaming Accessibility Teams validate titles against the XAG.
What makes this program special, Microsoft says, is that it will actually put those games in the hands of gamers with disabilities. It is one thing for experts to check things off lists and quite another thing for an actual target audience to see if the games deliver on their accessibility promises.
In addition to the program, Microsoft will also be updating the XAG to include examples to take the guesswork out of implementing the guidelines. The documentation will also include background information that will explain why the guidelines have to be implemented and not just how.