Ubisoft has made a concerted effort in recent years to make its games more accessible to more players. Leading the charge on that front is the accessibility team, led by Senior Manager of Accessibility David Tisserand. Tisserand contributed to the accessibility taskforce in 2017, and since then has begun working with development teams and external marketing teams to ensure that not only are games accessible, but that accessibility is considered at every stage of the player-facing process.
To learn more about the impact Tisserand’s team has made, and where they are striving to go, we spoke to him about the future of accessibility at Ubisoft.
Accessibility has come a long way in the last few years at Ubisoft. Is there a certain moment you can pinpoint as the big shift in the company’s approach towards accessibility?
David Tisserand: There have been several key moments in our accessibility journey, which began in 2017 with the creation of the accessibility taskforce. From making accessibility officially part of our games’ mandates, to creating more than 20 roles dedicated to accessibility across the company, to expanding our efforts beyond games with our events, our customer support, our websites, and more. I see some important shifts on the horizon with the work we’ve started on our in-house engines and middleware to better support the implementation of some accessibility considerations. I’ll consider our task to be complete once everything we do for our players and our employees is accessible. That’s always been the goal, and I clearly see now that the momentum is here to help us achieve it.
The gaming industry as a whole is pushing accessibility forward like never before. What does the future of accessibility look like for Ubisoft?
DT: Now that we’ve put a strong basis in place, we are in a position to deliver a minimum level of accessibility in all our games. From now on, players can expect to find remappable controls, considerations for colorblind players, high-quality subtitles, and decent font size on almost every game we’re releasing. That is something that I’m very happy about, considering the size of our portfolio and the diversity of the experiences we provide to players – from Just Dance to Rainbow Six, and from Anno to Assassin's Creed.
We know this is not enough to ensure that every game will be accessible to everyone in the short term, but we are committed to constantly working towards opening our universes to more people. For example, Rainbow Six Extraction removed some barriers that Rainbow Six Siege had unfortunately not anticipated at the time.
Having a minimum level of accessibility in all our games isn’t the end goal. We owe our players an even better experience in the long term. That’s why, now, our focus is on innovating and pushing the envelope on some selected games to help raise the bar across our company and hopefully the industry. To achieve that, we’ve recruited a team of experts in accessible game design who are collaborating even earlier with our development teams. It is no secret that the earlier accessibility is considered, the better results we get, and the more people can dive into our universes.
The team is also helping to shift away from the traditional accessibility-by-options approach towards more of an accessibility-by-design approach. Customization features will always be necessary to fulfill the needs of the large variety of players we want to welcome into our worlds. But having accessibility considered during the onset of a project, at every step of the design process, from conception to prototyping, and later coding, is the direction we’re headed. That way, we can reduce the need to develop options, which can run the risk of losing our players in the options menu. We are working hard to provide the most accessible experience by default and polish the remaining options, without increasing cognitive load.
We see it as a progression, a momentum, not a race to deliver a single accessible game and leave all other projects without support.
What’s the difference between accessibility options and accessible design?
DT: An accessibility option is something we add to a game to remove a barrier we believe should not be part of the challenge of the game. For example, an option to increase the size of the text in the menus so players can easily navigate through them. Reading a menu is usually not the type of gameplay challenge designers envision. In this example, the accessibility option is the opportunity to increase text size that may be too small.
On the other hand, accessible design is something that we incorporate into the core game design to prevent an unnecessary barrier from cropping up in the first place. Using the same example of text size in the menu, accessible design would mean developing our menus with a large font by default. This would drastically reduce the need for players to use an upscaling feature.
Accessible design has advantages for developers and players alike. For developers, it could save time, as they may not have to implement the upscaling feature, leaving more time to focus on other parts of the game. For players, accessible design provides a more equitable experience. All players would be able to have the same experience, without wasting their time in the options menu.
Accessible design is where we believe we can actually innovate.
Does moving toward accessible design mean we won’t see accessibility options in games anymore?
DT: Options aren’t going away. We hope we can reduce the need for options, but everyone’s experience is different, and games have become more and more complex. Someone somewhere is always going to need to customize their experience to their preference. For example, blind players or players who have difficulty reading are always going to use a narrator. So we’ll always have to provide this as an option.
However, thinking about accessibility by design means that, early on, we can pre-emptively decide that we’re going to implement a narrator, and as a result we can consider the experience of those players in the flow of our menus – ensuring that digital navigation is supported fully, the elements on screen can be navigated as logical and nested lists, etc.
In some cases, we may be able to drastically reduce the need for an option. For example, if we ensure that no meaning is conveyed by a color alone, then there is a chance that options for colorblind players may not be necessary. Once again, this will save development time and players’ time by eliminating the need to tweak the experience in the options.
Ubisoft has a wide and diverse portfolio of games. How do you develop a standard minimum bar that applies to Far Cry 6, but also applies to VR games, or games like Just Dance and Rocksmith+?
DT: There is no magic bullet. It’s a mix of a blanket approach to addressing the common barriers to each game and a tailor-made approach to adapt to the specifics of each game.
For example, 99% of our games provide some sort of information in an audio format. We can safely have a policy that all games should have subtitles, and define what they should look like, e.g. font type, size, contrast, line breaks, etc. This can then be applied to almost any game. That’s the blanket approach.
On the other hand, players can interact with games through myriad ways. From using their body, to interacting with a keyboard and mouse, to using assistive technologies like on-screen keyboards, eye-trackers, or voice commands. This is when you need to look at all the parameters to untangle a more complex problem. That involves working with the engine and middleware teams, reflecting on the core pillars of each game, assessing the time available before the ship date, considering the size of the development team, and much more.
Then we can start providing tailor-made support to those development teams, focusing on what can be achieved for a particular game, and helping each team grow their accessibility knowledge.
What’s great about this approach is that everyone who is part of this process will learn from this experience, and can then build upon this knowledge for their next game. And the beauty of working at Ubisoft means that one team’s learning actually becomes everyone’s learning. Our dev teams collaborate, share design ideas, code, processes, etc., allowing us to ramp up much more quickly.
Once again, it’s not a silver bullet, and we may sometimes miss the mark on some titles. But I’m convinced this is what’s going to help us welcome all players into our universes in the long term. We see it as a progression, a momentum, not a race to deliver a single accessible game and leave all other projects without support. It is a long-term collaboration that brings improvements across the board every year, and that, in time, we hope will lead to a more accessible industry.
How does the team evaluate games and the ways in which they can become more accessible?
DT: The accessibility team’s role is to be a transversal support system for everyone at Ubisoft to improve their accessibility knowledge. We help developers understand the barriers disabled people may face in our games. Understanding these barriers leads to understanding the impact of the mechanics we choose to put in our games, and more importantly determining how we put together an efficient and sustainable process to conceptualize, design, validate, iterate, and polish an accessible experience.
Of course, we can still provide feedback later down the line on barriers we see when we play the first version of the game. The Quality Control Accessibility team validates that every accessibility consideration is working as expected. The User Research Labs validate the design intentions with the target audience. We help those teams to achieve their goals by sharing best practices and learnings, like we do with the development teams themselves.
At what point in the development process does the team come in to start advising and implementing accessible design?
DT: I’m happy to say that on the games we are supporting closely, we are involved in every stage of the development process. It is also amazing to see all the work that is done outside of the development process, like improving our engines so it is easier to program some accessibility considerations, the new user testing methods to involve disabled players in the design process, and the improvements we make to gather feedback from the community.
Accessibility is now becoming a part of every moment of a game, and every team who contributes to making that game.
You’ve said for years that you want accessibility to be part of Ubisoft’s DNA. How have you made progress toward that goal?
DT: Even before the official creation of the accessibility team, my goal has always been to provide an accessible end-to-end experience to our players. That means making sure players are included from the moment they first hear about our game at events like Ubisoft Forward, to playing the game, up to the very last time they interact with us on the customer journey.
Making accessibility part of the DNA of the company has meant collaborating with every single team along this player journey, and helping them understand the experience disabled players were having with their products and services. I have been delighted to see the results of this strategy across events, marketing, customer support, and of course, development teams around the world fully owning their accessibility strategy and innovating with minimal support from the accessibility team. We’re working together to design a more accessible future for all our players, and I can’t wait to see what our teams come up with next.
To learn more about accessibility at Ubisoft, be sure to check out our Accessibility Spotlights.