Last November, Ubisoft Montreal hosted its Accessible Design Workshop. The workshop was a time for developers to learn how to make games more accessible by working directly with disabled gamers and accessibility advocates. This event is part of Ubisoft's goal of making the entire consumer experience – from FAQs, customer service portals, and menus to the games themselves – more accessible to all players. By consulting experts early in the game development process, Ubisoft hopes to ensure that more players can enjoy a game at launch To learn more about the workshop, check out the video below, and read on for an interview with accessibility project manager, David Tisserand.
Ubisoft's Accessible Design Workshop
Why has Ubisoft decided to take a more active role in incorporating accessibility features?
David Tisserand: As one of the biggest videogames publishers, we recognize our responsibility to include as many players as we can, so that everyone can enjoy our games. By proactively adding accessibility features, we hope to avoid excluding anyone unintentionally from our experiences.
We've been listening to community feedback for a long time, and it was clear that this was something really important to our players. For example, on Assassin's Creed II, we implemented subtitles because the community asked for them after we missed them in the first game. That's why we now have dedicated communication channels, like the "accessibility" category when one opens a ticket on the customer support website. This feedback is very important and helps us decide what to prioritize when working on title updates for our live games.
Experts and governmental data agree that around 20 to 25% of the population declares living with a disability. If we don't remove the accessibility barriers in our games, a huge part of the population will not be able to play them. We also know that accessibility benefits everyone. One interesting thing we saw with Assassin's Creed Origins is that 60% of all players turned the subtitles on. We designed this feature for deaf/hard of hearing (HoH) players, but it clearly served a way bigger portion of the audience.
Additionally, there's a population of gamers over the age of 60 that have been playing videogames since they were teenagers, so it becomes very important to ensure they can keep playing our games despite the possibility that they may have less motor dexterity or visual acuity.
Josh from Dager System (and his assistant on his right) playing a game with a developer observing and taking notes.
Why is it important to work with accessibility-centered creators during the development phase as well as the review phase?
DT: We send review copies to disabled content creators [such as Steve Saylor, Cherry Rae Thompson, DeafGamersTV, etc.] and different accessibility-centered websites [such as Dager System, Can I Play That, etc.] for two reasons. First, by reviewing our games, they help the community. Their viewers and readers often go to them to find out if they can play certain games. The creators share the options available and their insights into what makes the games accessible or not for them. It's a great addition to our own FAQs on the customer support website, which is more general and may not be able to provide as much granularity as you can get from those content creators. Second, by reading those reviews or by watching the streams, our developers can learn firsthand what barriers they may have let slip, or how they can improve certain features in order to make their games even more accessible. Sometimes we can patch those with title updates, but if we can't, it's definitely something our developers keep in mind for future games.
Unfortunately, reviews and streams are only effective at launch, so we recognized there was also a huge need to involve subject matter experts as early as possible in the development process. They help us inform the design of our games by sharing the barriers they most commonly face in videogames, and the development teams can then design around those barriers from the ground up, as opposed to fixing them later. It's more efficient and gives the best results. And as the community members often say, "Nothing about us without us." Non-disabled people cannot know what it is to be disabled and try to play videogames. Disabled players are in the best position to tell us what they need in order to play our games comfortably.
Steve from BlindGamer talking to developers (out of the frame) with Josh on his right.
What sorts of tangible changes have come from working with accessibility creators?
DT: There are several, but one example is the subtitle system and directional closed captioning in Far Cry New Dawn, which are the direct result of the feedback we received when launching Far Cry 5. We heard from the community that Far Cry 5 didn't live up to expectations for deaf/HoH players, and the team was able to fix the issue with a timely title update. More importantly, they took it to heart to improve the next game in the franchise. That's why Far Cry New Dawn included the option to increase the subtitles' font size to up to 58px, added speaker names and a semi-transparent or fully opaque background. The innovation of the directional closed captions added even more information for deaf/HoH players, such as gunshots or animals noises, and where they come from.
In the Assassin's Creed franchise, we've offered control remapping on PC for a long time. At the time, we believed system-level control remapping on consoles was sufficient to support players with motor disability. However, through community feedback, we learned that it wasn't a satisfactory solution. Changing the controls at the system level often leads to issues later. That is why, on Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Far Cry New Dawn, we released control remapping on all platforms.
Two developers listening to Josh (out of frame) with Chris from DeafGamersTV in the background talking to other developers
What does it mean to make the end-to-end customer experience accessible? Where does that experience start? Where does it end?
DT: The customer experience starts when a person hears about a game for the first time, up until they never think about it again. So in the case of our accessibility task force, we want everything along that chain to be accessible.
Our games need to have accessibility features implemented in betas, like we did for The Division 2 beta, so players can experience the game firsthand and decide if our game is accessible to them. If players don't participate in a beta, they still need to know if a game is accessible to them. That's why we offer information on our customer support website with the Accessibility FAQs, and we send review copies to accessibility-centered review websites and content creators. It gives players a good idea of the accessibility or our titles.
Obviously, the games themselves are the biggest part of the experience, so we're working passionately to ensure our titles are as accessible as possible. Then, if players are still facing barriers, they can use our dedicated accessibility category on the customer website to open a ticket. This way, it's being treated properly, and the feedback is sent to the development team so they can improve the accessibility of the game in future title updates or game entries.
Finally, the discussion around the game is also important. That's why our community developers are also involved; they communicate on accessibility features or pass along feedback they receive on social media or their respective forums.
What next steps would the accessibility team like to take to make our games even more accessible?
DT: We have really ramped up our accessibility initiatives in the past year and a half. Developers are becoming more aware of the importance of accessibility and the best practices and guidelines to follow in order to design, produce, and program accessible games. We're building an internal community with accessibility representatives on every team, and they share with each other, so one team or studio can learn from others and increase the internal body of knowledge. However, looking at what other industries are doing, we know we can be even more efficient. So we're planning to add internal training for newcomers and provide different trainings for different job roles. This way, we hope to make accessibility second nature for all our staff.
We're also looking at growing the size of the accessibility team so we can cover more titles and provide better support to our more than 40 studios around the world. More eyes on the topic will lead to more accessible titles and more players being able to enjoy our games.
Finally, we want to keep strengthening our collaboration with the community. We want to run more Accessible Design workshops and more user tests early in development so we can learn even more and serve the community better. The communication channels we've put in place with disabled gamers have been an invaluable source of knowledge and we wouldn't be where we are now if they hadn't shown us the way.