Why Accessibility in Gaming is a Must Have: Text to Speech as an Essential Tool for Game Designers and Game Developers

gaming podcast article

We recently had two of the top experts in accessibility in gaming, Morgan Baker, Game Accessibility Specialist and Designer and Antonio Martinez, Accessibility Consultant and Editor in Chief & Mobility Expert for Game Accessibility at Nexus, join ReadSpeaker.ai’s Tom DiPietropolo, ReadSpeaker’s Lead Business Development Leader for TTS in Gaming and Keri Roberts, ReadSpeaker’s Brand Evangelist for North America for a chat on our video/audio podcast, Creative and Tech, to chat about why accessibility in gaming is no longer a nice to have, but a must have.

 

Watch the full video with captions, listen to the audio or read the full transcript below.

 

Keri (00:54):

Welcome to Creative and Tech, a podcast show powered by ReadSpeaker.ai. I’m your host, Keri Roberts. And I’m the Brand Evangelist for North America at ReadSpeaker. And today’s conversation is all things gaming, accessibility, text to speech and voice technology. And I have with me today, a panel of three wonderful experts in this space. I have Morgan Baker, she’s a game accessibility specialist and designer. I have Antonio Martinez, he’s an accessibility consultant and editor in chief and mobility editor for game accessibility at Nexus. And I have Tom DiPietropolo, he leads our business development team, bringing TTS to gaming here at ReadSpeaker. I am so excited to have all of you, so welcome, thank you for being here.

 

Tom (01:44):

Thank you, great to see you Keri.

 

Antonio (01:47):

Thank you. Nice to be here.

 

Morgan (01:50):

Thanks for having us, it’s exciting.

 

Keri (01:51):

Yeah, I want to start with Antonio, you and Morgan personally, first. Morgan, I’ll start this question with you. When did you first fall in love with gaming and what did you enjoy most, but maybe also found frustrating in terms of accessibility?

 

Morgan (02:08):

Yeah, that’s a great question. I started gaming when I was very small. You could say I was born with a controller in my hand. I started out with the Sega Genesis, and was just absolutely in love with video games. And for myself, I really enjoyed the aspect of going and beating a challenge and feeling rewarded whenever I beat a game. And also the secondary aspect is the social aspect, which especially for multiplayer games and stuff like that, playing games with my friends and connecting with the community. So that’s the two big aspects for me.

 

Keri (02:48):

And was there anything that you found frustrating in terms of accessibility at the time or still do today?

 

Morgan (02:54):

Yeah, so for myself, definitely the most frustrating thing is for myself, I have a hearing related disability. I’m completely deaf. For me, the most frustrating aspect would be the fact that not a ton of games are inherently accessible to players who have hearing related disabilities. And I definitely experienced that and I became more involved with the gaming disability community, because as I started to realize the soft and hard barriers I was experiencing.

 

Keri (03:24):

Yes, and I think it’s wonderful that you are now not only helping your own problem, but for so many others as well. Antonio, the same question to you, when did you first fall in love with gaming? What do you really enjoy about it? And was there anything in terms of accessibility that you found frustrating?

 

Antonio (03:42):

I also started very young like Morgan, as a kid. I started playing on Arcades and then I got my first personal computer, a Spectrum computer, that’s a really long time ago. What I loved about games was in physical games, I couldn’t compete with my friends, I couldn’t take part in  activities, but with video games, I could be part of everything. And I joined other people, classmates after school, we traded games, we’d go to each other’s houses to play games.

 

Antonio (04:12):

My social life really changed and went from school is just for studying and being with friends to gaming is also part of my life now. And I can socialize with my friends, compete with them and have fun. And there was a lot of good memory that I have from being with my friends since I was a kid. The friends that I made back then still are my friends today, like almost 40 years later. That’s amazing and it’s all thanks to gaming.

 

Antonio (04:42):

And then the most frustrating part for me, because I have a physical disability which causes me to not be able to have good dexterity, strength, stamina. Controllers are very difficult to press, for example, holding down buttons, repeated presses, things like that. As we are today, I think that’s what I want to help change in this industry. That’s why I’m doing what I do not just for me, because I don’t want other people that are going to come into the space to experience the same barriers that I did back then. Because also as my disability is progressive every now and then my experience gets worse and more difficult to play games. And I want to keep raising awareness about those barriers and how to remove them.

 

Keri (05:37):

I love that, I think it’s wonderful to hear both of you talk about just the sense of community you felt with gaming and the friendships that have been built. And now again, how you’ve had maybe frustrations, but how you’re helping yourselves and others in the same way. I’d love to hear and Antonio, I’ll come back to you to start. How do you define game accessibility? And what do those words mean to you?

 

Antonio (05:59):

Well, just like another aspect of accessibility, game accessibility is just about removing barriers. Many people can have an impairment and that doesn’t cause a disability. Disability occurs because there is a mismatch between their impairment and the barriers that they face in real life, in games is the same. For example, for me, it’s controls, right? My impairment is about not having dexterity in my hands, so I could play any game in the past when I didn’t have such an acute lack of dexterity.

 

Antonio (06:33):

But right now those games are not, so how can I change that? Well, just making the controls more simple, being able to customize them. Accessibility is just looking at what is causing the barrier between what a person can do and what the game is asking them to do in a certain way, and making sure that they can do. Just like a ramp in a building, is just because not just because you need it because there’s stairs. Okay, that’s one way to access the building. But having a ramp, makes sure that everyone can access the building.

 

Keri (07:09):

Yes, I love that analogy. Like you said, it’s something that everyone can do. Morgan, your thoughts here in terms of how you define game accessibility and what does it mean to you?

 

Morgan (07:19):

Absolutely, I completely agree. But I guess, I resonate with Antonio’s words and I am compelled to agree that games accessibility really means removing or reducing unintended barriers so that everyone can gain essentially. And a lot of games accessibility is grounded in the concept of universal design and inclusive design. So the idea of making sure that our products are inherently accessible to as many players as possible, really. Totally Antonio, I agree with the motor controls and stuff like that.

 

Morgan (08:11):

And for me, especially given I’m definitely have other disabilities as well, but a lot of it comes down to the conglomeration of all these different inherent design decisions, as well as providing very specific and impactful options to make sure that players can enjoy the game and have both challenging and rewarding experience, but also one that they can truly have. That’s what games acts when I think of it, it means being able to play and being able to be part of this community and enjoy games, just like everyone else.

 

Keri (08:52):

Yes, I love that. Tom, anything to add here in terms of how you define game accessibility, what it means to you?

 

Tom (08:59):

Yeah, it’s interesting where I just started on this journey a year ago as I started to lead ReadSpeakers game development and game accessibility initiative. And I think the key is enjoyment, it’s to allow players to participate and enjoy the games. And that’s where I enjoy conversations with Antonio and Morgan so much is hearing the way that they’re able to participate in games in the community. I think it’s so important that when game developers are thinking about designing their game play and supporting gamers of all levels that they think about what features and what things can they do during the design process to make the games more enjoyable for the entire audience.

 

Keri (09:52):

I think you’re right. Again, it really goes back to that sense of community and interaction and making sure everyone has a piece in it in a way that works for them. I want to talk stats for a moment to whatever extent maybe you can, can you give, Morgan, I’ll start with you, give people maybe an estimate of what percentage of gamers have some disability that they might need a game to be accessible in order to play. And are there a certain amount of games out there that you would say are very accessible at this point?

 

Morgan (10:23):

In terms of the percentage of gamers, we can look at just general stats, which is that 20% of people live with one or more disabilities. And that is not including those who have temporary disabilities, breaking an arm or situational disabilities, such as being in a room that’s loud and not being able to comprehend speech as a result. That is a lot of people, and that is a lot of people.

 

Morgan (10:49):

People with disabilities have money and they want to play games too. And so that’s a huge portion of the market. You’ll find stats, for example, that a strong majority of players during Assassin’s Creed used subtitling, for example, everyone uses these features and everything. And so with 20%, and that’s a minimum, again, keep in mind, I live with one more disability that is just a ton of people.

 

Keri (11:21):

Yeah, I think you’re right. Again, if you think two out of 10 people have some sort of disability, it’s a larger percentage than we think. And as you just said in a funny simple term, people with disabilities have money and they want to do things too. And how important it is to really be thinking about this in terms of gaming. Antonio, the same question: any stats to share here or any thoughts on the percentage of games that you’re seeing now that are accessible?

 

Antonio (11:49):

Well, the numbers are like the same that Morgan did: between 15 and 20% of the people have disabilities and there are impairments also that don’t count as disabilities. For example, color blindness doesn’t count as a disability, but it is. And I think 8% of male have it. So that’s a high percentage of males . We are not making sure that games are just being accessible to those with an impairment right now, but also to people that will have at some point in life.

 

Antonio (12:24):

Like Morgan mentioned, there are temporary disabilities and there are situational disabilities. For example, if you are in a room, I just said, and you have your baby on your side, you’re taking care of him. You maybe want to be able to enjoy the game’s story, but you don’t want to have the TV on, right? You reduce the volume and turn on subtitles because you need to hear your baby. So, a feature that is supposed to be only for accessibility, helps everyone at some point in life.

 

Antonio (12:55):

And also as we age, we have to consider that we are not going to be the same, that the gamer that are right now smashing buttons and being super happy about it in 10, 15 years might have any kind of issue or just, old age and might not be able to use it and they will need the same feature that we all did, because these features help most people with disabilities, but they help everyone just to customize their experience and make it better for them.

 

Antonio (13:21):

As for games, there is no real stat, because that is impossible to say like, what game is accessible for who? Because accessible means that someone can play without barriers, right? So what for example, might be accessible for Morgan might not be accessible for me, even if it has accessibility options. So there is no way to know what percentages, but the number of games that are incorporating and taking a look at accessibility is growing every year.

 

Antonio (13:49):

I remember that in many conferences like GA Conf, we used to have this part of a talk, where someone would say, “Okay, this year these games have accessibility options, right?” And the list would be like 20 games. And then the next year it was like 40. But now it got to a point when we get to that part, he has to name a few and he says, “But there are so many games that I cannot name them, because I would need many hours.” And that’s one very good sign.

 

Keri (14:22):

I think you’re right. We’re seeing this growing change, but also the growing need as more people talk about the importance of it as well. Morgan, I’m going to come back to you. What is your role in the gaming world right now? I know we gave a title, but can you explain a little bit about what you do in terms of gaming?

 

Morgan (14:41):

My role, I have two roles right now, because why could I just have one? Basically I serve as an accessibility lead and game designer for a studio called the Odd Gentleman, where I’m helping them with an unannounced project. On this side, I’m also a games accessibility specialist consultant. So I will go all the way from small Indie dev to very large parent corporations and help them ensure that their processes are inclusive of players with disabilities.

 

Morgan (15:19):

I make sure that they have the actual safety nets to make sure that during the actual pipeline they are including accessibility early and including accessibility often. I also perform heuristic reviews, benchmarking and workshops, whatever it depends on the organization and what they need. And so I try to keep myself flexible, but that’s primarily the two things I do for games accessibility within the actual industry.

 

Keri (15:54):

Yes. And I think I was going to say overall, just an overall advocate and an evangelist in your own way for all of this as well. Antonio, same thing. Can you talk a little bit about your role in the gaming industry now and the type of work that you do?

 

Antonio (16:07):

Well, right now, what I do is just like Morgan, I do some accessibility consulting from Indie to whatever size. I’m always willing to help sometimes, for free a lot of times, because maybe some developer doesn’t really need that consultancy, just has a couple questions. It doesn’t take time for me to just answer those questions, and make sure that design is going to be more accessible for everyone. But the way I entered the industry was by making reviews for a site called Can I Play That.

 

Antonio (16:43):

And then I moved to create my own site called Accessibility Nexus, and I do mobility reviews there based on that aspect of accessibility, I am also editor in chief. I revise and make the management for the different other people that collaborate with us, make sure that everything  works fine, do the edits, I don’t know, a lot of stuff that you have to do. We are working hard and we really like what we do. I met Morgan, thanks to that because I saw one of her articles, an amazing review, a heuristic analysis of, I think it was Valorant, and it was absolutely amazing. And we had the luck that she jumped into us on the project of Nexus. And since then we have been friends and collaborators because her work is amazing.

 

Keri (17:43):

I love the love for this community. It’s so wonderful to have all of you here. Tom, can you talk a little bit about your role in this gaming space as well?

 

Tom (17:52):

Yeah, so it’s interesting, first, the way I met Morgan was the same thing, reading one of her articles in what I call my… I was in my learning role in game accessibility. It’s a new industry for me as I am trying to understand where accessibility comes into video game development. I read a couple of articles published by Morgan and the same thing with Antonio, reading the articles published by his organization.

 

Tom (18:24):

Over the years I’ve been learning, and now I like to see myself as an advocate so that when I’m talking with game developers, I’m saying to them, “Have you thought about accessibility? What’s your accessibility plan?” I like to look at myself as both someone that talks about ReadSpeaker and our game engine plugin and our text to speech, but also just it brings awareness to the industry. And from an advocacy role to say, “Have you thought about this?” And you’re in the design process now is the time to think about this, not at the end of the project. It’s been really rewarding for me over the first year in learning mode. And now that I transitioned into more of an advocacy role.

 

Keri (19:13):

Yes, no, again, I think it’s good. The more we talk about this, the more things start to change and all of you are doing that in your own huge way. I want to start with going back to Antonio in terms of some games that you’re playing right now, are there any ones that you are playing at the moment or you really enjoy or you think are doing accessibility really well?

 

Antonio (19:37):

Well, that’s interesting, because I’m playing a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh in my studios, which is not great in terms of accessibility for many aspects. But for me, like for mobility is very easy to use, you only have to use the mouse, you can do easy controls. And it’s a game that I used to play the old version I played when I was like 20 something. And I played for many years, it really resonated with me. I was able to enjoy not just the community, but I made friends, again, all over the world, in Japan, Australia, USA, South America, everywhere.

 

Antonio (20:14):

And we created this wonderful community around cards and dueling. So going back into this game really is making me feel again like my old self in a way, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m really enjoying it way too much probably, I am at around 130 hours in three weeks. So it’s probably too much, but I can’t stop thinking about it. But other games that do very well in terms of accessibility are for example, Far Cry 6, did really well. I enjoy too games like Halo Infinite did very well too, I’m also playing that

 

Antonio (20:50):

and Forza Horizon 5 was really great for me. I’m playing a lot of that too, driving around, enjoying the experience of… It’s not a game for me, you know? For me it’s more like I am driving in real life. It’s what I would do in real life. Listening to music, jamming, going down the race tracks, it’s beautiful. And I think those games are doing very well and I love it.

 

Keri (21:15):

I like that. I love how you, again, not only talk about the friendships, the community, but the experience. You said it kind of has a realistic feel to it. You feel like you’re really a part of it. And I think that’s an important piece as well. Morgan, are there any games that you’re playing right now that you’re really enjoying or ones that you think do accessibility very well?

 

Morgan (21:34):

Yeah, at the time of this, Horizon Forbidden West just came out, I’ve been playing a bit of that. I am very excited, it’s actually kind of funny because I can’t sadly play too much of it, because I’m in the middle of a very large project. But I did cheat, even though I told myself, “No Morgan, don’t play any of it.” And then I ended up downloading it and I was like, “Well, I’ll just start just the tutorial.” And oops, whoops, that’s it.

 

Morgan (22:10):

But the game itself really impressed me so far in terms of accessibility, they do offer a robust amount of options, especially for players who are deaf and hard of hearing. They offer a lot of mobility solutions, which of course, I can’t speak to beyond my own experiences, which are helpful for me. And I’ve noticed that they have had a vast improvement from their first game to second game.

 

Morgan (22:39):

I was very, very happy to see that progress, because the first game was already at the time period it came out, people considered it really solid in terms of accessibility. And so it’s just very nice for me to see as the standards keep rising and we keep exploring how to make games more accessible from a developmental standpoint, as well as from a just design, because we just have to keep actually learning how to do the design and such like that.

 

Morgan (23:08):

Seeing the progress from the first two, the second game and reflecting back thinking of the first game of me being mind blown at the time and now seeing this new one and I’m even more mind blown. I mean, it’s very nice to see that. Shouts to Gorilla, congratulations to them for their release. I think the entire internet has been taken by a storm for this game. So that’s definitely one I’ve been playing recently besides the other game I’m playing right now is Earthbound, which you would think would break up a game that just came out recently.

 

Morgan (23:46):

But actually it’s really nice to go back to older game SMES, depending on what your dated older game. But going back and playing games like that, where a lot of times accessibility we see it in every single product. Even though accessibility might not be explicit going into a menu and clicking on the accessibility settings, it’s kind of always present is just a matter of how it’s actually applied.

 

Morgan (24:15):

And so playing an older game and seeing small tidbit design choices that they made, for example, the game has excellent text contrast. It has excellent UI contrast and things like that. It made me think like, we’re doing pretty good, we’ve come far, but it’s nice to see that even in older games, accessibility was always present, perhaps not purposeful, but it was nice to see that. Anyway, but those-

 

Keri (24:45):

I love Morgan too, that you had said, you’re like, “Okay, I’m working on something, I’m not going to play the game too much,” but it was good enough that it got you so excited. And I feel like that showcases a good product that’s made if people are like, “I want to keep playing.” Tom, are there any games that you’re playing right now that you are really enjoying and have you noticed some accessibility things that they’ve added that you’ve enjoyed?

 

Tom (25:08):

Yeah, first, Morgan, I just wrote down both of those games. I have two teenage boys, so I get exposed to the games that they play, but it’s always interesting to hear what other people are playing so that I can explore the different games. And that for me is just talking about the community. One story I’ll tell you, my two boys had me playing Fortnite, the Battle Royale game and I am terrible. I can’t aim, I would be the guy that would carry all the items.

 

Tom (25:42):

Just hand it to me, I’ll carry it and I’ll follow behind. And then I discovered the visual audio cues settings in Fortnite. And I just always struggled with the spatial awareness of, is that person behind me? Are they to the right? And now with those visual audio cues, it helps me play the game and keep up with my two boys a little bit so that I’m not just carrying the items. So it’s improved my experience leveling that accessibility feature and that’s what it is. For me, it’s just an added level of a different way to experience the game.

 

Keri (26:20):

Yeah, I like that. And I want to come back to you, Morgan, because you had mentioned you noticed the changes as you play an old game versus a new game. Can you talk a little bit about what improvements you’ve seen over the years? The adoption of things like voice technology, closed captioning, etc. How have you really seen this gaming industry change in terms of accessibility?

 

Morgan (26:42):

Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. I think how the industry has changed in terms of accessibility truly is, it really boils down to awareness and the idea that, I mean, gamers with disabilities have always existed, but perhaps maybe not always acknowledge to the greater scale that it should have been. Because we have like some early examples, like the Nintendo controller with a sip and puff sort of situation, where you know that developers were aware, but nowadays, especially in the past decade, five years, even like three years, two years, people have become more and more aware of accessibility as a practice and inclusive design as a practice.

 

Morgan (27:29):

And so as a result, what comes with awareness is purposeful design within developmental processes. For example, I was reflecting on an older game that had accessibility, but maybe not so purposeful, whereas now we have, for example, Fortnite, where they’re being more purposeful with their design. We have games, like I just talked about Horizon Forbidden West, where they’re purposeful with their design. The last of us part two, where well, that is extremely purposeful with their design to ensure that as many gamers with disabilities or without disabilities can play and enjoy games.

 

Learn more about text to speech for gaming from ReadSpeaker here. Have questions?  Contact Tom.Dipietropolo@readspeaker.com

 

Morgan (28:13):

Things like including text to speech, including post captions and not just including them, but having customization options for them, things like including within the actual design itself, not just throwing 10,000 options, but actually making the design inherently accessible from the beginning, which keep in mind, you have to do that really early on in production cycle. So it’s still a tough thing to tackle, but making sure that your game is inherently accessible, people are doing that more and more today, especially in the past couple years.

 

Keri (28:47):

I like the term purposeful design, I think that’s a really good point. Antonio, are you seeing over the years, what kind of changes have you seen in terms of accessibility within this gaming space?

 

Antonio (29:01):

I would say just like Morgan, that the big thing is awareness. As people have always known that we existed, but maybe they would not consider the needs of the disabled community, but now we see that they know and they care and they really are putting the work into it and you can see it in things like, very little things. For example, I remember many years ago, I liked to play Shooters. I will begin playing shooter games.

 

Antonio (29:27):

So, for me, for example, things like for many people with disabilities, one of the issues is, if you have to hold down a button to aim and then use the other one to shoot and you might not be able to do it, because you have to be holding down the other button. But now some games in the past had a toggle option where you just click once, you go into aiming mode and then you can just use the same finger to click to shoot, and that gives you the same or a more equal experience to other people.

 

Antonio (29:57):

Now we see that implemented in more and more games. Now it’s rare to not see it. Now, it’s not like, “Oh, I can’t play this game because they thankfully thought of this.” It’s more like it’s almost everywhere and it’s just maybe sometimes a technical issues or someone forgot, but those things are not there or things like quicktime events, which are one of the nightmares for people with a physical disability, where you have to smash button repeatedly and you are not able to complete a specific section like opening a door or something like that, because you don’t have a physical skill, which doesn’t make sense in a game.

 

Antonio (30:33):

Now we see more and more often options to customize how those things happen. For example, when you get to a quicktime event, you will see the option to be like, do you want to hold another button instead of mashing the button? Do you want to just do a single tap or do you just want to when you get there, it resolves itself and you don’t have to bother about it. These sorts of things have been changing and they are improving.

 

Antonio (30:59):

And I think that in the next few years we are going to see even much more accessible games, with new features that we can even think about right now. Things that might sound ridiculous will be a reality and probably everything that we give a 10 today, will just be a five by then. And it’s exciting to see all this change. As Morgan mentioned, in the last two, three years, the change has been amazing, amazing. And from my standpoint, that really shows that the industry cares and that the industry understands the importance of making sure that everyone can play at some level and having a more equal and balanced ground for everyone.

 

Keri (31:45):

Yeah, beautifully said. And I think as you and Morgan both stated just the awareness, not only the awareness, but also taking the action to make that change. Tom, have you seen any changes that you’ve noticed over the years in terms of accessibility in gaming?

Tom (32:00):

I’m going to age myself here real quickly and grow up with the original Nintendo, we had the Game Genie, so the question is, has Morgan or Antonio ever experienced the Game Genie? So it was this add-on cartridge that you could use to give yourself unlimited lives or give yourself unlimited weapons so that you could experience the story. And it was viewed as a cheating device, because it’s giving you unfair advantages, but without it myself I couldn’t get to the higher levels, because I didn’t have the skill.

 

Tom (32:42):

But I could still, with this device, I could experience the game, because it gave me that advantage. I see game developers now starting to build that into their games so that people can experience the story when they want to, and then experience the challenge of the game on the other side. Going back to what Morgan said, it’s all about the design process and thinking about the experience of the video game, not simply the challenge.

 

Keri (33:11):

And thinking about it from the beginning as, as all three of you have talked about, and for those that are listening, and that maybe don’t know we at ReadSpeaker, we are a text to speech voice technology company. And we were introduced to game development when a well-known company called Naughty Dog leveraged our text to speech voices to create audio clips for their game, The Last of Us, part two. Antonio, I’ll start with you. Are you familiar with that game and how they utilize text to speech? And if so, can you talk about what you’ve heard from players or just your own experience?

 

Antonio (33:47):

I didn’t play the game myself because I don’t own a PlayStation, because the controller isn’t accessible to me, but my friend and low vision editor for the site, Victor, we got to review the game. I’ve told the story many times, but I will not forget. We got the game really late before review, we had five days to review the whole game. We’re like, “This is going to be tough.” He was like, “Hey, just give me the code, I’ll play the game.”

 

Antonio (34:13):

I gave him the code, and he played the game. Next day, I called him in the morning. “Hey, Victor, how was it?” He was like, “Oh man, that’s amazing.” I’m like, “Okay, tell me.” And he started to tell me the moment you start the game, you have this voice telling you how to do stuff. The menu is all read. There is narration for everything there, there is an amazing sound queue, there’s high contrast mode. There is everything that I need.

 

Antonio (34:37):

And he was really happy about it. And he was delighted like I was… He was really very tired, but he wasn’t tired because he was playing the game. He was tired because he couldn’t stop playing the game, it was amazing for him. There was no barrier for him. And that kind of experience, that kind of joy, I have been working with Victor for many years and I hadn’t heard that before. So that was when I knew that the game was going to be amazing, even before they released the list of features, that was something that changed. I think at that point, because other games had menu narration before and that was great, but not in that level.

 

Antonio (35:22):

And after that we have menu narration and text to speech incorporated in many games like, I don’t know, Far Cry 6, Immortals Fenyx Rising…, Ubisoft is really pushing for that. I think it’s available in Gears Tactics, Forza Horizon, Halo Infinite. The list of games keeps adding, because they know that it’s a very important feature, because if the moment that you run the game, it’s the first thing that someone with low vision or is blind, hears is this, is how you set up your game.

 

Antonio (35:55):

It is like welcome to your game! It’s not just run the game and try to find where the option is. Yes, welcome to the game. It’s an invitation to enjoy the game in your own way. And that is very powerful and that’s something that the community really understands and appreciates just like audio commentary for trailers and stuff like that. They really love it. And it just showed the impact of accessibility. AndThe Last of Us part 2  was the one that really showed the world what it could be. And maybe we have been following track after that. And Morgan knows because she worked on that game.

 

Keri (36:36):

Yeah, and before I get to Morgan, I just to point out beautifully how you said it was an invitation, welcome to your game and for your friend to feel like there were no barriers and to feel like I can fully enjoy this. I don’t have to change anything, I don’t have to feel frustrated and what a great experience all of us should be able to have in that way. And I appreciate you talking about it to that extent. Morgan. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well.

 

Morgan (37:04):

Yeah, first of all, I actually, I worked on the title specifically for deaf and hard of hearing accessibility alongside low vision blinded sightless experts as well. Of course, I can’t perfect speak for everyone, but I do know, well, especially, I love all the points with Victor, between Victor, I know Brandon Cole, James Wrath, Steve Sailor, [Sightless Combat 00:37:31], I mean, I could just list all of these excellent low vision blind and sightless experts who please, everyone who is listening in to this podcast, please go and read the reviews on the Last of Us, part two, to get their impressions.

 

Morgan (37:45):

But overall they share the joy and the happiness of being able to play the game, thanks to the use of text to speech within it, which is something that I know the two co designers, Emily Amelia [inaudible 00:38:01] and Matthew, the two of them together, they really utilized this technology to try to create as extremely accessible experience for low vision blind and sightless players as possible. Of course, or like any other game. The Last of Us is wild.

 

Morgan (38:26):

They offer things that we’ve never seen before in the games industry. And I am so proud and so happy and someone, especially like me, just because of the features that they have created, I was able to play a game like this for the first time with ease and efficiency. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but in terms of the low vision blind and sightless experience, it was absolutely exceptional, especially for the time period that it came out. And I say that statement purposely, because I’m crossing my fingers as games progress. We can look and say, “Look how better things have gotten since then.” So that’s why I say during that time period, I’m crossing my fingers right now. So that’s my impression.

 

Keri (39:13):

Yeah, I love it. Well, again, congrats to you and I’m working on that and you can hear your passion and excitement, not only for the game, but for the people that you worked with as well. And I think again, we’re hearing this theme that everybody wants to be included and feel like something is for them. And when people work with people, understand it and are experts, it allows them to create something that is much more inviting as Antonio just mentioned. Tom, did you play this game or did you have any experience or hear any things about this?

 

Tom (39:46):

I have played it, but the key for me, what really got my attention, the text to speech was, was a great feature, but then Naughty Dog took it to another level where they created the Texas speech in 18, 19, 20 languages. So not only did they make it accessible for blind, low vision auditory issues, but then they took a global approach and they leveraged the text to speech component for multiple languages. So it really just took accessibility to another level. And it’s just amazing that here it is a couple years later and we’re still talking about it being an industry leading tool. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next where they set the bar so high.

 

Keri (40:36):

And Tom, I’m going to see with you, because ReadSpeaker is releasing our game, Edge and Plugin for Unity and Unreal in the spring of 2022. And it brings a dynamic text to speech at runtime solution to the market. How could a game developer leverage this type of solution? Why do you think it’s important to do so, Tom, I’ll start with you.

 

Tom (40:58):

On my learning journey, I came to this project with ReadSpeaker looking at what the last of us did and I said, “Great, we have a Texas beach engine, we can do that for every game. Let’s just produce audio and let them insert it in.” And it’s interesting, one of ReadSpeakers co-founders, Frederick, is actually visually impaired. And during our initial meeting he said, “Well, generating text to speech is good, but it really is limited if you’re just generating static audio files.”

 

Tom (41:35):

He’s like, “If we can make our embedded speech engine in the game so that the game developers can use it dynamically,” he’s like, “Now we’re giving them a real solution, we are giving them a tool that allows them to code the text to speech into the game so that they don’t have to manage audio files, so that they don’t have to… If they want to release an update or if they want to change something they can do it all in the code base.”

 

Tom (42:03):

And that kind of opened my eyes to really where can game developers go when we give them a tool versus giving them a solution? And that’s how I look at our game engine plugin. It really is that dynamic text to speech tool that can be used at the development level, while the game is in the design phase. So it’s really exciting to me.

 

Keri (42:28):

I like how you’re saying, you’re giving them a tool, not a solution. They’re the experts in terms of solutions, we’re providing the tool so they can create something from the beginning that works really well here. I think that’s a really nice distinction. Morgan, any thoughts on this in terms of how a game developer could maybe leverage this type of tool?

 

Morgan (42:45):

Yeah, absolutely. What I think is great and what I really do hope is that for a tool like this, it’ll help streamline processes for developers, especially those who are thinking of accessibility early and thinking about accessibility often, because we have a lot of developers out there, especially ones who reach out to me who want to make their games accessible, but it’s complicated.

 

Morgan (43:06):

Making games is hard, folks. It’s hard, it’s never an easy thing. And especially if you want to make it accessible there’s all a lot of different variables and a lot of different things that have to go into the actual production and pipeline in order to achieve that. And so my hope is with having a tool like this, it makes developers sustainable, self-sustainable as well as helps them kind of streamline their own processes and perhaps make this the norm. My fingers are crossed again, that’s one of the things that I think is great about this plugin.

 

Keri (43:46):

I want to switch to Antonio here, besides this or a lot of other features that a game developer needs to be thinking about of course, to make their game accessible. In addition to TTS and you can speak to that as well, if you’d like, what does and should a game developer need to plan for, do you think Antonio?

 

Antonio (44:06):

Well, I think also that text to speech has a good role, not just for narration and stuff like that, but also for communications. Because if you want to be CVAA compliant, which you need to be, especially if you’re in the USA, communications need to be accessible for people with no vision or, cannot type, for example, either we use voice communication, because I cannot type on a chat window.

 

Antonio (44:34):

But on the other hand, if I’m playing with someone who cannot hear, you want to use the voice to text, right? So what text to speech does is that, it enables me to not have to look at the text chat, because it translates the text chat into voice for me. And I can at the same time talk and it will translate my voice into text for them because maybe they don’t want to hear my voice or maybe they can’t.

 

Antonio (45:00):

That works also, so that’s very important. And also in terms of other features that should come for me specifically, I would say, would be things like, are there ways to control the character, avoid specific repetitive mechanics that make no sense like holding down a button for opening chests? It’s something that is very common these days. So for other gathering items there is no need to hold. We see that we are allowing players to customize that.

 

Antonio (45:32):

We have games where I have a slider that allows you to customize for how long do you want to hold on a button or for how much time you want to be able to hold on down the sprint button? Maybe you don’t want to hold on the sprint button. Just press it once and you run or maybe just press forward the stick and the character will run forward without stopping, and that is going to save you strength. And that strength that you are saving is going to allow you to play for longer, in a more comfortable way.

 

Antonio (46:05):

All these features are coming now. I hope that one day we can see something like controlling the game with the mind, which seems like science fiction, but we are starting to see small things in that field, very tiny steps. But I think that would be great. Yes, please allow people to remap all their keys, please. You don’t have to assume never that a player is going to play in a specific way that they can’t press multiple buttons just because you can, give them the option to do more simple things in another way, because you never know who is behind it or in front of the screen. You never know what they can do or what they can not do, so it is good to have an open mind.

 

Keri (46:55):

Again, beautifully said, it’s not just about something that you can do, but really thinking beyond that. And I’m sure as both of you have talked about, it’s important to speak to people who are doing that every day so that you can have that kind of broad discussion to figure out the right things. Anything else, Morgan, that you would add here for game developers to know, to be thinking about in terms of making games more accessible, other features or things you can think of?

 

Morgan (47:25):

I think the biggest thing, and Antonio really just hit the nail in the head. So there’s not much to add besides just thinking of games accessibility early and often involving the community, interacting with your community, talking to specialists, and educating yourself. Microsoft now has a fundamentals course to take that makes you familiar with the subject matter. And don’t be afraid to really dive into it really.

 

Keri (48:00):

And I was going to say, you just mentioned recently Microsoft published the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines. How do you see the console makers impacting video game development in relation to game accessibility, Morgan?

 

Morgan (48:16):

The Xbox Accessibility Guidelines are great and they just did a very huge update for which is amazing, because like any other subject matter games accessibility is just rapidly improving. And the subject matter is rapidly expanding, especially the past three years. It’s like whiplash sometimes, which is great, because things are just getting better and better, especially with things like the ReadSpeaker technology.

 

Morgan (48:44):

In terms of how they will impact video game development in relation to games accessibility, the nice thing is that the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines and as the title offers gives developers a guideline when they are thinking of accessibility early and often, and trying to streamline their process, they have tangible objectives that they can try to do. Now of course, keep in mind that a one guideline might not be applicable to every single game.

 

Morgan (49:16):

For example, if your game has no audio, any guideline that talks about audio, probably isn’t going to be related to your game. However, of course, the guidelines are extremely helpful because for developers in accessibility, it can be overwhelming. It’s a lot of new information. And so having something that helps ground them a little bit, step them through the process is really, really helpful. And I’m really happy that Xbox has been continuously updating these guidelines, especially as more user research comes out and as the community continues to develop and involve.

 

Keri (49:56):

I want to be conscious of time here. We have a couple more questions. Antonio, I want to just come to you for this next one. There might be some gaming companies that say, “We don’t need to make our games accessible.” It might be nice to have, but it’s not a top priority for them. Maybe they say, “Well, 20% of people, not a big deal.” What are some other reasons that game developers should make accessibility an important piece at the start of designing a game do you think, Antonio?

 

Antonio (50:24):

Well, first of all, because accessibility is not just for 20% of people, it’s for the 100% of people. So you are just hurting yourself if you are not implementing accessibility. Also if you look at your competitors, you will see that they are doing it. So if you don’t start doing it today, you are going to be behind the bandwagon and you don’t want to fall behind your competitors, right?

 

Antonio (50:49):

It’s a good practice also, it’s not just because it matters. It’s because you are going to improve the lives of people so much. You don’t know the impact that accessibility and gaming can have in someone’s life and make it much better. Not just in many ways, for example, for me, gaming allowed me to stay fit for much longer than the usual person, with my type of disability, everytime I went to the doctor, they said, “You are in much better condition than you should be, what are you doing besides your exercises?”

 

Antonio (51:21):

I’m like, “I’m playing games and that’s helping me, because that’s exercising and I’m not feeling bored, I’m not feeling tired about that.” So you should realize the therapeutic values of gaming for mental health and for physical health. And also if they want just to look at the future, what is going to be the gaming industry in the next five years? Do you want again, to be not in the first head? Like even Indie developers are doing it right now, it’s not difficult to find games made by one single developer who have great accessibility.

 

Antonio (51:56):

And it’s a big company, doesn’t feel that that is important, that they need to revise their things. They can supervise their policies because they are really hurting only themselves. And also everyone that is going to play their games, because in five years, or in two years, nobody will want to buy their games because they will be like, “Why should I buy a game that is not accessible when you can buy one that is?”. And it only cost like $2, yeah, 80% sales.

 

Antonio (52:28):

For example, Steam Sales , you see a lot of game that are really, really cheap when they come on sale, but nobody buys them. Why? Because they’re not accessible. I can buy a game, for example, on release. If I see that it’s accessible and I will keep it but anything that is not accessible, I will immediately refund it. And again, it’s a lot of money, and it’s out of their pockets.

 

Keri (52:55):

I agree again, really nicely said. Morgan, anything to add here, if there’s a company that says, “It’s nice to have, but it’s not our priority.” What’s your advice or guidance on that?

 

Morgan (53:08):

Again, Antonio, he’s just hitting a point right now. And I think that the only thing I could really add in addition to yes, yes and yes, is also games accessibility is not something that hinders design, because a lot of times when you see developers say things like this, it’s either, well, maybe they have time or production cost issues. Or other times though, a lot of developers will think that access building might harm their design, so to speak, and that’s why they will not consider it.

 

Morgan (53:42):

And my response to something like that would be that, well, that’s not what accessibility is. I think you’re not thinking of what games accessibility really truly means, because games accessibility is ultimately, as Antonio said, for 100% of the player base. Everyone benefits from accessibility constantly, we have permanent, temporary and situational disabilities. And also keeping in mind that if you want to play games and you get older, you are going to want to probably make them accessible.

 

Morgan (54:16):

But games accessibility really can actually bring the best out of a games design itself if you implement it correctly and implement it purposefully. And so I think that’s just something to keep in mind when thinking about whether or not to consider accessibility, just thinking about the fact that it’s inclusive design it’s a good thing. It will help more players play your game and make your design inherently stronger.

 

Keri (54:48):

Yeah, I agree. As you said it’s 100% of us, whether it’s maybe like you were mentioning earlier, Antonio, you have a kid on your arm and they’re screaming and you need something else. Or maybe one day you’re tired, you have a bit of a headache. It affects all of us and that’s equally important. Tom, is there something, one thing that you’d like to share about game accessibility that you think most people don’t realize that’s important to know?

 

Tom (55:15):

I think it’s just how it impacts the community. How much game accessibility allows people to connect with everyone, even those outside of their circles of friends. It just takes down one of the barriers in video gaming. I think that that’s the key piece, is it makes games more enjoyable for everyone and it allows people to build those communities and it’s just so important given how popular video games are and the online communities in the open world platforms thinking about everyone is important. That’s all I’ll leave it with.

 

Keri (55:54):

And as all of you had mentioned, just the building of the community, the friendships, the mental health aspect, all these things, the physical health aspect, if you’re doing certain games. The value that it has is so important. If people want to connect more about each of you, Tom, I’ll start with you, where is the best place for them to do that?

 

Tom (56:14):

They can find me on LinkedIn. If they’re listening to this podcast, they’ll have a list to the ReadSpeaker site, where they can reach out and send us contact information. But once we connect on Twitter, on Discord and engage with game developers every day.

 

Keri (56:32):

Perfect. Antonio, if people want to learn more or connect with you, where is the best place to do that?

 

Antonio (56:37):

They can do that through our site gameaccessibilitynexus.com. They can do it on Twitter @GameA11yNexus or @Black1976. And they can also just find me on LinkedIn, always happy to talk with them and share my insight or helping by whatever way I can.

 

Keri (56:59):

Perfect. Morgan, where can people connect with you or learn more?

 

Morgan (57:03):

My Twitter is a great place to connect with me. It is momoxmia, M-O-M-O-X-M-I-A, as well as my website where all of the rest of my contact information is, which is Leahybaker.com, L-E-A-H-Ybaker.com. My LinkedIn Morgan Leahybaker. And I do have a Discord, but oh, I don’t know my numbers. Maybe just connect with me elsewhere.

 

Tom (57:30):

I was right there with you, Morgan. It was like, “Find me and then we’ll connect again.” But yeah, it’s-

 

Keri (57:35):

Perfect. Well-

 

Tom (57:36):

So many platforms.

 

Keri (57:38):

I appreciate you all being here and thank you so much. And if you are listening or watching, don’t forget to check out more at ReadSpeaker.ai and look under our gaming section. And we look forward to chatting with you all again soon.

 

Learn more about text to speech for gaming from ReadSpeaker here. Have questions?  Contact Tom.Dipietropolo@readspeaker.com

 

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