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“A new player has joined” – How creators can make independent games more accessible for all

Michael Fouquet, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Stark, shares his observations on the latest developments in the gaming market, and suggestions on how gaming studios can make their games accessible for every player.

Michael Fouquet

Michael Fouquet

May 16, 2024

In the foreground a colorful illustration of a gaming controller and gaming mouse floating surrounded by yellow sparkles and purple brushstrokes. In the background a rainbow blurred color blob on a bone background.

Gaming for people with disabilities is receiving a lot of attention. A couple years ago, Microsoft released a course for developers to create more accessible games, and Xbox made it easier for users to find accessible games in the Microsoft store. Since, Microsoft updated its Adaptive Controller for Xbox, Sony released their Access Controller for PlayStation, and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bro’s Wonder was highlighted for its accessibility features.

As the gaming industry grows, more independent creators are launching games, but often believe limited funds and resources mean they can’t make accessibility a priority from day one - which simply isn’t true. Tech-savvy users are quick to call out games that fall short, and games that exclude players by having illegible text or not allowing players to toggle through actions won’t ever see the engagement and returns creators hope for.

Drawing from my 18 years in development, these are my three simple but vital steps independent developers can take to include people with disabilities.

Ditch easy, medium, hard levels

Game difficulty is typically tiered as easy, medium, or hard. But for someone who has a disability, a game can be challenging in unique ways beyond difficulty level. For example, players who have memory loss, or a decline in cognitive function, are excluded from a growing number of complex problem-solving elements in games. One player has commented that their narcolepsy makes games more difficult the longer they play, as they forget button combinations and the objective path. 

A new approach to game difficulty is needed. Advocates are saying to not simply offering “easier” modes for games but instead offering ways to adjust the gameplay without diluting the experience for players with disabilities. How? By giving players more control to modify the game’s rules: to slow down game speed, heighten invincibility, boost character recovery rate, and enhance orientation tools. Remedy Entertainment’s Control has such features, and 64% of players keep them on during play. Similarly, Naughty Dog published statistics showing that 9.5 million players have utilized its accessibility modes in Uncharted 4.

Game developers need to ensure that difficulty parameters are clearly explained before gameplay begins. And if a player needs to change the rules, that shouldn’t reset the game each time. Creators could also offer metrics to convey the difficulty for each rule change, such as how the damage caused by enemies changes across the tiers. These metrics shouldn’t be a reflection of the player’s skills, and neither should the rewards that are given out. For example, in Last of Us Part 2, players without sight are able to get platinum trophies (the highest achievement).

Make accessibility the default setting

Accessibility isn’t a case of accommodating people with disabilities and impairments as a separate user group — it’s about bringing those individuals into the collective gaming experience. Making accessible features automatic, then giving users the choice to opt out (rather than opt in), ultimately benefits everyone: subtitles suit someone who prefers to play without sound, and console remapping is good for someone who is ambidextrous.

In fact, 95% of Far Cry: New Dawn players were happy to use subtitles throughout the game when they were started by default. The one-handed control option in Uncharted 4 (which enables users to access all inputs using one hand) has been used by one third of its players.

Accessibility for all also means making more sustained actions in gameplay toggle-able. When directing a character to walk for a long time or firing a weapon repeatedly, users have to hold a button or joystick for an extended period of time, which is not only difficult for people with restricted mobility, it can cause repetitive strain injuries in players. Toggling means players don’t have to keep hitting inputs to repeat an action. Game developers at Remedy, makers of Control, have already made walking toggle-able to improve accessibility, and it consequently lets players better take in their environments (and graphics) whilst walking. 

Not being accessible will cost you

Companies may fear that accessibility is expensive, but the reality is that lost sales due to inaccessible games is far higher. One in four adults in the United States live with a disability, and two-thirds of Americans play video games. That’s a substantial demographic gaming companies should cater to, and yet 6.2 million individuals say they cannot play games because of their disability.

Having a smaller budget is no excuse not to be accessible either. Estimates show that a game has to sell more than half a million copies to be profitable, and even games in the indie space have committed to inclusive design precisely because they know the long-term advantages it brings. A great example is AirBust, a game where users have to deflect “bursters” away from their balloons using a bat that mirrors their real-life movements. The developers chose to flip the gyro-stabilized camera used to detect movements in order to assist players who are in a wheelchair or have limited dexterity. They made the decision relatively early on in the commercialization stage, when working with a modest budget.

So where is the industry now in general?

Well-known names in the industry have also stepped up to make accessibility more achievable for smaller companies. Indie Developer studios like Good Trouble Games are developing video games with accessibility as not only a default, but the primary driver for the theme and overarching game play are made. EA games recently opened up some of the patents for its accessibility features, such as automated systems to detect and modify colors. This open-source approach gives developers an accessibility baseline to work with, and the more the code is shared and iterated on, the more effective accessibility can be integrated across the industry. 

With so many free online communities to tap into, gaming companies can constantly be testing and collecting user feedback. Reddit is particularly powerful, as subreddits like r/disabledgamers and r/accessibility provide frank opinions around accessibility and real life experiences shared. One post highlighted that many games immediately start with a prologue that can’t be skipped, and so players have to wait until the following options screen to load subtitles or change audio settings. Developers have to keep an ear to this kind of commentary to constantly evolve their accessibility offerings. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all in accessibility, and games have to open up a multitude of pathways for participation to become inclusive. Only then will the people who create and play games advance to the next level.

Ready to get started designing more accessible games? Get your studio on a Stark Business trial, or upgrade to a Premium plan if you’re flying solo. And don’t hesitate to reach out to us at, or join the conversations in our Stark Slack Community, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.