Publisher EA wants to get everyone playing, so games need to be more accessible

That is why companies such as Electronic Arts (EA) are looking for new ways to lower the barrier to gaming. The American game company released a surprising message in early September: it is releasing five of its most important patents for accessibility. This technology makes gaming more accessible to gamers with disabilities or other barriers.

As Chief Experience Officer, EA CEO Chris Bruzzo is ultimately responsible for the patent decision and increasing the accessibility of EA games. He takes that mission broadly, he says NRC via video link from his office in California. “If you welcome millions of people in one place, then disturbing forces arise,” he says. “About 40 percent of all gamers in EA games have been bullied, others face social and technological barriers. As a father of three, I worry about that.”

Bruzzo has also been gaming a lot since the pandemic itself. He points to a calendar in the corner of the room. “I worked from home for 76 weeks until August,” he says. “I game every day so I can have some social contact.”

Social contact

Bruzzo’s Positive Play department is committed to accessibility, but also, for example, to tackle cheating – a source of much bullying – and better enforce rules of conduct. “I have noticed that people follow rules if they are formulated in normal human language.”

The reputation of the Californian EA among gamers has always been rough: the company pulled the plug on famous game studios and forced its existing makers to become one-of-a-kind for a long time, it sounds like. Nevertheless, the publisher earned 4.7 billion euros last year from games such as The Sims on FIFA.

The biggest point of contention is the ‘loot boxes’ in the football game FIFA, where gamers pay money for football players that they do not know in advance who will receive them. Raunchy gambling, more and more government agencies find. “We also don’t like it when we get signals that people are buying too many FIFA boxes and turning their lives upside down,” says Brusso. He points to the ‘loot boxes’ of which you can now see the content. “And we now have a dashboard in FIFA where people can see how much money they are spending.”

The response from gamers to the release of the patents was therefore completely surprised – they had not expected such a positive step by EA.

Justly? “Large corporations often lose their human face,” says Bruzzo. He points to the “ten thousand” EA employees. “They’re just people who want to make beautiful things and give new communities access to the game world. Releasing these patents was therefore an incredibly easy choice.”

During work hours, employees are allowed to “pursue their own projects to improve gaming as a medium.” The aim is not so much to collect technology as to add something to the ‘library’ for accessibility, on which other companies can build. “It’s nonsense that we now have to reinvent the wheel with every game project.”

The patents that EA releases first will help gamers who are color blind or hard of hearing. “For example, it involves an algorithm that adjusts color, brightness and contrast,” he explains. It is sometimes quite difficult for visually impaired gamers to tell two objects apart, but the algorithm ensures that each object is clearly visible. Another technology made available by EA allows hearing impaired people to do a short audio test at the start of the game. Sound levels of dialogue, music and sound effects are then adjusted in such a way that the gamer can follow everything that is relevant at that moment.

Lower all thresholds

Remarkably enough, the popular ‘ping’ system of the successful game is also included Apex Legends on the list. This system propelled the game to nearly the same level as competitor in its early days in 2019 Fortnite. The system allows players to communicate with each other without speaking: a push of a button, and you ‘point’ to a pick-up weapon, an enemy, a location your team needs to go to, or something else, which then moves through the game. is featured. All game makers wanted to imitate it. Now competitors are allowed to use ‘ping’ just like that.

“We didn’t think that was a problem,” Bruzzo shrugs. “The makers really wanted it.” He calls the system “brilliant”. “The experience is very different from having to have a whole discussion out loud.”

It’s not the first system you think of when you think of accessibility. But Bruzzo believes that the concept should be looked at more holistically. “I think it’s also about inclusivity. Lower all thresholds. You tell yourself how as a female gamer you prefer to turn off the microphone, so that you don’t get any hassle. The ping system still lets you participate at the same level. We therefore ask our teams to consider how inclusive their games are early in the process.”

It touches on a deep faith. He points out several times: games are social, but they are not social media. “We can restrict freedom of expression if that makes things safer for others. People want to play games together, not fight political fights.”

That ‘community of the game’, as Bruzzo calls it, is still expanding. “In the past, ‘gamers’ were mostly young white men, and that reputation still clings to the group,” he says. “But in ten years’ time we may not be using that term anymore. Even now, people who do not describe themselves as gamers often play games, for example on their smartphone.”

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