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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Microsoft is making one of the most positive moves for game accessibility in years

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Microsoft has updated its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAG) to help foster more inclusive practices in the games industry. The list includes ways for developers to reduce barriers for disabled gamers, everything from input device support to UI tweaks, and has since been improved with feedback from Microsoft’s Gaming & Disability community. Furthermore, devs can now ship their Xbox or PC game over to Microsoft for analysis and validation to the XAG specifications.

There’s a heap of information in the guidelines to help any developer get started in making their game (or otherwise) more accessible. It includes topics such as game difficulty, speech-to-text, audio customisation, screen narration, and more. You can check out the full list here—it’s all free and easy to use.

The latest version includes improvements and updates intended to make the guidelines even more useful, and even more digestible for busy developers. These updates include:

  • Improved language to make sure the guidelines are clear and easily understood.
  • Clear goals.
  • Improved overview of each XAG guideline section.
  • Scoping questions to guide developers to high-priority updates.
  • Background information.
  • More examples (images and videos).

Perhaps most crucially, however, is the ability for developers to ratify whether their game hits the XAG standard (and where it does not) by those best versed in the guidelines: Microsoft’s Gaming Accessibility Team.

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“Developers now have the option to send Microsoft their Xbox or PC title and have it analyzed and validated against the recommendations provided in the XAGs,” an Xbox Wire blog post reads. “Where issues are found, they are noted with reproduction steps, screenshots, and other information to help the developer understand what aspect of a given experience may be challenging for certain gamers with disabilities.”

The report generated from that process will also champion other non-profit organisations, experts, and documentation to help drive greater accessibility.

Sounds like a big step in the right direction for a more hands-on approach to accessibility in gaming, so here’s hoping plenty of console and PC developers take Microsoft up on the offer—the results of a ground-up accessibility approach can work wonders.

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