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May 23, 2007

Comments

1.

I'd be interesting in seeing how this moves forward. Especially to see how some of the technical hurdles of trying to use the UI Addon LUA support that Blizzard provides as something completely non-visual.

Has a formalized design/concept document been prepared? It's a pretty big under taking but could be very interesting to see what is possible through the WoW scripting engine.

-Jess

2.

Reid tried the other day to post a suggestion on the WoW forums to try and see if there would be some support in helping him create a MOD for WoW but because he is not a player of WoW (and, therefore, does not pay for the online service), he was not allowed to post.

Michelle, there are really good community-based reasons why people who aren't customers can't post on a game-specific forum. That this has been a surprise to you is one indicator that you may not have really grasped the drastic differences between MMOs and other kinds of games -- and these differences, especially the community ones, bear directly on accessibility.

In addition, even if you did play WoW, posting to the forums there is probably not the best way to attract the attention of those who are making WoW UI mods (and, btw, these mods are completely different from -- and much easier to write than -- binary-level mods to games like Doom).

A quick google of '"World of Warcraft" UI mods" turns up an impressive list of forums and other sites dedicated to and run by people who make WoW UI mods. Of these, ui.worldofwar.net and www.wowinterface.com might be good starting places -- though there are (as you'll see) many others.

I'm not going to revisit the question of what portion of the 3M hearing-impaired people in the US might possibly be interested in playing a game like WoW, nor the ROI implications for a company like Blizzard. Fortunately communities like those who create UI mods aren't bound by either of those concerns. But, as Samantha said earlier, I think you'll get a lot more traction with this if you don't bill it as primarily an accessibility concern or even as "the right thing to do." Talk up the benefits to those who are already playing, and secondarily the potential benefits for those who might want to play if they could, and I think you might be amazed at what you and others can create.

3.

A similar mod comes to mind - Scrolling Combat Text - and while this functionality is partially supported by Blizzard's native UI now, the mod is *much* more exhaustive of what text is shown onscreen where, the text color and size, and in which direction (8 pointed) it scrolls.

4.

Hi Mike -- It's not that I was as much "surprised" by WoW restricting their forums (in my heart it was kind of what I expected)...just annoyed because it's yet another hurdle for us to jump through. Although, I think I'm going for the olympic hurdling events in 2008! :)

As for the 3 million hearing impaired in the US -- who could know exactly how many WOULD be gamers if they *could* be gamers. The same goes for any disability type...just as it does for any group at all. If you build it, what exact percentage of people are you going to get with a very small margin of error?

But besides modding...we have and we will continue to present and post (not here...the month's almost up) about how these accessibility features are actually more helpful to more people than just the (even in secret) targeted audience. One thing we do face, though -- and this is a very real concern as it's happened in other media -- is that when some of these "targeted at the abled" features get implemented, they get implemented in a way that forgets that original audience that inspired the new feature in the first place (ie, the disabled). It is that which we've all learned way too many bad realities from.

But I agree -- to bill it as MORE than just an accessibility feature is what we do as a group every day because we have to. Commitment to social justice just doesn't pay the bills at the end of the day, even as much as we'd all like it to in a different world.

5.

Michelle, I think perhaps Mike's point is that it's problematic to propose solutions in spaces where you haven't first developed a strong understanding of context. So, in the case of WoW, you would really need to have people who are familiar with both the game environment _and_ the accessibility issues.

I know for a fact that there are quite a few Deaf gamers in WoW--because many of them are my students here at RIT (which houses the National Technical Institute for the Deaf). And, in a small world twist, Reid Kimball was a student of mine when he did his undergraduate work here. :)

6.

I should, btw, that I almost always play WoW with the sound off. I started doing this a long time ago because I typically do play at home in rooms where the sounds would bother others, but I've found that I actually prefer playing it with the sound off. So I'm not convinced that WoW is really an environment that's unfriendly to hearing impaired users.

7.

It has been downloaded over 19,000 times since release. If I had charged $5 dollars for it I could have profited $95,000 dollars.

Heh, if one charge one obviously get a fraction of the downloads...

Generally speaking, MMO gameplay tend to not be affected too much by sound as many tend to turn off sound after a couple of months (or when playing at night). Experienced commercial MMO designers should know that they cannot make sound mandatory for gameplay.

8.

hello, my impression from casual trawls of the wow forums is that access is not a big problem in terms of the 'game itself' but it often becomes an issue in team-play (and socialising) if a hearing party, raid group or guild start relying on voice technology.

9.

Michelle: As for the 3 million hearing impaired in the US -- who could know exactly how many WOULD be gamers if they *could* be gamers.

It's difficult to say. But let's assume that WoW currently has about 2.5M players in the US (that may be a bit high). That's about 0.83% of the US population. If the same proportion of the 3M hearing impaired in the US would play WoW if they could (and it seems as if some at least may already be doing so from what Liz says), that would be about 25,000 people.

On the one hand, 25K is a lot of people -- roughly $5M in annual revenue. OTOH, it's a drop in the bucket in terms of WoW's overall player-base; Blizzard has banned more people than this at one shot to keep the game running well. And it's not at all clear that those who are hearing disabled are the most numerous nor the most likely to play of all those who might play but don't right now: consider those who are profoundly color-blind, unable to sit up, unable to type, or even those not physically disabled, but who just have small kids or other overbearing life commitments (we are talking about an entertainment product after all).

Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that you're an advocate for accessibility in games. You aren't bound by corporate concerns or worrying about whether your efforts will help ten people or ten million. But I'd be careful with tossing around numbers that could in the end be used against your cause as having an insufficient effect on the all-powerful corporate bottom line.

10.

As was posted by someone earlier, thanks to Scrolling Combat Text and SCTD (monster version) there is little in-game text that isn't displayed on the screen. There are maybe one or two noises (certain spells, stealth detection) that would be useful to hear, but aren't necessary. WoW is already a very hearing-impaired friendly game.

What should be addressed, if anything, is a version or mod for Ventrilo, the most common chat program. This would allow for people who can't use sound for any variety of reasons to still raid, compete in PvP, or simply socialize easier with friends. And this could work across multiple games.

11.

Yes, I think that the deaf community is definitely the easier group within the larger group of gamers with disabilities to create solutions for in MMOs.

It's interesting to me, though, this idea of community within MMOs like WoW and SL. This one post was primarily aimed to bring light to the hearing impaired community and the issues that come up for them. I've said it in many post replies already but there is a reason why I avoid MMOs myself -- how much fun is a world that uses a LOT of text chat in a lot of different ways for a gamer that is dyslexic (speaking only for myself...I'm going to say "not much")? To be honest, blogging at TN isn't all that fun for me either but I do it because there are important issues to get out there. But by no means is posting here anywhere close to the frustrations of joining a MMO (I've spent too much money trying to find one that works with the way I think/work/play and I just haven't found one). By NO means am I suggesting that because *I* don't use MMOs that no one should. I *do* want to figure out how to make MMOs more inclusive because the social value that someone with a very major disability to be able to communicate with the world in this very interesting way could literally help them through some very rough patches of depression. It's hard not to feel some strong emotion when someone says that being able to participate in a game with a social community literally saved their lives.

But, unfortunately, this month I've received MORE than my share of some pretty rude off community email that because I don't play because it's just too damn frustrating, my opinions don't matter and that I should go away. I always had the idea that the MMO community was more about inclusiveness and community building but I'm not sure I'll continue to hold that opinion after this month. I'd be interested if TN had more people posting who DON'T like MMOs or can't play MMOs because I think that would provide the community with more insight into how to better include more people. Just a thought.

And, yes, there have been some people who have provided some great ideas and I cherish those and I've brought them back to the SIG. I appreciate those of you who have given me and the SIG a lot of things to consider as we try to break into this style of interactive media.

12.

Michelle said: "I've received MORE than my share of some pretty rude off community email that because I don't play because it's just too damn frustrating, my opinions don't matter and that I should go away."

First... That sucks.

Second, what you've got (I think) is a marketing problem. I'm sure you knew that already, eh ;-)

How do you become "included" enough to be considered part of a community that currently doesn't provide the methods necessary to include you? How would a person in a wheelchair, for example, advocate accessibility within places the wheelchair-bound can't go, if they can't go there to do the advocacy?

This will sound glib, but I don't mean it that way at all: a good, rousing, inspirational case-study or three may be more helpful than any amount of logical appeals. If you found a couple disabled WoW or SL players (if those are the platforms you're most interested in) who persevered in those spaces despite all the difficulties, who could talk the language of the spaces, but also say, "You know, it would have been so much easier if..." That might go a long way.

The hacker culture (which often overlays game development culture) rewards suggestions from within (bug fixes, add-ons) and pleas for updates based on the cred of the person making the appeal. Yeah, that's a hard row to hoe when the space is, itself, initially hard to get cred traction in. But the payoff once you get somebody who can speak the inner language is much greater.

Don't know if that's helpful; it was meant to be. Changing perceptions often requires great PR, and great PR is usually built around stories, not facts or stats. Get one blind person to make it to Level 60 in WoW with the help of a sighted partner... "a seeing-eye guildy," and yowza. To put the highs/lows of that journey in the context of that disability would be an incredible story, and those people would then be able to speak to all kinds of suggestions for game improvements. And you'd get, I bet, mainstream game press on the issue, too.

It's not fair to require that... but, then again, what is?

13.

Hinn, I don't like the current crop of MMOs. I also don't like text. BUT, I've reached the conclusion that it is better to have dedicated systems for handicapped people rather than to cripple an existing design and make disabled people second-rate citizens. They should be first-rate citizens! For instance, you could support blind users by having a nonvisual race which have special capabilites, but no sight (playable by all, but blind users have a natural advantage).

8 years ago I posted this to mud-dev regarding a change in my personal vision for what I was working on (in my own time):

I want to make it accessible to handicapped people, to blind people and others who cannot easily use many of the newer inherently graphical systems. Which pretty much rules out the hardcore simulationist approach which I have been following so far.

Many of the people on the list couldn't see the point of supporting disabled people. And that was on an enthusiast-list...

There are some really serious snags to supporting disabilities.

1. It might compromise artistic merits, what if I want sound to be mandatory because it is a horror-world I am making?

2. It requires rather high-level computations which means you have to abandon designs based on bottom-up mechanics (emergent behaviour).

3. For small developers, getting something implemented is the big worry. Features will be cut... So even if they start out with the goal of supporting the disabled, they probably won't ship with such features unless they create "Dare-Devil Online" (focusing on having blind characters).

What about getting developers to create Dare-Devil Online?

Ola.

14.

Reid also suggested a design exercise for MMO devs and users: Play your favorite MMO one of two ways and report back their results. 1) with all sounds off for 10 minutes

It's common for MMO developers to play their own game without sound, when they're working on it in the office.

15.

Michelle : "But, unfortunately, this month I've received MORE than my share of some pretty rude off community email that because I don't play because it's just too damn frustrating, my opinions don't matter and that I should go away."

Sorry to hear that. My suggestion though, is if you are truely interested in seeing what the real need of a market is, that you will need to engross yourself in it. WoW doesn't REQUIRE the use of text, in fact we have a number of members in my Raiding guild who have written oriented disabilities and are able to communicate and function just fine. My ability (or lack there of lol) to spell hasn't prevented me from leading a raiding guild for 3 years now. Ventrilo can be an amazing tool for this... That said -

Nick : What should be addressed, if anything, is a version or mod for Ventrilo, the most common chat program. This would allow for people who can't use sound for any variety of reasons to still raid, compete in PvP, or simply socialize easier with friends. And this could work across multiple games.

I've had a number of members who were deaf in my guild. There are some amazing software applications that can support Voice->Text which can then be sent over Ventrilo's Chat System or through WOW's *whisper* mechanic and a little bit of pre-planning even makes this not nessesary. While learning Zul'Gurub way back when, we had two members that were hearing impaired. So before each raid, we would prepare some macros that could be used durring encounters to alert them to my needs. So for example, when they needed to stop DPS, I would hit a certain button, and it would alert them in the centre of thier screen. This was before the general adoption of CT Raid's Raid announcement system, which then did exactly that automatically. Where most 'informative' raid systems are already broadcast to the entire raid through a textual system that spams in the players face. And more recently newer mods have been written that do things like shake your screen and flash it various colours when more subtle things happen, that would normally be communicated over ventrilo (pulling agro etc). However, the use of Ventrilo is not a requirement for all guilds. There are a lot of raiding guilds that don't use it and prefere a less dynamic approach to raiding.

Lastly SCT[D] can be configured through its options to announce all 'gains' and 'fades' which will announce things like Stealth and such. Every Sound event in the game at the momment is captured by SCT[D] and it it's just filtering most out. However, it is not at all difficult to soften the filters to your needs, but sometimes too much information is a bad thing. When your in Alterac Valley with potentially 79 other people around you doing something you're going to be in information overload.

All in all Michelle, I would strongly suggest getting a copy of Warcraft, grab a couple of basic mods like Scrolling Combat Text, and seeing what its like to play with various 'simulated disabilities'. Play with no sound. Try playing one handed (a friend of mine at work has a number of birth defects yet she is one of the most killer CoV machines I've seen), try lowering the Red and Green Saturation point in your video card and playing colour blind. You'll notice that it's not perhaps as bad as you might think it to be. I've done a lot of what I'm suggesting in the past and the game is still very playable.

-Jess

16.

Jess -- Actually playing the games with simulated disabilities is what I suggested the MMO community to also do. :) Perhaps I will give WoW another try and think about issues that I see myself having (or issues that I have with other MMOs that may or may not apply to WoW).

Don't get me wrong -- I am a gamer. I've worked at Microsoft Games and have served as a consultant for other companies on accessibility. So I'm immersed in "other" game worlds...just not this one.

Andy -- yes, we do provide personas (we are even talking about new and more fully developed ones) and we have presented videos of real life disabled gamers and I'll post some of those before my time here runs out in a few days. It IS very moving and I'd posted a link earlier the month to a PBS documentary showing more disabled gamers playing and talking. So I agree 100% in the value of that. The unfortunate reality is that people can see that and be moved...but then also not take action. Think about watching a documentary on AIDs in Africa. That might be something extremely upsetting and moving to watch. But how many people actually think about that the next day? And how many people are moved to do something about it? It depends on how close they can feel to the people -- and in the end it might mean actually meeting the people face-to-face.

This is a hard battle and "games" seem to many to be a luxury. But for many people with disabilities, particularly those who received them from accidents, games have literally been part of the life-saving procedures to help lessen the depression that often comes from dealing with having a disability.

I have a second disability, one that is much more disabling, but one that impacts my gaming in a different way that keeps me FROM gaming because I'm in so much pain. Some games I can enter a hypnosis-like state (flow?) and it can help distract me temporarily from that pain. But others, like the MMOs I have tried, don't draw me in because the dyslexia comes into play.

Ola -- yes, what you experienced 8 years ago trying to get people involved in creating accessible games and people asking "what's the point" is what we deal with every day. I hate to say it but there has been a LOT of very ugly responses on other gaming forums that sound similar to what you received. Interestingly it's from other gamers more than it is from developers.

You also brought up small development firms, which reminds me that I need to post about, at least, the US law that gives these companies that add in accessibility features a big tax break.

17.

Michelle, players tend to say UGLY things. :-) Fortunately, players have no say in this matter!!! What is important is that you and others keep this on the agenda. Maybe the big corporations won't listen, but maybe smaller developers pick up your viewpoint and take the risk of developing entertainment or interactive art for smaller target audiences. Keep up the good work!

18.

Michelle, players tend to say UGLY things. :-) Fortunately, players have no say in this matter!!! What is important is that you and others keep this on the agenda. Maybe the big corporations won't listen, but maybe smaller developers pick up your viewpoint and take the risk of developing entertainment or interactive art for smaller target audiences. Keep up the good work!

19.

There's some interesting comments here. The software modification route is okay to a point, and does offer a solution of sorts - but this is far from the ideal.

Games need to be more accessible from the start for many disabled gamers. I guess Massively Multipler On-line Role-Playing Games are often some of the least accessible games anyway (I mean MMORPG? - what a messy acronymn! How many non-hardcore-gamers even have a clue what it means?).

Definitely - these games could be made more accessible - and in many instances - it wouldn't take a lot. However, I think the barriers we face here are the MMORPG gamers and developers who rather like the niche-geek kudos of a bloody difficult game. Am I wrong?

20.

Barrie, MMORPGs doesn't require a lot of skill, mostly time, so that should be no excuse...

Still, from personal experience I know that some producers define their target as hardcore power-gamers and won't even listen to suggestions of things such as user-testing with computer-illiterate people in order to capture the "home-with-baby-mums et al" market (which I assume is a big untapped market). Some of them might be willing to let you do user-testing on alpha- or beta-versions though, if you do it for free, then maybe you can convince them to make some modifications... A lot of effort in other words.

I think a mainstream MOO with support for disabled people could get a lot of free buzz if they were willing to do interviews and played their cards right. Makes for good headlines and stories. "X couldn't play with his friends, but now he can!"

21.

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