Accessability 2

A lot of core gamers and core game developers are, more or less, opposing accessibility design for the reasons that making a game accessible “dumbs down” the game or “makes the game shallow”.  Players and developers pushing for accessible games claim that this is not the case. Well let’s just set the record straight with some quick analysis:
Accessability does dumb down gameplay and does make games more shallow.  But, this is only true for a very small part of the target demographic. This is only true for the power- or core-gamers that fully learn the micro strategies of playing a game and then use that knowledge to play on a macro strategic level. For these players games will become to simple or shallow and certainly dumbed down if we make the games more accessible.

But how many are the core gamers? We have absolutely no idea. But paying core gamers we do know. Very few games, ever, have sold more then 10 million units. But games aimed at the hardcore crowds do tend to sell close to ten million (close in the millions that is, Halo 3 sold 7 million I believe). That means that there are about 10 million core players that really don’t need more accessible games. Doesn’t that make accessability pointless? No. Certainly not.

How many paying players are there? We don’t have a clue. What we do know is that the previous generation of home consoles (dominated by the PS2) sold over 200million units. Even if every single gamer bought two consoles that still 100million home consoles… On the handheld side the GBA sold about that many units alone. So for every core gamer there are about 10 less then core gamers actively paying for consoles and games, maybe just not as much.

This is the crowd that developers are aiming for when they’re focusing on accessibility. This does not mean that all games should be accessible. After all, selling 10 million units of a game is plenty. But selling hardcore multiplayer shooters alone as the industry is doing today is simply incredibly stupid from an economical perspective. No wonder the Wii is selling so well, what else are these gamers playing? Online games some of them for sure (like the 11 million current subscribers to World of Warcraft).

So have no illusions, games are a low entry entertainment. Most gamers don’t want to learn how to play a game. They don’t want to compete or be the best. They simply want to play. Sound odd? Think about why PvE is more popular then PvP in MMO’s or why Multiplayer didn’t explode before the instant respawn became standard or why coop shooters are doing better then deathmatch shooters.

Next time I write about accessibility I’ll adress what low entry entertainment really is and how to focus on it.

On accessablity 1

The latest craze among developers is talking about accessibility. As a poor gamer I take great interest in this field as a developer and I’m getting a bit flustered about the complete lack of knowledge about this important paradigm shift in game development.

Most arguments against accessibly designed games are based on the assumption that the games will in some way have to be dumbed down. This is just not true. Anyone claiming this as an argument against accessibility or casual design simply has no clue what the hell accessibility is.

Let me illustrate what it is with a simple example: Paperboy.

The classic game paperboy is hard as hell and was a hardcore crowd pleaser on the original gameboy and earlier devices. Very few people would argue that paperboy is a dumbed down game. But Paperboy is accessible as hell.

The game starts quickly, has basically no learning curve, and is easily recognizable for anyone. The game is still hard as hell. But it is fast and simple to jump into and out of. It also takes no effort at all to start playing.

Compare this to Halo: is it quick to start? No, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes of badly made science fiction story, loading times and menus. This is discouraging to say the least.

Does the game have a required learning curve? Well lets see, after moving around corridors for about a minute, during which you learn to steer and look around, you are pitted against enemies. Easy enemies but they’ll still kill you if you don’t know what to do. Oh, and thematically the enemies, surroundings and weapons are weird as hell. A lot of people would never pick up the controller again after this short opening sequence.

Is the gameplay easily recognizable? Not even remotely. The controlling mechanism requires a high degree of spatial awareness only trained in 3D virtual spaces. So if your not a gamer you wont be able to walk around.
The basic gameplay mechanic is action packed and punishes players (kills them) for doing things wrong. Well if you don’t even know what to do this punishment probably wont be much fun will it?
Oh, and let’s remember that the graphics are stylized to be recognizable only for sci-fi freaks and gamers, so people without previous experience of these kind of worlds will probably not recognize anything.

See my point?

No, I’m not urging all developers to stop making hardcore games. But making games that are easier to recognize and to pick up wont require breaking most of them. On the contrary it will only make them easier and quicker to enjoy for us gamers.