Why the death of the demo is very bad news for disabled gamers
There has been a decent amount of noise from the industry about the death of the demo, and some people even think that releasing a playable demo could hurt the sales of your game. There is one group that could be hurt more than others if demos become rare, however, and that’s disabled gamers.
Joey Haban used to be a staff writer at AbleGamers.com, and is currently working on the development team on a game that he’s helping to evaluate for accessibility. Haban sent me an e-mail to discuss some of the reasons gamers with differing abilities rely on demos.
To find out, sometimes you have to play
“There are probably as many ways to evaluate demos as there are gamers with disabilities,” she said. “Things that don't faze me at all are required for someone else, and it can also vary from game to game. When I play a demo, I'm going to look for a few of the things in that genre that can make or break a game for me.”
If you have problems hearing, you’re paying attention to information that’s only delivered via sounds. Most games allow you to turn on subtitles so you know what characters are saying, but what about game play hints that rely on some kind of noise to communicate information to the player? Color-blind gamers need to make sure the game doesn’t require them to differentiate between the colors red and green.
This image from Ars Technica shows the problems a gamer with a certain form of colorblindness may have with games that feature color-matching mechanics.
The ability to use many different input mechanisms is key to the many gamers with motion impairments. “For one, the ability to use mouse, keyboard, or controller. Some people can use only one of those input devices; also, there are a number of controllers designed for physically disabled gamers so compatibility can be an issue,” Haban explained.
“On a related note, remapping keys is a much-needed ability,” she said.
“The more things that can be adjusted, such as mouse sensitivity or fight speed, the better,” she continued. “It's not expected that every game will be able to address every disability, but customization is key in accessibility.”
Being able to save at any point is important for gamers with cognitive issues or fatigue from chronic conditions. “A person can go from enjoying themselves to needing to drag their ass back to bed in, literally, under a minute,” Haban told the Report. “The ability to save whenever you want is the ideal; frequent autosaves or checkpoints are almost as good.”
The ability to adjust the difficulty of a game is also good; the idea of “normal” difficulty is based on the often mistaken assumption that the player has no other challenges when playing the game. It’s hard to tell how easy the “easy” mode is for someone with different needs without playing it.
All these factors make it hard for developers to create games that everyone can play, although closed-captioning, a color-blind mode, and fully remappable controls go an incredibly long way to increasing a game's reach. The most important thing is to let gamers with different needs play the game to determine if it's something they'll enjoy.
“The ineffable ‘feel’ of the game is important,” Haban said. “It can take as little as a minute or two to make a decision on that. I always check the options in any demo, to see what of the above is available, and whether anything missing is necessary to my enjoying the game. People with, say, the inability to use one hand are going to require a specific set of things to be able to play. These are the ways that disabled gamers benefit from demos.”
Demos are more important than ever with stores cracking down on return policies, not to mention the complete inability to return games on services like Steam that are convenient for players who can't easily jump into the car and visit a local retailer. The more developers and publishers who allow their players to try the game before purchasing, the better for everyone.