Xbox accessibility features are improving in a new effort by Microsoft that aims to make it easier than ever for all gamers to join in on the fun.
Microsoft has already made serious efforts to improve accessibility in its ecosystem stretching all the way back to 2015 when it added a screen reader and global button mapping to the Xbox One. Its most impressive effort, however, may be the Xbox Adaptive Controller -- which was later enhanced by a number of Logitech accessories -- and its ability to allow gamers to create custom control schemes with a variety of assistance devices.
It's been a solid effort thus far, but Microsoft is stepping up its game even further as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Check out the Xbox Accessibility Showcase to see all of the improvements coming to the Xbox ecosystem!
How Xbox Accessibility Features and Programs Are Expanding
The first area of improvement for Xbox accessibility features is in discovery -- after all, players need to know which games they can actually play first and foremost. This begins with a number of new "game accessibility features" tags that are available to the Xbox Accessibility Insiders League prior to a wider public launch. The tags will include a list of 20 accessibility features, such as:
- Narrated Game Menus
- Subtitle options
- Input Remapping
- Full keyboard support
- Single Stick Gameplay
Game devs can't slap these tags onto their games all willy-nilly, either -- there will be a standard of quality for each of these features to ensure that they can actually provide the services needed by disabled gamers. In addition, the "Ease of Access" section on the console menu has been renamed to "Accessibility." This will improve on community and third-party efforts such as the recently-launched Accessible Games Database.
Xbox accessibility features need to be implemented by game developers, but not all of them may be equipped with the know-how and best practices to get it done. That's exactly why Microsoft is offering a free course on MSLearn that will teach the fundamentals of making games more accessible.
With these new store tags (and other programs) in various stages of development, it could take some time for accessibility features to become widespread. However, Microsoft highlighted two games that are going to have some serious improvements right from the get-go: Halo Infinite and Sea of Thieves.
As explained in this news post, Halo Infinite will have a ton of accessibility features right out of the gate. Here's a shortlist of some (but not all) of the features:
- For Subtitles:
- Adjust the font size
- Adjust the background opacity
- Enable color coding of dialogue per speaker
- Choose whether you’d like subtitles for all dialogue or just dialogue related to the narrative in Campaign
- Customize menu and gameplay font size
- Menu narration with adjustable narration speed for those who commonly utilize screen readers
- A new mode called “Linear Navigation” that lets users navigate through the UI without the need to visually see how controls are positioned on-screen to access them
- Option of changing the friendly and enemy colors to include more options than just red versus blue
- More UI settings, such as HUD (Heads-up Display) and reticle opacity to make it easier to identify information in the HUD
- Text-to-speech and speech-to-text options for players that want to participate in Voice Chat and either need to send synthesized voice or receive voice chat as synthesized text
- New customizations for players to control their sound experience with different volume sliders for a variety of sounds in the game
- Customizability for both controller and Keyboard and Mouse to rebind keys, adjust sensitivity, and change to taps and toggles versus holds
- A new Movement Assisted Steering feature, which lets you use additional controls to help steer wheeled vehicles rather than just the classic “look-to-steer” mechanic
Similarly, Sea of Thieves has been focusing on adding new accessibility features over the life of its development, the totality of which are detailed on the game's official website. These features include auto-move, menu narration, and colorblind filters. Most recently, Sea of Thieves added in single-stick play and narrated emotes.
The improvements in Xbox accessibility features are certainly welcome, and Microsoft is putting its money where its mouth is, too, with Microsoft's Neurodiversity Hiring Program. This program includes a nontraditional interview format and team-building exercises in Minecraft as part of a 4-day course.
Improving accessibility in gaming is a challenging task. Microsoft certainly seems up to the job and it's taking things even further with opportunities to donate to charities supporting the disability community and more programs and conferences on the way.
Which game developer do you think is the best at implementing accessibility features in games? What accessibility features do you think need to be more widespread? Let us know in the comments below!