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How to design your game for the hard of hearing

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Developers often fail their deaf players, and it doesn’t need to happen

Designing a game to be welcoming for players who are hard of hearing might not be as complicated as you think, but it does take a bit of education. Learning how to take the information that’s often provided exclusively through audio and present it through other means has its challenges.

The video above, from Game Maker’s Toolkit, does a good job of discussing some of these obstacles that might not be immediately apparent to most players or developers.

Take subtitles, for instance. Games force you to split your attention between the action on the screen and the subtitles at the bottom of the image, so why are so many games’ subtitles so small and hard to read? Turning on subtitles is a popular option in general, not just for players who may be hard of hearing, so it’s surprising that they’re often so poorly implemented.

There are guidelines that have been published that can help with best practices, but developers may not even be aware that they exist. And spending the time to add subtitles with a variety of display options so everyone can enjoy them is a good risk to take: Ubisoft reported that over 60 percent of Assassins Creed Origins players used the game’s well-done subtitles.

Having tactical information be conveyed only through sound is also a challenge, especially if that information isn’t also given as a subtitle, or there’s no way to show what’s going on as an image. Fortnite’s option to turn on visual indicators that show you what’s going on and from which direction is a good example of this. That’s another option that helps all players, not just those who are hard of hearing.

It’s not like this information isn’t out there — we just need more developers to consider accessibility as they’re making games, not as an afterthought in the final days of production. Musical puzzles are fine, but what happens if someone can’t hear them? That’s a question designers and developers need to deal with as early as possible to make sure that everyone can play a game, no matter their needs.