The newly announced Steam Deck is the next step in the mobile revolution. Starting this December, players will be able to use their entire Steam library on the go thanks to a powerful, Switch-like device. With companies like Microsoft bringing more resources to cloud gaming, we’re moving toward a future where any game can be played anywhere.
That is undeniably an exciting prospect. The Nintendo Switch is something of a revelation, offering players a level of gaming versatility we haven’t seen before 2017, and the Steam Deck can take that even further. But the transition to full hybrid gaming isn’t quite as simple as cramming every big-budget video game onto a small screen.
Accessibility experts are calling on developers to rethink how video game user interfaces are designed to make devices like the Steam Deck more accessible to all players. .
If you play a lot of modern video games, you may find yourself having to squint to read text on the screen at some point. Even on a big TV, it’s hard to read small captions or text logs in a game like Control. Naturally, that problem only gets worse when the game is scaled down to run on a system like the Nintendo Switch – or worse, an iPhone.
That issue is the main concern for Ian Hamilton, an accessibility specialist who works with studios to deliver a more comprehensive game experience for players with disabilities. For Hamilton, small on-screen text is already a big deal that’s only become more difficult on a device like the Steam Deck.
& mdash; Ian Hamilton (@ianhamilton_) July 15, 2021
Hamilton told Digital Trends: “While handhelds have the advantage of being able to control viewing distance more easily, small text is already a big problem in full stop games, not to mention when scaled down to the screen just a few inches. “Contrast is also an issue, as handheld games are played in different lighting conditions, in power-saving modes, etc – trying to read text on the screen emits emissions. being in direct sunlight is something we can all relate to, and that is only amplified for people with any degree of vision loss. “
Part of the problem comes from the environment in which the games are actually designed. Hamilton explains that designers often work with a large screen in front of them. When they’re not working on their personal computer, they may be reviewing their work in a meeting room or “living room” space equipped with a jumbo screen.
“That’s the main reason why text size is such an issue, because the first time a game is viewed in the context of reality is when a gamer plays it at home for the first time,” Hamilton said. . “What seems reasonable in a design environment does not match what makes sense in a play environment. It is not uncommon to see console games with text that is only 50% of the size it needs to be for a person with full vision to comfortably read it on a regular TV from 10 feet away.”
It’s an ongoing issue that has only become more pressing as the industry races to give players ultimate flexibility. As it stands, UI elements and small text have created a barrier for multiplayer. It was a recurring complaints for many people especially on social media over the past few years. Devices like the Steam Deck just further address the issue and highlight exactly why accessibility advocates are calling for changes like these.
The game companies want to give us the option to play anywhere, but we’re not yet to the point where anyone can play.
If the video game industry is to truly deliver a full-blown mobile experience, the way games are designed needs to change fundamentally. Hamilton likened it to the challenges the web industry faced a decade ago as users moved from desktop computers to phones and tablets. That leads to innovations like responsive page design, which improves the way websites display on mobile devices.
“If you’re reading this on a PC, try slowly dragging down the size of the browser window to very small, carefully considering the individual elements, how the layout changes,” Hamilton said. “Websites don’t always work like that. Game UI needs to go through a similar renaissance. “
Much of that work needs to be handled at the individual game level, but it’s not entirely up to the designers. Platforms like Steam can make changes that better incentivize — or even require — game makers to create more accessible experiences. Hamilton pointed to Google Stadia’s chess system in its store, which points out games that might have problems at small screen sizes.
“Some platforms and publishers have mandatory accessibility requirements. I think it’s very unlikely that Steam will go down this path, it doesn’t really fit with what Steam’s philosophy is,” Hamilton said. “But there are softer paths they can take. Research examples; they are not short of cash. Accumulate some of that into solid research, share that with developers, educate them on good practices.”
If matching games become the norm, the industry needs to get serious about addressing accessibility. Hamilton actually sees some positive changes in that regard when it comes to the Steam Deck. The handset includes a touchpad and rear buttons along with its standard controller layout. Even better, the device has a USB-C port, which means players can plug in peripherals that support a customized approach to the system.
Such design considerations can go a long way toward ensuring our mobile future is more relevant to all players. These are win-win decisions that will make smaller screens better while also improving the gaming experience for players with low vision. The purpose of cloud gaming or devices like the Steam Deck is to make video games more accessible, not less.
“Xbox has a great slogan about accessibility: ‘When everyone plays, we all win.’ “Everybody really means everyone; Hamilton said.