Game accessibility at GDC 2023

There are a number of accessibility related sessions taking place over the course of GDC this year, both at the main conference itself and at the summits. Here’s a handy list! All times are in PST.

UX Summit
Monday March 20, 9:30am – 10:30am, Room 2001 West Hall

Aderyn Thompson (Accessibility Design Lead, Ubisoft)

The days of convincing people that accessibility is important are over, and now is a critical time to share a more advanced and nuanced understanding of designing for accessibility. Whatever path we’re on, we can redirect to create more immersive and equitable player experiences.

This session defines accessibility in a new light, moving forward from accessibility as “accessibility options” into a new era of accessibility by design. Aderyn Thompson, Accessibility Design Lead at Ubisoft, will draw from seven years of industry and 15 years of design experience to dig deep and redefine everything; what is challenge? And is empathy really the answer?

Using examples from real life and tech, Aderyn will demonstrate how to mature approaches by avoiding more process, playing catchup, providing “assists,” or making accommodations to players. Learn how everything is a system, including bias. And since designers are very comfortable with systems, we can head confidently into the future.

Tabletop Summit
Monday March 20th, 10:50am – 11:50am, Room 2010 West Hall

Increasing Accessibility and Broadening Disability Representation in Tabletop Games

Rachel Voss (Co-Founder, Forge Ahead: A Party To Access)
Carol Mertz (Senior Game Designer, Exploding Kittens)
Morgan Baker (Games Accessibility Lead, Electronic Arts)
Jesse Martinez (PhD Student, University of Washington)

Inclusive design means ensuring games are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds, while also making sure we create authentic and meaningful representation.

In the first session, “Shifting Your Perspective of Disability,” Rachel Voss discusses disability representation in tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPG)—touching on why ableism is rampant in TTRPGs and how we can design authentic disabled characters, epic mobility aids, mechanics, items, materials, and much more through the Curb Cut Effect.

In the second session, “Building an Accessible Board Game,” Carol Mertz, Morgan Baker, and Jesse Martinez share how to build an accessible board game through a case study lens of Exploding Kittens’ 2022 game Hand-to-Hand Wombat. They’ll discuss accessibility heuristics, research, and technical design to demonstrate how other game designers and publishers can utilize these practices to make their own projects more accessible.

UX Summit
Monday March 20, 1:20 pm – 1:50 pm, Room 2001 West Hall

Sue Pacete (Senior UX Researcher, Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Playtesting the full experience of your linear or open world story driven game can feel daunting—even more so when trying to evaluate the game with a limited pool of accessibility consumers. This presentation will take you through the journey of tackling these challenges and their accessibility approach and methods with God of War Ragnarök. Sue Pacete, Senior UX Researcher at Sony Interactive Entertainment, will discuss what worked well and things they would do differently in the future.

UX Summit
Monday March 20, 3:00pm – 3:30 pm,  Room 2001 West Hall

Creating Stakeholder Buy-In for Accessibility in Game Design

Jameil Johnson (UX Researcher, AbleGamers Charity)

This session focuses on building stakeholder buy-in for accessibility in gaming by outlining the importance of accessibility in in gaming for people with disabilities. Three aspects used to validate accessibility-informed design in this session target: an Economic approach, a Legal approach, and Social Justice approach.

Main Conference
Wednesday March 22, 11:30 am – 12:30 am, Room 2005 West Hall

Mila Pavlin (Design Director UX, Monolith Productions)

An in-depth investigation into the design process of God of War Ragnarök’s low vision gameplay features. This talk covers the four-year process within the Santa Monica Studio team to increase accessibility for navigation, puzzle, and general gameplay. Take a specific look at how large scope games can approach barriers in gameplay and scope to impact problem spaces for players with low visions. Learn the successes and pitfalls in large scale accessibility design thinking, and how they can be applied in all games.

Main conference
Wednesday March 22, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm, Room 2001 West Hall

Cynthia Williams (President, Wizards of the Coast)
Min Kim (Developer, Bonfire Studios)

In this fireside chat with Wizards of the Coast President Cynthia Williams (and moderated by Min Kin of Bonfire Studios), she will discuss how the pursuit of representation in games began in the “dungeon” nearly five decades ago, but is now being played out intentionally today and everyday live in arenas, studios, and streams around the world.

This chat will explore the three pillars of expanding accessibility and inclusivity in games: Design, Amplify, and Assemble.

Main Conference
Wednesday March 22, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm, Room 301 South Hall

Tara Voelker (Senior Accessibility Lead, Xbox Game Studios)
Brannon Zahand (Senior Gaming Accessibility Program Manager, Microsoft)

Creating an accessible product can’t be done by one person, it takes a village.

In this talk, Tara Voelker and Brannon Zahand will describe how Xbox Game Studios runs their accessibility team, the different roles that partner to support Xbox Game Studios, and the importance of inclusion of disabled gamers during the process. They’ll also go through a variety of platform-agnostic accessibility resources offered by Microsoft and others, explaining how and when to utilize each in your game development lifecycle.

They will also go into best practices on engaging the Gaming & Disability Community, as well as how to turn accessibility-related information about your own products into fantastic resources for gamers with disabilities and others.

Main Conference
Wednesday March 22, 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm, Room 2005 West Hall

Pierre Escaich (Neurodiversity Talent Program Director, Ubisoft)
Aris Bricker (Associate Game Designer, Redstorm, Ubisoft)

According to latest UKIE census on diversity, representation of neurodiversity is strong within the game industry. With about 18% self-identifying as neurodivergent, it is more than in the general population. But being too often invisible and misunderstood, the industry is missing a strong opportunity to leverage the exceptional talents and skills behind it.

At Ubisoft, both employees and employer launched a dual and complementary initiative on Neurodiversity. This lecture will be about their journey and learnings on unlocking the power of neurodiversity in game development.

Thursday March 23, 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm, Microsoft Reactor (680 Folsom St #145)


After a four-year absence, Xbox is excited to bring a Gaming for Everyone community networking event hosted in-person during the 2023 Game Developer’s Conference. This year, all our internal Xbox Gaming for Everyone employee communities are coming together to host a single gathering to help reunite underrepresented developers and their allies across the gaming industry with one another. We hope you can join us on Thursday March 23rd from 12pm-6pm at the Microsoft Reactor space.

Gaming professionals across the video game industry are invited to join members from our Xbox Gaming for Everyone employee communities (Asians at Xbox, Black at Xbox, Team Xbox Latinx, Team Xbox LGBTQIA+, Women in Gaming, Gaming & Disability, and Team Xbox Allies) for an industry reunion four years in the making. We’ll have food, drinks, music, and of course, SWAG!

Round Tables
Thursday March 23, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm, Room 203 South Hall

Tara Voelker (Senior Accessibility Lead, Xbox Game Studios)
Morgan Baker (Games Accessibility Lead, Electronic Arts)

Accessibility continues to make important gains across the video games industry–from AAA studios to indie developers. Each step forward brings with it new opportunities for further accommodations that will enhance experiences, generate appeal, and include a larger number of gamers.

Whether making first accessibility efforts for a game, or augmenting and refining existing procedures, this discussion will focus on what works, what doesn’t, and shed light on the sometimes-confusing spaces in-between.

Main Conference
Thursday March 23, 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm, Room 2003 West Hall

Adam Oliver (Senior Combat Designer, Santa Monica Studio)

The God of War franchise has its roots in delivering approachable, expressive combat for players of widely varying abilities. However, its complexity also provides unique opportunities for unintended barriers for players with disabilities, conflicting with those very roots. In crafting the latest entry, God of War: Ragnarök, Santa Monica Studio pushed many aspects of its combat further than ever before—and accessibility was no exception.

Join Adam Oliver as he covers the journey the team went on as they expanded the accessibility of God of War combat. Combat design, specific examples of resolving unintentional barriers, methods of challenging design instincts to achieve accessibility wins, and navigating conflicts with intended design will be explored in this presentation.

Main Conference
Thursday March 23, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Room 2001 West Hall

Cari Watterton (Senior Designer of Accessibility, Rebellion)

Accessibility is a growing topic in video games, as more people are recognizing the diversity of player bases and the unintentional barriers in game titles. But what can the industry do to approach accessibility holistically?

Rebellion took a step forward in accessibility when it became one of the first UK studios to hire a dedicated, in-house accessibility specialist.

This talk looks at the evolution of Rebellion’s accessibility initiative over the past year, covering education, practices, and advocacy. Cari Watterton, Senior Designer of Accessibility at Rebellion, will also provide practical examples from the past year, and the impact on the studio and the content it creates.

Main Conference
Thursday March 23, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Room 2006 West Hall

Tanya X. Short (Captain, Kitfox Games)
Emily Short (Creative Director, Failbetter Games)
Réjon Foster-Taylor (UI & UX Designer, Soft Not Weak, Maximum Crash)
Jon Remedios (Designer, Actual Humans)
Jill Murray (Writer, Narrative Designer, Narrative Director, Discoglobe

A Colgate toothbrush’s handle is designed to have affordances for its purpose: The handle feels natural to hold in a way that presents its bristles comfortably to brush your teeth. Similarly, game designers seeking to create inclusive games must follow a process and practice that lends itself to inclusivity. They must develop tools to detect alienation, game loops to support growth, and progression gates to recognize different needs of accessibility.

In this session, four designers (Tanya X. Short, Réjon Taylor-Foster, Emily Short, and more!) will share their personal lessons learned and paths forward for developing their inclusive games, including Boyfriend Dungeon, Mask of the Rose, and Spirit Swap.

Main Conference
Friday March 24, 11:30 pm – 12:30 pm, Room 2001 West Hall

Karen Stevens (Game Accessibility Specialist, Independent)

Gaming can be a very disorienting experience for some players, and there are design choices that can be made to ease the experience. This session uses concrete game examples to explain how to best support those with interactive differences, including topics such as simulation sickness, photosensitivity, audio processing, and more. Learn how to make gaming a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Main Conference
Friday March 24, 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm, Room 215 South Hall

Jazmin Cano (Accessibility Product Manager, Owlchemy Labs)
Peter Galbraith (Developer & Implementer of Unityisms, Owlchemy Labs)

Owlchemy Labs lives by the core design philosophy of “VR for everyone!” We have a proud reputation of leading the pack in developing and implementing inclusive features in all of our titles. In Cosmonious High, these features are woven into the game from the ground up, making it one of our most inclusive games to date.

In this talk, Accessibility Product Manager Jazmin Cano and Accessibility Engineer II Peter Galbraith discuss how we approach our games in a way that benefits all players at any level of ability. They’ll also cover how developers can build more accessible games without sacrificing fun and form.




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