Video Game Accessibility and Usability do we need a Standard from ETSI?
We at C3L have started the process of creating a new Joint SC/TC USER-HF Work Item (WI) on Video Games Accessibility and Usability Design. This post will aim to explain why ETSI should become involved in video games and hopefully if encourage others to support this work. The proposed scope of the work would describe the problems arising from inconsistency of usability and accessibility design practices in video game controls and to identify the role of standards-based solutions to maximise each. It would identify and illustrate the challenges relating to implementing usability and accessibility measures in video games. Also, the WI will describe the application of usability and accessibility measures and their relative impact in the user. The Proposed format would be a Technical Report (TR) in the form of a “problem statement” that will set out the landscape in detail in order to justify why the EU should add this to the ICT rolling plan and to consider adding a standardisation mandate in due course. It will examine input devices such as controllers (with joysticks and buttons), keyboard / mouse, touch screen and motion controls and the associated user feedback (e.g., audio/visual cues and haptic cues etc). Also, measures that will be examined are the design within the video game applications themselves and the platform they are running on be it dedicated devices (e.g., game console) or general-purpose devices (e.g., smartphone or personal computer).
At the moment no common standard for the design and implementation for accessibility and usability in video games exists as far as I am aware but guidelines from non-SDOs do exist. But ITU and 3GPP have covered video games within other work. 3GPP TSG SA WG4 (SA4) worked on the specifications of codecs for speech, audio, video, graphics and other media types related to emerging services such as extended realities (XR) and gaming, as well as the system and delivery aspects of such contents. (https://www.3gpp.org/specifications-groups/sa-plenary/sa4-codec)
While ITU-T E2E Network Characteristics Requirement for Video Services examined need for balance between Quality of Service while ensuring a satisfactory Quality of Experience (QoE) level to the end users during the service delivery. This groups also has a liaison agreement with ETSI ISG F5G. Though limited specific regulation exists (i.e., general usability guidance applies) for ICT products but they rarely target video games specifically.
The United States' 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010 (CVAA) did attempt to bring up-to-date accessibility guidelines to advanced communication services (ACS), which are considered to include video games with communication elements including text and voice chat, and the user interface (UI) elements to reach embedded chat applications.
But video game trade groups including the Entertainment Software Association have requested waivers of CVAA enforcement for video games, arguing that while there is strong interest in the video game community to provide accessibility, video games are first and foremost for entertainment and not for communication, and that because of the complexity of video game software, there are few standardised solutions compared to other ACS platforms. The exclusion of anyone by seeking such waivers is a concern.
The affected elements include the various forms of input devices. Whilst some industry players have begun to address accessibility (e.g., on September 4, 2018, Microsoft released the Xbox Adaptive Controller) there are no independent standards addressing accessibility in this domain.
So far only guidelines from advocacy organisations not SDOs have appeared. Groups and Resources include: https://accessible.games/ ; http://gameaccessibilityguidelines.com/; https://igda.org/; https://ablegamers.org/; Accessibility Reference Guides - Can I Play That?; http://ian-hamilton.com/a-history-of-game-accessibility-guidelines/
The EC Rolling Plan 2021 addresses requirements related to accessibility of ICT products and services includes telecommunications, audio-visual media services, the web and new emerging technologies. ICT accessibility is complemented by assistive technology. Interoperability of the two is required to ensure access by persons with disability to ICT and ICT based services on equal basis with others. Video games come under ICT products.
Video games are not just for entertainment they are also a tool for learning, communication and societal interaction. Therefore, barriers to access as a result of usability limitations and limited support of assistive technologies are discriminatory. The lockdowns as a result of COVID-19 have highlighted this benefit of video games.
Due to the nature of video games, they can serve as entry to learn and experience another culture for example Western (North America/Europe) games enjoying Eastern (Asian) games and vice versa. Barriers to this should minimal or even non-existent.
Another area from the EC Rolling Plan for ICT standardisation that relates to video games is the ‘Preservation of Digital Cinema’ as now preservation of video games is a low priority and has no standard means to even be carried out. Risk losing whole decades of what is an art form.
Why ETSI is the ideal SDO for this Work
The proposed WI Falls within the remit of User and HF as they focus on accessibility and user experience. Many ETSI members are in the business of video game development both in software and hardware, and to an extent in the communications requirements for backhaul and multi-player online gaming so while new experts may be brought in there is already potential from existing ETSI members to conduct this work. These include Apple; Google; Huawei; Microsoft; Sony; Amazon; Samsung and Facebook. The long-term goal is to produce a TR and/or a TS from an SDO, in this case ETSI, backed version of usability and accessibility guide to complement and build upon the ones produced by advocacy groups. They would be consulted and invited to partake in this process to produce the work item if time and resources allow. There are many different format and ways to experience video games from AR, VR mobile to personal computers and dedicated devices (handheld/tv) means that a common standard for implementing accessibility measures is vital since must be scalable and adaptable to whichever device is being used to play the video game. This is a design and implementation challenge which SDOs can provide guidance for.
Not just a User/HF problem at ETSI
Video games are not just an area that User or HF can examine. Other technology areas from ETSI that affect video games include Quality of Service (network services); Augmented Reality (user experience); Broadcast (communication services/streaming); Cybersecurity (social engineering, data protection and privacy); Lawful Interception (LI). SDOs are need of fresh blood and why not use a work item on which covers technology issues around video games to help attract that fresh blood. In this case the design challenges around usability and accessibility.
At some point in the future hopefully a Joint Call between User and HF can be arranged to discuss which group at ETSI will take lead on this new WI while the other will provide support.
At the moment CL3 are working on a New Work Item Document to define the scope and gather support from other companies. For WIs to be approved they need at least four companies to put their names on the document. This will be brought to the next Plenary Meeting of User and HF. If WI is formally approved the scope and format for the report will be discussed and what support and contributions are needed to carry the work to ensure it is published.
At the moment I cannot give an answer to the question of Video Game Accessibility and Usability do we need a Standard from ETSI? As the WI will take the form of a 'Problem Statement' it will hopefully give a definitive answer whether ETSI should issue some form of standard document or leave this area alone. Though to find that out requires a combination of exploratory work supported by discussions, gap analysis of what is current state versus the ideal state and how to bridge that gap. So far people have said this is an interesting idea and given it a nod of approval and not objected to the work being done. Hopefully, that means the WI will be formally approved and supported to completion.