How Accessibility at the Summer’s Gaming Events Stack Up

Before the game reveals at Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest last month, the host took to Twitter to announce several accessibility initiatives for his event. Not only would disabled viewers have access to an ASL costream led by Chris “DeafGamersTV” Robinson, they also had the opportunity to tune into a completely audio-described version on Brandon “Superblindman” Cole’s Twitch channel. And the Summer Game Fest was not the only E3 press conference to consider disabled audience members. Amid the exciting game reveals, disabled individuals found an industry event that not only acknowledged but welcomed their presence in a substantial way.

The rise of digital events is by no means a new concept within the gaming industry. Since late 2011, Nintendo has unveiled both hardware and software information within compact presentations called Nintendo Directs. Developers like Sony, Microsoft, and Ubisoft have followed suit, creating their own digital productions. However, with any new form of event—especially virtual ones popularized during the Covid-19 era—developers, producers, and hosts must grapple with ensuring that shows are accessible to everyone who wants to tune in.

Summer Game Fest was not Keighley’s first foray into creating an accessible digital event. With the addition of the Innovation in Accessibility award at the most recent Game Awards, Keighley wanted to ensure that disabled players could enjoy his show.

“When we added the Innovation in Accessibility award last year to TGA, we thought it was important to make sure the actual event was as accessible as possible too,” he says. “It’s important because gaming is the world’s biggest and most powerful form of entertainment, so we, as an industry, have an opportunity to lead on this—and be as inviting as possible to audiences.”

Aside from promoting the collaborations between Summer Game Fest and disabled content creators, Keighley’s social media posts echoed his sentiments regarding inclusivity. With his 1.3 million followers on Twitter, Keighley not only hyped upcoming game reveals, but also used his platform to be an ally for a marginalized group of gamers. “Part of that accessibility is making audiences aware of all the different ways to experience these livestreams and partnering with experts in the field who want to share these events with their audiences as costreams,” he says.

While Keighley continues to design accessible digital events for viewers, he acknowledges that he is still learning and working to improve his shortcomings. With every successful event, his understanding of accessibility and the varying needs of disabled viewers grows, thus leading to new ideas and solutions.

“Personally, the next thing I’d like to tackle is how to make accessibility even more global—for instance different sign languages, audio descriptive mode in different languages, and so on,” he says. “We’re always open to finding new ways to share our events with as many people as possible, and all the different gaming events are learning from each other. But I do sense a strong commitment across the industry—which includes the actual games, the publisher events, and other third-party events.”

Two days after Keighley’s event, Ubisoft held their own digital E3 conference in the form of an Ubisoft Forward. Along with promoting new and returning franchise reveals, the development studio prioritized accessibility to reach the maximum number of viewers. From the stream itself, which contained 12 different languages for subtitles, ASL, and audio descriptive content for select reveals, to its official YouTube channel, which featured every trailer audio-described, disabled individuals could actively participate and react to the news alongside able-bodied peers.

“For Ubisoft Forward, it’s all about making sure that we get our messages across, and by having captions included in the live stream, we increase the ease of access to our content,” says Leon Winkler, director of international events at Ubisoft. “Some of our attendees have multiple screens they might be watching at the same time, and not all of our speakers or audiences are native English speakers. Of course, accurate captions are also very important to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.”

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