Microsoft’s Gaming for Everyone initiative aims to make games as accessible as possible

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The World Health Organization defines having a disability as the ‘mismatch between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment of which they live’. It is because the definition includes such a wide spectrum that many companies like Microsoft have begun to expand their availability to a wider audience instead of a select focus of disability as the minority. Implementing inclusive design in the Gaming for Everyone initiative, Microsoft makes it easier to create games for people with a variety of needs and abilities without limiting titles with regard to the public as a whole.

As with much inclusive design, it all starts with the ability to explore other perspectives. Kay Jo Wright, the senior program manager at Xbox, put together a five-day Social Gaming Sprint for Team Xbox to focus on the ability to bring new social features to multiplayer games that will include players with difficulty communicating. Combining her efforts with design strategist Kris Woolery, they brought in researchers, designers, writers, and program managers with the intent of “building empathy so people look beyond their own experiences and create solutions that are more adaptable to individual people.”

During the event, the teams were focused on developing awareness of difficulties that some gamers faced while attempting to enjoy their entertainment.

“We asked ourselves some big questions,” said Wright. “What is a gamer? Who is a gamer? A big part of Gaming for Everyone is enabling all types of gamers to play as they want, in the way they want. We need to challenge all of our perceptions.”

The first few days were a cluster of interviews with doctors, disabled individuals, and even American Sign Language interpreters who had insight into the difficulties faced and how they could be alleviated. Other questions arose from their studies. Who was being excluded from gaming due to these limitations?

Microsoft design strategist Kris Woolery
Microsoft design strategist Kris Woolery focuses on inclusive design.

With bound determination, the team was lost in seas of sticky notes that eventually made their way to the whiteboards. Patterns and themes were drawn together, motivations rendered, and mismatches identified between current availability and capability of the target subjects.

“You are not designing one thing for all people,” said Woolery. “You’re designing a diversity of things so everyone finds a way to participate and a sense of belonging.”

Towards the end of the sprint, the participating team members had a better understanding of how social gaming could better serve the broader public through inclusive design. Visual designer J.R. Reyes shared that they gained a lot from the sprint, especially since “designers can get lost thinking ‘this is what I would do in this situation.’ But we are biased and need to always open ourselves to other perspectives in order to do our best work.”

“Xbox is embracing inclusive design as part of our Gaming for Everyone effort,” said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox. “In this ongoing initiative, every single person on Team Xbox is working together to try to make gaming accessible, equitable and sustainable for all.”

With the conclusion of the Xbox Social Gaming Sprint labeled as a success, Microsoft hopes to expand the broad spectrum of inclusive design to other areas of the company and provide a better experience for all of their customers. Let us know in the comments what you think about Microsoft’s Gaming for Everyone initiative.

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