FCC Requires Games Developed After January 1st, 2019 To Include Accessibility Options For Disabled
Xbox Adaptive Controller

[Update:] According to accessibility specialist, Ian Hamilton, he states that the way the FCC interprets “advanced communications” only applies to audio/visual/text communications relating to multiplayer chat functionality. He says that this will not be interpreted (or enforced) to affect gameplay. However, there is nothing explicitly clarified in the actual summary of the CVAA on the FCC website that gameplay mechanisms will not be affected. I did reach out to the FCC to clarify this point and will update the article accordingly if they choose to respond.

[Original article:] The FCC’s 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is now being applied to the interactive entertainment industry after a waiver expired for the gaming industry on December 31st, 2018. This means that all games that enter into development after January 1st 2019, must comply with the CVAA and include accessibility options for disabled gamers.

According to the IGDA, games entering into development after December 31st, 2018 must be fully compliant with the CVAA legislation, which was first introduced back in 2010. Games that were already in mid-development before December 31st, 2018 but released after January 1st, 2019 must be as “compliant as possible”, and any game that receives a “substantial” update that was released before January 1st, 2019 must include accessibility options to become compliant with the CVAA.

So I imagine any game with a substantial DLC expansion should also include accessibility options as well.

According to the IGDA, it states…

“At a high level CVAA requires any communications functionality and any UI used to navigate to or operate it to be accessible to people with a wide range of conditions, from no sight to no color vision, no speech to limited strength. The criteria must be considered from early in development, and people with disabilities must be involved in some capacity in the design or testing process.”

[Update #2:] The IGDA website was also updated to further clarify that these standards will only apply to advanced communications relating to multiplayer chat and not gameplay. Stating…

“The CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010) is general purpose legislation requiring accessibility of all advanced communications services (specifically voice chat, text chat, and video chat), including those in game software, gameplay & distribution networks, and consoles.”

 

It only applies to chat functionality. It does not apply to gameplay.

Failure to comply means that if people complain to the Federal Communications Commission that a game does not contain proper accessibility options, the FCC may launch an investigation and may fine the studio for not properly complying with the law.

But the big question is: how much compliance is enough compliance?

We’ve seen some developers add things like spectral color mapping to adjust for people with color blindness, or auricular clues and voiceovers to help those with visual impairment, or caption for those who are deaf, or various control schemes to help those with motor skill disabilities. But how much of each of those are required to be in each new game being released after January 1st, 2019?

Well, a thread on Kotaku in Action pointed to a tweet by accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton, who linked to a 38 minute video from the IGDA that breaks it all down.

Majority of the CVAA regarding electronics deals with… electronic communication. This means VoIP services, non-interconnected VoIP services, and electronic messaging services. People have to be able to communicate by either voice or text, which is already common in most games… except for retarded games like Ashen.

But things get more troublesome at around the 15 minute mark, where accessibility requirements for those with visual impairments becomes rather stringent: Developers must include input controls and mechanical functions that are locatable and identifiable and operable for those with visual impairments. This basically means multiplayer VR gaming is dead.

Developers must also provide at least one mode that allows users to make use of the game: without vision, with low vision or no hearing, without relying on audio output, with little or no color perception. So basically karaoke games are a bust, or horror games using binaural sound cues will be a no-go.

For those with hearing impairments, the game cannot rely or require auditory perception, it must provide auditory information through more than one mode in visual form, or when appropriate a tactile form such as haptic feedback or rumble. It must also reduce any interference with hearing aids or implants.

There’s also a limitation on performance objectives.

As the slide shows, games with communication systems will need to reduce reliance on precision based motor-skills, as games must provide at least one mode that cannot require users to have fine motor control for simultaneous actions (which basically means fighting games would be a no-go), or is operable with limited reach and/or strength (which basically cuts out VR racing games like Sprint Vector or sports games like The Thrill of the Fight), and has controls that can be operable without requiring body contact or close proximity for people with prosthetic devices.

The last one in the performance objectives category is for the speech disabilities, which states that there needs to be at least one mode that does not require speech. Most games are going to be safe in this category because most games don’t require speech.

However, the rules get even more draconian, especially in the performance objective category for cognition and speed. Games are required to have at least one mode that does not require a response time or allows the response time to be bypassed or adjusted, and minimizes the cognitive, memory, language, and learning skills required of the user.

What this means is that games based on response timing, like Danganronpa or Candy Crush, would no longer be in compliance with the CVAA. Warioware games would also fall out of favor with the CVAA, along with puzzle games like Tetris or Puzzle Bobble, or games like Obduction. This also means that games like Dance Dance Revolution or Pump It Up would no longer be in compliance either.

According to Karen Peltz Strauss, the deputy chief of the FCC, she explained that the rules are somewhat vague and not specific because the FCC didn’t want to “micromanage” the way developers make content.

Strauss stated…

“Ian [Hamilton] mentioned that in Europe some of the standards are more specific. They’re also more specific — if some of you are familiar with section 508 — there are [more] technical standards. At the FCC they prefer not to be specific for two reasons. First of all, because they don’t like to micromanage what the industries are doing, and secondly because they feel it’s more beneficial to define functionality and to allow flexibility. Especially because technologies change so often.

 

“So more often than not, from our rules, you’re not going to be seeing very many specifics. There are a couple of exceptions to that. Like we do have technical standards on here like compatibility and closed captioning display standards.”

After going through the requirements to be compliant with the CVAA, the video also covers the complaint process, the potential resolution steps, as well as the potentiality for granting waivers for certain accessibility requirements relating to software, services, and devices.

Basically, this means that in certain cases where the whole objective of the game is to utilize higher cognitive functions, or to rely specifically on physical attributes (such as Farpoint or Gun Club VR) they might get a pass depending on if the FCC agrees that the game does not require certain accessibility functions, and they may grant a waiver from CVAA compliance. However, there are quite a few steps to take in order to qualify for a waiver from the FCC.

[Update: Ian Hamilton requested a paragraph be removed containing comments relating to the CVAA]

Some companies aren’t even trying to meet those standards in time for the release of their game. And in some cases developers like BioWare discussed whether or not the text chat from Anthem would be included due to the CVAA, as covered in a video by Your Anthem.

More specifically, Brenon Holmes, the technical design director on Anthem wrote back on July 15th, 2018

“The main challenge is that there are a bunch of additional accessibility options that we are required to implement. This increases the cost of these sorts of features.

 

“As an example I’m pretty sure one of the things we need to support is TTS for any in game text based chat.

 

“This sort of thing unfortunately complicates what might normally be an easier feature… Right now we’re still figuring out what is feasible to do.”

It seems a little overburdening, especially since not every game is made equal, nor is every game made with the same goals in mind. And even with Microsoft providing developers with something like the Xbox Adaptive Controller, it still doesn’t solve the auditory regulations, nor the cognitive requirements being imposed by the FCC.

Typically, gamers did not respond too well to the video or the news because they think it will raise development costs unnecessarily as well as inhibited the potential fun factors for a variety of game types. Hence, why the video on YouTube is downvoted with a ton of negative comments.

Given that most sociopolitically motivated organizations don’t like dissent, don’t be surprised if the video’s ratings and comments are disabled soon.

(Thanks for the news tip MinuteWorld and Ebicentre)

(Main image courtesy of Microsoft)

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Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years covering video games, technology and digital trends within the electronics entertainment space. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Need to get in touch? Try the Contact Page.

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