How to design accessible games

This guideline works alongside our Games Framework. It demonstrates our inclusive design principles for creating gameplay which can be enjoyed by everyone.

Contributors

Published on 24 Jul 2018

Why make games accessible?

Here at the BBC, we understand the importance of technology for learning and development, and want to ensure the experiences we make are inclusive to players with a range of different skills, abilities and situations.

Technology can also present barriers to users when products aren't designed and built to consider everyone. Such as the 8% of boys who are colourblind*, children learning to read and those who have difficulty reading, children with temporary impairments such as a broken arm, and anyone using a games device in bright light or sunlight.

By going beyond the eight requirements for inclusive design defined in our Games Framework, our games become accessible to a much wider spectrum of needs. Using any of the following Inclusivity Pillars can enable shared moments to encourage social inclusion.

It’s essential to design fun, exciting games that children want to play and return to, even moreso for those whose gaming options can be limited. Playing games is fundamental to their progression and stimulation and has a huge impact on their lives.

Vision pillar

This pillar supports users with partial or total sight loss. It suits anything text-based, interface-based or audio only games.

Pillar requirements

1. The gameplay can be completed using a screen reader or game audio only.

To test this, turn the screen brightness to the lowest setting. Using the game audio or a screen reader (such as Jaws or iOS Voiceover), play the game and make sure it can be completed using the audio only.

2. All gameplay elements are represented in the HTML with labelling that screen readers can read. 

To test this, play the game whilst using a screen reader such as iOS Voiceover. Make sure that all interactive elements have a label that makes sense and describes what that element does. For example, ‘Continue’ rather than ‘Button’.

Who this caters to

The Games Framework already caters to people who:

  • Are sensitive to screen glare
  • Are colourblind
  • Need glasses

Using the vision pillar inclusivity principles increases the number of people who can access our games to those with:

  • Partial blindness
  • Tunnel vision
  • Total blindness

Vision pillar game examples

Pablo allows screen reader users to easily customise their avatar, and uses crayon colours to describe hair and skin colour.

Something Special - The Looking Game has a colourblind mode that ensures that differences between the brand colours of red, blue and greens spots are not just shown in colours but shapes too.

Opportunity to innovate

We're always interested to hear further suggestions from our game design partners, such as games:

  • With high contrast and grayscale colour options
  • With support for in-game zooming
  • With the option to adjust font sizes
  • That resolve audio conflicts

Motor pillar

This pillar supports users facing physical barriers, such as those who have lost limbs, have cerebral palsy or have broken their arm. It suits infinite runners, picture makers and dress up games.

Pillar requirements

1. Users are able to navigate and complete all gameplay via touch, mouse and keyboard.

To test this, play the whole game three times. Once using a touch device, once using a keyboard only and once using a mouse only.

2. Users can play using a single button, potentially switched on through a setting. Users navigate menus or multiple choice selections via auto-scan. 


When activated, an auto-scan tabs through each element of the menu or game. The user waits for the focus to highlight the element they want to use and then taps their button to select it.

Who this caters to

The Games Framework already caters to people who:

  • Are left handed
  • Are carrying an object
  • Have a repetitive strain injury

Using the motor pillar inclusivity principles increases the number of people who can access our games to those with:

  • A lost limb
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Paralysis

Motor pillar game examples

Swashbuckle can be fully controlled via mouse, keyboard or touch device.

Operation Ouch offers a one button option that tabs through menu items. The user can just hit one button when the focus reaches their choice.

Opportunity to innovate

We're always interested to hear further suggestions from our game design partners, such as games:

  • Where users can remap controls themselves
  • Completely controlled by voice

Cognitive pillar

This pillar supports users who are autistic, have learning difficulties and those at a range of developmental stages. It suits platformers and cause & effect games.

Pillar requirements

1. Users can play the game at multiple difficulty settings. Difficulty might progress automatically but should also be controllable.

When activated, the difficulty setting stops the game from automatically increasing the difficulty level for the user. Instead, the game is fixed at the difficulty level that the user chooses.

2. A ‘no-fail’ mode is provided for games with learned behaviours. This could be a tutorial level, encouragement to try again or gameplay that doesn’t end, even when you make a mistake. 


To test this, make sure there is at least one level which can't be failed, such as a tutorial level. Users must not be able to die or run out of lives throughout the whole game.

Who this caters to

The Games Framework already caters to people who:

  • Are tired
  • Are dyslexic
  • Have post traumatic stress

Using the cognitive pillar inclusivity principles increases the number of people who can access our games to those who:

  • Are autistic
  • Have learning difficulties
  • Have a brain injury

Cognitive pillar game examples

Danger Mouse Full Speed offers a difficulty level select screen and the user continues even when the car crashes.

The Dumping Ground includes a tutorial level that helps users learn how to pick up items.

Opportunity to innovate

We're always interested to hear further suggestions from our game design partners, such as games:

  • Where users can control timings
  • Where users can learn day to day tasks
  • Where users can learn about cause and effect
  • That are multi-player 

Hearing pillar

This pillar supports users with partial or total hearing loss and anyone who needs to play with the sound off. It suits narrative focused and strategy games. 

Pillar requirements

1. Prompts or subtitles are displayed for all gameplay information.

To test this, whenever there is audio to tell the user how to play the game, there should be subtitles or tutorial prompts available. These might be switched on from the settings menu, or automatically displayed.

2. Haptic feedback is used on mobile devices where available. 


Haptic feedback is when a user completes or fails a task and their mobile device vibrate or rumble as an additional level of feedback.

Who this caters to

The Games Framework already caters to people who:

  • Are in a noisy environment
  • Have temporary hearing loss e.g. ear infection
  • Have partial hearing loss

Using the hearing pillar inclusivity principles increases the number of people who can access our games to those with:

  • Conductive hearing loss
  • Sensoreineural hearing loss
  • Profound hearing loss

Hearing pillar game example

The Next Step provides all gameplay tasks through subtitles. 

Opportunity to innovate

We're always interested to hear further suggestions from our game design partners, such as games:

  • Where sign language is used on screen to communicate instructions and feedback
  • That don't rely on audio or subtitles for game information
  • Where screen visuals represent sounds

Further reading

For more information on our BBC minimum requirements for accessibility, visit the Mobile Accessibility Guidelines. These are technology agnostic best practices for mobile content and apps, agreed by the BBC.

The Games Framework (also known as Games GEL) helps us make consistent experiences for all of our games and apps for children.


Colour Blind Awareness  CIC