Accessibility is a game’s vocation

It’s since 2004 that I push for this term and used it not parsimoniously a zillion of times. Probably the most used term on this site along with “accessibility barriers”, “permeable barriers”, “gated content” and others I used to use.

Accessibility. When WoW launch everyone was ascribing its worth to another term: polish. The word was that WoW was a “polished” game, with a good UI and had a good launch (if you exclude the growing pains). And while everyone was agreeing on the polish I was trying to criticize that term. I remember especially a discussion on Dave Rickey’s blog that I’d link if the blog still existed.

If you call it “polish” you aren’t wrong, but you fail to underline the distinctive trait and the reason why it is so much important. Polish just means it’s glossy, appealing. A good presentation. That’s important, but not fundamental. What I was explaining is that polish is a subset of accessibility, but it’s the accessibility itself being the key.

And accessibility is a broader term that includes many different aspects, all absolutely relevant and important. Why WoW won? Hardware requirements to begin with, but also game design. I complained many times about WoW’s raiding endgame. Everyone out there agrees that while WoW did a wonderful work by removing so many enrooted bad habits in the genre while distilling all that is relevant and fun, it still wasn’t able to do the same with the endgame, both raiding and PvP. With the problem of raiding being, guess what? Accessibility barriers.

The game that will SURPASS WoW will be the one game that removes those accessibility barriers that are still left. I repeated this ad nauseam.

And yes, accessibility barriers are everywhere. On game design and technology. Even bandwidth, stable connections, low ping. One of the reason why MMOFPS are problematic is because of connection issues. They require very fast and reliable connections. They require servers geographically near you. They even require very smooth framerates. Today game designers completely underestimate fundamental parts of the code like the bandwidth requirements. They care if the server overloads, or their own bandwidth costs, but they rarely think about the player’s end.

Voice chat, just as another example, is another fucking huge accessibility barrier.

So “accessibility” is an important term because it goes straight to isolate those problems that are usually underestimated and that instead are the most important. Slash commands, another “first generation” MMO bad habit are another accessibility barrier. I don’t know how many times I ranted against DAoC and its frequent introduction of mechanics only accessible through slash commands. It’s not just because you have to memorize them. The problem is that before you can memorize them, you have to be *aware* of them. You cannot pretend players to read the patch notes to be aware of a new function or possibility. Nor you can pretend that players retroactively remember all that was added along the months. To not even say that these commands are also poorly documented.

Take Guild Wars and the most recent dev quotes:

According to the team, the problem with high-end PvP is the learning curve. With so many skilled players, there’s no way in Guild Wars to gently introduce players to the concept of PvP. Newbies can be brutalized by the experience of letting teammates down as they develop the skills to be competitive in PvP.

Yeah, accessibility barrier. And even GW’s PvP sucks for that reason. It’s not a small problem.

The fact that it’s so hard to meet other players in these games that you meet for example on a forum. Because there are so many servers and you cannot move your character freely to meet other friends you make. This isn’t an accessibility barrier, but it’s still a barrier and one of the most important in the whole genre. One that NO ONE IN THIS INDUSTRY seem to care about.

Levels are another fucking barrier. No one is touching it either.

I described the current situation as an iceberg because the MMO market IS submerged for the most part. Guild Wars MAIN principle was to let players play without the monthly fee. And it’s again an aspect of accessibility. So if you want to reach that large market, you have to envision that part of the iceberg that is still submerged. You have to provide solutions to the problems that ALL the mmorpgs out there are clearly exposing. Instead of perpetuating them to maintain the status quo.

I said it:

The future of the genre is to make these world even more accessible and immersive. Working on the qualities that we already discovered and going to tap that potential that is still dormant. The future of the genre will be about offering *solid answers* to the problems that are now dodged or dismissed. It will be about games that bring the players together instead of apart and that will continue to appeal to casual players, without imposing them unacceptable strains and dependencies. Games that will let you contribute to the “world” without the need to schedule your life around it. Games that are accessible and don’t separate the players in social classes of uberness

Now both Lum and Ubiq returned on the topic about accessibility. Finally admitting it IS accessibility and recognizing its importance (Ubiq by calling it for what it is and Lum indirectly: “you have to have as few roadblocks as possible”).

With both of them I disagree on two points. With Ubiq about the “Uncanny Valley”. There was a long thread on Q23 where I managed to demonstrate better the point. The point was that the problem of the “uncanny valley” is used inappropriately in gaming. There are no games so realistic to fall in that case, while the “uncanny valley” is mostly an excuse to disguise poor art quality.

Instead with Lum I disagree, again, when he says that “bad launches kill games”. This is yet again the wrong perspective, exactly as when you use polish in place of accessibility. It’s not wrong, but it’s the least significant conclusion, the one that doesn’t let you identify what’s important.

I don’t see launches being important. They are “moments of truth”. But I don’t know any game that I think should deserve substantially more or less subscribers than what it has (eastern market aside). That’s it. Take Eve-Online. It is doing fairly well, but I don’t think it deserves more than what it has currently, moreover, I don’t think it deserved more than 20-30k it had at launch, because the game was quite terrible.

So what’s the point here? The point is that a launch is the moment where all the empty promises fall down and the boxes have to be on the shelves. There’s not anymore hype or rumor control. If the game is good, it will succeed, if it sucks, everyone will see that. That’s why a launch is so important. Facts replace words.

Secondarily it’s true that “bad launches kill games” because if a game is terrible at launch, then it means that it will likely suck one year later. More on this: Lum says Eve is the exception, so not a meaningful example of a viable strategy. I say that Eve IS an exception because I haven’t seen ANY other mmorpg evolving and growing that much. And I don’t mean growing subscriptions, I mean growing quality.

So, considering that with a launch the players finally see the game for what it is, and not for what it was hyped, and considering that once released a game usually doesn’t really move anymore in any substantial way, yeah, bad launches can kill games. But the reason why that game dies is much deeper than “bad timing”. Where “bad timing” is just the ready excuse that devs provide to avoid admitting they did a poor job. You gotta be sympathetic toward them.

Bad launches also put a huge mortgage on the possibility to improve the game and gather more resources, while good launches give that possibility, even if those resources are almost always moved to other projects and only for a small part reinvested to improve the original product.

Now “accessibility” has finally became the hot word. I guess I’ll have to thank Vanguard to have revealed again how a good client is important. Finally people are starting to agree with me. On Terra Nova they argue about the term itself. Too generic? Too vague? Doh. You know… Fruit. Apple. Apple is a fruit, one term includes the other. One is specific, the other more generic. Do you really need a linguistic lesson? Terms have distinctive traits. Terms come out of an “use”. So we have a term when we also have an use for it. There are Native American tribes that have more than ten different terms used to define the color “red”. For us it’s just red, but for them those are ten completely different colors. Why? I don’t remember exactly but they had an use for them, while they clumped other colors into one because they weren’t as relevant for them. You see distinctions where you have an use for them.

So “accessibility” is useful and relevant exactly because it encompasses so many fundamental aspects. With all having that distinctive trait in common that I consider next to the “barriers”.

And here we come to the conclusion that leads back to the start.

Why ultimately “accessibility” is this important? Because there *is* a bottom line that excuses the importance of this term.

This bottom line is once again about “learning”. Games are about learning. The three cases. Accessibility is the possibility to be let in. To what extent the lesson is accessible for you. To what extent you are included in the group, or excluded. Winner or loser. To what extent you are in, or out.

Accessibility isn’t a vague definition of a mechanic. Accessibility is the one, only value: the vocation of gaming.

To reach as many people as possible, immerse them, let them be part of something.

Look at the bottom of this post. What you see on top of that list?

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