Accessibility On Marvel’s Avengers – The Journey So FarMeagan Marie and Mariah Robinson from Crystal Dynamics talk about accessibility and inclusion in the upcoming game.
Marvel’s Avengers is a 3rd person Action-Adventure game developed by Crystal Dynamics, in collaboration with Eidos-Montréal and NIXXES. It is published by Square Enix and set to release on September 4, 2020.
The team is hard at work making the game broadly accessible, as well as the surrounding marketing activities. I recently spoke to with Meagan Marie (Senior Community & Social Media Manager) and Mariah Robinson (Game Designer) – two of the passionate advocates for accessibility at Crystal Dynamics - to discuss the accessibility mandate on Marvel’s Avengers in a candid and transparent manner.
While we can’t yet share all details about the options that will be available at launch, we still wanted to share that discussion with the community.
To begin, what are some of the things you have done to raise awareness around accessibility in the team and in the studio?
Meagan Marie: Our accessibility initiatives at the studio started with a “rogue” group of passionate allies who were advocating and making efforts in their own work as far back as the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. That resulted in some great initiatives, but momentum really began when we formalized into a team with a dedicated producer and started to centralize our efforts.
For Marvel’s Avengers, we leaned heavily on industry experts. For example, we brought in accessibility specialist Cherry Thompson for early feedback on our game.
Cherry also presented a poignant talk to the studio, which I think helped those less familiar with accessibility initiatives understand the large impact their efforts have on a wide scope of people. Colleagues beyond our team of accessibility allies really started to become involved after that.
Mariah Robinson: Before I knew how involved people at Crystal Dynamics were in accessibility, I championed my own passion for accessible gaming loudly.
When I met Meagan, I was thrilled to have someone with me to help. We’ve done talks together and attended GAConf as well. But my big break was when Meagan introduced me to Mark Barlet , founder of the AbleGamers Charity.
After learning more about them, I started to become even more involved and challenged myself by doing presentations (by myself and with people). Public speaking is not my area of comfort at all, but this was too important. One of the coolest points for others in the studio was when we started mocapping people with disabilities for Marvel’s Avengers.
Since this wasn’t something that we had done before, it was wonderful to see a different perspective through other devs. We all learned a lot during that process!
Have you worked with experts or consultants for accessibility-related matters?
Meagan: Crystal Dynamics worked with consultants in order to receive it’s APXP certification late last year, which was a defining moment for the studio. It means we now have employees certified in accessible player experiences - something we’re proud and excited about.
Not only did it help unify the language used by our team in relation to accessibility, but it was also great to contribute and support the AbleGamers Charity.
Mariah: Our Director of HR, Dionne Hubbard, was the one who helped get our certification training with the APXP program. It has been very empowering to be able to pass that knowledge on in an effective way around the studio.
Now we have a shared language in the studio surrounding accessibility, which allows for more cohesive communication. It’s helped us feel more confident in knowing that we now have the right tools for the job and the ability to properly educate within our teams.
And what about diversity and representation?
Meagan: When we look at accessibility for Marvel’s Avengers, we aim for a holistic approach. Our efforts are for both the game; but we also want everyone to enjoy social content, events, and other services with as few barriers as possible.
In terms of representation, Cherry Thompson was a huge resource here as well. Representing disability in entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all solution, as evidenced by their really fantastic and informative talk “You Can Take an Arrow to the Knee and still be an Adventurer”.
Our goal is to normalize representation within our game world by reflecting the diversity of the real world. We have scenes in the game like A-Day which is essentially a comic book convention - having representation in a crowd of people who are all there sharing a passion for Super Heroes is important to us.
Cherry even did some baseline motion capture for us in their wheelchair, to help idle movements feel more organic. A true first for Crystal!
Cherry Thompson provided idle motion capture for an inhuman NPC named Cerise.
Mariah: We have been working on a variety of ways to represent diversity. We see all kinds of people in our society, so why not reflect that in our in-game world?
We tell the story of characters finding their way through hardship, tragedy, transformation, and searching for self-identification. In the end, it's a story about people.
What are some of the challenges you can face while working on the implementation of accessibility on a game like Marvel’s Avengers?
Meagan: We have a strong foundation of accessibility initiatives at our studio, and that will continue to grow stronger. Something that might not seem like much of a challenge but was a huge learning opportunity was ensuring our E3 2019 booth was wheelchair accessible, and that the user experience was equally awesome for everyone. Working with our agencies to ensure hallways, queue lines and door lips were all taken into consideration was a new experience, but one with great insights for us to take forward.
Accessibility is an ongoing pursuit, not a finite goal. This is a very ambitious game for us, and so we plan to continue addressing our accessibility ambitions and rolling out improvements on-going beyond launch. The advocacy of accessibility was always there, but now that we have a formalized team, we’re better equipped for the future.
Mariah: There are always difficulties on a production. Time restraints, resources, and many other factors, but there's always a way to approach it. We focused on looking at everything as a process and always making sure we move forward, whether in big steps or small ones.
Our Accessibility Team is very aware of the challenges we faced on this project. But with that knowledge, we will be better equipped for that journey to continue.
We've learned so much in the last few years, so this is just the beginning. We really hope that the message we're sending to our community with these features, is not only are we listening, but that we are doing.
What have been some key learnings you’ve gathered while working on accessibility in Marvel’s Avengers?
Meagan: Working on Marvel’s Avengers really reinforced that accessibility initiatives benefit a huge swath of gamers, not just those with disabilities, and that is something I’ve worked to communicate with others.
The fantasy of being a Super Hero is universal, so options that allow players to customize their experience to fit specific needs and playstyles means we can share our vision with even more fans!
Mariah: Even after being here for 6 years, I’m always learning about - and from - the family I work with at Crystal Dynamics.
This project helped me to see that I wasn’t alone in my passion for accessibility. One of the most memorable moments, was watching Tyler, a dev who was a part of our accessibility team, help give our Avengers E3 presentation in ASL (American sign language).
This was a special presentation that we had decided to hold so that players and fans who needed an ASL interpreter could also be a part of the excitement. My takeaway and biggest learning experience is that you can never know how much even the smallest thing can impact someone. Never take anything for granted.
Can you give a few examples of accessibility features that will be in the game?
Meagan: Ultimately, we really want to have as many options as possible so that people can customize their experience to fit their playstyle, abilities, environment and all those factors that may change over time.
One of the examples I am most excited about is a high contrast user interface (UI). The high contrast UI feature makes it easier to navigate for low-vision users or people who find some interfaces distracting and difficult to use. The UI team really did a great job on that one.
Mariah: We have lots of incredible features lined up for Marvel's Avengers. Fully remappable controls, character-associated subtitles, campaign-relevant closed captions, and HARM Training Rooms just to name a few.
We're always looking into more options and features that will help make our game more accessible. We will share many more details in the near future!
Is there anything else you want to say to the community?
Meagan: A big thing for us is to get the community involved in the discussions surrounding accessibility. We don’t expect to be perfect at launch, but we really want to involve the community post-launch so that they can share feedback and suggestions that fit the needs of our player base.
We want to improve the game every chance we get. Accessibility on Marvel’s Avengers is a journey we intend on continuing. We’ve already set up our accessibility email alias – [email protected] – so we’re ready for feedback!
Mariah: I don't know if I can follow that. But yes, I have a personal journey with Accessibility, and it is my personal mission to include everybody in my life and in my work.
The game has a tagline that helps define a message of how important inclusiveness is: "Embrace your powers." We really do believe that everyone can be a Super Hero, and with Marvel's Avengers, we want them to live that Super Hero fantasy.
Thanks to Meagan and Mariah for their time.
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