Sunday, September 23, 2007

Accessibility Matters


So, I cracked open BioShock the other day. I installed it without any problems, and started up a new game. The intro played smoothly, and already I was wrapped up in my character, destined to do great things.

Then, it dumped me into the game. Blackness filled the screen as large white squares spun before my eyes. Orange blurs smeared across the screen every now and again as I panned the mouse around. I tried moving - WASD - and heard some sloshing and gurgling noises. I couldn't tell where I was, or what I was doing. Just blackness, white squares, and orange blurs.

What's wrong here?

Well, obviously, my Radeon 9800 Pro wasn't up to the job - but that's not really the problem. The issue is that I made it that far into the game without knowing that I didn't meet the system requirements.

One of my pet peeves is the lack of courtesy that some games have towards their players. It would have been courteous if BioShock had warned me I couldn't play before it let me get sucked into the story. Back in the day, video games wouldn't let you install them if you didn't meet the system requirements. They'd often even let you know what you were missing. This is a feature that every game needs - and it needs to be up front.

You might ask, "Aren't the system requirements written right on the box?" Well, after reading the box, two of my game developer friends and I thought my machine would run the game just fine. The truth is, system requirements paragraphs have gotten to be about as mumbo-jumbo as EULAs.

You might say that that's why we have readme files. Well, after the game didn't work, trust me, the readme file was straight where I went. Here is what it says I need - "Video Card: Pixel Shader 3.0 compliant video card with 128 Meg Ram and floating point frame buffer blending." Like the average player knows whether or not their video card has those things!

It was only after some googling that I found a raging community of would-be BioShock players, all of them with video cards lacking in Pixel Shader 3.0 compliance, and all of them just as upset as me.

This brings me to my second point, which is, when you are making a game that won't work with a large percentage of potential players' graphics cards, consider making your game compliant with those graphics cards. BioShock is a great example - it only takes a few user-made files to get the game to run (albeit only passably) with a pixel shader 2.0 card. It wouldn't have taken too much more effort on the developers' part to make BioShock to run well with those cards.

As Gordon Walton said, "This is not about getting some more customers -- this the opportunity to get lots more. Like 4-10x more. There is maybe one game a year that drives hardware sales... they get a lot of hype, but look at their numbers. How much do they sell?"


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