Colorblind-friendly gaming: How is the industry evolving?

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Here’s how developers are adding support for colorblind gamers — and what the trend could mean for the overall accessibility of gaming.

The gaming industry has often struggled with accessibility — but recent pushes by gamers in the disabled community has developers paying better attention to designing their games for people with disabilities. A growing discussion around the accommodation for disabilities has led to new options for disabled gamers, and accessibility becoming a more typical design consideration.

One of the most noticeable shifts of the past few years has been the rapid addition of colorblind-friendly graphics and user interface options that make it easy for people with colorblindness to adjust the look of new games to meet their needs.

Here’s how developers are adding support for colorblind gamers — and what the trend could mean for the overall accessibility of gaming.

Why Colorblindness Makes Gaming Hard (and What Devs are Doing to Help)

Towards the end of September 2020, a graphic showing what it was like to play Among Us when you’re colorblind was posted on the Colorblindness subreddit.

In the game, to communicate properly, you need to identify players based on their color. If you’re colorblind, however, you may not be able to tell apart some players — and depending on the specific color vision deficiency you have, you may not be able to tell anyone in the game apart.

In the graphic, you can easily see how colorblindness makes it almost impossible to tell the difference between certain colors used in the game.

In many games, regardless of genre, developers employ color as a visual shorthand to communicate important information. For example, red and green may distinguish between enemies and allies, or different pieces of a puzzle, or distinct players.

Kirk McKeand, a games writer with red-green colorblindness, noted in an article for IGN that, while playing online first-person shooter Battlefield 3 with colorblind assist turned off, he “found it difficult to distinguish between the orange enemies and my green squad members” — and would regularly sprint past enemy players, thinking they were his allies.

Battlefield 3, following a patch in 2012, was one of the few games to offer colorblind modes in the early 2010s.

The industry has come a long way since then. Now, it’s not uncommon for big-name single-player and multiplayer titles to launch with colorblind graphics and UI options. Major recent releases like Fortnite, DOOM: Eternal and the Last of Us 2 all have colorblind options that make the games a little more accessible.

(After a surge in the game’s popularity this year, the devs of Among Us have also started to work on colorblind options for a future patch.)

However, things still aren’t perfect. Many major titles — like 2020 releases Fall Guys and Valorant — still ship without colorblind options.

Fortunately, this seems to be becoming less acceptable over time. Developers at major are adding these features more often. At the same time, indie developers are creating resources to help fellow creators add support for colorblind players to their games.

One example is this short video from developer Tim Ruswick, which quickly runs through the most common types of colorblindness, online tools to identify weak spots in color accessibility, as well as how devs can make it easier for those with colorblindness to play their games.