Keywords Studios forges ahead in accessibility with game testing initiative

Keywords Studios, a global technical and creative services provider for gaming and entertainment, is moving accessibility in games forward with a new initiative.

The Accessibility Quality Assurance (AQA), aims to expand gaming by catering to players with disabilities, offering comprehensive evaluative testing and feedback for game content.

“Accessibility Quality Assurance (AQA) is our commitment to drive widespread improvements in game accessibility globally,” said Sebastian Long, managing director of Player Research, in a statement.

This innovative capability, headed by a team of 30 cross-trained QA staff, positioned across Canada, Poland, Mexico, and India, aims to swiftly audit game content for accessibility. The service, a first-of-its-kind, provides both rapid audits and long-term cycle testing, seamlessly integrated within traditional quality assurance practices.

This is significant because Keywords Studios has become a huge company servicing game developers around the world. Keywords Studios has more than 12,000 employees working in more than 70 studios across five continents.

The AQA process is designed to fortify modern game accessibility during production. AQA specialists meticulously identify barriers within the game and provide technical assessments, leveraging a novel “barrier severity” system to prioritize improvements, ensuring a seamless gaming experience for all players. This initiative is complemented by a bespoke training program, crafted in collaboration with disabled players, consultants, and game QA specialists.

Sebastian Long, managing director of Player Research.

Industry luminary Ian Hamilton, a leading independent accessibility expert, endorsed the development of Keywords’ AQA processes.

“It’s no coincidence that companies excelling at accessibility — Xbox, Naughty Dog and Ubisoft, among others — have staff dedicated to accessibility quality assurance,” said Hamilton, in a statement. “QA is a lynchpin of accessibility. But it’s not something most studios have had access to, limited to in-house teams concentrated at just a few companies. Having this kind of resource and specialist expertise now available as service will make a profound difference to the industry, on our ability to deliver the kind of experiences we want our players to have.”

Keywords AQA testers also shared their excitement for the capability.

“It was enlightening to see how settings and tools, like adjusting game difficulty, are crucial for people out there to fundamentally be able to have a chance to play the game,” said Dawid from Keywords in Poland, in a statement. “I can’t wait to be a part of the team that helps disabled players around the globe and helps developers to better understanding their needs.”

Vanessa from Keywords in Montréal added in a statement, “I am very excited that we can amplify the voice of those who need it.”

Player Research’s games accessibility lead Améliane F. Chiasson described the importance of inclusion not only in the game’s design, but also in its development.

“Including the disabled community has been a pillar of this new service offering; our AQA services are offered alongside Player Research’s iterative playtesting with disabled players, and our work championing accessibility consultants, with lived experience of disability,” Chiasson said in a statement. “The community of people with disabilities rightly advocates ‘nothing about us without us,’ and we’re proud to have delivered this important new capability with that principal front of mind.”

The AQA initiative is a testament to Keywords’ commitment to inclusivity in gaming. It aligns with “Advancing Accessibility,” a comprehensive initiative unveiled at Gamescom 2023 by Player Research. This initiative spans multiple services, including accessible UX/UI, marketing assets, trailers, software engineering, and champions accessibility specialists across the Keywords group.

Rhonda Cottingham, FQA Service Line Director at Keywords Studios, highlighted the role of AQA-trained testers in elevating the user experience, affirming Keywords’ dedication to creating games that cater to a diverse audience.

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