Accessibility: catering to everyone

Accessability - Catering to everyone.
image by 8photo - www.freepik.com

Accessibility is the game’s ability to cater the same content to players with different skill levels and time commitments. The more accessible a game is, the bigger the target group and the stronger player retention. Read how to do it!

Table of contents


What is accessibility?

Some would call it “casual-friendly”. However, that term is prone to misunderstandings.

Accessibility is a game’s ability to create a satisfying experience for players with different skills and time commitments.

Therefore, accessability has to handle:

This is no easy task, and most games evade it by creating different content for different player types. However, special content for each player type is the opposite of accessibility.

This article is about making the same content interesting for differently skilled and invested players.

Also, there are non-game-design accessibility factors that include language, availability, and pricing. They are described at the end of the article.


Player skill

Distribution of player skill

Skill is the ability of a player to win a game.

Typical skills are fast reflexes, a deep understanding of the game mechanics, and a high perception.

Each game demands a different set of skills. The set of required player skills is distributed in a Normal distribution for any given game. That means few are at the lower and upper end of the spectrum. Most players have moderate skill. After all, game balancing aims for that.

Player skill advancement

The players’ skill increases over time. This is called a learning curve. Players learn to use the game mechanics to their advantage. They get used to the input system, and they develop strategies.

In a game like chess, success is purely determined by player skill. The learning curve has a typical sigmoid shape.

At the start, players try to understand the game. Everything is new to them, and progress is slow. After a while, they begin to understand the game and make rapid progress. This is called a steep learning curve.

Finally, a state is reached where players cannot significantly increase their skill anymore. They are masters in the game. Dependent on the game, it can take years or decades to reach this state.

The learning curve’s shape depends on the game and the individual player.


Avatar skill

What is avatar skill

Virtual skill or avatar skill determines the power of the player’s avatar.

That can be its health, attack power, or similar statistics. The more time players invest in a game, the more powerful their avatar is. No matter how skilled the players are.

Avatar skill advancement

The timing and magnitude of player skill advancement are individual player properties. On the contrary, avatar skill advancement is the same for every player and completely in the game’s hands.

The overall skill in an MMORPG is determined by the sum of player skill and avatar skill. While player skill and advancement are uncontrollable, avatar skill properties are set by game design.

The higher the impact of avatar skill, the lower the player skill’s influence on the overall skill.


Skill properties

Skill barriers

A skill barrier is the level of overall skill required to perform a game task.

Players below the skill barrier are unable to participate in the game activity. A level 10 warrior cannot defeat a level 50 ogre.

Skill barriers are essential for a game to let players feel progression and success. So there is no way around them.

Learn more about difficulty level here.

Skill weights

A game that focuses on player skills is best suited for competitive games and e-sports. Winning in such games is most satisfying. However, the risk of frustration is high.

A game that focuses on avatar skills is ideal for a social or cooperative game. Playing such games holds less frustration because the time invested is always rewarded with a proportional amount of power increase.

An accessible MMORPG progresses via avatar skills. Success depends on the time spent in the game.

Keep skill weights constant

Chess Example

Imagine a jury came up with a new chess rule: For every year playing chess, a player can replace a pawn with a queen.

Blue Figure

An outright silly idea, isn´t it? Nobody would ever consider it.

MMORPG Example

Now imagine an MMORPG. It is easy to play. Players have quests and can run dungeons. The skill barrier is low. Game progress is based on advancing avatar skills. When the players visit the dungeons in the suggested level range, they can conveniently finish them. Very skilled players can take a shortcut by skipping a dungeon and progress faster. However, to safely progress, all it needs is a time commitment. 

The peak of the game is a raid. The first bosses are already harder than the usual dungeon. Some players struggle, but in the end, they can make it. However, playing the game starts to feel like a job.
Many players don´t have the skill to defeat the final boss. After a lot of drama, the raid group breaks apart. Many players leave the game frustrated.

What these examples teach

What have these two examples in common? They describe the same mistake! The absurd chess rule introduces avatar skill in a game based on player skill. Vice versa, the MMORPG introduces player skill in a game based on avatar skill.

Such an MMORPG is a hardcore game disguised as a casual game.

Therefore, keep skill weighs constant.

Nothing is wrong with different weights for different games. However, different weights in the same game will create player frustration.

Beacon content

High-level content may have such a high skill barrier that only a small percentage of players ever experiences it. So was this content for nothing? Not at all!

It is a misconception that accessibility means that every player can experience every content. Remember: accessibility is a game’s ability to create a satisfying experience for players with different skills and time commitments.

Nothing about a right to experience even the most difficult content. In fact, having content ahead is an important motivation factor. Players play your game as long as there is an unfinished line. Take care that your players can clearly see the line, yet not what is behind.

So even if nobody ever plays your end-level raid. As long as players strive to reach for it, it was worth its creation expenses.

Providing simplified versions of content to “make it accessible” removes that finishing line. Therefore, this strategy damages player motivation and player retention.


Time Commitment

Players invest different amounts of time in a game. Like player skill, the distribution of time commitment among players has the shape of a Normal distribution.

Most players spend a moderate amount of time gaming. Furthermore, it is not uncommon that the amount of time a player invests in a game changes over time.


Player types according to skill and time investment

What are the player types?

To understand accessibility, we define player types depending on their skill and time commitment. These player types have nothing to do with Bartle´s classification of player types.

  • The Casual: has little time and low skill; struggles not to be left behind
  • The Grinder: has much time and low skills; struggles not to fail despite a high time commitment
  • The Burner: has little time and high skills; struggles to reach the challenging parts of the game
  • The Hardcore: has much time and high skills; struggles to find new content

Players usually belong to different types over the course of time.

In an MMORPG with low accessibility, the Casual quests, the Grinder farms, the Burner PvPs, and the Hardcore raids.

In an MMORPG with high accessibility, the Casual participates in all activities. The Grinder is the wealthiest member. The Burner is the most skilled player, and the Hardcore is the top dog.

Satisfy all player types

Skill barriers are not the reason that different player types play different content. Rather, the reason is skill weighting! Each type chooses content that fits its skill weighting profile.

To create content that satisfies all player types, you need to make the skill weightings fit them all.

The Casual

The casual is a low-skilled player with little time commitment. However, this player does not expect to be among the top dogs. Participation is the aim. To cater to the casual:

  • give avatar skill a high weight
  • implement catch-up mechanics for avatar skill; for instance, by crafting so that the Casual can participate in the progress of the Grinder and the Harcore (see also: Sleepwalking)

The Grinder

The Grinder is a low-skilled player with a high time commitment. He expects an equally high position in the game. To cater to the grinder:

  • give avatar skill a high weight
  • enable the Grinder to craft and to trade his crafts for none-progress rewards that represent wealth

The Burner

The Burner is a highly-skilled player with little time commitment. He focuses on parts of the game. He will have a lower avatar skill. To cater to the burner:

  • supply difficult and fast tasks that provide none-progress rewards that represent skill
  • implement catch-up mechanics; for instance, by crafting so the Grinder and the Harcore are connected to the Burner

The Hardcore

The Hardcore is a highly-skilled player with a high time commitment. Therefore, the Hardcore is the one that reaches the end of your content first. Ideally, that never happens. To cater to the hardcore:

  • supply difficult and time-consuming tasks that provide none-progress rewards that represent being the best player
  • let other players participate in this success; for instance, by crafting or by unlocking mechanics

Responsibilities

Is there more than skills that matter in a game’s accessibility? Yes, there is a whole lot more. Responsibilities are another important factor.

Having to attends raids every Friday and Sunday is a responsibility. Responsibilities are not casual-friendly. Even hardcore players don´t like them. Rather, they accept them as a necessary evil.

Is there more than skills that matter in a game’s accessibility? Yes, there is a whole lot more.

What is an important accessibility factor for you?

On the other hand, wanting to play a game whenever you want, how long you want is casual-friendly and hardcore-friendly at the same time.

Communities tend to impose responsibilities on their members to achieve success. Strive to avoid this with your game design. That´s no easy task. Read how it can be done in the channeling content article.


Non-game-design accessibility factors

Language

Language can be a barrier. The more important language is in your game, the more you should consider it an accessibility factor. Most players prefer games in their native language. If not, you should question the quality of the game’s translation.

A game with much and complicated language targets a different audience than a game with short or no language. The aim is to tell deep and exciting stories, not long stories. You are not paid per word.

In this regard, you should treat an MMORPG like a movie: show, not tell.

Visibility

Actually, visibility is not an accessibility factor, yet a success factor. Players can only play your game when they know about it. That is what the billion-dollar business of advertising is about.

Don´t be mistaken. Even good games need advertising. That doesn´t need to be a classical and expensive ad campaign. However, you should think about a marketing strategy.

Keep the priorities right: Don’t let marketing be the game designer. And don´t make promises you cannot hold.

Availability

The technical base of your game limits the user base. Does your game run only on high-end hardware? Or exclusively on a console? Or does it even run on 10-year-old smartphones?

Does your game require a fast internet connection? Are the servers nearby?

Is the payment mode easy and secure? Is there an age restriction to your game? How is your game distributed?

Pricing

What are the direct costs of your game? What is the payment model?

What are the indirect costs of your game? Is it time-consuming? Does it require high-end hardware?

Checklist

Accessibility is a game’s ability to create a satisfying experience for players with different skills and time commitments.

To make your MMORPG accessible:

  • have low player skill barriers on the content of every group size
  • offer single-player or small group content with a high skill barrier that rewards with none-progress rewards
  • allow skilled players to advance faster in every content by compensating missing avatar skill with player skill
  • keep the skill weights and the skill barriers constant in the course of your game
  • connect the advancement of players with crafting and other catch-up mechanics
  • avoid player responsibilities by clever content channeling
  • don´t forget non-game-design accessibility factors

Game design considerations.
Design Doris

To build an accessible MMORPG, give avatar skill a high weight. Reward high player skill with none-progress rewards.

(Last Updated on April 1, 2021)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.