A new study [pdf
] claims that the video game industry may lose out on $3 billion in annual U.S. revenues as companies continue to largely ignore the needs of aging and disabled gamers.
White papers released by The AbleGamers Foundation and 7-128 Software warned that the games industry is on a "collision course," with the financial impact occurring in the next five years "If the gaming industry does not realign their priorities to include accessible gaming."
Mark Barlet, president of AbleGamers told Gamasutra that the $3 billion potential revenue loss figure is an annual estimate. The figure is based on there being 50 million people in the U.S. who report a disability and 65 percent of households that play computer and video games.
The study stated, "The [financial] effects [of ignoring disabled gamers] would be destructive to the game makers both in terms of lost sales and lost customers." It also said that the gaming industry could lose 32.5 million potential customers in the U.S. alone if it ignores aging and disabled gamers.
The study said that the inclusion of accessibility options in games could add around 15 percent more time to a development cycle -- time that AbleGamers and 7-128 Software said will pay off a few years from now.
Some of the suggested fixed for games included in the report are the following:
- Variable size fonts/typefaces
- Specific colors changes for color blind gamers
- Access to screen readers or built-in voice to assist in screen navigation and play
- Variable speed settings to allow motion impaired gamers to use less rapid response access methods to play. This also allows gamers who have cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia, dementia and the like to play at a speed that is comfortable for them
- Captions for all spoken dialogue and for important sounds that give direction or other information in a game
- Extra descriptive material accessible to screen readers or a built-in game voice to give blind or visually impaired gamers a picture of what is on the screen
- Game consoles that can be reprogrammed to allow operation in a pattern different than a non-disabled player uses, such as one-handed play
- User interfaces that do not require multiple keys to be pressed at the same time
But industry analyst Michael Pachter with Wedbush was skeptical of a $3 billion impact. "If annually, I doubt it, as that is more than 10 percent of game revenues," he told Gamasutra. "If cumulative, of course it is possible."
He added, "My view is that the industry is taking steps to make games more accessible with motion controls that require somewhat lower levels of manual dexterity. It’s hard to know the size of the potential revenue loss without better understanding the percentage of people who become disabled and who are active gamers."
Pachter continued, "My bias is that as people age, they are less likely to be interested in games, but I agree that will change as today’s 20-something hardcore gamers age. The question is whether games will evolve with the hardcore’s diminishing skills set."
The study argued, "The fact is that as the gaming population ages, older gamers are more likely to have a minor or major disability or health condition. In the very near future, game companies and gamers will be on a collision course, where, in order to maintain profitability, game producers will need to build in the accommodations that will make their games accessible to people with disabilities."
The white papers cited the Entertainment Software Association, which found that in 2008, the average gamer was 35 years old, up from 30 years old in 1995. The ESA also said that around 25 percent of U.S. gamers are over 50 years old.
"Many gamers started playing Atari in the '70s and '80s and are now 50 years and older. They may still want to be gamers, but, as they age, they may not be able to because of disability or health conditions," said Stephanie Walker, founder of AbleGamers. "They're essentially being shut out."