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April 28, 2006

Everybody Conga…Well Maybe not Everybody!

Filed under: Game Law Articles — Tom B @ 4:09 pm

Remember those old movies with the long conga line in them? Well, imagine that the line is a line of gamers. But some of the gamers can’t dance. So, no conga for them. They’re just watching their friends have fun while dealing with a frustrated desire to dance themselves. That is what it is like for an estimated 20-25% of the population over the age of 17. This is because these potential gamers have one or more physical or cognitive disabilities. And the games most of us make do not provide a means for these folks to access them.

Awareness is Job #1

I was asked to participate in the IGDA’s “Game Not Over: Expanding the Market through Accessible Games” full-day tutorial at GDC. And I guess, like most of those reading this article, it was not something I had thought much about at all. And to a great extent, that is the first problem - awareness.

Certainly, no developer would intentionally decrease their potential user base by 20%. And I doubt anyone who makes games, even the most callous among us, would intentionally exclude anyone from getting enjoyment out of the fruits of their labor. Most likely it is simply a lack of awareness or an understanding of the issues involved and how to address them. And, of course, that damned “allocation of resources” issue that impacts every proposed gameplay feature.

Disabilities Come in Several Flavors

Rather than speaking of games for the disabled, it is better to think of it in terms of making games that are “universally accessible.” Disabilities can generally be divided into four basic types; visual; auditory; mobility and cognitive. And the extent of the disability in each type varies. For example, visual disabilities range from total blindness (where all game information needs to be conveyed through sound and touch) to color blindness.

This is similar with all the different types of disabilities. And the result is not just a single solution. But in many cases, a different solution is required for each variant. Now, instead of a single gameplay feature to factor into the cost-benefit analysis, it becomes a bunch of gameplay features. Some very difficult and expensive to implement. Fortunately, others are fairly simple to set up.

Some Simple Examples

Some of the more basic features that can help make your game “universally accessible” include closed captioning for the hearing impaired. This means be more than just dialog. It also needs to include all game cues, including gameplay hints that might be being delivered through sounds effects or even music. (Valve did this with Half Life 2 and there is a Doom 3 closed-captioned mod as well). Many mobility issues can be addressed with a single switch system like the one in Strange Attractors, one of the IGF Innovation Award nominees, or by a modified one-handed controller set up. Cognitive disabilities might require a slower pace or much lower difficulty level.

Hey, wait a minute! Difficulty levels are already in most games. Talk about your “low-hanging fruit.” Just make a special difficulty that is a lot easier! The odd this is that studies show that people who are not disabled also access and use these features when present in games.

Where’s the Game Law?

This is all interesting…but I am sure by now someone is wondering, “Where’s the Game Law?” Well, my part of the tutorial was about applicable US law. And there are a few things to be considered. Although US discrimination laws do not extend to products sold to individuals, they do apply to government sales.

So, if there is any potential government sale of your game or technology in your business model, you had better pay attention to making it universally accessible. Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 requires accessibility on all electronic media sold to the government. So, it may be something you need to consider. For more information, see: http://www.section508.gov/.

That’s the “stick” side of the equation. On the “carrot” side we have the 8826 Tax Credit to small businesses that implement accessibility into their games. Small businesses are defined as businesses with 50 or fewer employees or whose annual revenue is less that $1M US. You can recover up to 50% of the expense of the implementation of accessibility up to $10,000.00. That is a total tax credit of up to $5,000.00. And a tax credit is deducted from your taxes, not merely expensed out.

I’m no tax lawyer, but $5K tax credit to closed caption your game, especially for small casual game studios, could be well worth the effort. Here’s the link to the form - http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8826.pdf. Pass it on to your accountant!

Some Resources

Here are a few more links to additional information on these issues:

IGDA Accessibility SIG - http://www.igda.org/accessibility/
The Bartiméus Accessibility Foundation - http://www.accessibility.nl/games/
UK Accessibility Site Article on Games - http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/closeup/gaming.shtml

So, there is an untapped market here, financial incentives, government pressure…and most important, it’s the right thing to do. Let’s all start thinking seriously about making games universally accessible to everyone.

Till next time… Good luck, have fun, and I’ll see you at E3!

April 14, 2006

Coming soon to a Courthouse near you!!!

Filed under: Thoughts and Rants — Tom B @ 4:00 pm

Check out this email and attachment I got today.

Talk about blaming it on the messinger. This nut case wants to blame EA and their “Majestic” game for two heart attacked and a leaky heart. Didn’t EA already pay enough for that fiasco?

Subject: in reference to EA games, can you help me…

Dear Sir,

I have had 2 heart attacks and have the copy of the x-rays where my heart is leaking and where I got kicked due to some issues from the situations with EA Games and the game Majestic and Conkers Bad Fur Day.

I am from Florida and I am on my way back home soon, I’ve got to have some surgery in about 2 weeks so we can get rid of this stuff and I am going to send them the attached letter right away but I still have not heard from them and I don’t know what to do and Jeff Brown got it and he’s the one that should have been able to help me, and his secretarys name is Lorraine so I guess he’s still treating me like I’m just a game.

Can you please help me or give me the name and address of an attorney that can help me, I really need help.

I ended up attempting suside because of what was happening, and that was not at all my intention I assure you.

Please help me I don’t know what else to do and I’m not a lawyer I don’t know what to do and due to this stuff my car got repossed and I’ve been walking with screws in both my feet from a double bunectomy and also fell on my knee and twisted my ankle which is really hurting my hips alot. This is really frustrating.

Plus like I said in the letter my son drawing a bear with a knife dripping in blood really gave me the heart attack in addition to the Majestic phone calls and stuff all going on at once. It’s been terrible….

The attached letter is a draft of the letter I am going to send to them. Could you please advise me what I should do, or if there is somewhere specific I should send the letter, or if you could represent me or if you can get me an attorney or a lawyer that can actually help me, I would like help with this.

Thank you,

And the attached letter…

April 14, 2006

EA Headquarters
Electronic Arts Worldwide Headquarters
209 Redwood Shores Parkway
Redwood City, CA 94565

RE: Majestic And Bad For A Day

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have enclosed one of the emails sent to your company in reference to an inquiry of compensation for emotional, mental and physical damages incurred during your game Majestic.

This was such an extremely frightening situation I have had 2 heart attacks and my heart is leaking, I am enclosing x-rays for you to see the leak from my heart and also damages I incurred to my kidney from being kicked due to some of the Majestic telephone calls that were received at my house, which the game boasted about these phone calls they did not get received well at my house and I was hurt in the process. He even left and stole a lot of my things blaming me. There was still blood in my urine 3 years later and I am still in a lot of pain and mental anguish.

I was in the hospital several times and as if that wasn’t bad enough my ex-husband was letting my son and daughter play a game by your company called Bad For A Day and he and my daughter drew a picture of a bear with blood dripping from a knife. I ended up in the hospital and my heart leaking from the stress of it all. It has been a terrible experience and I have continued to feel paranoid and terrorized.

I am sorry for the wording of the original letter I sent via email to Jeff Brown but the game and it’s “conspiracy” sure seemed to parallel what was happening in my personal and professional life so the complete interaction was more than I could handle. Your company described your “game” Majestic which was said to be a “persuasive gaming harness” built around fictional characters in an “interactive suspense thriller” borrows from The X-Files, War Games, and Michael Douglas’ movie The Game as it entwines players in a dark conspiracy on the Web, then tracks them down in real life, outside the anonymous safety of a Web browser.” It certainly wasn’t contained to the safety of the Web Browser as you are still continuing to experience even now. I am personally both terrified and frightened for myself, my children, my family and everyone else at the violation of safety, personal rights and privacy involved in this and the levels of the security intrusion are devastating.

I love my life and I want to stay alive and have a chance to enjoy it with my children like I planned and have worked hard to do. This sure has hurt me and my plans and as far as I’m concerned everyone else in this life.

Please advise me of how you intend to financially compensate me for these issues, I still need some medical issues attended to and my children still need some counseling. I am not even with my children right now, due to this issue I ended up losing my apartment, my car got reposed and I have not been able to return to work due to physical and mental medical issues.

I would like this issue to be promptly resolved so that I can try to get some of the counseling that I need to try to get myself back to normal and I have a lot of bills as a result of this disaster.

Please advise me as soon as possible as to how you intend to resolve this issue.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, I have been waiting awhile for resolution to this issue.

Sincerely,

XXXX XXXXXXXXX

cc: Mr. Brad King, State of Florida State Attorney,
Mr. Benjamin H. Ayres, Attorney at Law
Mr. Boseman, Mr. Thomas Beers, and Mr. Walker,
Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Unit

Enc: x-rays #2001 & 2002, and documents including one of the police reports and hospital documents

Excerpts from Electronic Arts in reference to Majestic

Please be clear I am speaking of the games technology existence outside of a secured web browser on a desktop computer into our everyday existence.

…Don Mattrick, president of Electronic Arts Worldwide Studios. “They want more emotional beats per minute, more memorable moments and more things that make them say gee whiz!”

…”We’re using artificial intelligence, inverse kinematics and sophisticated physics to bring dimension to our characters and worlds,”

“We’re making a substantial investment in building the infrastructure for EA.com,”…

…What’s going on? You’re just a pawn in “Majestic,” EA’s episodic online adventure that spills over from the Internet and actually invades your privacy…”

I think it may have been intended for some other Miami attorney…can you guess which one.


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