Why Do Competitive Games Lack Closed Captions?

Last year I was tasked with the design (and partial implementation) of an accessibility menu for an upcoming project. I ended up advocating for a range of different features that would let more people enjoy the game we were creating, and working with the rest of the team to explore what was feasible.

As always it came down to a cost-benefit analysis. We had very little time (and even less money) so a lot of good ideas were left behind. Nonetheless, it sparked an interest and gave me the opportunity to read up on a range of different accessibility features that on the surface seem like easy wins to increase the size of your playerbase.

In my spare time I started a new project with the singular goal of lowering the barriers I ran headlong into when trying to incorporate these features into my own games.

Example
Color Accessibility Tools

The first of these features was an Editor Utility designed to help you work with and understand a range of common color deficiencies, so the information you present is always clear.

I hope to incorporate this into a more all-encompassing plugin one day soon, but for now it’s available for free on my GitHub. I hope it proves useful!

Introducing Better Captions

My most recent addition to this collection is called Better Captions, which is an attempt to create a fully-replicated subtitle/caption system with an emphasis on fairness for games with a competitive slant.

In my research I couldn’t find many examples of closed captions (including both dialogue and sound effects) being available in highly competitive games, which got me really excited. I felt like I was getting in on the ground floor of something really interesting.

Better Captions, a new solution to multiplayer captions currently in beta.

Then I started having second thoughts. I started asking why it might be that I couldn’t find what I was looking for. It’s certainly not for lack of time, money or expertise. Overwatch has always been one of the key aspirations for my Shooter Sandbox project, and it already has a vast raft of accessibility options so the developers clearly care about this kind of thing.

Some have argued that closed captions and/or subtitles provide an unfair advantage. I think there is something to that, but it’s not the whole story. I am (reasonably) confident that with careful consideration and clever design the purity of the competitive experience wouldn’t be negatively affected by the inclusion of closed captions.

I suspect this is symptomatic of a bigger issue, and that’s bandwidth.

It might not be unreasonable or impossible to provide very close to 1:1 parity between someone playing with audio and another playing with captions enabled, but to do so fairly means sending a whole lot more information over the network and that might be the real killer.

Valorant is an amazing game but its accessibility options are disappointingly limited.

This is all just conjecture on my part, and my concerns haven’t stopped me from releasing Better Captions this week. I am doing my best to mitigate these potential issues and I’m really hoping that this becomes a blueprint from which more players can enjoy our games.

Further reading

As you might imagine, I did a bunch of reading while working out what I wanted to do with my accessibility projects. The following are some of the best sources/discussions I found that inspired me to start Better Captions. Check them out if you’re interested in exploring this topic further!

I am a technical artist from Adelaide, Australia. I created techarthub to share my knowledge and love for this industry. I hope you feel it too!

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