Last week’s release of the disappointed many, including deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers, by not including subtitles in the games’ many spoken cut scenes. Now, Activision’s justification for that decision is angering many for seeming insensitivity to the needs of the community.
An Activision spokesperson gave the following statement to British site GamePitt when asked about the issue (the company was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica):
When Toys For Bob set out to make an awesome game collection, there were certain decisions that needed to be made throughout the process. The team remained committed to keep the integrity and legacy of Spyro that fans remembered intact. The game was built from the ground up using a new engine for the team (Unreal 4) and was localized in languages that had not previously been attempted by the studio. While there’s no industry standard for subtitles, the studio and Activision care about the fans’ experience especially with respect to accessibility for people with different abilities, and will evaluate going forward.
As GameCritics’ Brad Gallaway phrased it on Twitter, many are taking the statement as Activision “basically saying ‘we evaluated whether it was worth the cost and effort to keep Deaf and HH players happy, and we decided that it wasn’t.'”
Gallaway is far from alone. Beyond the usual forum discussions and online petitions protesting the statement, the deaf and hard-of-hearing gaming community is particularly alarmed by the lack of concern.
“The disabled game community is so large and so socially active that, for a studio as big as Activision to come right out and say they don’t care, even if they do make it right by patching in subtitles, they won’t ever be a company I’ll feel good about supporting again, because they showed who and what they value, and my community isn’t it,” Susan Banks, a deaf player who has reviewed dozens of games for accessibility issues as part of OneOddGameGirl, told Ars Technica via email.
“I can’t help but feel insulted by what Activision said, honestly,” she added. “They made a conscious decision to exclude deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers. We’re often forgotten about or thought of as an afterthought, but with this, they admitted that they just don’t care as much about deaf gamers as they do the rest of their fanbase.”
While it’s true there is no standard for video games to be subtitled (as there is for many types of video content), Banks notes that “the standard in the game industry is, at the very least, having subtitles when your game is released.” She points to documents like Ian Hamilton’s Game Accessibility Guidelines and sites like Includification as well-established “unofficial” guidelines for how to make sure everyone can enjoy a game. Developers can even attend the annual Game Accessibility Conference to learn more about these issues.
Activision also failed to add subtitles to the cut scenes and gameplay in last year’s release of , a fact that somenotedat the time. The original releases of those mid-to-late-’90s and games didn’t include subtitle options in their original incarnations either. That said, those games were released at a time when console game-makers were still learning how to deal with the wide prevalence of fully voiced characters brought on by CD-ROM storage.
Titles like helped popularize the idea of default subtitles for fully voiced games during that era. In the years since, prominent games including , , and the original have all neglected to include subtitle options as well (TV Tropes has a list of other offenders).
Relatedly, the game industry has long argued for multiple exemptions to 2010’s 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. That law requires “advanced communications services,” including video games with online voice chat, to be “accessible by people with disabilities” (though it would not enforce a subtitle standard on pre-recorded game content). The FCC’s most recent waiver on this issue, which it has said will be the final one issued to the industry at large, is set to expire in December.