Jana Kuklová will be one of the speakers at WebExpo 2023. Her talk is titled The Brave Brain: An inclusive mobile game you can play without sight or hearing and will be about the development of a multiplayer mobile game using inclusive design methods that seek to include all players.
I used this opportunity and asked her a few questions about this topic.
Firstly, let me briefly introduce Jana. Jana Kuklová is the CEO and co-founder of the barrier-free game studio Kikiriki Games, which she founded together with her husband to improve the accessibility of mobile games for the blind community. In addition to her executive duties, she also works as a game designer at the studio and emphasises that games should be for all players, regardless of their limitations.
Radek: Jana, what motivated you to found Kikiriki Games, and what challenges have you faced while developing accessible mobile games for the blind community?
Jana: I founded Kikiriki Games together with my husband Miloš. We wanted to improve the offering of blind friendly mobile games available on the market. Currently, 99.98% of all mobile games are inaccessible for the blind people. Some may ask why we’re focusing on the accessibility of mobile games when there are more serious problems in the world that need to be solved. But it’s always frustrated me that there are dozens to hundreds of new games coming out every day, but I can’t play any of them. It’s also important to remember that a blind person has very limited options for independent leisure. And we wanted to create entertainment that would be barrier-free and where a blind person could have as much fun as their sighted peers and friends.
Radek: What are some of the key design considerations that you take into account when developing an accessible mobile game?
Jana: From the beginning, we have strived to make our games enjoyable for visually impaired and sighted players alike. Our first game, To the Dragon Cave, was based on the principle of an audio game. It’s an audio shooter in which the player relies solely on their hearing. It’s quite an unconventional game and that’s why, for example, it was nominated for the Pocket Gamer Awards in the Most Innovative Mobile Game category.
However, we gradually realised that if we wanted to appeal to the average sighted gamer looking for a quick break in a mobile game, we couldn’t make the game harder for them by removing all visual input from the game. Approximately 80% of all sensory information is received by sight. So, when these inputs are missing, the game becomes very difficult for the sighted player. That’s why we decided to abandon the concept of audio-only interaction in our game. Our desire is to create a game that is equally accessible and fair for both sighted and visually impaired players.
We are now working on a quiz game, Brave Brain, and we aim to give the player the same playing field and the same amount of entertainment whether they play the game by watching it or listening to it.
Radek: How do you approach testing and feedback when developing an accessible mobile game?
Jana: During development, we test the game with our testers to see how easy it is for them to understand. It is important for us to be present in person during testing so that we can observe how the player reacts to the game. This allows us to see where the player is confused, when they are enjoying the game, or which areas are too difficult for them. The best testers for us are people who say they are not gamers. They always apologize to us for not understanding the game, but that’s exactly the type of tester we like the most. We strive to make our game easy to understand and accessible for everyone.
Radek: Do you work with a specific group of testers with disabilities, and how do you incorporate their feedback into the game’s design?
Jana: Yes, our testers are both visually impaired and sighted. But accessibility testing is key for us. Naturally, I am always the first accessibility tester. Whenever Miloš wants to introduce me to a new development milestone. He has to add accessibility to the game so that I can play it. And he often hears from me right away which elements are inaccessible to my screenreader or which ones seem chaotic to me when controlling the game. Of course, this is just the beginning. The game must be tested by more visually impaired testers so that we can come across different scenarios of how the player perceives and controls the game. After each testing phase, we take away a list of very beneficial observations and comments which we try to incorporate into the actual accessibility implementation as much as possible.
Radek: What advice would you give to developers interested in creating accessible mobile apps and games?
Jana: I would definitely recommend developers to consider users who have some limitations. I think that if developers start with this first step and think about different groups of users and try to put themselves in their shoes, because restrictions can happen to anyone at any time, and maybe even just for a limited time, then the next steps will not be as difficult anymore. It saddens me when I come across an app that could be easily accessible but the developer just forgot about users with disabilities. In the last few months, I have come across so many mobile games that could be accessible due to their gameplay, but the developers didn’t realize that visually impaired players would also like to play their games.
Radek: Why should WebExpo participants join your talk?
Jana: In my talk, I don’t want to focus just on the development of our game. I would also like to focus on how the blind people use the phone and the fact that technical accessibility does not necessarily mean that the app is going to be easily usable for the blind. I would also like to demonstrate the different ways in which mobile games can be made accessible to blind users, as well as what a game should have in order to be equally accessible and fair for sighted and visually impaired players alike.
Jana, thank you very much for the interview and I am looking forward to your talk at WebExpo 2023!
For those who would like to join Jana and other amazing speakers, there is a coupon code “poslepu“ for 20 % off the ticket price.