Accessibility Case Study: Pokémon GO
People like visually impaired users have difficulty with basic Pokémon GO functionality, such as utilizing the visual map, capturing Pokémon, and reading information. This can be resolved by adding text-to-speech functionality, lists of locations with distances, greater audio cues, and a voice command system. We know we’re right when the American Foundation for the Blind tested the application with users and called for Niantic to provide equal access.
Pokémon GO was released in 2016. In 2019, 55 million people downloaded the mobile application. According to a survey by Inc., the average age is 29. The game is for both gamers and non-gamers. Data from Game Franchise Consumer Insights found that 24 percent of users did not, in previous months, play any top mobile franchise game.
Users enjoy Pokémon GO for a plethora of reasons. The data from Game Franchise Consumer Insights also found that the most popular aspect is how the game is easy to pick up (31 percent of players liked this). Additionally, players enjoyed the ability to roam (25 percent) and the competitiveness (20 percent). 72 percent of players have played a previous Pokémon game.
Pokémon GO is significant for both physical and mental health. Media researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed about 400 people three weeks after the game was launched. They found that the players tend to be positive, friendly, social, and physically active. They experience nostalgia, discovery, and connectedness.
I performed a competitive analysis by analyzing The Last of Us Part II, the most accessible video game.
The game features more than 60 accessibility features. For low-vision and blind players, the game high contrast, text-to-speech, and greater audio cues.
Another inspiration for my project is Zombies, Run! In the popular mobile application, users run from zombies on missions. The fully immersive audio experience proves that location-based games may be successful without relying on visuals. I researched and tested the high accessibility of the game by focusing on the VoiceOver, high contrast menu, speech, vibration, and run countdown.
The Pokémon GO Plus is a watch companion accessory for the game. The bluetooth device allows users to catch Pokémon and pick up items from PokéStops by clicking the vibrating middle button. Players, however, must still unlock Pokémon beforehand by catching them within the application.
Another service is called Pikachu Talk application for Amazon Echo and Google Home Devices. Players are able to ask Pikachu any questions and hear charming responses. The service inspired the voice command system that I implemented.
For my preliminary research, I viewed YouTube videos from blind gamers who tested Pokémon GO. While doing so, I created a list of the main points and studied their body language. Additionally, I analyzed the user testing from the American Foundation for the Blind. Furthermore, I read the XR Accessibility User Requirements. The document calls for a voice command system, high color contrast, captions, and spatial audio. I then synthesized the research by creating post-it notes and grouping the information.
A visually impaired user activates the voice command system, finds Paras in a nearby location, and picks up items along the way with the watch accessory.
User Journey and Sitemap
In the user journey, I split the user phases into before, during, and after. The user journey consisted of a player beginning for the first time and catching a starter Pokémon. In each step, I analyzed the accessibility requirements. To read the user journey, please click the image.
I created a sitemap to view all of the components of the game. I noticed that the majority may be accessible with text-to-speech functionality. The most challenging aspects consist of capturing Pokémon, battles, and visiting PokéStops. These challenges may be made accessible with greater audio cues. To view the full sitemap, please click the following link:
I conducted a survey, which I circulated on accessible gaming forums. To view the form, please click here.
With ten respondents, I found that the average age was 25. Nearly 30 percent of respondents are completely unable to play. Most users play near home. For hours spent playing Pokémon GO, I found my respondents to range from very little to highly active.
Additionally, I found that most users played during the evening and with friends.
I asked open-ended questions, such as the least accessible aspects of the game, most accessible aspects, and methods to improve. I documented the significant answers.
For the final prototype, I created a script. The script is divided into an input and output for the user in order to construct an accessible experience. A rough draft of the script may be viewed here:
I created a final prototype, which I separated into eight parts. I utilized voice commands in Adobe XD. Throughout the parts, I implemented the voice command system based on my edited script and added greater audio cues. The original images are on the left and changes are on the right.
Accessible gaming allows for greater innovative features. Inspired by Pikachu Talk in my competitive analysis, users are able to speak directly to the Pokémon and ask the narrator questions. Lastly, I created an accessibility menu that allows for a high level of customization based on my research.