Accessible Game Design

Making Fortnite Accessible for Young Gamers with Auditory Impairments

A screenshot of the new design for the accessibility menu of Fortnite

  • Work Type: User Experience Design Course Project
  • Duration: 10 Weeks
  • Categories: User Experience DesignAccessible DesignProcess

The Problem

According to Kochkin’s survey in 2008, 35 million Americans were hearing impaired which is about 11.3% of the US population. It is projected that by 2025 more than 40 million Americans will suffer from hearing impairments.

Having said that, I think every person has a right to enjoy a good video game and my project focuses on youth with auditory impairments who love playing Fortnite.

The issues I am addressing are that youth with auditory impairments cannot successfully play Fortnite, they do not enjoy the experience of playing the game because they feel more frustrated than relaxed when they can’t understand the game tasks and they lose their confidence to play in online multiplayer modes which isolates them from their gaming peers.

Competitor Analysis

While Fortnite provides some accessibility features they are not enough to enjoy a seamless gaming experience so during the initial research phase of this project I did some competitor analysis and user research to determine which features are missing from Fortnite. What I found was that while Fortnite provides closed captions it does not provide options to customize these captions. It offers a visualize sounds feature but it is poorly implemented. And unlike its competitor Apex Legends it does not have a voice chat to text conversion feature.

I compared accessibility features of three games; Fortnite, Apex Legends and Dragon Age: Origins. Below is a chart for feature comparison:

User Interview Insights

I talked to some game players and asked them what they think is lacking in the game that may cause frustration for hearing impaired gamers. What are some current issues that the game has regarding hearing accessibility? And what are some accessible features that work for them?

Below are some important quotes from the users.

  • “I don’t understand what the characters want me to do. The captions pass by too quickly. the captions are not very readable.”
  • “I can’t play in squads because I can’t do voice chat with other players”
  • “I didn’t know which side the enemy was coming from because I cannot hear the footsteps. There should be some way of warning me.”
  • “I don’t want to be left out of the Fortnite gaming community.”

User Persona

Samantha is a persona I created based on my target users. Samantha is 16 years old. She is an eleventh grader. She excels at her school work and aspires to be a pro gamer. She is an active member of her school’s gamers’ club. As a member of this club she loves playing and reviewing action role playing, shooter and strategy games. She also plans on attending an undergraduate school which offers a game design program.

But she suffers from a total hearing loss since she was 6 years old. She faces some difficulty in playing her favorite game, Fortnite. And she is not confident about playing it with other players in a team.

The Solution

What I learned from talking to gamers and researching about people with hearing disabilities who like to play games is that these people want more options for their games. They want to be able to customize accessibility features according to their needs so that they can adjust the settings for a better playing experience.

So I decided to give them these customizable accessibility options. For this I redesigned Fortnite’s accessibility settings and added more features to it. Below you will see Fortnite’s current accessibility settings menu. It offers some features for visual, motor and hearing categories but they are not organized as such.

Below you will see a screenshot of Fortnite with visualize sound effects feature on. The tiny footsteps that you can barely see here are used to show where the enemy’s footsteps are heard. This is not very useful because it is hard to see the footsteps. So this feature needs improvement.

I worked on a solution specifically designed to address Samantha’s needs and the needs of others like her.

The Process

I used a 'Now, Next, Later' feature prioritization method to finalize the new accessibility features. My first priority was to give options to customize the closed captions, such as its font size, type and colors. Visualization of sound via text or graphics was also a priority. Next was to provide a voice chat to text and text to voice chat feature to enable multiplayer communication and to slow down the speed of dialogue which provide instructions. Later features included haptic feedback for approaching enemies and nearby loot such as the treasure chests.

I also made user flow diagram to understand the steps users take to play fortnite and to identify where they face problems due to their loss of hearing. The diagram below considers both first time players and returning players.

Then, I conducted a card sort activity with some Fortnite players and drew up a site map for the information architecture of the new settings. Below are images for these.

I made some hand drawn sketches to determine the UI elements that I should use for the settings.

I used Adobe XD to produce some refined wireframes for the solution.

Next I produced first iteration of some important screens of the solution and annotated them.

Below is a screen recording of the first interactive prototype for the solution.

Usability Testing and User Feedback

I showed this initial prototype to some users and got their feedback on it. Then I incorporated the feedback in the second iteration of the prototype. Some suggestions I got were:

  • You can take the chat window out of the game to avoid interference with other elements in the game.
  • You don’t really need an apply button for the advanced captions settings. The settings can be applied automatically.
  • There is too much text and not many visual elements.
  • It would be better if I can see the font size that I am setting, instead of typing a number into the field.
  • Give a preview for the font types.
  • Consider providing a preview for the captions when user is customizing them such as its colors.
  • If a person with the voice-to-text feature on, joins a team the other members should be notified and given a quick link to turn their text-to-voice feature on.

Below is a screen recording of the second and final interactive prototype for the solution. I incorporated user feedback in this iteration.