Greetings from the Condiments Aisle!

Welcome to Relish Studios! We’re a dynamic blend of game developers, digital agency experts, and animation studio professionals, serving up award-winning content globally for nearly two decades. At Relish, we are committed to providing our partners and their audiences with the best possible output, ensuring every project we undertake is something everyone can relish.

Our team strives to find innovative ways to tell stories and leverage the latest technologies. Our mission is to create content that is accessible and enjoyable for everyone, embodying the true spirit of accessibility. At Relish we want to put things out into the world that can be enjoyed by anybody and everybody.

That is what accessibility is all about.

Accessibility & Accountability

Accessibility in web design and game development means implementing features and settings into digital products and experiences so they can be better navigated and more readily enjoyed by all. Four major areas to be considered are motor, cognitive, vision, and hearing, with the aim being never to unnecessarily exclude anyone living with these challenges from enjoying what gets created.

Some companies and developers treat accessibility from strictly a development perspective. They take their standards and do the bare minimum to meet the target, but there’s not a lot of thought about how or why they’re doing that. For us, accessibility is a very holistic thing. We do it because we want to do it, and we’ve made accessibility a part of our process from concept to delivery. Design, development, and quality assurance — everyone has a part to play.

At the risk of stating the obvious, inclusion is a good thing. We believe everyone should have the same opportunity to surf the web and play digital games no matter what barriers they face. One might argue that any content intended to drive traffic and build up a fanbase has a moral obligation to provide for all, but aside from believing it’s the right thing to do, there’s also a business strategy to take into account. The reality is, there is an enormous number of people out there with accessible challenges, and therefore, a massive audience to be gained.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 billion people experience a significant disability. Think about that for a second. 1.3 billion is roughly 16% of the entire world’s population. It’s 1 in 6. In a business where the goal is engagement and retaining interest, that number is ginormous. Considering so much of an audience is potentially being lost, it’s curious to see this happening when today’s technologies and frameworks make an accessible approach just that: accessible!

The good news is, we’re seeing the industry catch on and catch up. Recent years have shown agency and greater due diligence in regards to the implementation of accessibility features and components in the digital landscape. As accessible tools and initiatives become commonplace, companies and developers are unsurprisingly finding their audiences growing.

The bottom line is, accessible design is simply good business.

World Wide Web for All

When Relish approaches any new project, we don’t go in looking to simply modify something that already exists by adding user-friendly bells and whistles. I mean, sure, we can do that — who doesn’t love bells and whistles? But our team stops to ask the questions that make sure these features are a priority from day one. It all starts at the concept. We ask ourselves:

How does this work from an accessible point of view?

How are we considering these needs for accessible users, long before we even get to designs?

When it comes to websites, whether we’re creating something new and exciting from scratch or busting out a fresh coat of paint for a pre-existing site, our team is thinking about accessibility on both a functional and a technical level. Heading into design, there’s a number of boxes to tick in order to make sure the implementation of core features comply with ADA and AODA standards. Some of the things we consider are:

  • Thoughtful text design and layout with adjustable font sizes.
  • Consideration of colour selection for colourblind users.
  • Contrast ratios for those with visual challenges.
  • Landmark shortcut navigation and logical tab ordering for keyboard users to provide quick and efficient access to all page content.
  • Space between interactive elements for users with motor control challenges.
  • Thoughtful integration of screen reader support.

Like everything else in digital, the mechanics are constantly advancing and evolving. The tools are out there to be accessible forward in web development. You’ve got your Google Lighthouse, accessiBe, and a variety of great browser extensions such as WAVE, Accessibility Insights, and the aXe Dev Tools that provide plenty of fantastic features.

Still, sometimes you still need to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. We previously relied on various third-party contrast checking tools, but have found they’ve either disappeared or have proven inefficient. We decided to build our own! It’s a Progressive Web App (PWA) that can be used in-browser or installed locally. The tool allows us to quickly find text on a page or manually select elements and generate a report for the entire design. We can also save the selections for overlay on updated designs.

Dedication and care like this has proven to have its rewards. Our accessible-first strategy was used when developing a user-friendly website for our friends at Groupe Média TFO. It was without question one of the main reasons we were honoured at the 2020 Communicator Awards in receiving an Award of Excellence for Best Website in TV/Broadcast.

As much as it’s nice to be recognized by our peers — and believe you me, it is — it’s even more gratifying to see the results making a difference for the user. Not only are these accessible implementations creating easier to navigate websites with more engagement and higher user retention, the results show an overall greater experience for all users, regardless of if they require accessible features due to a personal challenge or disability.

Dedication and care like this has its rewards. Case in point, our accessible-first strategy was used when developing a user-friendly website for our friends at Groupe Média TFO. There is little doubt it was the key reason we were honoured at the 2020 Communicator Awards in receiving an Award of Excellence for Best Website in TV/Broadcast.

As much as it’s nice to get recognized by our peers — and believe you me, it is — it’s even more gratifying to see the results making a difference for the user. Not only are these accessible implementations creating easier to navigate websites with more engagement and higher user retention, the final result we’ve discovered is a greater experience for every user whether or not they require accessible features due to a personal challenge or disability.

Game Time

As accessible practices change the landscape of the web for the better, gaming is following suit. Unlike the web at large, it’s somewhat more difficult to get the ball rolling in games because there are no official standards to make sure accessibility is included in the final product.

By nature, the web is a structured language that defines what it is, so it’s easy to say “this is how we’re gonna build this.” Everything is built more or less the same way, but with a web game — or a native game, for that matter — there is no structure to it. Anybody can build it, with any tool or any kind of layout. One might have UI, one might not have any UI. It’s always different, which makes it difficult to build standards around that to regulate it.

Plus, games don’t provide a service the way websites do. For the most part, they aren’t considered essential, and therefore don’t need to adhere to a core set of standards. That said, some groups — like us — do plenty of work in educational content for kids. Not only are a large number of our games found on public broadcaster platforms who are accountable to the ADA, their educational component means they could be used in a classroom as part of a curriculum. In those cases in particular, it’s important that nobody is left out.

If education and regulation aren’t a factor for a company developing a new game, there’s still plenty of good reasons to explore accessibility options or set guidelines and standards to follow. As with the web, it all comes back to the audience, and the massive amount of potential players that can be reached if those features are present.

According to 3PlayMedia, more than 216 million people in the United States play some form of video game on a regular basis. Of that number, 46 million say they have one or more disabilities. Digging deeper, Scope UK did a phenomenal accessibility in gaming report back in 2022. They found that a whopping 91% of people said that their disability affects their gaming experience, while 66% of gamers with disabilities faced barriers and issues related to gaming.

With numbers like that, it’s great to see accessible features becoming more common in all types of games — and it makes a lot of sense. The gaming industry is often setting the gold standard in visual storytelling, lifelike graphics, and groundbreaking advancements in how people consume content, and the technology at play today offers new advancements for what can be done with accessible features.

We’ve seen it more and more with AAA games. Some studios are coming out with massive accessibility settings and menus in their games. In 2016, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End allowed users to alter their controller settings so players could enjoy the same gameplay experience while only using one hand. That same developer, Naughty Dog, went even further years later with The Last of Us Part II, which features more than 60 unique accessibility options.

In 2023, Xbox’s racing sim Forza Motorsport set a new gold standard for accessibility features, including game-changing modifications to make a better experience for blind and low vision players. That same year, the smash hit Baldur’s Gate 3 introduced a way for cognitively and physically disabled players to allow other users to perform interactions in multiplayer so they could focus on their own character and the mission at hand.

Changing the Web Game

Just like with our digital team, our game designers have found great success in making sure accessibility features are included in each step of our development process. As already mentioned, Relish’s wheelhouse is primarily in web and mobile gaming, quite often in the cozy corner of fun and educational multi-platform experiences for kids.

While there are no standards or regulations in regards to making web games accessible, we have nevertheless worked with our partners and accessibility consultants to develop best practices and guidelines for making playable, enjoyable, and accessible experiences. Using WCAG as a guide, our web games feature a variety of input and control methods, communicate information in multiple modalities, and provide ways for players with a wide variety of capabilities to be able to engage.

Our success in delivering world class games keeps big name brands and partners knocking on our door for more. It’s safe to say our accomplishments have grown exponentially as accessible components have been injected into the heart of our concept, design, and development. Some of these features and components we consider include:

  • Level difficulty and providing either automated adaptations or manual settings to offer a challenge appropriate to the player’s abilities.
  • The impact of time limits or real-time action, and whether alternative options can be provided to assist players with cognitive or motor control challenges.
  • Can all gameplay be achieved using only the tab and spacebar? If so, then it’s possible for two-switch input devices to be used with the game.
  • Ensuring all voice over audio has closed captions or other text representation, and that all text has voice over or screen reader support. However, to keep the player immersed in the game experience, we aim to avoid reliance on screen readers and provide voice over for all text, help, and user interface rollovers.

Thanks in large to these considerations, some of our accessible games and experiences have found recognition in the industry. Among our accolades, we took home the Webby Award Honoree for Best User Experience, the Gold Medal at the 2022 International Serious Play Awards, Best Learning App at the 2023 Kidscreen Awards, and most recently were awarded a 2024 Rockie Award for Interactive Children & Youth Content and the Banff Media Festival.

Born Accessible

Of all the case studies we could use as an example, perhaps the most exciting is the work we’ve done with our partners at PBS Kids, WNET, and Bridge Multimedia for games based on the award-winning series Cyberchase. In 2022, we released the web game Duck Dash, and more recently a follow-up called Cyber Sound Quest/Sonido Aventura.

Both of these “born accessible” games put their accessibility components at the absolute center of their conceptualization, design, and development. The features were baked into the process from the onset, present in the initial testing phase, and constantly refined along the way to make sure the needs of users with disabilities were met.

These games both have multiple modes of control, from mouse and keyboard, to dwell support for eye tracking devices, and support for two-switch input devices such as puff-and-sip. We also explored ways to make data visualization accessible to non-sighted users.

The results have been extraordinary. We’ve received incredibly positive feedback from non-sighted and hearing impaired players specifically, as well as those with motor control challenges. Our personal favourite part of the experience is obvious — being at the playtesting and seeing how excited the kids were to have games that meet them where they are at. There’s nothing better.

Relishing What We Do

As we look ahead, we’re excited about new features and technologies that will further enhance accessibility. We’re exploring voiceover as a replacement for screen readers, leveraging AI voice tools for immersive experiences, and automating testing with AI tools.

We’re also developing Dill Pixel, our in-house gaming framework, which we plan to open source. This will support and accelerate the implementation of accessibility features in browser-based games and beyond.

Accessibility opens doors for people who have often been excluded, creating a better experience for everyone. At Relish Studios, we’re proud to be at the forefront of this movement, continuously pushing the boundaries of what accessible content can achieve. The future is bright, and we’re excited to keep making a difference, one accessible project at a time.