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March has been a polarizing month in the world of games. On one end, you have a great game that has revitalized a series much loved by gamers and which lots of them will be able to play. On the other end, you have a game that, because of choices that its developer made, cuts out massive portions of the gaming community. There was a huge outcry over one of the games, and the other one met only with praise. One of these games is incredible, while lots of gamers wouldn’t know about the other since they can’t play it at all. These two games are Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider and EA’s SimCity. But which is which?
SimCity should have been a great game. The opportunity to create and run such a complex city simulation has enticed gamers since the series’ beginning. And looking at the fundamentals of the gameplay (apart from the connectivity) SimCity is a remarkably well-done game. But it has been and continues to be plagued with problems. Because EA chose to make the game always online, only gamers with a steady internet connection and who never play on the go will be able to enjoy this game whenever they want—or at least that’s the theory. To make matters worse, EA failed to provide adequate server setup. In fact, it would be fair to say that at its launch, SimCity was one of the most inaccessible games in PC gaming history. But the question is, why? Did EA intentionally undermine SimCity because they didn’t want people to play it? Of course not. Call it poor planning, bad design choices, or just plain stupidity, the reality is, EA broke the game by accident. They didn’t intend to make it unplayable.
Thankfully, the flaws in SimCity do not diminish the overall experience. They just make the overall experience hard to access. EA is attempting to fix these problems and will most likely succeed in the near future. At that point, SimCity will be a great game that most gamers will be able to enjoy—especially considering how accessible it is for players with any kind of physical disability. Maxis has taken specific steps to make the game accessible for those with visual disabilities, not only including three dedicated colorblind modes, each of which compensates for one of the three most common colorblind conditions, but also allowing players with weak sight to zoom in on their cities in order to see the fine detail. Players with hearing disabilities can also enjoy this game because it doesn’t use sound to communicate anything important. But where the game really stands out is in its accessibility for people with fine motor disabilities (disabilities that affect the hands). In addition to being incredibly forgiving, the game can also be played with only one hand.
As a result, although there have been some serious connectivity issues up front, these are temporary. And when EA finally fixes them, SimCity will be a game that anybody can enjoy, regardless of physical ability.
By contrast, Tomb Raider appeared to be a great game from day one. It redefined a much loved franchise, with beautiful graphics, compelling story, and what is touted as some of the best gameplay for the current generation. Across the industry it’s getting high ratings. And yet, the game is probably unplayable for a larger group of gamers than the group that can’t play SimCity. Without eviscerating Crystal Dynamics for their design choices, the reality is, the game is completely inaccessible to most players with physical disabilities. In my experience, I spent more time handing the controller off to a non-disabled friend to get me past the quick time events and other barriers than I spent actually playing the game. Whether it is these QTEs or the game’s aiming mechanic, Tomb Raider is completely inaccessible if your hands don’t work well. Combine that with the fact that the game relies on fine visual detail, and the game falls even lower on the accessibility scale. The bottom line: Tomb Raider is also broken.
I want to be clear—I don’t think Tomb Raider is a bad game. It is simply unplayable in much the same way that SimCity is. The difference is that Tomb Raider is permanently unplayable, and unplayable for a different demographic.
Like EA, Square Enix broke Tomb Raider by accident. But in this case, it was by neglecting to take the disabled gaming community into consideration when designing the game. Unfortunately, the flaws in Tomb Raider are not as easily fixed as those in SimCity. It would require a complete redesign of the title in order to make Tomb Raider accessible—a process which Crystal Dynamics has little time or desire to do, nor should they. They made the same kind of design choices as Maxis. The only difference is that most gamers are not aware of Tomb Raider’s accessibility issues, while SimCity’s connectivity issues have gotten front page attention.
So which game is good and which is unplayable? The answer is, both are. They are both great games that have been hobbled. One cuts out lots of PC gamers, the other cuts out lots of disabled gamers. And both were ruined by design choices that their developers made.
The difference is that since the release of SimCity, there has been a huge outcry over the fact that many gamers have limited or no access to the game. People are calling for EA’s blood over what is essentially a temporary issue. Yet gamers are furious over the delays it has caused. By contrast, Tomb Raider is permanently inaccessible to most gamers with disabilities. And the gaming community at large is silent. Where is the outcry over the fact that a vast number of gamers will never have access to Tomb Raider? Why does it seem like we only complain when games are momentarily unplayable? If we don’t like it when designers make choices that exclude gamers temporarily, shouldn’t we voice our concerns even more loudly when game developers make choices that exclude players permanently?
For more articles on game accessibility, please visit DAGERS, or find us on Facebook or @dagersystem.
Hmmm. Interesting article, but I think the thing you have to take into account as to why SimCity is making news is that practically anyone playing SimCity is having problems with it, whereas tomb raider is an inherently playable game by a majority of people. I realize that tomb raider is probably not super accessible by the disabled community, but everyone else can enjoy that game now, whereas with SimCity nobody can really fully enjoy it. How exactly would you make Tomb Raider a game accessible to people with disabilities? That isn't the target audience.
What I mean to say is that no onesies intentionally targeting the disabled community, it's just the game is not ideal for that segment of gamers. QuickTime events and aiming mechanics are staples in games. That's just the way it is. Still really good article.
This is a fantastic piece, one of my favorites from Josh. I don't have much time but I want to help explain that for arguments such as the above that aiming mechanics are "staples in games" and how else would Tomb Raider provide accessible game play I encourage you to check out Josh's reviews at DAGERS, particularly Call of Duty: Black Ops II (dagersystem.com/.../116-game-review-call-of-duty-black-ops-ii) to see that shooters can be accessible. The decision not to include an accessible control scheme, whether intentionally or not, has the same results. Gamers with fine motor disabilities are completely locked out of Tomb Raider.
That WAS brutally honest Josh. Good blog nonetheless.
You make some good points, and personally I wouldn't call either game broken since that term implies the developers did something wrong. I simply used the term since a lot of people are using it to describe SimCity. As I tried to say, both Maxis and Crystal Dynamics made legitimate design choices, and I don't want to infringe on their freedom to design games how they see fit. But the reality is, people are calling SimCity broken because it is inaccessible for a large portion of PC gamers. Personally, I had very few problems logging into the game, and I enjoyed it immensely. The only thing that I would maybe differ from you on is that SimCity wasn't inaccessible to all gamers--it wasn't even inaccessible to all PC gamers, judging from my own personal experience. While I don't know the exact numbers, I think that it would probably be fair to say that the number of people who couldn't play SimCity on the PC is probably at least in the same ballpark as the number of people who cannot play Tomb Raider on the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC. But regardless, thank you for writing such an engaging comment on this blog, and I'd be interested to hear what other people have to say.
Impressive statement there. I recall you mentioning that Uncharted also suffered from the QTEs and button mashing moments, creating a difficult scenario for disabled gamers.
I am glad you brought this up. Many people often focus on some major news from the media, but few manage to notice specific details that others don't catch.
I find most of your arguments reasoned and well thought out. There is certainly something to be said for making games accessible to disabled gamers.
However, I don't see how you can really compare TR and SimCity. They are completely different products. One is a very slow paced strategy game, designed for people who like to take their time and think about what is going on in the game, while the other is going for a very fast, hectic, chaotic kind of vibe where your split second decisions are the ones that count the most. You specifically mention QTEs as a problem, which I feel lend a sense of urgency to the scenarios where they are present. I would certainly have enjoyed the game less without the QTEs. Mashing x for dear life to not fall off a ledge brings a bit of the panic and urgency of the situation to the fore.
This is the heart of my argument. I am all for making a game accessible to disabled gamers. My younger brother is disabled and has been forced to stick to Wii or simple mobile games, and its always sad when he comes to watch me a play a game, and I can tell he wishes he could play as well. But you can't ignore the majority of the community in these efforts. The options in SimCity would not make the game any less enjoyable for a non-handicapped gamer. Taking out the QTEs in TR could easily be done with an option to disable them, or automatically complete them as in The Witcher 2, but changing the fast paced and ridiculously fun battle system in TR would certainly hurt the experience for the rest of us.
In essence, I am all for making games available to disabled players. But it needs to be done in a way that does not make the games less enjoyable for the rest of us, as in SimCity.