Hearing Aid in Games and Why It Is Important

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Why mobile game developers must consider gamers with hearing problems as their target audience

Yeah, the article topic is strange. But give us a moment to explain the research. 15% of people have some hearing problems: some of them don’t hear well, some are completely deaf. On the other side, every third person has at least a smartphone with some games on it. Out of 100 average gamers 5 of them have troubles with hearing what is happening in the game.

hearing aid in games

But those numbers do not represent a real image. Almost half of the smartphone owners play games with sound off. And 97% of those who played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey played the game with subtitles on.

What we are trying to say is that more than half the players on any platform use hearing aid features like subtitles, visual notifications and so on. And it is very important for the game developer to make the hearing aid features at the best level possible — because most players will appreciate it.

Why do players with no hearing problems use hearing aid in the games

As we said about AC: Odyssey, 97% players play with subtitles or closed captions. The main reason is that they want to fully understand the plot and know what the character talks about.

Modern games have perfect sound design: dialogues voiced with professional actors, 2-3 hours of beautiful music, 1-2 hours of sound effects and separate sound engines. But the players can fully experience it only with good headphones. And the only category of gamers who constantly use their headphones are e-sportsmans. And they don’t care about voice lines and ambient: they want to hear the enemy footsteps.

So the average gamer is playing every game using the speakers. And usually he isn’t turning the volume up so he can clearly hear everything because he doesn’t want to disturb other tenants and neighbours. And the only way for him to understand what the characters are talking about is to use subtitles.

Second reason to turn on the subtitles — strong accent of voice actors. Yes, the voice actors do their best to make a mexican character sound like a real mexican. But those who aren’t familiar with accents and can’t clearly understand spoken english can use subtitles.

Also the non-english speaking players may prefer to play the game with english voice acting and subtitles in their native language. It is so because of poor localization and because the original voices are always better.

And the third reason why the players use subtitles is because modern games are cluttered with sounds. Just imagine that the main characters are talking about plot-important things in the middle of a firefight. The player won’t hear anything, and even if he could hear, he will struggle with understanding the meaning because now he is busy with shooting.

What are closed captions and hearing aid interface

Subtitles represent only the character’s name and speech. Closed captions are more complex versions of subtitles. They describe the tone of voice, surrounding sounds and even the direction of that sound.

Imagine a cutscene where the character is near a railroad. The character hears a train whistle, turn his head around, the camera moves too and we can see a train coming. With closed captions it would look like this:

[← LOUD TRAIN WHISTLE]

So if the player has hearing problems he will understand why the character has turned his head to the left.

A closed captions is a way to explain every sound and create an emotional driver for a person who can’t hear.

Hearing aid interface is an opposite to closed captions. It conveys sound gameplay details with graphics. And believe us or not, every good game you’ve played in the past 10 years has the hearing aid included.

The best example is any competitive shooter game such as Counter Strike, Overwatch, Call of Duty or even Valorant. When somebody is shooting at you there’s little arrow to appear in the center of the screen. The arrow will point to a shooter direction so you’ll understand where the danger is.

Every other player’s action which can cost you round or points are displayed with sound and graphics effects. For example, in Call of Duty and Battlefield you can hear the grenade landed near your hiding spot. You can locate it just by hearing it, but the best way to do it is to look at the grenade indicator.

And as a cherry on top there are Fortnite and Minecraft with full hearing aid. The Fortnite will display any important sound with colored rings: white for the footsteps, red for shots, gold for loot.

Minecraft just displays a list of every sound a player can hear and places an arrow near every listed item.

How to make subtitles, closed captions and hearing aid good for all players

Now you know why it is important to add subtitles and that every game must double sound effects with graphics indicators. But how to do it properly?

First, cut subtitles into small pieces. The average person can read 160 words per minute, so the best length of a piece would be 8–16 words.

Second, if it is possible, do not place important voice lines along with a fast gameplay. The players will be busy playing and have no time for reading. We want to mention Sekiro: Shadow Dies Twice for it’s beautiful work with voice lines and subtitles. Characters talk only in slow cutscenes or in between gameplay sequences so the players can read the subtitles.

Third, make the subtitles easily readable. Remember that subtitles and closed captions do not have to look like a rainbow-colored handwriting. They are for hearing aid and not for an advertisement. Some games are bad with it: Wolfenstein: The New Order made subtitles too small, some indie games used fancy and unreadable fonts and colors. Do not be like them.

And the last thing — hearing aid indicators. You need to write down all gameplay mechanics which can result in the player’s loss: enemy shooting or charging a special attack, a valuable item nearby or something is moving behind the wall. Then just add visual indicators for it.

Bonus tip: always think about hearing aid features while making a mobile game. More than half players mute sounds or use devices with only one speaker. They can’t use it to locate the sound source so you need to help them.

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