So I guess we are bloggers now…. not something on our bucket list, but there isn’t much we won’t do these days to promote our company. With that said, i give you the first official AppA11y blog post. (I almost just bored myself to sleep rereading that.) In case you are having trouble sleeping, here is a little backstory as to how we came to exist….
Our motto at AppA11y is “Accessibility First”. Kind of ironic for a few sighted guys whose initial goal was to escape their soul sucking consulting jobs by starting a mobile game company. Green to the game market and completely unaware of the world of accessibility the goal was to start a business that would make us excited to get out of bed while paying the bills. Depending on who you talk to, what happened next was something of fate or dumb luck.
Writing code in today’s search for anything Google world rarely are there hurdles that someone hasn’t already overcome and posted the solution to the web. Early on we leaned a little heavier on our internet “friends” to help us whenever we stumbled. After months of countless hours and help from our “friends” we were proud of and ready to share our work with the world. Our first game offering, Dice World was a (you guessed it), a dice game where players could challenge each other to turn based dice games. While at first our hands were sore from patting ourselves on the back we were quickly slapped in the face by the fiercely competitive gaming industry. We had always believed that if we created a good product the rest would solve itself. As any game company can attest, the hardest part is getting users. Bootstrapped and broke, the marketing budget to get these prized users was spent months ago on frivolous things like car payments and mortgages.
One day not long after our release we received a really sweet email from one of our 10s of users thanking us for making the game somewhat accessible. Given this was our first positive user correspondence and because we had no idea what she was talking about we immediately responded in hopes of getting more praise and also finding out what she meant by being accessible. After talking with her we were surprised to find her lucid. What was more surprising was to find out that there were games accessible to the visually impaired. And even more shocking, ours was one of them. It seemed that while researching our various coding hurdles the code examples we found happened to use accessibility elements and we carried it over to our code. From that day forward our goal was to learn as much about accessible games and to become the leader in the accessible mobile game market.
After getting to know the different accessibility elements we completely overhauled Dice World ensure voiceover picked up every screen element. Soon after we added custom gestures to create voiceover shortcuts and hints. Most of our voiceover updates was driven by our still small, but active user base. Users were giving us suggestions as well as volunteering their time to help test new releases. These dedicated (and patient) users helped shape Dice World into a viable voiceover game. As A side note, while we were definitely looking for a niche in the gaming space, our work became rewarding on a different level. We had always felt the feeling of accomplishment, but now we had a steady flow of emails thank us for making games with voiceover. It was a refreshing change from the consulting careers we fled.
We became consumed with all things accessibility and the more we learned the more it became abundantly clear how limited the options were for the visually impaired. While there were a few accessible mobile game options, the majority were created solely for the visually impaired with archaic graphics and primitive functionality. The kind of games most sighted gamers wouldn’t want to play if they had to. At the same time the amount of positive feedback from the visually impaired community had begun to snowball. The chorus was always they wanted to be included like everyone else. While they might not be able to see, most of their friends and family we not visually impaired. What they longed for were games they could play with their sighted friends and family. We had found our niche. Or maybe it found us. Either way we were all in on accessibility.
At some point we added chat functionality and the response was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, not long after we added chat we had our first (of several) Dice World marriages where DiceMan and Gamegirl3 (user names changed to protect the innocent) had married after meeting in our game. This was a bit of a revelation. Well not the marriage per say, but the social element. Not only could a social element provide our users a means to communicate, but it could also extend the time players would be willing to hangout playing our games.
After a few years we decided to take what we had learned and start a fresh company (AppA11y) dedicated to building accessible games with a social element. We started with a few word games while we built a platform that could support multiple games and be centered around the social component…Huboodle was born. A social game platform that would give users multiple games in a single app with chat functionality.
After six plus years we are still a struggling game app company. The difference is we now know who we are and what we need to accomplish to get to where we want to be. Another change over time has been our accessibility preconceived notions. Even though we had firsthand experience with the visually impaired overcoming most all obstacles in their way we still tried to create more simplistic games mainly for what we believed were voiceover limitations. Our light bulb moment was last year when a blind gamer won some games in a Street Fighter tournament. This was an eye opener for us that made us realize that accessibility shouldn’t limit our games, instead we needed to up our game and improve our voiceover accessibility. When we develop games now our first question isn’t “can make it accessible?”, but instead, “would we want to play it?”. This shift in mindset is what we believe what sets us apart and keeps us as a leader in accessible mobile game app development.
We have accomplished our initial goal and have stumbled into a situation that is far more rewarding than we could have ever anticipated. We go to bed excited to come to work each morning. Luck or fate, it is debatable. At this point we don’t care so much about how we got on this path, we are just happy to be on it and can’t wait to see where it takes us.