Senior Technical Program Manager for Accessibility, Xbox
[AUDIO LOGO] LARRY HRYB: Hey, it's Larry Hryb, Xbox's Major Nelson. Welcome to The Official Xbox Podcast. We're back this week. We've got a few more shows left before we break. And then we're back for showcase, which means we've got everybody in here.
I got Jeff over on the left, Rebecca on the right. Rebecca, where are you? Hold on a minute. Let me go full screen here. I just did a Malik thing.
REBECCA GORDIUS: It's not that exciting.
LARRY HRYB: We're way off today.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah, so I'm in New York. I've been here for the last week or so-- going to be here for the rest of the month just catching up with friends. But unfortunately, I had to leave my Xbox at home for this trip.
LARRY HRYB: Well, and not only that. More importantly, you left Pumba at home.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yes. But he's doing fine. He doesn't like New York anyway.
LARRY HRYB: OK, right. That's right. I forgot about that. Anyway, well, we've got a lot--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, it's too hot.
LARRY HRYB: We've got a lot of news to go over this week where Jeff and I-- and I know, Rebecca, you've been busy as well. But a lot of us are playing this Tears of the Kingdom. So Jeff, I know you're liking it.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, and you'd let me know that there's a recipe function that I had no idea about, so perfect.
LARRY HRYB: New feature-- a new feature. New feature.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. Read that. Read the instructions. I'm not going to say RTFM.
LARRY HRYB: Well, it's funny. It's funny you say that. Because I bought the physical copy. And let's just look at this. Because I want to show this to you.
I mean, I was so kind of upset that the era of manuals is gone. When's the last time you got a manual in a book? I mean, you can see the clips. The clips are there for it.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah, that's true. You have no inserts of any kind, huh?
LARRY HRYB: Because, well, I remember when people would buy physical copy. To answer your question, Jeff, I want to say GTA. Or no, I think it was Cyberpunk when you had a map.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Was there a map? It's been a long time since I recall having a physical--
LARRY HRYB: But I mean, I just remember when I was younger. And you'd go buy one at the store. You'd be in the back of the car, looking at the manual before--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, but you also had a phone book--
REBECCA GORDIUS: Before you--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --you know?
LARRY HRYB: OK, all right.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: And you got a newspaper that arrived at your house every day. I'm OK with no manual.
LARRY HRYB: Anyway, so we're-- pretty much everyone's playing that. Everyone's playing a bunch of-- ooh, well, I don't know. We're just playing a bunch of stuff, finishing up Jedi and--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Did y'all all play the server slam this weekend? I've got it here.
LARRY HRYB: Talk about that for a sec. Because I did not. Because it was too nice in Seattle.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, so I missed the first two betas or open abilities to play Diablo IV. But there was a server slam this week. And that anyone could jump into.
I love the idea of this. Come in. Break our servers. Slam them, I guess. I was turned away at the gates at the server farm.
But then I came home and did it this way. And so it was awesome, like the game. It's out in two weeks, give or take, maybe three weeks-- early June. And it looks great.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I've loved-- I've played all the Diablos. I love them so much. But the storytelling in this one is several cuts above. And it's just really very interesting.
And the thing that I want to call out that I'm glad is intact is something that Diablo III did amazingly well. I didn't have as much time to play. I only got up to level 8 or 9 out of 20 in this build. Because unfortunately, people kept wanting to do stuff in real life and just-- so rude. But my friends were able to go much further ahead. They ended up beating the area boss, the world boss. And they'll have mounts in the real game that they will lord over me without question.
However, we were able to play together. And when I went into their game and joined them, despite being, quote unquote, "underleveled," I had no problem. And that's something that this team has done really well-- they did a really good job with Diablo III as well-- is that they just scale the damage that you take and that you put up.
LARRY HRYB: Doubter up, yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Doubter up so that you can just play with anyone. It's not like-- there are games where, oh, you're two levels above me? Yeah, we really can't play together. You're going to get one-shot by everyone. You're not going to be able to kill anything.
REBECCA GORDIUS: It's a hard thing for games to master, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Very hard.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, and this Blizzard team did a fantastic job in the past. And I'm glad to see that it's intact here. We just got in there.
And we just instantly started killing disgusting creatures and had a great time doing it. So come June, this is going to be a game we're going to be spending a lot of time with. And great job, Rod and the team. And--
LARRY HRYB: Rod Fergusson, friend of the show.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --will always be one of us-- always be one of us.
LARRY HRYB: Thank you. That's true. That's true. Well, I'm glad you were-- I mean, yeah, you're right. You're absolutely right, Rebecca. You brought up a great point.
It's really hard to think about that scenario where the game-- you're playing a co-op game. You're two, three, four, five levels ahead of me or even beyond. And I want to join you. But it's so discouraging.
But to make it seamless so that-- again, we're just having our each individual fun. And the game is managing all that complicated stuff. So that's great to hear, Jeff.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, and I don't want to have to think about it.
LARRY HRYB: I mean, neither do I.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: You will not have to. Neither do I. Yeah, it's hard to-- as you get older, it gets harder to get everyone together at the same time. And so knowing that we could still be asynchronous but then still come back together and still--
LARRY HRYB: We can't even get together for this show.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Oh, my god.
LARRY HRYB: It's impossible.
Anyway, we're going to bounce into the news. Because we got a bunch of stuff to go over. So I'm going to swing things over to the-- I feel, Rebecca, you remember you and I went to Syracuse? And we worked with all the-- remember all the students that were in news then, the news team, the news folks?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Right. And Jeff, they would always-- you always had the-- they always had the very baritone voices. Or they had a specific style. But I feel like we need to get you a new--
--now in the news or something. We need to have a news.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I was a news guy.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Right.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Minus the baritone voice. It still sounds like--
LARRY HRYB: I used to bring the ticker in. You're absolutely right. I got to go find out where--
REBECCA GORDIUS: I miss the ticker. The ticker was cool.
LARRY HRYB: Something. I broke it or something. So I need to go fix it. So let's-- anyway, Jeff, to you and the news desk.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Thanks, Larry. So why don't you bring up-- we'll go quickly through this. We're in mid-May. Well, that means more Game Pass games are hitting and some really good ones here, some stuff I love.
So if you don't mind putting up that visual of Xbox Wire, there it is, FIFA 23. FIFA, almost always the biggest game in the world or thereabouts, it's always soccer season no matter where you're sitting. And FIFA 23, if you are an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate member or a PC Game Pass member, guess what? You have EA and FIFA 23 hitting that vault.
So enjoy. Play it. If you haven't played it yet, it's really awesome and has the addition of women's teams. The NWSL is off and going. Arsenal Women just sold out the Emirates, which was awesome.
LARRY HRYB: OK, we get it. You're a football fan. We get it.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, I love it, all right? So deal with it. Ted Lasso is amazing.
REBECCA GORDIUS: It's the world's game, yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Another game that is coming out-- and you can see it there in the lower right-- on May 23, Planet of Lana, coming day 1 to Game Pass on console and PC. This is a really awesome puzzle platformer. They're calling it a cinematic puzzle adventure made by a group of Scandinavian animators.
The animation in this game is phenomenal. I played a sliver of it at GDC-- very Ori-esque in that way, very Flashback-esque in that way and the way that you're controlling Lana, who is human, and her alien companion, Mui, who is like this--
LARRY HRYB: Mui.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --little mousey cat thing that is able to interact with the invading forces. And you're making it through to try to find your family. But I think this one's going to be really good.
And you'll be hearing a lot about it. But you don't have to hear about it. You can just play it May 23-- part of Game Pass. Go for it.
A few other games I want to call out real quickly-- Massive Chalice, this is a game from our good friends down in San Francisco at Double Fine Productions. And it's a really interesting game where it's sort of like a turn-based RPG. But you go through generations and generations. And so you send someone off to fight.
Do they end up getting injured? How does it affect the bloodline? Or do you have them rule? But then they get too old to fight. There's some really interesting questions.
You're the immortal ruler of the nation. But you have to control, really, the heroes and who does what. And every game's a little bit random. And I want to say it would bring in the names of some of your friends and put them into the game as well.
LARRY HRYB: I love when it does that.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, and the last one I want to mention-- because it also just looks beautiful-- is Chicory-- A Colorful Tale, a top-down adventure game in a coloring book world that is out on May 30 for console and PC and probably the most family friendly of the bunch here. Cassette Beasts also-- it came out.
You might even say, hey, Cassette Beasts. Did that already come out on Game Pass? It came out on Game Pass for PC. It's now coming to-- it's coming out on console very soon as well and kind of has that "got to catch 'em all" vibes, also coming out May 25.
All right, biggest update perhaps ever for an Age game, Age of Empires II-- Definitive Edition, the return of Rome, calling this an update is probably selling it short. Earnest Yuen, who is the executive producer of Age, refers to it as taking Age of Empires gameplay and putting it as a game within a game inside Age of Empires II, 16 civilizations-- basically, Age I into Age II.
LARRY HRYB: You put your Age in my Age.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Exactly. And so I'm looking forward to-- oh, my god. Who was that that did RIDE? Who was that? Because I know you like games. So I put a-- anyway, I don't even remember. The meme is so old that I don't even remember who it is anymore.
That's fine. We'll move on from that. No one needs to hear that. Something that's out today that I think we'll be talking about in coming weeks because I'm hearing some good buzz-- someone on my team is playing it for a review for Xbox Wire-- is LEGO 2K Drive, a massive open world LEGO driving adventure.
LARRY HRYB: So it is a racing game?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Open world driving game, it is. You race anywhere, play with anyone, build your dream rides, and defeat a cast of wild racing rivals for the coveted Sky Trophy. Open world racing games are my jam. I'm just hearing good things about this. I think this one's going to be good.
LARRY HRYB: And LEGO.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Looks cool.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. Last thing, if you're hearing this, sometime between May 19 and May 21, you could be playing the Street Fighter 6 open beta.
LARRY HRYB: Oh.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: You just have to go over to make sure you connect your Capcom account with your gamertag. If you don't have a Capcom account, if you've never connected it, go over to streetfighter.com. And you can just click. And it took me two minutes.
And I did all those things and was able to download it. And there's eight characters in this beta. There's a lot to do. And I love when you get to create a character for the first time in Street Fighter history. And there's people who are making some strange-looking folks.
But you know what? Blanka's strange-looking. And so if you can make something stranger than him, you should be a game designer, probably. So yes, that is the news. I will be using--
LARRY HRYB: We have some more.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Do we?
LARRY HRYB: We Have Lords of the Fallen.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Oh, my god, yes. So you have a trailer here, Larry. This is--
LARRY HRYB: That's me on the left. That's Rebecca in the center. And that's Jeff on the right.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Uh-huh.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: So you might remember the name Lords of the Fallen. It was a soulslike game that came out on Xbox One back in 2014. Well, the team is thrilled to confirm that Lords of the Fallen will release Friday the 13th of October.
It's looking really good. If you can scrub forward a little bit, there's some gameplay. It's looking really good. If you're a Souls fan, if you're a Elden Ring fan, if you're a Bloodborne fan, I think there may be some stuff in here--
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah, feel that--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --get you excited. Yeah, so I do a good Soulsborne-- looking forward to Lies of P that we'll be playing.
LARRY HRYB: Let me get to some gameplay.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Now I'm looking forward to Lords of the Fallen.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Let's see it.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Here's-- yeah, this is looking-- I mean, that looks good, right?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yes. Dark Souls, Bloodborne.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. Yeah, this is speaking to me here. If you are not watching-- if you're listening on audio, as I know so many of you do-- there is a trailer that is available now. So you can just throw that into your YouTube or your Tikky Toks. And I'm sure you'll be able to find it, Lords of the Fallen-- October 13.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah, looks really good.
LARRY HRYB: Got to get to the end there. I'm sorry.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: It looks really good. It looks really good, that. I'm into this.
LARRY HRYB: Let's go to the end there. Because there's actually a little bit I want to make sure we show that to them. We have the final screen here so that people can take a look at it. So let's take a look at that. Lords of the Fallen.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Lords of the Fallen, @lotfgame on all of your socials.
LARRY HRYB: And then there's a preorder bonus, by the way. We're going to see the preorder bonus after this young lady stands up. There it is. All right.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: There it is.
LARRY HRYB: Thank you.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Mm, very good.
LARRY HRYB: Now feel like I need to end this, Jeff, because of you-- Yeah?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Cute.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Thank you.
LARRY HRYB: Anyway, all right. You know what? I've got some white gloves here. And then we got to get to an interview. So why don't we talk about some hardware stuff if we have hardware stuff to talk about, Jeffrey?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Well, I can see that you're feverishly putting on your gloves. While you're putting those on, I just want to call out something else. You know when else you need to wear gloves? Because I found this out the hard way this weekend.
LARRY HRYB: When?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: When you're cutting jalapeno peppers. I woke up in the middle-- I made some chili on Saturday. I can make a pretty good chili verde.
LARRY HRYB: I'll be the judge of that.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I use fresh peppers. Any time, Larry. Because I love making it. Well, here's the thing. I must have gotten some super hot, off the chart-- actually, they were serrano peppers.
Because I like a little bit of spice. When I went to-- and I'm careful not to touch my eyes and whatever. When I went down to-- I went to--
LARRY HRYB: Uh, be careful. This is a G-rated show.
REBECCA GORDIUS: I know where this is going.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --my hands started burning. Wait, what did I say?
LARRY HRYB: I don't know. I didn't know. That's why-- I didn't know.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: My hands just were on fire.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Please continue. OK, your hands were burning. OK.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: It happened hours later. Apparently, because I had taken a shower, it--
LARRY HRYB: Again.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --some of these peppers will stay on your hand.
LARRY HRYB: Well, you know what? But you get heat resistance.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, I did. I kept thinking about it. I'm like, Link, eat the fire peppers. But don't touch your eyes, for God's sake. But he's got that alien hand. So maybe that's helping him out. Anyway, from now on, short PSA, wear some nitrile gloves when you're cutting hot peppers.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, don't wear these.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --from my mistakes. It sucked. I had to-- anyway, there's a whole-- I know many ways to--
REBECCA GORDIUS: I was worried you were going to say you rubbed your eyes or something.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: No. Fortunately, I didn't. I mean--
LARRY HRYB: All right.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: This is--
LARRY HRYB: Speaking of spicy--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --it was delicious chili.
LARRY HRYB: --we have a spicy-- yes, speaking of spicy, look at this segue.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I feel like I'm tap dancing for you while you put those gloves on.
LARRY HRYB: Oh, no. I'm all set to go.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: This is the-- Jeff, you've got some details about this controller. This is a brand-new MOGA controller. And this is a very interesting little piece of kit.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, MOGA is an imprint from PowerA. You may have some PowerA accessories. I know I do here at the house. This is their first-ever-- this is like their high-end controller. It's called the XP-Ultra, the first-ever officially licensed wireless gaming controller engineered for mobile gaming, PC, and Xbox console platforms.
A lot of times, you'll see controllers made by other companies. A lot of times, they are wired. Well, not this one. It does some really interesting stuff that other controllers are not doing. And I think it is best shown by a full screen with Larry or just the video.
LARRY HRYB: Well, hold on. I wanted to show you. Apparently, it's optimized for a noodle truck.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: There's a really good noodle truck that goes to this brewery down the street. So maybe I'll bring my controller there.
LARRY HRYB: This is a-- check this out.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: CGI.
LARRY HRYB: Check this out. This is--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Why-- it's so small.
LARRY HRYB: --it's in this little mini mode. And then you've got-- I mean, it fits very nice. This is perfect to slip in your pocket or your bag if you're gaming on the go. But it does have, as you saw during the video, it's got the full-- kind of slides in there.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Detachable full-sized ergonomic grip? Were those the words you were looking for? And inside those grips, by the way, built-in rumble motors and mappable advanced gaming buttons. So it's not just a hunk of plastic. There's actually machinery into those handles.
REBECCA GORDIUS: It's surprisingly complex, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, there's a lot going on here.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: A couple of other things I want to call out about this controller-- oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
LARRY HRYB: Go ahead. Go ahead, Jeffrey. Go ahead. No, there's more.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I don't know where you're going to go. I was going to say, there you go. So this controller is built to be the perfect companion for Game Pass Ultimate subscribers-- the Swiss army knife, if you will, of gaming controllers.
It works on, of course, Xbox Series X and S and Xbox One-- also, compatible smart TVs, so if you're playing Fortnite on your Samsung TV. It works on PC. And it works on Android mobile devices.
And so it works on all those things. So you'll want to bring it with you. Sometimes, you might want to detach it and throw it in a bag, as you mentioned, Larry. Or when you're at home, you can have all the grips and all those things. It also does have a built-in rechargeable battery-- ooh, that promises over 30 hours of gameplay.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Mm, nice.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: There you go.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Great for taking it on the go.
LARRY HRYB: It's cute. It's a cute little controller.
REBECCA GORDIUS: How does it feel? How does it feel? Do you feel like you could play like that for--
LARRY HRYB: I feel like I could-- well, it's funny. I feel like I definitely could play like this for, depending upon the game-- how much and what buttons are for what thing-- but it's definitely usable. But I love the fact that you've got-- it's basically three controllers in one.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Look at that. Yup, and there's your mobile-- your clip. Yeah, look at this--
LARRY HRYB: Then, of course--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --an Android phone or something.
LARRY HRYB: --it's the full version. So it's actually more controllers. Because it's a console controller. It's a PC controller. It's an Android controller. I mean, this thing's got everything going on.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: TV controller, again, if you've--
LARRY HRYB: Optimized for noodle trucks. So there you go.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: So MSRP on this is $129.99. It is available for preorder now. You're going to want to head over to powera.com.
LARRY HRYB: Jeff, what else do we have for news?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, a really interesting story that actually starts today. You might have heard about the 10-year deal that we had signed with Nvidia. So here's how it works. Folks in the UK, the US, and the European Union, starting today, who have GeForce Now are going to be able to stream Gears 5.
And then coming up May 25, that's another week, Deathloop, Grounded, and Pentiment will join this as well. And then more games will come at a regular cadence. So the way this works is that members of Nvidia GeForce Now will be able to stream PC games from Xbox Game Studios-- again, starting with Gears 5 today-- purchased through Steam or Epic Games Store onto your PC, your Mac, if you have a Shield, Android devices. Or you can go to play.geforcenow.com.
That works on iOS. That works on a Chromebook. And we are looking to bring support for games purchased through the Microsoft Store in the coming months, so just another way to play awesome games from XGS and Bethesda.
LARRY HRYB: When everybody plays, we all win, as Phil likes to say. So Rebecca, would you bring us into the interview, please?
REBECCA GORDIUS: All right. So in observation of Xbox and Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Larry did a great interview with James, who is a technical program manager on the accessibility team. So let's take a listen.
LARRY HRYB: Xbox is celebrating its commitment to accessibility on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2023-- which, of course, is happening right now. Joining me is James Berg, senior technical program manager for accessibility here at Xbox. James, welcome to the podcast.
JAMES BERG: Thank you. Very happy to be here.
LARRY HRYB: I'm thrilled. First of all, welcome to Team Xbox. I know you're fairly new in your role. You joined Microsoft, I think, earlier this year. Is that correct?
JAMES BERG: Yep. Yeah, end of January I'm able to jump on Team Green.
LARRY HRYB: Tell us about your background and your journey in gaming and then, of course, in accessibility. Because it's quite interesting.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, if you talk to folks in gaming, most of us have some pretty interesting paths in. I don't think I'm an exception there. I started at Electronic Arts about 15 years ago-- started off in QA, worked on-- my first game was NHL 09 on the PlayStation 2. So I've earned some of these gray hairs-- worked in QA for several years, moved to user research, which was kind of nascent in the industry at that point.
Several years in, I was running research on Dragon Age: Inquisition-- kind of looked around at the participants we were getting for research and talking to folks at conferences and stuff. And I realized that I wasn't talking to all of my players. We just didn't have representation of players with a full variety of disabilities, gamers with disabilities.
We were trying to bring them in. And it just wasn't a common thing at the time. So that was back in 2014, I think, when I kind of first started down this road and then just kind of pursued it throughout my career, working as a researcher.
I spent about a decade doing that. Our goal was really to understand what our players need, want, what they're doing, all of that stuff. And if we're not talking to all of our players, then to my mind, I wasn't doing my job.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JAMES BERG: I just wasn't talking to everybody, everyone that wanted to play that should be able to play-- steered my career towards that pretty hard. Fortunately, there's a growing community of accessibility-minded folks within research. I was beyond that as well at the time.
This actually goes back decades. Even some of the earliest games had genuinely some pretty good accessibility built into them. And really, it just kind of built on from there-- kept making noise. Nobody was able to really make me stop making noise.
And eventually, it caught on. And it got enough attention to really push forward with it as an industry. So it's been a long road. But man, I'm really excited with where we're at these days.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, and I want to talk about that. Because we're going to talk about Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Again, that's why you're here.
But I want to also talk about the fact that you talked about user research, which is where you started from. And that is, for those folks that don't know, that is like, hey, is this level easy to discover? Is this weapon work well? Is this user interface look OK?
There's a lot of components to that. So this is a natural extension. Because if you build all these systems, and tools, and UI, and whatnot, doesn't help if people can't use them, right?
JAMES BERG: Yeah. Yeah, I wouldn't even call it an extension. It's the same thing. It's just the way that I phrase it when I'm talking to researchers is, accessibility is usability, which is a key focus, as you said, of research. But we're not ignoring up to what we think is probably something like 30% of our playerbase.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JAMES BERG: We're just working in the capabilities of everyone-- which, obviously, that's a value that Xbox holds near and dear, a big part of why I came and I joined the team.
LARRY HRYB: I want to talk about Global Accessibility Awareness Day. What does it mean, for folks that are not aware of what the day is other than the fact that, oh, I stumbled across it on this podcast?
JAMES BERG: Yeah, so it's the 12th year this year-- awesome-- going on a long time. The key goal is really raising awareness of the importance of the digital access for people with disabilities. So much of our lives now are digital, right?
We're talking through satellites on the internet. But we play games online. We do our banking online. All of this stuff happens in the digital space.
So we think about, what does physical accessibility mean? People think about stuff like curb cuts or a button that opens a door. But there's still not nearly the same awareness of what that means in a digital sense, right?
So for example, various organizations like WebAIM and such do amazing work at looking and seeing, how accessible is the web? That is critical to living in the modern times. The vast majority, 98% or something like that, of websites have significant accessibility issues that would hinder or block someone from getting access to fully using those, fully engaging in society, doing all the stuff that, frankly, a lot of folks take for granted.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JAMES BERG: So Global Accessibility Awareness Day is really about just making some noise about that. Within the gaming space, especially in recent years, it's also somewhat of a celebration of the progress we've made and really kind of saying, hey, you know what? This is what's going on.
This is where we've had some wins. Let's keep this going. Let's make sure that everyone gets to be included.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, we talked about-- when we're talking about all the accessibility-- and a lot of people think accessibility is something as simple as this, which is the Xbox adaptive controller. But it's actually way, way-- this is certainly the most recognizable physical manifestation of that idea. But there's a lot of things, again, that are not physical that you don't need a special device to really enable great experiences, right?
JAMES BERG: Yeah, for sure. In the game space, we frame that-- or in the design space generally-- we frame that as inclusive design. So Microsoft actually has an amazing resource. If you google "Microsoft inclusive design," you'll find it.
LARRY HRYB: Or Bing it.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, sure. I actually switched to Bing from Google after a lifetime of using Google, legitimately not because of Microsoft or anything. It just didn't work better now.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JAMES BERG: Go figure. Good job, Bing team, I guess. But the inclusive design principle is really if you design inclusively from the beginning and build a product, or service, or whatever it is you're working on, if it is inclusive of the full range of human abilities and the human spectrum, you don't need to tack on accessibility, right? When we look at things like-- people, especially in games, really focus on accessibility options.
And they look at, oh, what settings are available and things like that? But the ideal is really if you design inclusively, you don't need those things. Or you need fewer of those. So the go-to example I use is colorblindness. If you design your game in a way that you have a red team versus a blue team-- or a red team versus a green team, even worse-- that's going to pose a problem in terms of color contrast for a lot of folks.
If you design with different colors, you're not going to run into that same problem. You don't need an option if you've designed inclusively. So yeah, it's not just the physical stuff like the XAC was built and developed for a specific purpose.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JAMES BERG: Namely, really to help folks, especially with mobility impairments, where-- and it doesn't matter. This is Boo. She's here to help.
LARRY HRYB: Hi, Boo.
JAMES BERG: But the XAC fits a need where there's nothing in the software side that we can easily do, or even necessarily do at all, that's going to make it easier for someone to physically manipulate a joystick, right?
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JAMES BERG: If you just can't physically do that, we can't fix that with software. So we do need hardware solutions. But you need options. But there's a full range of things that we can do.
LARRY HRYB: How has your personal experience informed your perspective and your work in bringing more games-- to create more games accessible in those types of experiences? Tell us a little bit about that.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, I'll give you the short version. It's kind of a silly, embarrassing story. Because I was working in-- I had focused my career already on games accessibility for years, at the point where I realized that I was actually self advocating, that I was a member of the community. I got diagnosed with ADHD a couple years ago. I'm almost certainly autistic. I have a variety of other neurodiversities.
I diagnosed myself-- or I started that process to get a full, formal diagnosis-- reading a thread on Twitter. Because I was trying to better understand neurodiversity. And I was going through a list from a Twitter account, a gentleman by the name of NomeDaBarbarian-- N-O-M-E-D-A Barbarian-- wonderful fellow, it seems-- reading his thread.
And it was 73 things about his neurodiversity and his experience of it. And I went through in the first 20. And it was like, oh, OK. This is kind of funny. Wow. Yeah, I can really relate to this.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JAMES BERG: This feels really familiar. OK, I think I can get a hand around this. And around 40 or 50, I'm thinking, this is kind of odd. This is some really specific stuff here that seems to be-- this is very familiar.
And then I get to the end. And I'm like, that's interesting. I don't know how he's been observing my entire life and knows a significant amount about it. But he sure described it well. Maybe I should look into this.
So I ended up doing that-- found a tremendous amount of support online. And really, the Twitter community is-- I know Twitter is Twitter. But the disability community on Twitter is fantastic, especially in the gaming space-- a lot of truly wonderful people there.
So kind of my journey of it was starting off from a perspective of, hey, everyone should be able to game. This is-- play is a fundamental human thing. Everyone should be able to have access to games.
Games are too important to be excluding folks, kind of from a very moral perspective, intellectual perspective, and then realizing as I got further and further in, oh, yeah, OK. All of that is still true. And here are the things that matter to me as a gamer with disabilities.
So it's been an interesting journey. And I am far from alone in that. At least I can say that. There's a lot of us that have discovered later in life-- especially neurodiversity, especially women. It's very underdiagnosed for things like ADHD.
LARRY HRYB: Being in the games industry quite a long time, much like yourself, I've seen the development of it, of accessibility. I remember one of the first times in the mid-2000s, where there was-- I had a coworker who was colorblind.
And he was so excited when Splinter Cell or some of the earlier some Ubisoft games had-- he was like, oh, my god. I can change this. Or Halo, he was so excited. It really was fascinating to see that.
When you have somebody in your life, whether it's you, me, or you, listener or viewer at home, who sees that and can-- it opens up a world for them that-- you see that pure joy and that excitement that, oh, wait a minute. This is built for me. Tell us about some of the games that you've seen, whether you've worked on, whether they're Xbox games, or PlayStation, or Nintendo, or just PC games, that kind of do this well.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, it is a wonderful problem that it's hard to pick at this point. PlayStation first party, they have done phenomenal. And so many of their games are just great, and God of War, all of that stuff, Horizon.
They've done fantastic stuff-- Spider-Man. I can actually go back. I know you had Neha and Brandon Cole on a couple of weeks ago talking about Forza Horizon.
For those who don't know, Brandon Cole is-- he has no vision. He's a gamer and a consultant in this space. And he worked, along with other folks in the blind gaming community, worked with Turn 10 on Forza to make the game playable for folks with no vision.
LARRY HRYB: Which, to me, right there is just extraordinary. Because you're now giving the ability for someone to "drive." And I'm going to use air quotes. Because it's in a video game. But they're driving.
JAMES BERG: Yes.
LARRY HRYB: But they can't see. I mean, that's unbelievable.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, I would not hop in a car if Brandon told me he was driving.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JAMES BERG: That's not a thing I'm going to do. I like Brandon. He's a good dude. But yeah, OK, he's able to sit down. And he'd probably kicked my butt at Forza at this point.
That's pretty fricking cool, right? He's able to do stuff that he wouldn't otherwise normally be able to do. And it's a kind of thing that-- you know what?
I'm not a space marine. I don't shoot guns, or fly through space, or climb mountains, or anything like that. This is something that games brings to all of us.
It's just it's like-- I talked about usability and accessibility. It's just now extending to everyone. And gaming is an incredibly creative space. We create magic out of nothing. It has been around long enough.
It is amazing that anything ships. But what ships is just-- it's incredible. We're able to bring these experiences to so many people. Now we're getting a chance to do that in a big way for just more and more of our audience. So I can't wait to see where this goes.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I know. So tell us about this year's Global Accessibility Awareness Day campaign. What are you most excited about? And you can check out news.xbox.com. There's a blog post from Anita Mortaloni, who's been on the show before. But tell us about what we can expect and what you're excited about.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, there's too much even to go through-- just that.
LARRY HRYB: Read the blog post.
JAMES BERG: The highlights of my highlights, yeah. Some of the stuff that I personally am most excited about, I can give you that, at least. Something that we really care about at Xbox and something that my team focuses on really heavily is getting information into our players So a couple of new things-- support.xbox.com has a lot of information now. Hopefully-- I hesitate to say all the information we need.
If I'm wrong there, please do continue to let us know. And we'll keep working on it. But it should have most or all of the information needed to talk about the huge variety of accessibility settings, features, all that kind of stuff, options that are available on the Xbox platform across PC and console. There's over 150 of those now.
Go there. See what you need. Figure out what you need. Get information on how to use it, whether it's going to work for you, all that kind of stuff. We want to make sure that people know about the stuff that we're building to bring them in and be able to help them experience the Xbox ecosystem.
We also have the new Xbox app. We've added accessibility settings to the app itself on PC. Be sure to check that out. I'm really excited personally about the ability to turn off animations and background images. That helps me.
We also have the accessibility feature tags. There's 20 different tags that have specific criteria. Those have been-- you might have seen them on the Xbox console, where you can search based on-- let's say you need single step gameplay, or full keyboard support, or a variety of these things.
That's now going to be available on the Microsoft Store, xbox.com. Those are available there now just as an additional filter you can use. So we really want to make sure it's easier and easier for players to find, hopefully, their next favorite game, right?
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JAMES BERG: That's part of the reason why I love Game Pass is, you can just try stuff out. And see if it works for you. Maybe you're going to find something that's surprising. We want to make that easier.
LARRY HRYB: Well, not only if it works for you but if it's fun, right? So it's a great way to sample the wares.
JAMES BERG: Yeah, exactly. And it's like-- I legitimately talk about Game Pass as a really strong accessibility feature. Because there is a real cost, an actual dollars and cents cost, to-- people used to have to buy a game, hope it worked, and then a lot of the time discover it didn't. So if you're able to avoid that cost, that's fantastic. That's a win for everyone.
I'd say the other thing that I'm really excited about Xbox's Global Accessibility Awareness Day offerings-- stuff that we're announcing today at least-- is, we hit 1 million missions completed by the community on the Xbox Accessibility-- or sorry, the Xbox Ambassador Accessibility Explorer Path. This has been a program that's been running for a while. This is our community.
For me, it's one thing for me to say, hey, accessibility is important. You should care about this. Please engage, and learn more, and all that kind of stuff. It's really another thing to have our community say-- through their actions, no less-- yeah, actually, this is important. This is something we want to learn about.
1 million missions were completed by the ambassadors. It seems like learning about accessibility, doing stuff for the community, promoting positivity within the Xbox ecosystem, all this kind of stuff, seeing that from the community, if you're an ambassador that's participating in that, from me to you, thank you. If you're an ambassador that hasn't jumped in yet, please consider doing so.
It's a good chance to learn and grow the positivity we have here. We'd love to see even more folks take this, and learn more, and contribute to that. So yeah, a lot of exciting stuff. There's more. I can go on if we have time. There's so much.
LARRY HRYB: Well, you talked about there is a lot. And you just go to news.xbox.com. And again, we've got a Global Accessibility Awareness Day blog post that went up earlier this week. It's all right there.
It's an extraordinary thing to read. Because you realize the amount of work. And I'm just so thrilled here at Microsoft that we have a team, of which you are a part of, dedicated to making gaming more accessible for everybody.
Phil Spencer-- I say it all the time on this show-- when everybody plays, we all win. And that's not just an empty phrase. Phil, and the team, everybody down to me-- and, of course, you-- we all believe it.
Because it's the most important thing is when you see-- and as I said earlier-- when you see somebody who hasn't been able to play games before or now have a word-- the barriers come down and they can just enjoy the game the way the developer wanted them to enjoy it or the way they want to enjoy it, there's nothing like that. So it's just such a great thing. And I want to thank you on behalf of everybody in the community, James, for all the work you and your team have done.
JAMES BERG: Well, thank you as well. Yeah, this is a huge community effort. And it's across the entire industry. And I'm very proud of the work that Xbox has done.
I'm very glad to be a part of it now, and help drive this forward, and bring even more folks in. But another thing that Phil kind of stresses is, console wars are silly. This is really, genuinely an effort across the industry.
We're all talking to each other. We're all working together. We're all celebrating each other's wins. A really big part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day for me is going and looking and seeing what everyone else is announcing, seeing what cool stuff they're doing. Because that's going to give our developers new ideas.
LARRY HRYB: All boats rise.
JAMES BERG: Yeah. When everyone plays, we all win. It's genuinely true. So--
LARRY HRYB: There you go.
JAMES BERG: --I'm really excited for the future.
LARRY HRYB: Well, James Berg, senior technical manager here for accessibility at Xbox, thank you for coming on and telling us about how-- just a few of the ways that Xbox is celebrating their commitment to accessibility on Global Awareness Day 2023. So check out news.xbox.com for the blog post. And James, maybe we'll have you again when you got some cool stuff to talk about.
JAMES BERG: There's going to be a lot of it. So I hope so, yeah. Thank you very much, Larry. Good to see you.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Thank you to James and to Larry for that enlightening interview. Awesome to hear what Xbox is doing to continue our commitments in the accessibility area.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, accessibility, big deal. And it's so interesting to see how it's evolved over the years and in so many ways. So I love what the industry has done in that space. So thank you. Thank you, James and the rest of the team. So that's kind of it.
So all right, we're going to wrap it up here, gang. Because we've got a lot to do. You guys have meetings to go to. We have a showcase next month that some of us have to work on.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Busy time.
LARRY HRYB: So Rebecca, I know you're not going to be available next week, right? You're on the road. You got some stuff to do.
But Jeff, you'll be back with me. And I don't know who's going to be in that right box. But we'll find somebody. I guarantee you.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: We'll find someone.
LARRY HRYB: We'll find somebody. Don't worry about that. But thank you, Rebecca. Have a great time out there in New York. And whatever you're doing, Jeff, we'll see you next week.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Bye-bye.
LARRY HRYB: Bye-bye, everybody.