Activision's Spyro remake only launched last Friday, but it's already done the business for the publisher, rocking to the top of this week's UK video game charts. However, while there's much to praise about the three-game collection, it's currently the target of heavy criticism regarding its omission of a standard accessibility feature for deaf and hard of hearing players: subtitles.
While Spyro does include on-screen text for its in-game conversations, fans began to report over the weekend that subtitles are not present in any of the games' pre-rendered cutscenes. Criticism around the internet became intense enough to elicit a response from Activision earlier today, albeit one that did little to alleviate the mood.
"When Toys For Bob set out to make an awesome game collection," an Activision spokesperson offered by way of explanation for Spyro's missing subtitles, "there were certain decisions that needed to be made throughout the process. The team remained committed to keep the integrity and legacy of Spyro that fans remembered intact."
Unsurprisingly, Activision's apparent admission that Spyro's missing subtitles were the result of a conscious decision rather than an oversight, combined with the rather bizarre attempt to seemingly claim that it deliberately omitted vital accessibility options in order to create a more authentic experience, didn't go down particularly well within the gaming community.
"The game was built from the ground up using a new engine for the team (Unreal 4), and was localized in languages that had not previously been attempted by the studio", the publisher continued. However, rather than admitting it had perhaps made a mistake in neglecting to include accessibility options for deaf and hard of hearing players in Spyro, it instead attempted to excuse itself by claiming "there's no industry standard for subtitles". This despite the fact that virtually every major game released in the last decade has seen fit to include them.
As gaming accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton countered on Twitter, "It absolutely is an industry standard, Activision's statement is simply incorrect. It doesn't have to be a legal or cert requirement for it to be standard. We're in 2018 not 1998, the entire industry voluntarily including subtitles means including them is an industry standard."
In an effort to appease criticism, Activision concluded its statement by noting that "the studio and Activision care about the fans' experience especially with respect to accessibility for people with different abilities". To that end, it said it would "evaluate [the issue] going forward."
If you'd like some indication of how serious Activision may or may not be about that 'evaluation' process, it's worth noting that the publisher's Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which was developed by Vicarious Visions and released in 2017, also didn't include subtitles as an accessibility option - and still doesn't to this day. That fact was not widely reported, however, making it much easier for the publisher to disregard community requests to implement subtitles for its deaf and hard of hearing players.
According to disability organisation the Disability Resource Centre, approximately 9 million people in the UK are affected by hearing loss ranging from mild to profound. That alone would seem like an excellent reason to include subtitle options in a game by default; but factor in those that find it easier to follow along through written text (perhaps if a game isn't in their native language) and those that routinely use subtitles for any number of reasons - from a noisy room to a sleeping baby - and that's a lot of people who would benefit from the addition.
Indeed, as Ian Hamilton highlighted on Twitter, Ubisoft has already gathered and released data concerning the number of players that have subtitles turned on in its game. And to give an idea how frequently the feature is used, for Assassin's Creed Origins, that number is 60 per cent.
Of course, the outcry around Spyro is a familiar one for Ubisoft. As Hamiliton noted, "The uproar over lack of subtitles in the first Assassins Creed game back in 2007 resulted in Ubisoft introducing a publisher level certification requirement requiring all Ubi games to have subtitles. I hope Activision can take the current uproar as a cue to implement the same."