Evoking Team Empathy

ABOUT - When I was moved over to a new cross platform project, the team I was joining was already 130 people and 2 years in development. Wanting to make the biggest impact I could, I decided to focus on accessibility (a11y). There were ~5-10 people thinking about or working on accessibility from different angles, but the team hadn't yet made a organized plan or dedicated a PO (product owner).

MY CONTRIBUTION - I took on the PO role to orchestrate a multi-team's current efforts forward. I collaborated with the centralized accessibility team and our game team's lead engineer, QA and production. Together we built out individualized tasks and prioritized sprints based off competitor research, business goals and AGS' a11y standards. I created a centralized reference page to help educate and inspire the team with artifacts like tenets, "best of" boards and started an accessibility play session series.

DESIGN CHALLENGES - Accessibility was a novel initiative with high importance but was newfound to the majority of the people working on it, including myself. We were all learning a lot in a short period of time. We weren't given the full resources we needed to test with actual customers yet, so we had to figure out a way to get accurate feedback in the meantime to show progress. Like most of game development, we had to build a case on getting our designs implemented against all the other competing asks.

Unreleased Project - Amazon Games

8 Weeks

5 people across 3 teams

Planning, Strategy, Testing, Design, Graphics

Re-branding the team space

  • There was a lot of information being shared and work already done, but there was also a lot of duplicate work, broken links and gaps that needed to be filled in.
  • After combing and editing through the work that was there, I created a welcoming digital space that had pillars, inspirational imagery and made it simpler to find what was needed.
  • I created concise pillars to amplify consistent messaging when discussing a11y matters.

Strengthening mindset and moving forward

  • Everyone knew there was a lot to do and had high level ideas, but was a bit stuck in actioning forward.
  • I started high level planning by giving each Quarter specific goals. Noting the different teams involved and what their responsibilities would be allowed us to remove assumptions, have personal responsibility and make this giant ambiguous effort seem more attainable.
  • One of the things I was responsible for was building a competitor review with the best in class games for accessibility in '22. This artifact allowed us to discuss with the team what made them best in class, educate myself deeper in the space and walk away with specific tasks.
  • I read articles and watched youtube videos of fans explaining their favorite features to see them in context. These features and observations were then categorized by type so there was a common foundation, it was more easily digestible and gave a further way to prioritize. I then distilled these into Insights and Action Items.
  • Moving into Jira, I created Epics mapped to the individual AGS a11y requirement and built out all the individual tasks that were needed. The Action Items in many cases were the top level idea and then 2-8 tasks came out of that.
  • This process gave us 8 full sprints of meaningful tasks with multiple disciplines, giving better visibility to the team as a whole.
Organizing a large, ambiguous space
Understanding Best in class

Evoking Team Empathy

  • In addition to creating work on paper, we had to show that accessibility was a priority to the team and get them more engaged with the effort. Usually, this would be a great time to get user testing done to highlight specific examples with video, but we didn't have the resources for that yet. I came up with the idea of having a series of team play sessions where we would play blindfolded or with 1 hand to show the difficulty some of our Players face. QA was using a tool from Microsoft called Glassbrick that simulates color blindness, which seemed like a great start to the series of play sessions.
  • I designed the play session and a survey to capture after session impressions.
  • During the test, people were talking and it was immediately obvious that this was making an impact on them. Things they thought were obvious had now disappeared from the screen if you had red/green color blindness. The game was harder to navigate around because it was missing secondary channels for showing info.
  • This exercise's measurement of success :
  1. The team had emotional feedback to their direct experience which is hard to forget. My favorite piece of feedback was when one person finished, they put full color back on and was surprised and upset that their character "looked like a party clown.". Another team member told me that it "made it her sad" to go through this experience because the game wasn't as good.
  2. We wound up getting a lot of specific, actionable items that the team was motivated to fix, because it was improving their own work.
  3. The team was looking forward to doing another one! I had planned out 4 different sessions (macular degeneration, 1 handed, darkened screens and dyslexia) to do after this one, but the project was cancelled before we were able to hold them.
Results of the play session