WASD - EVENT ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW
7/8/9th April, 2022 - Tobacco Dock, London
Part of the London Games Festival, WASD is an event that takes the place of EGX Rezzed, which was previously held here. Rezzed was then cancelled and WASD landed in its place - at exactly the same venue - although at a different time of year. The original EGX Rezzed event was designed to be a hub for indie developers and studios to showcase their work and let the general public play their games and give feedback to the developers. WASD appears to be a little different from that as there were bigger studios seen at the event such as Sega and 2K - neither of which are indie studios.
Myself and Chris were there for two days (we were actually given tickets for all three days but I pretty much saw, played and spoke to everyone and everything I wanted to in those two days). It was quiet and low key, but this was expected as it was the initial maiden voyage of WASD (haha ship puns, geddit it’s at Tobacco Dock? I’ll see myself out…) and with events being available again after the pandemic, people were still somewhat staying away from in-person events.
I am looking forward to next year, as I feel that it will be much bigger and better. I should actually talk about the accessibility of the event - which was one of the things that I was initially there to see and something I am really passionate about. I have some previous experience with event creation and management, so as a disabled person with this knowledge - I was interested as to how WASD had fared its first time round on the gaming event circuit.
Upon entrance to the event, we were given wristbands for access and our bags were searched. All fairly standard event stuff. We were also given a printed programme (a ‘Show Guide’) describing the event, which included a map. This was a standard edition booklet, which was printed in the event branding colours of blue and green. This I saw would make the printed version of the programme inaccessible to any colourblind gamers. I also did not see any options for braille editions or even a large text version. WASD could have made this Show Guide more accessible to disabled visitors by making the programme available online, as well as a printed copy. That way, disabled people would have been able to access an accessible version of the event programme.
I also saw straight away that the entrance to the event was over a cobblestoned path - I could see how the entrance would prove a problem straight away for those using mobility aids without even entering the venue. I also did not see any mobility ramps, which I thought odd. This appeared to be a common thought I had walking around Tobacco Dock, as there appeared to be two levels with adjoining staircases - I did not see a lift but again, I could be wrong and it could have been out of the public eye. When referring back to the map inside the Show Guide, it states that there are disabled toilets but no other disabled facilities such as access ramps or accessible entrances.
Being a two hundred year old Grade One listed site and building, Tobacco Dock would be tricky to retrofit to bring up modern disability access standards - but I have seen it undertaken by heritage venues before. This being said, when entering the venue - I appreciated how it was segregated into separate booths - enabling the developers and studios to have their own area and were not having to shout over anyone else. (I’ve since learned whilst writing this piece that Tobacco Dock was renovated in the late 1980s to be a shopping centre and the separate areas would have originally been shops. But, I digress…). With the event being separated out like this, it enabled an intimate atmosphere at the event - which is generally not something seen in larger gaming events like EGX. These factors allowed many different aspects of the ‘creator pods’ to shine through. These were as follows:
Large amounts of space
Generally, I found most of the pods really good for playability as there were no queues to be found - but of course this could also be down to the understanding that numbers were low for the event with it being the first year of WASD. Friday was busier than Saturday, which I did not expect and I was not there for Thursday - which I was also told was fairly busy and was considered to be more of an Industry Day - which I will keep in mind when attending next year. As an event location, I found Tobacco Dock to be a little out of the way as it was not near any major train or tube stations, but was easily accessible via either the Docklands Light Railway or the London Overground trains. I was glad that I had a Londener with me as I think I would have gotten a little lost on the way there.
Taking away the factors of the venue and the lack of disability allowances, I looked at the individual studios and how accessible their setups were. Many of the games were played with either an Xbox controller or a traditional keyboard and mouse setup (the latter was generally the case where the game was a PC game). I also noticed that many booths had an option of either using headphones or just playing the sound through the speakers connected (whether this was external speakers or those that were built into a television or monitor). It was also interesting to see the variety of different manufacturers that were being utilised for the equipment. I later found out through Helen, the Community Manager of
Thunderful Games that most of the PCs that they were using for their setup had been rented - as had a lot of the developers showing their games at WASD. This meant that a standard setup had been given to developers and this did not allow any specialist controllers such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller or even the HORI Flex controller. It was not always a carbon copy and paste throughout booths, as many different styles of headphones were seen. If you remember my previous talk at Animex about headphone design and the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community - you’ll remember that I mentioned booth design during that presentation.
The majority of the headphone design I saw set out for gamers to use were the over ear variety - which are not always accessible for hearing aid users as many varieties create hearing aid feedback for the user. It would also have been valuable to be offered a choice of headphones, but this alas was nowhere to be found. As previously mentioned, many booth setups had both the option of headphones or playing the sound through the built-in speakers of the television or monitor being used. I also saw many brands of headphones being used, although Roccat was a brand I saw featured a lot. I was not aware that this was a WASD sponsor, so I assumed that it was part of the gear that was hired for the event. It must be said that the Roccat gear was generally seen at the smaller, indie booths with companies such as 2K and Sega both stumping for more expensive models, as shown in the photos below - Sennheiser EPOS H3 and Turtle Beach Elite Pro. I did not try out either set of these headphones as I was generally sat next to Chris and I did not need to hear the game as the sound was playing through the aforementioned speakers.
Another area of accessibility that I looked at when visiting WASD was the controllers or how the game was played. As already mentioned, many of the booth setups appeared to be constructed of hired equipment - and when considering this - maybe event companies need to be more accessible towards gamers? (I’m good at this digression thing, aren’t I?) Many of the studios opted for a PC that was able to play their game and controlled by either an standard Xbox controller or a third-party Power A version. I also noticed that many of these controllers were physically attached to the table or the console, I assumed that this was due to theft reasons.
Myself and Chris played Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands at the 2K area and we saw that they were running the game off an Xbox Series X. This showed that the company had probably bought along their own equipment due to it being different to other booths. This also applies to Sega as the games that they were showcasing - Two Point Campus, Humankind and Football Manager 2022. It appeared that most of their games were being played on a PC, along with a keyboard and mouse. This made a lot of sense to me as I would usually play the Two Point series on a PC with the typical peripherals. Even with this in mind, I know that Two Point Campus will be released on other platforms than just PC and it would have been better to play the game on a controller instead.
A section of the event was reserved specifically for indie developers. This was called WASD Curios - and was intended to be a smaller showcase inside of a larger one. There was one main issue with this and that was that it felt disconnected from the rest of WASD. as it was placed in an area segregated by the catering and the Chillout Zone. I felt that if the Curios section had been placed in an area with the bigger developers, it would have felt like a bigger section of WASD - instead it felt somewhat like an afterthought.
My other issue with the Curios indie showcase was that it felt incredibly cramped in there. The single room had several indie publishers such as Koch Media and Wired Productions - but with them all having a single booth instead of a room - it felt as though they were all competing for your attention. I understand that the downside of being a developer in the Curios room meant that you were given a space and no choice as to where you would like to be. Being a hard of hearing gamer, I was also overwhelmed by so many devs being in one space - it felt like there were a lot of things to look at and a lot of different games to play. I guess the way I could describe it is that it felt like a mini full-sized games event like EGX, only it had been crammed into one room. I did notice as well that the Curios room was really busy, but being that this was originally the idea behind an event like this - it felt like it needed more space to breathe. I really would like to see more space given to the Curios room in the 2023 event.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time at WASD and I hope they’ll let me back in again next year as I really appreciated my free Press pass, especially since it has been about ten years since I have really done any journalism. The venue was small and cosy, although there are a lot of accessibility issues and methods that can be used to make it a little better. I understand that Tobacco Dock is a listed building and only so much can be done, but it didn’t feel like anything was attempted. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would like to see more of an effort made towards gamers who don’t live up to the typical standard.
The spread of games was good, and there were many I did not get to look at and hopefully I don’t have magpie brain next year and just go for the incredible amount of free loot I got. I also appreciated the vast amount of devs and event staff that were so friendly and I really did get a good reception from the event. I am well and truly looking forward to next year, just hopefully with a few accessibility tweaks.
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