Confirming VR Accessibility with Playtesting

How playtesting with people with low vision and blindness helped Owlchemy Labs discover and confirm VR accessibility features for Cosmonious High.

About Owlchemy Labs and Cosmonious High

Owlchemy Labs is an XR studio with a passion for polished, playful VR games and experiences, and with ground-breaking accessibility to bring more joy to more people.
Well known for their games Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator.

Acquired by Google in 2017, Owlchemy continues to share its pioneering experiments and VR best practices through blog posts, white papers, and talks around the globe to improve VR for Everyone.

Cosmonious High is a VR adventure game in which students attend a colorful and chaotic high school in space with a cast of quirky alien classmates.

The Challenges of Playtesting VR Accessibility

Owlchemy Labs was on a mission to make Cosmonious High inclusive and enjoyable for players with a range of visual impairments. To ensure the effectiveness of their design decisions, they needed to test the new iteration of VR accessibility features with individuals who would actually benefit from them. However, finding VR playtesters with specific visual impairments and the necessary hardware posed a significant challenge.

Solution and Outcome

To solve this challenge, Owlchemy partnered with VR Oxygen to find testers with blindness and low vision who could evaluate the iterations of their vision accessibility update.

The first tests helped identify the ideal user profile. The Owlchemy team made a series of adjustments to the vision impairment requirements until the right profile that aligned with their accessibility goals was confirmed.

For each accessibility feature, the profile was adjusted accordingly. Over 3,000 candidates were screened to identify the perfect target audience for each specific profile. Additionally, a specific setup was necessary for testers to run the early versions of the game, requiring access to either Quest 2 or Quest 1 and a VR-capable PC.

“We design with accessibility in mind from the start.”
- Jazmin Cano

Owlchemy opted for live stream VR playtests to observe and communicate with participants in real time, and help them navigate the game. All participants privately streamed their gameplay while having the Owlchemy team join this stream. The live stream was followed by an interview and a post-play survey that was completed within 24 hours after the test. 

VR playtesters were not required to have any live-streaming experience because the playtesting process was managed by VR Oxygen. Owlchemy participated in every step, customizing requirements and processes as needed. All playtesters conducted their tests remotely in their own environments.

“Opening testing to remote players from anywhere in the world allowed us to get a wide range of perspectives on the project, with feedback coming from people with varying levels of vision.”
- Jazmin Cano, Accessibility Product Manager

Observations and feedback received from the playtesters with blindness and low vision helped Owlchemy to prioritize iterations, validate hypotheses, and uncover new VR accessibility features to integrate into Cosmonious High. Additionally, playtesting helped to determine the most effective approach to designing these features—because it is essential to not only know "what" to build but also "how" to build it.

Image credits: Owlchemy Labs and Cosmonious High

Quotes are from the articles below:
Accessible, Not Utilitarian: Design for Everyone in Cosmonious High, by Jazmin Cano and Peter Galbraith
Developing for blindness and low vision in VR with Cosmonious High, by Jazmin Cano