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Activision’s attitude to subtitles is tone deaf and dead wrong

The Spyro Reignited Trilogy is missing subtitles on its cutscenes. In 2018. Come on, Activision.

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Spyro Reignited Trilogy Activision subtitles

The Spyro Reignited Trilogy is missing subtitles on its cutscenes. In 2018. Come on, Activision.

When Activision released the remastered Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy last summer, some players were disappointed to find that the game features no subtitles. While there’s an argument that the original game didn’t feature them – and it’s not exactly a story-heavy trilogy – to omit them in the 21st century is narrow-minded at best, and at worst, bloody offensive.

Fans griped at Activision on Twitter. They rallied in threads on both the Activision forums, and on third-party sites like Reddit and Resetera. Inevitably, they raised an online petition. They hoped that it was just an oversight, that subtitles would be added in a subsequent patch.

But – as far as we know, at the time of writing – the N. Sane Trilogy is still without subtitles.

Still, at least they’ll listen to the fans and get it right next time, we thought. And then this week the Spyro Reignited Trilogy launched… without subtitles.

While many noticed the omission and commented on it on forums and social media, gaming site GamePitt felt so confused by the lack of subtitles in Spyro’s cutscenes, they reached out to Activision for comment.

Here is Activision’s response in full:

“When Toys For Bob set out to make an awesome game collection, 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. 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. While there’s no industry standard for subtitles, the studio and Activision care about the fans’ experience especially with respect to accessibility for people with different abilities, and will evaluate going forward.”

So, there are really two ways to interpret Activision’s response.

The first is that the remaster is entirely faithful to the originals, and because cutscenes in the original games didn’t feature subtitles, then the same is true here. That might sound like a reasonable assertion. But so many other things have changed in the process – it’s 16:9, full HD, and doesn’t look like it was created in 1998, for starters – that becomes something of a non sequitur. You can’t reasonably argue that you didn’t add an accessibility feature because it wouldn’t be true to the original, while simultaneously overhauling every other component and detail of the game’s presentation for a modern audience.

The second – and frankly, far more concerning – inference we can make based on the available data is that Activision simply doesn’t care about deaf or hearing-impaired gamers. Thankfully that’s not the case across the board; other games from Activision’s stable, like the recently-released Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, actually have excellent subtitles.

So what’s the difference in this case? Why does Codblops benefit from large, clear, colour-coded subtitles, where Spyro gets nothing?

Perhaps it’s simply a question of cost. When you’re outsourcing work to a third party, the more work you require of them, typically, the more money it costs. More words, more languages, more effort, more cost. It would be terribly cynical to think that Activision didn’t plump for subtitles in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy because of profit margins, but it’s not outside the realms of possibility.

It could also be an unclear or undefined policy on Activision’s part. Perhaps Activision doesn’t have a policy on subtitles and Toys for Bob, the developer of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, did what they thought was right based on the source material and the instruction they had received.

In 2018 that’s hard to swallow, though. Take Ubisoft as a for instance: When the first Assassin’s Creed launched without subtitles in 2008, lots of people struggled with the audio in that game. Not only was it a complex story, but it was dialogue presented in thick accents and with a lot of background noise and hubbub. As a result of feedback and internal dialogue – and to their immense credit – Ubisoft set what they refer to as a “publisher level certification requirement” for subtitling all future games.

As a result of these company-wide changes, Ubisoft now finds that 60% of players overall – and 70% of PC owners – of Assassin’s Creed Origins have turned subtitles on in the game. To put that in context, in the UK it’s estimated that 19% of the population is deaf or hard of hearing. That means that even if that national average was met, an additional 40-50% of players also felt it was beneficial to turn on subtitles. That’s overwhelming support across consumers as a whole.

The video game industry still has a long way to go on accessibility, but it’s making great strides, with everything from colour blindness modes to the Xbox Adaptive Controller normalising accessibility on all fronts.

And subtitling, too, still has a long way to go. Even many games that feature subtitles use a font that is too small or unclear to read at distance. This is compounded by a lack of options to change settings and sizes. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better.

But to not have subtitles at all, in 2018? That’s just not acceptable, Activision. Sort it out.

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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.