Electronic Arts makes 'ping system,' other accessibility-focused patents free to use

The game developer says it hopes to start a trend of making these types of patents freely accessible and popular to use.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
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EA Play gaming at E3 2019

The game developer's been awarded patents for easy communication, among other things.

James Martin/CNET

Electronic Arts is offering free use of five patents it's been awarded for technology to help people with visual, hearing and other disabilities play video games . It'll also freely offer code it's created that helps adjust games for color blindness, brightness and contrast issues. The initiative marks the first time the game maker has offered its accessibility technology free to anyone who'd want to use them.

The company's announcement Tuesday coincides with its being awarded a patent for the "ping" communications system it built for its 2018 competitive online shooting game Apex Legends. In the game, players alert one another to important information by aiming their character's gun at it and then hitting a special button. If they're pointing at a piece of land, they alert teammates to a certain location. If they're pointed at an enemy when hitting the button, then the team is alerted about the enemy's position. And it's all done without needing to chat with voice and through microphones.

Screenshots from Madden NFL
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Screenshots from Madden NFL

Above, a default game screen from EA's Madden NFL game. Below, with colors adjusted for deuteranopia, or red-green color blindness.


"We've chosen to patent these ideas because they can make a real difference to improving the accessibility of video games -- whether ours or others," Chris Bruzzo, an EA executive vice president who oversees commercial efforts, marketing and "positive play," said in an email. "By sharing these accessibility patents, we hope to encourage and support other developers to do the same."

EA's move is the latest way tech and gaming companies are trying to make their products easier to use by wider groups of people. Over the past few years, companies ranging from Apple to Microsoft, AT&T and even Starbucks have created new features and products to help people with a variety of needs.

In the game world in particular, companies like Sony have increasingly put an emphasis on adding features to titles like last year's hit survival horror game The Last of Us Part 2, making them easier for people with disabilities to play. Microsoft developed the Xbox Adaptive Controller, with inputs and software designed to make things easy for people who can't use a standard video game controller.

In EA's case, it's allowing free use of its accessibility-related patents and hoping to encourage similar cooperation across the tech industry. "When you patent a technology or idea, you publish technical information that would otherwise have never been accessible to the public," Bruzzo added. "This equips developers with the know-how to advance the state of the art in game development."

Aside from its ping patent, EA said it's making available patents that help with color vision issues and contrast ratio and hearing issues.