Warning: This story contains depictions of cartoonish spiders.
Webbed is an exceptionally cute platformer where players control a tiny lil' spider whose partner has been kidnapped by a very mean bird. Even though the main character is made of pixels and meant to make you go "aww," it's still a dang spider and lots of people—at least 3.5 percent of the US population, according to a 1996 study—have a form of spider phobia.
Consequently, Webbed—again, a game about a spider—actually includes an arachnophobia mode that, according to the official description," replaces the peacock spider with an adorable pink puffball."
"We decided to add the arachnophobia mode pretty early on in development," said designer Riley Neville in an email to Waypoint. "We kept getting comments from people when we shared gameplay saying that they thought the game looked really fun but they wouldn't be able to play it because of arachnophobia."
Around the same time, a colleague pointed the developers at Sbug Games towards Microsoft's Grounded, a recent survival sandbox game with Honey I Shrunk the Kids vibes, where players have been miniaturized and need to race around a backyard where everything is much bigger than them, including spiders. That game went to great lengths to include an arachnophobia mode, which I detailed in a story about the game last year.
"I remember when we came to the first meeting with [the research team],” said Grounded programmer Brian Macintosh at the time. “I was hoping I was just gonna ask like, ‘Okay, so what piece of the spider is [scary]? Can we just [remove] the legs? Is that gonna be good?’ And then you were like ‘Nope, it's not gonna be that easy.’
Webbed is a less technically complex game than Grounded, but Webbed benefited from the time and research spent developing that mode. That's one of the great benefits of increased visibility for accessibility modes; it encourages other creators to pick up the baton.
"I figured we could make an even friendlier looking blob than that," said Neville, "and it could use the exact same physics since the spider is just a circle in the background anyway."
Sbug Games tweeted a request for feedback about the game's arachnophobia mode last summer. People were exceptionally receptive to the idea, but a lot of the feedback was along the lines of this Twitter user: "still gives off clear spider vibes." And I gotta admit that I agree.
Big spider vibes right there.
The idea went back in the oven, with the developers hoping to play with the color and pattern of this more blob-ish take on the game's spider character, to hopefully "be less spidery."
The final version is a very cute blob who just happens to have some spider-like features.
"We did get a couple of people getting mad on Twitter about us adding it which was... just a really weird hill to die on," said Neville. "It was a simple addition which can help some people enjoy the game who wouldn't have touched it otherwise. That's a pretty big win for us."
Like so many things on the Internet, those in opposition appear to be a minority.
"This game helped me get over my phobia of spiders," reads one of the top reviews on Steam for the game. "Show the dev team some love."