A few days ago, Nintendo’s fiscal quarter 4 sales information was released on the company’s investors page alongside its quarterly investors’ meeting. Every quarter, I eagerly look forward to finding out which games have edged up in the top 10 best sellers list as do many others, and many had already predicted that Animal Crossing: New Horizons would overtake the juggernaut that is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It was not in the cards this year, though, and Mario Kart is still firmly in the number one spot with over 35 million units sold across physical and digital platforms.
Many have seen the meteoric rise of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which was originally released in 2014 for the Wii U as evidence that Nintendo will not be releasing Mario Kart 9 anytime soon. After all, why would they release a new game when the current one is selling so well and potentially run the risk of hurting their sales?
For one, I think this is a bit of an odd question. Nintendo is undoubtedly working on Mario Kart 9 because Mario Kart is one of their most popular franchises. So even if they were to release Mario Kart 9 (MK9) and a new customer chose to purchase MK9 instead of MK8, Nintendo would still sell a game. If I thought that Nintendo were delaying development of MK9 and thus not incurring development costs, it would be different.
Let’s think of it another way. When we’re talking about consistently popular franchises, the more games you make, the more games people buy. People will eventually get tired of the games (New Super Mario Bros., anyone?), but they will likely buy more games because they are there. Yearly franchises largely work on this premise. Make new games, and people buy more games. Since it’s been a good seven years since the release of MK8, I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point of saturation.
I hear you asking me what on earth that has to do with accessibility.
Well…We need Mario Kart 9. We need new Nintendo games in general. Nintendo has consistently fallen behind other publishers when it comes to accessibility. I’ll defend Nintendo any day of the week for having core game concepts that are generally more accessible, but I don’t think anyone would argue that they include robust accessibility options in their games.
I love Nintendo games because they are incredibly high-quality and creative. Nintendo would rather wait years to release a game if they aren’t sure that they have enough new ideas to make the gameplay different and fresh. I love them for that mentality (when I’m not incredibly frustrated at the amount of time between entries in my favorite franchises). For accessibility, though… that mentality is stifling any progress that they’ve managed to make.
Accessibility across the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Completely new standards are being set what feels like every few months. This pace is only going to increase as multi-year development cycles start coming to a close and we can see what has been brewing behind the scenes. Accessibility is improved when a game is released, the community provides feedback, and developers take that feedback and do it better next time. It’s an iterative process that involves continually engaging with disabled gamers to find new solutions as new barriers are discovered or unintentionally created by the latest innovations.
Nintendo has been missing out on this process. I can’t speak to why they haven’t released a new Mario Kart game. It may be pride in seeing how many units they can sell. It will undoubtedly beat Mario Kart Wii’s 37 million units very soon. It may be because they have shifted development resources to other projects, which is an understandable strategy, but again, it’s Nintendo, and it’s Mario Kart. This is consistently one of their highest selling franchises. They’re not going to let it lay fallow for too long.
Before anyone starts commenting, I realize Mario Kart Home Circuit just released. While I love Nintendo’s blue ocean products like Labo and Home Circuit for their ingenuity and pushing the boundaries of what video games are… Pursuing one-off projects makes it hard to get the kind of iterative feedback that is so important to accessibility. Undoubtedly, they could learn a lot about accessibility from Labo, Ring Fit Adventure, and Mario Kart Home Circuit, but this is not the same kind of market testing that yearly franchises are able to achieve.
Now, for the record, I’m not asking Nintendo to rush games out to market before they’re ready. I’m not even necessarily asking Nintendo to behave like other publishers. My goal here is to point out that Nintendo’s business strategy does not have built-in ways to gather accessibility feedback. There are a number of solutions that Nintendo could use to address this, such as paid consultants, disabled playtesters, dedicated research and development, or advisory groups. We’ve seen Nintendo start doing more free demos, and this program could be expanded to generate accessibility feedback. If they aren’t planning to pursue an internal option like consultants, then public feedback is really the only thing that is left… and the public can’t give feedback on a game that isn’t there.
I’m looking forward to (hopefully) a number of new Nintendo games this coming year. I’m excited to see that Nintendo continues pursuing new ideas, such as adding support for mouse controls in Game Builder Garage. Mobility accessibility could be greatly improved if Nintendo were to enable the remapping of mouse and keyboard controls on a system level. Mouse and keyboard controllers compatible with the Switch have been available for years, but only if the game supports such controls since the system does not allow for third-party controller remapping.
Nintendo is a leader in innovative and approachable games, and they have clearly found a massive market of people who are interested in their products, but they could still reach more people. Building a bigger market does not always require making different games or marketing campaigns. Sometimes, building a bigger market means ensuring that everyone can play the games you already make, but that takes some consideration and effort. If Nintendo really wants to be a market leader in accessible gaming, they’re going to need to bake accessibility into their business plans and development cycles.