Grumpy Gatekeepers Try to Spoil the Fun, but Their Thinking is Short-Term
There’s a bit of an ongoing controversy in the games industry over whether all games should offer accessibility options. Perhaps they should, perhaps they shouldn’t. Ethically, or aesthetically, there may be a reasonable debate here. But, fiscally, the answer is clear. Most video games would benefit from embracing more accessibility options as a growth strategy.
And not for the obvious short-term reason.
Yes, many have argued that the trend of making video games more accessible to people with disabilities or less gaming experience will drive growth in the video game market. The common reasoning is that making the games more accessible to more consumers will allow more consumers to purchase them, driving overall growth. This is intuitively plausible. But it is a short-term argument, which ignores long-term growth strategy potential for accessible games.
Author and gamer Josh Straub defines video game accessibility as:
“The best definition of game accessibility, that I have come up with, is giving as many players as possible the best opportunity of completely experiencing a game. A lot of times when a disabled player is unable to fully experience a game it is not because they cannot figure out what to do. It is simply because the way a game is set up does not flex to fit their abilities.”
The Long Tail: Video Game Growth Strategy
Making games more accessible helps their longevity and ability to be sold long after release. I realized this growth strategy opportunity recently when a friend asked me whether they should play an old game.
Specifically, I was talking with a friend who completed the 2022 rerelease of the Witcher 3 (which Insight to Action wrote about as a channel strategy example). They asked me if I would recommend they play the Witcher 2, which was released in 2011. I’ve played both. I know my friend is relatively new to gaming. So the answer was obvious. No.
It’s not that they wouldn’t enjoy the story of the Witcher 2. It’s that the amount of effort they would need to get at the story would exceed the pleasure they would receive. Generally, older games tend to be much harder to play, and do a much worse job teaching players their mechanics than modern games. It’s only recently that accessibility started being prioritized.
Of course, all this means my friend is unlikely to want to purchase the Witcher 2. This, of course, is a missed opportunity in sales. Which suggests current games that fail to embrace more accessibility options may find themselves in the same situation ten years from now.
Digital Sales Change Video Game Growth Strategy Assumptions
It may seem strange to suggest companies consider a game’s sales so far into the future. Video games used to be sold primarily in physical locations, and the bulk of the sales of physical games was immediately after their release. But, with the current trend of digital video games sales, things are different. It is now not unthinkable for a video game to keep selling for years, even decades after its initial release.
As a growth strategy, I think it naturally makes sense for developers to future-proof their products, so that they can continue to sell them long into the future. Offering more accessibility options i is one effective way to future-proof video games. Thus, embracing accessibility is an opportunity to not just sell more games to consumers now, but for potentially even decades, even as they begin to seem outdated, needlessly difficult, or just plain clunky in the future.
I would have recommended the Witcher 2 in a heartbeat if it had even the most basic accessibility options, like the ability to reduce the percent of damage a player takes. My novice gamer friend needs to be able to master the old and clunky controls at their own pace.
Indeed, while I don’t consider myself a novice gamer, I’ve seen the presence or absence of accessibility options shape my own desire to play games even from merely years ago. I wouldn’t have played Control (from as recent as 2019) if it lacked the accessibility options it has. What made the difference for me was its basic aim assist and damage reduction options. I simply would not have bothered to play this game without them, as exciting as its writing was.
Which is why I tend to question the argument that putting accessibility options in most games will make them worse. Players who don’t need to use the optional accessibility features are not required to. Those who would like to use them can. Everyone is more satisfied.
Not All Gamers Support Accessibility as a Growth Strategy
The only kind of person who could seriously object to this is someone whose ability to feel satisfied with their gaming experience is contingent on everyone else playing games like them. In other words, a grumpy gatekeeper. I don’t see why this gatekeeping minority, however vocal, should be taken seriously.
They seem to misunderstand their own interests. They too will age, like everyone else. And in the future, it seems likely the games of today that will most reliably still be worth playing and paying for will be the future-proofed and more accessible ones. In the end, even the grumpiest gatekeeper eventually benefits from more accessibility options.
Accessibility is a Promising Video Game Growth Strategy
Ultimately, I doubt that my own experiences or those of my friend is that unusual. Even today’s most experienced gamer will struggle to learn how to play older and clunkier games. Embracing accessibility is a serious growth strategy opportunity for video game developers. Investing in making games more accessible today doesn’t just increase sales today, but also future proofs the product, which makes growth and sales possible years later.
While it may not be obvious how to wisely implement accessibility options into every game, it seems like it is a growth strategy worth embracing for many video game developers.