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Can Disney Speedstorm overtake Mario Kart?

Industry Commentary
Image: Nintendo/Twitch

There have been plenty of attempts by game studios over the years to overtake Nintendo’s Mario Kart series. We’ve seen licensed games based on a long list of franchises including Angry Birds, South Park, Shrek, Wacky Races and even Hello Kitty, but none have come close to the 173 million worldwide sales generated by the Mario Kart games. 

To put that into perspective, those figures make Mario Kart one of the best selling video game franchises in the world – more popular than Final Fantasy and even Sonic The Hedgehog. Despite that, Disney seems confident that there’s enough fuel left in the engine to take it on, with the release of a new licensed kart racer, Disney Speedstorm, racing onto PC and consoles in April. 

Described as ‘the ultimate battle racing game featuring your favourite Disney and Pixar characters’, Disney Speedstorm is already drawing comparisons with Mario Kart 8 thanks to its glossy visual style and massive roster of iconic characters. But is there enough room in the market for another hero-based kart racer? Especially as Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Switch is still going strong six years after its initial release thanks to a regular flow of downloadable content. 

It’s a spin on this model that might be the key to success for Disney Speedstorm. Rather than carrying an RRP, Disney Speedstorm is a free-to-play title where players will have the option of spending money if they want to access more content in the game, such as additional characters and race tracks. Disney Speedstorm can also be classed as a live service game, where new updates will be regularly added to the game after its release.

Just like Mario Kart 8, this regular flow of content in Disney Speedstorm should keep players coming back for more, while those that have paid for the limited options in the base game will be encouraged to spend more if they enjoy the game and want to enhance their experience. 

But this isn’t the first time that Disney has licensed its characters out for a kart racer. Walt Disney World Quest: Racing Tour was released on the PlayStation One, while Toy Story Racer was released on the Gameboy and PlayStation One in 2001. 

Similarly, this isn’t the first time a major company has tried replicating a Nintendo franchise and moving it to a free-to-play model. MultiVersus is a crossover fighting game that emulates Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros series by pitting characters from Warner Bros Entertainment against each other. Despite a strong start, the game’s player count on Steam has dropped by 99% due to weak gameplay mechanics and bugs. 

What makes Disney Speedstorm so exciting is it has all of the ingredients needed for a successful kart racer. Gameloft, the studio developing Disney Speedstorm, has a solid reputation for developing successful racing games thanks to its work on the Asphalt games, and also has experience working with Disney IP on Disney Dreamlight Valley (think Animal Crossing but Disney characters). So there’s no doubt that Disney Speedstorm will deliver on the quality that’s expected from both Disney and racing fans. 

On top of that, the sheer volume of IP associated from Disney means this game could resonate with an incredibly diverse audience of gamers, from Kingdom Hearts players and Star Wars fanatics to Toy Story stans and Mickey Mouse fans, all of whom will want to race their favorite characters around their favorite locations from Disney films and TV series. 

The free-to-play element of the game means players can experience Disney Speedstorm without having to spend a single penny, although it’s likely that they’ll convert into sales if they enjoy that experience. 13 of the 20 most successful video games released on consoles in 2022 were free-to-play, according to Newzoo’s PC and Console Market in 2023 report

That means there’s an opportunity here for Disney Speedstorm to convert Mario Kart players, while establishing itself as the go-to kart racer on other platforms such as Xbox and PlayStation, both of which don’t have any kart racing games that come anywhere close to the success of Mario Kart. 

And with so many monetization options, from character costumes to vehicle customization on top of the option to purchase new race tracks and racing karts, Disney Speedstorm could be a lucrative racing venture for both Disney and Gameloft. 

We’ll be keeping a very close eye on the game as it releases in April, especially as we wouldn’t rule out crossovers with other IP from the world of video games and entertainment. 

April 3, 2023

Read the episode transcript here

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